We Built This City (On Rock and Roll).
The first thing Ariadne says is, "Don't look at me, I didn't do it," as she's wringing her clothes free of salt water for the second time that day.
Yusuf squints against the sun. "What happened?" he says. "Where are we?" He turns around and gets a glimpse of the city blocks crumbling in the distance. "We're not--this isn't--"
"FUCK YEAH, LIMBO!" yells Eames into the expanse of white sand that surrounds them. It echoes alarmingly, and Eames lets out an exaggerated whoop and kicks the sand. It's probably not possible to fist pump sardonically, but Eames comes close.
"Uh, guys?" says Robert, still blinking. "Where are we?" He looks around. "Where's Uncle Peter? He was just here."
"Seriously?" says Ariadne. "No one thought to make sure we could actually escape from the van?"
"Well, it's not like the kind of thing you can just practice, is it?" says Yusuf. "And just who made a river too deep to swim out of?"
"Someone had the idea to crash a van off a fifty-foot drop," Ariadne replies. "The river had to be deep enough to keep us from crashing on the bottom."
"Did I just have a bag over my head?" asks Robert.
"Oh, and whose great idea was that, let's put bags over the victims' heads so they can't see what's happening, that'll work great for later on, when they're trying not to drown," says Eames.
"You're right," says Yusuf. "What a ridiculous plan."
"Why are you in Uncle Peter's clothes?" says Robert.
"Oh, god," says Yusuf. "This is real."
Arthur sighs. He dusts off his suit. The beach stretches endlessly in both directions. There's a faint crackling in the distance as another city block collapses.
"Cobb's out there somewhere," he says. "We need to find him."
"Wait, so--you guys were working with the kidnappers?" says Robert. He's wrung out his tie and taken off his jacket, and now he's drying his toes over the fire Ariadne dreamed up for them all. (Eames had voted she dream up a Tropical Hilton instead, but Arthur had insisted that they examine the dreamscape more and follow proper zoning protocol before they started erecting anything too solid. He disregarded the requisite, "That's what she said.")
Eames puts his arm over Robert's shoulder, ignoring Arthur's eyeroll, and says in his most comforting voice, "Not exactly, mate. We are the kidnappers."
"You kidnapped me to help me break into Uncle Peter's dream?"
"No, I was pretending to be your Uncle Peter."
"Well, why do you want to kidnap me?"
"But you said you were Uncle Peter, and he hired the kidnappers."
"Saito hired the kidnappers," Arthur breaks in testily.
"Saito," says Eames, gesturing broadly, as if a vague hand-waggle can contain all that Saito is or could be. "Sexy, Japanese, owns everything. Probably Yakuza."
"Oh," says Robert. "Are we in a movie?"
"No, says Yusuf. "Limbo. For decades."
"Brilliant," says Eames. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I plan to spend that time having as much drunken sex on the beach as I possibly can."
"Is that why you kidnapped me?" says Robert, shocked.
"We were working for Saito to implant the idea in your head to break up your father's company before you became a new world power."
"Well, don't spoil the lad, darling," says Eames. "You could've at least let him have some build-up."
"I thought you guys were my friends," says Robert. "I thought you were cool." He looks down at the ground and kicks the sand a little.
"We are your friends, sweetheart," says Eames, scooting closer to him.
"Dude!" says Robert. "You're not my friend! You stole my wallet! And you turned into a girl and didn't even leave me your phone number! And you stole my wallet again! You stole my wallet, like, three times!"
"Well, you were sort of a bum date, nothing personal," says Eames.
"Are you going to turn into a girl again?"
"Of course not. Now all I want is to be friends."
"Stop lying to him," Arthur snaps.
"It's not lying," Eames says, dreaming a pint of Newcastle into his hand. "Once we wake up, our only hope of not getting arrested is to become our dear Robert's best friends in all the world."
"I don't know if I want to be friends with you guys anymore," Robert says, resting his chin in his hands.
"No hard feelings, though, right?" Eames offers the first sip of beer to Robert, who waves it sullenly away.
"No!" Robert says. "I totally have hard feelings. Very hard feelings!"
"You'll come round in no time," say Eames. He pats Robert's shoulder and takes a swig.
"Once we wake up," says Arthur, "We won't even remember what real life is like anymore. You know what happened to Mal."
"That's not necessarily how it has to be," says Yusuf from the other side of the fire. He's dreamed up a kiln and has been glass-blowing for the last half hour. Currently he's twirling a string of molten glass over the fire like a pro. It's quite impressive. "Cobb and his wife only had the two of themselves, right? But there are five of us."
"Seven," says Arthur. "Cobb's out there somewhere. Looking for Saito."
"Right," says Yusf, tone implying that Arthur's point isn't necessarily adding to his own. "But five--seven--people sharing the same dream stand a much better chance of holding on to reality than two people do."
"Yeah," says Arthur. "But for how long?"
Yusuf thins his lips and doesn't answer.
"You know, darling," Eames says, smiling wryly when Arthur looks up, "Yusuf's right. Five people have a much better chance of staying aware that we're in a dream. We have a better chance of collectively elevating our sense of what's real and what isn't."
"Exactly," says Yusuf. "We just have to make sure that we don't build anything too mundane--that whatever we build in limbo is so outlandish, so bizarre and over-the-top that it can never be mistaken for real life."
"Hey, you guys," says Ariadne from behind them. They turn.
"Um," she says. "I built Graceland?"
"Dude!" says Robert, squeezing past the line of projections with cameras and fanny packs. Ariadne's been letting him help with the Jungle Room tour, but Eames and Yusuf are duetting "Heart and Soul" on the King's piano, and Robert totally can't miss that action. Eames plays one-handed, but Yusuf's really getting into it. Robert nudges Eames aside and takes over the treble.
"Where are all the projections going once they're done with the tour?" Eames asks, folding his arms and leaning against a stained-glass peacock window.
"Oh, Arthur's handling all that," Robert says. "He said something about putting in motels."
"Oh, god," says Eames. "Leave this sort of thing up to Arthur and we'll have toast for neurons before you can say 'city planning.'"
He finds Arthur raising half a city block of meticulously plotted foundations. "Never seen you do architecture," he says, elbowing him in the side. Arthur goes rigid and steps away from him.
"I know enough to get by," he says. "Just like you."
"Oh, I know more than enough," Eames answers. "But down here none of that matters anyway, right?"
"Do you not realize how fucked we are down here?" Arthur says, his voice going clipped and dark with anger.
Eames puts his hands up. "We're stuck in limbo for decades and our only way of maintaining sanity when we wake up is to dream up a world too fantastical to ever mistake for reality."
"You say that, but we don't know what could happen. The more unrealistic we make things down here, the more we could forget what reality feels like. For all we know, that could destroy us when we finally wake up."
"You can't think like that, darling." Eames puts his hand on Arthur's shoulder. "You'll go crazy down here before the year's even out."
Arthur says, "There's more to it than that. Make things too unrealistic and the projections will wise up and tear us apart."
"So? If they do we just wake up again down here, right? Besides, we don't even know whose projections they are."
"Everyone's. We're in a shared space down here. We're all subjects."
"Well," Eames says, "in that case, what's to keep you from assuming I'm just a projection?"
Arthur's lips quirk at that, quick as a flash. "My projections would be a lot nicer than you," he says.
Eames looks at him. "I'm always nice to you," he says.
"But you really should stand aside and let me take care of this," Eames adds, and with a wave of his hand, he razes all Arthur's hard work to the ground, and conjures up a giant goldfish bowl in its place. "It's got everything!" Indeed, it does, hotel rooms sprouting in ledges all around the curve of the glass dome, one sleek elevator rising in the center. A few more moments, and every floor is replete with ice makers and vending machines, and the concierge stands in the center behind a giant coral reef desk.
"There!" he says. "They can sleep in there!"
"It's a terrarium, Eames," Arthur says. "They're projections, not turtles."
"Oh, hey," says a projection passing by with a mickey mouse camera in hand. "Is that open?"
"Sure!" Eames says, grinning. "Go right on in!"
Arthur rolls his eyes.
"I don't like this," says Arthur, glaring at Eames from the doorway of his new bedroom (Eames has painted one wall bright yellow and another wall bright blue, and there's a My Little Pony playset in the center of the room). After a few days of hosting tours at Graceland, they invented actual caretakers, who promptly kicked them all off the grounds for squatting. Ariadne built them a funhouse across the street from the giant fishbowll, complete with giant beds and crazy mirrors. One of them is hanging on the ceiling above Eames' bed. He's lying on top of the covers with his legs crossed. On the ceiling they stretch for miles.
He yawns. "And what exactly do you mean by 'this'?"
Arthur waves at the air. "Everything. The building we're doing, the fantasy, the whole thing."
"Look, you're the one who wanted to make sure the projections didn't converge on us all in a mad frenzy. Best way to do that is to build things."
"I saw my tenth-grade homeroom teacher buying coffee at Ariadne's cafe," Arthur says. He frowns. "I don't want to be stuck here with Mr. Platt for the next fifty years."
Eames grins at him, a slow, devious smirk that only travels up one side of his mouth. "Why don't you devise an ingenious, karmically fitting way to get rid of him, then? What'd he teach? Science? English? Too bad he didn't teach music, you could drop a piano on him."
"See, this is exactly what I'm talking about. You're already halfway to losing your mind."
Eames' grin makes it to the other half of his face. "You and I are going to have such fun down here," he says.
"No," says Arthur. "No fun. And no killing projections."
"Not even the one who looks like Charlton Heston? Which is totally your subconscious manifesting its self-loathing hero complex, by the way."
Arthur glares harder. "No. No killing projections, and no more building. Enough building."
Ariadne comes up behind him and sneaks her arm around his waist. "Aww, Arthur," she says, cuddling. "You don't want to see my awesome Gothic cathedral? With mirrored hallways?"
"Well, okay," says Arthur. "Maybe."
"You can't put a bar there, Eames, you'll drive off all our customers."
"Since when has the human need for alcohol remotely obstructed the human need for coffee?" Eames' dive bar is rickety and leaning, cosied right up against the neat prim walls of Arthur's coffeehouse. "If anything, they'll all be lined up outside your doors the next morning." He spreads his arms. "It's a perfect arrangement!"
Arthur folds his. "No, it's really not."
"We need to brainstorm," says Ariadne. "The things we're building are too mundane. If we want to make the difference between fantasy and reality really stick, we have to make sure everything we design down here is just that much different."
"So things are just slightly off?" Eames asks. "Chocolate milk in the shower, pink coffee beans, that sort of thing?"
Yusuf nods. "The longer we stay down here, the more our minds grow accustomed to thinking of this place as our reality. We have to utilize discipline, and rigorous training, to learn to think, and create, in ways that help us distinguish which is which."
"We're going to start holding bi-weekly brainstorming sessions to work on ways to create fantastic elements into the world design. Everyone has to come." Ariadne hands out packets. "Also, there's this." Robert opens his and starts reading.
Eames reads, "'Personal and Group Rules for Limbo: a Survivor's Guide.' Oh my god, Ariadne, look at you, you're a regular Hermione."
"Shut up, Eames," says Arthur.
"This is really cool, Ariadne," says Robert. "When do you want us to turn them back in?"
"You don't turn them in," Ariadne says. "There are two sets of rules. One is for your own personal use, but you should probably share it with at least one other person. That way someone else will know what your personal discipline is, and they can help you follow it."
Yusuf adds, "The rules are about helping each of us maintain our sanity, helping us remember the boundaries between real life and fantasy while we're here. You each have personal rules as well as group rules. As a group, we all agree to abide by each person's group requests."
Eames snorts. Arthur kicks his chair but doesn't look up.
"So we all agree to abide by our own rules, public and personal," Eames says. "And that's supposed to help us maintain our grasp on reality how, exactly?"
"Well," Robert says, with a devilish little smile. "For one thing, if you break the rules down here, we can kill you as many times as we want, right?"
"No one is killing anyone," says Arthur, still without looking up.
Eames beams. "Sounds fun," he says. "Let's try it."
When they wake up the next morning, a ring of mountains have formed in the opposite direction from the collapsing city in the distance. They're high and snowcapped, and a frigid mist encircles the peaks.
"Well," says Eames. "Who's responsible for that bit of cheer?"
"It's Cobb," Arthur says grimly after a moment when no one answers.
"You're saying he's out there somewhere, trapped in a blizzard?"
Arthur's lips twist. "He always did have to make things as difficult as possible."
"Those mountains could be a hundred miles away," says Yusuf. "We'd have to dream up an entire climbing expedition, and even then there's no way of knowing where he'd be."
"We could take a plane and do a fly-over," says Arthur.
"You won't let me build a bar next to your little cafe, but you'll build a fighter jet to go off and look for Cobb?"
"He's right," says Ariadne. "If you go, you shouldn't go alone."
"That wasn't actually the point I was making," says Eames.
"I could take explosives and detonate them around the mountains to let Cobb know he's not alone," says Arthur. "Then we can camp out and use smoke signals to let him know our location. In a few days he should be able to find us."
"God, haven't you people blown enough things up?" says Robert.
Robert's Group Rules For Surviving Limbo:
1) no more turning into women
2) no more turning into my acquaintances
3) no blowing things up
4) please stop touching me inappropriately, Eames
Arthur's Group Rules For Surviving Limbo:
1) No killing projections
2) Eames doesn't get to build things
3) No more dive bars
4) stop touching me inappropriately, Eames
Ariadne's Group Rules For Surviving Limbo:
1) I get to build whatever I want, as long as it's not a dive bar for Eames.
2) EVERYONE has to attend brainstorming sessions and help brainstorm.
2a) Or else I'm not building Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
"Hey!" says Eames happily. "There's no number four on here."
Arthur scowls. Ariadne grins.
Saito rolls up in a limousine just outside of week three.
"Where's Cobb?" Arthur demands.
"How should I know? I've been building startups and then buying them out," Saito says.
"You--!" says Robert. "You are not allowed to stay. He can't stay, can he?"
"Employer," says Eames apologetically.
"Hmph," Saito says. He appraises Robert. "Well, and what have you been doing all this time?"
"I learned to make margaritas," Robert says defensively.
"And ski!" Eames adds. "He's gotten very good!"
"No, he hasn't," Arthur snaps.
"Shut up, Arthur," says Eames.
"Guys, guys, I made Wall Street!" Ariadne says desperately.
"Oh?" says Saito. "Can you make the Tokyo Stock Exchange?"
"Is there anyone here who hasn't tried to kidnap me, shoot me, or rob me?" Robert asks wearily.
Tentatively, Ariadne raises her hand.
Robert stares at her. "You dropkicked me out a window."
"Oh," says Ariadne. "Oh, that's right. Sorry?"
"Ugh, you guys," Robert says.
"I hate these things," Arthur says.
"It's because you're threatened by any scenario where you have to come up with creative ideas," says Eames. He says 'scenario' to rhyme with 'barrio.' It makes Arthur terribly unhappy.
"That's not true," Arthur says, hoping Eames understands how upsetting Arthur finds his general existence. "I came up with pink elephants last week. It's not my fault Ariadne didn't want to design a jungle."
"I don't call stealing your ideas from children's films necessarily thinking outside the box," says Eames. Arthur frowns. "But I will say you've more imagination than I've given you credit for." He smiles when Arthur looks up.
"We're already running out of things to build, though," says Robert.
"We could just stop building anything at all," says Arthur.
"No," says Saito. "You will stagnate. You will become used to what is around you. You'll stop finding reasons to create things that are new. That's how it starts."
"He's right," says Yusuf. "I've seen it happen enough times with clients. We need to keep finding ways to manipulate what's around us, ways to unsettle ourselves just enough so we always have a reminder of what is and isn't real."
"Isn't that what the totems are for?" says Robert.
"Can you remember the last time you checked yours?" Saito asks.
Robert starts to answer, then hesitates. His expression shadows.
"This isn't sustainable," Eames says. "We need to do more, we need to give ourselves some sort of failsafe mechanism."
"Okay, look," says Ariadne. "We have a couple of things going for us that Cobb and Mal didn't have when they were down here. The main thing is that we know exactly how much time we have on the surface. We know approximately how much time we have on each level above this one. Since we're creating the dreamscape, it's possible that with enough practice, we could alter the concept of time down here, so that we can slow everything down and get back to the surface faster."
"You mean like a kind of collective group inception upon ourselves?" says Yusuf. "We could definitely try it. But you'd need to have the idea permeate the dreamscape at every level. It's not enough just to convince ourselves that time is moving slower. We have to trick our collective subconscious into believing it, too."
"But collectively, we all know we're on a plane, right? We're about halfway between Sydney and Los Angeles right now. We just can't wake up yet. So if we know that, it should be easy to convince our subconscious to believe what it knows is the truth, right?"
"Exactly. We just need everything in the world we create to reinforce the new idea." Yusuf fidgets a little and reaches for a pen. "We'll need to make watches. And make sure that every clock we design from here on out follows the new math, so to speak."
"I can help there," says Eames, pulling out his pocketwatch. "If you can calculate the new time, I'll build the machinery. It'll take about three weeks to get the parts to function, and then we'll have to figure out what the new timeframe should be. But we'll make it work."
"Cobb's not a part of the dreamscape we're creating. Out there somewhere, wherever he is, he's lost in his own time continuum."
"What's your problem? Seriously?" says Eames. "We've put the poor bastard through hell, he needs to have someone care about him after all this."
"So it's just about the job?" Arthur asks. Then he swallows and looks away.
Eames stares at him, a long, hard look.
"I mean it doesn't matter to me one way or the other," says Arthur, backing up. Eames follows. "I don't care what you do, really, I--I--" He cuts short when Eames backs him up against the wall. He takes a deep breath. "Don't do this," he says.
Eames says, "Don't do what?" with his eyes fixed to Arthur's mouth.
"Don't fuck with me," Arthur says. "Not down here."
Eames raises his eyes and looks at him. "My dearest of all Arthurs," he says, thumbing Arthur's jawline. "I'm head over heels for you."
"You--you're not even nice to me," Arthur says helplessly.
"Oh, shut up, darling," says Eames. He steps in. Arthur steps back.
"Don't," says Arthur.
"Don't?" says Eames.
"I'm using your love as my totem," says Arthur. "If nothing happens til we wake up, then when it finally does, I'll know I'm not dreaming."
"That doesn't even make sense," says Eames.
"Look, just--no kissing til we wake up," says Arthur.
"We could be down here for fifty years," says Eames. "Somewhere," says Eames, "there's another limbo where we're stuck having shamelessly dirty sex every day for the next fifty years."
Arthur tries to look guilty.
"Couldn't you at least reverse it?" says Eames. "Say you'll know it's reality when we finally stop having sex?"
"No," says Arthur.
Eames makes a face.
"But don't think I didn't consider it," says Arthur.
"That's a total lie, isn't it," says Eames.
"Completely," says Arthur.