20020716md_dream

I was visiting F&M when someone suggested that this might be possible for me to get a last-minute OK to take part in an advanced geology class at CTY despite my advanced years, because I would be in part an assistant rather than a student. It was intersession when I visited, and I was helping staff members I knew move around equipment; Jay Beale had me move a very odd (very heavy) plastic contraption from one corner of campus all the way to a building on the opposite corner, near where the F&M museum is. This was similar in shape (and difficulty of carrying) to the large plastic under-bed containers that are sold at places like The Container Store for holding sweaters, files, and other household bits -- however, rather than one big molded space, it was divided into distinct wells, and each of these was filled with various layers and chemicals. I didn't hear any noise, but I got the feeling that there was an active chemical reactioin going on; I thought perhaps each well's contents represented a hypothetical geologic formation, and that Jay was testing how each type of layering would react to a certain type of chemical bombardment.

I would be paid a stipend and travel, but was doing it more for the experience of the trip and because the class was partly taught by Liz and Pete. In fact, it was the most overstaffed CTY course I'd ever seen, which later events in the dream explained. Liz and Pete are after all mathematicians, not geologists, but I figured they might be explaining abstract modeling techniques or something. We didn't discuss the course content very much before leaving. Instead, they were going because they spoke Russian.

The class was going to start in a day or two, and involved international travel. Flash forward, and I'm in Moscow, helping organize the kids (the youngest was perhaps 12, going to about 16) in the class, some of whom were Russian, some American, some from other places; I assumed many of them were from former Soviet republics. Most were boys, but there were a few girls scattered in there. We got a chance to do a little sightseeing around Moscow before beginning our bus trip to the mountains, where we'd be doing our serious geological investigations. I remember driving by lots of old stone buildings, and then viewing the city from an ultra-modern tower built for sight-seeing, not as tall as a NYC skyscraper but much taller than most of the city, and so afforded an excellent view through large hyper-clear glass windows that probably stretched 30 feet, from floor to the celing of the observation room. Our group was the only one in the tower at the time; I wondered how our little class trip should have had the clout to arrange that. I remember being surprised at Moscow's modernity despite frequent reminders of the past. I was surprised again when we actually loaded up the bus and left; our driver was a stout Russian woman, hard to perturb but attached to her schedule. She seemed nice enough, though -- just not personally involved in anything beyond driving in the right direction at the right speed. Jay and at least one of the two senior scientists traveled separately with the equipment, including the plastic box (and I think were ahead of us), but Liz and Pete were on the same bus with me. The kids, who had been well behaved but quite normal seeming, became much quieter and more cooperative. I spoke to the driver (her English was passable, though she'd studied it only in Russia), and asked about our route. She pointed out a computer display which showed an overhead view of the roads we were to take -- was impressed by how good the technology was in her little cockpit. Part of the route on her display was a dashed line rather than solid; I asked her about this, and she said "Da! This is where we are underground -- much faster in the mountains." How long would we be actually underground? "Many kilometers, we will be in the tunnels for about an hour." Despite being underground to save time, even the tunnels were circuitous, following a spiral I assumed was tied to underlying geologic conditions or surface features like rivers. I was looking forward to the underground portion, but also slightly nervous, considering things I'd heard about Russian maintenance etc. However, the road so far had been well-maintained and well-graded, and the only regret I had was that we would miss spectacular mountain views. Traffic was fairly heavy as well, to my surprise, like a fast-moving but crowded day on the New Jersey Turnpike. There were perhaps 5 lanes accross, but we could only see one direction of traffic; I wasn't sure where the opposite lanes were, or whether they were even on the left of the right of our path. I don't remember driving through the tunnels; I'm not sure if the next events happened before we reached them or if slept through our travels for a bit.

However, I remember waking up from a small nap to find that the bus driver was somehow out of commission (asleep? dead? missing? smoke break?) and that our bus was stopped on the highway, along with all the rest of the traffic. A few horns honked, but not many. We figured out how to turn on the bus radio, and Liz listed to the Russian language broadcasts. I was hoping there might even be an English language station, but we didn't find any. Eventually, we found out that there was some sort of unspecified "problem" in the exact area that we were driving to (I didn't recognize the name, only that everyone on the bus seemed to know that was our destination), and I immediately wondered what was in the weird plastic box that Jay and the scientists had carried ahead of us. I realized, as if I should have known the whole time, Liz, Pete, Jay and the scientists were here with an ulterior motive having to do with either sabataging a dangerous research program in Russia or finding out how far along it had gotten -- spies, basically, though with a perfectly legitimate and authentic cover of teaching the course. A few of the kids (or maybe all of them) knew that there *was* another purpose to the trip, but I don't think most of them if any actually knew the details. They were volunteers who promised to help if possible, though.

I saw some drivers making awkward many-point turns and then squeezing through the highway lanes in the wrong direction, determined not to be caught there on the road if anything bad came from the direction we faced. I decided we should do the same on the bus. With the bus driver missing, and all of the adults on board used to Western cars, I asked in the back if any of the kids were familiar with driving large Russian vehicles. ("In the back" because the bus was much larger than our group really needed, and they were mostly gathered into a sort of lounge area at the rear except when sleeping in their seats.) Surprisingly, a few of them raised their hands, but the most confident looking one was a boy I figured was Afghan, and looked like a small, serious 14. I did not ask what large Russian vehicles he as familiar with driving, but I somehow knew it was tanks or large armored carriers, and wondered how he managed to get on board. Serious little kid -- don't ask, don't tell.

The dream starts fading out at this point, but I did get some more flashes that the "mission" had been a success, and that the disruption of the trip, while disappointing, was less important than that a dangerous activity had been headed off in the mountain laboratory we hadn't yet reached on the bus. We hoped that Jay and the scientists were OK, but from the lack of any large explosions from that direction, we expected to see them zipping toward us in the wrong traffic direction at any moment, and we wanted to have the bus turned around and facing back toward Moscow if they needed to switch into it from their car. It struck me that Jay's plastic box might be a bomb, either explosive or biological, and I wondered just how fast our bus would be able to navigate against the flow if the radio traffic starting getting any more specific and panicking more drivers.