Christmas Past

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Tetsuwan Penguin
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Christmas Past

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


Professor Ochanomizo looked up at the massive Douglas pine that had been planted in the courtyard of the science ministry. Like the Pentagon, the science ministry's facility had a large inner space to let sunlight in, the courtyard design allowed for the building to occupy the entire city block, maximizing the use of the available land. The huge tree had been lowered by a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane into the space, where it had been secured into the middle of the central garden.

Astro and Uran entered the courtyard each carrying a large wooden box. “We've got the lights and the ornaments, Hakase,” Uran said.

“Thank you,” the professor answered. “I can't believe that it's nearly Christmas, the year flew by so fast.”. He walked over to where the large box had been set down and reached in to extract the long string of lights. It didn't take long for the professor to get all tangled up in the many meters of wire and LED lamps, and soon he was cursing under his breath trying to untangle the mess.

“Who the devil put this stuff away last year?”, he mussed. “I've never seen such a huge Gordian knot of a mess!”

“You did, Hakase,” Uran laughed. “I remember seeing you roll that string up into a ball and chuck it into a box.”

“Are you sure?” Hiroshi sighed. “Well, If so, I must have been a great hurry for some important reason. Would you two give me a hand here? Maybe your computer brains can see how to free me from this entanglement.”

It didn't take Uran very long to free her guardian from the unruly bundle of electrical cord. Her quick fingers flew over the knots and untied them, while Astro neatly re-coiled the string around a large empty wire spool.

“Maybe I should string this around the tree, Hakase?” Astro asked.

“Good idea, son.” the professor said. “You won't need a tall ladder to reach the top.”

Astro and Uran began to attach the long train of lights to the branches of the tree. Uran was able to reach the first tiers of the tree standing on the now empty wooden crate, while her brother held the large spool and unwound the cable from it. Once the first two circles of lights had been deployed, Astro hovered above the ground using his leg jets while he wound about the tree attaching the lights. It didn't take him very long to reach the top. His management of the available resource was perfect, the last lamp attached to the very top of the tree.

“Now we need to attach the ornaments,” Uran said. She reached into the wooden box and pulled out an armful of shiny spheres with metal hooks on them.

“Careful Sis,” Astro said. “Those are made of ceramics and glass, and they're very fragile.”

“I know that!”, Uran said. She kicked the wooded box she was using as a step stool around the tree as she hung the ornaments on the branches. Uran stood on her tip toes trying to hang one on a high branch, but she lost her balance and fell off of the box. Astro laughed as she landed on her butt. Red faced, Uran gave Astro a sneer. “Well I didn't break it!” she said, holding up the crystal sphere she'd tried to hang.

“Maybe I'd better do the rest,” Astro said.

Uran nodded, and pushed the box of ornaments toward her brother. Astro picked up the box and again took to the air. Rapidly, he hung the remaining ornaments on the tree. Very soon, he had the box empty and returned to the ground.

“There's still one left to do,” Uran said, pointing to the large golden star that Astro had left on the ground.

“I though you'd want to hang that one,” Astro laughed.

“Can I, Ani?”, she begged.

“Sure,” Astro said. He handed Uran the star, and then held her tightly around her waist. The two of them then flew up into the air. Astro held his sister next to the top of the tree, and she carefully planted the star to the tree's apex. Uran then clipped the light at the very end of the string to the star so it would glow.

The professor stood quietly by, watching the two robot children as they decorated the tree. His mind drifted back in time to another Christmas many years ago, and his eyes teared up as a face he hadn't seen in so long popped into his minds eye, and he recalled his lose.

“Very good, Sis!”, Astro said. The two of them then lit on the ground next to the professor who'd been supervising their work from the ground.
Uran looked up at Ochanomizu and noticed a far away look on his face.

“What'cha thinking Hakase?”, she asked.

At the sound of Uran's voice, the professor snapped out of the trance that he'd been in. “Oh, nothing,” he said. “Watching the two of you just rekindled a memory that's all.”

“Tell us about it,” Uran asked. “Was it a nice memory?”

“It was, actually,” the professor said.

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Christmas Past --- Chapter 2

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


Umataro heard the doorbell, and put down the box that he'd carried into the living room. Hoshie opened the front door, letting in a blast of cold air. “Welcome Hiroshi!”, she said in greeting. “Uma and the children are in the living room, and they're waiting for you!”

Hiroshi Ochanomizu handed a long rectangular gift wrapped package to the woman in the flowing yellow dress. “I brought you some holiday cheer,” he said, closing the door behind him.

Hoshie carefully removed the bow from the top of the box, and then slid the ribbon off before peeling away the wrapping paper to reveal the raw cardboard box, which she opened and extracted the quart bottle of Sake.
“I'll put this on ice for later,” she said, bending over to give Hiroshi a peck on the cheek.

While Hoshie headed for the kitchen, Ochanomizu found his way towards the living room where Umataro was sitting on the floor untangling a long chain of lights. Attempting to help him, but only making matters worse were Urania and Tobio. The seven and five year old brother and sister looked up when they heard him come in, dropping what they were doing.

“Hello Godfather!”, Urania yelled as she got up and launched herself towards him with her arms outstretched. She grabbed the unprepared man around his waist in a tight bear hug. Tobio was a bit more restrained, he ran towards Hiroshi, but stopped short when he reached him to gently join his sister.

“Well, I'm pleased to see the two of you as well!”, Ochanomizu laughed, as he stooped down to return the greeting.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tenma had managed to untangle most of the light string, now that his offspring had stopped making extra work for him. He set the mess down, and walked towards the elder man. “Glad you could make it, Old man!”, Umataro said, extending his hand. The two men shook hands, with Uma patting Hiroshi on the back.

“Quite frankly,” Ochanomizu said, “I came over because I didn't want your wife to be all by herself with the kids on Christmas eve. I see you're continuing the Tenma procrastination tradition by waiting for the last minute to trim the tree!”

“Very funny!”, the doctor sneered. “But you're right, I've been too busy keeping underlings like you in line at the Ministry to have a spare moment to buy this family a tree. However, there is no way that I would neglect my family over the holiday.”

“I know that,” Ochanomizu said. “I also know how often I had to barge into your office and try and kick you out to go home!”

“Guilty as charged,” Uma said, “I am the world's worst workaholic.”

“That he is,” Hoshie laughed. “Sometimes I have to threaten to divorce him to get him to stay at home on the weekends.” She winked as she said that, with a laugh.

“You know,” Hiroshi sighed, “Little Urania is really growing like a weed. It seems like only yesterday she was just a baby.”

“I know,” Hoshie said. “She does remind you of Ran, doesn't she.”

“That she does,” Hiroshi said. “Thank you for naming her for my dear sister.”

“Umataro and I both feel your tragic loss,” Hoshie said. “It was only natural to name her for Tobo's Godfather's sibling.”

Hiroshi pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and used it to dry his eyes. “It's been about six years since I lost her,” he said. “Thank you for having me as part of your family, it fills an empty spot in my heart.”

“Is this how they go?”, Tobio asked, holding up the beginning of the string of lights to attach one of them to the tree.

“Not quite, son,” Dr. Tenma replied. “You have to attach the end with the power plug on it first, the free end should be up on top.”

“Right, Dad!”, Tobio laughed. “That makes sense!” He found the other end of the string and began to walk around the tree, clipping light after light to branches. After getting a few dozen of them attached, the boy looked around him. “Where's the stepladder?”, he asked. “To reach the top of the tree?”

Uma reached behind his back and held out a strange looking pair of red boots. “Why don't you try these?”, he asked.

“Are those what I think they are?”, Ochanomizu asked. “Aren't they still in the experimental stage? I wouldn't let the boy use them!”

“Nonsense!” Dr. Tenma laughed. “What do you think I was doing late at night the past week?” He motioned for his son to come closer. “These are a pair of jet boots,” he told the boy. “They use a powerful stream of compressed air to lift you up in the air. The two boots each contain gyro sensors, and computers, and the two of them talk to each other to synchronize their thrust. They are controlled by your thoughts, I had these two tuned to the specific frequencies of your brain waves.”

Tobio pulled his slippers off and then pushed his feet into the red boots. “Now what do I do?”

“Why you fly up to the top of the tree and hover about while you string the lights!”, Uma laughed.

“He'll hurt himself,” Hiroshi cried out.

“He won't,” Uma reassured his guest. “He's a bright boy, and he'll master them at once.”

Tobio held the light string in one hand and looked up. He activated the boots and rose up in the air. He shot up a bit too quickly, almost bumping his head on the ceiling, but quickly recovered. Seconds later, he appeared to have mastered the technique and hovered about the tree, attaching the rest of the light string. With the last lamp in place, Tobio came down. His landing wasn't all that soft though, and he fell in a heap at Ochanomizu's feet.

“That was fun!” he laughed. “Could I fly in these?”

“Not yet,” his father said. “Hovering about is much easier than horizontal flight. I've got a lot more simulation and programming work to do before those boots would be suitable for that. However, they will soon be perfected for use by fireman to rescue people from the tops of tall burning buildings.”

Hoshie helped her son get up from his fall. “Honestly Umataro!”, she said in an angry voice, “One of these days our son will get himself badly hurt, or worse trying to use devices too far advanced for him. Sometimes I think you lack common sense!”

“He's alright, isn't he?” Dr. Tenma shot back. “I told you he'd master it right away. It's like learning to ride a bicycle, you will fall off at first, but you get back on and master it. He's no sissy.”

Later that evening Dr. Tenma and Professor Ochanomizu sat in the living room in front of the fire. Umataro puffed on his pipe while Hiroshi sipped from a mug of warm eggnog that Hoshie had presented to him. The children lay on the carpeted floor quietly playing a game of Chinese checkers. Nora, the Tenmas' robotic nanny entered the room, and spoke to the children in her electronic voice, “Tobio!, Urania! What are you two doing still up! It's past your bedtime! Come upstairs with me now!”

“Do we have to?” Tobio and Urania cried in unison.

Dr. Tenma glanced as the face of the Grandfather's clock against the wall. “I didn't notice how late it was getting to be,” he said. “I think Nora's right. Go to sleep, or you'll find no presents under the tree if Santa comes and catches you out of bed!”

“Awwh,” Urania cried, as her brother grabbed the game board and started to pack up the marbles. She got off her feet and ran over to Ochanomizu to give him a good night hug.

“Good night princess,” Hiroshi said softly, accepting a kiss on the cheek from the 5 year old girl. He waved at her as she ascended up the staircase with Nora.

“That robot takes good care of your children,” Ochanomizu told Umataro. “You're lucky they get along so well.”

“Nora's OK,” Tobio said. “I mean, she does look after us like a mother hen, and she tries to be our friend. I like her very much, but she's not a real person, she doesn't really love us back.”

With that the boy put the game away in the closet and made his way towards the stairs. “Good night, Godfather.” he said as he made his way up to his room.

“He's a smart boy,” Umataro said. “Did I tell you that he almost took a fit when I suggested that we replace Nora with a newer model? He knows she's only a robot, but yet he seems to have such a strong attachment to her.”

“That's the problem with robots,” Hiroshi said. “They perform almost any task we can program them to do very well, and we sometimes get really attached to them, yet they can't mimic true feelings. Robots are not capable of being true friends.”

“That will change.” Umataro said, undoing the top button of his shirt and sticking his hand under it. He held a cylindrical metal object that was attached to a silver chain that he wore around his neck. “I have stored in this memory module the formulas from the last theorem by the late Dr. Kutcher. The famous scientist bequeathed this data to me only a few days before he passed away.”

“I've read his theorem soon after he published it,” Ochanomizu. “That was his paper on the Kokoro algorithm, his last discovery in the field of A.I.”

“Correct,” Dr. Tenma replied. “I intend to use his theorem to develop a robot that will truly have a heart, a robot that can think like a human being does, process emotions like we do, a robot that can feel love, and return such love.”

“Even if Kutcher's theorem pans out,” Hiroshi replied, “Such a project would be quite difficult to actually implement in a robotic A.I., even for you.”

“I'm well aware of the difficulties,” Umataro said with a wave of his hand. “I intend to start small scale, perhaps with the A.I. of a small child, perhaps Tobios age or a little older.”

Ochanomizu finished the last of his eggnog and set the mug down on the coffee table. He glanced up at the grandfather's clock before speaking again. “Well it's getting late, I'd better be going.” He looked into his friends eyes and continued. “I know you all too well old friend. You tend to get so deeply involved in your projects that you forget all else. Go slowly with this Kokoro idea, it's not worth loosing your marriage and family for.”

“You do know me too well,” Tenma laughed. “Very well, I promise. I'll try to maintain a good balance of moderation. I know you'll be a thorn in my side if I don't.”

“Merry Christmas, then.” Hiroshi smiled as he made his way to the door.

“Merry Christmas to you as well,” Umataro said.

“Good night, Hiroshi!”, Hoshie said, her head peeking out from the kitchen door.

“Good night, Hoshie,” the professor replied as he walked out into the night air.

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Chapter 3

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


“You have a sister?”, Uran asked.

“I did.” Hiroshi said. “She died about 13 years ago. In a way, Uran, you were named after her.”

“I was?”, Uran asked. “Tell me about her.”

“How did she die, Hakase?” Astro added.

“The three of us, Ran, Umataro and myself, we all grew up in the same neighborhood,” Hiroshi began. “We all had this fascination for technology, the three of us would often sneak into the junk yards where the Edo Automaton corporation threw out their surplus junk. Ran took to keeping hand tools and a multimeter in her purse instead of face powder, lipstick and a compact. I think she was smarter than me, actually. One day we found the remains of a very primitive robot that lay in pieces in the junk yard. It was missing quite a large number of parts, but Ran managed to get its locomotion circuits going, I rigged up an old drone R/C transmitter to control it once Ran and I hacked together a simple microprocessor to an R/C receiver. You know, I hadn't thought of that robot for over 40 years now, I somehow remember it was labeled the Edo model 'A'. It actually vaguely resembled you, Astro.”

“Huh?', Astro asked, “What do you mean?”

“Well it had a painted on hairline that resembles how your's is styled, and it had two stubbly antenna on its head pointing at the same angles as your cowlicks. It was a bit taller than you though, and lacked an external skin over its internal structure.”

“Isn't Tenma Sensei is at least 15 years younger than you,” Astro asked.

That's true,” the professor said. “I was in my senior year at the university, planning on going on for my doctorate in physics when I first met Umataro. I remember seeing a very young Umataro digging though the same junkyard like Ran and I had done years earlier.”

“So you were still playing around with robot junk even while you were in college?”, Uran laughed.

“Guilty as charged,” Hiroshi answered. “You've got to realize that progress in humanoid robots moved at a snails pace for many years. It actually wasn't until Umataro became the head of the ministry that they finally left the laboratories and became a mainstream industry.”

“How did Tenma Sensei become the head of the ministry?” Astro asked.

“And why didn't I?” the professor added. “Well for one thing, I never wanted the job. After I got my doctorate the university offered me a teaching position, despite the fact that my thesis in humanoid robotics was only mildly accepted by my professors. I really had wanted to pursue a career in robotics and AI, but all of my efforts in that regard up to that point had ended in failure.” Astro noticed a strange look in the professor's face as Hiroshi looked him in the eyes. The professor shook his head and continued, “Teaching seemed like the best option at the time, so I accepted it. A few years later I had Umataro as one of my students. He was a brilliant scholar, and he managed to graduate with a doctors degree in robotics in a year and a half less time than I did. His thesis on humanoid robotic AI became the standard textbook by the university. He applied for a position at the ministry in their robotics division, and six months later became the head of that division when Dr. Pavillion retired. It wasn't until Umataro had his mental breakdown that I accepted the position at the ministry.”

“What about Ran?” Uran asked.

“I guess I was avoiding that part,” the professor sighed. He pulled out a handkerchief to dry his eyes which had started to water up again. “Despite being the person who got me interested in robots, Ran's passions led her in a different direction. She saw technology as a way to save the planet, she joined several different groups including a radical offshoot of Green Peace that was run by Rock Holmes. She and several other members of that group tried to prevent a subsidiary of the Tokagawa corporation from activating a new deep mine in the mountains. It was a controversial issue, with many claiming that their permits had been granted without enough environmental studies being done, and key officials bribed. There was a horrible accident at the site, even to this date several square kilometers are still off limits to the general public due to concerns over toxic levels of radiation. Ran an her companions were exposed to fatal levels of delta radiation, it wasn't a good way to go.”

“How was I named after her?” Uran asked.

“Actually, you were also named for Tobio Tenma's sister, Urania,” Hiroshi sighed. “Ran died a year after Tobio was born. Umataro and I had been friends for a long time, ever since I found him digging though the same junkyard that I was still frequenting. He'd been my favorite student at the university, and after he took the job at the ministry, he insisted that I join his research staff. I accepted, on the condition that I could still teach a class each semester. Umataro met his wife, Hoshie, while he was still at the university. She was working in the bookstore at the time, as I recall. After they were married, Ran and I were often invited to dinner at their place. When Tobio was born, Umataro asked me to be the boy's godfather, and I was very honored to accept that. When their daughter was born, Hoshie insisted that she be named for Ran, and they picked the name Urania. You know, I think it was her untimely death that drove Tenma Sensei to become such a workaholic. He had always had a problem with that, but after losing that little girl, he started spending more and more time buried in the laboratory. After he snapped, we found the blueprints for a robot in Urania's image buried in the files in his burnt out office.”

“You built me from those plans, didn't you?” Uran asked.

“Partly,” the professor said. “Those blueprints were incomplete, I had to fill in the missing details. Of course, I had another good example to go by.”

“Me?”, Astro laughed.

“Exactly,” Hiroshi smiled. “And I picked the name Uran for you, in remembrance of of both Ran and Urania."

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chapter 4

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


The professor located the end of the light string and connected the power plug to the socket on the long extension cord. He then followed the long power cable to the other end, and plugged it into the switched outlet near the buildings side door. Up overhead the sky had already turned a deep purple as the sun dipped below the horizon. Seconds later the relay in the outlet box clicked closed and the tree suddenly became ablaze with light. All around the Douglas Pine twinkled with red, green, blue, and yellow lights, each of them blinking in cadence. On the very top of the tall tree, the giant star glowed with a golden glow.

“It looks pretty!” Uran smiled.

“Yes, I think the two of you did a good job,” Ochanomizu said, patting both of the robot children on their backs. “I think it's about time we headed for home.”

As the three of them walked through the cool night air, Hiroshi felt the bitter-sweet taste in his mouth of his memories. It was another Christmas so many years ago, he and Ran were walking through the night air bound for a dinner date with the Tenmas. Tobio was just a baby then, Hoshie wore the same yellow dress that she would later be buried in. Hiroshi could almost taste the Christmas goose that she had cooked, and that Umataro had carved. “It's not right,” he sighed.

“What's not right, Hakase?”, Astro asked.

“That good people die young, and good friends become separated,” he answered.

They reached the front door of the house, and Hiroshi fumbled for his keys. Uran sniffed the air carefully, and grabbed her brother by his left ear. “I hope everything came out as I planned,” she whispered in his ear.
As the door opened, a strange odor wafted towards them, along with two rather loud voices.


“WAAAHHH!” :cry:

“Opps”, Uran voiced, as she ran towards the kitchen.

Cobalt stood in front of the stove, looking up at the ceiling where the lid of the pressure cooker was impaled deep into the plaster. He was covered by a thick gooey brown mud, smelling heavily of molasseses and soy sauce. Sitting in the corner, crying, was Chi-Tan, with a scared look on his face.

Uran ran towards her baby brother and quickly scooped him up. Once in his sister's arms, the infant robot stopped his wailing and looked at his older brother. Suddenly he saw the comedy in the situation, and forgot about the sudden explosion that had scared the stuffing out of him, and he started laughing.

Uran walked towards Kobaruto, still holding her baby brother. Chi-tan wiped his index finger on Cobalt, and then stuck it in his mouth to taste the brown yucky stuff that covered him. “PITTUUEE!” :sick: , he yelled, spitting it out.

“What happened here?” Uran asked.

“It's all his fault!”, Pinoko huffed. “Your stupid brother doesn't know the first think about cooking. Some great idea asking him to help me!”

Astro and the professor appeared at the kitchen door and surveyed the disaster. They both face-palmed simultaneously. “Uran?” the professor asked. “What's going on here?”

“I thought we'd surprise you with a Christmas dinner,” she said. “Coby and I looked up the recipe on line for a Christmas goose. Since I couldn't trust Cobalt to cook it himself while we were out, I asked Pinoko to help.”

“I'm real sorry, Uran,” Pinoko sobbed. “I didn't get here on time, Sensei had an emergency. When I finally did get her here, Coby had already started the preparation, and he got things a bit messed up.”

“I guess I didn't get the lid on tight enough,” Cobalt said, shrugging his shoulders. “Just as the pressure built up two of the clamps let go and it sorta erupted.”

“BAKA!”, Pinoko yelled. “I know you can't get a recipe right, but I though you were good with machines and stuff. How could you not know how to work a pressure cooker?”

“It's the first time I ever saw one!”, Cobalt yelled back.

“I guess I'll help them clean up the mess,” Astro said. He grabbed a towel and hovered up near the ceiling to wipe it clean. Then he yanked the lid of the cooking pot free and dropped it into the sink.

“I think we'll be going out for dinner,” Ochanomizu sighed. “I really appreciate the thought, Uran. And thank you very much Pinoko. Why don't you call Sensei and ask him if the two of you could join us?”

“Thanks for the invite, Hakase,” Pinoko said. “But I've already got a crock pot slow cooking at home with my special curry for Sensei. I've made more than enough for us, why don't you join us?”

“I'd like that, Pinoko,” Hiroshi replied. “If you're sure the doctor wouldn't mind.”

“He doesn't have many friends,” Pinoko sighed. “I'm sure he would enjoy having you over for a Christmas dinner.”

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Chapter 5

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


Pinoko slowly opened the door to the doctor's house. “Good,” she smiled, Sensei isn't home yet.”
She trotted into the kitchen and lifted the lid on the largest crock pot, and sniffed. Then she inserted a large spoon and stirred what was cooking inside. Finally Pinoko wiped a small amount from the spoon on her index finger and stuck that in her mouth. “Excellent,” she sighed, “it wasn't ruined by over cooking.”

There were several other smaller pots simmering on the stove. After lifting their lids and inspecting them, she turned up the heat. Pinoko then opened the oven door. “Where are my mitts?”, she cried out.

“Let me help,” Astro said. He reached into the oven and pulled out the tray on which a large roast sat in a pan.

“Arigatōgozaimashita,” Pinoko said. “Your hands can't be burned by the heat.” She stuck a long fork into the meat and carefully carved off a small piece to examine the inside. “It's almost done,” she said. “I hope Sensei gets home soon!”

Astro pushed the tray back into the oven and closed the door. Uran and the professor were in the dining room setting the table, placing the plates and utensils that were already sitting on the sideboard, onto the clean white table cloth that had been put on the table earlier. While they worked, Uran's sensitive ears picked up the sound of a cars tires rolling on the loose gravel in the driveway. “I think the Doctor is home, Pinoko!” she yelled towards the kitchen.

Cobalt sat in the large, heavily cushioned chair in the middle of the living room, bouncing Chi-tan on his knee. The baby 'bot giggled and laughed with a happy look on his face.

The door opened, and an instant later Black Jack entered the house, carrying his physicians bag. He removed his top coat and hung it on a hat rack stand that stood a foot from the doorway. After removing his shoes, he entered living room and noticed the company that was present. Pinoko ran into the room, her arms open, and leaped at Kuro, grabbing him around the waist.

“Welcome home Sensei! Christmas dinner is almost ready!”

“I see you've invited some guests over for dinner,” Black Jack said, “I thought we were eating alone tonight, Pinoko.”

“It's not right having Christmas dinner by ourselves,” Pinoko lectured, “This time of year should be spent with good friends, and since you don't seem to have made many yourself, I've invited some of mine over. Is that OK with you, Sensei?”

“I suppose so,” Black Jack voiced, “I mean, certainly. Of course, Ochanomizu Hakase, you're always welcome here. I'm glad that Pinoko has made friends, I often feel a bit guilty leaving her here all alone when I'm out treating a patient.”

Dr. Ochanomizu, accepted Black Jack's hand in greeting, and the two men bowed slightly to each other in respect.

“Take your seats people,” Pinoko said, motioning towards the dining room, “Soup's ready!”

Uran helped her friend ladle out a helping of a thick soup into bowls, and then the two of them served the first course of the meal. Black Jack placed three thick Tokyo phone books on top of a chair which Uran then sat little Chi-Tan on. Pinoko used one of Sensei's old belts to strap the infant in. The makeshift high chair left the baby 'bot at just the right height to reach the table. Uran served her baby brother a small serving of the soup, just a taste really, so he wouldn't feel left out. Soon everyone at the table was noisily slurping their soup.

“I don't mean to be rude,” Kuro said, “But I didn't realize that the robots could partake of human food.”

“They don't actually have a real digestive system,” Dr. Ochanomizu explained between spoonfuls of soup, “But they do have a highly developed sense of taste, and can utilize the moisture from food to supplement their coolants, and can extract some caloric energy to recharge their batteries. And to answer another obvious question, the remains of what is processed is eliminated in a fashion similar to how the human digestive system handles it.”

“TMI!”, Pinoko face-palmed as she headed for the kitchen.

“I can understand the reason for the sense of taste,” Black Jack nodded. “After all, robots are being employed as chefs in some restaurants these days, and are also employed as food tasters to detect for poisons by those worried about their safety.”

Uran gathered up the empty soup bowls and carried them in one large stack back to the kitchen. Pinoko had found her large kitchen mitts and almost lost her balance removing the large pan from the oven. She and Uran set it down on the counter, and then they removed the earthenware bowls from the crock pots filled with the curry rice and sweet potatoes. “Hey Astro, we could use your help!”

“What about me?” Cobalt yelled from the dining room.

“You're to clumsy, Baka!” Pinoko shouted back.

“Now that wasn't very nice,” Astro said as he entered the kitchen.

“I suppose so,” Pinoko sighed, “but I trust you much more to carry the food in.”

Astro picked up the large pan with the roast, while the girls each grabbed one of the earthenware pots. Uran and Astro didn't need the protection of the mitts for their robotic hands, of course.

Astro set the roast in front of Black Jack, as Pinoko had instructed him to do. There was already a large carving knife sitting on the table in front of him. Kuro got out of his seat and stood up, with the large knife in one hand, and a long fork in the other. “As usual, the surgeon gets to carve the meat,” he laughed. One by one, everyone passed their empty plates to Black Jack, and he filled each with a generous portion of the roast. The last plate that he filled was his own.

“My compliments to the chef,” Dr. Ochanomizu mumbled through a full mouth. “This roast is perfect, not too dry, nor too rare. The curry is also excellent, spicy, but not overpowering.”

“ Arigatōgozaimashita,” Pinoko said with a bow.

“Yes,” Kuro sighed, “I suppose I sometimes take her too much for granted. You're sometimes a real pain, Pinoko, but I don't know what I would do without you.”

“So you admit I'm a good wife!”, Pinoko said smartly.

Black Jack didn't hear Pinoko's last remark, his mind had drifted off to recall another Christmas some years in the past.

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Chapter 6

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


“SENSEI!”, Pinoko raised her voice and poked Kuro in the ribs.

“Sorry, Pinoko,” Black Jack said. “I just noticed the lights in the tree standing in the living room, and I was reminded of something that happened around this time some years ago.
Kuro got up from the table and walked into the living room and stood next to the tree. It wasn't a very tall tree, but it was nicely decorated. “Did you pick this one out and trim it?”

“Yes I did,” Pinoko said, “Nice of you to finally notice it! I'm sorry if it isn't tall enough for you, but since I had to set it up all by myself, I got a Pinoko sized tree!”

“No, it's perfect,” Black Jack said.

“I sense there is a story here,” Ochanomizu said, entering the living room.

“Indeed there is,” Black Jack said.
“After I left the hospital where I'd been an intern, and then a first year resident, I had saved up enough money to buy myself a place on the outskirts of the city where I planed on setting up my own clinic. I had already begun to acquire a reputation as a miracle surgeon, and I was being sought out by terminally ill patients willing to pay outrageous fees for the slightest chance of a cure. It was because of this that I found myself at odds with the establishment, and one particularly nasty confrontation cost me my license. I still maintain that I was in the right, but my arguments had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, I wouldn't let the outcome get in the way of my perceived destiny, so I found this place and set up my clinic.”

“Why here?”, the professor asked, “so far from the city, overlooking the ocean atop a cliff?”

“Here I'm far enough from the city that I'm not bothered by the medical establishment, and I can treat my patients without being threatened,” Black Jack explained. “Yet, I'm not far from a major roadway, and only an hour or so drive from civilization. I can be easily reached by those that seek my services. Also, the sound of the waves crashing into the base of the cliff, and the calls of the sea birds are soothing to a troubled soul. There is a pathway leading down to a tidal pool that dolphins, small whales, and other marine mammals often frequent.

I had been living here for about a year or so, it was a few weeks before my second Christmas here, when a strange patient was brought unannounced to my doorstep. It wasn't the first time that a patient was thrust upon me and nobody flinched at the mention of my fee. It was one of those times when I was the doctor of last resort, and money was no object. The patient was wheeled in on a gurney wearing theatrical mask to hide her identity.

This mystery patient had been transferred from hospital to hospital for the removal of a massive tumor that had become life threatening. The attending doctor that had ridden in the ambulance that arrived unannounced at my clinic explained to me that every surgeon that had attempted to cut into the patient to excise the growth had suffered from a nervous breakdown during the operation, almost as if they had become possessed by an evil spirit.

Naturally, I scoffed at the story. I prepared my O.R. for the patient and I scrubbed in. I instructed the doctors that had accompanied the patient to my clinic that I would operate alone, but I did allow them to observe the procedure. You can imagine my utter disbelief when my mind was attacked by a strong telekinetic force as I attempted to make the initial incision on the patient. The look on the faces of the patients doctors was that of utter hopelessness, with the realization that even I couldn't handle this curse.

I backed off from the operating table and took a deep breath to clear my mind before attempting the operation a second time. Once again my mind was filled with incredible pain, and I fought to control the muscles in the hand holding the scalpel. It felt like an invisible opponent had grabbed my arm and was attempting to cut my own throat with the scalpel that I held in my hand. “DON'T CUT ME!” a frightened voice screamed inside of my head, “I WANT TO LIVE!”

I dropped the scalpel and ran out of the operating room, and stood outside in the hallway panting, trying to catch my breath. To say that the experience was unnerving would be putting it mildly. After I was able to calm myself, and I could again think clearly, I fetched an ultrasonic imaging machine from a nearby treatment room, and wheeled it into the O.R.

I approached the patient, and calmly spoke to the invisible entity, saying 'I'm not going to cut you, I just want to examine you.' My hands were shaking as I applied the sonic conductive gel over the area where the tumor was clearly sticking out. With trembling hands I moved the probe over the area while looking at the monitor. I then understood what I was up against. It was a Tetatogenous Cystoma for the record books. This so called tumor, was really a second person living inside of the patient, lacking only a skeleton and a covering of skin. There was a complete brain, nervous system, digestive system, and all the muscles that would be found in a human body. It was a twin that had been absorbed, but not destroyed.

My eyes fell upon a tissue incubator that I had acquired for an experimental treatment I'd been developing, and an idea formed in my head. 'Let me remove you, and keep you alive in an incubator filled with amniotic fluid,' I told the entity.

'You promise to keep me alive?,' the voice rang in my mind.

'Yes!', I exclaimed.

'OK, then. You may cut', the voice said.

Once again I approached the operating table with my scalpel, this time I felt nothing, my mind was quiet. I removed the growth, and carefully put it in the incubator, where it peacefully slept.

I was too busy seeing to my patient's recovery to do anything with the Cystoma I'd removed, other than to keep it alive. It made no attempt to communicate with me from the incubator after I'd removed it from its host. When my patient was ready to leave my clinic, I was asked about what I'd done with the tumor that I'd removed. I offered to show it to the doctors and the patient, but I was told to simply throw it away. I told them It was mine to keep, unless they wanted to double my fee. 'Then Keep it!', I was told, as the ambulance took the mystery patent away.”

“That was me, wasn't it?”, Pinoko asked.

“Yes, it was.” Black Jack smiled. “You were the best Christmas present I ever had.”

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Chapter 5 (continued)

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago

The title should have been Chapter 6 continued

“I was 18 years old when I was born,” Pinoko said. “Because I had lived that long inside of my scumbag sister.”

“Why do you call her that?”, Uran asked.

“Because when I first met her, she refused to even talk to me. She said she never had a sister!”

“That's because she didn't believe the explanation of what was removed from her body,” Black Jack explained. “You know, after I removed Pinoko from that patient, I had to build a body for her. She lacked a skeletal system and skin. I had to build an exoskeleton for her, and I used robotic skin to cover that. Pinoko will never grow in size unless I build a larger body for her, and now that her muscles have adapted to her current size, that would be nearly impossible to do.”

“You mean she and I will always be about the same size?” Uran asked.

“I guess we'll be like sisters to each other,” Pinoko told Uran.

“In a way, the two of you are,” Kuro said. “Both of you have robotic bodies made of similar materials, only Pinoko's is powered by human organs, while Uran's uses electrical motors and atomic batteries.”

“Couldn't you have given me super powers like Astro?”, Pinoko huffed.

“That wouldn't have ended well,” Blackjack said. “It took you long enough to adapt to your human strength form, in fact I almost lost you due to my own carelessness.”

“The fire,” Pinoko said. “I had almost forgot about that.”

Blackjack turned about and faced the Christmas tree, and looked out the window. “It looks like it's starting to snow,” he said. A light flurry had begun to fall, the snow flakes floating slowly down in the still air, illuminated by the porch lights.
“It was new years eve, just a few hours after the start of the new year. You were lying asleep on a futon in my study, I still hadn't cleaned out the spare room that I had intended to be yours. I thought I'd put out my pipe, which I'd left in the ashtray next to a pile of patient records that I had intended on filing in the morning. A fresh layer of snow had fallen, and a field mouse, or a rat had found a broken window on the side of the house, and had invited itself in to escape the cold. The rodent made its way into my study, and crawled across the desk, disturbing the pipe that lay smoldering in the ashtray. A hot ember of tobacco landed on the pile of papers, and they burst into flames.”

“OMG!” Uran cried out, looking at Pinoko. “You must have been scared stiff!”

“I was.” Pinoko said with some anger in her voice. “I remember now, I couldn't move, and I couldn't scream!”

“You were that frozen with fear?”, Uran voiced.

“No, she literally couldn't move or use her voice,” Blackjack explained. “After I had surgically transplanted Pinoko's organs into her new body, she had to learn how to walk and talk, just like a new born baby would. Since I had gone through the same painful experience of learning how to use my body all over again after my reconstructive surgery after being blown up by a land mine as a boy, I stubbornly insisted that Pinoko go through the same experience. Can you imagine a new born infant suddenly seeing a fire erupt for the first time? It probably only took a minute or so for my entire desk to be engulfed by the flames. The window curtains had also caught fire. Pinoko struggled to crawl out of her bed and find her voice. The first sounds I ever heard from her larynx were her terrified screams calling for help. I awoke from a deep sleep to her wails, and the smell of smoke. By the time I ran into my study, the far wall was ablaze. I quickly grabbed a rug from the floor and used it to beat the flames back. I then grabbed Pinoko and got her to safety before returning to the study with a bucket of water to extinguish the fire.”

“You'd have thought that would have convinced him to give up smoking,” Pinoko huffed. “No such luck!”

“I did learn a lesson,” Kuro countered. “I have never since put a pipe away without first completely emptying the bowl, and snuffing out all of the embers. I treat my cigarette butts the same way. Besides, I don't smoke that much, I mostly have my addiction under control.”

Hiroshi glanced up at the clock. “You know, it's getting late. We should be going.”

“If you like, I can drag out some futons and the children can sleep in the living room,” Black Jack said. “I have an empty patient room with a comfortable bed for you, Hakase,” he added.

“Can we?” Uran insisted.

“Well, I suppose so,” Ochanomizu gave in. “The ministry will be closed tomorrow. So long as it isn't putting you out,” he added, looking at Blackjack.

“I should be OK,” Kuro said, “Unless I get a call in the middle of the night from a patient. If that happens, Pinoko can take care of things.”

“I always do!”, she laughed, turning towards Uran. “You can sleep in my room if you like, I have room for a futon on the floor next to my bed.”

“OK!”, Uran agreed.

Astro and Cobalt set up three futons next to each other up in the living room. They put Chi-tan in the middle between them. With the lights out, the room was only lit by the blinking lights on the Christmas tree.

While Cobalt played with the baby 'bot, Astro stood by the window looking out at the night sky. He tip toed towards the front door of the house and quietly opened the door and stepped outside onto the porch, to gaze upwards. He thought he saw a red light passing overhead, and the distant sound of sleigh bells. 'Nah, it can't be!' he thought to himself. But just in case, he quickly returned inside, where Kobaruto and Chi-tan were already snoring. Astro crawled into the futon and fell asleep.
Last edited by Tetsuwan Penguin on Wed Dec 28, 2016 12:45 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Chapter 7

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


Authors note: The idea for this part comes from my story 'suppressed memory', which I first posted on this forum, and later up on fan fiction.

Astro was awakened by a gentle buzzing in his head. He sat up silently in the futon and activated his heads up display to discover that his internal communications system had received a text message from Reno. “I hope nothing is the matter,” Astro thought to himself.
He held his hands up in his field of view and used his virtual display to send a reply message to his friend. “What's the matter, pal?”, he asked.

“Call me,” Reno replied.

Astro could have used his internal communications transceiver as a cell phone, but given the choice he always preferred to do things the human way. Quietly he tip toed into Black Jack's study, and lifted the handset of the antique telephone off of its cradle, and used the old fashioned rotary dial to enter Reno's phone number.

“Moshi Moshi,” came Reno's voice at the other end of the line.

“What was so important that you had to wake me at 2am in the morning?” Astro asked.

“I tried to get you at home, but no one was there,” Reno said. “Where are you?”

“Hakase, Uran, Cobalt and I are at Blackjack's for the evening,” Astro said.

“Oh yeah,” Reno said, “I just noticed the caller ID. You guys got invited for Christmas dinner by Pinoko, I guess.”

“Pinoko felt guilty because she and Uran screwed up trying to make a roast for Hakase.”

“Don't tell me,” Reno injected, “Cobalt probably helped.”

“Or course,” Astro answered, “He always means well, and Pinoko isn't exactly the best teacher. So, what's so important at this hour?”

“I couldn't sleep,” Reno said. “I guess I just needed someone to talk to.”

“Where are you now?” Astro asked.

“The old Metro City arena,” Reno replied.

“You want me to meet you there?” Astro asked.

“You don't have to,” Reno replied. “I mean, I don't want to ruin Christmas for you and your family.”

“Don't worry,” Astro replied. “I'll leave Hakase a note.”

Astro made a vertical landing in front of the old building. The old Metro City arena hadn't been used for years now, having been replaced by a newer stadium on the other side of the downtown area. The old arena would have been torn down, except for having been designated as a historical landmark. Unfortunately, many of the plans for its renovation and repurposement had fallen though, and the building was now a hollow ghost of a shell. Astro entered through the main door, that was already open, the sound of his moon boots treading on the metallic floor echoed throughout the building. He quickly located Reno, who was standing in the middle of a large circular area in the center of the building.

“The robot circus used to perform here,” Astro said.

“Hai.” Reno nodded. “Somewhere up there, I used to stand on a platform high above the center ring.”

Astro nodded, and then pointed to another spot far on the other side. “That was where Zog pinned me against the wall during my first performance with Hamegg's circus,” he said. “I managed to free myself and get away, but he charged at me for a second time. I remember closing my eyes and trying to gather my strength. I didn't want to fight Zod, I only wanted to get away. A second later I found myself a hundred feet in the air. It was the very first time I ever flew, I didn't know that I could do that until that very moment.”

“I still can't get over the fact that both of us performed in the same circus, in this same arena,” Reno sighed.

“But not at the same time,” Astro said.

“Actually, I remember being off stage when you fought Zog,” Reno said. “I never told you that story because I've always felt guilty for the way Hamegg treated you.”

“Why? It wasn't your fault,” Astro replied.

“Wasn't it?” Reno argued. “I was put in charge of taking care of the robot performers, at least the ones that Hamegg trusted me with. You, he kept in a locked room all by yourself. You know, I was glad when he was hospitalized after that big top fire. And after Hakase Ochanomizu made that big speech in the diet assembly that got the robot rights laws enacted, the robots that were looking after me took over the circus and ran it. I never saw you again, at least not until that day when you and Hakase came across our troupe again. Anyway, I remember the day that Hamegg bought you from Tenma. I remember it because it was boxing day. What a lousy thing your creator did, selling you to that scumbag on Christmas eve!”

“I'm guessing the reason you wanted to talk to me at this hour was relieve your feelings of guilt.” Astro said, giving Reno a hug.

“That's part of it,” Reno said. “Also, I've been having these weird dreams and thoughts ever since I found out the truth about who I really am. You're more than just a best friend to me, Astro. The kinship I feel towards you goes deeper than that now, I need to call you Ani.”

“You know, I've always felt that way too,” Astro said, “Even before we figured it all out.”
In the distance, the sound of a clock chimed the four o'clock hour. Astro put his right hand on Reno's shoulder. “Why don't you come back with me to Blackjack Sensei's house? There's plenty of leftover Christmas dinner. I'd rather Uran and Hakase not wake up and find me missing, and I'm sure the doctor won't mind one more friend sleeping on the floor of his living room.”

“Sure,” Reno smiled, wrapping his arms around Astro's neck, with his fingers locked together. “Let's fly!”

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Chapter 7 (continued)

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago

High above the city, Reno clung tightly to Astro as they flew towards the high cliffs overlooking the sea. Astro flew slowly to avoid giving his buddy a bad wind chill in the cold early morning air.

“You know, I forgive him,” Astro said. “It's not healthy keeping a grudge, and foolish to even contemplate revenge.”

“Besides, he was your father,” Reno agreed, “Despite his later flaws, Tenma Sensei did once really care about his family.”

“I know that,” Astro replied, “But I wasn't referring to Otōsan. I meant Hamegg.”

“Him?”, Reno gasped, “After what he did to you?”

“His flaws were not unlike Sensei's,” Astro answered. “Besides, he did take care of you, and we would never have met if it hadn't been for him.”

“I suppose so,” Reno agreed. “You know, I haven't though of him for years, I wonder how he's doing.”

“Hamegg fell in with some bad company after he lost the circus,” Astro said. “I know he was involved in a few capers with Skunk and Lampe.”

“Yeah, you probably ran into him because of your interaction with the police,” Reno voiced.

“Come to think of it,” Astro thought out loud, “I remember reading on the police log that Hamegg was to be released from prison soon.”

By now, the two boys had reached the coastline and Blackjack's house was dead ahead of them. Astro landed in front of the porch, and Reno released his grip from around the boy robot's neck. “Why don't you run inside, I have an errand to run," Astro told his friend.

“What's up?” Reno asked.

“I logged into the police network just before we landed,” Astro replied. “I was right, he's scheduled for release from prison today, within the hour in fact. I'm going to be waiting for him.”

“Why in hell would you do that?” Reno questioned.

“Hamegg has no family, and no friends,” Astro replied. “Skunk was the one who turned him in, and Lampe testified against him at his trial, so you know they don't give a rat's ass about him. He's been behind bars for a few years now, can you imagine what kind of Christmas he's going to have. Nowhere to go, and only a few hundred yen in his pocket.”

“You must be bucking for sainthood, Astro,” Reno laughed. “I hope Blackjack Sensei doesn't mind you bringing back a convicted felon to spend Christmas with him.”

“Convicted felons make up most of his patient clientele,” Astro said.

“Touché,” Reno agreed. He watched as Astro took off before opening the door. Reno removed his shoes before creeping silently into the living room. He lay down in the futon that Astro had left empty and closed his eyes.

The guard at the prison looked up at Astro, and down at the clipboard he'd just unhooked from a nail on the wall. “You're a bit early, but we can rush his processing for you,” he said. “I'd just like to know why.”

“Has anyone else called in for him?” Astro asked.

“No, we were going to have to release Hamegg San on his on his own recognizance.”

“Exactly,” Astro said, crossing his arms. “I thought he'd like to see at least one familiar face when he was let out.”

“Yours?”, the guard laughed. “You're being a bit cruel, aren't you?”

“I hope not,” Astro voiced. “I've forgiven him, I just want to make this Christmas a bit bearable for the poor guy.”

“I guess you're everything that I've ever read about you, Astro,” the guard said, “I wish I had a friend like you.”

The phone on the desk buzzed, and the guard quickly reached for it. He held the receiver up to his ear, listened for a few seconds. “Hai,” he said, hanging up the phone.
“He's on his way down now, Why don't you go inside and wait in the next room?”

The guard pressed the button that unlocked the door ahead of Astro. The lock buzzed, and Astro pushed the door open and walked though. He waited by a heavy barred door that stood in front of a long hallway. In the distance he saw the door to a lift open and two guards escorted a prisoner from the elevator, and marched him down the hallway. The heavy steel bars slid sideways and the three men entered the room where Astro was waiting. One of the guards unlocked the handcuffs binding the prisoner, and handed him a parcel. “You can change in the bathroom,” he said, pointing the man in the prison garb towards a door at the side of the room.

Hamegg emerged from the bathroom and looked around. Astro walked towards him from the far side of the room, smiling. “Hello, Ringumasutā, Ohayōgozaimasu,” Astro said, holding out a hand.

“Astro Boy, What are You doing here?” Hamegg voiced.

“I thought you'd like to see a friendly face when you were released,” Astro said. “Besides, It's Christmas and I know you have nowhere to go.”

Hamegg, stood there with a blank look on his face, not knowing what to say for a few minutes. His expression oscillated between anger, shock, and astonishment before crystallizing on a vague look of relief and happiness. With some reluctance, the former ringmaster took Astro's hand. He looked into the boy robot's eyes, and suddenly broke down, falling to his knees and sobbing.

Astro bent down and wrapped his arms around the man. “It's OK, Hamegg, I forgive you!”

“I .. I don't deserve this,” Hamegg sobbed. “Arigatōgozaimashita”

The two of them walked through the main entrance of the prison, and stood outside by the two lane highway that led back towards Tokyo. “Now what?” Hamegg asked.

“Now, you're coming with me,” Astro said, “I think you could use some Christmas dinner left overs and a comfortable bed.”

“You'd do that for me?” the weasel looking man asked.

“Actually, a good friend of mine will,” Astro said. “I suspect you've heard of him. Shall we go?”

A sick look crossed Hamegg's face. “You're going to fly me there, aren't you?”

“Don't worry, I won't drop you,” Astro reassured him.

Hamegg grabbed the boy robot around his neck in almost a choke hold as they lifted off the ground and took flight. Astro endured the mild discomfort without complaint, doing his best to avoid turbulence so his passenger would not get airsick.

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chapter 8

Postby Tetsuwan Penguin » 3 years ago


Hamegg was a bit shaky, and clung to Astro after they had landed on the porch in front of Blackjack's house. With one arm draped over Astro's shoulder, he followed the boy robot through the front door, still too nervous from the flight to remove his shoes before entering the living room.

Astro illuminated his eye search lights at a dim setting, and led his guest into the kitchen. After shutting the door behind him, he found the light switch. Hamegg reached for the back of one of the chairs, and somehow managed to sit himself down in front of the table.

“Would you like some Ocha?” Astro asked.

“Hai,” Hamegg nodded, “and make it a strong cup.”

Astro remembered which door of the cupboard to open to find the china tea cups, and where in the pantry Pinoko had stored the tea bags. He took two teabags containing black tea, and placed them in the large cup that he'd set on the table, and then lit the burner on the stove to set a tea kettle full of water on. “The caffeine should settle your nerves, Ringumasutā,” Astro said as he poured the cup full with the boiling water.

Hamegg grabbed the strings attached to the teabags and dunk them in and out of the water to agitate their steeping. Quickly the water changed color to a dark brown, and he then removed the teabags from the cup and set them in the saucer next to it. He took a deep sip, and almost gagged from the heat of the liquid. “ Arigatōgozaimashita,” he sighed, almost draining half the contents of the cup with his next swallow.

The kitchen door creaked open and Pinoko entered, rubbing her eyes, and squinting from the light. “Who are you?” she asked.

“Sumimasen, Pinoko Chan,” Astro voiced. “I brought an old acquaintance over, who is a bit down on his luck and could use some good food and a warm bed.”

“Would you like some left over roast?”, Pinoko asked. “I made a wonderful curry sauce to go with it.”

Hamegg stared at Pinoko, not quite sure just what to make of her. Images of midget circus performers came to his head, and he shook those off. “You're too kind, thank you.” he said.

“It's no problem,” Pinoko replied, opening the refrigerator, “Besides, it's Christmas!”
She almost dropped the heavy tray, and Astro quickly grabbed hold of it and helped her place it on the table. Pinoko grabbed a large plate from the cupboard, and a knife from the block near the stove, and began to carve several pieces from the roast, and put them on the plate. She also removed a Mason jar containing the left over curry sauce from the 'fridge and poured some of that onto the plated as well. Pinoko then put that into the microwave oven, and punched up the settings to warm it up. “It will be ready in just a few minutes,” she smiled.

The bell on the Radar Range sounded, and Pinoko stuck her mitted hands into the oven and removed the plate, which she sat on the table in front of the former ringmaster.

Hamegg slowly picked up a slice of the roast with his chopsticks and bit off a piece. As he chewed it a smile grew on his face. “This is excellent curry,” he told Pinoko.

“I'm glad you like it,” she said. “There's more if you want seconds.”

The subdued noise in the kitchen must have awakened Blackjack, the doctor entered the room in bare feet, wearing his robe. “Ohayōgozaimasu, Sensei,” Pinoko voiced.

Kuro looked at the man wolfing down a plate full of reheated roast with curry. “I think I remember you from somewhere,” he said. “Didn't you once work as an orderly at Metro City General?”

Hamegg swallowed hard and turned to face the doctor. “I think I was there briefly,” he said. “I went through a lot of different odd jobs in my younger days.” His face turned a ghostly white as a sleepy Reno stood in the kitchen doorway. “ Ohayōgozaimasu, Blackjack Sensei,” he yawned.

Astro turned to the doctor. “ Sumimasen, Sensei,” he said. “It was my idea to invite Reno and Hamegg San.”

“Reno is always welcome here, of course,” the doctor said.

“Hamegg was just released from prison today,” Astro quickly injected, “I knew he would have nowhere to go, and I felt sorry for him. I should have asked you first, but I didn't want to wake you.”

“Of course,” Kuro nodded. “Well, since it seems to be OK with Pinoko, it's fine with me as well. If you want to stay for a few days, Hamegg San, you're welcome. I'll look into finding you some work and a place of your own if you like.”

“I'm sure Hakase can help with that as well,” Astro added.

Tears welled up in the ringmaster's eyes. “You people are too kind to me,” he sobbed, “Especially you, Astro Boy!”

“Well it's a new year, and you're about to start a new life,” Reno said. “Now that I think about it, I actually owe you for taking me in with the circus years ago, though I also know you only acted in your own self interest.”

Uran suddenly appeared. “Hey everyone, Santa was here! Look under the tree!”

Pinoko ran into the living room, with Uran following right behind. “Look at all the presents!” Pinoko cried out. She sat down and began pulling gift wrapped boxes out and read the labels stuck to them.

“This one is for me!”, she laughed placing the box next to her before pulling out the next one. “This one is for Sensei,” she said, tossing the box to Blackjack who was now standing right behind her with a smile on his face. Uran then grabbed at another box, “This one has Uran's name on it,” she said, winking. She handed the box to Uran who laughed, “I guess Santa knew I was coming here.”

Pinoko then pulled out yet another present, “This one is for Ochanomizu Hakase.”
The professor had been standing out in the hallway, watching. He gave a glance at Blackjack, who just shrugged his shoulders. The professor held his hands out, which Pinoko took as a signal. She tossed the large box to him, and Hiroshi easily caught it in both hands.
“Now who's this one for?” she asked aloud, pulling another wrapped box from under the tree. “It's for you Astro!” she smiled, handing the boy robot the box. Astro simply gazed at Kuro, and voiced 'Arigatōgozaimashita', but once again Blackjack shrugged his shoulders.

Pinoko then plucked out presents addressed to Cobalt, and Chi-tan, who had both just crawled out from under their blankets. “There's one left,” Pinoko said. “Now who could this one be for?” She rolled the box over and over in her hands, looking for the address label, and finally found it, hidden under a bit of bow and ribbon. “This one is for Hamegg San,” she said, putting the present into the hands of the very surprised ex-con.

Everyone turned to face Blackjack who returned an expression of complete denial. “I didn't know that anyone but Pinoko was going to be here today!”, he said. “I certainly didn't put all of those extra presents under that tree!” He gave Astro a glance, and the boy robot backed away from him.

“Well I didn't put them there either!”, he said, looking at the professor who also held up his hands in denial.

“Well I sure didn't!,” Pinoko said, adding “Acchonburike!, do you suppose it was really Santa?”

Astro suddenly remembered the red light he'd seen in the night sky just hours ago. Could it have been the glowing nose of a certain reindeer? “Let's just open our presents,” he said to change the subject.

:tenma: I'm on as Tetsuwan Penguin. Please check out some of the other stories I've written! ;)

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