Obscure and Lonely
"I need your help Dom. I can't do this without you."
Cobb looked at Mal who looked just as uneasy as he did, then he shook his head. "You're talking about extraction," he said in a strained voice. "We specialize in subconscious security. You're asking us to do the exact opposite of what we strive to do."
His friend fixed an intent look on him. "But you know how to do it. Just like computer security experts have to know how to hack in order to know how to keep someone out, you have to know how extractors work so you can stop them. That's what I'm asking you to do. Just this once. Please."
"I don't know . . ." said Cobb.
"I wouldn't be asking if I had any other options, but I don't. I'm asking you as a personal favor. As a friend. We go way back . . ."
Cobb sighed and forced himself to meet his friend's eyes. "We do go way back, Julius," he said to the older man who'd once been one of his father's closest friends. "But what you're asking us to do . . . you want us to hack into someone's mind and steal from them."
"He's the thief," Julius Marx said, "not you. My business associates and I have reason to believe that he is involved in a major conspiracy against us. He may have acquired enough information to bring down all of our companies. I'm not asking you to rip corporate secrets from his mind, or gather information to use to blackmail someone. I don't even need you to find out what he knows. All I need is for you to find out who he's been in contact with, who he's trying to gather his information for. That's it."
"It doesn't sound like it would be too difficult," said Mal to her husband. "A little manipulation, a few of our special tricks, and we could find out what Mr. Marx needs to know."
"Please, my dear," said Marx, "Call me Julius. Dom's practically my godson, which means we're practically family."
"Daddy's your son?" four-year-old Philippa asked from atop her daddy's knee. "Does that mean you're my grandpa too?"
Marx gave Philippa a radiant smile. "No, my dear, regretfully, I'm not. But I knew your grandpa, and your grandma on your father's side. Mark my words, one day you'll be just as beautiful as she was."
Philippa gave a delighted laugh. Cobb felt a twinge of unease, but couldn't pin it down to any one thing.
"It would be one thing to try an extraction from a regular corporate spy," said Cobb, "but an extraction from a highly trained extractor is a completely different animal. He won't be any stranger to lucid dreaming, and chances are high that he'll know what's going on immediately."
"Which is where our tricks come in," said Mal. She took his hand and smiled. "I already have a plan, dear. Or at least the start of one."
"And actually, chances of him being highly trained are low," said Marx. "He's . . . well, he's got the look of an amateur."
Something about that remark didn't sit well with Cobb. "What do you mean by that?"
"He's not very experienced," Marx said. "I would swear to it. I truly believe that you can help me, Dom. And you might be the only one. Please. If you don't I could lose everythin."
Cobb sighed. Julius had been exaggerating when he'd said that they were practically family, but the man was an old friend. He looked once more at his wife, who nodded, and then gave the answer that he knew he'd give all along. "Alright," he said. "We'll try."
Julius grinned. "I knew you'd come through for me, Dom."
"I'm going to have to call in some back up," said Cobb. "Extracting from an extractor isn't going to be easy and we're going to need an ace up our sleeves."
They met at Marx's villa, which was a very large house built on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. They'd meet their subject there, or their target, as they had to start thinking of him as, as well as the man who would hopefully be their ace in the hole.
"Eames, meet Julius. Julius, Eames. He has some experience with both extraction and subconscious security."
Eames shook Julius's hand as he stepped into the house.
"Well, that sounds like it will be helpful," said Julius.
"Not in and of itself," Eames told him with his trademark grin. "You see my specialty lies in twisting a person's perceptions of his own perceptions. And to do that I need to know at least a little about our mark. So what say you show me him, as well as everything he had on him?"
Julius grinned and nodded. "That's what I like to hear," he said and motioned his guests inside. He led them through the villa which Cobb actually knew the layout of quite well, up to the second story, and into one of the darker central rooms with no windows, thus no natural light. "We've been keeping our special guest in here," he told them and flicked the light switch.
It took a couple seconds for Cobb's eyes to adjust to the change in light. When they did, he felt his stomach start sinking. In the center of the room, tied securely to a metal chair, was a skinny, dark haired kid.
"What?" he heard Mal whisper.
Not even Eames had a wisecrack, even though those were more his specialty than forgery. The kid just looked so pathetic and young, sitting there in a drugged sleep that there was absolutely nothing funny about it.
A couple dark bruises showed up on the pale skin of his face, like someone had worked him over, and his clothes, an expensive three piece suit, were wrinkled and stained with blood. An IV stand stood next to him, connecting him to a bag of ominous looking viscous liquid.
Cobb turned on Marx furiously. "Tell me that that is not sodium-pentathol!"
"It's not," said Marx quickly. "We couldn't have kept him on a drip this long and have him still be alive, you know. Truth serum was the second thing we tried. It didn't work, so we've given him a few days to get it out of his system before trying extraction."
"And the first thing you tried?" asked Eames, his sardonic tone more bitter than usual. "Beating it out of him?"
"Perhaps you three have forgotten that, despite this man's youthful stature, he is still a coorperate spy," said Marx. "He stands in a position to bring down not just my company, but several of my friends' as well. I've only done what I've had to. He was the one who made the decision to get involved in this sort of life."
That was true, Cobb knew, though it was hard to take into account when their subject looked like he belonged in highschool. Jeans and a t-shirt would have suited him better than a three piece suit.
Cobb forced himself to be objective. "What do we know about him?" he asked. "What did he have on him when you found him?"
"Not much," said Marx. He walked over to a table that had several objects on it. "A wallet with no ID. A watch, a flashdrive that we haven't been able to open because its files are encrypted, and a note that doesn't say much of anything.
Eames picked up the scrap of paper and read it. "Arthur, I can't thank you enough for everything. You're doing a good thing, but I know you know that. And I know that it's not about the money for you, no matter what you claim. I just wanted you to know that I know that, because as much as you try to pretend you're not a good person, you are one, and I believe every good person needs to know that at least one other person knows who they are inside. Be careful, and please, don't take any more risks than you have to. You've more than done your part already. God bless. Your coworker, but more importantly, your friend, June."
"Looks like June doesn't know Arthur as well as she thought," said Mal. "Unless she doesn't consider coorperate espionage to be a bad thing."
"Arthur," muttered Cobb, staring down at the boy in front of him. A suspicion had entered his mind. An idea that was going to plague him now until he had confirmation about whether he was wrong or right. Fortunately, there was an easy way to find out.
"What are you doing?" asked Eames, when Cobb began to untie Arthur's tie.
"His name is Arthur," said Cobb. "Or at least it's more likely his name is Arthur than June. Arthur's not a rare name, but it's not that common. And in our line of work . . ."
"No," said Eames incredulously. "You don't really think this kid is . . ."
"He's too young by far," agreed Mal. "Arthur Pendragon has been extracting for at least eight years."
Cobb knew they were probably right, but he needed to know for sure. As he removed the kid's tie he noticed something odd. There were several old scars under the boy's chin. They were smoothed over and pale from time, but they looked like they'd been very painful at one time. They had the look of old burn scars. He filed that bit of information away and began unbuttoning Arthur's shirt. After the third button he drew up short as more scars began to appear. "Jesus Christ," he whispered and forced himself to continue.
"Bloody hell," agreed Eames as he saw what made Cobb take the lord's name in vain. "The kid looks like he went nine rounds with Wolverine!"
The scars started right below his neck, and stayed out of sight as long as he wore a collared shirt. Anything lower cut and they would have been visible. They were old, but ugly, and very obviously intentional. Someone had slashed the kid's torso multiple times, with some sort of bladed contraption with four separate, parallel blades.
"Mon Dieu . . ." Mal took a step closer and her eyes grew wider and wider.
"That's not from me or my men," said Marx defensively. "We never took a blade to him. We never took off his clothes either, so I didn't even know those were there."
"They're old scars," said Cobb to let Marx know he was off the hook for this. A good thing too. If Cobb had thought Marx was responsible for this, he would have called off the mission right then and there. There were some lines not meant to be crossed, and torturing a kid was definitely one of them.
"Someone certainly hated the little darling," commented Eames.
Mal began unbuttoning Arthur's vest so that Cobb could unbutton the shirt further. Finally, he had gotten it undone enough to reveal the mark he'd been looking for. Over the left side of Arthur's chest, right over his heart, was a tattoo. A medieval-looking dragon. A mark that had been whispered about in the extractors' circles for years, that was, so they said, borne by the best extractor in the business. The rumors had begun back before the extraction technology's devices had become more stream-lined, back when the devices still included chest sensors, and a young new extractor with scars all over his chest that looked like they'd been made by giant claws, and a dragon tattoo above his heart had turned up with a knack for never failing. It seemed the rumors hadn't emphasized just how young the then-new extractor was.
"Pendragon," whispered Mal, looking at Cobb then Eames, then Marx. "This is Arthur Pendragon."
"That can't be his real name," insisted Marx.
"Of course it's not," said Eames. "No extractors use their real first and last name. Maybe one or the other, but they never hand out both. All the good ones know better than that . . . and Arthur Pendragon . . . well, he's the very best. Better than Penrose even."
His voice held a warning note for Cobb and Mal. Not only was it going to be very difficult to extract information from the man rumored to be the best extractor in the world, but there was something else that had to be considered too. Arthur Pendragon, like his mentor Penrose, was rumored to have standards for all of his jobs. He never hacked into someone's mind unless he believed that someone deserved to have the information he was seeking extracted, and he rarely took jobs for employers whose moral standards he did not agree with. If he now stood in a position to topple several companies with the information he'd extracted from their owners, then it could very well be that the people involved deserved it.
"He got the tattoo after he got those scars," said Cobb, looking at the dragon closely. "The ink goes right up to the edges of the scars then stops. There's no jagged lines of ink shading the scar tissue. So the tattoo was gotten after he got those scars."
"We have no way of telling how old either of them are," said Mal, but there was doubt in her voice too now. "But the scars do look old. Four years at least. Probably more."
"Why does it matter?" Marx wanted to know. The significance of who this person was obviously eluded him.
"It matters because if he really is Arthur Pendragon then this job has just gotten a lot more complicated," said Cobb.
"But you can still do the extraction, right?"
Cobb was about to answer Marx, but was distracted by a groan from Arthur.
The boy raised his head and blinked drowsily, then looked right at Cobb, confusion obvious on his young face. Then, as awareness began to set in, he must have realized that he was tied to a chair, and his eyes dropped to his unbuttoned shirt and vest. Fear rushed across his face as he looked at Cobb again. Pure dread and terror. Irrationally, Cobb felt the urge to try to comfort the kid. But then all of Arthur's emotions washed away, leaving only a cold mask in their place.
"Keep your hands off of me, asshole," he said, and Cobb would have sworn that the temperature of the room dropped about a dozen degrees.
"Such a foul mouth for such a young man," said Marx, moving closer and picking up the IV needle, which seemed to have come dislodged from Arthur's arm while Mal was unbuttoning his vest. The older man raised the needle and shoved it directly into the vein in Arthur's throat. "Mark my words, child, by the time my associates and I are finished with you, we'll have taught you some manners."
Hate darkened Arhur's eyes right before they went dim again, and his head dropped forward so that his chin struck his chest.
AN: Well, if I didn't believe what Cobb says about ideas the first time I heard it, I definitely do now. I have one chapter left of my Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles fic left to write, and I need to update my Artemis Fowl fic too, yet here I am starting a new one, because this idea took root and wouldn't let me go, lol.
This fic isn't related in any way to my other Inception fic 'Monochrome' which was a oneshot. The rating is for language (I tried to mimic their curses of choice from the movie) and for mentions of human trafficking in the upcoming chapters.
Please review! I plan on continuing whether you do or not, because like I said, I'm infected by the idea now, but if I know what you like and don't like then hopefully I can put in more of what you like and make it a better story!