velvetfiction: (Default)
[personal profile] velvetfiction
Title: The Knowledge Jar
Fandom: Inception, created for the 2011 [ profile] i_reversebang
Artist: [ profile] howifall
Author: [personal profile] velvetmouse
Characters: Ariadne, Arthur, Eames
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~ 4300
Summary: It was supposed to be an easy job. Why do they never turn out that way?
Warnings: none
Notes: see end notes; huge thanks to seren for the beta.
Link to Art:


Ariadne stared at the man in front of her, and it took all of her professional composure not to gape at him. She didn't need to glance to the side to know that Arthur's face was set into a grim mask, his lips pressed together in displeasure, and that Eames's face was carefully blank. They were no more pleased about this than she was.

She took a deep breath. "So to be perfectly clear," she asked in a tight, clipped voice, "we are now being told that we have forty-eight hours in which to research our mark, design and implement a plan and perform the extraction, because you got the god damned date of the auction wrong?"

She was practically shouting by the end, but a light touch on her right shoulder brought her temper back down. Eames then, since Arthur was to her left, and she could practically feel the irritation rolling off the point man.

"Now, now, luv, I'm sure Pennington has a perfectly workable plan already in mind," Eames said with a bland smile. "Don't you, Niles?"

The man in question, a two-bit extractor by the name of Niles Pennington (although Ariadne thought that "Weasel-boy" would be a more accurate name), looked back and forth between the irate trio and opened his mouth a few times, but no sound came out.

It was supposed to have been a nice easy job, something of a diversion, while they waited for their next big mark. A simple extraction, finding out exactly how high the mark, a big-time art dealer named James Travers, would bid on a rare Degas painting that was coming up for auction. Their employer, the director of a major art museum, was determined not to let the painting fall back into a private collection.

And it would have been a nice, straightforward, easy job. If the auction was going to take place in two weeks time, as they had initially been told, rather than in - apparently - forty-eight hours.

"I'm sure it'll be easy," Pennington protested in a nasal voice that was going to drive Ariadne up a wall in very short order.

She winced at that statement and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Okay, first rule. Don't ever say something will be easy. You've just guaranteed that it won't be. Arthur, get to work. I want to know everything there is to know about Travers. If you can find a list of his previous purchases, great, but don't kill yourself over it. I'm more concerned with any dirt you can dig up on this guy - we need some way to get close enough to him to get him under, and that's more likely to come from his personal life than professional. Maybe we'll get lucky and there's a disaffected mistress we can buy off. Eames, go play the eccentric Brit for me. I want you to actually talk with Travers, see how he interacts with someone interested in making a purchase through him. Use the McEntegart account if you need proof of funds."

Ariadne spun on her heels and began stalking towards the door.

"But wait!" Pennington called out. "What about me? And where are you going?"

She stopped but did not turn around. "You are to sit on your hands, keep your mouth shut and try not to screw anything else up. I am going to a museum."


"Stephen would kill me," Ariadne muttered to herself.

"What was that?" Arthur asked wearily, looking up from the laptop he had been hunched over for the last day.

Ariadne herself stood up straighter and stretched, trying to work the kinks out of her neck and back. She surveyed the model in front of her with displeasure.

"I was just saying that Professor Miles would probably fail me if I tried to submit this to him. It's bloody awful." She winced. "Did I really just say that? I've been spending too much time around Eames."

Arthur chuckled and joined her by her drafting table. "Not your best work," he agreed, "but perfectly serviceable. Not every job needs to be up to your exacting standards, Ari."

"And just who did I get those standards from, Mr. Everything Has To Be Perfect?"

"Valid point. So when are you taking the boy wonder under and showing him around?"

"In an hour," she said with a quick glance at the clock. "He's supposed come by and learn the layout. Maybe I can talk Eames into coming under with us. I swear, if I have to listen to Pennington talk for more than five minutes at a time, I can't be held responsible for my actions."

"I know the feeling. But, unfortunately, he's what we have to work with right now."

"I know," Ariadne said and stared blankly at her model for a few moments. "I miss Dom," she whispered. "I miss having an extractor we knew we could rely on. I miss having him around to critique my designs. I miss... I just miss him so much."

Arthur laid his hands on her shoulders, and she rested her head back against his chest. "Me too, Ari. Me too."

An hour and a half later, Ariadne missed Cobb even more. Their first journey into the dreamscape was relatively painless. Ariadne showed Pennington and Eames the art museum that she had created.

"Niles, you and Eames will be prospective clients for Travers," she explained as she led them along never-ending corridors lined with priceless artworks. "That will tap into his memory of Eames's visit today. You want to get a feel for his knowledge, so you ask him to value things as you go along. I've designed things to be as much like a real art museum as possible - rooms are organized by time period, artist or style. You'll have to go through several to get to where the Degas paintings and drawings are, just to be safe."

"But why do we have to do it this way?" Pennington whined. "Why can't we just dream up the auction and see how much he bids on the stupid painting?"

Ariadne and Eames exchanged a long look, and Ariadne threw up her hands in disgust, leaving Eames to try to explain the concept of subtlety to the young extractor.

Their second trip down, with Pennington in control of the dreamscape, was an unmitigated disaster.

"This isn't going to work," Ariadne said flatly to Arthur as she pulled the needle out of her arm. "He can't stay focused on the environment for more than about thirty seconds at a time. And god help you if you try to engage him in conversation." She rubbed her forehead, feeling the ghost of pain.

"Is he really that bad?"

"Well," she said slowly, "maybe not that bad. But not good enough that I'm comfortable having him both control the dream and try to do the extraction. The last thing we need is ancient Roman sculpture suddenly tap dancing through the dream. Travers might get a little suspicious at that point."

Arthur snorted in amusement and offered a hand to help her up. "So we have Eames dream, Pennington does the extraction, and I'll be around for backup. You'll keep watch?"

Ariadne nodded. "Sure, that will be the best way, I guess. Now how are we going to break it to them?" she asked, watching the prone forms of the two other men start to stir.

"I'll handle it," he said with a squeeze of her hand. "Why don't you go out for a coffee run? We've still got several hours of work ahead of us. And I don't want you killing our extractor."

"I wouldn't kill him. Just maim him slightly."

Arthur's chuckles followed her out the door.


Ariadne paced around the hotel room and checked the lock on the door once again. She checked on the four sleeping men and then resumed her pacing. Six steps along the bottoms of the beds, a sharp left turn, one step up to the wall, another left, nine steps to the door. About face, three steps and then a step to the right and she was back at the beds again. This was the part of jobs that she liked the least - the waiting, helpless to do anything. As the architect, her tasks were often finished long before the mark was confronted. Many times she never saw the mark in person; other times, like now, she served as look-out for the team that was going under.

Six steps over, turn, up to the wall, nine steps to the door.

Arthur had managed to track down Travers's hotel, and from there it was a simple matter of Eames "bumping into" the art buyer in the lobby and going back to the room for drinks.

Ariadne was half way through another lap of the room when Arthur began to stir - a full ten minutes before the kick.

"What happened?"

"Something that someone said to Travers must have tipped him off," Arthur said with a glare at the still-sleeping Pennington. "I wasn't close enough to hear what went down, but all of a sudden the whole dream began shaking, like there was an earthquake. Eames was alright I think, but Pennington had a large piece of steel-and-plaster . . . something . . . fall on him."

"Eloquent, Arthur."

"They were in the modern art wing at the time," he said by way of explanation.

"And you? Mashed by a Michelangelo? Rammed by a Rodin?"

"Jumped out a window so that I could let you know what was going on. Pennington is in no shape to do anything right now - his legs were smashed. Eames was going to try to keep going before the kick, but he wasn't terribly optimistic."

"So what now?" Ariadne asked. "What's Plan B?"

Arthur made a face. "In my briefcase, the green folder," he said tiredly.

Ariadne flipped through the papers. Instead of Arthur's usual carefully detailed plans, they were full of half thought-out ideas and scribbled down words and phrases - testament to the short time they had to work with. As she glanced through them, several words caught her eye. She reached for another folder in the briefcase, the one containing the dossier on James Travers. She had skimmed it briefly before, but this time she gave it a closer reading.

She could feel Arthur's curious gaze as she flipped back and forth between several pages.

"I think I have an idea," she said slowly. Arthur hauled himself up from the bed and peered over her shoulder at the places she indicated.

A tired smile appeared on his face. "You're crazy."

"Yup," Ariadne agreed cheerfully. "Absolutely insane."

"Do you really think it will work?"

"It's worth a shot. We don't really have anything to lose. As it stands now, we're going to fail this job. We've got the time for one more attempt before we have to clear out of here. Worst that happens is it doesn't work, and we bail in an hour from now, instead of -" she glanced at her watch " - in six minutes."

Arthur gave her a long look. "Are you sure you can create something like this on the fly? Even Dom couldn't -"

"I can do it," she said firmly. "We'll take Eames down with us, and Pennington will keep watch. You explain it to them when they wake up. Let me have ten minutes; the more I can get built in my head, the easier this will be. Please, Arthur."

Arthur brushed her cheek lightly and nodded. He made his way over to the beds again, and gave Travers another dose of the drug. That would ensure that their mark remained asleep through the kick, hanging in a dreamless void until the next shared dream started. He then settled down for his partners to awake.

Ariadne, meanwhile, had settled herself on the empty side of the bed and appeared to be meditating; Arthur knew, however, that she was carefully constructing the dreamscape in her mind - at least the initial phases of it. Creating a dream on the fly was risky - even Dom had never attempted it in all the years that Arthur had worked with him - but Ariadne was right. They didn't really have anything to lose.


Ariadne opened her eyes and the prick of the needle and the floaty feeling as the drugs kicked in rapidly faded from memory. Her nose was assaulted by earthy smells of damp grass and nettles and the lighter smells of summer flowers and the wind. She could just make out the towering stone monoliths in the twilight.

She turned towards her two companions, who were looking around in surprise.

"Amesbury?" Eames said with a note of wonder in his voice that Ariadne had only rarely heard.

"Not quite, but that's one of the circles I based this on."

"So what are we doing here and why are we wearing these things?" he asked, indicating the dark robes that all three of them wore.

"Travers is privately obsessed with druidic culture and rituals," Arthur said. "He seems to believe that they were the ultimate keepers of knowledge."

"So we get him to hand over the 'knowledge' of his bid for safekeeping. Bravo, Arthur."

"This was actually Ari's idea," Arthur corrected with a wave of his hand.

Eames's face registered surprise for a moment and then he bowed with a flourish towards Ariadne.

"Speaking of Travers," Arthur continued, "where is he?"

"Making his way across the fields," Ariadne said and pointed to a figure in the distance, just visible in the fading light. "I wanted to give us a little time to figure out what we were going to do."

"Hmm." Eames tapped his chin thoughtfully. "Darling, go intercept our guest of honor," he said to Arthur. "Tell him his 'brothers and sisters are waiting for him in the circle' or some crap like that, and escort him over. Give him your robe so he's appropriately attired. Don't worry about getting one for yourself, you'll stand guard outside of the circle. Take your time about it, lead him in circles if you have to, Ari and I have some preparation to do."

Arthur blinked in surprise for a moment but then set off to intercept the approaching figure.

Eames then turned to Ariadne and took her by the elbow and led her into the center of the stone circle. He closed his eyes and turn slowly in place, seemingly seeking something.

"Oh well done, Ari," he said when he opened his eyes again. "I can even feel the power flows. Well done indeed!"

Ariadne gaped at Eames, never having seen this side of the forger, but he seemed oblivious as he bustled about the circle. A little off from center, he had scuffed a rough circle in the grass. "Could we get a small fire pit here, luv? Don't light it yet, just have it ready to go."

Ariadne blinked several times but then concentrated and a small fire pit appeared where Eames had indicated, complete with a bonfire ready to be lit. "Brill. Now come here," he ordered and Ariadne saw that he now held a grease stick in his hand. "You just need a few finishing touches."

She stood patiently while he drew quick, precise lines all over her face.

"You'll be the high priestess, keeper of sacred knowledge. You won't have to do much," he explained as he worked. "I'll be doing most of the talking. I'll get Travers to believe that he's written down all the things that he most wants to protect and will be entrusting them to you, in sort of symbolic gesture. If we throw enough pomp and ceremony at him, he'll see and believe what he wants to. There."

He pulled a mirror out of nowhere and held it up in front of Ariadne. She could just make out her reflection in the dim light; the dark lines that now criss-crossed her face gave her an other-worldly appearance. Which, she supposed, was the idea.

"Very spooky. Do any of these lines actually mean anything?"

"Not in that configuration, no."

"How on earth do you know all this, Eames?"

"Part of my mis-spent youth, luv," Eames answered with a wink, before he gently pulled the hood of her robe up so that her face was well concealed within its shadow. He then flipped his own hood up. "Ah, here comes our guest of honor now. Just follow my lead, and if you don't know what to say, let me do the talking. He won't think twice about you remaining silent and aloof."

Eames knelt and lit the fire, standing up just as the two other men entered the circle.

"Welcome, welcome my brothers," he said expansively.

Arthur bowed slightly without saying a word and quickly retreated to just outside the circle. Ariadne could occasionally catch a glint of firelight off of something shiny as he paced. Meanwhile, Eames had brought Travers over by the fire and was making precise marks on his hands and face with the grease pen.

". . . to ensure the success of the ritual," Eames was saying. "You are fortunate tonight, my brother. The high priestess herself has agreed to protect your secrets."

Ariadne inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement, but remained silent, afraid that if she tried to speak, she would laugh and give away the game. Eames seemed to be in his element, nattering on about the alignment of the stars and the symbolic meaning of the runes that he was supposedly inscribing.

"Now," he said, suddenly much more serious, "do you have the list of secrets that you wish protected, written in your own hand?"

Travers nodded and withdrew a piece of paper from within his robe. "I have it here, noble druid."

"Are you sure all your secrets are contained within this document?" Ariadne asked in a hard voice. "Everything you might want to protect?"

"I - I believe so, dread priestess," Travers stammered.

"I cannot protect that which is not entrusted unto me," she explained in a gentler tone. "Take some time and consider wisely, brother. Anything may be included - your work, your personal life, ideas you might have. Anything at all that you don't want others to know, or anything you want to hold as a surprise until the right time comes to reveal your strategy."

"Take a few moments and consider whether or not you want to add anything," Eames said kindly. "The priestess and I have some final preparations to make."

Travers stared down at his list, obviously thinking hard, and Eames retreated to the other side of the fire to stand by Ariadne.

"Do you think we'll get it?" she asked anxiously.

"I think so. You did a beautiful job of leading him towards the right thoughts without making it obvious. Thinking of following Dom's career path and moving from architect to extractor?"

Ariadne chuckled softly. "No. I like my buildings too much. I'll leave the extraction to those of you who can think faster on your feet. It's nice to know that I can do it if I have to, though."

Eames put a hand on her shoulder. "We probably don't tell you this enough, but you do a phenomenal job, Ari. Arthur and I, we've both been in this business a long time, and you're the only other person besides Dom that we've wanted to team up with long-term. Being able to do all this on the fly, with only a few minutes prep time? That takes special talent, luv."

They stood in a companionable silence for a few moments and watched Travers add a few more things to his list.

"Time to get this show back on the road," Eames said quietly. "I'm going to need a vessel to put that list in. Be ready with something. Well, my brother," he said more loudly, "are you ready to proceed?"

"I believe I am."

"Very well. Come stand over here, and we shall begin."

Ariadne had to bite her cheek to keep a straight face as Eames positioned everyone just so. When he was happy with the way they were standing, he threw his arms out wide and tilted his head back.

"I call upon the spirits of air, earth, water and fire to bless us on this night. I call upon those who went before us and those who come after us to lend us their strength. I call upon the Goddess herself to grant us that which we seek." He then turned to Travers. "You come before us tonight as a supplicant, seeking the aide of the Goddess and her mortal vessel. Do you come before them pure of heart?"

"I - I do," Travers replied.

"Do you come before them certain of that which you ask?"

"I do."

"Do you come before them ready to pay whatever price is asked of you?"

Travers gulped, but managed to keep his voice steady. "I do."

"Then speak, supplicant, and tell us what you seek."

"I come before you, oh dread priestess, to humbly entreat your aide. All the world knows you are paramount when it comes to keeping and maintaining knowledge."

Ariadne exchanged a quick look with Eames that seemed to say Does this guy really talk this way? Eames merely smirked and turned his attention back to Travers.

"I have knowledge," Travers continued, "that is critical to my business and my way of life. I have secrets to protect. And so I ask you, dread priestess, help me protect this knowledge. Let me entrust it unto you my secrets so that you may safeguard them from those who would take them from me."

Eames turned to Ariadne. "Will you, high priestess, accept this man's secrets and protect them as your own?"

"I shall."

"Then, priestess, if you would produce the sacred vessel, the supplicant and I shall prepare it, while you commit this new knowledge to memory." Eames took the list from Travers and handed it to Ariadne who, in exchange, handed over a small urn with a tight-fitting lid.

Eames took the urn over to Travers and began fussing with it, and occasionally chanting in a strange language. Ariadne wasn't sure if it was a real language, or made up nonsense. But she figured that if she didn't know, Travers probably wouldn't either.

Pulling her attention away from Eames's showmanship, she turned to the piece of paper in her hand. The handwriting was spidery and sometimes hard to make out in the flickering firelight, but she read through the list quickly, committing as much as she could to memory. Several items made her want to raise her eyebrows, and she struggled to keep her face impassive. But there, about half way down the page, was what she had been hoping to find. She felt her shoulders relax, and when Eames turned to look at her, she gave a small nod.

They had what they needed.

Eames turned back to Travers. "Now that the sacred vessel has been prepared -"

"Whatever you're planning on doing, I suggest you hurry." Arthur's voice came drifting in from the darkness outside the circle, cutting off whatever Eames was going to say. "There's a group of people crossing the field with torches."

"Not to worry, my friend," Eames said to Travers, who began to look somewhat panicked. "We are nearly done. All that remains is for you to hold the vessel while the priestess commits the knowledge to it. You will then surrender the vessel to her, symbolically handing over the knowledge that you wish to protect. Are we ready?"

Travers nodded and held out the urn. Eames began mumbling more of his indecipherable language, while Ariadne folded the list in a complicated pattern and slipped it into the urn. Eames replaced the lid and with a great deal of hand-waving, indicated that Travers should hand it over.

As he did so, another shadow created by the fire caught Ariadne's eye and she looked up to see Arthur entering the circle.

"We have about two minutes before they get here," the point man said quietly.

"We're done here," Eames said, and began escorting Travers to the far side of the circle. "Thank you, my brother, for entrusting your secrets to us. I assure you, they will be safe. Why don't you slip out this direction? Keep the robe on, you will be less noticeable that way. We'll take care of the fire, and then we'll slip away too. That way no one gets caught."

"Thank you so much," Travers said, shaking Eames's hand. Then he slipped out of the circle and into the darkness.

"Kill the fire, Ari," Eames said. "How much time do we have?"

Arthur glanced at his watch. "Minute and a half before the kick. Did we get it?"

Ariadne held up the urn with a grin. "We got it."

"Good, let's get out of here."

With a thought, Ariadne doused the fire, and the three partners silently crept out of the stone circle, careful to avoid detection by the incoming projections. Ariadne let out an explosive breath when she began to register the first strains of music that would kick them back up to reality.

They'd done it. Despite screwed up time-tables, incompetent extractors, and on-the-fly dreamscapes, they'd actually done it.

Even if Ariadne knew she would forever wince when someone said something would be "easy."


End Notes: No, the ritual is not supposed to bear any resemblance to anything that was ever done in reality, druidic or otherwise. It is total BS, Eames is making it up as he goes, and entirely meant for show/to conform to what Travers is expecting to happen. No offence to anyone of any belief system is intended.

Date: 2011-04-17 03:40 pm (UTC)
eustacia_vye28: (Ariadne)
From: [personal profile] eustacia_vye28
This is a fabulous story! I love the trust, respect and friendship between the three of them in getting this job done. :)

Date: 2011-04-17 11:31 pm (UTC)
velvetmouse: (ariadne)
From: [personal profile] velvetmouse
Thank you so much! I'm really glad you enjoyed it :D

Date: 2011-04-24 04:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
afskafjf Ariadne!

Er. Sorry about that. What I meant to say was that I don't even have words for how happy I am about the way that you chose to right Ariadne. You took all the greatest things about her - her confidence, the way she thinks on her feet, her intelligence, her low tolerance for BS, the way she can run a show, all of it - and showcased it perfectly in a way that not nearly enough fic does, and it just makes me want to bounce all over the place and rec this absolutely everywhere. I love it.

And for bonus, I like the heist and the way you set up the extraction, and the fondness and affection between the three, and Ariadne's commentary on the druidic patterns that Eames was setting up, and - basically, I love this. Thank you for writing it.

Date: 2011-04-24 09:10 pm (UTC)
velvetmouse: (ariadne)
From: [personal profile] velvetmouse
wow, thank you so much!! :D

I adore competent!Ari soooooooo much, so it was great fun to write her in this. I'm so glad you enjoyed it as well.


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