Still a work in progress, but I’m looking for feedback before I continue :)
Yusuf glanced around the warehouse eagerly, gauging his co-workers reactions. Eames was beaming at him, Ariadne seemed eager, Cobb looked solemn and Arthur… well, Arthur looked resigned.
“What’s the problem?” The chemist frowned. “My solution worked for the inception, didn’t it?”
Arthur sighed, nodding. “That’s not the problem. Cobb already knew Inception was possible, Eames had attempted it himself… this is an entirely new thing.”
“It’s not like we walked into the inception totally prepared.” Eames pointed out, shooting a glare at Cobb, who didn’t look remotely ashamed. “Arthur, use your imagination, you’ve proven you have one.”
Arthur scowled, furiously. “I don’t see you volunteering to be Yusuf’s test subject.”
“I can’t, darling, if you were listening you would know that.” He said, smugly. “I already have experience in forging.”
“Yeah, forging humans.” Arthur countered. “You’ve never attempted to forge an animal or something imaginary.”
“You could always let Cobb or Ariadne do it instead, both of them seem willing.” The forger raised an eyebrow. Arthur gritted his teeth furiously, knowing Eames had only mentioned it to goad Arthur into accepting. The forger knew that Arthur wouldn’t let Ariadne take any risks with an untested compound, or Cobb who had two children depending on him. Marie and Stephen already had their doubts about Dom heading back in dreamsharing, legal or not.
“I’ll do it.” He muttered. “But I want it noted that I’m not happy about it. Who’s coming down with me? Cobb?”
“I am.” Eames said smugly. “We need to test the solution on forgers and someone who has no prior forging experience.”
Arthur looked at him in horror. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Eames looked at him in mock-hurt. Arthur ignored him and began quickly scanning through Yusuf’s notes. A few months after the inception, dreamsharing had hit the news. The US government had admitted that they had developed and tested the idea vigorously, and were ready to sanction it for public use. Cobb had been the one to suggest that they set up legally, allowing the public to experience their biggest fantasy. He was desperate to get back into dreamsharing, but unwilling to leave his children.
Arthur had signed on immediately; he felt he needed to keep an eye on Cobb and didn’t trust anyone else to be as thorough in their research. Equally desperate to be involved with dreaming again, Ariadne had signed on as their architect, designing amazingly detailed and realistic dreams. Eames worked freelance; taking jobs that intrigued him; mostly forging celebrities that their clients wanted to meet, but frequently acting as a projection in order to keep an eye on things.
After a few dozen requests for dragons and mermaids, Cobb had brought Yusuf on board to develop a solution that would allow their clients or Eames to forge something other than humans. If it worked, it would make them rich. Yusuf could patent the solution, and it would be an exclusive service that only they offered. After almost six months, Yusuf felt he had made a breakthrough, and they were ready to test the solution.
Their first client, a retired scuba diver, had requested that he spend an hour as a merman. Ariadne had spent two weeks designing the dream and Arthur had been meticulous with his research, even accompanying Ariadne on their own scuba diving trip in order to make the experience realistic. When everything was complete, Arthur was ready to test the solution before he could clear it for their client’s use.
“Remember,” Yusuf warned him. “You won’t be able to remember anything about reality once you’re under.”
Arthur nodded. “But I should be able to remember the dream when I wake up.”
It was a precaution they’d undertaken. If their client wanted to forge a dragon or a bird, their ability to fly could be impeded by their human instincts and memories. It could cause issues with mental stability upon wakening, or could cause them to panic and die in the dream, which was a lawsuit in the making.
“Exactly.” Yusuf nodded. He used his glasses to point towards the PASIV. “Ready when you are.”
Arthur settled down onto the sofa and hooked himself up to the machine. Opposite him, Eames settled down on the chair and slid the needle into his wrist, cheerfully nodding towards Yusuf when he was ready.
“Sweet dreams.” Yusuf smiled, and pressed the infusion trigger.
Arthur opened his eyes, searching the water for any sign of food. A rather large selection of trout swam past quickly, sensing the danger. Arthur’s eyes glinted hungrily. His tail swished in the water as he slowly began stalking his prey, swimming silently behind them. His claws outstretched, he reached out to grab one, when they scattered. Furious, Arthur searched the surface for whatever it was that had scared off his lunch. A dark shape drifting over him drew his attention. A fishing boat. He scowled, angrily. Humans. They were always scaring off or stealing his prey. Well, not this time. Arthur was going to head to the surface and give them a piece of his mind.
He flicked his tail and glided towards the surface, his expression murderous and his sharp teeth gritted. Arthur burst through the surface, propelling himself out of the water, gripping the edge of the fishing boat, but keeping his tail in the water.
“Asshole.” He snarled. “What do you mean by scaring away my fish?”
The man in the boat stared at him, gaping. Arthur stared back. This land-dweller was unlike one he’d ever seen. For once, he was wearing the most awful paisley shirt, in a hideous burnt orange colour, with a straw hat. He was covered in tattoos, all down his arms, and Arthur thought he saw ink peeking out from the man’s open collar. But what really made him different was the fact that he hadn’t attempt to maim or capture Arthur the second the merman had appeared.
“You’re a merman.” The human blinked.
Arthur growled and watched the man recoil, satisfied. “Well spotted.” He said dryly. “I asked you a question, human.”
The man shook his head. “So you did. I’m terribly sorry, I wasn’t aware I’d done such a thing. I didn’t even know there were mermen in these waters. Or, you know. At all.”
“Merman.” Arthur corrected, appeased by the human’s apology. As long as the land-dweller was polite, there was no reason Arthur couldn’t be. “Singular. I’m the only one around these parts. And there aren’t too many of us left. Most of us were mistaken for sharks and harpooned, so we tend to steer clear of populated parts.”
The human nodded. “I see.” He moved forward slightly, the conversation easing his initial fear. “Since I scared off your lunch, perhaps I could reimburse you?”
“In what way?” Arthur asked, silkily, arching a perfect brow.
The man rummaged in his bag and pulled out a large trout. “Here. I caught this earlier, it was my biggest catch of today.” He paused. “Is that enough?”
Arthur took the proffered fish hesitantly, taken aback by the kind offer. He felt quite out of sorts. His previous experience with land-dwellers had involved attempts on his life, not offers to feed him. “Thank you, this should be quite sufficient.” He stared at the human.
The human stared back. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure of the etiquette in situations like this. Do you want me to look away?”
“Why aren’t you trying to kill me?” Arthur asked, bluntly. “You know, I’m a merman, shouldn’t you be trying to catch me to put on display in a zoo?”
The man frowned. “Why on earth would I want to do that? I catch fish for food, but apart from that I’ve never killed in my life. You haven’t had a lot of good experiences with humans, have you?”
Arthur smiled, nastily. “This would be the first. Land-dwellers aren’t exactly known for their tolerance of things they don’t understand.”
The human inclined his head. “True enough. But let me assure you, I have no desire to put you in a zoo, or hurt you in any way.”
Satisfied that he was in no danger, Arthur tore into the fish. The man screwed up his face and looked away.
“What?” Arthur scowled.
He looked back. “Just … that looks disgusting. Raw trout being torn into by sharp teeth.” He shuddered. “No offence meant.”
“Plenty taken.” Arthur sniffed. “I can always eat somewhere else.”
The man looked disappointed. “If you like. I should probably head back to shore now. It’s starting to cloud over.”
Arthur nodded, throwing away the fish bones. “Yes, there’s a storm coming. If you leave now you should be back with plenty of time.”
The human man nodded. “What’s your name?”
“Arthur.” The merman volunteered, unsure of why he was telling the land-dweller.
“Well, Arthur, would you rather I started fishing somewhere else? There’s plenty of coastline, and I don’t want to scare away your lunch every day.”
Arthur considered. The land-dweller had done no harm. He would have caught the trout eventually; it would have just taken more effort. And he was polite enough, and could hold a decent conversation. There was no reason for him to inconvenience himself.
“No.” He said at last. “There’s enough fish for both of us.”
The man smiled and nodded. “Well, in that case, I’ll probably see you around.”
Arthur felt his lips quirk up into a smile. “No doubt our paths will cross again.” He inclined his head, smirking. “Farewell, land-dweller.”
“Eames.” The man told him, lowering his oars into the water. “My name is Eames.”
Arthur cocked an eyebrow. “Eames, then.” He said before abruptly letting go of the boat. With a flick of his tail, he dived under the water, wondering how a human could be so intriguing.
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