Ch. 0 | The Onset of the Storm

Footsteps sounded behind him in the room. "It's time, sir. The podium's ready. Broadcasting in ten," said the man in black.

Peyton stood behind the mic, a white-in-blue seal on the wall behind him. He plucked up his courage and every breath he could muster. Strange how something as small as a mic could have so much power, so much reach and influence. The word. What the mic carried now would change everything. And he hoped to be able to control the change. He knew he will be hated for it now, but the world needed cleansing. And this flying word will carve his name in the history of the future a savior.

"I'm ready," he said. A girl came from behind to check his collar and tie as the uniformed man counted down from five, signaling the last three seconds with his hand.

Peyton swallowed, facing the camera but staring at the mic. "People of the world. I declare in the name of the United States of America, in the name of the union, in the name of humanity, the last strand of dark struck. I hereby declare the end of war and the unconditional downfall of The People's Republic of China."


"That's one possible conclusion. To this particular piece. You should be able to see that, theoretically, we can go on nesting the design as much as physically possible without any significant repercussions. But how much?" Professor Miles, for it was him lecturing, was interrupted by a guest. From behind the glass gate, the guest looked neither young enough to be a student nor did he suit the image of a staff member. And surely he wasn't a professor. Annoyed, Miles signaled for him to enter.

A tall, rigid young man came in, his features finely carved, his broad forehead very subtly wrinkled from the many thinking sessions it had gone through. He had on a business suit of which the necktie and boots showed from under his raincoat. He whispered something to the professor who then called for one of his students.

Ariadne, he student who was called, sprinted down the stairs in a blink, her back-bag ready over her shoulder. Once outside the auditorium, she threw herself in the man's vacant arm. "Arthur!"

He dropped the bag he was carrying and hugged her back. "What did he say about me? Miles."

She smiled and let him go. "Professor Miles didn't want me to miss the conclusion. Chinese architecture and such. Way beyond you."

Sudents were leaving the halls now, filling the tunnels in all directions. "Fair enough," said Arthur as he took out a raincoat and put it gently around her shoulders. It was snowing outside, going for a blizzard.

"But wait, we're not supposed to meet for two hours yet. Any news?"

"I figured I'd pick you up early. The flight's tomorrow so I'm…"

The flight. That again. It's already bad thinking that she'd be looking for a job in a few months. But also leaving home? Arthur and her family had discussed everything a while back and they'd be in the US in the same few months after which she'd be expected to find a job. It wasn't the challenge of coping and traveling, of course; that was the good part of the deal. The other was living, more or less, as if gypsies dodging whatever 'significant repercussions' their old job with Cobb might have on them, especially on Arthur. Especially after the last job. Leaving that point out was part of Ariadne's deal with Arthur, not her parents' deal. The next words slipped, "Getting your share? Remembering the view?"

"My share in you can never be filled! Or are you tired of me already?"

"I would kill you! Two nitpickers apparently don't go together that easily!" It felt perfect, actually!

"I love challenges. And besides, if I hadn't let my name out of the safe, you wouldn't even have known where to find me. Kill me? That's another story entirely."

"Well, they wouldn't have agreed if you hadn't come up clean; so I too know one of your pressure points."

"They wouldn't have known."

"I would've told'em."

"I told you, you are trying to blast me away!"

She just smiled. Sure, that was all a dream. Just a real one and one she hadn't anticipated at that. Yes, Ariadne thought she might blast Arthur away from this world if she could join him. Free from responsibilities and anticipation calculations.

A drop of luck that day, the snow lessened and they had a peaceful walk. Weather-wise, at least. Night came after a few stroll-walks, love-talks and mental-balks. Ariadne would be more at ease at the restaurant, anyway. Much more… normal. Time was running, though, that even the clock couldn't keep up. At twenty o'clock they arrived.

The restaurant was small but comfortable and reasonably high class. Circular in shape with the tables going against the walls and a small bar right in front of the main entrance. Dancers waltzed in the center on the dance floor, swaying with the tones of a classical.

Ariadne wore a very simple red-in-blue dress that reached 3 inches after her knees. Very anti-climactic by Parisian standards but she was still just a college student. It had half-cut, flat sleeves and she paired it with a pair of black, low heels. Comfortable and simple, and she liked simplicity. Her hair was cut short; the tips near her neck just touching her shoulders as the rest radiated from he bottom up. She had a strange, pleasant comical feel. One could almost swear she symbolized the sun that day. Arthur didn't comment about it and she hadn't expected him to.

The waiter came and took their orders from Ariadne. After he left, Arthur leaned forward.

"So, I've been thinking," he began. "What would I do? As a job, after you finish college?"

"How about a wedding planner? Just don't start numbering the chairs and I might consider you to plan mine!"

"Yeah, sure. At least they have free meals!"

Ever the witty. "But really, wouldn't it be a little hard to leave what you do now?"

His forehead wrinkled subtly and he shifted back in his chair. "I think anything will be a good departure from the stress. Leaving the process itself? No. It becomes a bit addictive sometime after the first try."

"Addictive. Sure. Well, I got addicted to this," Ariadne said, pointing around. "My life here, in a country not my own. I think we would manage just fine, by leaving our addictions."

"Don't think of it now… Just focus on study and we'll have enough time to make up our mind after the world tour."

"I thought we'd agreed on the money thing."

"I had other savings. If I'd kept all the money I got from my job I wouldn't be looking for another job right now. You told me and I didn't think twice."

"Arthur, your thinking is already multi-checked whether you liked it or not. You can't… not think of something. Not even in your free time."

"I actually think that's good. For one thing, it means my subconscious likes you, is worried about you."

The quiet song ended and the pairs in the middle dance-floor bowed out of their Waltz. The night was going a bit discussion-y, which opposed what Ariadne had hoped for. She had enough things mingled in her mind and she only wanted a quiet night before Arthur left tomorrow. Plans apparently don't work quite well in reality either.

The next song started, an all too familiar French song. Arthur rose, stretching out his hand. "Peux-j'avoir le plaisir de cette danse, princesse?"

The smile wasn't a translation of an inner dialog; her mind's already shut off from the inside. Only the outside mattered. "I had my share of this song... Ton plaisir il le sera! Oh, and that's bad French, just so you know."

It was both ways actually. Maybe the night's lucky, after all.

Morning came.

Arthur picked up the ringing phone with wet hands. He'd been staying in a hotel room near the airport. "Hi?"

"Arthur? It… Cobb… it's Dom. They came for me. Wherever you are, get out of there."

"What're you s…"

"I'm telling you to run!"

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Dec. 09, 12

_ M. N. N.