I am terrified to write this story. After my last story, I had sworn to myself that I would be done writing for a long time. That lasted until July 16th. I've had an idea festering for a few weeks now, but have been too busy or too nervous to act on it. Right now, the story is only about three chapters-worth done, and while I hate posting when the story is still so premature, I'm afraid I'll give up if I don't get some feedback from someone, soon. So here's my attempt at my own story in Christopher Nolan's beautifully intelligent tale of Inception(set before the film, by at least a year).
The sun was blistering. Literally, blistering. Like the kind of blinding brightness and painful burning that can only be made up for the movies. There was no escape from it, absolutely no way to be comfortable. Every inch of ground for hundreds of miles was sand, sand that slipped into a person's shoes when they weren't noticing and clung to their skin to prevent any moistness from reaching them. There wasn't a tree in sight. Not even a rock. It was all rusty-orange, chokingly-dry sand. There was a haze on the horizon no matter where you looked. In the haze, there might have been a shape. It was hard to tell, caught between the heat and the light. But there really seemed to be a shape. Something slightly darker than the rest of the land, and it wavered the slightest bit from side to side, but going in neither direction. It couldn't have been leaving, so it must be arriving.
"Do you see that?" The woman finally asked, her voice breaking through the painfully hot air.
The man at her side raised his head, brow furrowed and eyes squinting towards the figure. He nodded.
"What is it?"
The man shrugged. "Hard to say."
"You don't know?" She glanced at him. "I thought this was your dream."
"No, you're the dreamer, it's just my subconscious that populates it all."
"Right. So whatever that is, is from your subconscious?"
"Yes. But I don't choose who or what appears in the dream. Not, well, consciously, anyway," the man flashed a small smile, then abruptly grew serious as he looked at the approaching person. "So I don't know what that is."
The woman stared at it for another moment. It was closer, but no more definitive. "And what do you want me to do?"
"Whatever you can think of to quickly and efficiently get rid of who or whatever that might be."
The woman looked at the taller man curiously. "Absolutely anything?"
He offered another small smile, shrugging.
She nodded then, to herself, and focused on the figure, who was suddenly much closer than she had expected. It was a person; a nomad of some sorts on a camel. Fitting, in the desert landscape. The person came closer, and she could make out the loose clothing, the cloth draped over the head to shield them from the sun. Her mind flipped through a dozen different ways to get rid of the target – a pit suddenly opening in the sand, a ridiculously powerful gust of wind sweeping them away, the camel throwing the rider and trampling them to death, perhaps even the rider's clothes spontaneously bursting into flame – but none seemed fitting. As she thought about it again, with the camel and rider close enough for her to see the rider's dark eyes, she found it difficult to picture any of those things happening to the approaching figures. She couldn't just kill them like that, because her recruiter had said so. She couldn't just sweep this person with a name and a life off the map because she was told to-
"What was that?"
The woman turned back to the man beside her, and flushed, the wave of heat nearly suffocating on top of the unbearable temperature of the land around them. "I didn't…I don't know what-"
"Devona, it was simple – just get rid of the target. This is as basic as it gets. And they just walked by. What was the problem?"
She couldn't meet the man's intense gaze and shifted, looking away. "I started thinking… I just, I couldn't kill him. He hadn't done anything to me. He was just walking by."
The man sighed heavily, passing a hand over his dark blonde hair. "Devona, they're not real. It was a projection! You know this is a dream, couldn't you have figured that out?"
"I'm sorry, Cobb," she replied quietly, but he was shaking his head.
"We're on a schedule, Devona. I only have so long to train you. And you want to do this, don't you?"
"Yes, absolutely. Of course I do."
"Then you need to learn these projections aren't people. They don't have lives or feelings or anything. Okay?" She nodded, sobered by the man's stern reaction of her mistake. He sighed again, and then spoke softer, "I know how difficult it can be to forget that, Devona. But you just have to do your best."
She nodded again. "Sorry Cobb. It won't happen again."
"Right." He glanced at his watch. "Now time should almost-"
Devona opened her eyes to soft florescent lighting and the delightful sensation of cool air, and found herself laid back in a plain chair.
"-be up." Cobb finished, and smiled slightly at the younger woman, although his eyes stayed stern.
"How'd it go?" A younger, dark-haired man asked, leaning against a table nearby. His young features showed little expression, other than his constant look of passive ease.
Cobb didn't answer, so Devona took it upon herself to speak the embarrassment. "I couldn't do it. Kill the guy, or whatever."
"Couldn't do it?"
She shrugged, further ashamed at the disbelieving tone in the boy's voice. He looked to Cobb instead.
"We need to go again. Different place though, please," he looked directly at Devona and for the first time seemed to be teasing her, "and preferably somewhere a bit more crowded."
"Crowded?" The younger man, Arthur, interjected, "But if that's case, when she starts altering things to work her way, won't-"
"It'll be fine," Cobb interrupted, laying himself down again, "I've got it planned out."
Arthur muttered something about plans, but began readying the dream-inducing machine again anyway. Devona laid herself down as she had before, and allowed the needle to slide into her arm-
Someone bumped into her shoulder, knocking her aside, and was immediately followed by another push from behind. She grunted in surprise and muttered curses, before doing her best to avoid them and find Cobb, wherever he was in the chaos. People were on all sides of her, moving and pushing and speaking in what quickly became a dull roar.
"Cobb?" She called, and was knocked forward again. "Cobb?" Her voice was swallowed by the couple hundred other voices around her. She'd never been particularly tall, but she wasn't short either, and yet it was impossible to see clearly enough to locate the man. With a heavy sigh of aggravation, she pushed through the throng of people surrounding her, searching frantically for her new boss.
She wasn't sure how long she turned and wove and shoved through the aggravatingly thick throng of people until she remembered the most fascinating part of dreaming – she could change things to fit her desires. And with that thought, she stepped past a group of young boys to find an empty trolley track. People walked around the tracks rather than on them, and she quickly claimed the empty space.
Devona walked for a while, constantly looking for Cobb, needing instructions, but he was impossible to find in the crowded street. Was it a holiday or what? Then, fearing they would soon be out of time and she would be scolded again for not completing her task, Devona decided it might be easier to wait for Cobb to find her. She turned to her right, willing a café to appear, and then seated herself at the clean table, a steaming mug of coffee before her. She didn't notice the dark glances thrown her way.
Experimenting with the layout of the dream was something she'd hardly had practice with, and also something she felt would be nice to use in the job her new boss had hired her for. And if this was a dream, there were no boundaries… A large, dark red truck roared past her, whipping her hair, and then slamming into a couple bystanding-projections. One way to get rid of anyone causing problems. A man talking on his phone suddenly found himself electrified straight through by an unnaturally strong current flowing through the earpiece. The passing trolley dropped into a sinkhole that hadn't been there seconds before. Devona had to smile to herself. It was gruesome, but it was fun and effiecent. Plus, if what Cobb said was true, they weren't real anyway. A flash of lightning struck down a woman with her shopping bags, just feet away from a young girl and boy crouching and playing with something on the ground. Devona couldn't see their faces, only the backs of their blonde heads.
"Cobb?" She called again, raising from her seat, and thought she heard a faint reply. Again, she pushed her way through a crowd of people, before finally glimpsing her boss's profile.
"Devona?" he was calling.
"Cobb, here!" He turned her way, and was immediately blocked from sight. A growl of frustration escaped the woman's lips, and she let her imagination take control.
A semi's horn blared as it roared through the crowd. Cobb stood twenty feet away from her, looking a bit alarmed.
"Sorry," Devona apologized as she jogged towards him, "I was getting annoy- hey!" Someone pushed her from behind. "Cobb, what.." She wasn't sure what to ask. Everyone around them was staring at her.
She backed up instinctively, as the crowd stepped closer. A couple of them reached for her, and in a panic, she made the ground fall from beneath their feet. Now it wasn't just a few projections after her – they all were.
"Cobb!" she yelled, turning to him – and finding him taken by the crowd. "Cobb!" Hands grabbed her arms and her shirt, pulling her a hundred ways. Desperate, she tried to beat the crazy mob away, wracking her mind for a more definite defense. She had a baton in her hand now, one like police officers carried. It helped and yet it didn't – the mob seemed even more frenzied. A couple of them had somehow mimicked her baton and she cried out, surprised to feel the pain. Devona knew she needed to defend herself, but the pain startled her and everything was happening so fast, and she was being beaten down to the ground and kicked, and she bleeding and screaming-
Devona felt her body spasm with her scream, which echoed eerily in the spacious warehouse. Her breathing was desperate and gasping, the sharpness of reality slowly sinking in. She looked around frantically, but took in no other detail than that the mob was gone.
A deep chuckle snapped her to attention.
"The projections get you, then?"
The speaker was unfamiliar. A man, not as immaculately or professionally kempt as Arthur or Cobb, unshaven, slouching casually in his own chair, English. And handsome.
"Y-yeah," Devona answered shakily, pulling her gaze from the man hesitantly. She found Arthur muttering to Cobb at the chair beside her, neither seeming concerned with what had happened. "What the hell was that?" She burst, recollecting the panic and pain. The men conversing turned to her. "Where did you go? What happened?"
Arthur and Cobb exchanged a glance. Cobb offered a tiny smile but, as Devona was discovering was usual for him, it didn't reach his eyes. "You changed things in the dream too much. The subconsceince was fighting back."
Devona's brow fell in thought. "But changing things is what you want me to do." Cobb nodded. "So you want me to get…get attacked, get killed by those people?"
"Preferrably not," he replied, with another faux-smile. She glared, frustrated, in return. "So, you're going to have a protection."
"But I am the protection."
"Yes and no. You organize and operate the team's protection, as we carry out our task in the dream. You protect us from angry projections or specially trained defense projections, and so on. Your protection keeps an eye solely on you, so you can protect the rest of us."
"That's a bit…hectic, don't you think?"
Cobb shrugged. "We've never done it before. So we'll see."
"Shall we give it a go then?" The unidentified English man spoke again, beginning to roll up his shirt sleeve.
"Devona, this is Eames. He'll be your protection in the dream."
"Hello, love," Eames flashed a charming grin, showing a front tooth slightly out of line with the rest.
Devona just nodded in return. "So," she turned to Cobb again, "what are we doing this time?"
"Same thing as we've been attempting so far. You just…practice. Once the projections retaliate, as they always do, Eames will be there to keep you alive until the task is completed."
"Right now, there isn't one. We're just seeing how long Eames can keep you alive."
Devona glanced at the rough-looking man seated on the opposite side of her. He gave a mild smile, not showing any teeth this time.
"Don't fret, sweetheart, I'm one of the best." He winked and looked past her. "Arthur, could you be any slower with that thing?"
The younger man threw a glare in the Englishman's direction, then abruptly ignored him and checked the dream-inducer again. "How long?"
"Two hours, just in case," Cobb replied.
Arthur nodded, separating the needles that would be used. "Okay, here goes. Two hours, protection testing."
As the needle slid into her arm for the third time that day, Devona was hardly feeling it anymore.
They were inside, in a building. Some sort of corporate place it seemed, from the sparkling marble floors, walls made of windows, and perfect, cold lighting. A main desk was to their right, yards from the front doors, and seated at it was a receptionist, doing paperwork. A man and woman talking idly walked past.
"Come along then," Eames' light-hearted accent broke the stillness.
Devona followed the man without a word, taking in her surroundings. Men and women in formal suits walked around, some talking, some carrying briefcases, some casual and others rushing and checking watches. No one noticed them.
"Where's Cobb?" She asked Eames, glancing up at him as he replied.
"Our fearless leader stayed behind, I believe. He and Arthur have some business arrangements to talk over. The dream only needs the two of us anyway," he looked down at her then, smiling.
Devona flushed beneath his look, and turned away. "Where are we going?"
He shrugged. "Nowhere particular. You've got to start things happening first."
"Right," she remembered her assignment for the dream, and began more closely observing the surrounding peoples. "Take the elevator."
"I didn't put an elev- oh," Eames smiled as he spotted the stainless steel double-doors to their left. "That elevator."
They stepped into it, and Devona pressed the button for the third floor. They were taken to the level quickly, and stepped out into a wine-colored, expensively carpeted hallway, complete with vintage wooden furniture and lighting. The Englishman raised his eyebrows.
"Well this is rich."
"I had an aunt with a house that looked a lot like this. It was gorgeous."
"So is this a replica of her house?"
"Yeah, pretty much."
"You want to be careful about that, darling. Too much building from memory and…things don't go well."
Devona pretended to study a priceless-looking painting on the wall, trying to calm the ridiculous shiver that went up her spine at the word "darling". "I thought the point of this was for things to go wrong."
Eames thought for a moment, then shrugged again. "Suit yourself then. What next?"
Devona bit her lip, thinking. "I'm not sure."
"How about this – I could really use a beer," the man grinned, flashing those asymmetrical teeth again.
Devona got the hint and smiled nervously. Without saying anything, she opened the door to their left, and stepped inside. In the room they found a bar, with bottles of alcohol shelved behind it and a bartender at the counter. He eyed Devona warily.
"What can I get you two?" he asked automatically.
Eames asked for a scotch, while Devona dismissed the offer. She sat restlessly at the bar beside the Englishman, letting him sip his scotch while her eyes roved over the room. There were a couple other "customers" with them, but they all stared at her.
"Eames…" she whispered, finding herself panicky under their stares, recalling what happened last time.
"Easy love," he murmured, sending another girlish shiver up her spine, "they won't do anything yet."
"When will they?"
"Hmm," he knocked back the last drops of his drink, and played with the empty glass in his palm, "Once you do something to this glass. Ready?"
"What- Eames!" He'd simply tossed the glass into the air above their heads, and waited for it to come down on the bar between them, where the glass would shatter into their skin. Devona knew vaguely what he wanted, and frantically threw her first impulsive idea at the glass – and it came down in a shower of raindrops.
Eames laughed, warm and hearty, and shook the water off his head. "Raindrops? That's what came to mind?" Devona shrugged and blushed, suddenly feeling that she should have reacted in a less childish way. "No, that's good. Quick thinking. But I think it's time we go.." The man glanced looked purposefully at the projections seated around the room, all glaring at Devona and rising from their seats.
Devona stared for a moment, transfixed by the reaction of make-believe peoples in one's own mind, before Eames gripped her elbow and pulled her forward. As soon as they moved, so did the projections, launching themselves towards Devona. Once more, hands tore at her clothes and hair, and only with Eames' help did she push her way out the door, back into the hall.
"This way," Eames kept a hold on her, leading her towards the elevator at the end of the hall. He hesitated after a few steps. A large, chocolate brown lab with a graying muzzle stood in front of the elevator doors, it's lips curled to reveal vicious yellowing teeth, it's hackles raised threateningly. "Devona," Eames asked quietly, "what is that?"
She stared for a moment at the dog. "That's…Kips."
"Your aunt's dog?"
"Yeah. But- well, he died over a decade ago."
"Well he's here right now, and I don't think we're going to get downstairs that way anytime soon. We need a different route." He grunted, both hands now latched onto the doorknob of the room they'd just left, where the angry projections fought to tear it open and rip them apart. "Soon, please."
"Right, okay…" she looked around frantically, then shut her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, another door sat half-open across from them. "Here!"
Eames let her run towards it first, then released the doorknob and dashed after her. When he moved, the dog by the elevator snarled and raced towards him, but the distance from it to Eames was too far, while Eames to the door was blessedly short. He rushed inside and slammed that door shut too, sliding a number of different locks home.
P.S. I apologize now for any possible - and likely - misconceptions about the rules of dreaming/extracting that I may write.
And just a side note - Devona means "protector", while Eames means "wealthy protector". I didn't mean for such similar name meanings, but it's actually beneficial to my plan for the story ;)