"You don't dream?"

Arthur turns his head just so, looks down at her from the impossibly higher set of Penrose steps. "No. Not anymore. None of us do, given enough time in this line of work."

It doesn't seem possible to her. "Why? You can sleep, though, right?"

"Yes." They round the corner again, and Ariadne again tries to wrap her mind around making one of these for herself. "We can... sleep." The pause he lingers before the last word isn't at all reassuring.

As they climb in relative silence, the petite brunette does her best to focus on what she's supposed to be learning. The idea of the steps was easy. It was the physics figuring into it all that made it impossible. Ariadne's brows furrow at the difficult visualization, losing herself in the spatial relativity and the gravity and the angles and the—

"Don't try to think too much about it," his voice comes suddenly from behind her. "It's harder when you try to apply logic. It's the absence of logic that makes dream architecture possible, you know."

She turns and there he is, wearing that tiny smirk of a grin. He's rounded the loop another time already while she was struggling with the paradox. His hands are resting in his pockets as he rises the last few steps to her, grin still worn well on that keen, lean face. She more or less pouts at him until he relents with a chuckle and drops the stairs to ground zero. They walk away together, Arthur leading, toward a hallway that looks a lot one you'd find in a hotel: lined with numbered doors. The first reads 101 on its brass-colored plate.

Ariadne tackles the subject again, unable to understand. "How can you sleep and not dream? Isn't dreaming your," she pauses unintentionally as she tries to convey this confusion as best she can, "your brain, your... subconscious? I thought it was all like an involuntary thing, dreaming." Almost like the projections, isn't it?

"It is. Well, for most ordinary people. Unfortunately," Arthur says to her, grand sarcasm only lightly sprinkled atop his words, "the things we do— the things we build, in dreams," he adds pointedly, glancing her way, "are far from ordinary.

"When people share dreams, the meeting place needs to be stable enough to agree with all the dreamers' sense of altered reality. If, for instance..." They reach the end of a hall and turn a full 90-degree left turn into the next. As they head down to the end of the new hall he nods toward a mural painted along the entire length of the wall, depicting a spectacular moonscape. Ariadne lets her eyes linger on the blues and oranges a bit before looking back at the Point Man. She finds that his eyes are still on that picture.

"If I decided, 'the hell with reality,' and decided to use that in a shared dream," he continues, still looking at those blues and oranges, "and you wake up in it, how would you feel?"

A shadow of a smile flits across her features. "'Wake up'?"

"Wake up in the dream," he corrects himself smoothly.

Ariadne has to look back at the picture before she can answer. "Uhm, pretty disoriented I suppose."

"No, you wouldn't be." Arthur's pace picks up; they round another 90-degree turn. "Because my logic, as the dreamer, trumps your logic, as a foreign entity. I decide that it's normal, so you have no choice but to accept it. Our brains automatically search for the most plausible explanation to our surroundings; a fault of human nature, as some would call it," he shrugs, "but it keeps the dreamscape from becoming a patchwork of all the dreamers' subconscious scenery. It's easier to explain my moon-world as a whole than it is to explain why it stops and becomes New York on a line."


He turns to her finally, lips pressed together; she's stopped in her tracks and is staring at the wall, lips slightly parted. Arthur knows that that— if her monosyllabic reply didn't give it away already— means the gears are churning under that doe-eyed facade, so he takes his time backtracking the few steps to her side, and smiles to himself, and watches her think.

It startles him a bit when she catches him staring. He holds the gaze longer on purpose, just to make it seem as if he meant to let her notice. When he finally looks away and turns to walk down the hallway again, she follows.

"So... that's why you designate a dreamer before actually going into the dream." Another turn. This time the halls are unpainted. "And have the architect teach the layouts to each dreamer."

"Yes, precisely."

"That doesn't explain why you guys don't dream anymore, though."

He doesn't falter, but he's surprised. She's quick, like Cobbs has said. Keeps saying. Arthur realizes belatedly that he hasn't been giving the man's words enough credit, despite discovering that Ariadne is indeed a much faster learner than he'd anticipated.

It takes a considerably shorter time to reach the end of this particular hall, even though physically— visually, the Architect reminds herself, since physics apparently went to hell in dreams anyway— it's just as long as the others were. Ariadne wonders if he's feeling impatient. "Arthur?"

Stop. Pause. Turn. He's like a well-oiled machine, down to the last hair on his raised eyebrow. He answers without looking at her. "Humans don't dream in the deepest level of sleep, but in REM sleep. That'd be like a level just above regular sleep- leaving the brain just awake enough to allow the consciousness to fabricate a world. But to dream lucidly you need to be even more awake than that, yet still in REM."

She digests this within a heartbeat. "Yeah, so?"

"Somnacin, the drug that allows us to share dreams, forces the brain directly into REM sleep on the level required for lucid dreaming. This would be what we refer to as the, ah, level one dream. As you can see." A gesture toward their current surroundings is all that's needed to illustrate the point. "After awhile... the brain loses the ability to enter REM sleep on its own. It becomes dependent on a new catalyst in order to lift itself out of the deepest sleep- the catalyst being the drug. And it also loses its ability to dream on any deeper level than lucid. Meaning—"

"You can't dream a dream... without actually living it." There's something like hushed reverence in her voice now, but it's a lot darker than just reverence. And what she's realized is a lot more twisted than something worth revering. "You can't just forget a dream after waking up because you always dream lucid. Every dream becomes another reality..."

"Because you can't enter REM without the drug. In a nutshell, that's the idea."


"A pity, really." Arthur's grin is edged with a kind of solemness. "Though that would really depend on the dream."

She shakes her head. "...inconceivable."

Her eyes snap to his, and he finds himself turning away more quickly than he's comfortable with. Accusations are heavy burdens to bear, even if they are unspoken and within a dream. He's been in her position before, she knows. As a newbie, pattering away in dreamlevels worth less than pennies in the actual underground. Just discovering the actual, if intangible sacrifices that they all made and were making in exchange for the freedom to play God in an ungoverned dimension. Realizing that by just being— just existing— in this building, this hall, this dream, she is effectively losing to oblivion one of the things that makes her fundamentally human.

Now she knows exactly what Cobbs has exposed her to. What Arthur, as the ever-vigilant right-hand-man, had voiced his concern about to the Extractor over a salad and wine only a few days before. In a plane for which they paid with the profits of their losses.

He shrugs, feeling deflated. "Not the word I would have chosen, but... I suppose."

Édith Piaf's distorted voice chooses just that moment to seep through the walls of the empty hall, reminding them of the little time they have left in this world.

A hand settles gently on Ariadne's shoulder, beckoning her away from deeper thoughts. "Come on. Time's almost up. I want to show you one last thing." He sets off toward the light at the end of the tunnel, that faraway smudge of sunlight contrasting against the yellow florescents that have been the only source of visibility for the past few minutes.

Or maybe it wasn't so faraway after all. They're out of the hallway in mere seconds.

"...What is it you wanted to show me?" Ariadne asks him, when she realizes there isn't anything new to see. The stairs aren't there, and the projections aren't any more suspicious of them than when they first left this room.

"Think about it," Arthur replies smugly, hands in his pockets again.

The hallway? It's the most obvious answer, but she can't imagine anything that was extraordinarily strange. She tells him this. Then she tells him that she definitely knows he's up to something, but she hopes he realizes that keeping it from her like a stuffy old prick won't help her learn any better already so he should just hurry up and spit it out— not exactly in those words, of course, but she gets the message across.

"Ariadne." It's baffling how he can so easily command her full attention with just a single word. "What shape was the building we were walking though? How many corners?"

"Four," and she almost adds of course, but then catches herself. There were five corners.


"No, not impossible," Arthur reminds her gently, leading the way out of the five-cornered, square building just as the final notes sliver through the glass walls. The last thing she sees before they inevitably awaken is their reflection on the door as it swings shut: herself, the Architect, bright young hopeful conceiver-of-worlds in training; and her mentor, the Point Man, ever the flawless professional, regarding her closely through infinitely dark, hooded eyes.

It was only just like a...


I don't own Inception.
Written: August 2-3, 2010