Thank you to everyone who read, favourited and reviewed 'Oscillate'. You inspired me to write more and doodle less.
I don't own Inception, but Christopher Nolan does.
A design principle that denotes a recognizable relationship of similar object within similar object
The message comes out of the blue, long after she's stopped expecting it. It's been months since she's seen or heard from anyone, so long that she's started to wonder if it was ever real. She's even started to dream again. Still, the words are unmistakable, scribbled across the bottom corner of her graded blueprint – she'd lost only four percent, the highest mark in the class, for utter disregard of a conventional budget.
7 pm. Same place.
It's definitely Professor Miles' handwriting; she can tell from the loopy tails of the e and his determination not to look her way. She's puzzled by the words though. Unless her professor wanted to arrange a secret rendezvous with her, she's certain they're from Arthur or Eames. Maybe Yusuf. Not Cobb, too wrapped up in being a father again and definitely not Saito, who was only ever in it for his own business reasons. But why they want her is a mystery. They had always been in agreement that it was a one time thing, not a permanent job offer. And while she had entertained immediate hopes of being called back, seven months and twenty-two days of silence – not that she's been counting – has all but snuffed out that particular spark of hope. So it's with unbounded curiosity that she stands at the delivery entrance four and a quarter hours later.
The man who opens the door is handsome enough but, as she's always thought, in need of a good fifteen minutes with a mirror and a razor. Facial hair is not her thing. Nonetheless, she can't help the smile that tugs at her lips at the familiar sight of the forger.
"Mademoiselle Ariadne, how kind of you to join us. Comment ça va?"
"Ça va bien," she murmurs, wincing at Eames' atrocious accent. Typical British.
The warehouse is exactly as she left it, lawn chairs scattered across the cement floor, corners sectioned off for every team member. The handmade silk scarf she left on her desk is still there, gathering dust that she will no doubt never be able to clean off without the help of Mrs. Kim down the street. But at the moment she's more preoccupied with the three men lounging at the centre of the room.
Yusuf waves at her from his chair with one hand while a tube of God knows what distils in the other. Eames, of course, is as casual as ever, sprawled across his own seat. And Arthur, tipped back on two legs with his tie loosened and sleeves rolled up, is probably the most casual she will ever see him. She can feel a wide grin coming up, but faced with this rather impassive trio, she hides it under guise of a cough.
"So…is this another job?" she asks, trying to sound as nonchalant as they look, when really, her insides are bubbling with excitement.
"Yes," Arthur replies simply, and she wonders yet again how he can always sound so damn calm. "Are you in?"
"I – Where have you all been the last seven months?" she blurts out. "You can't just waltz in after half a year of nothing and expect my unconditional help."
"Well, we would've loved to call darling, but as we've been busy convincing the authorities that the sudden amount of cash appearing in our bank accounts is absolutely legal, it would've looked a little suspicious if we all met for Sunday tea."
"Oh." She feels a little foolish. Most of her share of the money had gone directly to the university and rent. She had not thought of what grown men would do with extraordinarily large sums of money. Gamble? But she can't imagine Arthur, or even Yusuf, with a stack of poker chips.
"The point is," Arthur continues, snapping her out of her reverie, "we've got a job and we were wondering if you might be interested. Of course, if you're not-"
"No, no, I want to help," she interjects hastily. "What are we doing?"
"Extraction," he replies, pulling up a chair for her. "The mark's Michel Frechette."
She shoots up. "The architect?"
Arthur gives her one of his rare smiles. "Yes. That's why we thought you'd be interested. You can see how well you do fooling one of your own."
She sinks back in her chair, mind already buzzing with bridges and vaults. "Why?"
"Because dear little Michel is getting married," Eames answers. "To Carla Antonelli, no less, who happens to be the sole heiress to Antonelli Labs and the world's largest underground empire, although there's no proof of it, of course. And Daddy is getting a little worried by his future son-in-law's sudden cold feet."
Ariadne blinks, utterly confused. "I'm sorry, isn't this the kind of stuff people use therapists and marriage lawyers for?"
"Usually. But Frechette was raised by his godfather, who also happens to be in the…ah, medical business. Antonelli thinks he's using Frechette to steal some top secret formula his labs have just created."
"It's powerful stuff," Yusuf adds. "It would wipe cocaine off the market. You sell a few grams of it and you could retire comfortably on your own private island."
"Okay, let me get this straight." She tucks her hair behind her ears, trying to sort out the mess in her head. "Antonelli wants us to find out if Frechette is out to get his secrets or if he's just got pre-marital jitters?"
"He's completely bonkers, if you ask me. That Carla of his is the most boring, uptight chick I've ever had the misfortune to meet. I'd marry her off in a heartbeat. But yes, that's the general gist of the job."
"And what's he going to do if Frechette is trying to steal this formula?"
"That's up to him," Arthur tells her. "Our job is to find the secrets and hand them over."
She's a little apprehensive about this point. In the Fischer job, no one had gotten hurt; in fact, life in general had become better for everyone involved. This time around, she has the nagging suspicion that if Frechette is revealed as a fraud, Antonelli will not be particularly lenient. Still, it's a job that someone has to do, and it's another chance to create a world full of illusions. There was nothing quite like it, as Arthur had told her so long ago.
"So what do you want me build?" she asks. "Some convoluted structure worthy of Frechette's own designs? Or maybe the ideal honeymoon, to play off his whole wedding thing. What?" she demands, for all three men are watching her with something akin to pity in their expressions, although in Eames, the sentiment looks like it's being suppressed by the urge to laugh.
"This job…It won't be simple," Arthur warns. "We'll need more than one layer."
She supposes that this makes sense; after all, Frechette is a genius architect, so he can probably spot a simple, one layer dream.
"Okay, so we can have both. That saves us having to choose."
"Ariadne, when I say it won't be simple, I mean it."
"What he means to say is that it will be damn near impossible," Eames interprets, and succeeds in receiving a stare from Arthur telling him to quit laughing in return.
Ariadne frowns, confusion gripping her brain. She feels like she's back in elementary school, when she was the only person who couldn't grasp the concept of the conditionnel passé. They're talking in concentric circles, getting ever closer to some vital piece of information that they won't give her without watching her suffer for it. Which she expects from a man like Eames, but she's always pegged Arthur as the chivalrous, 'my sword for thee, dear lady' type. Then again, he's had his moments with Eames.
"Frechette's been trained against extractors," Arthur tells her at last, although she suspects it's more from an intuitive need to spout information than any desire to relieve her suffering. "What bothers us is that we don't know who trained him."
"Is that important?" she asks, feeling a little dim and still not quite sure why they're all so worked up. They'd completed inception – wasn't this supposed to be just a shade easier?
"It's very important. Different extractors have different styles. If we know who taught Frechette, we'll be able to anticipate what his subconscious will do and adapt accordingly. The problem is none of my research even mentions that he's been trained, let alone who trained him."
She spots a gaping hole in his statement. "If the research doesn't show, how do you know he's been trained at all?"
"This is why it's going to be difficult," Yusuf answers. "We don't know, but we've got some pretty telltale evidence from Antonelli."
"He hired another team before he came to us," Arthur elaborates. "It didn't go so well for them."
"They're still stuck in limbo," Eames explains, and for once, she can't spot the ghost of a smile on his face.
"This guy – Michel Frechette – he sent an entire team into limbo with his subconscious?"
Ariadne wonders if the question is as stupid as it sounds to her ears. But she has to be certain she understood what the forger said. She casts her mind back to just over a year ago, when the famed French architect had come to the university to deliver a lecture on neo-classical structure. That had been the highlight of her time at the college, watching her idol scribbling away on the lecture hall's squeaky blackboard. Somehow, she can't connect the picture of the quiet, almost shy man to the guns blazing SWAT team that she now knows is his subconscious.
"Yes," Arthur replies simply.
She can tell that he's scrutinizing her reaction, looking for any signs of fear or anxiety that might jeopardize the job's completion. At the first sign of reluctance, she'll be sent packing home to her cubicle of a dormitory. This is her chance to prove that she's twice the architect that Cobb was, not least because no one has to worry about her dead wife popping in and out without so much as a telephone call ahead of time. Instinct tells her that if she aces this job or at least manages not to get herself killed too many times, her future is set. She won't have to worry about graduating without a job because being Arthur's architect definitely tops sitting in a cramped, windowless office designing artistic landfills for the rest of her life.
So she squares her shoulders and tries to stand a little taller. Height, she's heard, gives a look of confidence, which probably explains why Arthur and Eames always appear so sure of themselves. Then again, from her vantage point, it's hard not to seem so.
In any case, no one seems to have a problem with her confidence or height – or lack thereof – as Arthur hands her one of the manila files from his army, Yusuf returns to his toxic lab experiments and Eames simply sits there looking bored. She lets out a breath she doesn't even know she was holding. They approve.
"Some information about Frechette," Arthur explains as she weighs the file in both hands and wonders just how heavy his briefcase must be. "We got the call from Antonelli two days ago, so there's not much of a plan yet. But you should start thinking about what you might want to build."
"I've never seen that man do a single spontaneous thing in his life," Eames muses as the point man returns to his own desk. "He sounds like my high school English teacher. She was always going on about planning for the future too."
Ariadne bites her lip to suppress the laughter bubbling up inside her at the thought of an Arthur that did impulsive things. Like binging on ice cream. Something which, incidentally, she'd acquired from her own high school teacher.
"I always liked my English teacher," she replies.
Eames gives her a rather amused look whose meaning is as clear as mud. "You would be the type to enjoy English, wouldn't you? Never had much patience for it myself." He pulls himself up from his chair, yawning loudly. "Well, I'm off to see if I can't worm myself into Frechette's office. I'll leave you English types to enjoy yourselves together. Don't have too much fun while I'm gone."
But before Ariadne can ask him just what he means, he's slammed the warehouse door shut behind him. Deciding to save tackling Eames for he returns, she settles into a more comfortable position in the creaky lawn chair – they really need to invest in some proper furniture – a kitchen would be nice too – and opens Frechette's file.
Page after page of typed, numbered and colour coded notes greet her. She flips to the end and sees that there are seventy-three pages, and from what Arthur has said, she gathers that this is only a summary of what he's found in the last two days. Didn't the man ever sleep?
Her first instinct at seeing so many words swimming through her vision is to trash the file and ask the point man to simply tell her what she needs to know. She has no doubts that he'll acquiesce; she doesn't think he could ever turn down a request for information. She's halfway up before she catches the expression of intense concentration on his face as his eyes flicker between his two computers, occasionally pausing to jot down some important fact. She falls back down, knowing that if Arthur had taken the time to give her notes, the least she can do is to read them.
He frowns, apparently displeased with what he's reading, and she feels a sudden ridiculous urge to smudge some of her mother's anti-wrinkle cream over his features. Because really, it would be a shame if he developed premature wrinkles.