The Beautifully Logical Progression
He opened his eyes and looked around, taking inventory, and saw his office precisely as he knew it always was—two hundred year old oak furniture carved into a sleek modern desk with two matching end tables, a wall with a massive floor to ceiling built-in bookshelf jam packed with sundry books including several first editions, a hand-woven Indian rug from one of the many stops on his honeymoon that Ariadne had wanted to see in person and not just through Arthur's dream-memories, and a handsome leather couch that Cobb had sent him as a wedding present.
Still—any experienced dreamer knew that you couldn't always trust your eyes. Arthur took out his die, opened a drawer, and rolled it away from the prying eyes of about six people in his office. Four.
No need for a third. Arthur ran his hand over his slicked back hair and looked up at his students. Each of them was checking their own totem and a relieved look washed over them each time the totem reaffirmed their reality.
"Alright, who can summarize the lesson?"
One hand raised but a curt male voice cut in, "In terms of stability, the dream must go completely undetected which means trying to control your voluntary assessment of the dream or else you run the risk of your subconscious exposing the con."
Groans echoed from the other pupils and one quiet girl in the back kept her hand raised, "Georgianne?"
"Also you have to maintain an assessment of your setting and the subconscious clues of the mark to ascertain whether or not they suspect anything. It is important to keep track of the little things the projections do—nervous ticks like nail biting, tapping their fingernails, or smoking could be a sign that the mark suspects the con."
The boy who had spoken out of turn flicked his eyes at her and Arthur detected a minute smile just starting to form on his face. The girl rested her gaze on the back of the boy's head and sighed a little before she stuck the cord of her sweatshirt in her mouth and nibbled on it. The boy adjusted his leather jacket and tried to look nonplussed at the overwhelmingly annoyed classmates who generally found him an apple-polishing pain-in-the-ass.
Arthur found him to be a bit too much like his teacher and it was a little uncomfortable for the Point Man, "Very good, both of you. By Friday you all need to have a workable draft of three emergency exits based off of today's exercise."
Groans filled the room except for the Apple Polisher and Georgianne.
"Drafts, as always, must be typed, double-spaced, with a cover page, an index, and no less than six diagrams."
Georgianne shoved her books in her bag and sat the sack delicately on her lap. She had a scuffed pair of black and white wingtips that reminded Arthur of poodle skirts and carhops. The Apple Polisher leaned over to put his own books away and held a lingering look at her shoes. Arthur wondered how long it would take the uptight, straight A student to ask out his meek classmate.
Arthur focused on Georgianne as she approached his desk, "Yes?"
"Is your wife's class still at five tomorrow?"
"It's delayed to six, she has a doctor's appointment. Have you decided which role suits you more?"
Georgianne shrugged and her reddish brown hair fell in her face, "Still deciding. I think I'm more suited to Point but I really love architecture."
"It'll come to you."
She nodded. Outside the door her overzealous classmate waited for her and Arthur heard him ask, "Do you want to compare notes for the homework?"
Arthur escorted his students out of their side entrance and walked down the hall and up the stairs where the sounds of construction became increasingly louder. Drills and electric saws buzzed in the air and the end of the hallway became draped in Tyvek and drop cloths. Three doors down on the right was a plywood outline of a door and inside was a rudimentary floor. A woman in a burnt orange sweater, dark jeans, scuffed up Oxfords and a purple and green paisley scarf stood holding a blueprint, gently directing the various workmen and consulting with the head builder.
"Make sure that the load wall extends deeply enough into the room that the beams can take the weight off of the windows. I want the wall of windows to have as little wood interruption as we can manage. And I want you to be sure that the proportions go into the Mughal dome for the ceiling and the windows mimic iwans."
"Yes m'am. My men have experience with Indian designs."
"Technically they're Persian designs." She smirked and touched her thumb to the center of her back, "One of my favorite stops on my honeymoon was the Taj Mahal."
"It was a gift for the queen."
"Her tomb actually, but nonetheless a very splendid gift."
Arthur cleared his throat, "He was buried next to her, you know. Together forever."
The woman handed the blueprints to the head builder and turned around, "Some say he saw the vision for the Taj in a dream."
"It's from the Koran." Arthur smiled, "A depiction of heaven."
"Hence the perfect choice for the new addition." Ariadne leaned her head into Arthur's shoulder and he burrowed his nose into her hair, inhaling deeply, "How was class?"
"They're catching on. Some faster than others."
She nodded and tried to massage her lower back again, Arthur reached down and kneaded it for her, "Better?"
"Mmhmm." She closed her eyes and relished the sensation for a minute, "Did you remind them that class with me is moved to six tomorrow?"
"Georgianne asked me to confirm."
Ariadne rolled her eyes, "She'll email the whole bunch of them a reminder."
He shrugged, "Saves you from doing it. She's extremely on task."
"She's anal retentive. She's going to pick Point over Architect, I just know she is." Ariadne made a face, "Another one bites the dust. I need to go visit universities again and recruit."
"Not for a few more months, you aren't. I'll do it if you feel the need to have it done directly but really you still have a class of eight. It's more than I have." Arthur laid a hand on her burgeoning belly and tapped his fingers to remind her of a growing burden.
She shot him a look that said As if I forgot about that.
Ariadne laid a hand over his, "I know, I know... Think we're doing alright? The school, I mean. I know the renovations are going splendidly. I make certain that they go splendidly."
Arthur humphed over that because he was of the opinion that letting his pregnant wife hang out in a construction site was a bad idea but he found it hard to say no to her and she was very picky about how the new addition, a nursery and playroom, were to look. She had been very picky about the building of their country home from day one and he had to appreciate the end result. They had a positively stunning home. There had been offers from a few magazines to feature them but they politely refused- it was their home, one of the things that they didn't share in full with anyone else. Students had a wing, visitors were met in a wing, and there were a dozen passageways and architectural paradoxes to get lost in before you got to the heart of the home where they lived. They were almost always working on some part of the house, keeping it fluid and unique so that no matter how hard someone from the outside studied it they could never fully duplicate it. Parallels had been drawn with the Winchester Mystery House with the constant state of work, secret halls and doors and seemingly senseless architectural motives but they didn't care. This was a dream for them, a dream made real, and if it seemed crazy to the world at large ... well... that was part of what made it feel like a dream with the added bonus of knowing that they were wide awake.
The house was one they half-remembered from a dozen dreams. Something they had cooked up with all the different things they loved from different landmarks and styles. Most people wouldn't get the aesthetic but they did and that was all they needed.
Ariadne held up another blueprint under Arthur's nose and he flicked his eyes at her sideways, "The new plans for expansion?"
"Expansion of the school if you think it can handle having a building bigger than our offices."
Arthur smirked, "With the funding we get for it we could easily expand it... within certain parameters."
"It's not allowed to have it's own zip code."
Ariadne rolled her eyes and unrolled the blueprint, "See if this meets your impeccably high standards."
She smoothed her sweater over her bump and Arthur caught her rubbing her right knee and said, "I'll look at it when you're laying in bed with a pillow under your feet."
"Yes, doctor." She allowed him to lead her down the twisting, winding floor plan and into the Spartan bedroom they occupied. It had a deep cherry floor and accents next to plain gray walls. The only real show-stopper was the floor to ceiling copy of Ascending and Descending by Escher across from their bed. It was a simple king bed with a cherry four-poster frame and paisley sheets. Their master bath was attached and done entirely in a deep gray and white marble. It looked like a home edition of their favorite hotels and they still got goosebumps walking into it together and feeling smacked over the face with that at-home feeling.
Arthur turned down the sheets for Ariadne and plumped pillows for her and she rolled her eyes, "I can do that myself. I'm not an invalid. Sacajawea climbs mountains with Louis and Clark when she was pregnant."
"You're not Sacajawea and I do not need you to lead me over mountains." Arthur kissed her forehead, "I just need you to take it easy and be healthy."
"This from the man who once threw me to a hungry grizzly bear."
"I shot you before he got to you, I was trying to keep you away from the landmine."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. That old trying-to-save-you-from-the-landmine line." She smiled and pulled him down to the bed next to her, he looked like he resented having his vest rumpled but in an instantly he wrapped an arm around her and placed a loving hand over her bulge.
"What are your plans for our training school?"
"It needs an official name."
"We aren't a legal facility, I'm not sure having a Google Keyword is necessarily in our best interests." Arthur felt a slight push coming from inside Ariadne's stomach and moved his hand to where the baby was kicking and beamed, "Is the name as far as you got?"
"Of course not, I have two floors designed. The space includes a cafeteria, dorms, research library with computer terminals, chemical room for document forging, art supply room for architectural design, a gym for physical training, offices for its esteemed teachers and a plain dreary-Parisian-warehouse inspired room for the actual dreaming with an affixed PASIV and a storage space for Somnacin."
The baby kicked doubletime as Ariadne listed the features of the room as if the little creature could sense her enthusiasm.
"You are going to put a serious dent in our funding." Arthur sighed and she nuzzled into him, "It's ok, I'm sure we can appeal to NATO or whatever."
"We're sponsored by a neutrality agreement of the U.N. underwritten by the E.U. and the U.S., NATO has nothing to do with it."
"Acronyms and I never agreed. I leave all that in your capable hands."
Arthur was about to lament his child's future if it couldn't decipher United States from U.S. when Ariadne's cell phone went off.
Sweet dreams are made of this, Who am I to disagree? ….
She glanced at the number and shot Arthur a bemused look, "Hello mom."
He heard a yammering sound on the other line, "No mom, nothing tragic has happened since Monday when I last spoke to you…. No.. No, still pregnant, no early labor…"
Arthur tried to suppress a laugh but couldn't—Ariadne's mother had checked in once a week at minimum to see if Ariadne had spontaneously given birth yet (as if that would even be a good thing when she was only six months in) and Ariadne smacked him to try and disguise the noise.
"No mom I wasn't laughing at you, that was Arthur…. Yes I agree twisted sense of humor," She rolled her eyes at him, pointed to her stomach and then mimed eating and gave him large, pleading eyes.
He pressed a quick kiss to her lips and said loudly enough for the cell phone to pick it up, "I'll get you a tuna sandwich, give my best to Cheryl."
Loud, angry squawking burst through the phone and Ariadne had to hold it away from her ear, "Mom he was only joking about the tuna…. Yes I'm sure he remembers that he promised you to never poison your unborn grandchild with mercury….Yes he's being very careful not to let me anywhere near the construction… Yes I know sawdust is bad for the baby….Yes I heard that Lysol kills 99.9% of germs… No I have not Lysoled my coffee mug. ….THAT WAS NOT AN ADMISSION OF DRINKING COFFEE!...Yes I want my child to have normal brain function…"
Arthur was laughing outright as he exited to the kitchen where he preheated the oven and got out the ingredients for Shepherd's Pie. As he was fixing it he took out his own phone and dialed the third preset but the number went to voicemail.
"Hi, it's Uncle Arthur calling to see how Maddy and Grace were doing. Hope you and Madeline are doing well, give me a call sometime before the weekend or else I'll be buried under a pile of papers."
He couldn't tell if his brother really wasn't home or had screened his call but it was nice to know that he'd get around to listening to it eventually. Their relationship would never be perfect but at least it existed now which was better than what it had been a few short years ago. His nieces had been told that Uncle Arthur died and they were delighted when he showed up one day with a pretty lady that they assumed was an angel and berated about the appearance of Heaven and the temperament of God (and, of course, whether or not they had met the girls' recently deceased Poodle in the Great Kennel In The Sky).
Dinner was assembled but needed to be cooked and Arthur rolled his die, saw the four, and sent out two lone text messages to well memorized numbers. The messages simply said "It's still real."
Cobb saw Arthur's message while he was walking into Phillipa's ballet recital, holding James' hand as the boy dragged his feet with everything he had so as not to be caught in a ballet recital, and the former Extractor smirked at the simple truth.
"Yes it is." He replied, "See you next week with my new group."
Arthur had cracked the code that Cobb had spent years trying to figure out—how to do dreams for a living without being a criminal. Arthur had used Miles' high ranking contacts in the military to gain an audience with the top officials of the United Nations. From there he had convinced them that since Extractors pretty much worked freelance for any country that would hire them it was in the best interests of the United Nations to set an unofficial regulation of the industry. Only France and Canada had legalized Dream Manipulation, and they only permitted it for its use in psychotherapy, but unofficially every country had a base where it taught its best and brightest how to make dreams and defend the mind. These students were later assigned to high ranking positions in the governments of whatever country they chose and the presence of so many well educated Dreamers had significantly reduced the number of Government Extractions that went on in a given year. At first Cobb had been suspicious that the out-of-work Extractors would come after himself and Arthur in retribution but rather the opposite had happened—most of the people in the Dream Industry weren't committed to a criminal lifestyle but a dreaming one and they were more than willing to have government approved dreaming sessions. Most of them were even willing to teach. It wasn't to say that the industry was perfectly safe or perfectly smooth sailing but it was at least a bit easier than before and there were significantly fewer bullets being shot at everyone.
Arthur and Cobb had also personally trained a team of doctors and psychiatrists to perform the Coma Wakenings. They weren't a publicly admitted form of treatment, yet, because of the extremely high death tolls but on the last report there was now a 40% chance of survival with full facilities.
Cobb knew that Arthur became more and more grateful for Ariadne's recovery every time new details from that particular experiment reached him.
As Phillipa danced Cobb imagined what life might have been like if this business had changed so little as five years ago. Mal might have been watching her daughter dance to The Waltz of the Sugarplum Fairy.
But, Cobb reminded himself, this was real. All the ups, and all the downs.
And it was worth it.
Eames opened his phone, took one look at Arthur's message, and typed back "Not as real as what I did to your mother" and shut his phone with a satisfied click. He returned his attention to the craps game going on in front of him and felt the reassuring weight of a stack of forged chips in his sleeve. Eames was one who liked this life because it offered him the chance to both dream and break laws so he had politely declined the opportunity to teach full-time at Arthur and Ariadne's little school.
"What would I teach them anyway besides a host of bad habits, eh?" He had asked but on the inside he had been touched. Once in a while he dropped by and when he did he would always moonlight as a real teacher and show the kiddies a thing or two about proper Physical Forging.
By his count he was due for a visit in a few months… once the little genetic clone of the Point Man was out and about in the world and probably organizing its stuffed animals by species and color. The quiet life of the others wasn't what Eames was interested in. He liked to cheat at cards and get paid under the table in Swiss bank accounts, he liked traveling all over the globe and resting with the assurance that he never had to remember a woman's name for longer than a few months. He enjoyed living in hotels (particularly five star ones) and he slept excellently on airplanes.
Still… it was nice to know that if he ever changed his mind, there was now an option besides waiting to grow too old to work and too wretched about that to care about living.
"Cheater! Cheat!" Someone across the table cried as one of Eames' chips fell out of his sleeve.
With one smart ass smirk he took off at a run through the casino and dodged bullets with the feeling of absolute vigor in his chest.
Ariadne got off the phone with her mother and rubbed her temples. She loved her mother, adored their conversations, but she would be a lot less bombarded with questions when the baby was safely delivered. Rubbing her hands over her engorged belly she wondered what it was, a boy or a girl, and knew that Arthur had already raided the doctor's notes and found out the sex and the measurements, to the millimeter, of the child's growth (for comparison purposes only). She knew that Arthur was make Shepherd's Pie, primarily because it was the only thing he was good at making, and she knew that she had a few minutes to be blissfully alone in their big, comfy bed without anyone besides the baby trying to figure out what was on her mind.
She pulled the brass Bishop out of her pocket and put it on the nightstand. It fell with a Thud and she didn't retrieve it right away.
She was happy, doing what she loved with someone she loved and she was even getting the chance at having a family without the possibility of death, dismemberment or jail looming overhead. She was getting a life that she had never dreamed of having but, now possessing, could never be coerced into giving up.
She had the dream, the best dream, the one that you got to keep even after you woke up and she kept staring at the Bishop as though he was going to start rolling around when Arthur came in with her dinner. He pressed a button and part of the Escher lithograph opened to reveal a flat screen TV. They watched It's a Wonderful Life and talked about colors to paint the nursery. Ariadne kept trying to trick Arthur into committing to a gendered color but he stuck to neutrals because he knew that Ariadne really wanted to be surprised. He hated surprises and loved knowing precisely what kind of little creature was going to be living in that Heavenly Nursery.
As they talked the sounds of the construction going on seemed to get closer, louder. The TV warbled a little.
And on the nightstand…
The Bishop rolled ever so slightly.
A/N- Please review and on that parting note: toldya I was keeping it movie-verse! See if you can spot how it might work out that this isn't real (hint—the first sign is in the Coma Chapter, I was rather surprised none of you picked it up as a potential continuity flaw)
Love to all of you! Review review review review!
And yes, that is the last chapter. I haven't completely decided against more one-shots...really depends on the Inception DVD release which I predict to be the first week of December.