Street of Dreams
by Lasha Lee

It was the boy that Luke noticed first.

The men and women in the living room ranged from teens to those in their mid sixties, and they did not appear to be anything but normal neighbors getting together for beer and gossip. They were talking about their families and books and the weather, and for a moment Luke thought he'd made a mistake. Surely these people couldn't be connected to the Deran Pure. He'd been expecting a basement meeting; men in masks and raspy voices.

The boy sat off to himself, not speaking to anyone. He was around fifteen or sixteen, with a lot of long brown hair and a pimply, narrow face. He was staring at the wall, his left leg moving up and down in a rhythm Luke recognized as either caffeine or nicotine withdrawal. His fingers tapped out another rhythm on the couch next to him. His black tee-shirt had a hole in the tail of it, and his jeans were thin and threadbare, his boots sprung at the sides. Luke noticed that in spite of the wear and tear the clothing was expensive; the boy dressed shabbily to make some kind of a statement and not because he had no choice.

He sensed the appraisal and glanced up at Luke, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. Luke moved over and sat down next to him, and the boy drew back. His eyes were brown as well, nearly the color of Luke's own, and he looked like a cornered animal.

"I'm Tad." Luke held out his hand.

The boy hesitated and offered his own hand back in return. "Dusty."

"More people here than I expected." Luke glanced around the room. "I guess that's a good sign. What kind of a crowd do you usually get?"

A shrug. "This is my first night here too. A friend told me about it. My Mom would freak if she knew I was here."

"Yeah, I know some people like that. They think all you have to do is go up and give the Wronith a big hug and it'll make everything all better."

"Screw that." Dusty gnawed on his lip. "I have two little sisters. No way in hell am I letting those freaks waltz in some day and take them. They will, just as soon as we're not expecting it. Hell, they're still stealing women. The Trens just don't want us to know about it. Look."

Dusty reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumbled slip of paper. A beautiful girl smiled up from the page, with the word MISSING printed in huge letters above her head. "I went to school with her. Her name is Mendie. She disappeared last summer. The police are like 'Oh, she just ran away from home' but we know what happened. That's her uncle over there." He pointed to a slightly overweight middle-aged man who was having an animated discussion with someone. "We know the Wronith have her. We're going to get her back. That's why I came."

Initial demeanor aside, Luke decided, Dusty could talk up a storm. This could definitely work in his favor.

He repeated the story he'd told earlier, about his beloved sister running away with a Wronith against the family's wishes. He hoped sincerely that Rosemary never got wind of the story; she would throttle him for it. When he finished Dusty nodded in sympathy.

"That's rough, man. Rougher that no one gives a damn about it. The Trens are a joke, ya know? They'll sell us all out in the end."

"Tell me about it. It's good to meet someone else who understands. I'm not a violent guy, though. I don't want to, like, kill them or anything. I just want them all off my planet."

That was a risk, but Dusty nodded. "Yeah, dude, same here. I mean, I'll kill them if I have to kill them, but I'm not like a murderer or anything. There are a few people here who think we should kill them all off and be done with it, but most of us are like you. We're just sick of them, that's all. We want our planet back."

Luke wanted to ask about the church, but didn't. If he asked too many questions, he'd come off sounding like a cop. He'd bide his time, what he had of it, wait, and see if anyone else brought it up. Dusty had already told him more than he'd expected to know on his first night here.

"Come on, it's about to get started." Dusty nodded at the men and women filing into the other room. "You want a beer, Tad?"

"Nah, I hate beer."

"Same here. But I drink it anyway. Just to fit in. Most of the guys here think I'm just a stupid kid and I'm not really serious about this."

"Dusty, it sounds to me like you're very serious. The girl, she was special to you, huh?"

Dusty shrugged again, and Luke wasn't sure he was going to answer. "I've known her a long time, that's all. I want her to come home."

Luke looked at the picture in his hand again. She was truly pretty, but in her eyes was something defiant, something a little wild. He didn't believe the Wronith had anything to do with her disappearance; wherever she'd gone, she'd made a choice to go. Hell, maybe Dusty didn't really believe the Wronith had her either, but her leaving had obviously hurt him badly and it was easier to blame it on them than on the girl herself.

Maybe when this was all over with, he and Dusty could...?

Could what? He wasn't here to make friends with these people, and he wasn't here to offer council to some confused kid. Dusty's problems were his own; Luke had enough to worry about in his own family right now.

But the kid was more relaxed now, smiling at Luke, convinced he'd found a real friend among the ranks of the Deran Pure, and Luke bit down his shame and smiled back.


"Hey, I heard your Mom's in jail."

She tried to ignore the taunt, pulling her coat tighter around herself as she walked, but they kept following her.

"What's your Mom in jail for, Landagren? Why's your Mom a jailbird?"

The little girl turned around on her heel and glared at the boys. "She's in jail because she killed a bunch of people. She invited them over to our house, and then she chopped them all up and fed them to our dogs!"

"She did not!" The bigger boy sneered. "We would have heard about something like that on the news. You lie."

She began walking again, proud that her eyes were dry. They'd been trying to make her cry for two weeks now, ever since she'd arrived at their school, and she hadn't done it yet. She hadn't cried at all since the night she found out that her mother was going to jail.

Instead she pretended to be happy whenever Mom called to talk to her. She lied; told her that she was loving school, that she'd made dozens of new friends. She filled her mother's ear with stories of Mitzi and Peggy and their slumber parties, and of a cute boy in her class named Cory who seemed to like her.

Mitzi, Peggy, and Cody were the hamsters in the Science lab. At least she'd been telling the truth about one thing; they seemed to like her. She couldn't honestly say that about anyone else in the school.

She'd never been to school before; her mother had always taught her at home, and she'd never lived any place long enough to make any friends outside of school. Suddenly she was here, one of hundreds of kids, most of whom had known each other their entire lives. And somehow, everyone knew that the reason she lived in a foster home was because her father was dead and her mother was locked up.

She hated the foster home too; hated that Mrs. Ramsey's smile always looked completely phony, hated the way she talked down to everyone, as if they were all little babies.

"Now Laura, we MUST remember to make the bed neatly, mustn't we? We must be sure to get out all the wrinkles." Or "Laura, dear, we mustn't make bad faces at food we don't like. We must thank Jesus for providing us with such wonderful meals. Jesus never complained about his food; he always thanked his Father for providing it."

Laura would have been more than willing to eat live grubs at this point, if only her Daddy was there to give them to her. If only she knew that Mom was going to be there with them, and that afterward she could sit between them and fall asleep watching TV.

"Now Laura, we mustn't complain about not having a television set. We must be happy for all the wonderful books and games we have instead, and the chance we have to play with our little foster brothers and sisters."

"Now, Laura." The girl thought to herself as she rounded the corner and left the laughing boys behind. "We mustn't beat Mrs. Ramsey over the head with that ugly yellow bible of hers. Jesus wouldn't do that." For the first time in ages, she smiled.


"Mom?"

The woman glanced up at her with a half-baked expression, and then returned her gaze to the TV set.

"Mom, did you hear what I said?"

"You paid the rent."

"Yeah, it's all paid up. Next month's too. We're okay now. Look, I bought some groceries. See?" She held up a loaf of bread. "Do you want me to make dinner? Are you hungry?"

"Yeah."

"Okay." Laura took a bag of vegetables over to the tiny counter in the kitchenette, pulled out a sharp knife, and began chopping them up. "You'll like this. It'll be good for you to eat something besides junk food. You'll feel better."

The only answer was the laugh-track from the television.

Then:

"Where did you get the money?"

Laura looked over her shoulder in surprise, but her mother was still looking at the TV set. "Does it matter? I got it."

Her mother sighed, and pulled her worn-out lap blanket tighter around herself. "I worry."

"I know, Mom, but don't. Okay? I know what I'm doing."

"Your father used to say that."

Laura began to chop the vegetables faster.

"Laura, don't go to jail. You won't like it. It's a bad place."

"I know, Mom. I know. Just go to sleep. I'll wake you up when dinner is done, okay?"

"Won't have you going to jail."

"Mom, I'm NOT going to jail. Fine, do you want to know what I did? Do you really want to know?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, there's this girl at school with a lot of money. Well, the other night I saw her doing some things she wasn't supposed to, and I took some pictures. She's paying me not to show the pictures to her parents. She's paying me enough so that we don't end up on the streets."

"Laura Victoria, that's wrong."

"What's wrong with it?" Laura threw down the knife and glared at her mother. "Making sure we have a home is wrong? Making sure we have food is wrong? Making sure you have your medicine is wrong? Who's going to pay for those things, Mom? Huh?"

"You can get a job."

"A job." Laura snorted. "Doing what, Mom? Flipping burgers? I'm 15. I'm not old enough to get a good job."

"If your father were alive...?"

"He's not, Mom! Okay? He's gone and he's not coming back! It's just us, just you and me."

"Don't yell at me." Her mother's eyes began to fill with tears. "Please don't yell at me."

"Mom, I'm sorry." Laura knelt next to the chair and brushed the limp hair out of her eyes. "But you have to trust me. Okay? I'll take care of both of us. Soon I'll have enough saved up for a better apartment."

"I can't lose you." Her mother whispered, grabbing Laura's hand. "You're all I have left."

"I know, Mom. It'll be okay. I promise." She leaned forward and put her cheek against her mother's head. "It'll all be okay."


Frowning now, she watched the computer screen flash as various passwords were tested against Rachael's. With a sigh she unfolded her legs from underneath her and stretched out the aching muscles. Considering for a minute, she grabbed the telephone and punched in a long code. Speaking a minute to the person who answered, she was connected to a private extention.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Mom. It's Laura."

"Laura...? I have a daughter by that name. Do you know her?" The voice was as fine and wispy as sandpaper.

"Mom, it's me. Your daughter. Laura."

"They never bring her to the jail to see me, those foster people. Can you bring her to see me?"

"Mom, you're not in jail. You're in the nursing home. I'm calling to see how you're feeling. I'll be home to see you in a few weeks."

It was useless. She knew it was useless. The doctors all told her it was useless. The only Laura her mother recalled was a little girl locked away in an undamaged part of her brain. This strange woman who showed up all the time and claimed to be her daughter was so frightening and confusing the old woman never remembered her from one visit to the next.

"They hurt me." The voice was a child's now. "They hit me."

"I know, Mom. I know they hit you."

"I didn't do anything. They just hit me. Why did they hit me?"

Because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, Mom. Who knows why? Who knows why they targeted you that day? I don't. Would it matter why?

"Mom, get some sleep. I'll call you again soon." She gave up for the evening.

There was a click, and then silence. Her mother never said goodbye.

Two years she'd waited, biding her time with Mrs. Jesus, trying to survive school, waiting until the day her mother was released from jail and they could together again. Two years of writing to her constantly, and savoring every phone call, and hoping. It gave her the strength to survive when nothing else did; the knowledge that she had a better life waiting for her, if she could just make it that far.

Then six months before her mother was supposed to be released...?

"Now Laura, you mustn't worry. Your mother will be just fine, you'll see. They'll have her up and walking around again in no time. This is God's will, child. God's will to show her that she mustn't ever do anything to get sent back to a place like that."

God's will. God's will was a steel pipe to the back of her mother's skull, over and over again. God's will was that six months later instead of her own mother returning, Laura got back a frightened, forgetful shell of a woman. Unable to hold a job; barely able to even hold a conversation. Who stared at Laura sometimes in such blank confusion that the little girl wanted to scream at her "You're NOT my mother! You can't possibly be my mother! You're an imposter, a fraud!"

She'd tried to work. Enough of her spirit had remained that she gave it her best shot, but in the end Laura would always return from school and find her mother sobbing in front of the television. Finally, she'd stopped trying to look and gone on government assistance, which was a joke.

Laura had taken matters into her own hands at that point.

Now she shook away the bad memories, and glared at Rachael's computer, which was still being stubborn.

What would her mother think of Gage?

The thought came suddenly, and she was angry at herself, but she was unable to shake it off. Not that she'd recognize or accept that he was her grandson; but would she like him? Would she look at him and see the man she'd loved and lost in his spirit, if not in his face?

The computer suddenly beeped, and the screen flashed twice, filling with small icons.

Yujicola?

She was a little disappointed. She'd expected Rachael's computer to put up more of a fight.

Randomly she clicked on a folder and opened it, and blinked.

The hell?

It wasn't Japanese, that was for sure. The text appeared to be a mixture of Asian characters, Hebrew, Sanskrit, and for all she knew Martian.

Interesting; if Rachael was protecting it that closely it had to be something good. Still, it was going to be pain to figure out.

She began opening other folders, seeing more of the same gibberish.

She wondered what Rachael would do if she called her up and asked her to please help translate, and began to snicker to herself. She would have done it, if she hadn't been worried that Rachael would figure out some way to trace the call. Still, over the years she'd gotten good at this. There had only been a few times when she'd been completely stumped; this would not be one of them.

Of course, the entire thing could just be a big waste of time. Her theories about Rachael were simply that; she had no proof.

There was another way, and she'd do it if she had to. It was actually a lot easier in the end than figuring out Rachael's nonsense coding; but it would be a little trickier and not nearly as much fun. Not to mention harder to keep secret.

It wasn't like she had anything better to do right now, she reasoned. The chase, not the kill, was the best part of any hunt. Why rush? She turned back to her task.


I haven't set foot on L2 since I was a small child.

Sometimes I wish I had the Deran ability to remember everything. Because it would mean that instead of a blank space, I'd have 9 months of natal and 10 months of actual memories of my mother.

Oh sure, they can access it in a memory walk, and let me see her again. But that's not quite the same thing. Watching it isn't the same as being able to feel it.

I'm not entirely sure that I would have been as accepting of Heero and loved him as much as I do if he'd been a woman, if instead of an extra father I'd gained a replacement mother. I would have felt disloyal somehow, like I was betraying her, even if I know in my heart she wouldn't have thought of it that way.

My mother is a non-memory, though, and of L2 I have a lot, although the older I get the more fragmented they become. Sometimes I'll find myself pausing in the middle of the fields, trying to remember what kind of wallpaper we had in our bathroom there. Trying to remember the faces of people I knew there, of my old friends and my father's friends, and it gets difficult.

I know that I could never be happy there again, and I am thankful that my daughter isn't growing up there, and yet sometimes I get the craziest urge to see it again, maybe just so I can prove to myself that it does exist, and that I didn't imagine it.

Nadia, for reasons I don't understand, wants to see it. She's asked me to take her to L2 for ages now, the same way I used to ask my father to take me to Earth.

I will, I think. After the baby is born, we'll all go. Linra would like to see it too. I'll walk down my old street with my daughter beside me and my son in my arms, and I'll show them where their daddy used to live. I'll take them down to the salvage yard. Eddie and his wife Carol still run the place, according to my father. I'll introduce them to my family, and I'll see if my favorite ice cream shop is still standing.

Because when I left before, I thought it was only going to be for a little while. And while I've never had any desire to live there again, I do need to return just once more.

Just to say goodbye.


"Will Gage be at the party?" Nadia asked, as her father bent down to brush off the front of her dress. She'd insisted on wearing her best one, and Jazz didn't have the heart to argue with her about formal verses informal events. It was crushed red velvet, a gift from Wufei, and she was extraordinarily proud of it.

Poor Wufei, Jazz thought with a inner chuckle. He hadn't had much luck with Meishel and nice dresses, at least when she was small enough to let him pick out her clothing. Oh, she'd accept it, and she'd preen around in whatever he'd bought her, but the minute his back was turned she'd be jumping into mud-puddles or rolling around in dust. Nadia was more careful about her things, and Wufei took complete advantage of her calmer nature. She had more clothes than a supermodel.

"Sure he will. I talked to him just a little while ago. He and Shan will both be there."

"Cool. I like Gage. He's a lovable eccentric."

Jazz tried hard not to laugh. "And he's still teaching you words a three-year-old shouldn't even be able to pronounce."

She looked as if she was trying to gather her thoughts. "He told me something about the baby."

"Oh? What did he tell you?"

"That...?" She paused. "A big sister is a gift beyond measure. That if I'm nice to my little brother, I'll be a goddess in his eyes."

"He's absolutely right, baby. Being a big brother or a big sister is a big responsibility, because they look up to you for everything. This baby is going to learn more from you than he ever will from your Mom and I. You're going to be his example on how to live, how to play, everything. You'll fight like crazy and yell at each other and hurt each other, but when you grow up, he's going to be your best friend in the world. No one will ever fight harder against you, but no one will ever fight harder to protect you, either."

"How come Gage and Meg fight all the time?"

"We need to get going." Jazz looked at the clock.

"Daddy...?"

"Okay, but it's complicated."

She only stared at him, insulted. This time he did laugh.

"Meg is jealous." He decided to go the simple route. "Her daddy pays a lot of attention to Gage and she doesn't like to share him. So she gets upset with Gage. Just like you don't like the idea of sharing your Mom and I with a new baby."

"We need to get going."

"Hey." Jazz scooped her up. "That is why you don't like to talk about the baby, right?"

She frowned and then shook her head no.

"Then what?"

"I'll miss Mommy."

It all became clear to him then, and he kicked himself for not realizing it before. "You think Mommy is going to die when the baby comes, don't you?"

She nodded, her eyes filling with tears.

"Oh sweetheart." He tried to think of the best thing to say. "Nadia...? I wish right now that I could lie to you. That I could promise you that Mommy and I are going to live until you're an old lady, and always be around. But that's not a promise I can keep. I can tell you that what happened when you were born was an accident. Could it happen again? Yes, it could. But it probably won't. And even if it did, well...? they managed to save you and Mommy last time. Who says they can't do it again?"

She sniffled, and put her head on his shoulder. "I have a feeling that your mother isn't going to leave us for a long time. I don't know that for a fact, but it's the old Maxwell intuition and that's pretty reliable."

"Do you miss your Mommy?"

"I don't remember my mother, honey. I know that she was very pretty, like she is in the pictures I showed you, and very kind, but that's just from what other people have told me."

"I'd remember Mommy, if she died."

"Derans are lucky like that. Anything that happens to Irnaos before we're about your age now is pretty much lost when we grow up. That's not very fair; I wish I could remember her."

"How did she die? Did she have another baby?"

"No, nothing like that. Do you know what cancer is?"

"No."

"It's a kind of sickness that happens to people sometimes. Sometimes if they catch it in time they can cure it. My mother had it inside of her head, near her brain. So no one knew it was there and it just kept getting worse and worse until finally she died."

"I bet you were sad, even if you can't remember it."

"I bet I was too. But I was lucky, because I had Pops to take care of me. He said your Yeye came and stayed with us for a long time after my mother died, too. As long as we have someone to love us, we can go on. Even if it's not easy. We have to."

"Why?"

"Well, you know how Mommy's toes are ticklish?"

Nadia nodded her head and then giggled into his shoulder.

"You and I are the only two other people alive who know that. I mean, Mommy isn't just going to walk up to some stranger and tell them that, is she?"

"Yes."

"Oh, she is not and you know it. If something happened to Mommy, we'd have to keep on going, because if we were gone no one would exist who remembered that. Now, enough death talk. We still have a lot of living to do."

She nodded again, and he kissed her curls, whispering into them softly:

"The grave's a fine and private place
But none, I think, do there embrace."


"Amy, I know what I heard." Meg glanced over at her sister, who was sitting on the bed, dressed for the party but still barefoot. "I know what Aunt Relena said about Gage. You know as well I do that he got really, really bad around the time, worse than usual."

Amy pushed her black hair out of her face and shook her head. "I know. I guess I always knew something bad had happened to him, but I didn't know what and he wouldn't talk about it. We all knew what Chester was offering; I should have known he went after Gage too."

"Do you think Dad killed him?"

"Meg!"

"Do you?" Meg played with a button on her blouse thoughtfully. "Someone killed him. Dad would have; he'd do anything for Gage." She tried to hide the bitterness in her voice. "Even risk going to jail for him because Gage was an idiot."

"Meg, Gage was 11 years old. Doesn't this explain a lot? You can't possibly blame him for what happened to him, he was a little kid. Wouldn't that make anyone a little weird? Yeah, he was weird before that but he's our brother. Our baby brother. Can't you see that he's part of us?"

Meg stared at the wall. "Amy, you call him my brother and I know that he is but he doesn't feel like my brother. He just feels like Gage. I can't stop hating him overnight."

Amy stood up and walked across the room, putting her hands on Meg's shoulders and forcing her sister to look into her eyes. "I know. I know how you feel about him, but please don't start trouble with him tonight. Please, try and get along with him. If you give him a chance, you might start to like him. He's a lot like Dad sometimes. Just be nice to him and see where it goes. If it doesn't work, then you haven't lost anything. If it does, you've gained a brother."

"So are you going to talk to him about Chester?"

"No. I think Aunt Relena is right. If he ever brings it up, I'll listen, but I'm not mentioning Chester to him and neither are you."

Meg did not reply.

"Neither are you, Megan Peacecraft! I swear to God if you ever do, we are no longer sisters."

"Geez, be a little more melodramatic, Amy."

"You will not mention Chester, and you will be a good big sister to Gage, even if it's just for tonight."

"One night." Meg gritted her teeth. "I'll try and be civil to him for one night, but you owe me."

"Are you girls ready?" Lucrezia poked her head into the room.

"Might as well get this over with." Meg glanced back at her sister. "It can't be that bad, can it?"


On to part thirty-three. Back to thirty-one.