Anybody Got Some Gum?

Azami moved her jaw from side to side. Experimentally, she tried another yawn. No good. Her eardrums still felt tight with pressure-buildup. Glancing at the forward monitors, she sighed with irritation at the continual uphill grade.

Doc looked over, "Problem?"

"Ears won't pop. Anybody got some gum?"

There was silence in the van that stretched out for almost a half a minute.

Azami raised an eyebrow and said with amusement, "Well, don't anybody rush to answer 'no'."

Doctor Helding put her medical journal on the shelf, and Colonel Valdoon turned around in his chair, slowing the van. Both were looking in surprise at 23, who hadn't diverted his attention from his screens for an instant.

Valdoon apologized to Azami, "Sorry -- 23 normally answers questions like that." He sharpened his voice just a bit, "23?"

"Umm?" The brown eyes continued watching a read-out. He entered a formula and the configuration on the screen changed.

Valdoon put the van on automatic and walked to peer over 23's shoulder. "What are you doing?" He sounded curious.

23 finally turned his head. He grinned at the Commander, "I have some ideas for that radiation shielding that Root-Tracer wanted. I'm trying to see if the calculations are at least reasonable before I lose the ideas." He paused, and added, "The tracking program is on automatic."

Valdoon laughed, clapping 23 on the shoulder. He went back to the front, not wanting to leave the van on automatic too long. "Carry on, 23, but you could give the Major some gum first."

"Oh!" 23 exclaimed as he realized he'd been way out of it. "I'm sorry -- didn't hear you, 'Zam!"

Azami and Doc traded amused looks.

23 swiveled his chair around to face Azami. Reaching into one belt pocket, he pulled something out, looked at it, and put it to one side. Then he reached in again.

Azami leaned over and picked the object up, "A yo-yo?" Then she reached for the other items 23 kept putting down. "Colored string, marbles, dice, this a miniature slinky? By golly -- that's change!" She put down the other stuff and picked up the collection of pennies, nickels, and dimes, marvelling at the old coinage.

"Ah ha! There they are." 23 triumphantly held up two packets of Juicy Fruit gum -- regular fruity flavors, and tropical fruit flavors. "What type would you like?"

Azami's mouth was dropping open, "I haven't seen any of that for decades! 23, where'd you get it?" She was grinning widely. Almost as an afterthought, "Cherry, please."

He handed it to her, enjoying her reactions. "A little store in South Pyramid Corner. Called 'The Five and Dime'. I pick up a lot of oddities there."

"23..." Azami looked over the pile of oddities with curiosity and puzzlement, "why do you have them?"

"Oh, well...," 23 started turning a light shade of pink, "they're for the kids."

"Kids?" Azami raised her eyebrows, a grin turning up the side of her mouth.

Valdoon looked over his shoulder, "Kids. Plural and Multiple. If you ever hear his name called in a high-pitch in a mall--"

Doc chimed in, "Get out of the way, quick!" She and Tom laughed. Doc continued by herself, "They come in small herds, especially if they're from the Refugee center."

"Or Hashi's children," Tom contributed.

23 blushed a darker shade of red, but didn't respond otherwise to the teasing.