Just for the record: Osamu Tezuka was a licensed doctor. I am not. I am also, as you will no doubt observe, very lazy. Any instance of medical or scientific accuracy in this story should be regarded as pure happy chance, a divine gift, and definitely not the result of a blind spot in my research or a case of my taking gross artistic license with reality for the sake of fanservice and convenience. It's all an accident, got it? Disregard my extensive, incriminating Google history.
“Doc, come on, be fair!”

Night was falling and Black Jack's patience was failing. He shut the and turned back to the porch. There she was, brooding in the bright pink parka he'd bought her the Christmas before. This winter had been mild, at least on the cape, but she wasn't dressed for staying home. “This is as fair as it gets, Pinoko.” He put a hand through his hair to get some of the cool mist that hung in the air off his uncovered head. At least snow wouldn't soak into everything so quickly. “The patient is in a delicate state and made the very reasonable request that I not bring along a child. You understand, don't you?”

She puffed out her cheeks and leaned on the splintering bannister. “It's your fault, then. 'Cause you put a grown lady in a little kid body like this, everybody gets confused. If you just made a body for me, except way bigger and prettier, th-”

“That is out of the question, and you know it.” Black Jack advanced up the stairs and planted his hands on her shoulders to turn her around and lead her back inside. “And you know why.”

She skulked inside, silent, glowering at him.

“You know why.” he repeated.

“Pinoko's body's not like other people's bodies.” She dropped her gaze and regarded her fidgeting feet.

“Yes,” he said, carefully pulling the sharpness from his voice. “You always tell me you're all grown up, but that's just it: Things like your heart and lungs are all done growing, and they're not big enough to support a bigger body for very long. Even trying would entail a huge risk. I'm the reason you're alive at all, and I want you to live the fullest and longest life you can.”

Pinoko looked up, but avoided his eyes. She looked out the far window instead. “You say that, but you're going to go see a woman all alone.”

“I am, and you know exactly why. You're the one who made me take the call in the first place.”



The very start of winter on the cape was always so peaceful. The cold snap took the haze out of the air and cleared up the sky, and if he wanted he could sit by the window and look out at the far, far horizon for ages.


Provided there were no distractions.

Black Jack crossed an ankle over his knee. “I heard you the first time.”

“Then I guess you hear the phone, too!” Pinoko snapped over the tinny peel of the ringer in the next room. “Get off your lazy butt and go answer it!”

Black Jack remained – physically as well as emotionally – unmoved. “You get it.”

“Whoever it is hangs up when I answer it!”

“And I'm booked. They can leave a message if they're so desperate.”

“They could be dying!” A big weight latched onto the back of his chair and nearly pulled it backward onto the floor. Synthetic kids were heavier than average.

Black Jack grunted and reached behind himself to wrestle Pinoko off the back of the chair. It would be a shame to squash her. “A dying person wouldn't call three times a day for days on end! They'd die! Got it?”

Finally, her grip came loose and she tumbled into a big-eyed sprawl on his lap. “What if it's a ghost?”

“A ghost that's only interested in tying up the house phone is fine by me.” He tried to set her back on the floor, but she latched on to him. “Hey.”

“What if it's a ghost and if you answer the phone you die?”

Very carefully, he pried her little fingers out of the folds in his vest. “Then it's fine.”

“But I answered!”

“And you're still alive!”

She dropped off his arm and to the floor, her face the picture of impending tragedy. “Ghosts never kill you right away, dummy!”

The phone started up again, and Pinoko wailed along with it. It was at that point that Black Jack realized any hope of a free afternoon with zero interruptions had completely dissolved. He heaved a sigh from his lungs and his body from his chair, stepped back into his slippers, and padded to the phone table. He caught it on the fourth ring, just before the machine could pick it up.

“You're speaking to Black Jack. State your business.”

“Oh!” A woman's voice, young but very thin. “I am so glad. Dr. Black Jack, hello, there is a job for you. I am prepared to pay. Important. It is important. An important thing.”

His anger left him. So, she had panicked on hearing a recorded message in a language she barely spoke. “Ma'am,” he said, clearly and smoothly. “I understand English very well, if you would rather speak English.”

That worn-out voice in the earpiece sighed and sobbed with what Black Jack hoped was relief. He waited for her to gather herself and speak again. “Thank you. Oh, thank God. Forgive me for assuming you could only understand Japanese.”

He made his expression soft, though he knew she couldn't see him. “I appreciate the attempt. Now, I'm a very busy man, so forget apologizing until you after we discuss your case.”

Pinoko reappeared, peering around the door frame. “It's worse than a ghost,” she hissed, her expression sour. “You're being all sweet. It's a girl.”

“Yes, of course,” the young lady said after a short pause. “You see, it's- I'm pregnant, doctor, and it isn't normal.”

Black Jack frowned and tried, without success, to wave Pinoko away. “Such things aren't a concentration of mine. Are you seeing an obstetrician?”

“I am. Or, I was. He advised me to terminate, and I haven't seen him since. I told him I would be seeing another doctor.”

Black Jack leaned on the phone table and patted his empty pocket for his pipe. He'd left it in the other room, naturally. “I'm an odd choice. How long ago did you last see that doctor?”

“It's been four months, now.”

His eyebrows shot up and warmth drained out of his face. “Four months? You idiot! The problem was so serious that termination was on the table, and you've been avoiding a doctor for four months? You're risking serious complications every day! The fetus could already be dead! You could die!”

“The baby isn't dead. I feel him kicking, so he must be alive. What else would be kicking in my belly, if not my baby?” She paused a long moment, slowing her breaths. “I knew we could both survive this long. I couldn't trust a doctor whose first proposed solution was to kill my baby. You couldn't understand, as a man, but try to believe me.”

Black Jack sighed through his nose. “I do believe you.” Which he did, so far as he believed that she felt that she was in the right. Pinoko tottered over with his pipe held out like a peace offering. He would admonish her for carrying it around and risking burning a hole in her hands or the floor later. For the time being, he was just grateful he didn't have to re-light it. “What, exactly, is the complication with your pregnancy?”

“It's an extra-uterine pregnancy,” she said, softly, haltingly. “Don't call me foolish again. I realize that it's serious.”

Black Jack blew out the sting on his tongue. “And what do you need from me? Any hospital can give you a c-section.” If she made it that far, of course.

A muffled grinding sound came over the receiver. Her teeth? “Saving my son would be a good start,” she said. “More specifically, the way in which... in which the fetus implanted, it means that I could bleed to death or he could lose oxygen and suffocate if anyone but a miracle worker tried to deliver him.”

Black Jack puffed his pipe and considered this. “And I'm supposed to make a miracle happen for you.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I'm terrible. A terrible mother who's done something crazy and risked killing her child or leaving him an orphan rather than kill him outright. It's awful, isn't it?”

“It's foolish.”

“Do you accept money from fools?”

“Routinely. Since you're asking for work on what I assume must be very short notice, I can't do it for less than a hundred thousand with travel paid upfront.”

“You'll have it, but please... come alone. I understand you bring your daughter along sometimes, and I couldn't stand to see a child running around my house right now. Just thinking about it makes me want to break down and cry.”

Again, his anger left. “Of course, I understand. I'll need any records from your previous doctor to review as much as I need the advance for travel expenses, of course. And your name and contact information.”

“Eleanor,” she said. Again, that grinding. “Eleanor Audrey Makube. I suppose I should tell you that I found your information among my late husband's things.”

Black Jack let hot smoke settle in his cold, slack mouth.

Eleanor went on. “I had nothing to do with, and no knowledge of, anything that sent that man to the chair. And don't worry, I already know I wasn't his first wife.”

“Ah.” His throat felt dry, cured.

“Did I say something wrong?”

He shook his head. “No. I'll await the transfer and receipt of your records, ma'am.”

“Thank God.” Her voice floated. “You'll be coming to America, to a place called White Peak Ski Lodge. It's the family business – my family's. I live here with my father, and he supports this entirely.”

“I see. I'll send you the itinerary I plan. Goodbye, ma'am.”


His flight into Vermont touched down just as a snow squall started rolling across the tarmac. The sudden rock and shudder of winds colliding with the plane yanked him out of sleep and, once his heart took a second to slow, only served as a reminder to make sure any car he rented could handle the snow without getting tipped over in a sudden gust. He lucked out: Most people flying in to ski would be taking hotel shuttles and most people shunted here on business were on their cell phones calling for cars before they even disembarked.

His patient had offered to send a car, but Black Jack preferred to drive. At the very least, driving himself gave him a set of keys to keep to himself in case the worst happened. It wasn't about distrust, just... preparedness.

In Japan, he could have hopped a train to close some of the seventy mile distance between Burlington and the lodge. In America, he made do with making the trip at a crawling pace behind snow plows – and farmers' trucks kitted up like snow plows – clearing the roads ahead of him and every other impatient traveler filtering out into the woods and mountains. Of course, he found himself more and more alone the farther he traveled. By the time he left cow pastures behind for forests, he had only the plows and a bright blue shuttle van from White Peak Lodge to act as wind breaks against the snow driving down on his car.

Too often, their procession would come to a fifteen minute standstill behind another plow or truck working the road ahead of them. The regular flash-on-flash-off of amber hazard lights rebounding off the snow, the early morning dark, the quiet, and the stillness, all made it too easy for his mind to slip free of his tight control. Makube never said a word about being married. But then, he hadn't asked. He hadn't had the opportunity to ask at first, and in their final moments together he certainly hadn't had the inclination. He'd only wanted to ask one question and, in hearing the answer, resolve several.

'Did you order your man to plant that time bomb on me?'

'Did you know what you know and still do that? Specifically that?'

'Was I ever the exception to your lying habit?'

Black Jack breathed wet breath out and dry, machine-heated air in. He flexed his hands on the steering wheel. The gloves Pinoko forced into his coat pocket before he left were folded on top of his bag in the passenger seat. All was warm and still, and there was no reason to dwell on what a dead man might have meant by anything.

The van ahead of him lurched forward and two young women's faces popped up in the rear windscreen, grinning in their knit caps and tousled hair. They waved, and he unfurled the fingers of one hand to return it without releasing the wheel, and they all continued their plod up the mountain road.

Sunlight was glaring off the snow by the time they pulled into the lodge's cramped parking area, the storm having passed, and while Black Jack liked to think his lifetime of travel granted him some immunity to jet lag he was more prepared for a nap than the long slog up the foot path to the lodge. He slipped his gloves on, grabbed his bag, and leaned on the shut door of the car to try and peer through the trees and sight the lodge in the distance.

“Ah, Dr. Black Jack!”

He didn't jump, just turned over his shoulder to regard the old man who seemed to have popped up out of the snow just a few yards away. He wore a very thick cable knit sweater under an open windbreaker, wool slacks, and rubber boots that reached his knees. His thick white hair served him in place of a hat.

“Yes.” Black Jack circled around the car and extended a hand. “And you are?”

The old man clapped both his bare hands around Black Jack's and pumped it enthusiastically. “Henry Audrey, Eleanor's father. My girl's laid up fast asleep right now, so it was my thinking I'd come down and greet you and check you in myself. You won't be paying for the suite, of course.”

“Of course.” Black Jack retrieved his hand and looked Henry over. He wouldn't have believed the gnarled old tree of a man had a child as young as twenty six without seeing Eleanor's records firsthand. “Does Eleanor do regular work around the lodge?”

“Oh, not any more, not so much,” Henry said, shuffling penguin-like across the slick surface of the tiny lot on his way to the trail head. “She minds the desk in the afternoons. That's as much as I'll allow and as little as she'll take.”

Black Jack took his suitcase from the trunk and followed. “She should be resting at all times at this stage.”

“You try telling her that.” Henry swept a tarp off an aging snowmobile stashed just off the trail and climbed on. “Anyways, strap your big bag on the rack there and hold on to the little one. This'll get us up the trail and inside faster so you can get some breakfast before Eleanor's up and around.”

Black Jack did just that, then jumped on with his bag buttoned into his overcoat. “That would be appreciated. I don't tend to eat on airplanes.”

“Get motion sick?” The engine buzzed to life.

“Not as such.”

“Glad to hear it!”

The snowmobile reared onto the path and Black Jack dug his fingers into the seat. Once it gained traction and leveled out, they took off up the trail swiftly and left the students who'd dawdled in the lot shouting for a ride.

Trees whizzed by and the cold air stung his face. The lodge, a two-story construction of stone and logs, gradually came into view.

“Mr. Audrey,” Black Jack said, looking over the old man's shoulder to take the place in. “Has Eleanor been to any doctors since we made this arrangement?”

“Hasn't so much as left home.”

He frowned deeply. “She'll have to at least come to the hospital for the delivery. And proper examinations.”

“She's dead set on having it here,” Henry said, his voice the personification of a defeated shrug. “She was born here, wants hers born here.”

Black Jack's nose wrinkled. “Mr. Audrey, that's not even an option. She's in serious danger of losing her own life even under the best circumstances. Some homespun, frontier, back to the earth delivery is out of the question.”

“You try telling her that.” Henry jerked his chin up, at the front porch of the lodge. A tall woman in a white dress that fell to the tops of her shoes stood in the open front door. From outward appearances, she looked like an average woman 30 weeks into her pregnancy. That was, conditionally, a good sign.

Black Jack plucked his bag from his coat and slid off onto the packed snow.

Eleanor glided down the steps to meet them. She was very pale – her records had mentioned anemia – and wore her thick, black hair long and loose. The cold didn't seem to bother her.

“Good morning, doctor.” He shook the long-fingered hand she offered him. “Did you have any trouble finding us in the storm?”

“None, ma'am.”

She smiled with painted lips that stood out on her white face. “Eleanor is fine. Or Ms. Audrey. Whichever you like.”

“Ms. Audrey.” He proceeded up the steps and onto the porch. The place smelled like wood smoke. “You understand I can't treat you here.”

“Of course.” She followed him through the door and into the lobby. The ceiling was very high and the big slate fireplace explained the wood smoke smell. “I wouldn't ask you to do something like that.”

Henry shuffled in with Black Jack's suitcase. “Coulda told me that.” He huffed and set the case down. “You keep hammers and nails in this thing?”

“Nothing like that,” Black Jack said. He watched Eleanor slip behind the front desk and take a log book out from under the counter. “I have equipment on hand for a cursory examination, Ms. Audrey, but for any imaging and the delivery itself I've made arrangements to use a hospital's facilities.”

“I won't see another doctor,” she said plainly, paging through the log. “Do you carry a cell phone, Dr. Black Jack?”

“You won't have to see another doctor. And I don't.” In fact, he made a point of avoiding the things. They were dangerous in medical facilities, for one thing. On top of that, he could just imagine the Hell of having a phone on him at all times. “Why?”

Eleanor looked up, her red lips turned down in a thoughtful little frown. “We ask guests to keep their phones deactivated for the duration of their stays with us. They interfere with the radio system we use in emergencies up here on the mountain.”

Black Jack hummed and took his suitcase from Henry, who took that as his dismissal and disappeared back out the door to greet the straggling students. “I avoid them for similar reasons.”

She nodded and patted the book shut. “It improves your vacation, too. If you're here on vacation, that is.” She stooped and rose again, holding out a pair of keys on a brass fob. “But enough smalltalk. You look exhausted.”

“I'm more hungry than anything.” He took the keys and noted the room number on the fob. “More importantly, I need to examine you.”

She stepped out from behind the desk, all split cherry smiles, and came very close to him. “Rest first, and eat. My cousin cooks for us. You're delivering her nephew, so she'll spoil you.”

Black Jack took one step backward. “If you insist.” He stepped around her and crossed the room to the foot of the stairs and paused. “I don't mind to pry, Ms. Audrey, but your husband was a good friend of mine so I can't help but wonder.”

She arched her dark brows. “Wonder what, doctor?”

“You don't have to go into detail, but I do realize your husband has been dead for over a year.”

Eleanor's bright cherry smile returned with force. “Oh, yes. This baby isn't Rokuro's. I just wanted a baby, husband or no. I don't make it a secret.”

“I see.” Black Jack started up the stairs.

“I don't expect you to understand.” Her voice drew nearer. Thankfully, she stopped at the foot of the stairs. “Does it bother you that you're not saving your friend's child?”

“Not at all.”


The suite provided for him was spacious and – from a cursory evaluation – clean. Broad wood panels gave it a warm atmosphere that matched the aggressive central heating thrown off by the old iron radiators under the windows. He shrugged out of his overcoat and left it and his bags on the double bed, slick black standing out against the warm colors of a homey patchwork quilt. He showered, fixed some coffee from the little machine in the kitchenette, and pondered the phone on the desk opposite the bed.

He'd hear about it later if he didn't let her know he arrived safely, so he took his coffee to the desk and sank into the sinking armchair someone – probably Henry – had put on casters and converted into a desk chair.

They wouldn't dare try to bill him for a call, even an international one.

He dialed, sipped his coffee, and waited one full ring.


“Good evening, Pinoko.”

She laughed and he could just picture her leaning on the table with a dopey smile. “Good morning, Doc,” she singsonged. “Did you dream about me last night?”

“I don't remember what I dreamed. Anyway, I'm safe and sound at the lodge.”

“Is it pretty there?”

“It's very pretty.”

“Pinoko shoulda got to go.”

He drained his cup and set it aside. “Maybe we'll go together another time.”

“You always say stuff like that.”

The door popped open and Black Jack stiffened. He looked over his shoulder and scowled at a woman letting herself into his room with one hand and bracing a tray on her hip with the other.

“Brush your teeth and go to bed,” he said, and he hung up. “Excuse me.”

She toed the door shut and trotted over with the tray. The food on it smelled and looked good, but that was beside the point. “Yes, sir?”

“Do you routinely walk into guests' rooms without any warning?”

She shriveled a little under his gaze. “I knocked and I heard you say to come in.”

Black Jack refilled his coffee from the glass pot on the tray. “I was on the phone.”

Besides that, he would have heard her knock. He was sure of that.

“Do you have a partner waiting up for you?” she asked. She pushed the plate of pancakes closer to him. If he had his choice, his breakfast would be more than heavy, sweet starch.

It took him a moment to decode the sentence. A partner. Not a wife, not even generally a spouse, but even more generally a committed significant other of any gender. He didn't talk about these things in English with any regularity. “My little girl, actually.”

Her freckled face lit up. She was pinker and speckled where Eleanor, her cousin, wasn't. “That's right, that's right. You have a daughter! And you're raising her alone?”

“Since the day she was born,” Black Jack replied dryly. He forked off a wedge of the pancake stack and started eating in the hopes she'd take the hint and leave. The mouthful was grainy, not particularly sweet, and subtly bitter. Buckwheat, then. Not a terrible surprise.

“That must be so hard. You've got to be a father and a mother at the same time.”

“Ms. Audrey doesn't seem to mind the prospect,” he said. He looked between her and the door. She didn't move.

“Sure, sure, but she's got us around.” She settled on the corner of the bed, her thick-fingered hands folded daintily on her knees. “But you don't have any family, right? It must be so-”

“Ma'am.” He rose, strode to the door, and opened it. “I am not interested in discussing my personal life with a patient's relations. I am here on business, and that business extends to your cousin as my patient and your uncle as the guarantor of her debt in the event that this all goes ass-up and she dies on the table for her stubbornness. No further. You've brought me my food, which I understand is your job, so please go so I can eat and get back to doing mine.”

This time, she didn't shrink or shrivel. She picked herself up, smoothed the apron she wore over her skirt, and stepped out into the hall. “So sorry, so sorry.” She flashed white teeth through a shade of lipstick she shared with her cousin. Her eyes narrowed with the rising of her cheeks, but they didn't bow up or crinkle in any convincing way. “The truth is, I don't talk to the guests a whole lot. I guess living up here most of the year with just family around has me hurting for a chance to talk to somebody new.”

Black Jack made no effort to return the smile. It was more likely – and more obvious – that isolation with close relations had simply worn away her sense of healthy boundaries. “Well, there are about a dozen people from that shuttle who just checked in. Go chat with them.”

He shut the door with a crack that rang down the hall. And locked it, and put the chain in place.

“My name's Patrice, by the way!” her chirpy voice called from the other side of the door, still very close.

Black Jack left his breakfast, minus two bites, to cool on the far side of the desk while he set up his laptop computer to review Eleanor's records again. It was no good for his own health to live off of coffee, but the cloying weirdness of the situation had defeated his already flagging appetite. He'd be starved and sleepy, like always, once he'd familiarized himself with Eleanor's current state of health.

Then again, he might not be able to settle his stomach or his brain until he got her off the mountain and into a proper hospital. Time would tell.