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Nightmare Machine - Part 1

Title: Nightmare Machine
Author: jaune_chat
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Spoilers: Up through Season 5
Characters/Pairing(s): Aaron Hotchner, David Rossi, Emily Prentiss, Derek Morgan, Dr. Spencer Reid, Jennifer “J.J.” Jareau, Erin Strauss, Penelope Garcia, Cobb, Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Yusef, Saito
Rating: R
Warning: Violence, aftermath of torture
Word Count: 24,948
Notes: This was written for the crossbigbang. Much thanks to bellonablack and brighteyed_jill for betaing and sucksucksmile for art!
Disclaimer: I don't own Criminal Minds or its characters and I don't make a dime off them. Nor Inception. I own nothing!
Summary: When the BAU learns than someone is using a PASIV as a weapon, they are forced to look for unconventional methods to interrogate the comatose victims of the crime. Dominic Cobb is asked to bring his team of extractors to teach the profilers the ins and outs of their trade, for when a mind is the scene of the crime, both extractors and profilers will have to depend on each other to find and stop the criminal responsible…



The only warning Ashley had was the creak on her top step. She bolted upright, heart pounding, terror gripping her for an agonizing moment as the creak was followed by a footstep. It broke her paralysis, and she scrambled at her bedside drawer for her gun. Bullets rolled in the bottom of the drawer as she pulled it open, but the gun wasn’t there.

The gun was not there.

Ashley flung herself out of bed to grab her purse and rummage through it; she knew her way around her bedroom despite the dark. The canister of mace, the tazer, the alarm button, they should be-. Only her wallet met her hands. They were not there either.

The floor creaked again outside her bedroom door. She wouldn’t scream. There was no point in screaming; it would just tell the intruder she was afraid. She couldn’t show she was afraid. Ashley backed up and slipped her hand under her mattress. Somehow, someone had managed to move her weapons, but anyone that knew her might know she kept herself armed. No one knew about the blade she’d concealed under her mattress, her last-ditch defense. She found the hilt and drew it out…

Only the hilt came. The blade had been snapped off. Ashley stared at it, her gut a ball of ice, as the door slowly swung open, despite the triple locks.

A silhouette darkened the doorway, barely visible, but somehow she can still see his cruel smile, like a psychotic Cheshire Cat.

She froze for a long moment, and then turned to run, with the man’s laughter ringing in her ears.

--

Lying asleep on her bed, a needle in her vein, tears slipped from Ashley’s eyes. Beside her, a small machine in a silver briefcase hummed and sighed softly. A second line led to a man reclining in her easy chair, a cruel smile on his face.

-----

“We’ve had three victims over the past three months.” J.J. nodded at each picture in turn as they appeared on the screen. “Three months ago, Jessica Rand, 32, marketing director for a major drug company from Aspen, Colorado. Two months ago, Kaitlin Braymer, 38, vice president of a banking corporation from Los Angeles, and yesterday Ashley Sorensen, 33, recently-promoted partner at a law firm in New York.”

“The unsub definitely has a type,” Morgan said. “Professional women in prominent positions, attractive, similar age-range, all high-risk targets. How did they die?”

“They didn’t,” J.J. said, ignoring the questions and protests as she put up crime scene photos. Each showed the women on their beds, a needle in their hands leading to a device in a silver suitcase. “Each victim was found hooked up to an intravenous drug dispersal unit, specifically a Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous device.”

“A dream machine?” Garcia asked, eyes wide.

J.J. nodded, a tight look around her lips meaning there was worse news to come. “Dream therapists were brought in to attempt to wake the victims, but each was thrown out of the victims’ dreams several times and couldn’t make any progress. Eventually the Somnacin solution used to keep the victim under was exhausted, but each victim remained in a comatose state. Repeated efforts to wake them have failed. The only information the dream therapists have been able to retrieve was-.” J.J. paused and looked down at her notes to read the quote accurately. “‘Whoever was in here before us was a monster.’ More specifically, there is severe damage to the victims’ minds which makes it impossible for conventional dream therapy to work. The doctors aren’t holding out much hope for drug therapy or neurosurgery either.”

The profilers sat up straighter at that bleak and disturbing statement.

“And there’s no chance this was an accident?” Prentiss asked. “I’ll grant you that directed dreaming and dream sharing isn’t widespread, but some people have been known to use them recreationally.”

“According to their friends and family, no. None of the victims was ever known to use a PASIV device on their own.”

“That doesn’t exactly mean anything,” Morgan said. “It’s not exactly common, and people usually don’t exactly parade that they’re using one.

“None of the victims had traces of long-term Somnacin use, or any history of sleep problems,” J.J. said. “I had the local PD units check. They were all far more likely to be a victim of extraction, considering their jobs. Each of them had access to sensitive materials for their respective companies.”

Rossi shook his head. “Extraction was after my time; I’m mostly working off of popular rumor,” he said, looking over at the other for a quick explanation.

“The military original developed the shared dream state as a way to practice combat techniques while minimizing injury, but the possibilities for information extraction turned dream sharing into a corporate espionage device,” Reid explained quickly.

“So, could this be an extraction gone wrong?” Rossi asked.

“Possibly, but considering the fact that three victims haven’t woken up, and the identical comments from the dream therapists in each of the cases, it seems this unsub knows exactly what he’s doing,” Hotchner said.

“Are we certain it’s a man?” Prentiss asked, folding her hands. “Dreams are an equalizer.”

Hotchner realized she was playing devil’s advocate, making sure everyone was on their mental toes, and nodded in gratitude. “Statistically it’s more likely to be a male. Extraction was developed in the military, and those with the most experience are most likely to have military experience. Also the accounts from the dream therapists about the minds of the victims indicates sadistic behavior towards women.”

“There wasn’t any sign of forced entry?” Morgan asked, moving on to the next set of questions.

“All three women had excellent personal security, and there was no sign up a breach at their homes until family or co-workers came to check on them,” J.J. confirmed.

“But take a look at their personal security,” Reid said. “Assuming he was able to disable their guards, alarms, and locks quietly, he still managed to gain entry to their bedrooms without waking them and get them hooked up while they were sleeping.”

“Could we be looking at an inside job? Did the victims let him in?” Rossi asked.

“It’s possible, but unlikely,” Hotchner said. “All three victims were known to be fanatical about personal security, and all evidence points to them being put under very late at night, well after their homes were usually locked up for the night.”

“What exactly was this unsub trying to do? There’s no sign of trauma on the bodies, no sign of sexual assault…” Prentiss skimmed through the files quickly and turned to Garcia. “Penelope, was there any evidence of theft in any of their bank accounts, storage areas, stocks or bonds, anything?”

Garcia typed her inquires, and eventually shook her head. “Nothing out of the ordinary on any of their accounts, and the victims’ family and friends didn’t say anything about stuff being missing.”

“We know this guy has to be controlled, skilled, and he’s obviously choosing these women specifically. He knows their routines,” Morgan said, tapping one of the pictures of the neat and tidy crime scenes.

“And he has to have some source of income. He’s leaving the PASIV devices at each crime scene, and those cannot be inexpensive. They’re his calling card,” Rossi said.

“But we don’t know what, exactly, he’d doing to the victims while they’re in a dream state. Is this about control, power, revenge, or some kind of display?” Prentiss asked. “He’s hurting them, and that’s all we know.”

“We’re going to need expert help. We need to look at this from two angles,” Hotchner said. “One is from the outside, working victimology, studying the unsub’s technique for gaining entry, looking at the geographical profile, everything we usually do.” He stood up and pushed away from the table.

“And the second?” Rossi asked.

“We have three witnesses we need to figure out how to question.”

-----

Erin Strauss did not even raise an eyebrow at Hotchner’s request.

“I expected you to ask. I have someone in mind,” she said calmly.

Hotchner had come in expecting a fight. He’d carefully laid out his arguments, prepared counters for all the objections she was likely to raise. Despite the real threat of extraction, dream sharing was still very controversial amongst all the government branches. But, despite that controversy, it was far more likely that certain individuals would know the names of professional extractors; people they might one day have to use. It was more than likely that there were some already in the government, employed legally, if discretely.

Hotchner needed one of them to teach his team how to extract. What a dream therapist might not be able to handle, his team probably could. He’d expected Strauss to tell him to go back and figure out this case on his own. But this was the best way. It was so rare for his team to be called in for cases where the victims could speak for themselves, where they’d seen their attacker and could identify him. This could be a major breakthrough, a way to stop this man before another victim dropped.

Also, Hotchner had been attempting to get his team this kind of training for years. Profiling was always evolving. While dream extraction would only be useful in certain conditions, it was another potential potent tool in their arsenal, and Hotchner wanted to know how it was done.

And Strauss had said yes. She had anticipated his question. He hadn’t been aware that she had even read the files on this case, let alone was truly ready to help his team.

“His name is Dominic Cobb,” Strauss said, handing him a slim file and blithely ignoring his bemusement. “He was in on some of the ground-floor testing of the limits of dream sharing, and is an expert on extraction. He was considered the best extractor in the black market for several years. He returned to America three years ago, was cleared of certain charges against him, pardoned for his black market activities, and has been working with some government officials to lend his expertise to situations of this nature.”

Hotchner flipped through the file quickly. A few things caught his eye, but he was paying far more attention to Strauss’ words. It wasn’t the thought of an ex-criminal helping out the FBI that bothered him. Penelope Garcia could be considered to be in that same category and she was far from the only one. But the fact that Strauss would let him have access to an asset that was apparently helping out people in high places puzzled him. Hotchner knew Strauss considered him to be political Kryptonite, and lending Cobb to him could erode her own power.

“Ma’am, why Cobb? There are other legal practitioners of extraction without that kind of background. Any one of them could have trained us.” The question was less for his curiosity about Dominic Cobb than it was about Strauss’ answer.

Strauss became very still, though her eyes gleamed. “He’s the best,” she said tightly. “Your team needs the best.”

Hotchner didn’t let anything show, but he felt the shock as an almost palpable force. She knew Cobb. She’d interacted with him before. If she had known anything of what the victims were feeling, of being trapped in their nightmares and unable to wake up, that would explain her sudden push to get Hotchner’s team involved in the case.

-----

It seemed so innocuous. A silver briefcase, inside containing a relatively simple apparatus to distribute a drug in a controlled, timed manner. It did not look like a nightmare machine. And Dominic Cobb, stylishly dressed in a conservative suit, sandy hair and tanned skin from a California lifestyle, did not seem like someone who could master it.

That was the point. He’d been a high-class con artist for years, working in a very subtle medium. Seeming to be other than you were was an asset. If it hadn’t been for the shrewd intelligence in his eyes, it would have been easy to not give him a second thought.

“You have the specs for this?” Rossi asked, gesturing at the PASIV. Strauss had been as good as her word; Cobb had shown up the next morning, fresh from Santa Barbara. Hotchner had elected to try a simple round of questioning first, with just him and Rossi talking to Cobb, learning about extraction process as they went. Garcia had given everyone a hand-out of the general knowledge of dream-sharing, but what Cobb could tell them was what they truly needed to know. The fact that they needed him for a case would not come up until they had gotten his measure.

There was also the strong possibility that someone skilled enough to use a PASIV as a weapon to force people to go comatose was someone that Cobb knew. Better for him to realize the magnitude of the crime first before he felt compelled to defend anyone.

“Yes. Probably three quarters of the extractor community has blueprints, and the rest could do simple repairs. I know three people who could build one without the plans. They’re not that hard to put together; that’s the reason why the military lost control of PASIV technology in the first place.” Dominic Cobb was remarkably calm for a man sitting in the middle of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, describing his expertise in a virtually untraceable, insidious method of crime.

Then again, he’d been invited here, secure in his pardon. Aside from the suspicious circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, Cobb could at best be described as a white collar criminal. Extraction itself generally caused no harm, physically or mentally. The harm only came later, in the waking world, when people fought over the secrets extracted, or, if the job failed, not extracted.

“So what do you need to know to build a PASIV?” Hotchner asked.

“Someone with access to a reasonable array of tools, along with some background in electronics and engineering. That’s if you’re building from the ground up. Some of the components are available for other purposes. The central dispersal unit can be used for drug treatments at hospitals, for example, and they’re not that hard to obtain. In that case all you’d need are the blueprints for the machine.”

That description fit the profile. The unsub was probably a sadist, but he was also organized, controlled, educated, and intelligent.

“You could also steal a unit. There are enough around, and not everyone secures them as well as they should,” Cobb added.

“And the drug used?” Rossi prompted.

“Somnacin? That’s a bit trickier. You need a real laboratory to make it, and a knowledgeable chemist.”

“So you usually buy the compound?”

“Usually. Some gets stolen along with the PASIV, but most professionals buy what they need. It depends on the job, how deep you want to go. The basic compound will let you dream together. With some modifications you can get different effects, like sharper perception or deeper levels…” Cobb trailed off, his eyes flickering over the file folders on the table.

--

Cobb kept his composure as the profilers asked him questions that could have been answered by any competent dream therapist. Their own casualness was as much of a façade as his, and it was likely that, under those professional expressions, that they were just as nervous as he was. He’d been in the offices of more than one government bigwig since he’d returned to America, but always as a teacher, always in a slight position of power over the senator or general who needed to be taught how to defend himself. He remembered how it used to be, when the person hiring him could turn on him in an instant, and he’d have little recourse but to run. The profilers were trying to rattle his cage a little, just to see what might ooze out.

Cobb’s stomach clenched, and he made certain not to fidget.

Hotchner paused, his expression going very still. “Describe pain in the dream world.”

Cobb felt himself pale. If they were asking about that… “If you die in a dream, you wake up. But if you’re hurt, you feel the pain. Pain is in the mind.”

“It seems very real.”

“Yes. Very.” Too real, too painful, and you could experience anything, literally any kind of pain in a dream.

“Do you remember the pain afterward?”

“If you’re on the extraction team? You remember. It’s not quite as sharp as something real, but you remember. The subject usually passes it off as a dream, and they forget.” Thank God they did, or extractors would never be able to get any work done.

“Usually,” Rossi repeated.

Cobb looked at the folders again, a sick feeling starting to roil his gut.

“Are there compounds that will help a dreamer remember, or make it seem more real?”

“You don’t want the subject to remember. They think it’s real while they’re in the dream, but you don’t want them to remember your face after the extraction.” Then they would chase you to the very ends of the earth for invading their mind. Cobb had learned the value of anonymity in that profession early and well. Those that hadn’t-- who liked leaving calling cards in someone’s head-- they usually didn’t last very long.

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

Cobb was silent long enough that his answer was a foregone conclusion, and the profilers knew it. “I’ve heard of things like that, yes.”

Hotchner flipped open a folder. “We’re currently looking for an extractor. Three months ago, Jessica Rand didn’t show up for work. When friends investigated, they found her asleep in her home, hooked up to a PASIV. Two months ago, Kaitlin Braymer. Yesterday, Ashley Sorensen. None of the victims were able to be awakened. All the evidence points to an unknown male entering the home and putting the women under while they were sleeping. The male stayed hooked up for an indeterminate period of time, then left the women plugged in.”

Cobb felt decidedly sick. “Have the women been unhooked?”

“All three remained plugged while attempts were made to wake them, both medically and with dream therapy. All attempts failed, and then the Somnacin compound ran out. All three victims remain comatose, and their vital signs have begun a slow decline.”

“They were lost,” Cobb said softly, without thinking. “He took them somewhere in there and got them lost. Without a way back, if they were deep enough…” He closed his eyes for just a second, seeing Saito, withered and ancient, looking at him with confusion.

“There were no signs of physical abuse.” Hotchner paused, searching for something in Cobb’s expression. “But all of the victims had been crying.”

Shit. Cobb knew a trump card when he heard it, an unspoken question of whether or not they were going to have to ask him for help. He straightened in his seat and leaned forward, all casualness gone. “What do you want? How can I help?”

“I understand that you were considered to be the best extractor. I need you to teach my team how to extract. Because this man will not stop, and he hasn’t left anything behind to identify him without help. Different cities, different states, and nothing to connect his victims except for the MO of his crimes. We’ve done all we could with conventional methods. Our best way of catching him and possibly saving any other future victims is to attempt to communicate with Jessica, Kaitlin, and Ashley. He is not going to stop until we catch him.”

“You want to go in and…” Cobb shook his head. “Do you realize how dangerous that is? You have no idea where he put them, or what you’ll see.”

“Mr. Cobb, my team is used to putting themselves in the place of killers or victims on a daily basis.”

“Not like this. You can’t just close the folder on this once you’re done.”

“You’d be surprised as what we can handle.”

Cobb looked away, staring at a spot on the wall and wondered if they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. If they knew what they were getting him into.

“Despite what you might think, no one on my team is taking this lightly. If there were a doctor or therapist who could help these women, we would have asked. But two trained medical extractors have already tried, and they couldn’t find anything. They were thrown out of the women’s minds within a few minutes, and neither of them was inexperienced. They both refused to try again after multiple failures. It wasn’t the type of dream; it was the state of the minds themselves. This unsub was extremely brutal in a place where he’d leave little outward sign or evidence. This is what we’re trained for. You have the extraction knowledge we need, and we have the experience with mental trauma and finding clues left behind.”

“How many people are on your team?”

“Five profilers, one media liaison, and our technical analyst. Six would need training.”

Cobb regarded Hotchner levelly. This was not a training job for one person, not if they wanted to be trained as a group, not if they wanted to learn in any kind of reasonable time frame. “What kind of legal pull do you have?”

--

“I can make recommendations.” Hotchner kept his voice level as possible, feeling a dull triumph. He’d managed to bring Cobb in, to get him engaged, but this was only the first step of a ten thousand step staircase.

“Because if you want six people to be taught in this short of a time frame, you’re going to need more than me. You need a whole team. My team.”

“All of whom have participated in extraction before.” It wasn’t a question.

Cobb smiled slightly at Hotchner’s deadpan expression despite the seriousness of the situation. “Some have made a career out of it. They won’t come if it means a prison sentence.”

Hotchner nodded tersely as he wrote something down.

“Agent.” Hotchner looked up. “I do want to help. I’m working off a few lifetimes’ worth of bad karma.”

-----

“Out of the question.”

Hotchner didn’t even twitch at Chief Strauss’ bald refusal of his request. He certainly hadn’t expected this burst of reasonable good relations to last.

“Ma’am, you brought Mr. Cobb in in the first place. He is very willing to help, but we’re going to need more than one individual to train my team.”

“There is no need to train your entire team. All you need is one person-.”

“Ma’am, you’re thinking of therapeutic dreamscaping. This is extraction, and Mr. Cobb has informed me that a safe minimum is three on a team. For the victims we intend to interview, he’d honestly prefer more.”

Strauss’ mouth had a bitter, mulish set to it, and Hotchner kept himself calm in the face of her stubborn unreason. Honestly he had expected a much worse reaction. There was something about this that rang false, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint the source. What he was asking for was a significant risk to her own credibility if anything went wrong. All in all, she hadn’t reacted so badly to the fact that Hotchner needed her to put the wheels in motion for more pardons and immunity for a group of international criminals.

“How many more?” she asked.

“Aside from Cobb, he knows a group of four others he has worked with in the past. We’re going to need all the help we can to master this technique in time to stop this unsub. There are only three victims alive that we know of, and every minute that passes brings them closer to death. We need more clues before we can find the person responsible. Otherwise I expect that we’ll have a new victim in our hands in another few weeks. Possibly sooner. He will be accelerating.”

Something flickered in Strauss’ face, and Hotchner fell silent to give her a chance to think. She’d brought Cobb in first. She had to know that the rest of his team would be right behind him for something like this. Something about the case disturbed her on a personal level. Had she or someone she cared for once been the target of an extraction? That would explain both her desire to see the rogue extractor stopped and not to see many other extractors in one place.

“I’ll see to it,” she ground out, with all the enthusiasm of someone agreeing to her own execution.

----

Strauss unlocked the bottom desk drawer and pulled out a burn phone, pre-paid and anonymous. It wouldn’t stop her agents from discovering her involvement entirely, but it would certainly slow them down, if they ever decided to get suspicious. If she was lucky, they’d have too much to think about to do more than wonder at how she had gotten this done. She dialed.

The phone only rang once. “Saito, it’s Erin,” she said in greeting. “I need the other favor we discussed.” Saito’s smugness could almost be heard from the other end of the line. Strauss hadn’t ever wanted all of Cobb’s extractors in one place, but she’d had the sinking feeling that some day she would need them. She had bargained for their possible presence only on the extreme out chance that she would need to contain a potential disaster. Saito would never let her forget this.

“They will be very reluctant to come. Certainly they will not be willing to set foot in any FBI building, no matter the reassurances.”

“I need them, Saito.”

“Your employees are no fools, and Mr. Cobb is not either.”

Strauss clenched her jaw in frustration for a moment. Cobb would know what she’d done to get his team here, and her agents would figure it out shortly. Doing this was exposing herself to a very uncomfortable degree.

“Use whatever language you have to on your end. I can make certain they’ll be kept out of prison. Besides, I should think Mr. Cobb would enjoy employing them on the right side of the law for a change.”

“The right side, Ms. Strauss, not your side. From what you have told me, I expect there is more in common between my team and yours than you’d care to admit. They are only so amenable to manipulation.”

“Maybe so. The fact of the matter is that sooner or later this unsub or a copycat is going to get to someone important, and that will cause new laws to be leveled against PASIV users. Neither of us can afford that.” Saito was silent, and Erin almost regretted her choice of words. Extraction for business or political purposes was illegal, and both had too much dirt on each other’s activities to make threats.

“Do what you must. If you cannot deliver your protection, I will warn the team not to come.”

“I always deliver, Saito.”

The phone disconnected, and Erin locked it back in its drawer. Picking up her office phone, she dialed her contact in the Department of Justice.

-----

Hotchner hadn’t necessarily been expecting Strauss to help him any further with this case, despite his warning. Not that he’d doubted her passion in their initial meeting to get Cobb, but bringing criminals into the FBI was going to cost her, and Strauss hated losing ground in her endless jockeying for position. Even with the possibility of the BAU being blamed for more deaths, Hotchner hadn’t been certain of her aid.

She must have owed someone a very hefty favor. Or she was trying to cover up sins in her past.

“They’ve been brought in on conditional immunity,” Strauss said briskly, handing him a slim folder. “While certain members of the FBI will be briefed on their backgrounds-.” Hotchner wondered if his team would be included in that briefing. He rather thought not; Erin Strauss was not in the habit of making things too easy for him. “-they would only come if their freedom were preserved.”

“Understandable,” Hotchner said. Understandable, if entirely criminal in thinking. As a lawyer, Hotchner had seen that kind of deal-making countless times.

“Mr. Cobb trusts them to deal with all of you honestly and train you well. His services to the DoD over the past three years have earned him regard in high places.”

“As you say, ma’am.” Strauss had used up favors from the Department of Defense. She needed this solved like a drowning woman needed air, but would never say so. She’d get Hotchner’s best on this case, which was all he’d ever given.

“They’re arriving tonight, and will be escorted to your briefing room at 2pm,” she concluded briskly.

Hotchner nodded and turned to go.

“Aaron.”

He paused, and thought he saw a shadow cross his section chief’s face.

“They truly are the best, and good improvisers. Don’t scare them off.”

“I’m going to be letting them inside my subconscious; I don’t intend to get off on the wrong foot with them,” he said calmly.

“Good,” she said shortly. “Don’t.”

-----

“Reid said the positioning of the bodies was very deliberate, very staged. The unsub’s making a statement,” Rossi said, going over everyone’s notes to bring Hotchner up to speed on what they’d done while he was dealing with Strauss.

“Vulnerability?” Hotchner asked for confirmation and Rossi nodded. Each of the victims had been laid on top of their bed covers, fully clothed, but exposed on all sides. The blinds were shut in the entire house, and the doors and windows locked. “They’re for him. He’s the only one who gets to see them in that state until he’s done.”

“The lab has run the DNA samples we’ve gotten against every database we have, and this guy isn’t in the system,” Rossi added, tempering his good news with the bad. That the crime scene techs had even managed to find DNA was a fluke, but apparently the unsub had discarded his IV needle on his way out the door. But unfortunately it gave them nothing but a way to confirm his identity when they caught him.

“Does that strike you as careless?” Hotchner asked.

“Arrogant, maybe. He thought we wouldn’t find it, or if we did, we wouldn’t be able to use it against him. He knows we have nothing.”

Hotchner pressed his lips together as he put down the folder from Strauss’ office.

“She folded,” Rossi said, a hint of disbelief in his voice. “How the hell did you manage to convince her to bring in Cobb’s team?”

“I didn’t,” Hotchner said honestly. “She wants this man found, and she’s willing to sweat blood to get it.”

“Get us professional extractors to get into our victims’ minds.” Rossi shook his head. “Aaron, why this route? This is the most invasive thing we’ve ever done to a victim, and we can’t even obtain their personal permission.”

“Dave, you’ve looked at the reports from the other field offices. With the information we received, would you change anything about their preliminary profiles?”

Rossi hesitated a long moment and sighed. “No. They came to mostly the same conclusions we did at first.”

“In my understanding of how this dream extraction works, this unsub has an unprecedented amount of time to harm these women in literally any way he can imagine. There will be no basement room or mobile torture chamber for us to find, and the only reason he is leaving his machines behind is to impress us with his sophistication and taunt us with what he’s done. This kind of skill in the extraction field is rare.”

Rossi nodded in understanding. “The extractors might know him.”

“And even if they don’t, they will be showing us how extractors operate. They’ll help us build the profile just by being here.”

“What if one of them is the unsub?” Rossi asked. He didn’t think it was likely, but he wanted to hear Hotchner’s reasoning.

“This unsub couldn’t resist trying his technique out on co-workers. I don’t think all of them could be unaware of his proclivities if they’d ever come across him.”

“And you said he’s leaving his machines behind to impress us. That implies someone who wants to be known in his field,” Rossi pointed out.

“So even if they don’t know him, they might know of him,” Hotchner pointed out.

“Pray that they do, and we can end this soon.”

-----

Arthur set a small, neat stack of files on the table in Cobb’s hotel room before sitting on the edge of one of the chairs, back straight and gaze intense. It was as if to make up for all the hours embraced in a chair sleeping, or flying, or traveling by train, Arthur needed to spend his waking hours on high alert.

“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Cobb said, eying the folders with a hint of trepidation. Arthur set down his drink as an answer – club soda with lime. Arthur never had alcohol while he was working.

“I wasn’t even sure you were going to come,” Cobb said. “Thank you.”

“Saito made sure the offer was genuine,” Arthur said. He picked up the soda to sip at it, barely looking ruffled from his ten-hour flight into the States. “And you asked, Dom. You said it was important.”

“It is.”

“So I came prepared. And so did everyone else.” There was the faintest hint of a smile on Arthur’s face. “Did you really think Eames was going to miss a chance to show up government agents? And Ariadne’s wanted to meet your kids since forever.”

Cobb smiled and shook his head. He had missed everyone more than he could say; this was a hell of a way to get the band back together.

“Do I want to know where you got those files from?” Cobb asked.

“Internet. The agents’ public records only. I’m good, but not that good,” Arthur said, leaning forward to open the first file. “I’d like to know if we’re going to trip over any landmines in there before we start. Thank God these people are usually above board.” Considering the haunted look Cobb had spied on one or more of the profiler’s faces, Arthur was right to be so cautious.

“Ok, let’s break it down. Should we get the others?”

“Eames is getting rid of jet lag in the bar downstairs, Yusef is going over those chemical analyses he was working on, and Ariadne is writing her thesis.”

“So, over breakfast, then.”

Arthur smiled and opened the first folder.

-----

Rossi wasn’t certain exactly what he’d been expecting. But the extraction team didn’t quite fit his hazy mental pictures. Cobb introduced them all by a single name and title. They all had the ease of old friends.

Arthur, the pointman, was fit and slender. With slick-backed hair and impeccably fitted suit, he could have easily passed for a lawyer or businessman.

Eames, the forger, looked more like a con artist. His clothes were far more casual and comfortable than Arthur’s, and an easy wide smile bedecked his stubbled face as he greeted everyone with slightly sarcastic cheer.

Yusef, the chemist, was dark-haired and intense, very interested in everyone. He kept looking around as if he were devising experiments on the spot.

And Ariadne, the architect, really threw everyone for a loop. Younger than the rest by five years or more, she looked like a graduate student that had been plucked out of a lecture hall.

But despite their differences in age and experience, there was an ease in the way they talked together, moved together, that spoke of their trust in each other. While Rossi was fairly certain Eames and Arthur were probably old pros at extraction, Ariadne simply couldn’t have been doing this as long as they had. But that might not matter for them. From what Rossi had learned about extraction, this team might have been together for only a few years in real time, but in dream time, might have spent a decade learning about each other.

In practical terms, they could be as strong of a team as Rossi’s fellow profilers after having only been on a few jobs together.

----

Arthur kept his greetings short and to the point while the profilers introduced themselves, more interested in seeing how much his research matched the reality of the people in front of him. Files could tell a lot about someone, but seeing a person in action, even if that action was only a simple meeting, could fill in blanks that just didn’t exist on paper.

He had the feeling that his research only scratched the surface, but it was accurate for the limitations. Even the public files on the profilers-- their available records, high school yearbooks, back issues of local papers --bore out the mannerisms he saw. Hotchner, the former lawyer and current unit chief, was straight as an arrow. He was dedicated to the job to a fault and had lost his wife and almost his life to an attack last year. Over a decade of hunting down human monsters had put hard lines on his face, and made him wary and prepared. Doubly armed with a shoulder and ankle holster, he had a poker face that Arthur frankly envied. He was someone that the others looked up to with genuine respect. Earn his trust, and the rest of his team would follow.

Morgan, the ex-cop, had grown up in a tough town. He had been on the bomb squad, and he was probably the best choice for fighting projections if necessary. Most people Arthur worked with were not trained nearly so well for combat. The experienced Rossi would have a wealth of images to draw on to build dreams, and he had a calm demeanor that meant he was unlikely to let his projections get out of hand. The young genius, Dr. Reid, had some nasty experiences in his background, according to the newspaper articles (several near-death experiences with dangerous criminals, the details, of course, not given), and Arthur was definitely worried about getting into his head. If anyone had an ounce of sense, they’d have him build, rather than be the subject for any training.

Prentiss’ record had been almost non-existent, other than she’d moved around a lot as a child. But Arthur was good at reading between the lines; “undercover work,” her record had said silently. He’d let Eames have the joy of her for training. Anyone used to living many lives could probably forge. The media liaison, J.J., seemed unflappable and more than competent, with an easy smile and girl-next-door looks that were rather disarming. A reluctant subject would be inclined to trust her.

Saito had been right; the profilers had the potential to be a top-notch team, even if they were the kind of people that could hunt Arthur down for his day job. He felt a flutter of uncertainty, and quashed it as he reminded himself that they had called him for help. The ball was in his court.

As Arthur pulled his attention back to the group as a whole, he realized the profilers were evaluating him as much as he was them, searching him and the others for strengths and weaknesses. They wanted to get their measure before the real testing began. He smiled very, very slightly; whatever this job turned out to be, he doubted it would be dull.

-----

Hotchner was studying everyone’s expressions while J.J. went over the specifics of the case for the benefit of the extractors. Strauss had elected not to inform them why they had been asked to come to the BAU. Yes, they knew the profilers wanted extraction training. But they hadn’t known it was for a case that might involve one of their own.

Ariadne had put a hand to her mouth when she saw the pictures of the prone bodies on their beds, struck down in their own homes. Arthur’s eyes had narrowed when the PASIV device was shown, while Yusef’s eyebrows had shot up in surprise. Eames had been seemingly bored with the whole affair, but his grip on the mug of coffee showed white knuckles. Cobb looked only slightly less green than yesterday, but there was a determined set to his mouth.

“I know we did not mention the full circumstances when we asked you to come, but this case is very sensitive. Of all people, you should understand why. We cannot order you to help us, but we’re asking you to,” Hotchner concluded.

“I’d like a chance to think about it,” Eames said after a long silence, consciously relaxing his hand to take a sip of coffee. His pose was casual, but Hotchner suspected it was more habit than anything else. Show that you were indifferent to a potential client’s job offer, and he might offer you more to do it. After a lifetime operating under those circumstances, the habit would have been hard to shake.

It didn’t help that Hotchner was asking for him and the others to teach people that could one day turn on him and his kind if they stepped out of line.

“We need your answer by tomorrow morning. This unsub is not going to wait, and we’ll need as much time as we can get to learn who he is and how to stop him,” Hotchner said calmly. Ariadne swallowed and looked about ready to speak when Arthur elbowed her subtly. Yusef just nodded, pushing back his chair as Eames stood up to go.

“Hotch-,” Morgan started, but a quick shake of Hotchner’s head silenced him.

“Tomorrow, then,” Eames said. He strolled out of the briefing room, the other extractors filing out behind him. Ariadne was next to last, and Cobb murmured for her to go back to the hotel with the others before turning back to the profilers.

--

“Your opinion?” Rossi asked.

Cobb sighed and looked away from the profilers’ intense gazes.

“They’ll probably do it. I’ll talk with everyone later.”

“If they don’t?”

“I could probably teach you one at a time, but it will take longer,” Cobb said. “I know that’s the whole reason you pulled God knows how many strings was to bring my people in, but I can’t force them and I know you don’t have anything to compel them.”

Hotchner didn’t crack a smile and Cobb regretted his choice of words. Extraction was such a subtle crime that records of it were scanty and laws against it even less so. That was what made this case so frustrating and why the FBI was willing to risk opening its agents to such a controversial interrogation technique.

“Do you understand what we’re trying to do eventually? We need to get into the victims’ minds and talk to them. The unsub would have left clues in everything he did to them and everything we find in there we can use to find him. He’s left us little evidence but the machines themselves, and while we can use that to narrow down a suspect pool, it’s likely this man has flown under the radar for years, possibly decades. The best evidence we might find is inside the victims’ minds, because in there he thought he wouldn’t have had to worry about hard evidence.”

Cobb nodded slowly, brow furrowed in consternation as he looked up.

“Agent Hotchner, realistically I could teach you the basics of extraction in a few hours. But it takes time to work on control, experience to remember where you are and what you need to do. It’s easy to get distracted, and if this…”

“Unsub. Unknown subject,” Hotchner supplied.

“If this unsub was getting creative in the victims’ minds, there’s going to be a lot of distraction.”

“Mr. Cobb, I’ll be very frank when I say my team and myself have seen or experienced some of the worst things one human being can do to another. I’m not worried about distraction. I’m worried about the newness of the medium. I would like one of your team with my people at all times while they’re trying to extract.”

“In the dream.”

“Yes. We have three victims still alive and a short period of time before the unsub strikes again.”

Cobb looked uncertain. He was worried, but not about accepting. He was more concerned about what Hotchner would say if he did accept. He wasn’t sure either of them would like what they might see in each other’s minds.

“If my team agrees, we’ll give you our best,” he said.

-----

“They’re eerie,” Eames said, tossing back his scotch with a faint grimace. I’ve let you lot in my head a few times, but they’re…”

“Invasive,” Arthur said. He hadn’t been the only one to see the profilers watching their reactions during the briefing, subtly spying to see if any of them reacted too much or too little to the victims’ plight. The hawk-like glances had gone away as the profilers had dismissed them as a threat, one by one relaxing slightly as if a terrible danger had passed. Eames had bitched about their stares during the entire cab ride to the hotel.

“Not invasive, they just… put the pieces together a lot more quickly,” Cobb said, trying to smooth things over.

“They’re mind readers. I don’t want them telling what my choice of wallpaper in my dream means my dog died when I was a boy,” Eames said flatly.

“Does it?” Ariadne asked, raising an eyebrow.

“No, but you get my drift. I don’t want them in.”

“We can’t just back out,” Ariadne said, leaning forward over the table to make her point. The idea of someone trapped in a dream unable to wake up had hit all of them hard, but the idea particularly frightened Ariadne. The others just covered it a lot better, a career in lying having taught them that showing weakness could be dangerous.

“No, that’s exactly what we should do. Pardons or no, we’re cutting into our own livelihood by teaching them,” Arthur said.

Cobb could sympathize with Arthur and Eames. Outside of a few specialized psychotherapy fields and military applications, there weren’t that many legitimate uses for PASIV technology. It required too much training and the risks were too great for the entertainment industry, even if people were willing to expose themselves that much. That left illegal spying. If they all hadn’t owed Saito so much for his protection after the Fisher job (a “bonus” beyond price for those in an illegal profession), half the team would have told him exactly where to stick his request.

“We’re cutting into it if we don’t help. They guy, whoever he is, is using dreams as a weapon,” Cobb said pointedly.

Everyone got the implications in one. Right now extractors were seen as tools of industrial espionage or private detectives for those requiring absolute discretion. The relatively untraceable nature of their crimes meant police didn’t pursue them very aggressively. (Disgruntled clients or subjects were another matter.) But if it became known that extractors could physically hurt or kill someone with dreams, police passivity towards them would vanish, and their jobs would be much, much harder than before.

“You know where this kind of crime could lead,” Yusef said ominously. “I would not care to become a true back-alley dealer. I just finished arranging my lab to my liking.”

“I, for one, did not sign up to be a do-gooder,” Eames said positively, firmly tapping his finger on the bar to make his point.

“Who was the one saying we ought to charge Fisher for the therapy we did on his daddy issues?” Ariadne asked.

“No idea,” Eames said, grinning.

“So, are all the agents really going to go in?” Ariadne asked. “All of them?”

Cobb nodded. “I warned them, but they didn’t listen.”

“Do they want us in there too, when they go for real?”

“I should hope not,” Eames said quickly before Cobb could speak.

Ariadne glared at Eames. “Come on, we can’t just let them go alone.”

Before Eames could devise a witty comeback, Arthur spoke perhaps not-so-unexpectedly in Ariadne’s defense. “I’ll do it. They’re fast studies and quick on the draw; you saw the files I had on them. Their closed-case records are outstanding. If we have to do this anyway, better us than anyone else showing them how.”

“Was that an attempt at reverse psychology? Terrible. I’ll do it,” Eames said, signaling the waiter for champagne.

“I’m in,” Ariadne said, as if it had been a foregone conclusion. From Ariadne’s far side, Yusef waggled a sheaf of papers with an FBI header; clearly he’d made his decision before they’d even left the building this afternoon.

Cobb smothered a grin. “All right, I’ll call Hotchner.”

-----

“Well, you certainly move fast,” Eames said in greeting.

J.J. smiled as the extractors looked over the two rooms the FBI had outfitted for their training. It was supplied with well-upholstered office chairs, padded mats next to them for a kick, and a large selection of restoratives. It was a far cry from lawn chairs in an old warehouse, or half-broken beds in a fleabag motel, or the cramped confines of a train compartment.

“Mr. Cobb had some suggestions already in place for his government clients,” she said smoothly.

“Wonderful.” Eames took a long drink of coffee and shot a glare over at Cobb.

“Thanks, J.J.,” Cobb said quickly, before the exchange could start to grow barbs.

“Soon as you’re done, Hotchner wants everyone in the briefing room for a brainstorming session,” J.J. said.

“You seemed pretty gung-ho about getting trained. Why the delay?” Arthur asked.

“We want your insights before we go jumping into each other’s heads. See you in ten,” she said briskly. J.J. was barely out the door before Eames turned on Cobb.

“You’re on a first-name basis with FBI agents?” he whispered, raising his eyebrow.

“Give it a rest, Eames. He’s been legit for three years,” Arthur cut in.

“Guys, seriously. People lost in their heads. Please tell me we aren’t going to be arguing about how we’re helping them,” Ariadne said.

“Of course we’re not,” Cobb said, his tone a little strained. Holding back from saying anything that was going to make it worse, he left for the briefing room.

The others followed slowly, shooting worried glances at each other behind Cobb’s back.

------------------

Part 2
Master Post

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
kuriadalmatia
Jun. 19th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
A very interesting premise! I thoroughly enjoyed how you setup the case, had the teams wary of each other, and for those those who many not be so familiar with the fandoms, background on each.

The idea that the UnSub has trapped victims in their minds is chilling. I can't wait to read more. Thanks for posting!
jaune_chat
Jun. 20th, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
I'm pleased the backgrounds worked. I don't want to be too tedious in explaining, because in fanfic there is an assumption you've already seen the show/movie, but then again you never know who might find the summary interesting and leap in regardless!
nevcolleil
Oct. 10th, 2011 11:17 am (UTC)
God. This story is amazing! A brilliant idea and you write each character perfectly, bringing the two teams together in a really believable way. I am so psyched that an Inception/Criminal Minds crossover even exists, so the fact that it rocks just thrills me :)
jaune_chat
Oct. 10th, 2011 07:26 pm (UTC)
I'm so terribly pleased that you enjoyed it! :D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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