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Benjamin Buchanan

"Retired"

0 · 324 views · located in Dreamscape

a character in “Dream Extraction”, as played by penelope lemon

Description

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Image
Name:
Benjamin Buchanan

Nickname:
Ben, usually, Benjamin in formal settings

Age:
Thirty three

Gender:
Male

Occupation:
"Retired" Extractor





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Appearance:
Ben has that rugged look of his down to a tee; messy hair, a careless wardrobe, and facial hair that's too long to be called stubble but too short to be an actual beard. All throughout high school, the ROTC, and his military service Ben was instructed to be clean shaven and well groomed, so as soon as he was released from the army he never went near a pair of shears again. He also believes he has more important things to do that keep up on appearances.

Ben is taller than average, just around six foot, with good physique and a broad shouldered frame. His hair is dark brown, so are his deep set eyes. He's got a strong, straight nose and thin lips and easily the best dimples within any five mile radius.

Personality:
Protective, kind, observant, patient, witty
Benjamin is a thoughtful person, social, compassionate, and playful at times, but he shoulders a lot of responsibilities and harbors a lot of guilt because of it. As an extractor, it's his responsibility to take care of the team, so when things go wrong, he places the blame on himself. And things have gone wrong plenty of times before. He has a hard time letting go of his inner demons and that tends to cloud is usually content disposition. He is quick to forgive everyone except himself.

Ben loves people, he loves watching people, he loves getting to know people, he loves helping people. He can be quite charismatic and enjoys talking, even if it's just to himself sometimes. Ben tries to be a positive person and he tries to do good in the world, but his career makes it hard for him to remain so open minded when he sees what dark secrets people posses. He tends to be very trusting and seems to always have the rug pulled out from underneath him when his first impressions are wrong. Having such kind personality opens the door for a lot of hurt and disappointment in Ben's life, which he tends to hide with dry humor and witty remarks. Though he appears to be joking, it's usually there to hide the pain.

He's not naive, he doesn't kid himself in thinking that the world is a good and happy place, but he figures if he is going to exhaust his emotions they may as well be constructive.

History:
Ben always knew he was going to be an extractor. He joined the ROTC in college for basic training, then the military after he graduated. It was in college when he first came into contact with the world of information extraction via the subconscious. While in the military he worked in the information department, which was more or less a nicer word for interrogation. Ben doesn't like to talk about it and most people don't want to hear about it; torturing people through their dreams was sick and sadistic, but it got the job done and it got it done well. It also taught Ben everything he needed to know to become an expert extractor. He still has that military man ingrained in him with the way he walks and talks, it's not hard to tell that he's a veteran.

When Ben was thirty one of his teams had a simple, routine extraction that took a turn for the worst and resulted in a collapsed dream and a failed mission. After that, he walked away from dream extraction and never looked back. He no longer wanted anything to do with discovering people's secrets. But the thing about retirement for an extractor is that it is easier said than done; one essentially retires when one is dead. Ben somehow managed to disappear and go into hiding from companies and corporations that sought out his particular skill set but not for long. A few years later he received a phone call one day about one last extraction job...

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Technical:
Face Claim
Michiel Huisman
Color
#075E09
Writer
penelope lemon


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So begins...

Benjamin Buchanan's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virginia Shepard Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth
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It had taken Benjamin exactly thirty seconds to regret answering his phone. The blocked number had been suspicious, but as soon as he had heard Wilkins voice on the other end of the line, he knew he had made a mistake. He thought Hofn had been far enough away that no one from the extractors program would be able to pinpoint his location; after all most people couldn't pronounce the name, let alone find it on a map. It wasn't exactly remote, per se, but it was small and the main fishing port had such a constant stream of foreigners coming in from the mainlands that Ben melted right into the sea of strange faces. He had been there about four months, just starting to acclimate to the constant cold, when he got the call.

Wilkins spent the first few minutes of the conversation berating him for being such a difficult man to get a hold of. After that it was many questions in regards to where he had been the last few years and how he managed to remain almost undetectable, all of which Ben avoided answering. Then came the reason for the call; Wilkins had another assignment for him.

"No," was Ben's quick and firm reply when Wilkins offered him the mission.

"But—"

"I said no," he repeated, "I've told you before, I am—"

"Yes, yes, retired. We all know," Wilkins had said, his voice laced with irritation. "And you know better than anyone that there's no such thing. You have a responsibility here, Ben, you can't say no to the agency. You can either come back willingly, or we'll send someone to retrieve you."

Ben had considered taking Wilkins up on his threat, but he had already created enough trouble for himself with the agency. He didn't want to give them another reason to be on their radar. He eventually agreed on one condition; Wilkins needed to get a chemist Ben had worked with before, back when he was still extracting. Do that, and he would consider coming back for one more extraction.

That was two days ago. After Wilkins agreed to get Rosemary for the teams chemist, Ben had reluctantly said goodbye to Hofn, took the next flight out of Iceland and rented a car to make the drive to the main lab, per Wilkins instructions. It had been years since he had seen Rosemary, a little over three in fact. That was when Dillinger had still been alive and she was still his apprentice. The three of them had worked together on a few cases and Ben was mesmerized with the duos research ability and synergy. If Ben couldn't have Dillinger again he would have the next best thing: his student. After the accident with his last extraction though, Ben all but disappeared and lost contact with most of his teams. The last time he had talked with Rosemary was two years ago when she informed him of Dillinger's passing. He hadn't been sure if Rosemary still worked with the agency, but he honestly couldn't see her doing much else. He was pleasantly surprised when Wilkins called to confirm that Rosemary had agreed.

Wilkins would also have to find another architect, which would be no easy feat. Ginny had been his number two since he was released from the military and he pitied the person who followed in her gigantic, egotistical filled shoes.

Ben quickly banished thoughts of Ginny as he pulled up to the lab. He didn't need that distraction right now.

He took the flight of stairs up to the main floor, uneasy with how quickly he remembered the way to Dillinger's, now Rosemary's, office. Try as he might, he couldn't forget what is was like being an extractor. It was practically ingrained in him and the sense of nostalgia was overwhelming. As he approached her office door he swore that this was going to be the last time he would extract. This would be the last time he walked though the lab, the last time Wilkins convinced him to do a mission, the last time he would go inside someone else's dream. He would disappear again, this time for good. He'd try America maybe, or Finland, he had always wanted to go there.

He took a deep breath and knocked on the office door a few times before slowly opening it.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth
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It had just been a day since Rosemary had heard from Wilkins, but he had still not contacted her about who she was to expect or when. He was blatantly ignoring her emails and all her calls had barely rung before she was told to leave a message after the beep. She wasn't surprised. Wilkins had always been a toad, she thought, perched on her desk chair and rapidly typing up observations from her Dillinger maggot research. She had been up well into the night sniffing out what she could on Peter Whelen -- at least Wilkins had given her that name -- but there was still a way to go. While Whelen was a multibillionaire with at best skewed morals, it hadn't been an entirely unpleasant research time: firstly, it was a great excuse to not go home to her empty flat and nightmare-filled sleep, but secondly, he wasn't exactly an eyesore.

Someone knocked on her office door and Rosemary jumped. People so rarely came to her office, particularly without ringing first. "Yes?" she called and the door opened. She blinked in surprise and quickly pulled off her reading glasses (they made her look ridiculous). "Benjamin?" she said, and inwardly cringed; since when had she called him Benjamin? It seemed that mainly keeping to her office for the past few months had injured her social skills. She stared at him for a moment, checking it really was him, before reviving herself. Her social skills really did need reviving.

"Wow, it's been so long!" she stood up and walked around her desk, unconsciously pushing her stick insect tank away from the edge of the table as she passed it. Ben looked very similar to when she had last seen him -- what? Three years earlier? If anything, a few extra years had only improved his attractive appearance. "Where have you been? What are you doing back?" Too many questions, Rosie, she thought, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes and holding out her hand for him to shake.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth
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Benjamin paused at the door, his fingers gripped tightly around the door handle. He had two days to mull over this moment; what he was going to say, how he was going to react, what he was going to do, but when he saw Rosemary whip off her glasses his brain went completely blank and he stood in the doorway, slightly dumbfounded.

Rosemary managed to snap out of her initial shock first.

"Benjamin?"

This seemed to pull him out of his daze. He smiled at her, finally releasing the door handle and stepping into the office. If he recalled correctly, the only time Rosemary called him by his full name was when he told one to many jokes while they were trying to work. Rising to her feet, she crossed the room, questions pouring out of her mouth and her hand raised in greeting. Ben eyed her extended hand and cocked an eyebrow. A handshake was a bit formal compared to where they had been a few years ago, though Ben shouldn't have been surprised. It had been three years after all. He should just be glad that she was still talking to him after he went awol. So he took what he would get and shook her hand with a grin, his dimples denting the side of his mouth.

"Hofn," he answered her question. "Before that, Glasgow, Waterford before that, spent some time in Whales..." he let his explanation trail with a shrug. That had been his life for the past few years, bouncing from one place to the next, keeping a low profile, trying to avoid the Extractors Agency. As he spoke, he realized how exhausting always being on the run was.

He sidestepped her and went to the shelves full of pickled specimens. His eyes roamed the jars, lingering on what he thought looked like some type of embryonic bird, before they ventured over the jars filled with spiders and other insects. He crinkled his nose when he spotted the tank of maggots. There were wonderful things and terrible things about being an extractor, and the hallucinogenic venom from the insects that the program used was definitely a terrible thing. He's been involved in extraction for ten years and he still hated the bugs. He rubbed his forearm absentmindedly at the thought of having more insect bites for this next mission. He glanced at Rosemary and smiled.

"Who else did you think would be leading this extraction?" he asked cheekily. "Wilkins called me a few days ago and asked me to come back for another job. I told him the only way I would oblige is if he got the dream team back together, well, most of them anyways."

He laughed at his own terrible joke, ignoring his allusion to Dilllinger's death. He turned to Rosemary and crossed his arms. "How have you been?" he asked, his voice growing gentle. "Any new research projects the agency is keeping you busy with?"

The professional side of Ben knew he should be asking about their mark, what they were extracting and when they were going under but he couldn't bring himself to. He didn't want to ruin this moment with talk of the mission, he just wanted to reunite with his old friend.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth
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Rosemary perched on the edge of the desk as he gazed at her specimens. It was surreal to see Ben back here, looking so ordinary, yet part of a different life. She smiled as a chill seemed to sweep over him, looking at the maggots. She couldn't blame him. It was human nature to recoil from something that usually signified decay and disease and the Dillinger maggots were particularly unusual with their black skin that caught the light in a multitude of colours. Rosemary had experienced the bite only three times, but she could remember the pain of it -- that deep bone ache as the venom worked its way through your system.

Rosemary tried not to wince at the reference to Dillinger, but she wasn't sure she got away with it. "The dream team," she said, trying to gloss over her obvious discomfort. "I never knew we meant that much to you." She smiled, teasing him, but his voice turned gentle. He must have seen her wince.

"I'm okay," she said, wondering whether it was a lie or not. She was okay, aside from the nightmares. She straightened up at the mention of her research. "Actually, I've been working on a breeding programme with the maggots. Initially, I was working with a genetic engineer to isolate a gene from a species of cleridae beetle that produces a particular chemical in their saliva. We breed it into the Dillingers and it mixes with the venom to produce a better quality. We wanted to get more control over the dream state. But," she made her way around the desk to where Ben was stood near the maggots. "If you look," she pointed through the glass tank, which was perfectly at her eye level. "It enhanced the shine on their skin -- their iridescence. I'm trying to tell if that's a marker to how powerful their venom is." She glanced at Ben, finally falling silent.

He probably hadn't been asking for all that, she realised, and colour rushed into her cheeks. "Sorry." She shrugged before giving him a grin. He'd been off all over the world, probably meeting people and growing wiser, while she had stayed in this lab and not really changed at all. "Have you heard anything from Ginny?" she asked, wondering if the 'dream team' included her. She wasn't sure how she felt about that. Beneath the bravo and arrogance, Ginny had been truly talented, but Rosemary just didn't know if she would be safe in a dreamscape anymore.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Virginia Shepard Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth
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Ben saw the flicker of pain cross Rosemary's face and was glad when the subject was changed. He watched as she pushed herself off the desk and moved towards the tank, explaining the breeding experiment she was conducting. He listened, a bit distractedly, as she talked about iridescence, her eyes brightening at the mention of her wok. He had forgotten how passionate Rosemary had been about her research, and how absorbed she became in her work, and he found it amusing. She rambled a bit, then glanced at him, and Benjamin realized the he was staring at her when he should have been observing the maggots. He hastily turned his head to look into the tank where Rosemary was pointing, ducking slightly to get a better view at their coloring.

There was something about being back in the lab that gave Ben deja vu. After all these years he thought it would be different, he thought that Rosemary would have changed and that he would be a shadow of the person he was before, but it felt nothing like he had assumed it would be. There was a small rift between the two of them, something inevitably brought on by the fact that they hadn't spoken in years, but they were still the same people. Rosemary was still the ardent scientists she was before and Ben was still the same extractor he was three years ago. For all anyone knew, Ben had been in Rosemary's lab last week chatting about the weather. Ben was torn with the feeling. On the one hand, he was grateful that everything seemed normal between them. With everything going on, Rosemary was the one thing in his life right now that was concrete and he needed that more than anything. But on the other hand it pained him to admit that for as much as he struggled to put some distance between himself and his former life, dream extraction just kept coming back, and coming back with a vengeance.

He had so many mixed emotions about this mission, he didn't even know where to begin to sort them out. He sighed to himself and realized that Rosemary had asked him a question. He looked at her, trying to give her his full attention.

"Ginny?" he asked.

Ginny. Rosemary had met the architect a few times before her accident, Ben recalled. Rosemary and her were acquaintances at best, nothing like the relationship Ben and her had, but it was nice of Rosemary to ask about her. Nice, but a familiar wave of guilt washed over Ben at the mention of Ginny and he struggled to keep it from showing on his face.

"She's still in the hospital. I haven't gone to see her yet," Ben said, "But knowing Ginny she'll greet me with a few of her favorite curse words and then be done with it. Can't say I'm looking forward to it."

He shot Rosemary a quick smirk.

"Speaking of architects," he said, "I told Wilkins he needed to find me a new one. Any idea who they're sending from the program?"

Ben turned and walked towards Rosemary's desk, glancing at the paperwork scattered over it. His eyes flickered to the computer screen briefly.

"Who's our mark anyways? Have you got a name? A file put together?"

Ben figured there was no more time to waste. The sooner they buckled down at did the extraction the sooner he could be done with the mission.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth Character Portrait: James Thyme
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Rosemary smiled. Despite having only met Ginny a few times, her reputation was known throughout the agency, but she wondered whether the nonchalance with which Ben spoke about her was a show. She didn't know the details about what happened -- it was one file she decided not to open, to respect her friend's privacy -- but she knew Ben had been affected greatly.

"Yes, actually," she said, obliging the change of topic as he had obliged hers. "James Thyme. He's fresh from basic training, but very basic, from what I've gathered. He should be coming up today. He's the one person I actually knew was coming; Wilkins has been very slippery about mentioning your name, it seems." She smiled at Ben and realised she had missed him. She'd missed a lot of things recently, so she'd pushed them out of her mind and forced herself not to think about them, but having him back was like inhaling after holding your breath for too long.

"Have I got a file put together?!" she grinned. "Benjamin Buchanan have you forgotten me completely?"

She placed her hand on his back to pass him in the gap behind the desk, heading to the cabinet and pulling out the file on Whelen. She handed it to Ben and pulled up the electronic version on her desktop. As she flicked to the first page where a photo of Whelen smiled out at them, there was a knock on the door. Rosemary felt a sudden illogical pang; she had been enjoying spending time with Ben and suddenly the appearance of someone else pulled the world back into the present. She could no longer pretend it was three years ago, that Dillinger was alive and she was happy. She became aware again of the heavy loneliness in her bones -- something she had become accustomed to, but forgotten in the last few minutes. She would have been quite happy going over the files just with Ben, but that again was illogical. James (as she assumed this was) needed to know what was happening too. She shook away her illogical thoughts and called, "Come in."

A young man opened the door and stuck his head around it. "Miss Firth?" She smiled and gestured for him to come in.

"Just Rosemary," she stood up. "You must be James. Or would you prefer Mr Thyme?" she teased and James grinned -- a charming and almost childish grin -- and laughed, before extending a hand towards Ben.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth Character Portrait: Peter Whelan Character Portrait: James Thyme
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"Yes, well, mine and Wilkins relationship is slippery so it would only make sense," Ben muttered as he glanced over the papers. He looked up as she moved behind him, opened the filing cabinet, and handed him a manila envelope filled with information. He stepped back so she could bring up his file on the computer.

"How could I ever have doubted you?" he teased just as there was a knock at the door.

Ben flipped open the file and caught the name of their mark. He frowned slightly, his brows drawing together as he stared at the paperwork. He reached for Rosemary's chair and settled down in it as the new architect entered.

Rosemary had been very thorough in her investigation with Peter Whelan, not that Ben doubted she would be anything less. There were the basics, physical attributes like age and weight, information on his refinery business, everything from recent purchases to his schedule for the next month that gave them opportunities to do the extraction. He would be a tough man to extract information from, not only was he busy running a multibillion dollar company but a man of that stature would have some serious protection both outside of his mind and in it. And sure enough, as Ben flicked to the next page, he saw that Rosemary had typed up everything she could about his security.

But that wasn't what troubled Ben. As he scoured the file on Peter Whelan, Ben realized that he had worked with this mark before, three years ago. He turned to the pages in the back where Rosemary had listed previous extractions. There were a few names from the Agency he recognized but his and Ginny's name had been conveniently left out. Whelan probably paid off the Agency to keep their names off the record. Whelan had contacted Wilkins about hiring a team and Wilkins gave him Ben and Ginny's names. But before Whelan committed to hiring them for a mission, he insisted on going under with Ben and Ginny to see how extraction worked and what his money was going towards. Ben planned for a basic demonstration about dreams and had Dillinger put him, Ginny and Whelan under so the oil tycoon could see just how remarkable dream extraction was. Instead of reassuring their mark like Ben had hoped, the dream collapsed and when they woke Ginny had not been the same and Whelan forwent the extraction. The assignment was dismantled, Ginny checked into a psychiatric hospital, Ben left the country and Whelan called for the failed mission to be redacted from all Agency files. It had all been one gigantic mess covered up by one gigantic check.

Ben couldn't believe what he was reading. No wonder Wilkins had tracked him down for this assignment. He hardly looked up at the newcomer, until a hand appeared in his line of vision. He glanced up at James, who was standing on the other side of the desk. He was young, dark haired, and had a toothy smile split across his face. Ben flipped the file closed and stood up, reaching over to shake James's hand.

"James," he said evenly, finally managing to collect his thoughts enough to form a workable sentence. "Glad to have you aboard. We were just going over our marks file..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth Character Portrait: Peter Whelan Character Portrait: James Thyme
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James frowned for half a second, trying to work out if he had interrupted something -- if not between Ben and Rosemary, then Ben and his own thoughts. A glance at Rosemary suggested he may have been right; she had a tiny frown directed towards Ben, but when she saw James looking, it vanished. "Exactly," Rosemary said. "I'll take you through the basics, shall I?"

"Great," James put his bag down beside the desk and leaned forward. He was determined to give this opportunity all his attention. He'd been after this for years and finally he had a chance. Not just any chance either: he was stood in the same room as Benjamin Buchanan -- whose extraction missions were used as case files at the university -- and Rosemary Firth -- who had apprenticed under Dillinger himself. He couldn't explain how he had been the one to get this chance, other than sheer luck. He was a good architect, but he had no idea whether his skills could transfer to dream architecture. "May I?" he asked gesturing to one of the chairs facing the desk where Ben was seated and Rosemary was perched.

"Of course." Rosemary picked up a small remote control and clicked a button. Something lit up behind James and he became aware of a screen on the wall which he hadn't noticed before -- he had probably been too distracted by the tank of what appeared to be bloated white toads beside it. Before he could decide whether he should be disturbed by the toads, Rosemary began to speak, the screen showing a projection of her desktop. "Peter Whelan." She showed them a photo of a middle aged man. "Billionaire. CEO of Expercon Petroleum. Raised two million for Wish Upon a Star last year, but while he may look like a silver fox," Rosemary smiled, "we have suspicions that he was behind the poisoned water supply to a village on the East Coast, a village that lay above an oil well. The people refused to leave their homes for Expercon Petroleum to extract the oil, but the poisoned water forced them to leave and Whelan's company made millions." James leant back as Rosemary flicked the screen to show a photo of the village -- the houses being demolished -- and another of someone in hospital. "That's just the tip of the iceberg."

She briefly went over accounts of bribery and extortion, illegal dream extraction interrogation and suspicious missing person reports. "A wolf in silver fox clothing," James muttered and cast a smile towards Rosemary, but she was looking down at her paperwork.

"But recently..." she squinted at the writing, "Oh, damn it," and pulled out a pair of glasses, putting them on with a sigh. "Right, yes. Recently, this young woman has gone missing." A photo came on the screen of a girl who appeared to be in her mid twenties. "Charlotte Groves. She is a reporter who, based on her phone records, had managed to get into Expercon Petroleum's main headquarters disguised as a cleaner. Her computer has been wiped so we have no idea what she was looking for or what she found. There's no direct evidence to suggest that Whelan was behind her disappearance, but we believe she found something and was either killed or kidnapped to keep it hidden. We need to get inside Whelan's head to found out not only what happened to Charlotte, but evidence to bring him and Expercon Petroleum down once and for all." She looked between James and Ben and James half considered applauding, but thought better of it; he didn't want to make too big an ape of himself on his first day. He glanced at Ben, hoping for some clue as to what he was meant to ask or say now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth Character Portrait: James Thyme
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Benjamin cleared his throat and sat back down, tossing the file into Rosemary's desk. He leaned back in the chair and brought his hand up to his face, resting his chin against his fingers thoughtfully. The fact that Whelan was their mark brought a whole new level to this extraction, and Ben felt a sense of apprehension because of it. He had no idea what went wrong on the last mission and he would be damned if something like that happened again. He would have to be extra careful this round.

His gaze slid to James as Rosemary launched into debrief of Peter Whelan. He could be problematic. Ben and Ginny and Dillinger were all at least borderline experts in their respective fields when the first mission was underway and yet it still failed, so what would happen now that they had a rookie in their midst? Red flags were popping up left and right with this new mission for Ben. There were too many variables, too many things that could go wrong. He would have to make sure they were completely ready before they went under to avoid any mishaps.

Ben turned his attention to the screen that lit up. He would tell Rosemary and James about Whelan's previous case another day...maybe. Should the opportunity present itself then he would, otherwise what they didn't know wouldn't kill them. Whelan's first failed mission was nothing Ben could work past and he didn't need to trouble them with that information.

He rolled his eyes at Rosemary's silver fox comment. He wasn't shallow enough to deny that Peter Whelan was a good looking man, but her comment made him a bit jealous, and Benjamin Buchanan did not get jealous. He had to remind himself of this as Rosemary began talking about a shady deal Whelan made a few years back.

As Rosemary brought up the picture of the reporter, Ben brought his full attention back to the case. Peter Whelan had quite a history and they had a lot to cover.

Ben glanced at James and gave him a reassuring smile.

"So Peter Whelan is hiding something major, something big enough he's willing to kidnap or kill a reporter to keep it secret? Something of that magnitude must be important, so we're not talking about bypassing drilling regulations or stealing competitor clientele. Something bigger than his oil business perhaps?" Ben mused, glancing at his team. "What could possibly be so important he would be willing to risk a murder charge?"

Ben looked back at the screen, the image of the reporter still lit up. He fully believed in innocent until proven guilty, as there was no hard evidence to support that Whelan killed or kidnapped the girl, but Whelan had such a crooked past that Ben wouldn't put it past him.

"And to top it off there's fowl play with this town on the East Coast. He's managed to avoid any sort of prosecution which tells me that he's got friends in high places with pockets full of blood money. He's an extremely powerful man." Ben turned his eyes to Rosemary and directed his next question to her. "Do you really think we can bring down a major cooperation like Expercon? Excluding the fact that it brings in billions of dollars revenue to this country, Peter Whelan is not an unknown face. This will be the scandal of the century if we pull it off..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Benjamin Buchanan Character Portrait: Rosemary Firth Character Portrait: James Thyme
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Rosemary nodded. "Exactly," she said to Ben, trying to think of what it could be that Whelan was hiding. The missing girl's circumstances were far too suspicious to deny that Expercon had something to do with it. "And if those friends in high places even have an inkling of our mission it could all go downhill very fast, so this mission is top secret." This was more directed at James. She knew Ben wouldn't go around talking about it, but James was new -- he hadn't yet had the protocol buried in his mind. "We don't know how far Whelan's net of people goes," she muttered and frowned to herself. If he did have a friend in the agency, this whole mission could go haywire. No, that was daft. Whelan was powerful, but the agency was extremely tight on security. Rosemary shook away the thought and focused on Ben's question about bringing down Expercon.

"I don't know," she admitted. "Bringing down Whelan might not mean totally destroying Expercon, but it would greatly depend on what information we collect." She pressed a button on the remote, removing Charlotte Groves' picture from the screen and turning it off. "The scandal of the century," she smiled at Ben. "That's worth coming back for." And she was glad he had. She knew she would have worked equally as hard were she with a different team, but the success rate improved dramatically having Ben here. Besides, she enjoyed working with him.

James exhaled loudly, snapping Rosemary's attention back into the room. "Wow," he said. "I have to admit, I feel like I'm being thrown in the deep end. I figured my first mission would be, I don't know, helping find out the password to some computer or something, not bringing down a multibillion dollar company -- or at least, the man behind it." He ran a hand through his already unkempt hair. "Where do we start?" He looked at Rosemary and then at Ben. He assumed that while Rosemary was an expert in the chemistry side of it, it was Ben that would be training him.

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"The scandal of the century," she mused, "That's worth coming back for."

Ben looked at his companion and matched her smile, though it did not reach his eyes. He couldn't deny the fact that there was something very tantalizing about being back, but he had a hard time figuring out if it was all worth it. At one point, he couldn't imagine doing anything else but extraction, yet here he was wishing he had never answered the phone call a few days ago. He wasn't sure what exactly changed his perspective; the failed mission, yes, but that hadn't been his first. There had been plenty of others before it. Ginny, probably. She knew the risks going into the operation but it was his responsibility to keep her safe and he slipped up. Either way he briefly wondered if he would ever be fully committed to dream extraction again.

He glanced at James when the young architect spoke.

"It's sink or swim around here James," he replied.

He remembered when he had been a trainee, similar to James, and the thought made him smile. That was back when he was in the ROTC and his staff sergeant had suggested information extraction for his line of work. He remembered how uncertain he had been, but eager to learn, and saw much of that in James. It was promising, and helped to ease is hesitancy with bringing on a new trainee.

"We start tomorrow," Ben replied to James's question. "We'll meet back here tomorrow morning and we'll have Rosie put us under.
I'd like to get an idea of your skill level. We need to do a few test runs to make sure we're all on the same page and that we've gathered all the information we can. Come tomorrow with a few sketches for the dreamscape; something simplistic that wont raise Whelan's suspicion. We need to keep him in the dark for as long as we can during the extraction."

He turned and addressed Rosemary as well.

"We need to set a time and date to do the extraction, we need to double check on his security and see if we're dealing with a trained subconscious, and we need to find a way to get close to Whelan. And we need to be careful. We can't have any mishaps with this mission; there's too much on the line."

And just like that, Ben snapped back into his old ways; all business and ready to lead the team to victory. He could wallow in self pity all he wanted, but it wasn't going to get the job done.

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James nodded and rose from the chair. "I best get to work then," he smiled. Already his head was filling with ideas. He loved this stage of any project -- dream or real -- when anything was a possibility, when every shape and every texture could be made into something tangible. Was tangible a word one could use in this context? James wasn't sure, but that only made it more exciting: the laws of physics didn't apply to dreams. He could have houses balanced on a single stilt, revolving doors with no exit or water fountains that flowed in the wrong direction. He was finally getting to do what he'd always dreamed of doing. But he had to keep focused; this had to be a place for Whelan in particular.

"Do you have copies of the files?" he asked Rosemary, hoping that knowing as much as he could about Whelan would help him create some place where he felt he belonged, where he felt comfortable enough to divulge all his secrets.

"I've already emailed them through," she replied.

"Thank you," he said. "If there's anything else you need me to know before tomorrow then ring me. Do you have my number?" he asked and Rosemary nodded. "Great. That's great. Then I'll get started. Let me know if you need me to do anything else." He left the office, closing the door behind him.

Rosemary remembered being that flustered and enthusiastic and nervous when she had first started with Dillinger, fresh from university and eager to get going. She was still enthusiastic about her work, but so much had changed since then. She turned to Ben, "Yes. As for whether he's had any dream training, I've did uncover that he had gone to a dream house, perhaps three years ago." Dream houses were illegal. They were places where people could pay to enter dream worlds, but in the back streets, the maggots' venom was often weak or tainted. It could cause serious side affects, or even cases where the occupants never woke. But Wheelman's dream house wasn't in some back alleyway. It was up-market, for the billionaires and celebrities -- not quite as dangerous as the low class ones, but the chemists were still amateurs and the dreams were all about pleasure: fantasies, sex, drugs, whatever the client wanted. All the fun without any effect on the body. Unless the process went wrong, of course. "It's possible he had some training there, but I can't say for certain. He could have just gone for... recreation. But I think we have to tread carefully, assume he's had some basic training."

She took off her glasses, having forgot she was still wearing them. "If you have any ideas how we can get close to Whelan, I'm all ears. His electronic calendar was very well protected, but his PA's wasn't. I didn't need to hack into his because hers included every meeting, lunch date and spa treatment. It's in the folder." She opened the folder to the right place and handed it to Ben.

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Benjamin listened to the elevator music as he made his way up to Rosemary's floor. He carried with him three coffees on one of those fiber cup holding trays. He had slept fine the night before, but figured that they had a long day ahead of them. Coffee might do everyone well. He checked his watch as the doors slid open and he started down the hall to the office.

He was on edge this morning. The more information he read about this mission the more apprehensive he became. There was too much on the line here, and he worried about what they would find in Whelan's dream when they entered. If they entered. Whelan was such a protected figure that that alone would be a challenge for the team. Then there was the fact that Ben had worked with Whelan before. He wasn't sure if he would recognize him in the dream or not. If he did, their whole mission could be compromised for the second time.

Ben sighed to himself as he entered the office. He had to remind himself to take one thing at a time. First thing first, make sure James was ready to take on the responsibility of the architect.

He glanced around the office then went through to the lab. It was a white and spacious room, with tables that were crowded with beakers, computers, scales, empty petri dishes and a number of things Ben couldn't even begin to name. James was at the far end of the room and Ben went to join him.

"Coffee?" he offered and glanced around. "Where's our chemist?"

He dropped the coffee onto the nearest table and then set down his bag. He glanced at the stack of sketches that James was looking through and smiled.

"You came prepared," Ben commented. "Good."

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"Ooh, thanks," James said, taking one of the thick paper cups and putting it on the sofa beside him. Just the smell was filling him with warm energy. "She... er... went to the bathroom. She'll be back in a minute." Rosemary's black shoes were still on the floor beside James.

"Yes," James said, "I wasn't sure exactly what we needed today, but I spent last night working on some preliminary ideas. I wondered about a hotel? Somewhere Whelan would be used to and comfortable with." He opened the file to the first of his sketches, the exterior of a hotel with The Grand on its front. "The name can change of course, but there was something in the file about Whelan having stayed at a place called The Grand." He turned to the next image. It was a basic sketch of a lobby, with the standard features of sofas and flowers. James provided the basics, but Whelan's mind would automatically fill in the smaller details, the things he expected to see there. There was a key rack behind the desk and each key had a blank label above it. "I thought the key rack might be useful if it were something that Whelan felt he had a level of control over. Choosing which keys he could pick up, which could be given out. We could label the keys with things we want him to reveal, like marking which rooms we want him to hide things in. Of course, he wouldn't just dump information there without feeling like those places were secure, but it would help us know where to look." James blurted and looked up at Ben, trying to gauge from his expression whether his idea was good or not. He had almost no experience with this whatsoever. He'd only been in the dreamscapes a couple of times, so his understanding of how it all worked was minimal; he needed as much guidance from Ben as he could get. "If that's a bad idea, it obviously doesn't need to be there." James added, knowing he was revealing his own lack of confidence, but also wanting to show he was ready to learn. He handed the file to Ben, allowing him to look through the sketches and blueprints.

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Benjamin leaned over as James showed him the designs. He sipped his coffee as he listened to the young trainee's explanation.

"No, no," Ben said once he finished, "It's good. Really good actually. They keys are brilliant...anything that will spark Whelan's subconscious about secrets; keys, safes, locks, things that are hidden or private will feed off Whelan's, hopefully, guilty conscious. He'll unknowingly fill these things with information he wouldn't want us to know in the real world. That's the beauty of extraction." Ben paused and pulled a chair over to the couch, taking a seat and leaning closer to James. "You have to find new and creative ways to get information out of people, sometimes without them ever knowing. It can be challenging, but so rewarding."

Ben cleared his throat before continuing.

"When I worked for the military we used dream extraction for interrogation. In the dream world, everything has been well planned out according to the teams specifications, but to the mark it seems random. It's a form of intricate manipulation we use to get information—like feeding off a persons weakness. It's when the mark recognizes the manipulation, and realizes that it's a dream, that it all goes haywire. I had one case where my old architect created a dreamscape on a ship and each deck unlocked part of the mark's subconscious memory. It was some of the best work I had ever seen. We got the information we needed without switching dreamers or dreamscapes or waking before the hallucinogen wore off; it was seamless."

Ben sighed as he relived the memory, running his hand through his thick hair. It was then that he realized he had been rambling.

"Unfortunately they can't all be that way. It's one thing to have it on paper, its another to create it in the dream realm," he sighed. "What you have is impressive and far better than I would have expected from a trainee. But dreams make everything more...complicated. Logic doesn't apply to dreams. Your own mind can turn on you. Think you're ready?"

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James listened, fascinated by Ben's stories, and sipped his coffee. He hadn't known Ben was military and in integration too. He found himself looking at the man's kind eyes and gentle face in a different light: he would have seen things James could hardly imagine.

A multilayered ship? James thought. Damn, he wished he'd come up with something that cool. But then, Ben had complimented his ideas. A hotel perhaps wasn't as awesome as a ship, but it was limitless. There could be countless floors and doors, basement tunnels and mad women in the attic. "Logic doesn't apply to dreams," Ben said and James felt at once felt so excited by the possibilities and so daunted by them. Logic doesn't apply. Anything could happen and anything could do wrong.

James gave a nervous laugh and a very non-commital answer: "Sure." How could he ever be ready? But he was itching to have a go, itching to see his ideas come to life. "Wait," his smile dropped. "You don't mean right now, do you?"

The door opened and Rosemary came in, looking more alert than she had ten minutes before with her makeup newly applied and her clothes straightened out. "Ben," she said and grinned. "Is that for me?" She nodded at the coffee left in the cardboard holder and took it before waiting for an answer. "I see you two have already started." Rosemary took a sip of her drink, testing the temperature, followed by a larger swig. "Plan of action?" she asked.

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"Don't think of it like a test, but essentially it's a test." Ben said and James laughed, nervously. As he listened, his anxiety steadily increased until his stomach was tense. His mind ran through the list of all his insecurities and weaknesses, anything that could come through in his dream and expose him to Rosemary and Ben as a fraud or a weak team member. People-pleaser... desperate for approval... perfectionist... guilty. There was a hollow feeling in his chest where the secret sat and panic fizzed through him. It wasn't like he'd be fired from the agency or anything if Rosemary and Ben discovered the source of his guilt, but they would be appalled by him. They wouldn't like him anymore and even the thought of that rejection made him feel queasy.

He swallowed, forcing the feelings back to where they lived in the pit of his stomach. He was overthinking. He had learned in his training that sharing dreams could be intense, but the dreams wouldn't expose that much and not straight away -- he hoped. It wasn't even like they'd be under for that long. He forced a smile, just about maintaining a level of outward confidence.

"That makes sense," James said with a nod and part of him wondered what he would learn about Ben and Rosemary. It didn't sit comfortably with him to know too much about them. It seemed intrusive, but then they must have experience with being vulnerable that he had yet to learn. Rosemary gave a smile towards him that was meant to reassure, but James thought he detected some nerves in her as well.

She looked at Ben. "It's been a while," she admitted. "To be honest," she glanced quickly at James, who felt like he was already intruding. "I haven't done it since Dillinger." She chewed the inside of her lip, giving Ben time to process the implications of what she was saying, how vulnerable she would feel and that she was, in fact, extremely rusty. She looked Ben directly in the eye. "But I trust you."

Rosemary knew one had to enter the dreams with people you trusted anyway, but after not having done it in so long, it was even more important. You needed to know your team members could support you, could handle any lapses or leaking of emotions without rejecting you. She wasn't just trusting Ben with the physical safety of her mind during the dream, but trusting him enough to be vulnerable in front of him. She could do that, couldn't she?

"I'll make sure we're not under for very long," Rosemary said, a reassurance to herself and to James. She could be vulnerable, but maybe not for too long.

She collected a maggot in a petri dish. "This will just be an exploratory time -- an experiment if you like." She was saying this more to James, but the idea of it being in the name of science helped make her calm too. "If Ben agrees," she glanced at him. "Why don't you take us to your childhood home? It's a place you know really well, so that should make the dream more stable. I think it would be a good idea to remove any characters from the place, to keep things more simple. You've had training in how to do that, right?" James nodded. "Well, lie down when you're ready. Unless Ben has anything to add?"

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James had a moment of confusion. He was laid on his kitchen floor. The tiles -- which had probably once been white, but lived in James' memory as a grubby grey -- were cold against his bare arms. How had he got here? But as soon as he thought the question, it was gone and he wondered what he'd been thinking and why he'd been confused. He had always lived here. This was where he belonged. This was normal.

He climbed to his feet, realising he was wearing his favourite top: it was red, with a picture of Noddy. Like before, his surprise at seeing the top on himself vanished almost instantly, replaced with fondness and a sense of... rightness. It was like he'd been away on holiday for a long time and was coming back to a house that had been waiting for him, coming back to normality. He realised with a smile that he'd be able to find that DVD of Iron Man that his mum had given away when he was nine without asking him. As he turned to go and find it, he noticed Rosemary and Ben also in his childhood kitchen. Reality came smashing down.

"Oh God," he said. He had been completely swept away in the dream, in his six-year-old head. He had forgotten about everything. "Well," he looked down at the Noddy top, resized to fit his adult body. "This is embarrassing."