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Well, That Was Unexpected

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They ran down a city street. Close set buildings loomed on either side, acting as a funnel. They could move forward or go back the way they had come, and the gathering horde behind them eliminated back as an option.

Suddenly, there was a wall behind them, blocking the street completely.

“Eames, stop changing things!” Ariadne whispered furiously.

“Or what, projections will start chasing us? We’re past that, hadn’t you noticed?” Eames stopped in front of an abandoned store. The mannequins in the window, previously dressed for a day at the beach, were now wearing combat fatigues and displaying automatic weapons, safely behind wire mesh reinforced glass. “In here. Handguns alone aren’t going to take us very far.”

Ariadne followed Eames through the door; Arthur and Cobb stumbled in behind them, Cobb held upright only by his arm draped across Arthur’s shoulders and Arthur’s grip on his middle. Once they were inside, Arthur lowered Cobb to the floor behind a counter.

“Eames, help me block the door.” He started to pull at a heavy wooden cabinet, trying to drag it in front of the glass door. Outside, projections staggered down the street towards the store.

Eames put down the shotgun in his hands and went to help him. Between the two of them, they soon had it in place. When they were done, Arthur leaned against the cabinet and sighed heavily. Eames rested a moment, as well, before going back to his gun ‘shopping’.

“I don’t understand. I thought projections are supposed to try to get rid of the dreamer. Why did they go after Cobb? Why not Eames?” Ariadne darted quick looks between Arthur and Eames, waiting for an explanation.

“Projections will attack any foreign presence, if they – we – draw the wrong kind of attention. An even better question, my dear, is why are Mr. Jacobs’ projections turning up as zombies? Arthur? Any thoughts?” Eames lined up several firearms along the top of a long table and started placing boxes of ammunition next to them.

“Nothing like this turned up in his history. We gave him an empty city to populate, and his subconscious gave us zombies. Maybe he watched a zombie flick recently.” Arthur joined Eames at the table, looking over his choice of weapons. “Are you going to leave anything for us, Mr. Eames?”

“I might be persuaded to share.” Eames began to load bullets into a clip. Arthur nodded thoughtfully, and added a few smaller handguns to the table.

“Ariadne, could you check on Cobb, please?” Arthur pulled out a box of shells and started loading them into the shotguns.

“Sure.” Ariadne approached the back of the store. All she could see of Cobb was his bloody shoe and part of his leg stretched out on the floor. “Cobb?” She crept around the end of the counter that hid him and knelt down beside him.

“Hey,” he whispered. His eyes opened for a moment before falling shut, as if his lids were too heavy to lift. His breathing was fast and shallow. The arm of his jacket was torn, and his shirtsleeve was pushed up, revealing an oozing bite mark on his forearm.

“That looks nasty.” She searched the clutter under the counter, finally spotting a first-aid kit under a pile of papers. She pulled out medicated wipes, gauze pads, a bandage, and antibiotic ointment. “I’m going to clean you up. This is probably going to hurt.”

He nodded weakly, and she started cleaning the wound, working as quickly as she could. Cobb winced occasionally, but he was mostly silent except for his labored breathing. Ariadne slathered ointment on the bite, covered it with the gauze, and wrapped the bandage around his arm. “I should tell you, I don’t actually know first aid.”

He huffed a little laugh at her and waved her away. “I’ll…just…rest. A little.”

Ariadne went back to Arthur and Eames, who were still loading ammunition into the various weapons laid out before them. They were steadfastly ignoring the constant low moaning and the intermittent thumps coming from outside.

“Cobb isn’t doing very well. Why is this affecting him so badly?” She grabbed a double shoulder holster from a nearby rack and adjusted it to fit. She picked up one of the handguns in front of her, checked the clip and the chamber, holstered it, and then repeated the process with a second gun.

“He was bitten by a zombie,” Arthur said absently.

“I know, but we’re dreaming.” Ariadne grabbed an ammo pouch with a long shoulder strap and began filling it with grenades. She wasn’t sure a real gun store would carry grenades, but she didn’t care. Eames had certainly thought of everything.

“Ariadne, what happens when a zombie bites someone?” He put down the extra clip he had just finished loading and faced her. He leaned one hip against the table and folded his arms across his chest.

“Zombies aren’t real, Arthur.” She looped the ammo pouch across her body for easy access.

“Humor me.” The moaning grew louder as more projections gathered outside, and the intermittent thumps became almost rhythmic thudding.

“Fine. If you’re bitten by a zombie, you turn into a zombie. In movies.” She refrained from rolling her eyes at him. Barely.

“Exactly. Most people in our culture know that. It’s an accepted fact.” Arthur turned back to the table and started outfitting himself with as many weapons as he could safely carry. Eames was doing the same nearby.

“But zombies aren’t real.”

“In the dream, anything can be real. Including zombies. Cobb’s subconscious is reacting the way it thinks it should.” Arthur grabbed some of the extra clips he had loaded and handed them to her. She tucked them into the side pockets of the pouch.

“He’s turning himself into a zombie?”

“Essentially.”

“If we’re going to finish this job, we’ll have to leave him.” Eames finally joined the conversation.

Ariadne wanted to protest, but she knew Eames was right. Cobb, in his condition, would just slow them down. “Maybe we should consider…calling it off?” Even as she said it, she knew both men would veto the suggestion.

“No.” “No bloody way.”

“All right, all right. I just thought I’d throw that out there.” She picked up an assault rifle and slung it across her body, opposite the pouch full of grenades. She adjusted it so it hung behind her, the barrel pointed at the ground, where she could easily pull it into firing position.

“If Cobb dies, he’ll wake up, right? Because, as freaky as this dream is, it’s still a dream, and the same rules apply. Right?”

Arthur hesitated before saying, “Right.”

“And with that vote of confidence, who’s the lucky bastard that’s going to break the news to him?” Eames smirked at Arthur.

“I’ll tell him. He’ll understand. He wants this job done as much as we do.” Arthur checked his watch. “We have just under three hours before Yusuf gives us the kick. Less than that before they break through the windows. Let me-“ He broke off, staring toward the back of the store.

Ariadne turned and saw Cobb shuffling toward them. Something about him was…off. His eyes, she decided. Somehow they were blindly staring and utterly focused at the same time. He lifted his arms as he came closer, his hands curling into claws.

“Cobb,” she began, but Arthur pulled her back. Eames stepped forward, a pistol aimed at Cobb’s head.

“Well, this is an utter cock-up. So much for the rules, eh, Arthur?”

“Eames, wait!” Ariadne yelled.

“Not now, Ari. I’ve got a Cobb zombie to dispose of.” He steadied his grip and started to squeeze the trigger.

“But what if killing him like this sends him into limbo?” Ariadne pulled out of Arthur’s grasp and grabbed Eames’ arm.

“Then you can go and fetch him out again.” Eames stepped away from her and fired.

A small hole appeared in Cobb’s forehead, and a spray of blood, brain matter, and bone fragments splattered the wall behind him. He staggered back a step, and then crumpled to the ground. Blood began to pool under his head.

“What have you done?” Ariadne whispered.

“Nothing that I wouldn’t want done for me, if it comes to that. Let’s go, we’ve a job to finish. We’ll use the back door.” Eames walked to the back of the store, casually stepping over Cobb’s body.

“Arthur?”

“It’s done. We’ll deal with the fallout if and when we have to. Just…try not to get bitten.” Arthur followed after Eames. He hesitated briefly at Cobb’s corpse, then continued.

Ariadne looked around helplessly for a moment. A loud, splintering crack from the storefront window behind her made her jump, and she hurried after Arthur without looking back.