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Symbolic Logic

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They don't know each other, at least as far as everyone within a five-mile radius of LAX and most especially one Robert Michael Fischer, Jr., is concerned, but unlike in the dream, everything after they touch down goes according to plan: they deplane and make their way through immigration before reclaiming their bags prior to going through customs without the slightest hitch. Ariadne is two booths over from and three people behind Cobb; when the agent stamps Cobb's passport and waves him on, clearly bored out of his skull, she has to force herself to breathe normally. She hadn't had time to google Cobb and see if his name being cleared had hit the internet before filing into the hall, where cell phones are ostentatiously not allowed.

She keeps her eyes off Fischer, ignores Yusuf, pretends Arthur and Eames and Saitou are total strangers, doesn't look at Cobb, as she explains the purpose of her trip to the agent and answers the woman's mildly invasive questions before hauling her bag off the carousel and getting into the next line. Luckily she's packed light; she doesn't even know what she's packed, really; everything she's wearing and the entire contents of the suitcase, as well as the suitcase itself, were selected, paid for and delivered by faceless employees of Saitou's. They have impeccable taste, whoever they were.

And her totem, of course; the weight of it is sure in her jacket pocket, just above her hip. There's no question in Ariadne's mind that they are all in consensus reality, boring and counter-counter-intuitive as it is; no one in their right mind could match the horror that is LAX in a dream, anyway. And Ariadne, despite the fact that she just threw herself off the top of a skyscraper in the deepest level of Dream to escape limbo, days and hours and minutes ago in the dream-time, is emphatically in her right mind.

She'd been surprised when she'd seen the last few entries at the bottom of Arthur's itinerary for the job (13:47 land at LAX; 14:47 exit LAX individually; 15:30, rendezvous at bar), but when Ariadne gets out of the taxi at the bar in question she realizes that far from being out of character it's perfectly like Arthur to have anticipated their deep, mutual need to all get shit-faced at three-thirty in the afternoon. When she walks in Eames is already on his second drink, gin-and-tonics by the scent, and Arthur has a bottle of rather expensive whiskey in front of him. "Saitou's paying for it," he says when he sees her looking, by way of greeting, and Ariadne slides into the empty seat next to him without a reply; when the waitress comes over, which thankfully she does quickly, she orders a bloody mary, and then immediately makes it two.

Yusuf joins them a little while later, and Saitou even puts in a brief appearance, but Cobb never shows; she'd seen him being met by Miles at ground transport in a black hybrid. Ariadne drains her drinks and splits pizzas and frites with her--colleagues? co-conspirators?--and slowly tries to remember the mundane details of her life, the thesis she still has to write, oh holy god, did she pay her rent for this month before they left for Sydney, did she throw out all the fresh food in the fridge, hopefully, yeah. It's all so…logical, prosaic even. If humanity ever starts dreaming in Cartesianism, extractors will be fucked.

It's when Arthur and Eames, by some mutual agreement, get up to share a taxi back to the hotel--also paid for with Saitou's yen--at which they all have weeklong reservations, and Ariadne catches herself thinking, Well, it makes sense: poker chip and die that the realization of the real insidious power of the dreaming crashes over her: she's thinking in symbolic logic, making deductions by association and intuition rather than pure, formal logic. It's not that it's hard for her to tell the waking world from that of dreams--frequently it's not, though Ariadne worked damn hard to make sure that the dreams she built were indistinguishable from reality in every respect but the fact that they existed only asleep--it's that being on the extraction team has played holy hell with her sense of existential propriety. It's not a good idea, generally speaking, to put a gun to your head and shoot yourself with abandon, but in dreams it makes perfect sense to do so, and that's only the beginning.

Well, shit,, Ariadne thinks after Eames and Arthur leave, Eames' hand hovering just above the small of Arthur's back, and she drains the last of her drink in one go. Her worldview is swiftly and inexorably rearranging itself into a new and much less congenial arrangement in her head, even when she briefly closes her eyes.

Yusuf is staring at her from across the table, over the detritus of pizza crusts and a forest of glasses. Arthur had taken the whiskey bottle with him. "How did you get into--this?" Ariadne asks him abruptly, refocusing, though really what she wants to know is How long was it before you knew you couldn't stop.

Yusuf shakes his head. "It'd take too long to tell," he says, the regret in his voice almost genuine.

"Did you ever think about--" Ariadne tries to ask, but her throat closes and she can't get the words out.

"Retiring?" Yusuf fills in, and she nods, but he shakes his head slowly, that same slightly mad-scientist grin flitting across his features. How many advanced degrees does he have, she wonders suddenly, and from where? "The money's too good, and besides, anywhere else I'd have to spend all my time fighting with IRBs to get approval for trials in mice, for fuck's sake, I'd be lucky to get one compound to human trials once a decade.

"I tell you what, though, Ariadne, it'll be a while before I go back down with a team again," he says when they stand up, Ariadne having forged Saitou's signature on the bill and tipped the waitress generously. "That was too fucking close."

You say that now Ariadne thought, but with amusement more than anything else, and hid palming her totem with one hand in the midst of taking up her purse. She felt like a real adult in the suit Saitou's people bought her; it's a crying shame that she was asleep for the entire trip in business class, more or less, because it'll be the only time in her life she can afford to fly it, barring an eccentric client in her future--though who could be more eccentric than Saitou, really, Jesus Christ--or her becoming the next Zaha Hadid.

It's the nicest hotel she's ever stayed at in her life, but even without the cab driver raising an appreciative eyebrow at them when Yusuf had given him the address, she'd expected that.