Consider ...

The ancients thought that the seat of our being was in our hearts. The function of the brain was unknown until for many years, though there is some evidence of early (successful!) attempts at brain surgery by early native Americans.

When the brain dies, what was once the person is gone, even if the heart still beats and the blood still flows. Brain death is now the official definition of death. But what does THAT even mean? Stroke victims can lose the ability to talk, see, and move. They may need help being fed, or even to breath when their muscles become paralyzed by the broken neural pathways. But, is the mind still there? In theory, you can be self aware even if all of your senses of the outside world are cut off. You still originate thought, you still have your memories. Maybe you are technically living in your own dream world at this point, but isn't that a kind of being?

Professor Ochanomizu noticed that Astro seemed to be in a somber mood. In fact, he had been down in the dumps for a week now. The Professor had little doubt that Astro's recent visits to Dr. Tenma's abandoned house tied in with the boy robot's current mental state, though he wasn't sure which had been the cause, and which the effect. He'd always known that Astro had some of Tobio's memories buried deep in his A.I. somewhere, and that they sometimes surfaced at the oddest moments.

Ochanomizu knew that Tenma had raised his son Tobio by himself ever since his wife Hoshie had left him. No one really knew what had happened to Hoshie, Tenma alternately mentioned her death from cancer, and her running away in the middle of the night. Inspector Tawashi was never able to shed any light on the mystery, and none of the hospitals within a 200km radius had any records of a Hoshie Tenma ever being there. It was as if she had simply vanished into thin air one night. Then there had been the tragic accident that took Tobio, and caused a guilt ridden Tenma to slip into insanity. It was during his transition from a slightly absent minded scientist, into a raving lunatic bent on world domination, that he had created the robot Tobio. After his creation had seen through his father's insanity and rebelled against him, Tenma set fire to his laboratory, trashed his house, and abandoned his deactivated robot son in a storage locker at the Ministry. Tenma was eventually captured and locked up in a mental hospital, it was only then that Hoshie reappeared.

Astro had noticed the woman dressed totally in black through the window of Tenma's old house the first time that he'd been exploring there. She had a dark veil over her face and walked quickly away as if she'd noticed Astro staring at her though the front window of the house. Astro ran out of the house quickly, but the woman in black was gone.

Each time Astro had been back to dig through the rubble of the old house he thought he'd noticed the same woman wandering around outside of the house. Astro never got a good look at her, but he thought she reminded him of someone he'd once known. So he kept returning to the abandoned building often, hoping to catch a better look at this person.

Ochanomizu was awakened in the middle of the night by a crying voice, coming from Astro's room. It wasn't Astro's voice, but Tobio's coming from the robot's mouth. "Mother!" Tears were streaming down Astro's cheeks as the Professor shook him to awaken him from a dream. Astro quickly snapped back to the real world, but he was confused.
"What's happening to me?" he asked.
"I think a memory from Tobio has managed to surface while you were sleeping." Ochanomizu said. "In your dream state you were talking out loud in Tobio's voice."
"That's weird" Astro said.
"We'll have Reno look at you in the morning." Ochanomizu suggested. "He has a better understanding of your AI than I do."

Hoshie Tenma had lived a difficult life. Her parents had gone though a messy divorce and she had been bounced around between grandparents and aunts. When she reached the age of 18, Hoshie ran off with a boyfriend who ended up cheating on her. After breaking up with him, Hoshie moved to Metro City and found work at a florist shop. She enrolled in a community college with the idea of getting a teacher's certificate. Hoshie met Umataro Tenma when the scientist-engineer came into the florist shop to buy flowers for his secretary. Dr. Tenma struck up quite a conversation about flowers with Hoshie, and ended up with a dinner date, in addition to a large bouquet for his office mate.

It should have been the turning point in her life that she had been long waiting for. Certainly, Umataro had finally found a human being that he could interact with, and develop feelings for. Hoshie and Dr. Tenma had a short, but intense courtship and were married. Things might have gone well for them if the current head of the Ministry of Science hadn't chose that moment to suffer a fatal heart attack. Dr. Tenma was selected as the new head of the Ministry just about the same time as Hoshie discovered she was pregnant with Umataro's child.

Dr. Tenma really did try to be a good husband and a good father. However, he simply couldn't devote any less than 110% of himself to his work. For five years, Hoshie tried to convince herself that Umataro really did love her and Tobio, but she finally reached a point where she simply couldn't bear to be in the same room with him. Hoshie was working part time while Tobio was in school. She wasn't allowed to do any of the housework at home, Umataro had installed robots to those jobs, so she made use of her spare time in earning 'rainy day' money. Finally one day, she simply snapped. It never made any sense to Professor Ochanomizu that a mother would abandon her child to get away from her husband. Perhaps she was actually afraid of Umataro, maybe she thought that Tobio wanted his father more than his mother. In any event, on a day when Tobio was out of school to spend the day with his father at the Ministry, Hoshie disappeared.

Years later, Dr. Tenma made the evening news reports when he nearly started a robot rebellion in Metro City. After her husband was committed to a mental hospital, Hoshie returned to find her former home damaged by fire and boarded up. She also noticed a small child that resembled her Tobio hanging around the house. She wanted to make contact with the boy, but was afraid to do so for some reason, so she just stood in the shadows, dressed in black. She continued the ritual for a week, when the dizziness returned.

Hoshie had been having bouts of lightheadedness on and off for the past few years. Sometimes it was accompanied by ringing in her ears, or seeing spots before her eyes. She was afraid of seeing a doctor, and usually her symptoms would disappear just as she was ready to seek one out. Now that she was back in Metro City, the malady was back again.

Having finally found herself the courage and the will, Hoshie had decided to make contact with the boy who looked like Tobio. She was dressed in plain clothes, instead of the dark black lace covering her features, and on her way to the old house when she suddenly had another attack. Hoshie felt dizzy and fainted away onto the sidewalk.

Dr. Tezuka was on his way to work when he spotted the slender woman keel over on the sidewalk. He quickly aimed his car toward the curb and jumped out, leaving the engine still running. The Doctor saw that her pupils were unresponsive to light and that her pulse was irregular. He feared the worst, and called for an ambulance on his cell phone. Hoshie was rushed to Metro City Hospital and admitted through the emergency ward.

Reno went through the motions of examining Astro like he was a physician. Astro was fooled by his friends pantomime, but Professor Ochanomizu chuckled under his breath. Finally Reno got serious and began to explain things.

"Professor, as you know, Astro has this unique ability to tell if a person is good or bad." He said. "But do you know how he can do this?"

"I always thought it was a function of his A.I." The professor said. "He must pick up on subtle clues such as voice stress, or nervousness."

"Yes, Astro does that." Reno said. "He can pick up on the same clues that the police polygraphs do, but it goes far deeper than that. Astro is actually empathic, and somewhat telepathic."

"I can read minds?" Astro gasped.

"You just might be able to do that with a firmware update." Reno said. "You have a strange sensor buried in your head that I've never figured out the purpose for. I always assumed it was a gyro sensor for use in space of something. Now, I think I know what it is. It seems to be a brainwave transceiver."

"That almost makes sense." Professor Ochanomizu said. "I remember Dr. Tenma once explaining the theory of such a device to me, I didn't realize he'd actually built one and installed it into Astro when he built him."

"I'd have to hook Astro up to the Ministry's mainframe computer and run some diagnostics on him to prove my theory," Reno said "but if I'm right he does have the ability to tune in on a person's brainwave patterns and get a good feel for what they are thinking. Astro usually only does this in a very subtle manor, just deep enough to know if the person is good or evil. I think he could go much deeper, and even see what a person is seeing in their mind's eye. He might even be able to share a persons thoughts."

Astro stared hard at Reno and zoned out. His eyes were crossed and his forehead was scrunched up, pushing the widow's peak tuft of hair down to his nose. He suddenly snapped out of the trance and shook his head back and forth to break the spell.
"I couldn't get anything out of you except a feeling that you need to scratch your ass." Astro said.

Reno and Ochanomizu laughed.
"Yeah, my butt actually DOES itch!" Reno laughed at Astro. "Look, you probably need to learn how to access that sensor of yours. It will take practice and lots of concentration. You probably won't figure it out until you really need to. I suspect that Dr. Tenma has a hidden BIOS routine planted somewhere in your lower brain functions and that those subroutines can't be called until some other process unlocks them. Sorta a security override."

"So I just have to wait for a real reason to do it." Astro said.

"Yeah, like an adrenaline reaction in humans." Reno said.

"Reno, back to the reason I asked you to examine Astro?" Ochanomizu asked.

"Yeah, about that." Reno said. "I think Astro did pick something up when he saw that mysterious woman outside Tenma's old place. Astro must have picked up something from her brainwaves that triggered an old memory he inherited from Tobio. That could have given him a real emotional reaction."

"You know," Ochanomizu said, "There is only one person that fits the description Astro gave us that could have triggered such a memory."

"My Mom." Astro sighed in Tobio's voice.

"Hoshie" Ochanomizu replied.

Hoshie held Tobio's hand as they walked toward the school. The boy was always excited about going to school, he loved learning and discovering new things. The smells of the city filled the air as they walked along the busy streets. Hoshie didn't understand why the world about her seemed so intense. It was like she had never really noticed the color of the sky, the odors of the auto exhaust fumes, the feel of the hard concrete under her shoes. She was also startled by the sparkle in Tobio's brown eyes, and really noticed the cowlicks in his hair. Everything about her seemed so, new and vibrant. She didn't understand why.

As they crossed the street, Hoshie could hear a very loud noise that almost sounded like an electronic drum of some kind. She looked about thinking there must have been some construction machinery nearby, it was reverberating like a jack hammer inside of a cave.

As the patient was rolled out of the MRI chamber room, Kurō Hazama lifted the her eyelids and shined a flashlight quickly into each eye. He sighed and made a note on the chart. He looked at the prints made from the MRI images and quickly scanned though the blood work results. Dr. Tezuka looked at him with a question in his eyes.
"Not very encouraging" Kurō said.

"Isn't there anything you could do as a surgeon?" Tezuka asked.

"I'm afraid not." Kurō sighed. "This appears to be a major hemorrhagic stroke, deep within the brain. It's not reachable by my scalpel. There might be some new drugs you could try, or maybe a hyperbaric oxygen chamber."

"I think I'm going to have to contact Professor Ochanomizu" Dr. Tezuka sighed. "He's the closest thing to a relative that Hoshie has. I bet he doesn't even know she's back in town."

Professor Ochanomizu placed the telephone receiver back on the cradle.
"That call was from Metro City Hospital." he said. "It seems that we were correct about that woman's identity, though I would prefer not to have heard about it this way. Hoshie suffered a stroke near Tenma's old house. She's lucky that a doctor was driving by and spotted her fall, the quick medical treatment was probably the difference between life and death. She's still in grave condition though."

"I want to see her." Astro sobbed.

"There's something you should know." Ochanomizu said. "Years ago when Tobio was born, Dr. Tenma and I were close friends. I was asked to be Tobio's god father, and I accepted the honor. Hoshie then took me aside and made a request of me. She handed me a signed document in an envelope with the request that I would see to it that her instructions were carried out if she was not able to make them clear personally."

"A living will?" Reno asked.

"Yes, exactly." the professor said. "Hoshie didn't want any kind of extraordinary medical care should she be in a near death situation. I queried her about this, and she doesn't want any respirator, feeding tube, or similar measures should she be in a long term coma like condition. I think that may be exactly her condition at the moment."

"But, it's too soon to know that!" Astro cried out.

"As her proxy I have the right to evaluate how to carry out her wishes." Ochanomizu said. "I think we can give the doctors some time to properly evaluate her condition."

Astro stood by the side of the bed and gently squeezed Hoshie's hand.
"I'm here mother." He said. "Do you know I'm here?"

Uran and Professor Ochanomizu stood back a few feet and watched. Uran didn't recognize the woman lying in the hospital bed. She hadn't been created with any of the memories from Astro's past. Uran did sense her brother's feelings and knew that Astro was in pain.

Hoshie was breathing with some labor on her own, she had an oxygen cannula over her nose and an IV drip line in her left arm. Her facial muscles twitched now and then, and she drummed the fingers of her right arm on the bed.

Dr. Tezuka walked into the room. He saw Astro trying to communicate with the patient.
"Hoshie drifts in and out of consciousness." He said. "There's been quite a bit of damage the sensory parts of her brain, and she's probably paralyzed on her left side."

Astro placed his hand on Hoshie's forehead. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
"Mom, I'm here." he said in Tobio's voice. Astro seemed to freeze solid as he remained motionless. His breathing slowed and a smile slowly widened on his face.

"He's doing it." Ochanomizu said. "Astro's making direct mental contact with Hoshie."

Astro found himself back on the streets of Metro City as it had appeared years ago when Tobio was eight years old. He looked up and saw Hoshie holding his hand and dragging him along on the way to school.

"Mom!" he cried out "I love you!"

"I love you too, silly boy!" Hoshie answered back. "Hurry up and quick dragging your feet, or you'll be late for school!"

"I don't want to go to school." Astro said "I just want to be with you!"

Hoshie looked down into her son's eyes and smiled.
"Something the matter?" She asked.

"No, I just need you." Astro sighed.

Hoshie picked him up and hugged him.
"I'll always be here for you, Tobio!" She said. "Don't worry. I'll be waiting for you at the school gate when the day is over."

"Please!" Astro said. "Just today?"

"OK." Hoshie sighed. "let's spend the day together then. Just don't tell your father, OK?"

Dr. Tezuka came back into the room with a portable chart recorder on a rolling cart. He placed several sticky electrodes on Hoshie's forehead and scalp, and wired them up to the machine.

"This is an EEG recorder." He told Professor Ochanomizu. "We use it to evaluate a patient's brain activity."

The doctor turned on the machine and adjusted the display. The oscillograph screen displayed several waveforms at once.

Astro was still in a trance, with one hand on Hoshie's head. His breathing was slow, but regular.

"I can actually see two separate, unrelated traces on this display" Dr. Tezuka said. "The weaker one is Hoshie's, I think the stronger one is Astro's. It's almost like there are two people inside her head at the moment."

Hoshie and Tobio boarded a bus, and headed to the fair grounds.

"I've always wanted to see the fair, and the petting zoo." Astro said. "Dad was always too busy to take me."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, Tobio." Hoshie answered. "I'm going to make it up to you now."

They got off the bus and Hoshie bought a book of tickets at the fair ground entrance. Their first stop was the petting zoo. Astro leaned over the railing at the goat pen and two yearling's came up to him, bleating. Astro petted them on their heads and smiled.

"They like you, Tobio!" Hoshie said. She paid an attendant a few yen coins for a bag of food, and poured a handful into Astro's hands. "Here, why don't you feed them, Tobio?"

Astro stuck out his hand and both of the baby goats started eating the corn grains out of his hand. Their wet tongues tickled, and Astro laughed. Hoshie smiled and gave Astro a hug.

Suddenly, Hoshie felt dizzy and and faint. The fair grounds seemed to melt away, and she could hear Tobio's voice calling her in the distance.

"Mom, Mother! Where are you?"

Astro snapped out of the trance he was in. The EEG recorder was nearly flat lined, with just a few slight wiggles going by. Hoshie's breathing was shallow, but constant.

"She may just have had another attack." Dr. Tezuka said, picking up the phone. "I'm going to order another cat-scan for her right now. We need to know what's happening!"

"She's still alive, doctor!" Astro cried. "I was just with her."

"She doesn't know we are here, Astro" Professor Ochanomizu said. "Her senses have shut down."

"She knows I'm here!" Astro protested. "though she thinks I'm Tobio."

"I think I'm going to get Kurō to look at her again." Dr. Tezuka said. "His experience in these matters might shed some light on what's going on."

Hoshie was wheeled back into her room from the radiology laboratory. Dr. Tezuka re-connected her up to the instruments monitoring her heart beat, breathing, and EEG. The surgeon known as Blackjack entered the room holding a sheet of x-ray images that had just come out of the Cat-Scan machine.

Kurō Hazama was the name that Blackjack had been known by while he was in medical school, and that was how Dr. Tezuka knew him. He had lost his medical license after refusing to follow the medical associations ruling on the use of an experimental procedure to save a patient's life. The fact that the woman survived didn't matter to the governing body. Desperately ill, well heeled individuals now sort out the rouge doctor, and would pay him any price for his services. He sometimes would visit the hospital where his school mate, Dr. Tezuka worked at his friends request. This was one of those occasions.

While Dr. Tezuka and Kurō were examining the data from Hoshie's x-ray the monitor over her bed started to wail as the EKG flat lined. Dr. Blackjack grabbed for a portable defibrillator and ran toward her bed, but Professor Ochanomizu interceded.

"No!" he said. "Hoshie has it in her living will that she doesn't want to be resuscitated."

"No!" Astro cried out. "Mother!" He once again took his place by her side. Astro slid his right hand under her gown and placed it on her chest over her heart. He put his left hand on her forehead. Astro became stiff as a board, his eyes glazed over, and his eyelids closed. A creepy smile appeared on his face.

Suddenly, the EKG monitor stopped it's wailing sound, and a weak, but normal sinus rhythm returned to the oscillograph screen. Hoshie's breathing became steady again.

"I don't believe this!" Blackjack gasped.

Hoshie was being pulled along by Tobio as the eight year old boy ran toward the roller coaster.

"Let's use one of our tickets on this ride!" Astro begged his mother.

"You might not be tall enough to go on that ride!" Hoshie teased him.

They reached the gate, and the attendant looked down at Tobio. He saw the plea in the boy's eyes and the smile on his mother's face.

"He can ride, if you go on with him." The attendant said.

Hoshie handed the man two tickets and Astro dragged his mother through the gate toward the waiting coaster cars. Mother and son boarded a car in the middle of the train and the attendant lowered the safety bar, locking them in. A few minutes passed as other riders chose their seats before the train started to move, the chain drive began to pull the coaster cars up a steep hill toward the drop off. Higher and higher they rose, and Hoshie began to dread what lay ahead of them. Tobio bounced up and down in his seat, with a wide grin on his face. They reached the top, and the train slipped away from the escapement that had been pulling it up the incline. For a split second it hung there, and then it started down the track, gaining speed as gravity pulled them. Faster and faster they went, Hoshie could feel the acceleration and the G forces pressing her into her seat. Tobio waved his hands in the air, screaming with excitement.

The EKG monitor registered an increase in Hoshie's pulse rate. Astro still stood there, still as a rock, but his breathing was noticeably faster, and beads of sweat were forming on his forehead. Dr. Tezuka whispered to the professor and Kurō, "What's happening?"

"Astro seems to have joined minds with Hoshie. They are experiencing the same dream vision, whatever that may be." Professor Ochanomizu explained.

"I think he is also supporting her autonomic functions as well" Dr. Blackjack guessed. "If he breaks contact with her, she may slip away."

"Then he's acting as a resuscitator" Professor Ochanomizu said, "Which is against Hoshie's wishes."

"If I'm reading her EEG readings correctly," Dr. Blackjack said, "They are sharing something that Hoshie is happy about."

The Coaster banked and turned. The centripetal force turned the negative G force of falling into a positive one. They reached the bottom of the first hill and roared up the next, smaller one. Once again the train nearly stopped as it crested the incline before dropping off and falling down toward the bottom again. Tobio squealed with with pleasure from the mild fear the ride invoked. Hoshie held her son's hand as the ride whirled about the last curve and reached the bottom. The train was caught by the drive chain and slowly pulled back into the station where they had started out from.

"That was fun!, Mother," Astro said, giving Hoshie a kiss on the cheek. "Can we ride again?"

"I don't think I can take that again" Hoshie said. "I'm not as young as you are!"

"OK, Mom" Astro said. "Let's go get some cotton candy then."

Hoshie sat down on a bench and dug into her purse. She pulled out some Yen notes and handed them to Tobio and pointed to the vendor selling Cotton Candy, and some other 'Carny' food.

"Go get yourself what you want, and bring me back a funnel cake." Hoshie asked the boy. "I feel a bit faint, I think I'll rest on this bench for a while."

Astro slowly walked in the direction of the food stand. He looked over his shoulder and saw his mother close her eyes.

Astro snapped awake and removed his hands from Hoshie. The pulse oximeter on Hoshie's index finger connected to the LCD monitor still indicated acceptable vital signs.

"She's stable for now," Dr. Blackjack said, "But her x-ray's don't look good. Another bleed may have started and without surgery she's going to only get worse."

"I thought you said surgery was impossible." Dr. Tezuka reminded his colleague.

"It is." Blackjack said. "I have the skills, but the task is impossible. No human could be precise and stable enough with the scalpel to get at the damaged area without causing damage to other vital areas. My hands are steady, but even I wouldn't be able to achieve the accuracy required. A robot surgeon could do it, if we had the time to program one."

"He's right." Professor Ochanomizu sighed. "The Ministry of Science makes some excellent robot surgeons, but they need to be programmed with the exact task at hand. A surgeon can work along side such robots, but the programming for the various surgical techniques took years to develop."

"I've worked with some of those robots." Dr. Tezuka agreed. "The kind of brain surgery that Kurō refers to isn't a stock procedure that such robots would have been programmed with. A doctor would have to help develop such software."

Tears slowly dripped from Astro's eyes. He took a deep breath and looked at Dr. Blackjack.
"My hands can handle the precision, and my eye hand coordination is a thousand times more precise than a human's. My eyes can see detail so small that a microscope would be required." He said softly.

"But you don't have the surgical knowledge." Professor Ochanomizu said.

"I can acquire it from Dr. Blackjack." Astro said. He walked up to Kurō and looked him in the eyes.
"Can you inject yourself with a mild sedative, just enough to relax yourself enough to allow your mind to be receptive?" Astro asked. "Then I could join with you and allow you to transfer your surgical skills to me!"

"Is that possible?" Dr. Tezuka asked

"At this point, I wouldn't bet against it." Professor Ochanomizu said.

Dr. Blackjack walked over to the medical cabinet and searched through the drug list.
"I think this will do the trick" he said, as he removed a vial of Sodium Thiopental and a syringe from the locker. He plunged the needle through the rubber stopper on the top of the vial and filled the syringe with a carefully measured amount. Kurō sat down on a double wide lounge, rolled up his sleeve and injected himself in the upper arm.

"The drug should take effect in a few minutes." he said. "Why don't you sit next to me and work your magic, Astro?"

Astro sat next to Dr. Blackjack and placed his hands over the doctor's forehead and scalp. He slowly sank into a deep trance as the drug began to do its work on Blackjack.

Hoshie lay on the operating table. Her head had been shaved and the outline of the required cuts were drawn on the skin with black marker. Dr. Blackjack used the electric skull saw cut the required openings in her head, and carefully peeled back the skin and bone to expose the damaged areas of the brain.

"The bleed lies under this area." He pointed to Astro. "It's necessary to get a few centimeters below the surface to make the repair to the blood vessels. A very fine cut between these lobes of tissue to remove the membrane holding the brain matter in place is required, then the area needs to be gently expanded to access the bleed. Then the artery must be sutured with a patch of donor tissue. All without damaging any of the vital neuron matter. The slightest wrong move of the tools, and the patient will be left a vegetable."

"Show me." Astro said.

Dr. Blackjack carefully inserted his scalpel and made the required cuts. He carefully used the surgical spatula to separate the lobes of the brain and exposed the damaged artery. Astro carefully held the spatula while his teacher demonstrated the technique of repairing the artery. The bleeding stopped.

"There, now we need to close up."

When Dr. Blackjack woke up, he saw Astro's smiling face looking over him. The boy robot was dressed in surgeon's greens and was wearing a cap and a face mask.

"What just happened?" he asked.

"Thank you Sensei!" Astro said. "You made it look so easy a child could do it! Let's operate."

Dr. Tezuka slipped several X-rays onto the viewing lamps in the O.R. Dr. Blackjack examined them again, and carefully marked the shaved areas on Hoshie's scalp where they would be making the incisions. Astro stood next to Hoshie, holding her hand. Dr. Tezuka thought it a bit odd seeing the boy robot dressed in the surgical gown with a hair cap over his head, and wearing a breath mask over his nose and mouth. Astro's head didn't shed hair or dander, so the cap was not needed. Nor was the breath mask, as he harbored no bacteria that he could breath out into the room. In fact he didn't even NEED to breath. Pinoko stood in the background dressed in her white medical outfit. She had been prepared to help her Sensei, but would now be assisting Astro.

Dr. Tezuka used the skull saw to open the areas marked on the skin. Dr. Blackjack carefully pealed back the skin and bone, as he had done in his mind with Astro watching. This time the scene was different, Kurō frowned as he examined the surface of Hoshie's brain.

"There is much more damage than was immediately evident in the Cat-Scans." He said. "I can see at least two areas that will have to be repaired." He pointed to two different places where it would be necessary to probe for the internal bleeding.

Astro zoomed his eyes into microscope mode and carefully scanned the surface of the brain. Equipped with the surgical knowledge that he had downloaded from Dr. Blackjack, he knew what to look for and identified three places where he would have to work.

"Scalpel!" he said, extending his open palm outward. Pinoko slapped the surgical instrument into Astro's gloved hand. Astro carefully cut through the membranes as Blackjack had instructed him. There wasn't the slightest hint of a quaver in his hand movements. Astro moved like a well oiled, precession machine, which in fact, he was.

Dr. Tezuka noticed a strange look in Astro's eyes. His usual cheerful personality was gone, and pure concentration showed in his face. It was like he was all machine and nothing remained of the cute little boy that Astro was made to mimic.

"Spatula!" Astro requested, and once again Pinoko selected the medical tool and placed it into his hand. Astro located the bleed, and Pinoko picked up a tray holding pieces of vein graft, along with tweezers and held the try up for Astro, who began to suture the damaged blood vessel. Kurō watched as the boy android operated. He felt slightly inadequate, Astro's handling of the surgical instruments was beyond perfection. Dr. Tezuka looked up at the monitors and saw that Hoshie's vitals were still stable.

Astro opened the membrane at the second site and repeated the operation. Blackjack used the suction tube to remove excess blood as Astro sutured closed the patch on the second artery. He then proceeded to operate on the third area that Kurō hadn't identified. Astro worked quickly and methodically Blackjack marveled at how the robot's speed and accuracy with the scalpel were so much superior to his own.

"I'll close the incisions now." Dr. Tezuka said as Astro finished with the last repair.
Pinoko cleaned the incision area and carefully bandaged it. As they wheeled Hoshie out of the O.R. and toward the recovery room, Astro held her hand and placed his other hand over her head. He was aware of his surroundings as he walked, but he drifted away into a waking trance.

Hoshie opened her eyes as Tobio approached. Astro handed her the funnel cake with one hand, as he held the cone of cotton candy in the other. He stuck his tongue out to take in a mouthful of the sugary snack.

"Where do you want to go next, son?" Hoshie asked.

"Can we go on the carousel?" Astro asked.

"That one, I think I would enjoy." Hoshie said.

The two of them walked across the fairgrounds and arrived at the round building that housed the carousel. Hoshie handed two tickets over to the attendant and they mounted the raised platform. Astro climbed onto a large white horse on the outside circumference of the carousel while Hoshie sat on a low bench across from him at the inside of the ring. Inside the revolving ring of the ride, a steam calliope started up playing "Entry of the Gladiators" as the ride began to revolve.

Astro leaned over on his horse and stretched out his arm trying grab hold of a brass ring hanging from a stand about a foot or so away from the ride. Other riders on the horses along the outside circumference also attempted the same, and one a few places ahead of Astro actually did capture a souvenir. Astro's horse rose and fell as the ride revolved, its timing was out of sync with the carousel's rotation, and on their fifth turn around the horse was at its apex as they passed the ring. Astro's outstretched fingers barely grasped the metallic circle, and he managed to capture it for his own.

Hoshie saw him and yelled out to him, "Good for you, Tobio! You can exchange the ring for a prize!"

The ride slowed, and stopped. Hoshie took her son by the hand and they walked up to the prize booth at the ride's exit. Tobio selected a small stuffed animal as his prize, and clutched it with a steel grip as they walked away from the carousel.

Astro remained by Hoshie's side all night. Dr. Tezuka and Dr. Blackjack took turns checking on her vitals. Professor Ochanomizu didn't spend the night at the hospital, he returned the next day with Reno in tow. They found Astro still sitting beside his 'mother', nearly asleep.

"Your energy levels must be getting rather low." Reno said, poking Astro in the chest.

"Yeah, I think I could use a recharge." Astro sighed.

"Good thing I brought you some 'breakfast'." Reno laughed, pulling an energy tube out the bag he had in tow with him. Reno opened Astro's chest panel and plugged the recharge tube into the fuel socket. It only took a few minutes to refill Astro's fuel tanks, the look on his face quickly picked up.

"Thank's, Reno." Astro said. "I was feeling a bit weak there."

"There's something else I'd like to do, if you don't mind." Reno said. He had brought a laptop computer with him, and a special set of electrodes which he attached with suction cups to Astro's head and chest.

"What's this for?" Astro asked.

"I want to record your mental contact with Hoshie." Reno said. "Professor Ochanomizu told me what you were doing, and I didn't quite believe it. It's almost like you reprogrammed your own A.I."

Astro placed his hands on Hoshie's head again, and concentrated. It didn't take him very long to drift back into his trance state. The graphic display on Reno's computer started going crazy with the waveforms of Astro's EEG output.

Hoshie laughed at the prize her son had selected. It was a Micro Bear, cute and cuddly.

" I thought you'd want a scary Dinosaur or a Horse or something." She said.

"No, I like this." Astro said. "It's something I can fall asleep with and have pleasant dreams."

"Yes, I guess it would be comforting." Hoshie said, stroking Tobios's hair and playing with his cowlicks. She looked up at a clock on the side of a building. "It's getting late, we should be heading home. We'll catch hell if we get back after your father gets home."

They slowly walked to the fairground exit, and waited for the bus that would take them home. Astro put his arms around Hoshie's waist and hugged her.

"Thank you mom, for a wonderful day!" he said.

Hoshie bent down and kissed Tobio on his forehead.
"You're welcome!" She said.

Astro felt something push at him and he snapped out of his trance. The EEG monitor above Hoshie's hospital bed started beeping. Moments later, Dr. Tezuka ran into the room. He looked up at the monitor and pressed a button to silence the alarm.

"What's the matter?" Astro asked with a worried voice.

"Nothing" Tezuka said. "That alarm was set to trigger if Hoshie's brain activity peaked beyond a preset point. It just did."

Hoshie moaned and opened her eyes a crack. She tried to say something, but her voice was weak and distorted. Astro was able to understand her however.
"Tobio?" Hoshie asked.

Astro wasn't sure what to do. He decided to play along.
"Yes mother?"

"I'm thirsty. Can you get me some water?"

Dr. Tezuka brought over a glass of liquid.
"This is a thickened electrolyte solution. It's safer for her than plain water, and has additional enzymes that she needs." The doctor said.

Astro held the cup up to Hoshie's lips and she drank a few sips.

"This is encouraging." Dr. Tezuka said. "If Hoshie is able to drink and eat pureed food, there may be a chance for some sort of a recovery."

"Where Am I?" Hoshie asked. She tried to open her eyes but kept closing them.

Dr. Tezuka reached for the room lighting control and dimmed the lights.
"Can you see anything?" he asked.

Hoshie opened her eyes a bit wider. It seemed like she was trying hard to focus, and make something out of a blurry scene. She turned her head and stared at Astro for a few minutes.
"You're not Tobio?" are you? She asked.

Astro was afraid to go into details, he didn't know if Hoshie remembered what had happened to Tobio many years ago.

"No, Mrs. Tenma." Astro said. "My name is Astro, I'm a robot."

"Yes, I know you, Astro Boy." Hoshie said. "You look a lot like my Tobio once did."

A nurse walked into the room, pushing a cart with a feeding tray on it. She left the tray, and departed. Astro thought a moment, and picked up a small dish containing applesauce, and a spoon. He spooned out a small amount of the applesauce, and brought the spoon to Hoshie's lips.
"You must be hungry." He said. "Let me feed you."

For the next ten minutes Hoshie slowly accepted the food into her mouth and was able to swallow it. She managed to finish most of the dish of applesauce, as well as part of another containing pureed carrots and peas, before she drifted back to sleep.

"Very good, Astro" Professor Ochanomizu said. "You make a good nurse."

Astro blushed a bit.

Reno pulled the Professor aside.
"Astro thinks of Hoshie as his real mother." Reno said. "He has Tobio's memories of Hoshie implanted deep in the lower levels of his A.I."

"I realize that." Ochanomizu replied. "I think Hoshie has imprinted on Astro as her surrogate son as well. Astro's direct mental contact with her has also strengthened that association."

Dr. Blackjack entered the room and looked at Hoshie's charts. He saw the food tray and the now empty dishes.
"Excellent!" he said. "She's able to swallow. There's some hope for something of a recovery then."

Kurō looked at Astro, who once again was slipping into a trance to make direct contact with Hoshie's mind.
"It's freaky watching him do that!" he said. "I suspect he's pulled Hoshie back from the beyond several times now, her recovery has been totally in Astro's hands, in more ways than one."

Hoshie opened the door to their house just as the sun was starting to touch the horizon. Dr. Tenma's car was still missing from the driveway and the hallway was dark as they entered. It was clear that they had beat Umataro home.

"Can I help you make dinner?" Astro asked.

"Why sure, Tobio!" Hoshie said. "What would you like?"

"I don't know?" Astro said, "What were you going to make?"

"Well your father did ask me to make Sushi, but I'm not that good at it." she said.

"I'll do the hard part." Astro said.

Hoshie got the fish she had bought the other day out of the refrigerator, and removed a bag of raw rice from the pantry cabinet. She set the rice pot up on the stove to boil, and started to prepare the fish on a cutting board. Astro stood watch over the rice as it cooked.

"Watching a pot, won't make it boil any faster!" Hoshie laughed.

"I know." Astro said, as he looked in the refrigerator for the seaweed wrap.

Hoshie turned down the heat on the stove and stuck a spoon in to test the rice.
"OK, it's cooked enough." she said, removing the pot and placing it on a thick cloth on the counter.

Astro carefully wrapped the fish in the rice and rolled it in the seaweed. He made nice tight bundles, which Hoshie then cut up and placed on the bamboo trays. Astro put these back in the refrigerator to cool.

"Those look very good." Hoshie said. "I think your father will be quite surprised."

Astro came by the hospital every day for the rest of the week. Hoshie's condition didn't change too much, she might open her eyes for a few minutes at a time, and was able to be spoon fed small amounts of pureed food. The doctors did not see any great chance for rapid improvement of her condition, and there was little more that they could do.

Dr. Tezuka found Astro trying to make conversation with Hoshie. She sometimes recognized him, but often mistook him for Tobio. Most of the time Hoshie was in some state of sleep, sometimes she could be roused by calling her name and squeezing her arm.

"Hello, Astro." The doctor said. "We'll be moving Hoshie to a nursing home later today or tomorrow. Yuki spent a great deal of time doing the research and she recommended a good facility not far from here."

"Does that mean she's better?" Astro asked hopefully.

"Not really." Tezuka said. "We've done everything that we can for her, she now needs long term care which is something a hospital isn't suited for."

"Oh." Astro sighed.

"Don't worry," the doctor said. "She'll be well looked after where she's going. They will be able to give her physical therapy if she can remain awake long enough. The nurses will make every effort to keep her eating, but that will depend on Hoshie being awake long enough."

"No feeding tube?" Astro asked.

"No. Hoshie's made that clear in her living will." Dr. Tezuka answered. "If her recovery falters, she'll be kept comfortable, but no measures will be taken to keep her alive. It's what she wanted."

"I'm sure see doesn't want to die." Astro said sternly.

"True, but she also doesn't want to exist in a mindless state either." The doctor said. "Professor Ochanomizu knows where Hoshie is going, you can visit her in the nursing home."

"I will." Astro said. He kissed Hoshie on the forehead and walked out of the room, waving back as he left.

The first day that Astro visited Hoshie in the nursing home, he found her in a day room with a few other resident patients. Hoshie was sitting up in a large padded chair that could be wheeled between her room and the rest of the facility. Hoshie appeared to be sleeping, but opened her eyes briefly when Astro said hello. A nurse carrying a tray with some bowls of pureed food and cups of juice stopped by.

"Hello, Ms Hoshie-chan, time for your lunch." she said.

Hoshie stayed awake long enough to eat half a bowl of pureed vegetables and some juice, before falling asleep again. Astro tried to wake her, but she was now in a deep sleep.

"She's been like that since she was brought in." the nurse told Astro. "I don't think she's eating enough."

Astro got pulled a foot stool close to Hosie's chair and sat next to her. He placed his hands on her head and closed his eyes.

"What are you doing?" the nurse asked, but got no reply. Astro had slipped into a deep trance.

Dr Tenma opened the front door and hung his hat and coat on the rack by the door. He walked into the dinning room where Tobio was helping Hoshie set the table. A large plate of prepared Sushi was already sitting in the middle of the table, Tobio had just brought in the Wasabi sauce and ginger. Umataro looked at the platter and smiled.

"Did you hire a Sushi chef, dear?" He asked.

"Sortof." Hoshie laughed. "Tobio helped make dinner."

"Tobio?" Umataro asked. "Since when did you learn how to make Sushi?" he asked.

"I watched a cooking show on TV." Astro quickly blurted out.

"Impressive." Dr. Tenma said. "So how was school today, son?"

Astro didn't know what to say. He didn't want to get his father mad.

"Tobio wasn't feeling well this morning." Hoshie quickly interrupted. "He stayed with me all day."

Umataro gave them both a stern look for a second, before smiling.
"Well, Tobio can make up the missing classwork tomorrow." he said. "Let's eat dinner, I'm starving!"

The head nurse came in and gently prodded Astro, moving him away from Hoshie.
"I'm sorry son," she said "I need to examine Ms Hoshie."

Astro opened his eyes and quietly got up. The nurse drew a blood sample from Hoshie, who didn't flinch at all when the needle was inserted into a vein. The nurse then took her blood pressure, and listened to her breathing and heartbeat through a stethoscope. She mad a sour look on her face, and quickly erased it when Astro saw it.

That evening Astro sat sulking in his room. Uran and Cobalt tried to cheer him up, but he mostly ignored them. When Chi-tan crawled into his room and tugged on his left boot, Astro picked up the infant and sat him on his knee. Chi-tan made funny faces trying to get a laugh out of his older brother, but Astro could do little more than pat the little robot on his head. Chi-tan let out a small cry, just loud enough to bring Uran into the room. She immediately saw the problem and sighed.

"Poor Chi-tan was trying to cheer you up, and you must have ignored him." She said.

"I know." Astro said in a low voice. "The part of me that used to be Tobio is sad because he's loosing his mother. I don't think she's got much longer."

"But you helped Dr. Blackjack operate on her." Uran said.

"I guess it wasn't enough." Astro sighed.

The telephone rang and Professor Ochanomizu answered it. He listened for a few minutes, mumbled a few words and hung up.
"Astro!" the old man called out.

"Yes?" Astro asked, walking into his guardian's room.

"The nursing home just called." He said. "Hoshie's blood work and vital signs indicate she's not doing very well. They told me she might not make it past tomorrow."

Astro's eyes teared up. He didn't know what to do. Suddenly, he ran out the door and leaped skyward. Astro flew toward the coast and landed by the cliff where Dr. Blackjack's house stood. He saw that the doctor's car was parked in the driveway, so he ran up to the door rang the bell.

Pinoko opened the door and was surprised to see Astro standing there. Astro rushed past her and ran up to the lounge chair where Dr. Blackjack was seated reading a newspaper and smoking his pipe.

"Blackjack Sensei, I need your help!" Astro cried. "Hoshie is dying."

Blackjack got out of his seat and stood up. He towered nearly two heads above the boy robot, so he bent his legs to look eye to eye with him.
"I've already done everything possible." He said. "You've even done the nearly impossible. I'm sorry Astro, but her brain was too far damaged."

"Are you sure? Can you take another look at her?" Astro pleaded.

"Now?" Kurō asked.

"Yes, I'll take you to her." Astro pleaded.

Blackjack looked into Astro's moist brown eyes and saw the plea of an innocent child. He sighed, and picked up his black bag.
"I'll probably get vertigo, but OK." He said.

They walked outside and Astro picked Dr. Blackjack up an flew with him to the nursing home. He landed gently by the front door and they walked inside. When the reached Hoshie's room, Dr. Tezuka was already there.

"The home called the hospital and I came right over." he said. "What brought you here?"

"I did." Astro said.

Tezuka handed Kurō Hoshie's chart. Blackjack looked at the blood work results, and he listened to her heart and breathing.
"A bit of arrhythmia." he said walking over to the drug locker. Kurō filled a syringe with some medicine from a small vial and injected it into Hoshie's arm.

"This will help in the short term, but there isn't much I can do to change the outcome." He sighed.

Astro once again placed his hand over Hoshie's head and made contact with her mind. He had to concentrate much harder than before, as Hoshie's brainwaves were much weaker now.

The three of them sat down to dinner. Dr. Tenma carefully cut off a section of the first wrap and dipped it into the sauce. He slowly chewed and swallowed the sushi and smiled.
"You made this, Tobio? Perhaps you shouldn't follow in your old man's steps as an engineer and you should become a chef."

Astro smiled at his father. "I'm glad you like it father, but I'd still like to become a great scientist like you."

"Well, at least you'll have another career to fall back on." Umataro laughed.

Hoshie ate silently, happy to see how well her son and her husband were getting along together. She felt like a great burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

"I'll get it." Hoshie said, walking toward the front door.

"I didn't hear the doorbell ring." Umataro said.

"Neither did I." Tobio added.

Hoshie opened the door and smiled "Hello."

Standing just outside the door was a beautiful young woman dressed in a pure white chauffeurs uniform. Parked in the street by the driveway was a brand new, spitting clean, pure white limousine.

"Your ride is waiting, Ms Hoshie." the chauffeur said.

"Yes, you're right on time." Hoshie said walking out the front door.

Astro ran out the front door after her.
"Where are you going, mom?"

"It's time for me to leave, Tobio. Please take care of your father, won't you?"

"No, Mom! I want to come with you!" Tobio cried out.

The chauffeur bent down and patted Astro on the head.
"I'm sorry son, but you can't go with your mother, it's not your time."

"Are you coming back?" Tobio sobbed, "Will I ever see you again?"

Hoshie bent down and kissed Tobio on his forehead.
"I'm afraid it's goodbye, son. I won't be coming back, but we will see each other again someday, when it's time."

The chauffeur helped Hoshie into the back seat of the limousine and closed the door. Astro looked up at her.
"I guess I won't ever see my mom again. I'm a robot, so I won't get to ride in one of these limousines."

The chauffeur bent down and smiled at Astro.
"Don't sell yourself short. You have as beautiful a soul as your mother does. You will see her again. Until then a piece of her will always be right here." She said, touching Astro's chest at the spot where his electronic brain was. The woman got into the drivers seat and started the engine. The large automobile drove off into the sunset as Astro watched.

Astro snapped out of his trance to the sound of the EKG monitor screaming for a flat line. Hoshie was gone.

Hoshie looked at peace lying in the casket. A small crowd of people walked through the small prayer room in the chapel to pay their last respects. The casket sat on a low table besides the podium in front of a few rows of benches. The walls of the room were of brick lined with dark woods, with a few stained glass windows on one long wall. The room was decorated in a non-denominational manor, as the funeral home served the needs of several different religions. A subtle hint of a Bach organ piece was playing from hidden speakers.

Astro stood next to the coffin looking down at the face of his 'mother'. It was a simple unfinished pine box with a few decorative carvings on the top and sides. The lid was in two pieces, with only the smaller portion over the head opened. Simple rope handles were attached to the sides for the benefit of the pallbearers.

Professor Ochanomizu and Reno watched from across the room.
"He's been standing there motionless for hours," The old man said. "I don't think I've even seen him blink once."

"It's the way his A.I. deals with grief." Reno said. "Dr. Tenma was a genius, but he couldn't translate the human mind's handling of some emotions into cybernetics. This is the first time Astro has had to handle the specific emotional pains of a loss like this. He probably doesn't comprehend the meaning of the death of a loved one. It's a totally new experience for his A.I."

"I hope he doesn't suffer some kind of computer crash." Ochanomizu said.

"He won't." Reno quickly replied. "But it will take him a while to work it out."

The chaplain walked into the sanctuary. He was dressed in a respectful, dark colored suit. He noticed the boy dressed in a dark pair of short pants a jacket with red boots standing over the casket. He walked up to Astro and looking down at the face of the departed, placed a hand on his shoulder.

"She was someone special to you, wasn't she?" He asked.

"In another life, she was my mother." Astro said.

The background music changed tune and increased somewhat in volume. A few people shuffled into the room and found seats.
Astro took a seat in the front row next to Ochanomizu and Reno. The service was short and simple, and ended with the casket lid being closed, and the pallbearers carrying it out the door to the waiting hearse. Ochanomizu, Reno, Cobalt and Mustachio were among those carrying the coffin out of the room. Astro wanted to help, but was told that it wasn't proper for the bereaving to perform the duty.

During the hour long ride to the cemetery Astro sat in silence next to Cobalt and Uran in the back of the limousine. Ochanomizu, Reno, and Mustachio sat in the row of seats ahead of them. The funeral procession finally reached the grave site and the casket was removed from the hearse and was lowered into the ground as the chaplain spoke. Astro watched as the funeral workers started to shovel the earth into the grave to cover the casket. He suddenly grabbed a shovel out of the hands of one of them, and proceeded to do the work himself.

"Astro!" Ochanomizu started to protest, but the chaplain stopped him.

"His behavior is actually quite proper," He explained, "In fact, Jews consider it the final act of respect for a loved one for the funeral congregation to personally fill in the grave."

With clay encrusted mud from the grave site covering his boots, Astro rode back in the limousine with his companions. He hadn't spoken a word since living the funeral home, and sulked back into his room as soon as they returned home.

Professor Ochanomizu called Reno into his office.
"I'm very concerned about Astro." He said "I've never seen him like this before. I've tried to talk to him for nearly a week now and I've gotten little response out of him. All he seems to do is to sit on a small wooden crate in his room, deep in thought."

"I do believe he's grieving Professor." Reno said. "I didn't expect this from his A.I., but it appears that he has developed the human emotion for grief. In fact his actions appear to resemble the
Jewish custom for sitting Shiva after the funeral of a loved one."

"But he hardly knew Hoshie" Ochanomizu replied.

"Ah, but he did!" Reno returned. "He has Tobio's memories deep down, so he knew Hoshie to be his mother. In addition, by making direct mental contact with Hoshie after she had her stroke, Astro has actually relived Hoshie's memories of Tobio's childhood."

Though his eyes were open, Astro didn't see the walls of his room, or any of his surroundings. He was enveloped in a soft fog that hid the world around him. He didn't hear the sounds of his family in the rooms around him, though they were hardly being quiet. He heard the pleasant sound of an angelic choir singing softly in a heavenly voice. Floating in front of him a whispering vision of an angelic figure with Hoshie's face slowly solidified out of the foggy mist. It spoke to him in a soothing voice.

"Astro," it said. "you don't need to grieve for me any longer for I have found my peace and I am finally happy." Another figure materialized out of the mist. It was a young girl several inches shorter than Astro with two bangs of hair on either side of her head that stood up in much the same way that Astro's own cowlicks did. She smiled at him, clutching her mothers hand. Holding Hoshie's other hand was the young Tobio, who smiled back at Astro.

"You have your own life to live now, Astro," Hoshie said, "and lot's of important things to accomplish." She added. "You can always find me for strength anytime you need me, I'll always be with you."

Astro suddenly felt reassured, and the fog lifted. He got up from the wooden box that he had been sitting on for a week, and walked into the kitchen to find his guardian making a cup of tea.

"Astro?" Ochanomizu asked.

"I'm hungry, and I can use a recharge." Astro said.

Dr. Blackjack found Dr. Tezuka in his office doing some work on his computer. He glanced at the screen and sighed.
"Hoshie's death certificate?" He asked. "I thought you'd have filed that weeks ago."

"I did." Tezuka said. "I was just double checking something. I'm still puzzled by this."

"I think I know what you're getting at." Blackjack said. "Hoshie never really regaind consciousness for any length of time after her stroke. She was probably never fully aware of what had happened to her, or of her surroundings. Yet she was still alive as a self aware spirit deep inside. Her only contact with the outside world was through Astro's mental link with her mind. I think Astro helped ease her final days, she wasn't alone as she left this world."

"I don't think we will ever fully understand the relationship between the human brain and the soul." Tezuka said. "There is much that science will never understand, those that berate religion probably need to rethink their position. Maybe intelligent beings were not intended to ever understand god. We are just required to believe, and find our own inner peace."

The End

Author's Postscript:

On February 14, 2014 my mother suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke. Her condition slowly deteriorated over the next few days,
and then stabilized leaving her in a semiconscious state. She would be awake for only a few minutes at a time, sometimes being able to open her eyes. She would be able to eat and drink with some help at these moments.

My wife and I visited her in the hospital for a week, and it was at this time that I felt some closure. I had to return home, and my sister kept us informed of Mom's condition. She was transferred to a nursing home where it briefly appeared that she might be able to make a small recovery, but this was not to be. Within two weeks she slipped back into a deeper state of semiconsciousness, and eventually expired.

It was during this month long period of my mother's slow death that I started to write this story. I've been projecting my own emotional rollercoaster ride through Astro's eyes. After 61 years on this earth, I am now alone as an orphan. (Well, I still have my siblings, my wife and daughters, and good friends). It's hard seeing those that we love fall ill and leave us. At least neither one of my parents suffered greatly and were allowed to gently pass on in peace, and I was allowed to experience some form of 'closure'.

While it may be the first of spring, it's cold up in NYC (though the first of the robins have returned to peck at the cold ground for worms.) My flight from south Florida was a bear, JFK was closed for a few hours due to a freak storm front passing by and having to attend a funeral on three hours sleep was not fun. Driving through Brooklyn to get to NJ from LI was bittersweet, probably the last time I'll ever see the neighborhood I grew up in. I guess Thomas Wolfe was right...