Reno followed Astro through the streets, keeping his distance. He felt a bit guilty about shadowing his buddy, but the boy robot had been in a sullen mood all day. Several times Reno had tried to strike up a conversation with Astro, but each time he'd only got a few words out of his friend.
I'm worried about Astro, Hakase, Reno had told Dr. O'Shay. Did you notice how quiet he's been all day. It's like he's been deep in thought about something, and has been ignoring everything else.
That is a bit unusual for him, the professor admitted, looking up from his desk, But I'm sure there is a totally rational explanation for his behavior, and that by tomorrow it will all make sense.
I hope so, Reno replied. I'll keep a close eye on him, maybe he will open up to me and ask for help.
The day had grown late, and Astro left the ministry carrying a rolled up piece of heavy water proof butcher paper in his left hand. Reno managed to keep behind his buddy, without Astro noticing that he was being followed. 'Good thing he decided to hoof it rather than fly,' Reno thought to himself, perhaps subconsciously Astro wanted to be followed.
Astro headed towards the river, and entered a narrow park that hugged the bank of the narrow waterway. Here there was a long narrow patch of green grass, and flowering bushes. There were groups of benches where one could sit and watch boat traffic flow down the river, and other places to sit with tables featuring inlaid chess and checker boards. Several old men were taking advantage of those, and at least one serious 将棋 match was going on. Several of the lights lining the sidewalk suddenly flickered on, their photo electric triggers having detected the sun's disappearance below the horizon, and the sky's twilight color.
Reno watched as his buddy sat down by himself on one of the benches, and unrolled the scrap of heavy paper that he'd been carrying. Astro carefully folded the paper, and then tore off a measured amount of it. He then proceeded to fold that piece multiple times, his concentration now engaged in a serious act of origami. This surprised Reno, since he knew that despite Astro's amazing mental powers, he was severely lacking in any artistic abilities. Yet, he was now sculpting a piece of paper into what was clearly a swan.
Astro continued to fold, unfold, and refold the paper, his fingers carefully shaping the heavy wax coated fibers into a bird shaped boat. Finally, he held the object up in front of his face, and slowly rotated it, inspecting his work. A large smile grew across his face and he nodded his approval.
Reno watched as his android friend carried his creation to the river bank. Astro was now squatting on his knees by the water, and had placed the swan boat on the ground, He then opened his chest panel to remove something that he'd hidden there. He produced a small votive candle in an aluminum foil cup, which he lit using his left hand's index finger laser. Astro carefully placed the candle in the center of the swan boat, and then gently floated the boat, pushing it towards the middle of the river where it was caught by the current.
So that's it!, Reno laughed to himself, face palming. He walked softly towards the river bank, and placed his hand on Astro's shoulder. Everything OK, buddy? he asked.
Astro looked up, Hai, he nodded. I didn't notice you, how long have you been here? he asked.
Long enough, Reno answered. It's been three years now, hasn't it?
Astro nodded. Sorry I've ignored you all day, he said. I've had a lot on my mind.
How about some pizza to take the edge off?, Reno asked. I'm buying.
I guess the human term would be comfort food?, Astro asked.
Yeah, it would be, Reno laughed. Though some might turn to a bottle at such a time.
Astro slowly stood up and watched his paper masterpiece slowly drift out of sight. Reno pulled him towards him, and the two boys walked towards downtown arm in arm.
By the way, Reno injected, Since when did you become an origami artist?
Oh that?, Astro laughed. I watched a you-tube video of someone folding that and committed his hand movements to memory. I'm afraid I'm still no artist, that was totally done by the numbers.
Maybe so, but you did show some artistic appreciation by your selection of what to make for the occasion. I think there's hope for you yet.
Arigatōgozaimashita, Astro voiced.
How's Astro doing?, Dr. O'Shay asked. I couldn't help notice you running after him.
As I said, Reno answered, I was worried about him. But I shouldn't have.
If you had looked at the calendar yesterday, you would have figured it out sooner, O'Shay said slyly, pointing to a small framed picture of Hoshie Tenma sitting on his desk.
If you knew, why didn't you tell me?, Reno demanded.
Because then you might not have followed him, the professor replied. You know, Astro is a lot more human than most of us give him credit for. He is capable of grieving for a lost loved one, he actually can appreciate beauty at some level, and he does have active emotions. He also needs companionship to get him though the bumps in the road that life throws at all of us. Unfortunately, most of us forget that when we think of him as a robot.
I'd never do that! Reno said with arrogance.
Of course you do!, O'Shay countered, We all do, every time we repair him or tune him up. At those times, Astro is just a machine.
I never thought of it that way, Reno said.
Neither did Dr. Tenma, the professor sighed. Now there is the real tragedy.