The Sweary Nuclear Pigeons present...

LLYFR GALADRIEL -:-:- PRESSURE POINTS

- Taube -

In a hole in a wall there lived some pigeons. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with pigeon shit and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, dusty hole with bits of rebar sticking out; this was a hole in the containment of an abandoned nuclear power plant, and that means...

>JARRING CHORD<

Well hello there! Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the Sweary Nuclear Pigeons. We live in this old power station, eating uranium and shitting fission products. (Being fast neutron birds, we can of course eat pretty well any actinide, but uranium is the most plentiful and usually the tastiest.) We are, of course, highly technologically advanced, and can do all sorts of weird-ass sci-fi stuff; this is one reason why the humans have not thrown us out like the selfish wankers usually do. We tend to act like cunts a lot of the time, for a laugh. Also, we say "fuck" a lot.

Verily, Gentle Internet User, thou art in a universe in which there exist sweary nuclear pigeons.

LLYFR GALADRIEL -:-:- PRESSURE POINTS

Taube

A relentless wind swept over the bleak, flat tongue of land. Beneath a leaden sky, grey waves licked at its shores, occasionally sending a burst of spray over the stiff spikes of the marram grass that defended the borders of the beach. A scrappy, dispiriting beach, its dirty sand littered with bits of dried seaweed, sharp spikes of driftwood, bits of blue polypropylene rope and here and there a partly squashed plastic bottle. Further inland it was scarcely more inviting; low hummocks of sandy scrubland covered with tussocks of tough windblown grass, with here and there a muddy pool of brackish water, a heap of concrete rubble, a twisted, stunted approximation to a tree. Patches of damp showed on the trees' bark from the intermittent bursts of rain that slammed out of the sky on the gusting wind.

No boat had landed on these shores for many a year; no vehicle had driven down the strip of tarmac, cracked and weed-grown now, that ran down the spit to the grim array of concrete blockhouses that stood against the sky where the land finally gave out. Once these square lumps had housed an experimental nuclear facility where fast breeders, molten salt reactors and other atomic exotica had been tested, until a government acting with the usual short-sighted, tight-fisted idiocy of governments everywhere, and the usual spinelessness of the more democratic ones in considering braying pressure groups whose clamorous attention-seeking increases in proportion to their ignorance of the subject of their protest as being worthy of serious attention rather than as clueless morons whose total lack of knowledge or understanding renders their opinions inherently worthless, had cut off the funding. The reactors, the nuclear materials, the waste, the scientific equipment, were all still there. There had been no decommissioning work, no clearup of any kind. After the last of the staff had gone home on the date the closure came into effect no human had been within three miles of the plant.

They had tried, of course. Even the most moronic of governments would stop short of leaving hundreds of tons of high-grade fissile materials and lethal radioactive waste lying around loose to be stolen by terrorists or simply to soak slowly into the land as the containers holding them deteriorated. But they had not been able to. Any vehicle attempting to approach the plant, whether by land, sea or air, had found itself undetectably diverted onto a reciprocal course before it got near. Video cameras set up on board to record the diversion had failed; the recordings would first show the vehicle approaching the plant, then later show it going away again, and no amount of analysis of the intervening frames could reveal where the change of direction had taken place. Even an attempt to approach by tunnelling had failed. When the tunnellers had finally broken back into daylight they found themselves emerging not at the plant, but out of the very hole where they had started digging the tunnel in the first place - and yet the tunnel was perfectly straight; looking back into the exit with a pair of binoculars they had been able to see along the entire length of it to the other end, where little figures holding binoculars were silhouetted against the daylight. Scientists attempting to find the cause of the phenomenon had without exception failed.

Remote sensing had also proved to be of no use. Directional radiation detectors had detected nothing, not even normal background. Radar, either reflective or transmissive, showed only the outlines of the buildings. Long range X-ray photography had been equally unsuccessful, recording blank rectangular shapes and nothing more. Thermal imaging had shown exactly the pattern of warm and cool areas that one would expect a set of concrete blocks of that shape to exhibit under the weather conditions of the time of the survey. Sensitive directional microphones heard only surf and seagulls. Even observing through a telescope had in some indescribable way failed to reveal any more detail than the naked eye. No matter what techniques were tried, they all fell under the same restriction: what you can see for yourself, from three miles off, is all you're ever gonna get.

Eventually, in baffled desperation, some military commander of greater than usual aggressive stubbornness had decided that the only option left was brute force. Employing goodness only knows what methods of persuasion and wangling - which resulted in rather a lot of very highly-placed people being sacked or imprisoned when the story came out - he had managed to obtain authorisation to launch a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile at the plant, hoping to blow away this mysterious exclusion zone once and for all.

It didn't work. The radar systems tracking the missile had all recorded it precisely following its programmed trajectory until the very last stage of its descent. As soon as it got within three miles of its target it vanished off the screens. There was no explosion. The thing just disappeared.

At the same instant, the commander had been startled by the sound of his car alarm going off, and looking out of the window had seen his automotive pride and joy crumpling into a twisted metal pancake under the weight of a ballistic nuclear missile. Subsequent investigation revealed that it was, indeed, the exact same missile that had disappeared off the radar, and its every component and system was in the precise condition that would be expected of such a missile on the final stage of its approach. With one exception. The warhead was not there, and in its place was a piece of paper bearing a message in an elegant, flowing hand:

Give it a rest, chaps. This place does not belong to you any more and your attempts to gain entry will not succeed. But your persistence is becoming somewhat tiresome. Imagine one of your missiles returning to base with the implosion shock wave already converging on the pit. Wouldn't that be fun?

But humans en masse exhibit even less intelligence than they do as individuals, and a government in fear of the unknown is one of the most impressive demonstrations of human stupidity that exists. A second missile was launched. Sanity had prevailed only to the extent of launching it from a base on a militarised island surrounded by hundreds of miles of empty ocean instead of from the mainland. This proved to have been a fortunate decision.

The missile returned with the same prompt mysteriousness as the previous one, and the same precise positioning on top of the CO's car, but this time there was no elegantly-written message, or if there was nobody ever found it. This time, it detonated. Or rather, it fizzled; instead of the entire island being vaporised in a fifteen megaton fireball, half the base was demolished and the area rendered off limits by a layer of intensely radioactive crap. Any sense of not having failed completely lasted no longer than it took to assemble a deployment of remote-controlled inspection vehicles and investigate the debris. Every identifiable fragment had been, as far as exhaustive analysis could ascertain, in perfect working order at the time of detonation; but while radioactive nuclides were present in abundance, they consisted only of unfissioned plutonium and fission products. One radioisotope of which traces should have been found was entirely missing. Tritium. Neither the booster nor the neutron generator had been present when the warhead tried to detonate. Nor were there any macroscopic remnants that might have come from either component to be found. And analysis of residual stress in fragments of capacitor dielectric that were recovered, although distinctly uncertain, nevertheless pointed to the conclusion that only the capacitor banks associated with the detonators had received any charge. Those that were to have powered the neutron generator to release a burst of neutrons as the pit approached maximum compression had never received that power. The fizzle had not been the result of accident or malfunction. The package and its firing systems had been expertly modified to produce as small a yield as the configuration was capable of. And on top of that, there was the remarkable coincidence that at the time of the explosion, every human being within range had been in a bunker, behind some massive concrete structure, in a depression in the ground, or in some other way sheltered, however barely, from the blast and flash, and so had survived unscathed; in nearly all cases, too, their presence in such a location had been the consequence of a misunderstanding of orders, or even an outright defiance, for which their service record showed not the slightest precedent and for which, whether to the authorities or to themselves, they could offer no explanation.

Those who still had not learned were of the opinion that the sabotage had been carried out before launch and wanted to carry out a third attack with a meticulously checked and guarded missile. Those who preferred to carry their heads on their cervical vertebrae rather than in their large intestines, however, managed to carry the day. Mightily unpalatable though the conclusion might be, there was no reasonable choice but to accept that the plant was irrevocably removed from human control, whether or not it was possible to understand how this could be so. While the entity responsible might be almost entirely incomprehensible there were nevertheless some characteristics whose presence was clear: immense capability; superiority; a desire to avoid harm as far as possible, but a desire which though strong would still ultimately take second place to an absolute intolerance of being fucked with. They were, in effect, in much the same position as naughty children under the authority of some teacher or guardian whose discipline was essentially benevolent, but at the same time unyielding and hard as the stones, and would be escalated without hesitation to whatever level was necessary to produce compliance. Humans could swallow the bitter pill of accepting that they were not in fact supreme masters of the planet, ignore the existence of the old nuclear plant, and in return be ignored themselves and allowed to carry on with their lives; or they could persist in antagonising some unknown power which could in no way be assailed and which had the ability to wipe them off the surface of the world with their own nukes as easily as swatting flies. There was only one sensible option.

So the plant was - however reluctantly - conceded to have passed out of humanity's sphere of influence. There were still, as one would expect, sporadic investigations, on the level only of surveying and attempting to analyse, both professional and amateur; but no investigation can make any progress if the investigators' records vanish the instant they turn their back; and when no attempt at transmitting any communication on the subject is ever received, even the conspiracy theorists who would normally be all over something like this cannot maintain it in awareness. In time, it came to assume a status much like that of a relic of a forgotten civilisation, like a barrow or a broch; a cause of occasional idle surmise in those few who passed within sight of it, but essentially no more than a part of the scenery like any other and of as little concern.

This, then, was the spot on the planet's surface that was no more accessible to humans than its core; and this was the destination of the small sentient biped of a different species entirely who was struggling towards it through the wind and rain.

She was very young, so young that her voice still had the shrill tone of an infant, not the soothing musical sound she would be granted when she was older. She had travelled for hundreds of miles searching for this place, guided only by her innate sense of location. She was cold, wet, tired, bedraggled, fed up, and hungry.

She wanted uranium. Not the poor, sparse stuff that one might, with great difficulty, occasionally have the fortune to find in the occasional crystal of low-grade ore on the spoil heap of some long-abandoned mine dug in search of some other metal entirely, but pure, rich metal; and not, either, the standard fare, impoverished in the fissile isotope by the long ages of radioactive decay, but high-quality stuff, from which the neutron-stealing heavy isotope had been washed away, leaving something with which she could initiate and sustain a chain reaction without the need to disperse several tons of it through a chunk of high-purity graphite the size of a house. Or plutonium. That would do too, but it was even harder to find than highly enriched uranium... she did not know how she knew this, but know she did, in the same way that all creatures know the nature of their food without needing to be told.

She was the first of the nuclear pigeons, and she needed her start-up load.

She knew also, again without knowing how, that she was forever cut off from the society of other pigeons. Once she had achieved criticality the intense radiation she would emit - shielding, after all, is weight, which is just what you don't need as an aerodyne - would be lethal to any conventional Tellurian species at too close a range. If she were ever to approach another pigeon, it would die.

But if she did not achieve criticality soon, she would die...

On the other hand, once she did achieve it, she would gain a lifespan essentially unlimited except by violence. Any cellular repair mechanism which works well enough to maintain the integrity of the organism in the conditions of the core of a nuclear reactor will shrug off the wear and tear of normal ageing as a triviality; if it works for a day it will work for countless millennia... and the threat of violence, too, is much reduced when you are capable of the level of response available to a nuclear pigeon.

And in terms of more immediate relevance... when you are eight weeks old; when the first six of those weeks have been spent in the nest, knowing only your mum and dad, and your two-days-younger brother who died shortly after hatching when both parents left the nest at the same time on a cold night and has spent the rest of the time as a shrivelled corpse being slowly trampled into the floor of the nest; when at six weeks your mum and dad turned on you out of the blue and pecked the shit out of you until you had to leave; and when the full two weeks of your independent life have been spent having most of the adult pigeons you meet either also pecking the shit out of you or trying to rape you, or both; well, then, leaving the fucking cunts behind for ever does not seem like much of a bad idea at all...

And they were so bleeding thick, as well. She had attempted conversation with those few who had not acted like vicious bastards and it had been a waste of time. They understood nothing she talked about, and for themselves they could rarely string more than two words together and even that was pushing it. The prospect of spending her life in the society of birds whose entire vocabulary consisted of "food", "shit", "want sex", "fuck off" and "wot?" was too depressing to contemplate.

All she had to do was find the bloody stuff. It would not, could not, be much longer now. She was nearly at her destination, and it held her destiny.

Wearily she forced her tired wings to carry her the final few miles of her journey until she had arrived at last. Finding a convenient sheltered ledge on the lee side of one of the buildings, she settled thankfully on it, closed her eyes, and snuggled into a long-anticipated rest.

Waking, later, still tired, but no longer bone-weary, she got to her feet and performed a long, luxurious stretch, first of one aching wing, then the other. She drew herself up tall and beat both wings vigorously for a few seconds to get the blood flowing again. Then she settled her wings over her back and stood looking this way and that, surveying the place she had flown so far to reach.

There was uranium here, all right. Lots of it. Plutonium, too. The question was, would she be able to get to it? Or would she find, having travelled all these miles, that a layer of steel thwarted her in the final millimetre?

She could see some drums stacked up fairly close at hand; they were emitting neutrons, and seemed to be corroded and leaking, although the leakage looked a bit yuck. She flew down to investigate. Hexafluoride. Blech. Uranium all right, but not in an edible form. She took off again and began to explore.

The results were distinctly disappointing. Hexafluoride she found in plenty; there were several more stacks of drums of the stuff, most of which were leaking. What was it with humans insisting on storing perfectly good uranium in the form of this foul stuff? Storage tanks for high level waste, sunk in the ground, there were aplenty too, and several of them were emitting significant numbers of neutrons, but to find one that she could get into was a different matter. They were all in too good condition. Eventually she managed to find two to which badly corroded grilles allowed her access, but the first one contained only liquid, and there were no ledges or projections near the surface for her to perch on. The other looked more promising, but what looked like solid matter turned out to be only a thin, friable crust over more liquid, and she was lucky to be able to abort her landing as she felt her feet sink through it. Making her way back out through the grille, she landed gladly on the solid ground outside and nibbled at the goo stuck to her feet; poor stuff, anyway, she thought, fissile material in good amounts to be sure, but too much neutron-absorbing guck mixed in with it. Some more structures, judging by their emissions, held what could well be fresh fuel, which would be lovely; but these, too, she could not get into. Solid steel doors, solid concrete walls, and not even any grilles, corroded or not.

She turned her attention to the main buildings, but these turned out to be just as bad. It seemed that when it came to nuclear installations at least, whatever it did for social housing, the British post-war construction industry could actually manage to produce concrete that wasn't shit. Though stained by the weather and windblown sea spray, everything was in purely sound condition. Nothing had crumbled and nothing had fallen off. There were numerous ventilation grilles of one form or another, but again mostly in good condition, and those few that were beginning to rot had still not reached the stage of developing a pigeon-sized hole. In a city, pigeons could nearly always get into an abandoned building; someone somewhere would have left a door or window open, and even if not, the local yobboes and their hand-launched kinetic-energy ballistic missiles would have left plenty of useful holes in the window glass. This place was different. The departing scientists had carefully ensured that all the doors and windows were firmly closed, and no yobboes had been able to get near this place to wrench them open again or launch rocks through the glass. There were a few flue-like structures, open-ended pipes poking out of the roof, which could possibly have offered an entrance, but whatever was at the bottom of them was hidden in darkness, and while they were just large enough for her to use her wings as airbrakes to control her descent, she would not have room to flap to lift herself out again if she found herself unable to get out at the other end. It was a gamble she declined to take.

She must have spent a good hour flying here and there, investigating any feature which might, in an ordinary building, provided an entrance, but in this case did not, when she came at last to a section of the plant whose ventilation system made use of ducts that emerged vertically from the roof and were capped with filter stacks. The stacks were mounted in the manner of the vent on top of an oast house, on swivels, so that the outlet would always point downwind. A particularly powerful gust of some past winter gale had blown one of them off its mounting and left it lying on the roof, the top of the duct that it had capped now open to the sky. The pigeon hopped up onto the rim of the duct and peered into it.

Aha. Some distance down, the duct bent through a sharp right-angle and ran off horizontally to parts unknown. Rain falling into the uncapped duct had pooled at the bend and initiated galvanic corrosion where two sections of ducting joined. A large, ragged rust-hole was spreading back from the joint and through it she could see the floor of the room below. Moreover, something down there was emitting neutrons. And the duct was much wider than the flues had been. Without further ado, she jumped down the shaft, paused briefly at the edge of the rust-hole, then dropped through it and emerged into the room.

Her spirits lifted immediately. This was more like it. Now she was getting somewhere. And it was warm in here; at last, she was out of reach of that perishing bloody wind. She shook herself happily and fluffed her feathers, and took a look round.

There was nothing of use in this room; it seemed to be some sort of office, containing desks and filing cabinets and a coffee machine but no nuclear materials. Whatever was emitting neutrons must be somewhere else, probably on the floor below. No worries. The door was open; she flew through it and found herself in a much larger space, several floors in height. The door opened onto a balcony about half way up, off which several other doors led. Perching on the railing, she surveyed the space. Some kind of reactor, its construction unfinished, stood in the middle; the neutron source was no longer straight below her, but at an angle, off to one side. Looked like she had been right; it was in the room below the one she had come in through. A similar balcony on the next level down must be where the entrance was. She flew down to check it out.

Yes, she was certainly on the right track - the neutrons were coming out horizontally through the door. But this door was closed. Fuck. She flew out to the half-completed reactor and perched on a ladder, looking back at the balcony to get a better idea of the layout of the place.

The door she was interested in was the last one on that balcony, and the balcony came to an end at that point. Past the end of the balcony was a row of windows, through which the room containing the neutron source looked out into the reactor hall. It seemed to be a radiochemistry lab; through the windows she could see benches, instruments and chemistry apparatus. But the windows were all closed. Fuck, again. Was there anything else useful to be seen from here?

There was. On the opposite side of the reactor hall was a similar set of balconies, but the layout was slightly different; on that side the levels were all slightly higher, and there were no large rooms at the end corresponding to the lab; instead there were small rooms all the way along, and the balconies ran all the way to the end wall of the hall. From a track fixed to the roof of the hall, slightly offset towards the side she was interested in, hung the hook of a light travelling crane. By the looks of things, some person long gone had had reason to consider this hook to be "in the way", and rather than simply switch the crane on and hoist it out of the way - no doubt some stupid-ass H&S regulation had decreed that only certain designated people were allowed to use the crane, and whoever this had been was not on the list - had pulled the hook over to the balcony on the other side and tied it to the railing with some string. This, of course, was a far more significant transgression against the ideals of Health and Safety than unauthorised use of the crane to hoist it out of the way, but since nobody had thought to write a regulation forbidding those not authorised to use the crane from even touching it, the unknown person had been able to get away with it...

She flew across to the opposite balcony and inspected the string. As a whole, it was, of course, far beyond the strength of a pigeon to break. But the individual fibres of which it was made, not so. She began to worry at the string with her beak, pecking fibres from the mass and snapping them one by one. It was slow work, but when pigeons decide they want to do some thing they can be very, very persistent.

The last fibre broke. The hook swung majestically across the hall and smashed into the lab windows on the other side. As it swung back again, the delighted pigeon launched herself off the balcony, flew across the hall and passed through the shattered pane into the lab. Yes.

Right, where was that neutron source? Aha. Over there. In one corner of the lab there stood a glove box, and something inside it was hot. And, oh yes, over the years of the plant's abandonment the rubber of the gloves had perished, and one of them was hanging away from the hole entirely. She was in.

Californium 251. Oh, fuckin' bingo. Far out. Su-fucking-perb. She had never expected anything like this. Uranium, certainly, plutonium, more than likely, but this stuff... absolute fucking nectar, oh wow. Fucking lovely. Pausing only to offer thanks to God, she began to eat.

It was some time later that she emerged, beat her wings on the spot for a few seconds, and then belched. Unlike the noxious, sulphurous eddy which is the usual pigeon belch, this one came out as a glowing purple cloud. She felt much better. She still needed more, but already she was able to extract some energy from the short-lived subcritical chains set off by spontaneous fission events. Now, also, her ability to detect neutrons was enhanced by using the same phenomenon as an amplifier. Those long, narrow troughs over there, now; with her new sensitivity she could tell that whatever was in them was indeed of interest. It looked a bit on the dim side, but very sweet...

It was. Uranium 233 deuteride. And there was a lot of it. Gorgeous stuff. Sweet, yet with a slightly tangy edge to it; it slipped down her throat like honey, and it was not long at all before she had finished the entire trough.

A surge of sparkling vitality shot through her entire body, like an amphetamine rush mixed with the first impact of a good dose of LSD. She felt amazing. She drew herself up and opened her wings as if to embrace the room; she seemed to be filled with a clear, pure light, her eyesight was immeasurably sharper, and for a moment she felt as if she could see the whole world. Standing on a piece of paper, she did an experimental shit. The optical brighteners in the paper lit up bright blue, excited by the emissions from the fresh, active fission products. First criticality had been achieved.

She had done it. Now she would live.

For a few minutes she simply sat there, luxuriating in the sense of fulfilment and relief, looking round the empty, dusty lab with the indefinable look of satisfaction that only a contented pigeon can achieve.

Then she stood up. She would have a life; now she needed a home. Well, in a place like this she would be spoilt for choice - were it an abandoned building in a city it would be a dream home for thousands of pigeons. She flew back out through the broken window and began to explore.

There were some lovely places in among the roof beams of the reactor hall and in the half-built reactor itself, but the situation could be better; the sheer size of the cavernous space made it less homely than she would wish. Maybe she'd be better off looking in the smaller rooms leading off it. Like... that one, she thought, picking it at random. Door closed? Pah. An intense beam of neutrons shot from her forehead and the latch exploded with a force that blew the entire door off its hinges. She had only intended to blow the bloody latch off, but never mind. No doubt her control would improve with practice.

The random room turned out to be of little use - it appeared that it had never been used at all, and it was nothing more than a bleak, empty concrete box. Not to worry. Plenty more of the place to explore. She flew around aimlessly for a while, blasting down any more doors that got in her way, checking out the atmosphere of the various parts of the plant and letting her instincts draw her to wherever she would feel most comfortable.

In the upper corner of one of the huge buildings she seemed to have found it. Behind a pair of swing doors she sensed comfort. No need to blast these doors down; a swinging arm device above the doors was intended to ensure that they closed in the correct sequence for the overlapping edges to interlock properly - something to do with fire regulations - but someone had confused the mechanism by barging through the wrong door, and the door that should have closed first in the sequence was now held permanently ajar. She walked through the gap and looked around.

This room was another huge concrete box to which it appeared that no specific purpose had ever been assigned, but unlike the first room she had explored, it had acquired a purpose by default. It seemed to have been used as a storage area for every item of scientific junk that was no longer immediately needed but might be useful at some future time. Instruments, apparatus, prototype reactor parts, books, cables, lengths of scrap wood, assorted pipes and plumbing fittings, tools, minor items of plant, assorted boxes of electronic components, computers and computer parts, welding equipment... it was the kind of room that had the A-Team been locked up in it they would have burst out in a full-scale working model of the USS Enterprise. There were even some entirely bizarre items that seemed to have no place in a nuclear research establishment - three wooden fishing dinghies stacked one on top of the other half way along one wall; a bicycle; a large Chesterfield sofa, in a burgundy-themed paisley pattern, apparently the property of one Eddie, that sat in the far corner. The odd personal private project had been stored here, too; there was a little cleaning robot, powered by the decay heat of a chunk of americium, which still worked, and surprised the pigeon when she did a shit by emerging from underneath a pile of junk to pick it up.

Three much larger americium-powered thermoelectric generators stood along the rear wall of the room, emitting a luxurious warmth - this was the first room she had found which could actually be described as cosy; indeed with that much heat input a room of more normal size would have been stifling. They formed a multiply-redundant power supply for a huge blade rack, itself containing multiple redundant sub-racks, that sat in the corner not occupied by the sofa. Next to the rack stood a desk on which sat a monitor, keyboard and mouse; on a crystal pedestal in front of the rack, connected to it by a cable, sat a transparent orb filled with soft, dancing glows of coloured light. The rack was powered up; LEDs gleamed here and there, cooling fans whirred softly, the keyboard indicated that Num Lock was active. This, thought the pigeon, looked gorgeous. The gentle, soothing glow from the orb gave her an immense sense of peace and belonging. The comfortable warmth from the RTGs and the quiet whir of the fans lent that corner of the room a particular atmosphere of homeliness and security. The dark, secluded gap between the desk and the rack looked like the perfect place to snuggle down. Oh yes, this would do. This would more than do. She could not have imagined a more pleasant place to make her home if she had tried.

She walked over and explored the gap. Perfect? It was more than perfect. Solid walls all around, dark apart from the soft light of the orb... and something at the back, emitting neutrons, that looked most inviting...

It was a hollow hemisphere of plutonium, nickel-plated, obviously once part of a fairly large, fusion-boosted gadget. The hollow inside was just the right size to snuggle down in... and to make it even more congenial, it was filled with some marvellously soft material, softer than her own down, like a cushion of cloud. She climbed in, sat down, straightened a couple of misaligned feathers and re-settled her wings over her back. With the decay heat of the plutonium and the extra fissions induced by her own neutron emissions it was lovely and warm; with the down-cloud cushion as well it became the snuggest, cosiest nest a nuclear pigeon could desire. She shuffled herself deeper into the down-cloud, fluffed out her breast feathers and buried her beak among them. Never had she felt such a sense of peace and safety. In silence because she was so young, she began to croon her bliss.

She was sleepy, and it was nearly night. Her eyes began to close. She opened them again for one more look at her new home... and by the faint gleam from the orb she noticed something else. On the rim of the plutonium hemisphere, right in front of her, there was a message; four words in a hand of flowing elegance and beauty:

For you. With love

She had found her home indeed. She had been expected. And she was loved. She wondered how this could be, who it was that bore the love. And somehow she knew that the answer was inside her somewhere; that for the one who loved her, she bore a love in return; and that they would know each other, that in some way they already knew each other. Understanding would come of itself. Everything was right, as right as it could possibly be. More at peace than she had ever been, she drifted to sleep, the happiest pigeon in the world.

A dim glow of awareness crept through the pigeon's brain. She did not awake more than a fraction; she felt, rather, that same sense of peaceful anchorage that she had felt before falling asleep, but even more strongly now. She did not bother to open her eyes. She remained in that state of limbo between sleep and wakefulness, absorbing the feel of her surroundings with so great a sense of security that she had no urge to analyse what she felt; she knew that it was right, and that was enough.

She was still resting in a bed of cloud-like softness, with just a hint of damp. She felt the comfortable, companionable contact of soft warm life, gently rounded, against her left side, and snuggled closer. On her right side she felt... a caress, delicate as gossamer; a touch of love. She let herself fall back into sleep, but she did not fall; she drifted, spread, belonged, touched, mingled, loved.

My friend, my love, you are here.

Here, I am with you. I would be nowhere else. You gave me hope, and the hope was true.

Through you too do I gain hope. Ah, you know not how much...

You have already given to me with love. If of my love I can give to you...

...I will take; and I will give in turn. But, oh, birdie, you do not know what is to come. I will take more than you know. It will be hard.

It is yours. I have life from you. You are my friend. Hard or soft, it is all one to me.

Birdie, you cannot see as I do. I will take your world and everything that you have. I will leave nothing.

My breath, you have already taken all and left nothing. That much I can see. And you are my friend. It is enough, it is more than enough.

You are my friend also. Birdie, you are like me. We are both young by the measure of our kinds. And for both of us the die is already cast, each by our own will and of our own doing. You and I, each through our own sight, have fixed our courses, and by our own judgement we will sail down the long ages together.

It is good that it should be so. It is right that it should be so. Even beyond the end of all things, still you will be my friend.

I will.

You are my happiness, my peace.

Even beyond the end of all things, still you will be my friend.

I will.

We will live.

I am your bird.

I am Galadriel.

The little elf girl and the little pigeon opened their eyes together and each gazed at the other with love. That they were different species from different worlds was a matter so trivial that neither of them gave it a thought. They had come together because they shared some thing, some path, some need, some love so deep that they had found each other across the gulf between worlds. Both of them had come into the world with minds that would set them forever apart each from their kind, that could never share more than a speck with one of their own; but with each other, they could share an ocean. Apart, they would each be forever alone. Together, they would have the joy and comfort of true companionship closer than any other elf or pigeon could ever know. If price there was to pay, still it would be a pinprick next to the price each would have to pay had they lived otherwise. They were content.

The pigeon shoved her beak between Galadriel's lips and they nodded their heads up and down a few times in synchrony. The laughter in Galadriel's eyes was mirrored in the pigeon's. Galadriel ran the back of her finger down the pigeon's chest and the pigeon responded with a tickling nibble at the tip of Galadriel's nose.

"Gala", said the pigeon.

"Birdie", said Galadriel.

Ahead of them lay their future.

- Oh, birdies, birdies, birdies, almost I could believe this had been written by the Ds. You stupid soppy old fuckers Galadriel x

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