"Dragon Dreams" is a science thriller set in Boston. The protagonist, Aleksi Rychenkna, a brilliant but socially repressed young scientist in the Harvard Paleontology PhD program, comes across a specimen in the archives of the Museum of Comparative Biology that defies identification. DNA analysis yields both human and unknown sequences, and crumbles under the most delicate probing. When Aleksi inadvertently infects herself with a tooth from the sample, she begins having violent dreams and waking impulses that defy her usual shyness. When she begins to physically change, and a co-worker turns up murdered, her dreams turn into nightmares of reality.
Police accuse her of murder, the government wants to capture her for analysis, and a secret society interested in cryptozoology wants to possess her. But Aleksi has no intention of being strapped down and dissected, and even with soldiers and assassins hunting her, she finds herself more than capable of thwarting their machinations. But as the transformation continues, she discovers that she is not the only Dragon of Boston, and the gristly string of murders she's accused of committing have more to do with her than she ever dreamt, even in her dragon dreams.
"There are mysterious artifacts, actual politics that I have seen occur within Universities, actual entitled students behaving like entitled students do, actual families alienating each other despite the fact they love each other. But Aleski, our protagonist, is worth rooting for."– Amazon Review
Oliver sat at her desk, phone wedged between her shoulder and ear, tapping on her computer and talking at the same time. She was the queen of multi-tasking. Oliver saw her, and waved her in, pointing at the phone and mouthing the word, "Lawson", the graduate director.
Aleksi entered, her nerves jangling. If Oliver was talking to Dr. Lawson about her…
"Okay, fine." Dr. Oliver waved at a chair. "Yes, she just walked in, and I know she'll pick up the ball on this. Right. Thanks, Daniel. Later, then." She ended the call and smiled; a bad sign.
"Thanks for coming in, Alexi," she said, mispronouncing her name, as usual. "Lawson called with a minor issue, and I thought you might be able to solve it for me. Have a seat."
"An issue?" Aleksi shuffled in and sank into the indicated chair, clenching her hands in her pockets. "I was just working on my project, and I—"
"I thought you might be, and that's why I texted." Oliver made a dismissive gesture with one hand, as she always did when she thought whatever had just come out of someone's mouth was irrelevant. "The January at GSAS schedule is all set, but we've had a fall-out. Jim Felton was going to give a series on the new paleosciences virtual library system, but he had to cancel. Family emergency. Out for the semester. I know you're familiar with the system."
"But we agreed that I'd use winter recess to—"
"Oh, I know, Lexi," Oliver interrupted, mangling her name even worse, making the contraction rhyme with 'sexy', a taunt throughout her mortifying high-school years. "But that was before this emergency. It's only a two-week series, and you don't have any classes to teach during the recess, so you'll have time." She glanced at her watch and began shutting down her computer.
"But I was hoping to do some imaging during the recess. I've just found some Therapsid samples that might be—"
"Oh, don't worry, Lexi; you'll have plenty of time for that. The series doesn't start until the eighth, and you said you weren't going to be away long for the holidays, right?" She stuffed a folder and some other items into her bag, obviously having decided that the issue was settled. She stood and rounded the desk. "I appreciate you picking up the ball on this, Lexi. There's plenty of time for your imaging analysis. I've got to go, so we can talk about this later."
Aleksi stood, opening her mouth to object, but Oliver was already past her and standing at the door. She knew there would be no other discussion; it was set. There went her winter recess.
"I've emailed you Jim's outline, though you know the system well enough that you'll probably be able to wing it." Oliver ushered her out and locked her office door. "Oh, and because Jim's out for the semester, Lawson needed someone to pick up his general bio lab, too. I knew you could teach it in your sleep, so I put you in for it. You can use the extra money, I'm sure."
Aleksi gaped at her in shock. "But I'm already teaching the Comp Zoology lab, and I'm taking my qualifying exams this semester."
"Oh, you'll do fine, Lexi. You won't have any problem with your quals, and they're both just labs." She dropped her keys into her bag and fixed Aleksi with a stare. "I've already bent the rules allowing you to fulfill your teaching requirements with lab courses. You should have to teach a lecture, you know."
Aleksi clenched her anger between her teeth. Heat rushed to her face at that same old threat; Oliver knew Aleksi didn't like teaching lectures and used that as a bludgeon every time she piled on more work. Oliver also knew she would fold under the pressure of a confrontation, which only made Aleksi angrier.
"I know that." Aleksi hated the crack in her voice, the weakness. She clenched her hands until her nails bit into her palms.
"Then we don't have a problem, do we?" Oliver gave her a tight smile and turned to go. "Lawson will email you the course outline, and you should get in touch with the course coordinator before he leaves for the holidays." Oliver walked away without another word.
Aleksi stood there shaking. Oliver had just increased her workload by half and obliterated her winter recess, but Aleksi was angrier with herself than her advisor. She had never been able to deal with situations like this, and Oliver knew it. She caved every time, and it only got worse the longer she let it continue. A thousand similar discussions with her mother screamed through her mind, the results always the same: submission, capitulation, surrender. She trembled, her vision blurring with unshed tears.
She started at the perfect pronunciation of her name and whirled, sniffing and blinking, mortified that someone had been watching her in mid-breakdown. A man stood in another open office door, and she recognized him immediately.
"Dr. Hutchinson!" She wondered if he'd heard the entire discussion, and her embarrassment doubled. "I'm sorry, I…" She bit her lip; why was she apologizing, and for what?
"I didn't mean to startle you, but I couldn't help overhearing." He nodded down the hall where Dr. Oliver had gone and cocked an eyebrow. "You shouldn't feel bad about that; she runs roughshod over all her students. That's why most of them abandon ship by their second year. You've lasted longer than most."
"She does? I mean, I didn't mean to…" She faltered again, fixing her eyes on his feet.
"Don't worry about it. I won't tell her she's a bitch if you don't."
She gaped at that, opened her mouth to say something, but couldn't imagine defending Dr. Oliver. Dr. Hutchinson saved her from more embarrassment by changing the subject.
"You took my class on Cryptozoology last spring, right?" At her nod, he asked, "That was the first time the course was offered, and I didn't get much feedback. What did you think?"
"I, uh…" Her mind stumbled at the question; he wanted her opinion on his class? "I enjoyed it. It wasn't what I expected going in, and you made it fun."
"Good. Most scientists think it's a bunch of bunk. You know, Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, but I wanted to introduce the discipline in a new light." He leaned against the door jam and crossed his arms. "Look, Aleksi, I'll be frank with you; I think it's crappy how Oliver's treating you, and I want to make you an offer. Actually, I was going to email you yesterday and got sidetracked. I'm about as organized as the average train wreck. Then you showed up here, so I thought I'd just ask."
"Ask?" She wondered what kind of offer he was talking about. Probably more work, and she was already swamped. "I don't think I can take any more projects on right now, Dr. Hutchinson."
"I'm not trying to pile more work on you, Aleksi," he said, once again pronouncing her name perfectly. "This wouldn't be on top of what you're doing with Dr. Oliver, but instead of."
"Instead?" Realization struck through her unease. He wanted to take her on as a student, to be her advisor. He wanted to steal her away from Oliver. "But I've already got a project, and I'm right in the middle of—"
"I know, imaging Therapsids." He pursed his lips and stared at her for a heartbeat. She fixed her eyes on his shoes again. "Tell you what; let me buy you a coffee and give me thirty minutes to explain what I'm offering. If you want to stay with Oliver when I'm through, I won't tell a soul. But I guarantee I can get you out of January at GSAS, and probably find someone to take the freshman bio lab. I can also promise you a finished dissertation proposal by mid semester."
"I…uh…" She looked up at him, trying to figure out if he was serious or just trying to manipulate her like Dr. Oliver, promising to help only to get work out of her. It certainly wouldn't hurt to hear him out. She bit her lip, promising herself that she wouldn't get seduced into another project with no light at the end of the tunnel. "Okay. I'll listen."
"Great. Let me grab my coat and we'll hit Buckminster's." As he retrieved a long black coat from a rack behind the door, she peeked into his office. He wasn't lying about one thing, anyway; the place was a train wreck. He shrugged into his coat and locked the door. "Besides, I'm a sucker for their apple Danish, and it's way past time for second breakfast!"
"Second breakfast?" She followed him down the hall toward the stairs.
"Sure! One of the seven meals: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, supper and dinner." He looked at her for a response, but she just shook her head. "Don't tell me you never read The Lord of the Rings."
"Oh. No. Sorry, I've never been much for make-believe."
"That's okay." He rounded the first landing and smiled back at her. "I've never been much for reality, so we should balance each other out nicely."
She didn't know what to make of that but forced a weak smile. He was so different than Dr. Oliver, so casual and friendly. A niggling suspicion twisted her insides as she followed him down the steps and out into the bitter cold Cambridge winter. Why was he being so nice to her? He must want something.