[identity profile] kiyala.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] shannys_corner

After a crisis meeting in the middle of the night, with Arthur and Eames relaying what they‘ve found from the bugging device to Yusuf and Ariadne, they all come to the same simple conclusion. Cobb can no longer be trusted.

Arthur doesn‘t sleep very much that night. He keeps pacing his room, going over all the possible ways this can go badly. At least now that Cobb has his hands on a PASIV, he no longer has any need to continue feeding information to Browning. The fact would make Arthur feel much better if there was actually any information left that Browning doesn't already have, now.

Eames watches him carefully, not wanting to sleep when Arthur is so stressed. In the end, they both sit on Eames‘ bed, their backs against the wall as they talk about anything and everything except Cobb, to keep Arthur distracted until they actually have a plan.

When morning finally comes around, Arthur waits until his patience has worn out entirely before changing and grabbing the keys to the van.

“I‘m going to talk to Cobb.“

“And I‘m coming with you,“ Eames replies, his voice leaving no room for argument.

Arthur nods gratefully, thanking whatever higher power decided to give him Eames, who already has two travel mugs filled with coffee for both of them. With Eames, he feels like he can deal with this. It feels like they’ll get through this.

But when they get to the gated community that Cobb lives in, the security guard at the front refuses to let them through.

“I‘m sorry,“ he says, shrugging at them. “Mr. Cobb requested that we turn away all visitors today. Said he‘s busy, and doesn‘t want to be disturbed.“

“Oh.“ Arthur's heart sinks as he thinks of just how quickly Cobb could be burning through his supply of somnacin, wondering if Browning‘s provided him with more than usual, pretending that it‘s a favour. He frowns. “But his children—”

“His children are staying with their grandmother,“ the guard informs him. The good thing about gated communities is that they like to keep tabs on everyone living there. The more that people know about their neighbours, the less likely it is that they’re out somewhere getting infected or worse, bringing the live infection past the electric fences.

“Thank you.“ Arthur sighs, driving back home. Eames is already on the phone, speaking to Miles, and the moment Arthur winds his window back up, puts the phone on speaker.

“—obvious that Browning‘s targeted Cobb because of the lot of you, he‘s the one most susceptible to falling prey to the PASIV. As you‘ve told me, Browning’s made sure to emphasise that you can build your own dream world with that device. Terrible lure, that, to someone who hasn‘t quite come to terms with his loss.“

“So what do we do now, Miles?“ Arthur asks, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. “We can’t go in to Fischer-Morrow without Cobb. I don‘t want Browning to know that his plan is working.“

“Keep trying to get in touch with him,“ Miles suggests. “And make sure you keep an eye on your other team mates, just in case Browning isn‘t done yet. I‘m going to drive in, and see if I can do anything to help. At any rate, I need to make sure the children and Marie are safe.“

“It won‘t be safe,“ Eames speaks up. “Cobb gave Browning a fair amount of information, and he did mention that some of it came from you.“

Miles sighs. “I’ll just have to be careful then, won‘t I? I‘ll check in with the two of you every now and then if it will make you feel any better.“

“Every two hours,“ Eames replies. “Please and thank you. And drop by the house when you're in town.“

When Eames calls Yusuf and Ariadne to let them know that they can‘t get in contact with Cobb and they won‘t be going into Fischer-Morrow, they‘re concerned but not surprised. Arthur realises, numbly, that he feels the exact same way. By the time that they reach the house, Yusuf and Ariadne have both been brought up to speed on the situation with Cobb. Yusuf merely sighs wearily, not knowing what to say.

Ariadne, on the other hand, folds her arms across her chest. “Why don’t you let me try? I’ll go to his place, give the guards a story about how I desperately need to talk to him right now, and see if they let me in.”

“Not a good idea,” Yusuf speaks up. “If Browning’s trying to incapacitate the team one by one, then it isn’t safe for us to go out alone.”

“Then come with me,” Ariadne replies, shrugging as if it’s the most obvious solution. “We’ll take care of each other, while Arthur and Eames watch each other’s backs. That way, we’re not all limited to just doing the one thing because we all need to be in the same place. I can make Cobb talk, guys, I’m sure of it.”

Eames chuckles. “I definitely don’t doubt you there, Ariadne, but there’s also the problem of Cobb being asleep. There’s not much you can do to get answers out of him when he’s hooked up to that machine.”

“Unless I hook myself up, too.” Ariadne levels them with a determined look. “We’ve all read the instruction manual. Someone needs to figure out just what the hell is going on, and if I have Yusuf with me, then he can keep an eye out while I go under with Cobb. It shouldn’t take me long anyway. I know the data Miles gave us says that there’s a high chance that I’m not going to remember what I see—I’m not even going to realise that I’m dreaming the first time—but we need to do this. I’ll have Yusuf with me to remind me what’s real, and that’s enough. If there’s something we can try, then we have to give it a go.”

Arthur nods reluctantly. “She’s right. If we can figure out what Cobb is up to… if we can stop him, or if we can help him, then it’s worth a shot.”

“You take good care of each other, then,” Eames says sternly, looking between them. “If anything comes up…”

“We’ll let you know,” Ariadne replies. “You be careful, too. Grab your bag, Yusuf.”

Arthur watches them go and sighs heavily. “I’m going to call Cobb again.”

Eames pats him on the shoulder once. “I doubt you’ll get through, Arthur.”

“Damn it, I can’t just do nothing,” Arthur snaps. He gets to his feet, pacing the room. He runs a hand through his hair, frustrated. “I can’t, Eames. I know you don’t like him, but this is Cobb and I can’t just let him… fall victim to Browning’s games.”

“We’ll stop him,” Eames assures him. “We’ll stop Browning, and Ariadne will stop Cobb from losing himself. We’ll be fine, Arthur.”

“How?” Arthur turns around, frowning at Eames. “How are we going to stop Browning? If we expose what he’s doing, we expose all of Fischer-Morrow. That’s going to destroy the entire company. Robert Fischer doesn’t deserve to lose everything because of his godfather. The world wouldn’t be able to deal with the collapse of Fischer-Morrow, when they’re one of the biggest sources of entertainment.”

“We’ll find a way.” Eames licks his lips in thought. “We need to expose Browning without harming Fischer’s reputation. The only way we can do that… Arthur, the only way we can do that is by using Fischer.”

“Fischer,” Arthur repeats. “You’re going to bring him into this? Can we risk that?”

“I may not have known Fischer for a long time, but I can guarantee that he would never approve of what Browning is trying to do.” Eames rubs his chin, “We have the documents in your file. The press leak, with all of the PASIV documents, old and new. We show them to Fischer. We let him know how Browning is playing him. Then we leave it to Fischer to confront Browning. To expose him, if that’s what he wants.”

“Which makes it clear that Fischer wasn’t involved.” Arthur nods, “We need to talk to him, as soon as possible. Can you get in touch with him?”

At that exact moment, Eames’ phone starts ringing. He frowns at it before putting it on speaker. “Yusuf?”

“Eames. Just letting you know that we’re in. Ariadne got us past the guards and we found Cobb asleep, hooked up to his PASIV. She just put herself under as well, so I’ll keep you posted on—”

His next words are drowned out by the sound of Ariadne screaming.

“Yusuf!” Arthur shouts. “What's wrong?”

“It’s Mal, it’s Mal,” they can hear Ariadne repeating. She sounds terrified, and her voice gets louder—Yusuf must be holding the phone closer to her.

“What happened, Ariadne?” he asks gently, and it sounds like Ariadne is hyperventilating.

“Cobb… Cobb has some kind of projection of Mal. She’s so lifelike… she looks like the real Mal, but she’s nothing like her. She’s terrifying and she’s angry. She told me I couldn’t steal her Dom, and she stabbed me in the stomach.”

Arthur and Eames look at each other, their eyes wide.

“I knew it,” Arthur mutters angrily. “I knew—”

“Yusuf,” Eames says into the phone. “Cobb’s somnacin supply—it must be somewhere nearby. If we can find it and get rid of it…”

“I already looked,” Yusuf replies, and the resignation is heavy in his tone. “I did a thorough search before I even hooked Ariadne up. Cobb must have known that we were coming. It’s the only explanation I can think of. He’s hidden all of it, so we can’t find it.”

“Then we take his PASIV,” Eames declares, his voice getting louder and angrier.

“That’s not going to solve anything,” Arthur speaks up, shaking his head. “Cobb is just going to end up resenting us for it, and I’m sure Browning will find a way to get him another one.”

“Then what are we supposed to do, Arthur?” Eames asks, and Arthur would flinch at the anger in his tone, if it was meant for him. “If we just leave him—”

The sharp sound of knocking over the phone connection interrupts them, and they both fall silent.

“I think we’re going to have to go,” Ariadne whispers into the phone before hanging up.

“Now what?” Eames turns to Arthur, ending the call.

“We’ll run with your plan. If we bring the project to a close before the PASIV devices can be marketed, we win. There’s only so much somnacin out there and once we don’t have to worry about Browning supplying Cobb without anyone else noticing, we can figure out how to help him. Force him to go without it until it’s out of his system.”

Eames raises an eyebrow. “He’s going to hate you for it.”

“I think that bridge has already been burned,” Arthur mutters, checking the time. “I’m going to call Miles and see if he knows anything about weaning people off the PASIV.”

They sit there for a moment, listening to the phone ring out as it tries to connect to Miles. With a frown, Arthur places the call again. They wait. Miles still doesn’t pick up.

“Bad news,” Arthur says, already getting to his feet and arming himself with the first three guns he can reach. “I’m going to see if I can locate his phone and track him.”

“You think Browning’s after him.” Eames doesn’t bother posing it as a question.

“He’s trying to shut us up,” Arthur replies, and he can’t quite help the small grin that tugs at his lips. “It means we’re onto something. Come on.”

An important thing to remember about the Rising is that idiots did not survive. They were the first to go, after the unfortunate souls that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyone who actually survived deserves their fair share of respect for keeping their wits about them, for making sure they stayed ahead of the shambling hordes.

Jonathan Miles is among these people, and he certainly did not survive by accident. When Arthur tracks his position to find a recent report of a sudden outbreak, he knows that it’s no coincidence. They wait for Yusuf and Ariadne to return, and then the four of them bundle into the van, driving right towards Miles’ position. It takes twenty minutes with Yusuf’s driving and it’s longer than any of them have any right to expect Miles to survive, but when they get there, his van is still intact. Miles is on the roof, a shotgun in his hands, and he startles at the sight of them approaching before he recognises them.

“Arthur?” he asks, his voice tinny and breathless over their speakers. “Is that you?”

“We’ve got some powerful enemies,” Eames mutters, typing away at his screen. There’s a full-screen report on his main monitor that declares that their current location is the site of a spontaneous amplification, and that it is to be avoided until the entire area is cleaned up. They’re on the outskirts of town, just far enough from people that they would have no trouble avoiding it. Far enough away that nobody would have noticed if a single van had been overwhelmed by a pack of zombies.

Arthur can count almost ten dead bodies on the ground, each of them dispatched with a bullet to the head—no doubt from Miles’ shotgun—but that still leaves them with another ten to get rid of before the zombies begin calling in their reinforcements.

“Eames,” he says, loading his own gun. “They’re distracted by having two targets. If we can clear the area now…”

“Got it.”

“The cameras aren’t on,” Arthur announces, an instruction to Yusuf and Ariadne to keep it that way, as well as a reminder to Eames. “No need to show off.”

Eames grins down at him from where he’s climbing the ladder to the top of the van. “Like that’s ever stopped me.”

Where a small pack of zombies converging on one van would have caused a problem, it’s easy to take them down with Arthur and Eames helping. They’re quickly taken care of, and Arthur calls Miles, putting him on speaker so that all of them can hear.

“Thank you for your help,” Miles says, and he truly does sound grateful. “I honestly thought I was a dead man.”

“It was pure luck that we found you in time,” Arthur replies seriously. He’s not sure that he’s going to stop frowning until this entire job is over. “Browning wants you dead because you have information that could get in the way of what he’s trying to do. Once he realises that you’ve survived, he’s going to try again.”

“Bloody hell, I’m going to have words with Dom once this all clears up,” Miles sighs. “I don’t suppose—?”

“He isn’t any better,” Eames answers, his gaze fixed on the road. “Worse, if anything. We don’t have the time for this. Miles, you can’t stay at our house because it’s the first place Browning will look. You can’t stay with Marie and the children because that might put them in danger—”

“How about my place?” Ariadne suggests. She lives with her parents and they’re friendly enough people. Their house is certainly large enough for Miles to stay without being noticed. “Just until we stop Browning. After that, you’ll be safe.”

“Right, we’ll do that.” Arthur is beginning to grow impatient. There are files he needs to leak, and an unsuspecting acting-CEO to deal with. “First things first. We need to get out of this area before anyone notices us. After that… Ariadne, you join Miles and give him directions. Yusuf, you stay with her. If you so much as suspect that someone’s after you, let me or Eames know.”

“And we’re going to talk to Robert Fischer?” Eames asks, though the look on his face says that he already knows the answer. There’s a grim kind of satisfaction to Eames’ expression; he may say that Arthur’s the one dedicated to the truth while he’s more interested in the performance, but Arthur knows that it’s not really the case. The truth matters just as much to Eames and this is important to him; helping Fischer realise that he’s been lied to all this time won’t be pleasant, but it’s something that Eames has to do.

“Help me put together all the documents we’ll need to leak to damage Browning’s chances of getting the PASIV device mass-marketed, and you can tell Fischer whatever you want.”

“Deal,” Eames nods, and it’s not until later, when they’re driving back home alone, that he turns to Arthur and murmurs, “I have a feeling this is going to be extremely messy.”

“You’re probably right,” Arthur replies softly. “Fischer isn’t going to want to accept the fact that Browning has been using him all this time. You said it yourself; he trusts Browning with all that he has.”

“What happens after this?”

Arthur laughs with no real amusement. “You don’t need to ask me that. Fischer will kick Browning out of the company, and if he’s particularly sharp, he might even find a way to get Browning arrested so he can’t try pulling anything like this again. Then Fischer gets back to work, with his eyes open this time. He’ll know better than to sit idle and let anyone else do his work for him after this.”

“He never liked letting people do his work for him,” Eames points out.

“True, but he never stopped them before. That’s the problem with inaction, Eames. It’s too easy. You can see a problem, and know that you need to do something about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes, you just need a little extra push to actually get there. I’ve known for a while that we shouldn’t let Cobb back into the team, that he’s unstable and that no how much I want it, we’re not going to get him back.”

“But when he pulled his gun on you…” Eames says softly, understanding.

“Sometimes you need a little slap in the face.” Arthur smiles, but there’s no point in trying to fool Eames, who always knows how Arthur is feeling, especially when he wishes he could hide it.

“But you can use that feeling, yes? Give Fischer a way to relate to you, because you’ve both been let down by the one person you’d looked up to for guidance.”

“I’m not as lost as he’ll be,” Arthur says quietly. “I have you, and I always will.”

Eames looks taken aback, the way he does every time Arthur acknowledges their strange relationship, but then his expression softens and he reaches for Arthur’s shoulder, squeezing it. “You’ve got that right.”

Arthur leans into the touch for a moment, savouring Eames’ warmth before he pulls away. “Okay, let’s go. We’ve got work to do.”

Eames gives him a lazy salute, followed by a wink, and continues driving home.

. . . You are waiting for a train, she tells me, and beckons with her smile. A train that will take you far away.

We don’t know where this train will take us, and I tell her so. We know where we hope it will take us, but we don’t know for sure.

She takes my hand. She smoothes my hair.

But it doesn’t matter.

How can it not matter?

Because we’ll be together.

—From Escaping Limbo, originally published in Dream Within A Dream, the blog of Dominick Cobb, October 3, 2040.

When the notification pings on Arthur’s screen, he immediately stops typing. Eames is in the kitchen making them more coffee, and Arthur doubts that the sound would have carried that far. He’d set his computer up to give him any notifications of activity from Cobb on their site, as soon as they’d returned home. It’s been nearly two hours since then, and it’s the first time Cobb’s been online.

It means that he has to be awake, Arthur thinks, already reaching for his phone, but that’s when his gaze falls on exactly what Cobb has posted. It’s a small piece of prose on his Fictional blog, and it can’t be more than a hundred words. It’s enough. It’s all Arthur needs to look over his shoulder and shout, “Eames!”

There’s a clatter in the kitchen; the urgency in Arthur’s voice is enough to make Eames literally drop what he’s doing. He races into the room as quickly as he can, his eyes wide, the unspoken question what’s wrong? on his lips.

“Cobb,” Arthur says, pointing to the screen, and it’s all he can say because his mind is already racing, filled with thoughts like, I should have seen this coming, and, oh god, please, not again.

“Fuck.” Eames’ voice is low, and just as panicked as Arthur feels. There’s already a gun tucked into his waistband; neither of them are going to feel safe enough to be unarmed in their own home until this entire thing is over. “Do you think he’ll—?”

He doesn’t finish the question, perhaps because he can’t, or perhaps because he already knows the answer. It doesn’t matter. He and Arthur are already on their feet without another word, heading straight to the garage, united in thought at the best of times, and the worst. The roads aren’t busy, and Arthur drives as fast as he can, paying no heed to the traffic laws. Eames’ hand is on his shoulder; grounding him, comforting him as he tries to block the thoughts that he can’t deal with right now, that they’ll be too late, that even if they reach Cobb’s house as soon as possible, it still won’t be soon enough.

There’s a different guard at the entrance this time, one who knows Arthur and Eames well, who follows Inception’s blog. Even if he didn’t, Arthur is sure that the intensity of his glare would be enough to get people to stop asking questions and start co-operating. It takes a good five minutes of blood test and identification checks before Arthur and Eames are actually allowed past the gates. Each second feels like a waste to Arthur, but he stays calm, clinging to his mask of composure until they’re at Cobb’s door.

“It’s locked,” Arthur growls as he tries the knob. “Fucking bastard, he knew we’d come after him—”

“Stand back,” Eames mutters, and that’s all the warning Arthur gets before he kicks in the door. There are shouts of alarm from the guard station, but Arthur ignores them as he follows Eames inside. Let the guards come, he thinks. The story’s going to be all over the internet by tonight and Arthur’s going to report it right, with nothing but the truth.

They can hear the sounds of someone struggling further inside the house. No, Arthur corrects himself. Something. Eames pauses, and Arthur comes up beside him, a hand resting lightly on his back, and takes point.

“Arthur, you know what we’ll find in there.” Eames’ voice is low and upset. Despite their issues, Arthur knows that this is the last thing Eames would have wanted.

“I know,” Arthur replies. He flicks the gun’s safety off and doesn’t look at Eames. “You’ve got my back.”

It’s not a question because it doesn’t need to be. Eames exhales quietly. “Always.”

The door to Cobb’s bedroom is locked. Cobb and Mal’s bedroom, Arthur’s mind supplies. Cobb always did insist that it was still Mal’s, even after she’d passed. He knows to look here even without the tell-tale sounds on the other side of the door.

Arthur waits for a moment, the urgency bleeding out of him now that he knows that it’s already too late. He takes a deep breath, pushing his despair down as far as it will go. You can do this, he thinks, or perhaps it’s Eames whispering in his ear. Either way, he nods. He steels himself and kicks the door down.

The room reeks of death, of Kellis-Amberlee, of blood. Cobb had chosen a slow, painful way to die, and his blood is almost black as it follows the grooves on the wooden floor. The one, small, thing to his credit is that he’d had the foresight to tie his hand to the end of the bed. The creature that is no longer Cobb scratches at its own hand, not caring about the red lines it leaves as it tries to break free. The sight of fresh meat makes it struggle even more, congealed blood oozing from its stomach wound, and Arthur feels a hollow laugh bubbling up from his throat, even as his eyes grow wet.

“Goddamn it, Cobb, you couldn’t even shoot yourself in the head.”

He fires his gun twice. The heavy footsteps behind him tell him that the guards have caught up, that they’re watching this, too. He ignores them, focusing on nothing but the weight of the Glock in his hand, and the presence of Eames, right behind him.

The first bullet stops the zombie from struggling, and the second is a clean head shot, killing him instantly. The shots ring out loudly, echoing in the small space, and Arthur stands there, frozen. There’s a silence that settles around him; a silence that isn’t really there, because he knows that the guards are saying something, and Eames is replying to them, but the actual words are drowned out by the rush of thoughts in his head. Is this how Eames had felt, two years ago, when he’d shot his mentor? So violently disconnected from reality, so unwilling to accept what he knows?

“Arthur.” Eames’ voice is quiet, and his hand is on Arthur’s back like a question that he knows better than to ask. They’re alone, save for the body on the floor, and instead of asking him if he’s okay, instead of assuring him that they couldn’t have done anything, Eames simply says, “Arthur, love, come here.”

Arthur goes. He lets himself be folded into Eames’ arms, lets Eames rock him from side to side, and doesn’t try holding back the broken sound that escapes him. Eames’ grip on him tightens, slowly ushering him out of the room.

“We should go, Arthur.”

“You’re right,” Arthur replies, barely more than a whisper. From the way Eames’ grip on him tightens, he hears the resolve in Arthur’s tone. He knows what’s coming next. “We have a lot of work to do.”

“What are we going to do first?” Eames asks cautiously. “Do you want to write up—”

“That’s exactly what Browning is going to be expecting me to do right now. I’ll do it later. We’re heading straight to Fischer-Morrow. Call Robert Fischer. Tell him that we need to talk to him.”

“We’re going to tell him now?”

Arthur pats the pocket of his pants, glad he’d had the presence of mind to load the PASIV leak files onto a USB and keep them on him from the moment he was done compiling them. “The truth doesn’t wait, Eames.”

Eames sighs. “Of course, Arthur. Come on, then. We’re not going to get anywhere until we pass a few blood tests, so we might as well get them over with.”

Eames makes the call to Fischer as Arthur drives. Arthur listens to them talk, but is silent himself. There’s no need to say anything when he knows that Eames will say it for him.

“It’s absolutely important that you’re alone,” Eames is saying into the phone’s speaker. “Nobody can know that you’re meeting with us, Robert, it puts all of us at risk.”

“Nobody?” Fischer repeats, a little shakily. “Are you sure it’s safe to meet in my office, then? It might be better if I meet you in the parking lot—”

“Nothing that requires a blood test,” Eames interrupts. Arthur is usually the paranoid one, but when it’s Eames, there’s usually a good reason for it. If Browning has the right contacts, then he could have them tracked by looking at where they’ve been tested. It’s a risk that they’d rather not take.

“There’s a delivery bay out the back of the building,” Fischer tells them. “Your van is going to look out of place, but there shouldn’t be anyone there right now. If you let me know when you’re nearby, I’ll come down and meet you there. We can talk while we drive, if you think that’s going to be safer.”

“He can think on his feet,” Eames says, grinning at Arthur. “I like him.”

Arthur tries to smile in return, but he can’t. Clearing his throat, he leans towards the phone to speak. “We’re about five minutes away from the building, Mr. Fischer, so you’d better start making your way down now.”

There’s a short silence after Eames ends the call, and he rests his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. Stopping at a red light, Arthur draws a shaky breath to speak, but no words come. He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t even know how to articulate his grief. He should have anticipated Cobb’s actions, he should have done something to stop it from ever happening. He takes another breath, turning to Eames, but all he can manage is a weak, “I’m sorry—”

No, Arthur.” The fury in Eames’ voice takes him by surprise. “You have nothing to apologise for, you hear me? This isn’t your fault, so don’t you dare think for even one minute that it is.”

The light changes and Arthur starts driving again, but not without a grateful look in Eames’ direction.

Eames pats Arthur’s arm, and doesn’t move his hand away. He probably needs the contact just as much as Arthur does. “If you’d let me, I would have told you to go home and take a break until you feel ready to start working again.”

“Except you know exactly what I would have said in reply.” Arthur does manage a small smirk at that. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, Eames, and there’s no easy way to do it. Without Cobb, we owe nothing to Saito. We could just go ahead and tell Fischer exactly what we were doing at Fischer-Morrow, but…”

“Saito is much too powerful an enemy to make,” Eames finishes easily. “So Fischer doesn’t need to know anything about the fact that Saito hired us to stop the PASIV from being released. We achieve the end result anyway, and we walk away without pissing anyone off. Except for Browning, of course.”

“Oh, we’re doing to do much more than just piss Browning off,” Arthur replies, a dangerous edge to his voice.

“I need you to reel in your homicidal urges, sweetheart. The turn’s just up there. Fischer should be joining us soon.”

Turning into the delivery bay, Arthur keeps the engine running as they wait for Fischer to show up. He doesn’t take long; it’s less than a minute before he opens the door leading outside and catches sight of the van, heading straight towards it.

“Welcome onboard,” Eames says once Fischer is inside, grinning at the way he looks around in wonder. “Thanks for agreeing to see us on such short notice.”

“I had the impression that it wasn’t something I should turn down,” Fischer replies cautiously, sitting down in one of the empty seats, nodding in greeting to Arthur before doing a double-take at his bleak expression. “I can tell something’s happened. What’s wrong?”

Just like before, Arthur lets Eames do the talking. For now, while they’re still this close to Fischer-Morrow, it’s just non-specific information that should still serve to capture Fischer’s attention, like the fact that Browning has let them take a look at some of the projects that the company is working on at the moment. Arthur glances into the rear-view mirror just in time to catch the way Fischer goes tense at that piece of information. His shoulders stiffen and he sits up straighter, listening closely. Arthur knows that it’s no mistake that Eames has chosen to lead with this fact; Eames is the one who spent the most amount of time with Fischer, and would have seen just how little information he’s been receiving about anything going on in his own company. The fact that a press team knows more about the company’s current projects than he does is sure to strike a nerve.

Arthur drives away from the city and the more heavily-populated residential areas, until their surroundings are quiet and still far enough from zombie-infested areas to be safe. He puts the parking brake on, but lets the engine idle, and turns around to face Fischer.

“We have some important information for you, Mr. Fischer, and you’re not going to like it.”

Fischer’s lips twitch. “I knew it had to be bad news.”

“I’m not going to lie to you, Robert, it’s extremely bad news,” Eames says with a sympathetic smile. “There are people doing terrible things, and we need your help to stop them. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be safe.”

“…Oh.” Fischer’s voice is quiet, and his eyes a little unfocused as he thinks. He looks down at his hands and his next words are reluctant, like it takes all of his will-power just to say them. “It’s Uncle Peter, isn’t it?” He clears his throat and looks at them. The resignation in his eyes would make a lesser man cringe, but Eames meets them steadily, waiting for Fischer’s thoughts to form into words. “…All those times he told me that I could relax, that the company was in safe hands. He never meant me.”

“I’m sorry,” Eames murmurs, and Arthur is glad that at least they didn’t have to spell it out. For Fischer to come to the realisation on his own, it means that he must have been suspicious of Browning for some reason, if only on a subconscious level.

“What has he been doing with my company?” Fischer asks with a heavy sigh, pushing aside his need to recover in favour of focusing on the work that needs to be done. Arthur can appreciate—and empathise—with that.

“Have you ever heard of Project Oneiros?” he asks, turning his monitor on to show the blueprints of the PASIV device. Fischer’s expression is blank. “Shared dreaming? The PASIV device? It’s a machine that people connect themselves to intravenously. Like a virtual reality tool, but far more powerful.”

“It connects to your mind?” Fischer asks in wonder, leaning closer to the screen to read it better. “You can dream lucidly with it? Wait… the seal on these blueprints… this is classified military information!”

“From over a decade before the Rising.” Eames points out the date. “And now, these blueprints, which you may find a little more familiar.”

Arthur hits a key and watches Fischer’s eyes widen as the image on the monitor changes.

“These are Fischer-Morrow blueprints… of the exact same thing?” Fischer’s eyes close and he sighs. “Right, Uncle Peter was in the army before the Rising. Okay, so he’s continuing production on a device that was made before Kellis-Amberlee. That’s hardly a crime on its own.”

“Next document,” Arthur says, bringing it up. “A thorough risk-assessment report filed by the specialists brought on by the military to assist Project Oneiros. It outlines all the concerns they had about releasing the PASIV device on a restricted basis to be used within the army in the pre-Rising world.”

Fischer is silent as he reads, finally looking up when he reaches the end. “And you’re telling me that Uncle Peter wanted to release this—to get Fischer-Morrow to market this as an entertainment device—in this world. If they had all of these concerns before the Rising…”

“It gets worse,” Arthur tells him, tone as gentle as he can manage. “This is the risk-assessment done by Browning’s people.”

Arthur personally hates this document. It’s not something that would be released to the public, but it’s still filled with lies, playing down the threats that the PASIV poses until they can be ignored. He hates reading lie after lie knowing the truth, knowing what it’s already done to Cobb—

“Oh, Arthur.” It’s not until he hears Eames’ quiet voice that he realises there are tears in his eyes. He blinks them away, but as Eames crosses the small space between them, they begin to fall.

Eames’ arms come around him and he goes without protest, soaking up whatever comfort Eames is willing to give, ignoring the fact that Fischer is right there. He presses his face against Eames’ shoulder, sucking in a shaky breath.

“Uh…” Fischer sound slightly uncomfortable and Arthur takes another deep breath to compose himself before he pulls away from Eames, wiping his cheeks.

“Browning has realised that we know what we’ve shown you. He’s been targeting people who know too much. First, Jonathan Miles, an old member of Project Oneiros, who gave us the information we needed to begin our investigation. We managed to get to him before it was too late. After that—Cobb.”

“Cobb,” Fischer repeats, and his eyes widen. “Oh. Oh no—”

“He died less than an hour ago,” Eames says softly, checking his watch.

“No.” Fischer looks at them disbelievingly, but the truth is in Arthur’s eyes, in the way Eames stays close to him. “Uncle Peter killed him…?”

“Not directly, no,” Arthur replies. “And perhaps that wasn’t his intention—maybe he just wanted Cobb temporarily out of the picture, but Browning gave him a PASIV. He knew that Cobb would be vulnerable to it, and…”

“We need to stop Uncle Peter,” Fischer declares. “No matter what, we can’t let him release the PASIV, and we can’t let him get away with what he’s done.”

Eames smiles cautiously. “We were hoping you’d be willing to help us.”

“You already have a plan, don’t you?” Fischer looks at Eames, and then Arthur. “Count me in. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

There’s a quote from a great man in the days long before the Rising that goes, an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

We’re already blind. We’re running scared and we can’t even see what’s right in front of us. We can’t see the warning signs until it’s far, far too late and there’s nothing to do but deal with our loss.

The so-called activists who thought it was a good idea to release an unstable viral compound into the air were blind then, and we’re still blind now.

Dominick Cobb is dead. This isn’t how I wanted to tell you. To be honest, I never wanted to make this kind of announcement. He was a founding member of Inception, my good friend and mentor and—you all know who he is. I don’t need to write this.

Dom Cobb died because people are afraid of the truth getting out. I have dedicated my entire career to making sure that nothing gets in the way of the truth, and nobody is going to scare me off.

That is a promise.

We might all be blind already, but that’s not going to stop me. I am going to destroy you. You know who you are. That’s a promise, too.

—From Paradox, the blog of Arthur Wolff, October 4, 2040.

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February 2012


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