It was impossible. That was what it was. Impossible. The only explanation that made any sense at all made no sense at all. Her dream had not been a dream. She had not been asleep in her bed but had been inside the computer model of Galadriel's garden. She had become Galadriel. And, somehow, her presence had transformed the model itself, from the inside, rendering everything she saw into individual reality. The policeman had told her the computer was switched off when he entered the flat but that made no sense: made even less sense than her own crazy theory. She had to see him again.
Police Constable Martin Parish never knew quite what to expect when he arrived home. Tonight the bungalow was in almost total darkness, the gloom broken only by a greenish glow seeping under the door to the spare bedroom. Alison's room.
Martin changed out of his uniform then went through to the kitchen and put the kettle on for coffee. Two mugs. He doubted Alison was in the house but if not he could manage both himself. It would probably be another long night.
He knocked quietly on Alison's door before opening it but he had been right. There was no-one there. The glow - and a gentle hum - emanated from the corner of the room where Alison's computer sat upon Martin's large office desk. He turned the wall lights on. There was a note on the keyboard. Nothing new in that. Alison often left him instructions. Lounging back on the bed (Alison's bed - the fact not lost on him) Martin read the printed paper.
10:00 Going back inside. G. wants to see where that stream leads. The one I showed you last night. Bring me out at 03:00 (three in the morning). Check the memory when you get in and every hour. Out of cheese.
The bedside table read seven o'clock. Eight hours, then, before he could get any sleep himself. Thank God he wasn't on duty tomorrow. Check the memory. One of the sheets of paper on the wall beside the desk gave instructions for checking a range of computer parameters including memory and processor utilisation.
Martin didn't really understand what the numbers meant but provided they remained within the ranges Alison had deduced were safe (and these were marked on another chart in red) that was all he had to do. It was simple enough.
Draining the first of the two mugs of coffee Martin installed himself at the keyboard and ran the routine, then entered the values into the log book beside the PC. Alison would want to scrutinise them later. Everything seemed okay so there was no need to bring her back just yet. He had plenty of time. First, though, he needed something to eat. Anything would do. So long as it wasn't cheese, apparently.
Alison had moved in with Martin after "giving up" her job at the office. "Giving up" was in truth something of an euphemism. She had been fired after several weeks of late starts, early finishes and days of unexplained absence. Not that Alison cared much. Being out of work gave her more time to devote to her alter ego Galadriel and the virtual reality realm that was her domain.
Her savings had kept her going for a while but then she blew the remainder - more than £3,500 - on a custom built, bleeding-edge technology computer system that left her old machine standing. With no money left for rent she had turned to Martin Parish, the only person in whom she had confided the incredible truth of her alternative existence.
Put simply, what Martin Parish felt towards Alison was lust. Visceral, beyond reason, overwhelming
Martin had been stunned when Alison asked - calmly, almost off-hand, as if it were the most natural thing in the world - if she could move in with him. He had agreed in an instant, any reservations he might have had blinded by emotions which had come close to obsession in the months since they'd first met.
Put simply, what Martin Parish felt towards Alison was lust. Visceral, beyond reason, overwhelming. He doubted Alison knew anything of his feelings towards her. If she did it didn't show. The shared knowledge of her - disappearances - brought a kind of intimacy but there was nothing physical, let alone sexual, about their relationship. Alison needed somewhere to stay and someone to turn the PC off safely. She was offering nothing in return. Not even rent.
And so Martin had become her assistant. Her confidente. Her accomplice. For the past month - no, nearer six weeks - he had kept her supplied with food and caffeine as she worked into the early hours or, like tonight, baby-sat the computer. When Alison was out here it was enough just to be with her, although at times his body ached at the nearness and remoteness of her. But when, like tonight, she was away ... Martin's obsession found other expression.
In the early days Alison had attempted to manipulate things between visits, moving the 3D mannequin that was Galadriel - that was herself - to some new location within computer model. Provided this was somewhere she had already been all was well, save for a strong sense of disorientation and dizziness. A shimmer or trembling in her surroundings, as though the landscape and trees and everything that was there was adjusting itself to her arrival.
Once, though, in an attempt to hasten her explorations Alison had entered the model in a region she had never previously visited. The result had been terrifying. Beyond the worst of nightmares.
She had arrived into light and for a moment all had seemed well, but the pale featureless light that illuminated her / Galadriel's oh-so-perfect body had cast no shadow. For there was nothing - No Thing - upon which her shadow could be cast.
She stood alone in a featureless, object-less desert that might have extended forever for all she could tell. She had been able to move, to walk, but her faltering steps took her nowhere for there was no terrain across which to progress. Time had no meaning. For what might have been an eternity the nightmare continued until - at last, as she felt she must lose her mind - the first vestiges of Objects had begun to appear.
A gently undulating plane beneath her feet. Ghostly pillars that translated themselves into the stems of trees. Above her head boughs extended twig fingers with the excuisite perfection of growing crystals, supersaturated with potential. Captivated by the unfolding of the leaves and the grass and the stars in the sky, her terror had opened into understanding and a new kind of wonder. But it was not something she wanted to go through again.
And so this time she had entered the Realm precisely where she last left it, in a small clearing out of which sprang a tinkling silver stream. From her investigations on the Outside Alison believed that this was the source of the water which ran through the central garden. She left the clearing and began to follow the stream as it meandered through the trees.
As she walked, the land - grass, trees, plants, rocks, water - materialised about her as if in answer to her innermost design and secret desire. Everything was fresh, new and impossibly here. After three months the novelty had not yet begun to pale.
Of the land she had discovered so far most was forested, though no two parts the same. For a day Galadriel might walk through stands of ancient beech and hoary oaks that had not existed until she passed beneath them, then come in wonder upon a clearing in the woods, the short sward scattered with golden elanor and beneath the trees drifts of snowdrops like silver stars.
So had Melian dressed the protective bounds of Doriath in Beleriand. It was a pretty defence
Once she chanced upon a high wall of thorn that stood across her path. At her approach a way opened and clearly she passed beyond the hedge. But behind her when she turned it stood intact, its savage spears sheathed in clouds of crimson flowers. Galadriel had smiled in recognition: so had Melian dressed the protective bounds of Doriath in Beleriand. It was a pretty defence.
Today, however, Galadriel's focus was less on her surroundings than on her destination. If she was correct in her reckoning the stream would lead her back to the garden. There the Mirror had stood since the beginning, a broad silver bowl upon its branching pedestal of rough-hewn stone. Alison had originally crafted her model of Galadriel's Mirror so that it displayed a static image of a star-lit sky. She had always intended to animate the image with scenes from The Lord of the Rings.
A spinal ridge of mountains ranged against a pale sky. A lone figure clothed in white. A small untidy room, the table littered with papers. Rain beating upon the windows.
But after her - wild, impossible - transformation, Alison's plans for the Mirror had been forgotten in the attempt to comprehend what was happening to her and the virtual realm inside her computer. Three months' explorations and deliberations had brought some reward.
Alison knew that she could open the virtual world on her PC and examine the model in detail without anything happening to her. She knew that her realm had expanded from a woodland clearing fifty feet in diameter to a densely forested estate of roughly seventy square miles. Her explorations Inside seemed to push back the frontiers. Where she walked, stuff happened.
She knew that in order to enter the kingdom she had to set her computer away rendering a time sequence - a movie. Rendered stills were the virtual equivalent of snapshots. They captured on the screen whatever might be in the scene at that moment of time, Galadriel included, but did not cause her to disappear into the computer. If that was truly where she went.
From what Martin had told her she knew it could take anything up to an hour for her to disappear - fade was the term she used. She had never remained conscious throughout the process. The very first time it had happened while she was asleep. She was rarely relaxed enough for normal sleep these days - exhausted enough sometimes - but as the rendering proceded she always lapsed into unconsciousness before her body faded. Arriving in the kingdom was akin to waking up.
But she still had no answer to the real question
Why was this happening to her?
She returned much more quickly but never until the computer had been fully closed down. Somehow, it seemed as though the Garden Realm - she could only call it Lothlórien - persisted in the computer's memory until it was switched off: and she with it. She had found that she could be more or less conscious through the return process: the scene around her swirled into confusion, to be replaced by her normal surroundings.
But she still had no answer to the real question. Why was this happening to her?
Clearly the Ring was central to the whole thing. Nothing had happened to her as she crafted her virtual realm and the Galadriel figure until she had made the Great Ring and placed it upon Galadriel's finger. Upon her finger. Upon the finger of Alison-Galadriel. Her mannequin. Her Avatar. Was there no more to it than that?
Further questions clammered for her attention. What did it all mean? How real was the land she disappeared into? What happened to her here in the "real world"? What lay beyond the forest?
If it was truly Lothlórien she was creating - discovering - then to the West should lie Mountains. Eastwards, the Great River. She needed answers. Exploring the land on foot might shed light upon the geography of her realm but she needed a way to see beyond the glorious perfection of tree and stream, leaf and stone. She needed her Mirror.
For it shows things that were, and things that are, and things that yet may be.
And so this morning Alison had edited the model of the Mirror. She removed the static image of the starry sky to leave the Mirror as no more than it should appear. A shallow silver bowl upon its branching stand. Beside it upon the grass stood a silver ewer. She intended to fill the bowl from the crystal stream and take her chance.
This, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?
Something told her that tracing the stream from its source higher up the valley might add to the effectiveness of the magic, which was why Alison had decided not to return directly to the Mirror Garden. The five mile walk through previously undiscovered country would also give her chance to prepare herself for the test.
His meal eaten, the dishes washed and left to drain, Martin returned to check the computer again. The numbers were up slightly but remained within tolerances. Martin recorded his findings and closed the log book.
He shuffled his chair across to the second computer and powered it up. Alison's old machine. Removing a disk from his pocket he inserted it carefully into the Zip drive. It was the work of a moment to navigate to the drive and double click the filename.
There she was - dressed in her filmy gown in the clearing in the woods. Not that Martin's attention was focussed on the foliage
The media player window opened and there she was. Galadriel - or was it Alison? - dressed in her filmy gown in the clearing in the woods. Not that Martin's attention was focussed on the foliage. Slowly she raised her arms to the sky. The shift pulled tight across her incredible breasts. Martin Parish sank further into the chair and into the darkness of his fantasies. Lust and shame and disgust made a heady brew and he drank it down with savage gusto. Another night with Alison away.
In Martin's mind the woman in the video did not merely resemble Alison. It was Alison. Alison as his lust portrayed her to him. While he owned the disk she was in some way his as she would never be for real. Whatever "real" meant. He used to think he knew.
This was the disk he had stolen from Alison's flat that first day. He had never before in his professional life "lifted" anything from the scene of a crime - and there had been many more lucrative temptations. Drugs, jewellery, money. He could not have said why he had succumbed. He had watched the video playing on Alison's PC, saved it onto the disk ... and put it into his pocket. A sudden impulse, one might say. He hadn't even owned a computer on which to play it.
He should have returned the disk, of course, after Alison returned. Perhaps it was embarrassment - and a legitimate concern that she might report the theft - that had prevented him doing the honest thing. Instead Martin had taken to carrying it round with him as he went about his business.
He hadn't felt easy leaving it at home, even locked in his desk. On a couple of occasions he had played it on his computer at work when he was alone in the office. This was dangerous for any number of reasons but he had hardly been able to help himself.
After Alison had confided in him her incredible story and he had become officially "involved" Martin had often stayed overnight at her flat. Playing the movie on Alison's PC had been dangerous too - Martin had been terrified something would happen to Alison if he played it on the computer while she was Inside. But there had come a night when he could no longer stand the temptation. Alison had returned as normal next morning but he had not dared to try again until Alison bought the second machine.
In his saner moments Martin was growing increasingly concerned. He found it difficult to distinguish the object of his obsession. Was it the "real" Alison he lusted for or the virtual woman on the computer? Alison or Galadriel? What was the relationship between the two?
Sometimes Alison talked as though Galadriel was another (real) person with her own motives, fears and agenda. At other moments she seemed to think of herself as Galadriel ... The melding of Alison's features onto the increasingly perfect body of Galadriel didn't help matters at all. It was all so confusing.
For example, where exactly was Alison right now? He glanced across at the new computer as the clip before him looped back to the beginning. She was in there - somewhere. Somehow. According to her note Alison had gone Inside around ten o'clock that morning. From things she had told him it seemed as though time Inside and Outside did not necessarily correlate. To her hours, days or weeks might have passed already.
It normally took an hour or so for her to ... fade. The first time Martin had watched it had scared him witless and he had brought her back almost straight away, following the typed instructions with trembling hands.
Repeated exposure to the impossible had more than tamed his panic. Alison was always asleep well before she disappeared and there was something deeply sensual, almost erotic, about standing over her as the last vestiges of her body faded from view. And from touch.
Martin closed the media player. He glanced at the clock. Twenty past nine. There was still plenty of time but he had work to do. The disk held more than one file. Another double-click ... and this time it was the Poser software which opened to fill the screen in front of him.
It was Galadriel-Alison of course. Not a movie this time but a copy of the original 3D mannequin which Martin had secured soon after Alison moved in with him. In the early days she had wanted to show him everything - perhaps explaining it to someone else helped her work out what was happening.
Most of the technical, philosophical and Tolkienian details had gone over Martin's head but later - as he sat alone through the long nights while Alison explored her virtual kingdom - the germ of a dark purpose had stirred inside him. He did not dare work at the new computer while Alison was Inside. But the old machine was just sitting there.
The Poser software had been surprisingly easy to get to grips with and for a time he had amused himself manipulating the mannequin. Undressing her. Tweaking the parameters that controlled the colour and texture of her skin, her hair.The size of her breasts. Rendering snapshots of her in various, increasingly pornographic, poses.
Nothing moved in his world save the woman. And she moved only at his command
He had not been bothered about the setting. His Alison-Galadriel cavorted in a simple space amongst the primitive remnants of his earliest experiments. A three foot purple sphere. A granite-textured block that might serve as a table. Or a bed. Above all, a fixed sky of tortured thunderheads. Nothing moved in his world save the woman. And she moved only at his command.
As Galadriel followed the stream the light of her rings cast shadows about her. Gold and silver and green mingled beneath the trees.
She was not overly modest of her own potential. Her skills - learned of none less than the Maia Melian and channelled through the great ring Nenya - had in another Age preserved hidden the realm of Lothlórien through an Age of struggle against the Enemy. But here in the Garden-that-was-becoming-a-kingdom Galadriel had seen things that lay beyond even her crystal-focussed powers. But now Nenya did not sit alone upon her hand. It was through the agency of her second ring - the Ruling Ring - that reality was being rendered into existence.
A vision of limitless possibilities opened up before her like a broad path upon which she had only to set her feet. The vision both exhalted and terrified her. This was what she had needed, hungered for, all those long years down which she had waged the long defeat. Child of the Noldor, she had lacked neither ambition nor lore: only an instrument equal to her purpose.
For many long years I pondered what I might do, should the Great Ring come into my hands. For I should not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!
With the Ring upon her hand the Dark One would be overcome and despatched into the Void. With the Ring upon her hand the Three would be set free. With the Ring upon her hand the hurts inflicted upon the world would be redressed. And she, Galadriel, would see Arda fair again, as it was in the first days beneath the Stars.
And the Ring had come to her - offered freely by one in her trust. Even within the Mirror Garth, centre of her demesne and focus of her power. And she, trusting the counsel of others, had let it slip from her and pass beyond the borders of her realm.
Her refusal of the Ring had been vindicated by later history. Mannish history. The Great Ring had been destroyed and the Enemy undone. But at what a cost! All that had been wrought and preserved by the Three Rings - Nenya included - had faded and withered.
Slowly as it might seem to mortal eyes, yet swiftly enough to Galadriel, the light had dimmed beneath her trees, the golden elanor withered where once it had sprung up at her passing and the glory that was Lothlórien faded, even as she had foretold.
But out of time and place the Ring had been reforged. It had come to her again and this time she had not refused. It sat upon her finger where now beside the Ring of Adamant its fire flashed and flared. Galadriel raised her hand before her face. She had to close her eyes against the glare but still the light pulsed through her eyelids: gold and silver now tinged blood-rose.
The stream chattered on its stony bed then sweeping right fell foaming in a bubbling cascade. Galadriel knew where she was. She made her way down the short flight of steps and emerged into the garden. Across the green sward stood the Mirror. Her Mirror. Sunlight danced upon its rim.
She carried water from the crystal stream and carefully filled the bowl to overflowing. Now that she had come to the test she felt uncertain. This might be her Mirror but it had been a long time since she had dared its wild magic. Setting the ewer beside her on the grass Galadriel steadied herself and looked down into the Mirror.
For a time she could see nothing but her own reflection. The brilliance of her rings had dimmed as she entered the Garden but now she became aware of their energy pulsing around and throughout her body. A raw whining power focused itself upon her; a spinning wall that separated her and the Mirror from the Garden outside.
To her horror Galadriel found she could not tear her eyes away from the water's surface and felt herself being drawn down into the obsidian depths. Then the noise and the terror subsided as the energy of the rings and the Mirror became aligned. The vortex was still there but it steadied and she could move her gaze where she would.
The Mirror was hers to command.
To be continued ...