Please enjoy “Space Ballet,” by Judith Moffett, a novelette inspired by an illustration from Richard Anderson.
“Space Ballet” is part of a three-story series curated by senior Tor Books editor David G. Hartwell. All three are based on a singular piece of art by Richard Anderson and will be released for free on Tor.com.
This novelette was acquired and edited for Tor.com by Tor Books editor David Hartwell.
“I’m in outer space,” Josh Russell reported to the circle of intent listeners. “I’m wearing this skin-tight, like, pressure suit that’s tethered to this spaceship or space station or something—I don’t know just what it is. What it looks like is kind of like a big metal hat with a brim, with a light shining out of a hole in the top. Like, you know, a World War I army helmet, only with a hole in the top? Not what you picture when you think of a spaceship, anyway. It’s got this vague structure like fixed underneath it; I can’t see what that is. And my brother’s with me, and we’re both wearing these suits attached by these long tethers to the mothership. And we’re doing like underwater ballet moves or gymnastics, very graceful, all in slow motion.” Josh smiled. “I gotta say, it feels just fantastic, I’ve never been any good at stuff like that but in this dream I’m powerful, I’m in total control of my body, I’m like a world-class dancer or gymnast or something. And then all of a sudden,” he said, “this black shuttlecraft thing shoots out from under the hat brim of the ship, and it’s coming straight at Tim and me. It’s got these yellow headlights like eyes, kind of like a jack-o’-lantern, and it’s coming right at us, and I’m absolutely petrified with terror, and then I wake up.”
He sat back. The class waited, expectant. Several glanced at the instructor, who said, “All right, let’s see the painting.”
Josh always painted his dreams, and the paintings were always interesting and sometimes very good. He was minoring in art. The other kids did sketches and dramatizations to fill out their class presentations, but their professor, Bob Christian, tried to work it so that Josh went last on the days his class reports were due. His act was too hard for the others to follow; it wasn’t fair. Now he opened the portfolio on the table in front of him, pulled out a picture mounted on a piece of cardboard, and stood it in front of him. “This one’s me,” he said, pointing to an upside-down human figure in the lower right corner.
A murmur went round the table. Josh had outdone himself today; the painting was more sophisticated, and more finished, than anything they’d seen from him all semester. No one spoke, because silence was the rule in the moment before beginning the interpretation exercise, but their expressions showed how impressed they were.
Bob waited half a minute to let the class absorb the image of the dream. Then he started the ritual of questions. “What’s your title?”
“You already told us how you felt inside the dream. How’d you feel when you woke up?”
Josh made a face. “Scared out of my mind. My heart was pounding like I’d been running.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What that shuttlecraft thing is, and why it seemed so menacing!”
And so on. When they’d finished going through the list, Bob asked Yancey Cox, a junior, to open the circle.
“Russell, that is one cool painting,” Yancey said. “Okay: if this were my dream, I would call it ‘Spider-Men in Space.’ Those outfits you and your brother are wearing look exactly like Spider-Man suits, except for not being red. So, what’s your personal history with Spider-Man?”
Josh looked surprised. “I haven’t got one.” He turned the picture around and looked at it. “No, I see what you mean, but I didn’t think of that. I barely know who Spider-Man is. These are skin-tight pressure suits, or that’s what it felt like to wear one.”
Bob said, “Anything else?” Yancey shook his head. “Emily?”
Emily swept back her long, brown, gold-glitter-streaked hair, a preening gesture. Her power-animal tattoo, a jackrabbit done in gold, twinkled on the soft inside of her wrist. She held the pose for an instant before letting the hair fall. “If this were my dream, I would wonder whether outer space might be a metaphor for underwater. I actually can’t tell, from looking at the painting, whether we’re out in space or deep in the ocean. And really the ‘ship’ could be either a spaceship or a sort of funky submarine.” Bob smiled at Emily. She could be annoying—the business with the hair, for instance, got old as the weeks wore on—but he thought this a very good point. “And also,” she said, “you described what you were doing as ‘underwater ballet.’”
“You’re right, I did! I did! Thanks, that’s really helpful.”
“Good, Emily,” Bob said. “David?”
“That’s a good insight about it being underwater,” David said. “Because I was thinking, if this were my dream, I would see that ship thing as a jellyfish that had caught the two human figures in its tentacles. And what’s that stuff like fog around the ship? The ship and the figures. It’s just around them, it doesn’t fill up the frame of the picture—the corners are black.”
One excellent thing about Josh’s paintings, that the less artistically gifted students usually couldn’t manage when they attempted to draw their dreams, was that he often included things he didn’t consciously realize he was putting in—things that frequently turned out to be critical to the interpretation. Looking at Josh’s artwork every second week, Bob always thought the same thing: Freud should have said that dreams are a royal road to the unconscious, and that creative work of a high enough caliber is another. Bob’s own daughter, Hadley, said that when she got into the zone while working on a play, her characters started telling each other things she hadn’t even known they knew.
Today the kids were doing well. Josh usually got a lot of useful stuff to take home and think about, but then, they all did. Bob was especially pleased with this class, a very bright bunch. Also motivated; they knew their grades would depend largely on what they contributed to these sessions.
Josh was saying, “Well, but I wasn’t scared of the ship itself. The shuttle’s coming out of it, but so are the tethers, and I need those, they’re like safety lines. It doesn’t feel like they’ve grabbed us.” David considered this. Bob said, “Anything more? Okay, Jen.”
“If this were my dream,” Jennifer said in her dead-serious way, “I would think about it more symbolically. Josh, you said the ship looked to you like a helmet? Or a hat?”
“What I thought as soon as I saw the picture was, this is a head, and the objects underneath it, or at least the ones you can see properly, represent an oversimplified form of right and left brain dominance. The right-brain images are the dancers. The left-brain images are, well, dark thoughts, calculations, that menace the dancers’ happy feelings. I can’t really say ‘if this were my dream’ about it, because I wouldn’t have the same response, but that could be why you felt so afraid—you’re an artist, a right-brain type, so analytical thinking is your enemy.”
She looked startled when everyone laughed. Josh grabbed two handfuls of his lime-green hair and said, “Omigod, and all my analytical brilliance is leaking out through the hole in my head!”
Jen was a humorless girl, easy to tease, but Bob said sharply, “You might not be too wrong about that, Josh. Jen is the first person to address the thing that strikes me most forcibly about this dream, and that’s your terror. And didn’t you just say you woke up ‘scared out of my mind’?”
The kids knew better than to dismiss his spontaneous choice of that expression as just a handy cliché. They sobered up at once, and Josh had the grace to look abashed. “You’re right,” he said. “Sorry, Jen. I said I wanted to know why they scared me, but probably I’d really rather not.”
“It’s okay, I don’t blame you. Actually, I was going to say that the light might symbolize intelligence. I can’t tell if it’s just visible through the top or streaming out the top, but I guess you’re saying it’s streaming?” He nodded, somewhat uncertainly. Jen said, “I don’t really have anything helpful on that, I guess. I don’t get why it’s streaming out.”
“Trepanning?” somebody suggested, and everyone laughed again. “I’ll try to keep an open mind about it,” Josh said, deadpan, and even Jen grinned. They were getting tired, and running out of time.
But the comments weren’t coalescing, and the next few didn’t change that. The menacing figures reminded Rick Kao of a set of Star Wars Legos his dad had passed down to him; they came with instructions for building a small spacecraft that had just the sort of blocky angularity as the one in Josh’s painting—the only craft, if that’s what it was, that hadn’t simply been suggested by a few brushstrokes and dots of light. But Josh said no, he had never played with Legos. “Too right-brain for me, I reckon. Tim,” tapping the other figure, “always had a bunch of them all over the floor, my mom was always yelling at him to pick them up, but, you know, all bright cheerful colors, red and yellow and blue and like that. No black.”
“Where’s Tim now?” Yancey asked.
“Engineering school.” This evoked more laughter. Emily said, “You guys should switch places in the picture, if the one on the left is supposed to be you.”
Claudia saw the tethers or tentacles as umbilical cords—Bob was surprised nobody had brought up that possibility right at the beginning—and wondered if an underwater setting, combined with Josh’s blissful feelings and reference to ‘the mother ship,’ suggested a memory in utero. “If it were my dream, those black things would be forceps,” she said. Bob watched the class struggle not to crack up again and earn another reprimand, then look nonplussed when Josh informed them that he and his brother were in fact fraternal twins.
That was everybody. “Does anyone want to add anything?” Nobody did; they were all ready for the class to be over. Bob said, “Okay, Josh, did any of this resonate for you? Any ‘Aha!’ moments?”
“Mainly the underwater thing. I was so sure we were in space. I can start there.”
Bob pushed back his chair. “We’re out of time, but stay put for another minute.” The people sliding notebooks into backpacks and satchels and pulling on outerwear reluctantly stopped doing those things and gave him their attention. “Couple of points. You did a good job with this in terms of receptiveness to the images and feelings; I’ll just add a few thoughts that didn’t come out in the discussion. One: the source of light in the painting is from above the ship. That’s why the top and brim, and the two figures, are lit the way they are.” Josh was nodding vigorously and looking as if this thought had only just dawned on him, despite having lighted the painting that way himself. “And David mentioned the foggy sphere of light around the scene, the way it doesn’t fill out the whole frame. I’m curious about how light is working here in general. And two: that little Lego shuttle seems like a child’s idea of frightening. Didn’t somebody mention a jack-o’-lantern? It strikes me that way too—for one thing, those yellow spots that look like eyes or headlights aren’t projecting any beams. If this were my nightmare, and I woke up terrified, I’d wonder if the terror didn’t hark back to my childhood. And I would certainly revisit the dream with a couple of trackers and demand that the shuttle tell me why it was coming for me.”
Josh’s shoulders sagged. He looked around the table at six classmates champing at the bit, and made an apologetic face. “I’ll have to go back in before I try to write this up, that’s obvious, so—I hate to ask, I know everybody’s got papers and finals, so do I!—but can anybody help me out with this in the next day or two?”
The students were all sophomores or juniors and were skilled at dream reentry, but nobody wanted extra work so close to the end of the semester, even knowing they would get credit for it and that soon enough they might have to call on Josh to help them in the same way. There was an awkward pause. Then Jen said, “I guess I could do it. But ideally shouldn’t you also have somebody who picked up on the water idea?”
“I can squeeze it in,” Emily said. “Not tonight though, I’ve got a precog paper due tomorrow. I’m free after that class though.”
“Meet up and make arrangements,” Bob said. “The rest of you can go.”
The Center for Dream Research, affiliated with the Psychology Department of the University of Pennsylvania, had been established eleven years earlier, in 2033, during the furor following the assassination of President Finley. Dreams and dreaming had been studied scientifically for many years before that, but science grapples confidently only with what it can quantify. Sleep labs were comfortable defining the various sleep states, logging what people said they were dreaming if you woke them up during REM sleep, even recording whether the reported dreams were said to be cheerful or disturbing, despite having no way to confirm the subjects’ reports independently. But whether or not dreams meant anything was beyond the ability of statistical studies to determine; and the work of scientists willing to think outside the statistical box was not widely respected.
In the meantime, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists went right on treating patients’ dreams as though they could be interpreted meaningfully; and since the patients went right on getting better as a result, being unable to prove scientifically that dreams had meaningful content was not felt by therapists to be a problem. How to interpret the content of dreams was an argument that went back to Freud and Jung—and before them at least as far as Joseph and Pharaoh, the sheaves of wheat and the seven fat and lean cows—but that there was something to interpret they took to be a given.
The wilder claims for what happened to people in the dreaming state—out-of-body travel, precognition, communication with the dead, and so on—occupied a twilight zone that neither the hard nor the soft sciences had cared to engage with. Such paranormal phenomena belonged to a shamanic tradition stretching back many thousands of years, and both groups generally viewed that in the light of primitive superstition. This despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence that many intelligent modern people found intriguing enough to be worth looking into. Books were written, websites constructed, lectures given, documentary films made, workshops and conferences convened, all more or less beneath the notice of institutions like the Stanford Center for Sleep Medicine and the Psych Department at Penn.
The Finley assassination changed all that. In the weeks before Geoffrey Gentry pulled the trigger and killed the American president, the various dream sites were flooded with reports that the assassination was about to take place. Many gave such details as place and circumstance, description of the shooter, where the bullet would strike, the motive behind the act—everything but the actual date. The various gurus behind the sites tried without success to bring this unprecedented flood of dream reports to the attention of government authorities, with no success whatever. Time went by. And then one day Gentry fired his gun. Many details from the dream sites were shown to match those of the event, and finally the authorities had to pay attention.
They certainly didn’t want to. They tried very hard to debunk the dreams—as coincidence, or a “lucky” guess (on the part of thousands of people?), or maybe a movement started by Gentry himself in hopes that someone would stop him before he could act out his fantasy. Finally Gillian Harvester, who had worked with Rupert Sheldrake as a research assistant, came out of retirement to give an interview, widely published, in which she scolded her fellow scientists for supporting the government approach, pointing out that responsible science does not proceed by firmly deciding, before you set about investigating something, that it can’t possibly be true.
She also pointed out that if by chance precognitive dreaming were possible, and were understood, it could be an invaluable tool for preventing or mitigating the impact of disasters. “If I learned one thing from Rupert,” she said, “it was not to assume that something wasn’t real or true because it can’t be quantified or replicated on demand. Does anyone seriously claim that emotions aren’t real?” She let that sink in. “Lincoln dreamed his own death just before his assassination. He mentioned the dream to several people. If Booth and Ford’s Theatre had never happened, you could argue that the dream meant something else, or nothing. But they did happen.”
The interview was given enormous media coverage. Scientists were hauled before cameras to defend their previous statements comparing precognitive dreams to reading tea leaves. The public began to insist that dreams about the assassination be explored more systematically and respectfully. Newly sworn-in President Sunderlin instructed the FBI to get to the bottom of the dream reports, to settle questions of authenticity and make a recommendation.
The report eventually turned in, which ran to thousands of pages, stated that while not all the dreamers could provide bona fides, and some were cranks and kooks of a kind familiar to investigators, at least two-thirds of the reports had been filed by people long committed to taking their dreams very seriously indeed. Several thousand people allowed the federal agents to look through detailed private records, often going back many years, in which dreams were described, dated, given titles, and written out by hand as recommended by their instructors and gurus. Besides those linked to the assassination, their logs documented any number of other precognitive dreams confirmed by later experience. Most of these concerned personal matters, but some referred to significant public events; the report contained photocopied excerpts of entries convincingly alluding to phenomena such as 9/11, the Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia, the 2027 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the nuclear strike on Jerusalem. The agents admitted that most of the people they questioned were “good witnesses,” convincing in their sincerity. The chief difficulty, they concluded, was that owing to the bizarre way in which information is presented in dreams, too often the events alluded to could be recognized only after they had occurred.
The report further acknowledged that, based on the evidence of dream logs and the testimonies of family members and friends, certain people seemed especially gifted at anticipating real-world events by dreaming about them before they happened. Bottom line: while there remained no way to prove that precognitive dreaming was genuine, the evidence that it might be was too strong to dismiss out of hand.
In view of the advantage to society of knowing in advance when something of great public import was to happen, the FBI recommended that further study be undertaken. To accomplish this, they proposed that government-funded research centers be established at one or several institutions of higher learning. Systematic programs should be set up to identify young people with unusual precognitive abilities, and ways devised to enhance those abilities through training. They recommended that government scholarships be awarded to those who qualified for the program.
The report appended an immense bibliography. The study of precognitive dreaming turned out to be not quite so arcane a field as the scientific community at large had always supposed. Researchers with impeccable credentials had been at work on the subject for a long time, some at prestigious institutions like Duke, Cornell, and the University of California. When the media tracked a few of these scientists down and asked why they had risked their careers by venturing into such a controversial field, they pointed out that quantum mechanics had made it necessary to consider time in a new way. Theoretically, they said, it’s possible that we all exist in the past, present, and future simultaneously. Precognition, in and out of dreams, was consistent with that model, not to mention even weirder phenomena, like the possibility of changing the past, and of affecting the future by intention. Sheldrake, who had said the same, turned out to be the mere tip of a small iceberg.
“Sorry I couldn’t get a reentry room, guys. I’m afraid this isn’t too comfy,” Josh said. Emily and Jen had arranged themselves on their backs widthwise across the head and foot of his single bed with their feet on the floor (Emily after carefully lifting the curtain of her sparkly hair and letting it fall over the side of the bed). Josh hung his DREAMWORK IN PROGRESS sign on his outer door, closed and locked that and the inner door, and arranged his skinny body between them but in the opposite direction, with his head next to their bent knees, to minimize crowding.
“You can never get a reentry room at the last minute. I’ve tried,” Emily said. The reentry rooms had plenty of padded floor space. She wriggled a little. “This’ll be okay for a while but my back’s going to start hurting if I stay here very long.”
“Yeah, okay. Sorry. We can start right now. Okay: we’re going to go back into my dream titled ‘Space Ballet’ to find out three things: whether we’re out in space or underwater, what the Lego shuttle is, and why I’m so scared of it.”
“What’s your intention?” Jen asked him. The students had been taught to state both what they wanted to find out and what action they intended to take when they reemerged from the dream.
“I don’t think I’m going to have an intention till I find out why it scares me. But okay, I’ll say I intend to do whatever I think I should once I know what I’m dealing with. How’s that?”
Jen snorted. “What do you want us to do?”
“I guess,” Josh said slowly, “just help me determine where we are, and also stand guard and help fight off the shuttle if you think I might be in trouble.”
“I accept the mission,” Jen said; then Emily said it too.
Josh slid his hands sideways on his bedspread till they were just touching the hands of his trackers. Arranged this way, his power animal, a coyote, nudged against Emily’s golden jackrabbit. It wasn’t optimal to juxtapose a predator and a prey animal, but Jen’s prairie chicken was just as likely as a rabbit to interest his coyote, so Josh didn’t ask them to switch places. It shouldn’t matter that much for this exercise. He settled himself, drew a deep breath and held it. “Lights! Begin!”
The room immediately went dark, and was filled with the sound of drumming.
Josh let his mind go dark as well, and slowed and regulated his breathing. On either side of him, he knew, his two trackers were doing the same. Dream reentry was something they had all learned to do as freshmen and had practiced regularly ever since. It had stopped seeming miraculous that a person could enter somebody else’s dreamscape while fully conscious, but the experience could still feel strange, and require a fair amount of energy; nobody liked to do it when very tired. Jen, and especially Emily, were both tired enough to make Josh wonder whether this was going to be a very productive session, but he also knew his painting had made things easier by showing them exactly where to go. He set his doubts aside and began to enter the deeper blackness of his dream.
He was back in the suit that fit him like a second skin, filled again with a sense of physical power and grace as he raised his arms and spun in a perfect pirouette. The ship hung above him. Nearby, Tim struck a pose and soared away. Josh couldn’t see Tim’s face, not that he needed to. Sheer joy, to be able move so beautifully! He let the feeling swell inside him for a long moment before focusing on his first question: Water or vacuum? The answer wouldn’t come clear. His ballet moves required resistance, and he felt resistance, but the medium he floated in didn’t seem to be water. Or not only water. Water and something else at the same time. The suit was both a wet suit and something else—yes, a pressure suit designed for space walks, as he had assumed. The situation, thus examined, revealed not an answer but an ambiguity.
He looked “up” at the ship—directions being relevant only in the presence of gravity, yet he felt he was looking up—and saw that it too was suspended in both water and space. How could that be? He was still puzzling about it when the black shuttle shot from beneath the ship’s hat brim, heading straight for himself and Tim. And this time the shuttle’s “headlights” were blazing like weapons, stabbing through the dark.
The old fear seized him, but this time he was ready, and soared purposefully to confront it. Close-to, he realized, the jack-o’-lantern face with its X-ray vision looked merely silly, and as he thought this thought the face disappeared. The black shape, no longer heading for Josh, swept past him, out of the sphere of foggy light and into the absolute blackness below.
Relieved, Josh swooped closer to the ship, wanting to see under that hat brim, maybe even go in. But the round underside was a detailed image of the full moon, not a photograph but a painting he himself had made in high school, hanging now in his room at home. The image of the moon exactly fit into the circle of the hat brim, like the base of a lamp or a candlestick. There was no sign of a hatch for the black object or objects to have emerged from, and no visible attachment points for the lines connecting the ship to himself and Tim. The vague structures below the hat were gone. Suddenly remembering Professor Christian’s question about the source of light in the painted dreamscape, he looked up to locate it—and saw the sun, a yellow brightness shining out of a black void. At that moment someone tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to see his brother in jeans and a sweatshirt, standing on the sidewalk in front of his dorm. “Call me,” Tim said, just as the drumming ended.
“The shuttle went dark and veered off,” Jen said. “Nice work.” They were sitting on Josh’s bed in a row, holding mugs of coffee from the wall vendor, which was out of creamer.
“Thanks.” Josh thought about how to put his question without leading the witnesses. “So which did you get? Outer space or deep-sea diving?”
“You know, I couldn’t tell.” This was Emily. “In my dream of your dream, it kind of felt like both. Sometimes one, sometimes the other. It wasn’t clear.”
“In my dream of your dream, that’s what I got too,” Jen said. “What about you, Josh?”
“Same here. I think it must be something happening in both places. I swam under the ship, and I saw this painting I did of the moon for an art class in high school, so that made me think space. But it seemed like the shuttle thing was plunging through the water.”
Jen said, “Do you realize you said you swam under the ship?”
Josh’s eyebrows shot up. “Hunh.” He shrugged. “It’s both, that’s all. It’s, like, something starting in space and ending up underwater.”
“Or maybe vice versa? Or simultaneously?” Jen suggested. They all knew how dream images could refer to several things at the same time, or be in several locations at once, but Josh and Emily both shook their heads. The direction was downward to the Earth. He was sure of that much, even though the dream hadn’t provided any sense of movement from one dimension into the other.
Jen said, “Well, okay, something starting out in space and up ending underwater. Such as what? What would do that?”
“I’m not saying this is it,” Josh said, “but like, say, a spacecraft doing a splashdown landing and breaking up on impact, and sinking. Just to take a hypothetical example. Or a supersonic plane crashing over the ocean.”
Emily said, “Or maybe—a missile launched from space at an underwater target?”
They looked at each other. All three had carefully avoided saying out loud that Josh’s dream might be precognitive with reference to something outside of, and greater than, his personal life, though all were beginning to wonder. To recognize such dreams was what they were being trained to do, but the danger of crying wolf, and calling the whole program into question, was so real that every other possibility had to be considered first, and the students were cautioned not to bandy the word about.
Over time a superstitious fear had arisen in the Center that even mentioning the world precognitive was bad luck. In the years since its founding, only a handful of precognitive dreams had been definitely identified and used to avert disaster (a shooter arrested at the New York Metropolitan Opera, a train derailment in Switzerland prevented, evacuation of towns in Arkansas and Oklahoma before a tornado outbreak). None of these had been dreamed or recognized by an undergraduate, however, and none was accepted as genuine by everybody; in fact, a whole small industry of skeptics worked busily to prove pure coincidence each time a disaster had been prevented—precognitive dreaming seeming to be activated all but entirely by impending disasters.
“Well, anyhow,” Josh said, backing away from the danger zone, “None of those is an ‘Aha.’ And the shuttle turned harmless when I confronted it, so that sounds like a personal childhood fear thing, like Professor Christian said. I still don’t get why I felt so afraid of it, but I wonder if that matters.”
“You mean, maybe it’s enough to face your fears, even if you don’t understand them? I don’t think I buy that, Josh,” Emily said. “I don’t think Christian’s going to either. I think you need to incubate another dream and take it further.” She paused. “It might be important.”
Jen stood up and set her mug on a chair. “Are we done? I’ve got to go, I’m meeting Sanjay in fifteen minutes.” Folding her baggy shawl into a triangle, she flipped it around her and tied the ends. “ I agree with Emily, for what it’s worth. Oh, wait—you haven’t stated your intention! Now that you’ve got the information. Such as it is.”
Josh stood up too. “Just before the drumming stopped, Tim asked me to call him. So I intend to do that first, and take it from there.”
Emily was wrapping herself in her cloak, holding it together with one hand while lifting her hair with the other and draping it down the back, a tricky but practiced maneuver. “Keep us posted,” she said.
Josh blinked; he’d been watching the cloak performance. “I will. In class, if not before. If I get any further with it before then I’ll let you know for sure. Thanks, guys, thanks a lot.”
“What’s up?” Josh’s twin, more solidly built than himself, with fiery hair too naturally dramatic for enhancements, had been briskly walking somewhere.
Josh was not surprised to see that Tim was wearing jeans and the same gray hoodie he’d been wearing in the dream—though Tim pretty much lived in clothes like those, so maybe that was just a coincidence. Maybe. “You busy?”
“Running to class. I was just thinking about you, actually, but I can’t really talk right now. What did you want?”
“Long story short, I had a nightmare and you were in it.” Tim grinned. “Right at the end you told me to call you, so I’m calling you. So why were you thinking about me?”
Tim stopped at a street corner and jiggled from one foot to the other, waiting for the light to change. “I had a nightmare too, as it happens. You weren’t in it as yourself, but you were represented in it. Okay: I was standing on the beach at Santa Barbara, looking out to sea, and all of a sudden this huge wave sort of shouldered up out of the water and headed straight for shore. I mean a huge wave, a tsunami. I was petrified, couldn’t move or yell, I just stood there. Then I happened to look up, and it wasn’t night, but I saw the full moon halfway up the sky, only”—the light changed, the crossing signal burst into a brisk metallic march, Tim started to jog across the intersection—“it wasn’t the real moon. It was that painting of the moon you’ve got in your room. And then I woke up. I thought you’d probably want to know. Listen, I’ve got to really run now or I’ll be late.”
“Just tell me if you woke up before the tsunami came ashore.”
“I did. It was still pretty far out to sea. Listen, I want to hear about what I was doing in your nightmare, I’ll call you tonight, okay?”
“Any time after nine. I have to write a report.”
Tim clicked off. Josh fell back on his bed, filled with foreboding.
Bob Christian had left his office door standing open; when Josh arrived he waved him in. “Have a seat. Thanks for coming by on short notice.” Josh sat uneasily on the edge of Bob’s ratty old couch. Bob noted that his favorite student looked rumpled and jittery—short on sleep, perhaps. Well, no wonder. He got up and closed the door, then fell heavily into his desk chair; he was a bit short on sleep himself. “I’ll get right to the point. I’ve read your report—more than once, actually. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that.” Josh nodded nervously. “I need to ask you about your brother—why you’ve included his dream in your report.”
“Oh. I probably should have explained that.” Josh shrugged out of his backpack and then his down vest, and dumped both on the floor. “Tim’s a dreamer too, a good one. His scores weren’t as high as mine but they’re pretty high, he made the first cut, he could have tried for the Center if he’d wanted to. And he was in my dream, and his dream was linked to mine through the moon painting. And the tsunami thing just felt like it had a connection to the underwater setting in my dream, so I put him in my report—I don’t know what the connection is yet, but there always turns out to be one. I’m so used to the way we operate, I didn’t think to explain.”
“But the two of you aren’t identical.”
“No,” Josh said, “but we did spend nine months in the same uterus. Like somebody pointed out in class, Claudia, I think. It seems to create a powerful connection. That’s in my painting too, in a way.”
Bob laced his fingers behind his neck and leaned back in his chair. “Did you ever read that old Heinlein novel, Time for the Stars?” Josh shook his head. “I read it a couple of times when I was a kid, and I remember it because I was fascinated by the concept. The plot is based on the twin paradox, ever hear of that?” Josh shook his head again, looking sheepish, as if he expected himself to know everything there was to know about twins. “It’s a thought experiment about special relativity, invented by a French physicist called Paul Langevin. Langevin was a student of Pierre Curie’s and knew Einstein. Anyway, in the novel it’s been discovered that some sets of identical twins can communicate telepathically and instantaneously, and that distance doesn’t seem to affect that ability. So a number of pairs of twins get recruited to be the means of communication on a starship with an exploratory mission. One twin stays on Earth, the other gets on the starship. The ship is gone for decades, accelerating all that time, and all that time the twins onboard are sending and receiving instantaneous telepathic messages with their twins back on Earth.”
“Like human ansibles,” Josh said, and when Bob looked puzzled, “Never mind. But same principle.”
“The ship comes back, and the twins on the ship aren’t much older than they were when they blasted off, but the twins on Earth are elderly and feeble. Some have even died. That was the point of the thought experiment—it’s been verified by the way, they put atomic clocks in planes and satellites and the clocks lost time relative to atomic clocks on the ground. But what fascinated me was that idea of twin telepathy.”
“That’s been studied,” Josh said, eager to demonstrate that he did in fact know some things about twins. “They’ve done quite a few experimental studies on twins and telepathy. Though actually it doesn’t necessarily have to be twins. What you need is a powerful emotional connection between any two people, but twins do give especially good results. You can look it up, there’s stuff all over the internet. Psychotherapists and their patients apparently do it sometimes, when the connection’s really strong. Freud even published a paper about telepathy and dreams. He believed in it and so did Jung.”
Bob recalled a clinical patient or two of his own, from his private practice days before the assassination. He cleared his throat. “Were you and your brother ever enrolled in a study?”
Josh shook his head. “No, but we’ve always connected like that, always. We get into each other’s dreams pretty often. And there’s one experiment I remember they did at some medical center in Brooklyn. They were testing for telepathy in the dream state, I read about it when I was applying to the Center. This was a dream study, not a twin study, but anyway they got statistically significant results, which didn’t surprise me at all because Tim and I are always doing it. Like now.”
Bob had been tapping at his computer. Now he read aloud from the screen: “‘A series of tests conducted by psychologists at the University of Alberta, Canada, confirmed this theory by establishing statistical evidence that identical twins, and to a lesser extent, fraternal twins, have remarkable ability to communicate with one another through ESP.’ Okay, Josh, I believe you. Provisionally I do. But if I believe you, then we’re going to have to ratchet up this dream of yours a notch. I’m not ready to say it’s precognitive, but I’m thinking we need to start considering the possibility.”
“Seriously,” Josh said. He looked a little sick.
“And I think we may need to start monitoring the dream sites. I’ll clear that with the director, but my conclusion is the same as yours. Amid generalized fear, an object or objects—ship, shuttle, maybe both—are in space, and are also deep underwater. In your dream there’s no image or sense of the object plunging from space into the water, but your twin dreams of a tidal wave, and his dream and your reentry experience are linked through your moon painting. The only object from space that could cause a tidal wave on earth is a good-sized asteroid. Putting it all together, everything we’ve got adds up to a tsunami caused by an asteroid strike in the Pacific off the California coast.”
“Asteroid!” Josh cried, electrified. “An asteroid strike! We didn’t even think of that, I don’t know anything about asteroids—I mean, I know they make huge craters when they crash on land, like that one someplace in the southwest—” He jumped up in his agitation. “God, that’s so stupid! I could have Googled tsunamis!” Suddenly he turned even paler. “Christ, my family lives in Ventura, right down the coast from Santa Barbara. That’s where I’m from, Ventura.”
Bob stood up behind his desk. Making his voice warm and reassuring, he said, “It’s way too soon to panic, Josh. You deactivated and deflected the shuttle by confronting it, remember. The Center’s going to confront it now. We’ll bring in the big guns.” He smiled his best therapist’s smile. “For starters, I’m going to assign the class to incubate this as a group—among other things, we need to try for a more accurate sense of when. Your painting’s been knocking around in all our psyches for five days, that’ll help.” He stood up. “Go get some rest, you look done in.”
Josh stuck his arms through his vest and picked up his backpack. Bob thought, as he often did, how much the kid looked like that actor—what was his name?—who’d played Harry Potter in the old movies. Apart from Harry’s glasses. And Josh’s green hair.
In the doorway Josh paused with his hand on the door lever and looked around at his professor. “We actually do know one thing about the timing. There’s a full moon.”
He left. Professor Christian stared at the empty doorway; then he went and closed the door, and flopped onto the couch with his hands behind his head.
At the end of August, 2001, twelve-year-old Bobby Christian had just started the seventh grade. On August 26th he was home in bed with a start-of-the-school-year cold, a misery none of his present students had ever experienced, having been safely inoculated against the many common cold viruses shortly after birth. Bobby had a very sore throat and a slight fever. His mother came into his room from time to time with medicine or soup, but he was bored and fretful, and in the afternoon he fell asleep.
And dreamed that his bed was at the edge of an enormous metal platform, an immense flat structure hanging in space. Suddenly a huge sunspot uncoiled or flared out in the black sky above him, with big rolling clouds of steam or smoke exploding outward from the flare. Bobby, lying in his bed, saw people—he thought they might be suicides—start jumping off some higher object onto the flat surface of the platform. Now his perspective shifted; he could see the platform edge-on, and glimpsed in the distance a little plane flying alongside it—very close, way too close! He realized with a shock how easy it would be for one of the planes, for now there were several, to crash into the platform. The whole situation felt so dangerous, and frightened him so much, that it woke him up.
A few minutes later his mother came in with more aspirin and juice, and he told her what he had dreamed. On September 11th he was back in school, having pretty much forgotten about the dream himself, when the first plane flew into the first tower.
It turned out that a lot of people had dreamed dreams similar to Bobby’s, and that some of the dreams were much more specific, and had given clearer warnings. As usual, they weren’t taken seriously. Bobby’s mother took Bobby seriously, however, and encouraged him to write down his dream and the date, August 26, 2001. He still owned the paper journal in which he had printed and signed the account, his very first dream log entry. Underneath, his mother had written in her loopy cursive: “Bobby told this dream to me on August 26, 2001, after waking from a nap.”
It had started then. All though high school and after, Bob kept dreaming about things that hadn’t happened yet, and then realizing when they did happen that he had somehow acquired advance information. He started keeping a dream log in a disciplined way. As the internet, in its infancy on 9/11, became more powerful and useful, he had located a smattering of dream sites, which he bookmarked and kept up with. But there was no Center for Dream Research when he was ready for college, no government fellowships, no opportunity to be trained with other gifted young dreamers.
Instead, Bob completed a PhD in psychology with a dissertation on precognitive dreaming, not a field chosen with an eye to speedy career advancement. He taught at second-rate colleges for fifteen years, set up a private psychodynamic therapy practice, wrote the occasional paper on his unpopular subject, then struggled to find a journal that would publish it. He married, had one child, divorced. He resigned himself to academic invisibility.
And then he dreamed the Finley assassination before it happened, and blogged about it. He’d been among the first to be recruited by the Center.
Bob envied his students, with their cloaks and neon and power-animal tattoos. There was no way they could truly appreciate how fortunate they were. Still, he felt privileged to be helping them develop their natural gifts—and the kids were very gifted, quite a few of them more sensitive than he was himself. Years before, when his daughter Hadley had been a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she had quoted one of her professors, a seasoned old pro who had grown up before the proliferation of MFA programs like Iowa’s. He would have given anything, he’d said, to have been a student in his own playwriting workshop, but the next best thing was nurturing young writers, some of whom might become finer playwrights than he’d ever had it in him to be himself.
For seven years now, Bob had been nurturing young dreamers and staying alert for signs of precognition. More than once before he had felt the agitation he was feeling now, when someone’s dream first began to emerge as a foretelling of a widespread calamity. But this time the stakes were tremendous. This time they had a chance to save more lives, and prevent more damage, than had been saved and prevented in any potential disaster the Center had thus far managed to anticipate and stop—if he could shepherd his students into synchronicity with Josh’s dream.
He rolled off the couch, sat at his desk, and keyed: “Memo to Dream Interp 289 Students: Urgent.”
To incubate a dream, it helps to make a little ritual of the intention. Josh took a sauna and a dip, dressed in clean sweats, ate a small careful dinner picked up from a supermarket sushi bar (California roll seemed appropriate), washed it down with spring water, brushed his teeth, and asked his room system for Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. When the music started he sat down on his bed with a pad and pencil; the question had to be spelled out by hand, not by any of the various electronic means available to him, and not by voice recording. After a minute’s thought he wrote: “I want to know if an asteroid is about to strike the earth, and if so, where and when.” It was a more elaborate question than the protocols recommended, but he needed to know all three things. His painting was propped on his desk; he tore off the page and slipped it between the picture and its cardboard backing. Then he darkened the room and crawled into bed. He was asleep in seconds.
Bob had sent his memo, giving the class their emergency assignment and convening a special meeting for the following day. Urged by his gut and his own incubated dream to do more, that morning he had also stuck out his neck and sent an urgent request for the entire Center faculty to cancel their commitments and sit in on the session; so the seminar room was crammed with extra chairs and serious adults. For the students it was all a bit overwhelming, but they understood that they were at center stage in a developing drama, and sat around the seminar table with their dream logs open in front of them, looking both nervous and excited.
Bob began the session by carefully summarizing Josh’s part of the previous class meeting and the ambiguous results of the reentry exercise, while his colleagues gazed with intense interest at Josh’s painting, now taped to the wall by its backing. No one in the assembly had been told about Tim’s tsunami dream, the faculty members having till now no context to put it into, and the students being too suggestible to be given the tsunami idea before they’d done their independent dreaming. Bob’s memo had instructed them only to incubate the intention: “I want to go deeper into Josh’s dream ‘Space Ballet,’ in order to understand its meaning better.”
So now, before opening the circle, he asked Josh to describe his brother’s dream for his professors and classmates. While Josh was speaking, a stir went round the table as the students reconsidered their incubated dreams in light of the new information. And when he’d finished, and as each student rose and read out his or her log entry, the other students and the attending faculty worked their notebooks busily, looking things up, making notes, texting each other, connecting the dots and building a composite picture out of what they were hearing:
Yancey: “I’m at a big Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool. It’s very sunny and hot. There are a lot of people sunbathing around the sides of the pool. An enormous fat man does a cannonball off the high dive. He hits so hard that he splashes all the water out of the pool. The people around the sides are swamped in several feet of water. They run around screaming. Title: ‘Cannonball.’ Affect: I was terrified of the fat man even before he jumped. I was still terrified when I woke up.”
Emily: “In this dream I’m three years old. I’m all alone and scared. I’m on top of a mountain that’s sticking up out of the ocean. There’s deep water all around. I’m wandering around trying to find my mother, but I can’t find her. Then I see something big out in the water. It’s swimming toward me. I can’t tell what it is but it’s huge and hairy, and I’m afraid of it and start to cry. Just as it starts to climb out of the water I hear somebody say, ‘That’s a rare rat, Barbara.’ Title: ‘Rare Rat.’ Affect: Fear of the rat, before and after waking; also annoyance at being called Barbara. I’ve always hated that name.”
Jen: “I’ve gone to the doctor to be treated for a terrible case of hemorrhoids. I’m carrying the hemorrhoids, which look like gallstones, in a small glass bowl. I’m in the center of a group of doctors who’ve been called in to work on my case. One of them hands me a big bottle of medicine, and tells me that if I take this medicine for three years I’ll be cured. I look at the bottle thinking I would see a skull and crossbones, but there’s just a big black letter B on a white label. Title: ‘Hemorrhoids.’ Affect: Anxiety in the dream. On waking: confusion, then disappointment. I don’t see how this could possibly have anything to do with Josh’s dream.”
David: “I’m in Little League and we’re in the middle of a game. I’m playing outfield. My team is winning 3.21-0; it says that on the scoreboard. The other team’s best batter steps up to the plate and clobbers the ball straight up in the air. It looks like a home run. I run like crazy to get under it, and jump as high as I can and stick my glove way up in the air to catch it, but it flies over the fence. Then I hear a huge splash. I can’t see what happened but I know it landed in the duck pond on the other side. Title: ‘Home Run.’ Affect: I was devastated in the dream. But I felt better when I woke up. The score was still 3.21-1, our favor. We could still win the game.”
Rick: “I’m inside Josh’s picture, only in my dream of his dream the ship is a flying saucer in orbit around earth. In this dream I’m Josh’s brother. We are prisoners of the saucer aliens, who have put us into space suits and tied us to the saucer with cables. While we’re twisting and turning helplessly in space, the aliens launch that thing we’ve been calling the Lego shuttle. What it is in my dream, is a robotic lander armed with some hugely powerful weapon. There may be more landers too, its hard to tell. The aliens’ aim is to destroy the Earth. I can’t do anything to stop them or warn people. I can see Earth; it looks like a big blue marble with white swirls against the black of space, incredibly beautiful. The lander is heading right for it. Josh looks at me and shakes his head. There’s nothing we can do. Title: ‘Saucer Prisoners.’ Affect: Distress and helplessness inside the dream. On waking, total determination not to accept the role of helpless prisoner. Decision to reenter the dream.”
Claudia: “I’m weeding my grandmother’s flower garden. It’s hot and I want to get cleaned up and go meet my friends, but I know I have to finish this first. I feel huge resistance, I don’t want to be out here working. I’m so angry I yank up a bunch of flowers and throw them in the fishpond. Grandma comes out and says, ‘Just finish those asters, then you can quit.’ Title: ‘Weeding.’ Affect: In the dream, furious resentment. On waking, surprise. I actually like gardening. And this didn’t seem to have any bearing at all on Josh’s dream.”
“It does, though,” Josh said a little shakily as he stood up, and Claudia nodded; she understood that now, they all did. At this point there was not a person in the room who hadn’t understood, along with a great deal else, that Claudia’s asters and Jen’s hemorrhoids—individually, but especially together—said asteroids in the wacko punning language of dreams.
Josh pulled a cardboard square and a roll of tape out of his portfolio. “This is just a brush-pen sketch, all I had time for, but it shows how the elements in my first dream get incorporated into this one, but switched around.” He tore tape off the roll and stuck the new picture up next to the old one. Then he picked up his notepad, caught the eye of the Center’s director, Marcus Manning, whose gaze was trained on him, and read his log entry:
“I’m back in my dream, and I’m in space. The ship has turned into a hot air balloon. The hole at the top of the ship”—he pointed to his finished painting, then to the sketch—“is now the hole at the bottom of the balloon, and the light streaming out through the top of the ship . . . is the propane flame that goes through the hole in the balloon and heats the air inside. The black of space surrounds the balloon, but the flame creates a sphere of light around it, and the basket underneath that I’m riding in, as if the balloon were in the atmosphere. I look down and see the whole Earth, with the continents and the blue water, way down below. Suddenly Mr. Hopewell appears in the basket with me. He says, ‘A sandbag is dropped from a hot air balloon that is a million miles above the earth. How long does it take for the sandbag to reach the surface?’ I say, ‘Three years, two months, and nineteen days.’ Title: ‘Hot Air Balloon.’ Affect: In the dream, a sense of foreboding but I’m pleased that I know the answer. On waking, excitement and certainty!” Looking up, he added, “Mr. Hopewell was my algebra teacher in high school.”
“He has an optimistic name,” Bob Christian said. “I call that a good sign.”
The class had moved beyond the need for if-this-were-my-dream courtesies; their collaborative effort had brought them into sync. Their professors held back and let them pull it all together. They bent over their notepads and proceeded to do that.
Unless it could somehow be prevented, an asteroid would fall into the Pacific near Santa Barbara in a little more than three years’ time; Josh’s answer to the sandbag question chimed with David’s scoreboard display and (less precisely) with Jen’s treatment lasting three years and Emily’s being three when she saw the rare rat. (“What’s “a rare rat” about, anybody know?” Yancey asked, and Professor Manning said, “Emily must have learned about Noah’s ark in Sunday School. When the flood waters started to recede, the ark came down on top of Mount A-rar-at.” Emily emitted a startled “Oh!” “At least they were receding,” Yancey said.)
Three years, two months, and nineteen days from that day, April 16, 2044, was July 7, 2047—or at least that date was in the ballpark (David grinned). There would in fact be a full moon on July 7th. The asteroid would cause a tidal wave to form, and tremendous flooding would result, with the inevitable loss of life and property. Josh pointed out that in Jen’s dream she’s at the Center of a group of doctors who give her medicine they say will cure her hemorrhoids. “That’s pretty much where she is right this second! We’ve got a lot of doctors in this room. Maybe they know a way to fix her up?”
He searched the faces of the faculty hopefully. Dr. Manning said, “We don’t, of course, but we know which specialists to refer her to. The Jet Propulsion Lab has an Asteroid Watch Program, I’ve just been reading about it here. NASA’s got a whole bag of tricks they use to address this sort of problem. They can send up a probe to nudge the asteroid out of its collision orbit, for instance—that’s worked before. Another approach, it says here,” tapping his notebook, “would be to break the asteroid into smaller pieces with a nuclear explosion, and that’s suggested too, by the other sketchy shuttles in Josh’s first painting.”
He made it sound like a done deal. Everyone felt the incubated dreams gave them reason to be optimistic about the outcome. And not just the bottle of medicine and the doctors’ assurances of a cure. David had failed to catch the fly ball, but his team was still winning. The flood waters were receding. Josh’s teacher did have a hopeful name. Rick was going to do a dream reentry and break free of imprisonment. But when they looked carefully at the dreams, there seemed to be just as many reasons to be worried, probably more.
It took NASA a year to find the asteroid, a previously undiscovered one and on the small side as asteroids go. If they hadn’t been looking for it, they would almost certainly not have found it in time to respond. To be ordered to look for a particular rock wandering around somewhere out in space, on the say-so of a bunch of kids from the Center for Dream Research, was viewed by many as a very bad joke, and during that initial year the grumbling was considerable.
Then one day the people in the Near-Earth Object Office found what they’d been looking for. The grumbling stopped. They gave the asteroid a provisional designation, 2034 KW3, and a respectful nickname, “The Gallstone,” and set about confirming its orbit and devising a plan to modify that orbit. The approach was one Professor Manning had described to Josh’s class: NASA would launch a “gravity tractor,” in the form of a robotic probe, to rendezvous with The Gallstone and travel along with it. Over time, the tug of the tractor’s gravity would affect the trajectory of the asteroid enough to let it pass harmlessly by the Earth, thus averting catastrophe. That was the method of choice, as it had been employed a number of times already with good results.
But to be on the safe side, NASA also prepared a backup plan, on the unlikely chance that the gravity tractor failed to work. This was an experimental approach known as “mirror bees.” A swarm of small spacecraft would be launched at The Gallstone, each with mirrors on its surface. When the probes reached the asteroid, the mirrors would focus reflected sunlight at a designated spot on the asteroid. The effect would be to make the spot so hot that some of the rock or ice would be vaporized, and the ejecta would act like propulsion jets, pushing The Gallstone off its original course.
When Josh heard about the mirror bees, he got out his painting again. Then he called Bob Christian. “Something’s going to go wrong with the gravity tractor,” he said. “What’s going to work is the backup plan, the mirror bees. Plan B-e-e and Plan B, like on Jen’s medicine bottle. If you’ve still got a scan of that old picture, check it out—or I can send it over.”
“Printout on my wall. I’m looking at it.”
Josh described the mirror-bee strategy. “See what I mean? You have to start from scratch and assign different roles and meanings to everything, but it all makes sense. Finally.”
“So you think it’ll work?”
“Sure it’ll work!” And then, “At least I’m as sure as it’s possible to be about anything, when the probabilities haven’t actually collapsed yet. Aren’t you?”
“As a matter of fact,” Bob said, “I am.”
On July 7, 2047, the Center for Dream Research threw a spectacular party for Bob Christian’s famous Spring ‘44 Dream Interpretation class. Everyone in the class had graduated by then, but five were still at the Center doing graduate work, and Yancey and David had come back from their assignments to watch the flyby and celebrate along with the others. Josh’s brother Tim had driven down from MIT for the occasion, and their parents had flown in from California. NASA had provided a terminal and a link to Hubble III. The rest of the world would see the footage on the evening news, but everyone at the Center, like everyone at NASA, got to watch it live.
In the months after the gravity tractor had lost propulsion, and before the mirror bees had reached their target, Center staff and students had monitored, not just their own dreams, but also the online dream sites, nervously anticipating a tsunami of dreams about shattered mirrors and bee catastrophes. It didn’t happen. Nor had anyone at the Center dreamed about tractors or bees. “I told you,” Josh had said to Bob Christian. “Precognitive dreams foretell disasters. There isn’t going to be one.”
And there wasn’t one. Everyone cheered as The Gallstone zipped harmlessly between the Earth and the moon, thirteen thousand miles above Santa Barbara (and, incidentally, above Pasadena and the Jet Propulsion Lab, which would have been devastated had the asteroid come down in the Pacific). Champagne appeared. Live music, amplified, streamed from walls and ceiling. Reporters pushed in to interview members of the class. On the big screen a blowup of Josh’s painting “Space Ballet” replaced the flyby. Someone from NASA made a speech. After years of being the object of jokes by the hosts of talk shows, the Center was experiencing the heady glamour of public approval and gratitude, not to mention assured funding for the foreseeable future. It was quite a party.
After the speech a reporter buttonholed a black-haired grown-up Josh, in jacket and bolo tie, and waved one arm at the gigantic picture on the screen. “Josh, can you tell us why it was so hard to interpret that dream of yours? One of your friends was saying how you had to try several different approaches before the class managed to figure it out. Nice painting, by the way.”
“Thanks. Well. See, the thing about dreams, they’re packed with information, but they typically deliver the information in a weird symbolic language that can be very hard to understand. If dreams were more straightforward, we wouldn’t have to go to school for years to learn how to interpret them. And this dream wasn’t straightforward at all, so it took us a while.” Behind the cameraman, Tim was jumping up and down and making faces at him. Emily stood next to him, laughing at Josh’s discomfort. She had cut her hair. He attempted to edge away.
“Interesting,” said the reporter briskly. “Now, what are some of the symbols in the dream you painted?”
“Well”—Josh threw a pleading glance at Bob, who shrugged and grinned—“everything in it, really. The ship, the people, the black things with faces, the light, the cables—”
“Now, which of those would be The Gallstone?”
“We didn’t know any of them was The Gallstone for a while! In the dream, that little black thing like a shuttle, under the ship, seemed frightening, so the first thing we did was try to figure out why.”
She craned her neck to peer up at the screen. “So The Gallstone is that little black thing with the face?”
“Well, you could say—on one level you could say so, but that’s not all it turned out to be. See,” Josh said desperately, “dreams can be very ambiguous, objects can symbolize several things at the same time. You have to be careful not to rule things out.”
Again he cast a beseeching look at Bob, who now took pity on him and came to the rescue. “An article about Josh’s dream was posted to the Center’s website this morning,” he told the reporter. “It reads like a detective story—your viewers will enjoy it. The article describes the entire interpretive process and what everyone contributed. You’ll find answers there to all these questions and lots of others. Meanwhile, this is Josh’s big day. Why don’t we let him enjoy the party?”
The reporter turned eagerly on Bob. “You’re a professor here at the Center?” She glanced at his name tag. “Oh, Professor Christian! This is the teacher of Josh’s class, the class that helped interpret his dream! Wonderful to see you! I’m sure our viewers would love to know more about how you dreamers get your results, if could you give us just a hint—”
“I’m afraid not,” Bob said firmly, pushing a grateful Josh out of the limelight. “Can’t be done in a sound bite, unfortunately. Read the article.” He smiled past her, into the camera lens. “Read the article, folks: centerfordreamresearch.upenn.edu. Look for ‘Space Ballet.’ The whole story’s in there.”
Note: a number of concepts, terms, and strategies in this story derive from Robert Moss’s many books about dreams and dreaming.
“Space Ballet” copyright © 2014 by Judith Moffett
Art copyright © 2014 by Richard Anderson