The side door of Sir Gumby’s Lifter Repair Shop was unlocked.
With Larm following, Shama entered the sweltering garage and wound her way through the lifters in all states of disrepair crowding the room. Wind vents hung from one wall. Jammers, ionizers, magnetizers, and blow torches sat on top of rickety benches. Three bot-mechanics were bent over an ancient purple Moon Lifter Model 879. Their tools clicked as they worked. The room appeared deserted until she reached the end of the row where as she knew she would, she found Sir Gumby counting gum.
Hundreds of flavors of gum, Estatico gum. Body builder’s gum. Caffeine gum. And Shama’s personal favorite, Hot dog gum lined a tray on Sir Gumby’s oversized desk.
The sight of the neat rows of brightly packaged gum reminded that that as much as she liked LowCity, she hadn’t missed the grind of gum sales. “Mister, please don’t you want some gum?” She’d be happy if she never had to say those words again. The people who tried to cheat her, to steal from her. The ten tough sales that it took to earn a bag of Mish Mash chips.
Sir Gumby pushed a final piece of gum into a row, picked up a fingernail buffer and began shining his nails. His pride and joy, he had a name for each. For his right hand. Po. Pill. Pie. Pull, and so on. Always long, now each nail was almost the length of Shama’s little finger.
Sir Gumby liked to say, “My nails remind me that I never have to repair another lifter by myself. I can afford bots for that now.”
“Hallo,” Shama called out.
Sir Gumby’s skin borrowed a lime green cast from the visor he wore perched on his forehead–Simulated Tree Shade at Its Best. Cure that Nature Deficit. When he spotted Shama, his face broke into a green grin. “Where ya been, Shama? Half the street’s been looking for you.”
“Who?” Shama said, hoping it wasn’t Easypawn and Nylon.
Sir Gumby’s brows furrowed in mock concentration. “Including me. You owe me some credit coins. That or some inventory.”
Shama shook her head.
Sir Gumby stretched his palm toward her.
“I quit on a Sunday,” Shama said, playing along. “I don’t have any of your gum.”
“I gotta try, don’t I?” Sir Gumby said in the exaggerated accent of a street vendor before turning his attention to Larm.
In the twenty minutes it had taken Shama to walk over to the Lifter Repair Shop, the red line had risen to the middle of the hologuard’s chest.
Sir Gumby said, “Where did you get that laser alarm?”
Laser alarm, Larm. Of course. That was why Larm was turning red. Perbile had set Larm to ring.
Larm must be about to ring soon so Shama ignored the question. “Listen, I need help. Some information about Mama.”
Sir Gumby replaced the buffer into one of the many pockets of his dirty MedSuit jacket. “Ah,” he said and a faraway gleam came into his eyes. “She was an uncommon woman. Laughed at my jokes. Why I remember the time…”
“Shh!” Sir Gumby held up a finger to quiet her then used it to push back the green visor and began. “One night, your mother, and I, and Colonel Pashogun and Amber Watters, were playing a game of holochess.” He paused and his froglike face grew wistful as he stroked his chin with his red nails.
She always won.
“Won what?” Shama said.
Sir Gumby frowned and looked closely at her. “I’d say I won a time or two.”
“Specific information.” Shama seized the pause before Sir Gumby resumed his tale. “Like where was she born? Where did she go to school?”
“Ahh,” Sir Gumby said in a tone that meant he had finally heard her. He stood up from behind his desk. As he hobbled on his bandy legs over to a chest against the wall, Shama felt a small army of goose bumps tickle her arms. She trotted after him. “What is it? What is it, Sir Gumby?”
Sir Gumby bent down to open the bottom drawer. His dirty MedButton vest, too small even for his short frame rose past the middle of his back, disclosing a black T-shirt, printed with the words, Chips are a Complete Nutritional Meal. “I’ve got something for you.” He pawed around in the drawer before he pulled out an old wrench and a couple of cloud communicators, with wires dangling.
Shama edged closer, but Sir Gumby pushed her back. “For Po’s sake.” Po—his favorite fingernail. “Some space, Shama.”
“Why didn’t you give it to me before?” Shama insisted, as she squatted behind him on her heels.
“Your mother told me to wait until you started asking questions,” Sir Gumby said, holding up a fan for the Random Party from a presidential election.
“She did?” Shama said. “How did she know about …” She bit her lip to stop herself from adding, “Dean Perbile’s questions?”
“Here it is.” From the jumbled contents of the drawer, Sir Gumby withdrew a gum ball container. He held it out to her.
“Let me see. Let me see,” Shama said.
Sir Gumby stood up. “Calm down,” he said. “I’m curious myself. I never opened it.” With one of his long nails, he scratched at the tiny cybratom oval used to store gum.
When the top popped off, Shama felt a pang. She saw only shredded cybratom curled inside.
But Sir Gumby looped something with his long nail.
A locket dangled on a gray necklace. Her mother’s photo glowed on the face of the locket. It was back-lit by a soft white light.
When Shama reached for the necklace, Sir Gumby pulled back. He was gazing at the photograph, his face contorted in an effort to remember.
“Anna said,” Sir Gumby began. “When you’re sad… think of the song.”
“What song?” But even as she spoke, Shama remembered her mother singing. Anna used to sing one song all the time. Shama hadn’t thought about it for years.
“I’m almost sure that’s what she said.”
“That’s all she said? That can’t be all.” When Shama held out her hand, Sir Gumby hid the necklace behind his back.
Sir Gumby grinned as if pleased with himself. “She said you’d know what I’m talking about.”
Shama concentrated. She thought she remembered the song about trees and grass
Sir Gumby’s grin widened until it seemed to cut his greenish face in half. “Maybe now you’ll pay me for that inventory.”
Shama shook her head. The red line on Larm had risen almost to its neck. “Come on,” she urged Sir Gumby. “Stop joking around. Give me the necklace.” She made a grab for it, but Sir Gumby dodged her.
“Please,” Shama said.
Sir Gumby let out a mock sigh.
When he handed the necklace to her, Shama held it on her palm. Old-fashioned amber was heavy; even xiathium weighed something. But whatever this locket was made of weighed almost nothing at all.
Shama stared down at Anna, at her black shirt. Her mother’s eyes were the color of liquid gold, not yellow like Shama’s.
Yet when she flipped the locket over, she discovered a mystery. From the back, the locket appeared transparent. Instead of her mother’s photo, she could see her own hand, the swirls of her fingerprints.
Sir Gumby wandered back to his desk covered with a day’s worth of unsold gum. He sat down and put his feet up on a crate.
Shama stayed still, her fingers squeezing the locket. She loved its feel– as if she had regained a missing part of herself. When she slipped it around her neck, she felt as if her mother were smiling at her.
Sir Gumby was saying, “Shama, I don’t know where you’ve been. But you need to be careful.”
Varoom. Varoom. A loud, screeching noise filled the warehouse.
“Ahh,” Sir Gumby hollered. He bolted, and the hundreds of neatly arranged rows of gum sprayed upwards. Trying to catch the tray, he smacked his hand against the desk. A long fingernail dangled. “Poor Po!”
Shama recognized the siren. Coming from a nearby squawker, it meant fire. Fire on
“Thank you, Sir Gumby,” Shama called. Her fingers gripped the locket as she hurried away.