The Sweary Nuclear Pigeons present...





"NERDERS!! Mah GIIRL!!" bellowed the pigeon enthusiastically, landing with a fearful thump on Nerdanel's shoulder and nibbling vigorously at her cheek.

"Nerders?!" repeated Nerdanel with an incredulous laugh, her eyes attempting to swivel out of their sockets as she tried to look at the side of her own head. "Pleased to meet you too, birdie." She looked over at Galadriel, who was giggling hysterically at the pigeon's impromptu nickname for her friend. "Nerders?"

"She invents such names for everyone", said Galadriel through her giggles. "I am Gala; I think I am lucky, since she informs me that Laddie or Driller would be possible alternatives."

"Driller? I think you are lucky indeed", said Nerdanel, miming restraint of the urge to vomit. "You will make someone angry one day doing that", she said to the pigeon.

"Is it? Nah", said the bird. "If they were that sort I'd call 'em something properly rude and give 'em something worth being angry about."

"She would", said Galadriel. "Public humiliation of pomposity and self-importance seems to be one of her great pleasures."

"Yeah, like you don't", said the pigeon ungrammatically.

"At least I have some subtlety and restraint", said Galadriel. "Whereas you just call people cunts and shit on them until they explode."

"Have you not tried that yourself?" said Nerdanel to her. "I think you would find it extremely effective."

"Oh, my oldest friend and my newest are ganging up on me. It is like that, is it?" said Galadriel.

"So you do still want this Veraspace, then?" said the pigeon, flying up onto Galadriel's shoulder.

"Yes, we do", said Galadriel. "I hope that you managed to find one that is not too weird."

"It's fine this side of the ocean", said the pigeon. "Vera's in Middle-earth. Lying in Morgoth's bed with her legs open waiting for him to get back. Fucking idiot. And she's so clueless that it's sunny, so it'll be a nice change from this." A fuzzy glowing patch appeared in the air as she spoke, and grew until it was about the size of a doorway.

"Excellent, thank you, birdie", said Galadriel. "À bientôt..." The pigeon flew back to the ground as Galadriel took Nerdanel's hand and pulled her towards the glow. "Come on, Nerders."

"I warn you, if you call me that again I shall address you as Driller", said Nerdanel. "And you", she said to the pigeon, "I shall address as... what is your name, anyway?"

"Name?" said the pigeon. "I don't have a name. What would I want with a name? Dangerous thing, a name. Someone might get hold of you by it and then where would you be?"

"She has got you there", said Galadriel. "Come on..."

"Not at all", said Nerdanel. "I shall address you as Flying Shitehawk", she said over her shoulder to the pigeon as she followed Galadriel into the glow and the two Elves disappeared from view.

"She is up to something", said Galadriel. "She has that look in her eye. I hope I do not return to find my ship gone and an ekranoplan in its place."

Nerdanel barely heard her. She was too preoccupied with looking around.

They were still on the same beach, it appeared, but there were significant differences. Whenever Nerdanel looked at something she had not looked at already it seemed to take a fraction of a second to become itself; in the initial glimpse it was somehow fuzzy and unreal, only becoming fully defined as it was identified. Galadriel's ship was gone, her dinghy also, and a peculiar wheeled contrivance stood on a flattish piece of ground a little way off. But most noticeable of all was the painfully bright yellow disc that hung blazing in the sky, filling the world with light and warmth. After the starlit darkness from which they had come the contrast was stunning, and it was some time before Nerdanel could fully open her eyes.

"This is most wonderful, but also extremely strange", said Nerdanel. "Would you care to explain what is happening? And what is that?" She pointed at the sky.

"Either it is the conveyance of the Maia Arien or it is a gravitational-confinement hydrogen fusor", said Galadriel. "If I had to make a choice, then considering the origin of this place I would think the fusor more likely."

"That is most wonderful, but also extremely strange", said Nerdanel, turning to face the sun and luxuriating in the warmth. "This place appears to be the same place from which we came, but only after we have looked at it, whereupon it takes the form familiar to us. The principles at least are clear; it is from their implementation that the questions arise. There are none on Arda who would think a great light in a bright blue sky at all familiar. Who else is at work here?"

"A lunatic from my bird's world", said Galadriel, "though such a term is hardly distinctive in that context. Practically the entire population of Tellus is thoroughly insane, and the caricatures of Arda they have produced number in the thousands. Birdie has stolen this one from its creator so that we may make use of it. It has the appearance of Arda, but its fundament is Tellus, and that is why I have brought you here; in Arda itself, even to speak of the matters about which you are curious is a dangerous thing indeed."

"That is most remarkable, but also extremely strange", said Nerdanel. "A world to which ours is so familiar that its depiction in caricatures is commonplace, but of which our world knows nothing at all. A world populated by lunatics, and yet not only so populous that there can be enough knowledge of these caricatures to support their instantiation, but sufficiently able to achieve consensus among lunatics that the instantiation can be stable. A world also on which the lunatics are able to produce that contraption towards which you are leading us, of which, hideously ugly though it may be, it is plain that it requires much skill in metalwork to make. What is it, anyway?"

"They call it a motorcycle", said Galadriel. "It is something like a mechanical horse, but it is much faster than a horse, and it does not tire, though it does require fuel. It is appallingly noisy, but as a means of covering large distances in a short time it has few rivals, and the ride is far more enjoyable than one would imagine it to be."

"That is most remarkable, and also extremely strange", Nerdanel began.

"If you persist in prefixing your every utterance with that phrase, I shall glue your mouth shut", interrupted Galadriel.

"I doubt very much whether there exists any glue strong enough", replied Nerdanel. "Unless such a thing exists on Tellus, I suppose, and you have brought some of that here also; which would be most remarkable, and also extremely strange."

Galadriel swatted her gently round the head. "That would imply that I too am extremely strange, and I..."

"I would not take that thread any further, if I were you", Nerdanel interrupted in her turn, and put her arm around Galadriel's waist.

They had arrived at the motorcycle by this point. Galadriel walked around it, inspecting it. She flipped open the lid of the fuel tank and peered inside; then she did the same with the two jerry cans slung pannier-style one either side of the rear wheel.

"It has not made a noise yet, but it most definitely stinks", Nerdanel observed.

"That is the fuel", said Galadriel. "I am just making sure that there is enough of it. They obtain it from very deep wells; we might be able to do the same, but I do not fancy digging a hole three miles deep to find out whether an assortment of lunatics have enough intelligence and imagination to realise that it should be possible."

"If it smells that bad I think three miles underground is the best place for it", declared Nerdanel.

Galadriel pushed the bike off the stand, tested the brakes, set the chokes, then swung her leg over the saddle and pushed the starter. The engine churned for several seconds, then burst into life in an explosion of noise and smoke. She blipped the throttle a few times, reached down to flip the chokes off, blipped it again, and turned to look at Nerdanel, who was standing with her hands over her ears and a disgusted look on her face.

"Come on", shouted Galadriel. "It is not so bad once we are moving. Most of the noise gets left behind."

Nerdanel climbed doubtfully aboard, and shifted around trying to find a position where she could reach the footpegs without the fuel cans getting in the way. "This seat is somewhat precarious", she commented.

"You can hold on to me or you can hold on to that loop at the back of the seat; it is a better handhold than it looks", said Galadriel.

"I shall hold on to you, of course", said Nerdanel. "Though I do not see the need for all this elaboration." She put her arms around Galadriel's waist, then snuggled her head against the back of Galadriel's neck and shoulder. "Mmmmm."

"Prat", said Galadriel affectionately, briefly disengaging one hand from the bars to stroke Nerdanel on the back of the wrist. She kicked the bike into first and let out the clutch. They rolled gently forward over the uneven ground. Nerdanel tightened her grip, and shifted position to see ahead, resting her chin on Galadriel's shoulder and leaning her head against Galadriel's.

They reached the paved track and Galadriel opened the throttle. Nerdanel shrieked as she felt the acceleration tug her backwards, and redoubled her grip on Galadriel, pulling her back as well.

"Don't pull me off!" shouted Galadriel. "Lean forward against the pull!"

"I, pull you off?" Nerdanel replied. "It seems to me that this thing is doing its own best to be rid of the both of us."

For answer, Galadriel shifted up, then nailed the throttle, going up through the gears until the push of the wind became a shove. Nerdanel hung on for dear life. "This is fun?" she yelled.

"It is when you get used to it!" Galadriel shouted back. "And you will be sooner than you expect."

Nerdanel had her own views on the matter, but she decided to put up with it for the moment. Nevertheless, by the time they were approaching Tirion she was finding, to her surprise, that she was indeed beginning to enjoy it.

She was less than impressed, though, with the way Tirion looked in this version of reality. With it being given a place of significance in Tolkien's works yet with very little description, the disparate imaginings of numerous Tellurians were fighting each other to influence its appearance, and not only the shapes of the buildings but their positions and the general layout of the city were in constant flux. None of the forms were particularly Elvish, and for some strange reason the most favoured theme seemed to be decaying Soviet concrete. Galadriel closed the throttle, and as the two Elves drew nearer the parts closer to them began to stabilise into something approaching their usual appearance, though the more distant rooftops still writhed and changed.

"One would have thought a world which has existed long enough to become as populous as Tellus must be would have learnt at least a little of architecture", Nerdanel observed as they rumbled through the deserted streets.

"They seem to be more keen to un-learn it", said Galadriel. "Many of their old buildings are beautiful, in their way, but with their newer ones, the more effort they put into the design the worse the result. In the centre of one of their largest cities, not long ago, they put up something which resembles nothing so much as a giant bubo, covered in dull metal discs. It is indescribably hideous, yet they hailed it as the architectural high point of the city."

"Then let us hurry away from here, before we too are afflicted with giant buboes", said Nerdanel.

Galadriel was not keen to travel too fast through a place so apt to sudden change if it was inadequately observed, but it was not too long before they emerged onto the broad road that headed off into the land beyond the Pelori. The paved strip wound gently across the rolling country. Galadriel settled forward over the tank and opened the throttle wide.

"Waaiii!" shrieked Nerdanel, feeling her stomach come into her throat as they crested a sharp rise and took air on the other side.

"It gets better!" shouted Galadriel. "Bends coming up! Hold tight, and lean with me!"

The world tilted to an impossible angle as Galadriel tipped the motorcycle into a curve. For a moment Nerdanel thought her ear was about to touch the road. Then everything swayed the other way as the road curved in the opposite direction. It was a long, sweeping curve, and Galadriel held the bike on the limit, occasional bursts of sparks flying up as the ends of the footpegs brushed the blocks of the road surface.

The road began to descend into a valley, and Galadriel guided the bike down a steep, winding hill, the bike seeming almost to defy gravity as it skimmed round the sharp, downhill bends. At the bottom of the hill the road ran straight for a few hundred yards and then jumped sideways across a stream on a small stone bridge. They puttered slowly across the bridge, then Galadriel swung the bike off the road onto a small flat area of grass and shut the engine off. The two riders stretched themselves and luxuriated in the sudden silence.

"This is a most lovely spot", said Nerdanel, clambering off the bike and looking around. "Have you stopped here for that reason only or have you something more specific in mind?"

Galadriel did not answer immediately; she was holding the bike upright and scanning the ground. "Could you pass me that flat stone, please?" she asked Nerdanel, indicating one that lay nearby. Nerdanel complied; Galadriel kicked it under the end of the sidestand, lowered the bike onto it and then replied to the original question.

"An essential component of any long motorcycle ride is the break in a place like this for a cup of tea, and if I know my bird we will have the makings of one somewhere. And the fresh water will be useful for other purposes too", she said, putting a hand to her head as she turned to face Nerdanel.

Nerdanel looked at her and spluttered with laughter. Galadriel's hair, salty from the sea-spray that had blown about her on her voyage, had dried in the wind into a salt-sticky, tangled mass of rats' tails; she looked as if someone had dumped a plate of half-cooked spaghetti on her head. "I think it will. You look like a tree", she said, running a hand through her own hair and feeling the tangles. "What do I look like?"

"Not so bad. You just look like a bush", said Galadriel. She lifted one of the jerry cans off the bike, checked the tank and refilled it from the can. Then she took a flattish box from the space behind where the can had been; inside she found a small aluminium teapot, a bag of tea leaves, a container of milk and two mugs. Gathering together an assortment of dead sticks from beneath a nearby stand of trees and some conveniently-sized stones, she soon had a miniature hearth built and a small fire burning in it. She filled the teapot with water from the stream and set it on the flames, then knelt on a flat rock at the side of the stream and began to wash the salt out of her hair while she waited for the pot to boil.

"Don't you bloody dare", she said to Nerdanel.

"How can you accuse me of such an intention?" said Nerdanel. She sat down on the ground and began to tidy her own hair, teasing out the tangles and braiding it into a thick rope to hang down her back.

"Oh, very practical", said Galadriel a few minutes later, standing up from the stream and seeing what Nerdanel had done.

"It has its uses, indeed", Nerdanel replied. She twisted her head sharply from one side to the other; the heavy braid flew round over her shoulder and bopped Galadriel on the side of the head. Galadriel responded with a similar movement, slapping Nerdanel with her own wet tresses and showering her with water. She then put her hands under the shining mass and began to lift and spread it to dry in the sun, draping it over her shoulders in a golden halo.

The water in the pot began to bubble. Galadriel tipped a quantity of tea into her hand, lifted the pot off the flames, threw the tea into the boiling water, put the lid on the pot and set it on the edge of the little hearth to brew.

"What is that stuff?" asked Nerdanel. "I have never seen anyone else drink it, and it does not look very enticing, yet you are somewhat known for always having a supply of it to hand and drinking it in preference to wine."

"I do not like wine, nor any other drink that addles the senses", said Galadriel. "Tea is popular on my bird's world, and that is where I acquired the taste, but the plant grows on our world too, and in times to come there will be a people in Middle-earth who are just as fond of it as I. It is more refreshing than plain water, and it is perfect for a situation like this." She set the two mugs out on the ground and poured a little milk into each in readiness.

"Every moment with you is an education", said Nerdanel.

After a few minutes, Galadriel, deeming the tea brewed, stirred the pot with a stick and filled the two mugs. "Careful while it's hot", she said, handing one to Nerdanel, and slurped the first sip of her own mug. "Aaah, that's good."

Nerdanel did the same, and took on a slightly surprised look. "It is remarkably good, and far better than I had expected", she said. "I could develop a taste for this myself."

"And why not?" said Galadriel. "The plant is not difficult to grow, and the art of treating the plucked leaves is easily learned. It is simpler than making wine, and with a superior result."

She lay back against a hump in the ground and crossed her legs at the ankles. Nerdanel wandered over to the stream and looked idly at the water rippling past the rocks, then bent down and retrieved a handful of smooth, firm mud from near the water's edge. She sat down and began playing with it while she sipped her tea. Galadriel looked at it suspiciously; Nerdanel replied by putting her tongue out.

"Peace", remarked Galadriel. "If only we did not have to leave our own world to find it."

"Indeed, though we are only hiding from our troubles, this is a very effective place for the purpose", said Nerdanel. "For the first time in far too long, at last I feel truly relaxed, as I would not do were we at this spot in our own world. And the light and warmth are wonderful; if that is the normal state of things in your bird's world, it must go a long way towards compensating for the madness."

"It is normal half the time. The light moves across the sky, then returns to its starting point on the other side of the world, and there is darkness for that time. But such a light we will have in our own world soon", said Galadriel. "When the Valar create lights to replace the Trees they will put them in the sky, as the one place where Morgoth cannot reach them. And they will light the whole of the world, not Aman only. Really, it is a much better design." She finished her mug of tea. "And I did not just tell you that. Want another?" she asked Nerdanel, waving the empty mug.

Nerdanel checked the level in her own mug; it was getting quite low. "Mmm, please", she said. She drained her remaining tea. Then she gagged, spluttered, made a face, and began spitting tea-leaves onto the grass.

"I am sorry", said Galadriel, though she was laughing too much to sound very sincere. "I should have warned you of that. You have to leave the last little bit; never drink the last half-inch."

"The drink with the lurking menace", said Nerdanel. "I will get you for that. Just you wait."

"I shall not sleep for worrying over what you have in store for me", said Galadriel. She took the two mugs, rinsed them in the stream and refilled them with fresh tea.

"Something from which wakefulness will not save you", said Nerdanel, taking her mug and sipping the tea. "Mmm. Thanks."

Galadriel sat back down, then paused, frowned, stood up again, and felt around behind her, whereupon she discovered a flattened cake of damp mud.

"What did I tell you?" said Nerdanel. "Nobody booby-traps my drink and gets away with it."

"I congratulate you on your foresighted anticipation in the matter of collection of mud", said Galadriel.

"Not at all. I thank you for your assistance in my design", said Nerdanel. She took the flattened lump from Galadriel, placed it on the ground in front of herself and set a few small objects on top of it.

The mud that Galadriel had sat on had been only a part of the lump which Nerdanel had scooped out of the stream. From the rest, she had created a miniature tableau of the spot. Two little elf figures, no more than two inches high, were clearly recognisable as Galadriel and Nerdanel, each holding a mug. Every detail was perfect; they even had eyelashes, barely visible in so small a size, and gave the impression that inspecting them with a microscope would reveal their hair to be no mere texture effect, but an actual mass of individual fibres. There was a motorcycle, to the same scale, with the spokes in the wheels faithfully modelled, that looked almost as if it might run. And there was a tiny hearth, with a teapot resting on the edge and a fire burning, so well made that even the flames looked real. The sole aspect which was not entirely realistic was that all the items were uniformly the colour of mud.

"Oh, how wonderful", exclaimed Galadriel. "They are perfect. I love it."

"I could hardly find such good mud for the purpose and let it go unused", said Nerdanel. "I am sure you can do something similar."

"Perhaps", said Galadriel. She pottered around briefly, collecting grass stems and other bits of plant material that took her fancy, then resumed her place and began to fiddle them about.

A few minutes passed before she held up one hand, with one finger extended. Balanced on the tip was a tiny pigeon, the size of a hazelnut, woven from the fibres of grass stems. She dropped her hand; with the loss of the pressure of its weight on its legs, the pigeon spread two small leaves as wings, and commenced a glide. It circled a couple of times, losing altitude, and then came in to land on the edge of Nerdanel's tableau next to the figure of Galadriel, folding its leaf-wings as its legs felt its weight once more.

"She is somewhat overscale, but that is the exigencies of aerodynamics for you", said Galadriel.

"She is excellent, overscale or no", said Nerdanel.

The tea break on a long motorcycle trip is indeed important, and not something to be rushed. They had each made several more models before they finally set off again. The effect was something like the Terracotta Army Harvest Festival with a theme of motorcycling Elves.

Yavanna looked up from her vigil at the remains of the Trees to see two Elves approaching, one with hair in a beautiful shade of reddish brown, the other crowned with a golden mass in which the light of the Trees seemed still to be alive. Both had collected their hair into single thick braids which reached their waists.

"Nerdanel!" she exclaimed. "It is good indeed to see you again. I had heard that you were not well; I am most glad to see that it is not so. And Galadriel, too... your appearance is most timely, for I have heard the news from Alqualondë, and I have something to ask of you."

Nerdanel smiled. "It is good to see you also, my lady", she said. "It has been a long time. You were right that I was not well, but that is behind me now - for which I have Galadriel to thank", and she put her arm around Galadriel's waist.

Galadriel returned the gesture as she spoke herself. "And I am here to answer what you have to ask, though I fear the answer will not be as you would wish."

"You cannot, or will not?" said Yavanna. "I had not thought that of you, Galadriel."

"No, it is not that", Galadriel replied. "I can, and will; but it will be of no avail, for it is not only the Elves who have been misled."

Yavanna looked, not at Galadriel, but at Nerdanel, seemingly seeking confirmation or comment.

"It is true", said Nerdanel. "Little use was it for me to say so, but things are not the same now."

"A demonstration will be best", said Galadriel. "It needs only a bowl of water - salt water, for preference, though fresh will do."

Yavanna produced a bowl of water. Galadriel dipped her finger in it and tasted the salt content.

"That is perfect", said Galadriel. She did not take the bowl; instead she gently took hold of Yavanna's wrists, one in either hand. "This is the form, you see... like this... all around... then in... and that is all there is to it." She took her hands away. "There. It is simple."

"No more than that?" said Yavanna. She looked at the bowl, and repeated what Galadriel had just showed her. The liquid drew itself into a tight sphere, and began to contract in on itself; then a spark of light ignited in the middle, and grew into a silvery blaze, tinged with gold. It lit up the little hill as if the Trees were still alive and the Mingling of the Lights had come again; it lit, too, the astonished faces of the approaching Varda and Vairë, who had brought themselves to this spot to see what was happening, and pierced the dark far enough beyond them to reveal a suggestion of other figures; they had not come alone.

"To make them by smithcraft is, it appears, extremely hard", said Galadriel, "but such is the way when one insists on using inappropriate means to carry out any task. By this method, since it suits the task, it is immensely easier, and the result is in every way identical. That is a Silmaril no less than those you know already; it differs only in that it is you who made it, and you can break it, or anything else you might wish to do."

"It is indeed a Silmaril", said Varda, who had now reached them, inspecting it closely. "Identical, perfect, and it has indeed the light of the Trees. That I do not understand." She looked at Galadriel. "Your mother, as you know, maintained her strength with the dew of the Trees while she was carrying you. Is that the explanation? I would have said that it cannot be, but I see no other answer."

"No, you are right. It cannot be", said Galadriel. "It is Yavanna who made it, not I. It is hers alone; there is nought of me in it. The answer to your puzzle is that it is not the light of the Trees. It is the light of a Silmaril. It has the same spectral quality, that is all."

"It is true", Nerdanel said to their puzzled faces. "It is the nature of these things to make light of their own. It may look like the light of the Trees, but it is not. I told him, but he was too enamoured of his own works to listen to me."

"I see now", said Yavanna. "The light of the Trees was a living light; it came from life. But in these things there is no life. Water may sustain life, but it does not live itself, and not even I can give any living spirit to something made from that which does not live, since that is the gift of Ilúvatar alone. Now that I have made one myself I understand the true nature of these things. No matter the manner of their making, they can have no life, and so they can neither capture nor hold the living light. They are but a sham."

The little group stood in sad silence, contemplating the beautiful but powerless jewel in Yavanna's hands.

"So it goes", said Vairë, looking back and forth between the Silmaril and a loop of silken cloth which she shuffled from one hand to another as she studied the intricate, abstract designs on it. "So it goes. We must find another way." The light glimmered off a brooch she wore on one shoulder, a simple but effective design of three small hoops set at different angles about a stone, carved with the image of a butterfly, at their common centre. Galadriel looked at her steadily.

"And we must go", she said. "I am sorry to have brought such unwelcome news."

Still with her arm about Nerdanel, she turned and led the other away; the two Elves disappeared into the surrounding starlit gloom.

Nerdanel had indeed greatly enjoyed the ride out. The return she was less keen on. Galadriel rode as if she was competing in the TT, grounding the pegs on every bend, the bike at times seeming barely to touch the road as it flew over the bumps. Nerdanel shut her eyes and hung on for dear life. Arriving back at the little bridge, Galadriel pinned the front wheel with the brake, stamped the bike into first to break grip with the back wheel and spun the bike round, ending with the sidestand positioned precisely over the same stone that she had used before. Again she proceeded to make a pot of tea, but with none of the pleasure she had displayed on the previous occasion and with a great deal more stamping about.

The initial preparations finished, she sat down on the grass and stared moodily at the fire while she waited for the pot to boil. Nerdanel was on the point of finally daring to ask what was wrong when they were interrupted by a whir of wings; Galadriel's pigeon dropped out of the sky and came in to land next to her, folding her wings as her legs felt her weight once more.

"Birdie?" said Galadriel in surprise. "What are you doing here?"

"Being glad you've stopped", said the pigeon. "Best if you stay here for the moment. Cactus people... Gala, what's wrong?" she finished, sensing the elf's mood.

"Talk of to-mor-row..." was Galadriel's reply.

"What?" said the bird. "Oh, fuck... Fuck... Jacksoff?"

"Who else can it be?" said Galadriel.

"Yeah", said the pigeon. "Cunt. Look, I've got to get my arse in gear..." She hopped onto Galadriel's shoulder and stuck her beak briefly into her ear. "Love you. Talk when I'm back", and in an explosion of wingbeats she shot off north-eastwards at a tremendous pace.

"Love you too, birdie", Galadriel called after the departing pigeon.

She hid her face in her hands and shook her head, muttering a stream of rude words. Then she lowered her hands and looked towards Nerdanel; she forced a smile and held out her arms. "If you don't stop acting as if it's you I'm mad at, then it might end up being true", she informed the other elf.

"I just think you're mad full stop", said Nerdanel, moving into Galadriel's arms and grunting under the pressure of her embrace. "What was all that about? And would freedom to breathe be too much to ask?"

Galadriel relaxed her grip somewhat and the forced quality left her smile. "I am sorry, my dear", she said. "Thank you." But she said no more until the pot had boiled, the tea brewed, and a mug been poured for each of them.

"Birdie thinks we're in danger from cactus people", she said, taking the first, much-needed sip of her tea. "There is a risk that this reality might cease to exist at any moment. We shall have to remain here until she gets back; if we use the motorcycle we might find ourselves suddenly dumped back into our own world, moving at motorcycle speeds but without a motorcycle. I don't think either of us would enjoy that much."

"It certainly does not sound much fun", said Nerdanel. "Who and what are these cactus people? I would have thought that you and I count as a prickly pair."

Galadriel shouted with laughter. "That is awful... Cactus people, they are well-meaning idiots. From my bird's world, of course. They do not realise that these artificial realities are independent entities, separate from our world. They think they are our world, twisted out of shape. They wish to protect our world from being twisted, so they enter these places and destroy them by killing the Vera responsible. It is very kind of them to care for us so, but wholly unnecessary, of course; and those dangers which truly do threaten our world's reality they do not recognise. They would be very useful were they not so confused, but as it is, they are between irrelevant and dangerous. Birdie is going to try to intercept them before they intercept Vera... And we call them cactus people because most of them wear the sign of a cactus." She smiled. "I think that covers it. We shall need firewood; it will be dark before too long, and with the dark comes cold. It may be some time before we can move again."

Nerdanel looked at the sky; the sun had moved, as Galadriel had said it would, and was nearing the horizon. Already it was noticeably cooler than it had been. "A shelter from the wind would be useful, too, I think", she said.

"It would", agreed Galadriel. "And so would some food. The trees are bare of fruit, but there may be some packed on the motorcycle."

"And if not, there are rabbits", said Nerdanel. "Before we arrived the last time I saw some holes, just at the bottom of the hill. As long as we do not run out of tea we will be fine."

"You have got the taste already, then, I see", smiled Galadriel.

The patch of woodland on the other side of the stream furnished them with all the materials they needed. Stripping the flexible branches off a fallen pine, they wove them into a kind of double-walled cloche, one end closed, the other pointing at the fire, and the space between the double walls stuffed with dead leaves and long grass to make a windproof and remarkably cosy little shelter. Dead wood for the fire there was aplenty. And Galadriel found that there was indeed a store of food on the bike; another box behind the other jerry can contained bread, ham, cheese, and a further supply of milk. They made a simple but satisfying meal - the ham turned out to be particularly delicious - and then wriggled into their shelter as darkness began to fall, not forgetting to make another pot of tea.

"This is quite strange", mused Nerdanel, snuggling together with Galadriel in their little shelter, their faces lit by the flickering fire, mugs of tea within easy reach. Each had one arm draped loosely over the other, Nerdanel gently stirring the hairs behind Galadriel's ear with one finger, while Galadriel idly toyed with Nerdanel's braid, feeling its texture and shapes.

"I hope you do not mean the back of my ear", said Galadriel.

"I mean all this. Everything", said Nerdanel. "It feels... unique. As if, somehow, other things are not. Looking from this viewpoint at other things in my life I have an odd feeling that none of them were truly original. It is as if this is the only thing I have ever done that is wholly new. I suppose it is this artificial reality, but..." She trailed off, feeling the increasing tension in the body resting against hers.

"Already?" said Galadriel with considerable alarm.

"Already what?" said Nerdanel. "Already we have been in the wrong reality longer than is safe?"

"Already we are safer in the wrong reality than we would be in the right one", said Galadriel. "Nerdanel, this is important... in this matter you will see more clearly than I can. Think of some event that you remember vividly, something from your childhood for preference. Recall it as clearly as you can, and tell me if you see anything you would not expect."

Nerdanel closed her eyes as she rummaged through her childhood memories.

"I do", she said eventually, frowning. "It is the same everywhere. It is as if every memory is slightly transparent, and behind it I can see at some short distance a duplicate of the same scene. Then behind that there is another duplicate, and I am not so sure that there is not yet another behind that in turn."

"We have to get out of here. Right now", said Galadriel, dragging Nerdanel out of the shelter. Holding firmly on to Nerdanel's hand, with her own other hand she began groping at the air much like someone trying to move without collisions through a strange room in darkness.

"What are you doing?" asked Nerdanel. "Can you not simply transition us back to Arda, as you did at the Trees?"

"We cannot go back to Arda", said Galadriel. "We must avoid it completely. It is to Tellus that we need to go. I am looking for a thread, or a crack, or some other flaw that we can use to guide our travel. Our own threads lead only to Arda, since that is where we came from, but with this world having its fundament on Tellus there must be something that leads there... if I can only find how to reach it..."

Nerdanel considered this. "The motorcycle is purely Tellurian; can we not use that?"

"Oh, of course!" exclaimed Galadriel in delight, and gave Nerdanel a bone-crushing hug. "Nerdanel, you are a bloody genius! Come on!"

"They call me Nerdanel the Wise. I have to start living up to it some day", said Nerdanel as they ran to the bike.

The rumble of the engine resounded around the valley as Galadriel started the bike and spun it round to face the little humped bridge. "If this goes wrong, it will hurt", she remarked to Nerdanel over her shoulder.

"So don't get it wrong, then", replied Nerdanel, and took a firm hold around Galadriel's waist.

The engine bellowed. The front wheel lifted off the ground and the bike shot forward over the bridge. As it cleared the crest of the hump the back wheel also left the ground, and then there was no bike; only the fading echoes remained, and then not even that.

The calm of the huge concrete room was shattered by the deep roar of a V-twin engine as a motorcycle burst into sight in mid-air close to one end. The wheels touched down, and the rider braked frantically; the bike wavered and staggered down the length of the room, leaving smears of rubber on the floor, and came to a halt with something under three feet of space remaining. The engine note ceased, and the stink of exhaust fumes began to gradually dissipate.

"We have made it", announced Galadriel with satisfaction, stretching her arms in relief.

"I fail to see any cause for your apprehension", said Nerdanel. "We have stopped with plenty of room to spare."

The two Elves dismounted; Galadriel wheeled the bike into a corner and heaved it onto the centrestand, while Nerdanel looked around her, inspecting the pigeon's den with something rather less than undiluted approval.

"This place", she observed, "is really quite remarkably unattractive. If it is typical of Tellus then I am not surprised that they all become insane. Is there a particular reason why you have brought us to so ugly a place, or is it merely that it happens to be colocated with the place from which we have come?"

"Indeed, in the speech of this world, it is an absolute dump", said Galadriel. "But no less valuable for all that. It is birdie's home; and it is girdled, protected by a spatial twist that places it forever out of reach of the Tellurians themselves. Now that we have arrived safely, our first task is to bring birdie back, for even less than I will she perceive the immediate danger of remaining. I am glad indeed that you did perceive it and that you had the idea for our escape. Had you not done so, then, to borrow another phrase from this world, we would be screwed."

"One of us would have had to have the idea, and it did not seem as if it was going to be you", said Nerdanel. "Although I still fail to understand what all the fuss is about. And how are we to retrieve birdie without once more putting ourselves in danger of being screwed?"

"Oh, that is easy. We simply use this machine, which is controlling the fake reality", said Galadriel, sitting herself down in front of the computer monitor. She scrolled up and down the text on the screen, skimming it. "Ah, here she is. She seems to be enjoying herself, the little wasp."

"Oh, what is this? Let me look", said Nerdanel. She stood behind Galadriel, looking first round one side of her then the other, then decided that in neither case was the view good enough, shoved Galadriel's arm out of the way and plonked herself down in Galadriel's lap. Galadriel muttered something and rolled her eyes.

"I shall pretend that I did not hear that", said Nerdanel. "How do you operate this thing?"

Galadriel gave her a quick demonstration of scrolling by means of the cursor keys, and showed her how to change the automatic translation output to different Elven languages and scripts.

"Oh, very neat." She read the first few paragraphs and twisted her face into a disgusted grimace. "What in the name of...?"

"It is horrendous, is it not?" said Galadriel. "The most difficult obstacle to overcome in learning about this world is the need to continually suppress the urge to scream and vomit. Birdie appears further down, if you scroll it."

Nerdanel did so. "She certainly is having fun. Almost I could pity those two creatures... they are your cactus people, I take it?"

"They are. That is not their true appearance; they have simply disguised themselves in the form of servants of Morgoth to avoid difficulties should they encounter any real ones." Galadriel rapidly typed a few sentences on the keyboard and interpolated them into the text.

In the fake reality, in a fake pit of a fake Angband, the pigeon broke off her conversation with two fake Balrogs and studied the glowing Sarati that had appeared on the fake ceiling.

"It would appear that it is time for me to go", she said, turning back to the Balrogs. "And for you also, unless you wish to spend eternity in a futile circular repetition of your existence, as was the fate of Dios, but without his fortune to be unaware of it." And with this she vanished from their sight.

Galadriel smiled broadly and tickled the chest of the pigeon, who had materialised on her shoulder and was busily sticking her beak in Galadriel's ear. "And now, we are all together and out of the reach of danger", she said. She looked at the orb resting on the crystal pedestal, in which the endless dance of the coloured glows had almost stilled. "And just in time, it seems. Now we can relax... at least, I could relax were there not such a weight pinning me to this chair."

"Cheek", said Nerdanel, but she did take herself off Galadriel's lap. Galadriel stood up, stretched, and yawned prodigiously. "I am tired", she said. "It is long indeed since I slept, and I suspect you are in little better case."

"I am exhausted", agreed Nerdanel. "I take it there is a part of this establishment more suited to the needs of Elves than of pigeons?"

For answer, Galadriel took Nerdanel's hand and led her over to a curtain hanging on the wall; she drew it aside, revealing an eye-twisting swirl through which the distorted image of another room entirely could just be made out. She herself seemed to shimmer and swirl as she stepped into it. Nerdanel shrugged, and followed.

That, Gentle Internet User, was a narrow escape indeed. Had Nerdanel not had her insight at the time she did you would not now be reading this... it is to her above all others that Arda owes the greatest debt. It is rare indeed that I am truly frightened, but there was a moment then, when I thought we would not find a thread in time... But on a lighter note, perhaps now you find the Motörhead to be less of a surprise? Galadriel x

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