Legal notes : I do not own the Care Bears or any associated characters.
A few of these characters are by me, such as Checkmate Warren – although the inspiration for him came from Warren Wright of "Absurd Notions" (www.absurdnotions.org /).
This story is a sequel to my previous fanfictions: "Return of the Care Bears", "New Allies", "Control's Prank", "Of Origins and Invasions", and "The Mightiest Foe", in that order.OF ENDINGS AND OF BEGINNINGS Part one: Hello World
It was around noon in an ordinary suburban home, whose mailbox read "Schroeder". The parents of a single child were preparing to leave for some activity or another, and were talking with the baby-sitter.
"I'm glad Lorelei and you never have any trouble while you baby-sit her, Kathy. She's such a quiet child!
-Except when she gets upset, but, yeah. Got her head in the clouds, in my opinion.
-Well, we're leaving in a minute. Same pay as usual?
-Okay, we'll just have a word with her."
Lorelei, their eleven-and-something-years old daughter, was on her computer when they came.
"Honey, we're leaving now…
-I know. You've already said that.
-Kathy will be baby-sitting you, as usual…
-It's unnecessary, except from the legal point of view. I can take care of myself just fine.
-If you don't like staying home with Kathy when we go out, you could always stay at a friend's…
-Are you trying to warp reality by talking? You know very well that I don't have friends, and I'm much better off when the kids at school ignore me. Any attention they give me is a nuisance.
-Don't say that, Lorry. I'm sure you could make friends if –
-If I indulged in their brainless games and activities, which bore me out of my skull. And since I won't play with them, that makes me an outsider – so any attention I'm going to get will be of the negative kind. So I'd rather be ignored.
-You can't live without friends…
-Well, I'm not going to make friends with those morons. Oh, and just for the record: I don't mind staying here with Kathy as a baby-sitter. I was just pointing out the facts, that's all."
After Mr and Mrs Schroeder left, the usual routine would follow: Kathy would stick around for ten minutes, then she'd leave for another shopping-spree at the mall with her friends. Lorelei didn't have much esteem for that ditz, but it was actually fortunate for her: This situation ensured that she got the house all for herself, without any of the morons getting in her way or bothering her. Her parents never suspected anything, and Kathy had been pretty easy to manipulate.
She was reading an article on the Web – one about the recent discoveries in physics that contact with alien civilizations had brought about. It had only been two weeks and something since the Devourer of Worlds had attacked the Earth. She still remembered the shocked and awed looks on so many people's faces in the streets as the strange lights had engulfed them…But those people didn't know at the time that the being that was distorting the light was threatening to destroy them all. Luckily, the Care Bear family and the Caretakers, with some help, had been able to send the cosmic menace away on a wild goose chase, and it wasn't likely to come back before millennia.
And now, the huge scientific knowledge gained from communication with the Nano-folks, together with all the other discoveries made recently by humans (such as robotic exo-skeletons and a mathematical theory of ethics) were starting to change the world. Slowly – those who held the knowledge wanted the transformation to be gradual, so as to not destroy society in the process. And she got to read and learn all about it. She hadn't studied science at college-level, and couldn't (yet) understand all the equations – but with her phenomenal IQ, she was able to grasp the general principles.
To her annoyance, the doorbell rang. It was unlikely any visitors were coming, so she figured it was most likely some door-to-door salesman or some such. She went downstairs, and stared through the peephole – and saw that whoever was behind the door had placed a panel in front of the peephole, on which it had been written: "I know who you are, Lorelei Schroeder". Next to the writings, there was a drawing of a white chess pawn, with tiny hearts describing trajectories around it, like electrons around an atom.
For a moment, she didn't move, processing the information, and making the appropriate conclusions. She then opened the door. She immediately recognized the man in front of her – she'd never met him face-to-face, but in this day and age, who didn't know Checkmate Warren?
Warren, the former arch-villain.
Warren, who had held the entire world hostage with the C-bomb.
Warren, who had cleaned up his act and founded the Caretakers.
Warren, who had masterminded the downfall of the scheming billionaire Clifford Quentin.
Warren, who had discovered the only weakness of the mass-murdering Prank.
Warren, who had organized the opposition to Avalon during the war.
Warren, who had found the way to defeat the Devourer of Worlds.
Warren, quite probably the most intelligent person in the world…And despite that, a pretty messed-up human being, after all.
"Hello, Sophia. I do hope that's the appropriate way to call you?
-It'll do…Checkmate. Come in."
As the mastermind entered her home, she took another look at him. From looks alone, he didn't seem all that threatening…Just another computer geek. But after a while, one quickly got uncomfortable with him…Because it somehow showed that behind his glasses, he was calculating. All the time.
"I didn't think you'd discover so soon.
-That you were 11 years and a few months old, and that your real-life identity was Lorelei Schroeder?
-Yes. I mean, with your computer know-how, I knew you'd be able to track me down if you wanted to…But I thought I'd at least have been able to tell if you were trying.
-Maybe so. But you see, I didn't track you down through the Web.
-You didn't? Then how…?
-If you're as smart as I think you are, then you should be able to guess."
Lorelei turned silent, and began thinking. After about twenty seconds, her eyes lit up, and she said:
"Of course! You used the Caring Meter!
-Bingo. I could tell from our discussions what your emotional situation was, more-or-less. I figured with the right tuning, you'd appear on the Caring Meter. Your signal wouldn't have had priority normally, but I've never been afraid of tinkering.
-Brilliant. But did you need it to find out where I was, or did you also need it to find out I was a child?
-I knew with almost complete certainty that you were a child from our conversations. I had that figured out even before the Avalon mess.
-But you didn't take me any less seriously because of it. You asked for my help against the Devourer, when you could have asked the military.
-Well, yes. I more than anyone else know that a child super-genius isn't something to under-estimate. I was only thirteen years old when I discovered the fallacy of the Perfect Book, after all.
-Thank you for taking me seriously. Everybody thinks I should be playing with dolls, or with retarded friends all the time – my parents can't understand why I'd rather read science magazines. Sheesh.
-Believe me, your parents are far more worthy of respect than mine. Although I did prefer to arrange this meeting at a time when you were alone…
-Yeah, I don't think they'd have liked the idea of me talking to a guy who came that close to taking over the world, no matter how many times he saved it afterwards. They're just…Not intelligent.
-Maybe not. But they love you.
-Oh please. I know that. But they don't understand what –
-Hold it. Let me finish this, okay?
You say you know they love you. And in a sense, you do – but only superficially. I'm pretty sure it hasn't fully sunk in, or you wouldn't treat it so casually. Love and caring are precious commodities, and when we have them, we take them for granted. The Care Bears confirmed something I had noticed – after the C-bomb incident, a lot more people acknowledged the importance of feelings and love – because they had gotten a taste of what it was like to live without them.
I haven't come here just to talk with you about science, strategy and geopolitics, Sophia. I also want to give you some advice, so that you don't have to make the same mistakes I did.
I've had many conversations with you, and I know you're about as smart as is possible at your age. In that respect, you're a lot like me. And I know how it is to be so much above the average intellectual level – you see patterns that others are oblivious to. You understand things easily when they baffle others – to you, they're obvious. It always seems like the others are…Retarded.
With a situation like that, it becomes easy to feel superior to other people. After all, you are superior to them mentally – I won't even bother to deny that. You're smarter than them, just as an Olympic athlete is stronger. And in the end, all they do is annoy you.
So, since there's nothing to be gained from interaction with them, you avoid interactions. And why not? After all, they would only distract you from what you enjoy. You're perfectly content to live in relative isolation, getting by on intellectual food, and shutting down the emotional.
And then, you end up in contact with the one person who might understand you – the other super-genius. The adult one. You figure you've finally found an equal – well, maybe slightly superior, but you'll reach his level when you grow up, and you're close enough right now. So you discuss. And it's interesting – you talk about science, strategy, and all things of high IQ.
Am I still correct so far?
-Good. Well, you see, you're making a mistake. I'm referring to shutting out the emotional, and dismissing all those who are less intelligent than you – i.e., virtually everyone."
Sophia raised her hand. Warren replied:
"If you want to tell me that you're content with things as they are, I'm well aware of that." Her hand went down. "But you're not happy. I'm not saying it's impossible to be happy without love and caring, but, really, it's harder. Believe me on this: Just because someone is five times less intelligent than you, it doesn't mean you can't care about each other. Sure, intellectually stimulating conversations would be out of the question – but feelings and love are not unimportant, either. You'll need that too."
Sophia looked up. "Is that why you came here? To play caring mission on me?
-I'm merely giving you the best advice I can, Sophia. That's all. You're right when you say your parents and everyone else don't understand you, but you could do your part, and everybody would be better off. You can have friends. And it is worth it. Do you trust my judgement?
-I…I guess I ought to at least take what you say seriously.
-Good. Then let's talk. I think we still have a couple of hours before Kathy comes back."
"You know, True Heart – I had never expected things to go like this.
-What do you mean, Noble Heart?
-When we became the Care Bear family, it was our job to protect the Earth from Dark Heart and other threats. And it's not like we ever had trouble finding enemies. I always assumed we'd beat them every time, but I never thought we'd actually have something like this – I mean, all the villains have been defeated for good now! We don't have to fear that No Heart will come up with another spell, or anything like that. We actually have peace! The weird part is that I'm actually a bit uncomfortable with it.
-I know what you mean. It's good to finally be safe, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I guess we'll get used to it.
-You're right. And we can focus on helping people share their feelings…
-True. But…There's something we need to take care off. Good Luck Bear.
A few minutes later, the two founders were talking with the green Care Bear.
"Good Luck, we need to talk about your marriage…
-I guess so. We were thinking of holding it at the same time as the marriage of Paul and Alice. Love-A-Lot can conduct the ceremony, and –
-We're sure you can take care of those arrangements, Good Luck. What we want to ask you is – what will happen next?
-What do you mean?
-You've lived all your life in Care-A-Lot. Polite lives in Paradise Valley. If you two get married, you're not going to live thousands of miles away from each other, are you? The Rainbow Rescue Beam helped you meet each other more often since Warren and Bright Heart improved it, but that won't be enough after you get married. You're going to live with each other – the question is, where?"
Good Luck hesitated for a few minutes, then said: "Uh…Polite can't really leave the valley. I mean, maybe we could figure a way she could leave without ruining the climate, but I don't think she'd manage anywhere else…
I guess…I guess that means I'll have to live in Paradise Valley.
-Is that what you want?"
Good Luck fell silent. After a while, he replied: "Yes. That's what I want.
-We thought so. And you're right. We just wanted you to realize – you're going to have to say good-bye to Care-A-Lot.
-I – I can always come back, with the Rainbow Rescue Beam!
-Sure, you'll be able to visit whenever you want. But that's still different from living here. We'll miss you, Good Luck. Everybody will. But if that's what makes you happy…"
In a room they had rented for a few hours, the member of a peculiar group were holding a meeting.
"Let's rejoice, my brethren, for the Kingdom is near! And let the fourth council of the First Church of Care-A-Lot begin!
-Thank you, brother Jeffrey" said one of the women. "I believe we should all give our gratitude for the new era of peace that the Heavenly Messengers have brought upon us. Never again shall we have to fear the darkness of the villains!
-True, sister Billie. But shouldn't we try to come to them?
-I tried not that long ago," said one of the men.
"Do tell, brother…
-Ray. Ray Patterson. Anyway, I figured, if we wanted to come to the ursine saviours, what simpler solution than to ask for the help of those closest to them?
-That's what I thought. I went to Rainbow City, then talked to their leader for a while…
-Himself. But after I told him I was from the First Church of Care-A-Lot, he became enraged, and threw me out of their building.
-I do not know. Perhaps there is still some villainy inside him…
-The Care Bears seem to trust him.
-It doesn't matter," interrupted another member. "We're spreading their message as well as we can, but it would be much better if we had their guidance. I suggest we make it a priority to get in touch with them!"
"So Sophia is this friend of yours from the Web?" asked Bright Heart. He and Warren were both strolling through the Kingdom of Caring.
"Correct. She's about as intelligent as I was at her age.
-But that would mean that when she grows up…
-…she'll be as intelligent as me. Perhaps even more, actually – I had to learn everything from scratch, while she's going to benefit from having me as a mentor.
-And aside from intelligence, how is she?
-Alone, mostly. She doesn't actually suffer from it, mind you. But I think I've helped her see the value of caring.
By the way, you said you had an unexpected guest.
-Yeah, guess who.
-How did you…Oh. Your acquaintances from the Astronomic Observatory told you his ship had been seen?
-Well, yes, but I actually expected him to come back soon.
-Well, he's studied music from many different worlds. And he wants to write an opera about the events that happened here recently. I figured he'd want to study our local music.
-That's…Pretty much it.
-So I suppose Harmony is busy explaining it all to him?
-Yes, but she's not alone. We called an old friend of ours to lend a hand. Come, I'll present you to him!"
After a few minutes, the two reached a clearing in the Forest of Feelings where music was being played. Several Care Bears and Cousins had gathered to listen to it. At the centre were Harmony, the alien maestro, and a man with a brown moustache and beard, and a feather in his hat.
"Hello everybody. I do hope I'm not interrupting?
-Not at all. Warren, meet Songfellow Strum, a friend of ours, and a talented musician. Songfellow Strum, meet Checkmate Warren, a friend of ours who has saved our lives more than once.
-Pleased to meet you," said the musician.
"Likewise. By the way," Warren turned to True Heart and Noble Heart, "there are a few things which I'd like to discuss with you. Steps to take concerning various issues…"
And as they began their talks, Songfellow Strum resumed his singing and music-playing.
"I'm impressed, Patterson!" said a fellow member of the Church of Care-A-Lot. "Where did you get a flying car like those of the Caretakers?
-Well, actually, it's not really like their cars. It's based on the same principle, which were developed by both Moller and Checkmate Warren…But the Caretakers' cars are designed to be capable of much, much more. They're heavily computerized, heavily armoured, full of gadgets…This car will only fly us to our destination. They've been put on the market just a couple of weeks ago, and I rented this one for a few days.
-Well, as long as it can get us to the Kingdom…
-It can, but we'll need to make several trips to get everybody there."
"Thank you!" said Songfellow Strum as several pairs of hands around him clapped. "And now…"
He never got to finish his sentence, as Warren suddenly put his hand on the musician's mouth.
"Strum, with all due respect…If I have to hear ONE – MORE – NURSERY RHYME, I'm going to play "Another One Bites the Dust" on you!
-Don't you mean play to me?
-No, I mean play on you."
With that said, Warren turned around and walked away.
"So you're that Internet friend of Warren, hue?
-Correct. And you're Nicholas Cherrywood, the magician?
-Well, yeah. Thanks for your help against the Unfeeling Force, by the way.
-You're welcome. Thanks for saving the world, incidentally.
-Oh, I didn't –
-I know it was a team effort. Warren often talked strategy with me. From what I've heard, your knowledge of magic was pretty useful at times.
-Well, yeah…Although I use it as little as I can.
-Why? Does it remind you of the time you were manipulated by the Spirit Book?
-It's not just that…It's mostly that this thing seems too serious to be treated lightly. I use it only when necessary.
-Why? I don't see a reason using magic should be more of a problem than using, say, a computer. Computers are an amazing technology, and you don't have trouble using them for everyday tasks.
-Maybe you're right, but…Still, I prefer it that way.
Now, I'm sorry I can't stay much longer, but I need to go to the CareNet orphanage. I'll ask Paul to show you around…If he can come down from his cloud.
-I assume you mean a metaphorical cloud in this context?
-Heh, yeah. He's been almost freakishly cheerful since his engagement to Alice. Warren's actually been avoiding him because of that…"
Michael Hart turned his head toward his guests. Fred and his aunt, of course. He sighed.
-How, um, how are you feeling today?
-Like the lowest scum in existence.
-Look, Fred…Madame…Don't get me wrong. I sincerely appreciate how you're trying to help me…But it's a waste of your time.
-You're anything but a waste of time, Professor" replied the former Auntie Freeze. "And I pride myself a good judge of character.
-My dear, I don't think I need to enumerate all the horrors I'm responsible for. And don't tell me it was because of the anti-feeling treatment – I should have thought twice before using it in the first place."
The conversation wasn't very different from previous ones. But neither Fred nor his aunt would give up on the professor.
At the CareNet orphanage, some of the kids were laughing, while some others were trying hard not to laugh.
"Did anyone take the licence number of that truck?" asked Nicholas, sprawled on the floor.
"Looks more like a door to me, hun" replied his girlfriend, as she helped him get up, grinning. "I think you need to get glasses.
-Guess that settles it.
-You know, I think glasses would actually look good on you. Unless you'd rather have contacts, or one of those new eye surgeries…
-Heavens forbid!" exclaimed Nicholas. "I don't want anything touching my eyes! I'll take glasses.
-As long as it'll avoid you hurting yourself" said Grams as she entered the room. Some of the kids recognized her and cheered – she had come for a visit with Hugs and Tugs twice in the last few months.
"Grams! Good to see you here!" said Nicholas. His girlfriend concurred: "Aren't Hugs and Tugs with you?
-No, they're with Cheer and Grumpy in Care-A-Lot. I'm actually on a caring mission here.
As usual, the purple-and-green-haired, half-elven girl was sulking in a corner. Grams gently approached her.
"Good afternoon, Shrieky."
No reply came.
"I hope you have everything you need here. Hugs and Tugs said to say hi."
Again, no reply came – but there were some small, nearly-imperceptible movements in Shrieky's features. Ones that indicated anger.
"They even made this card for you. Here" The Care Bear handed her a card on which the cubs had drawn themselves waving. A "we hope you feel better" was written on it.
This time, a reply did come:
"Leave me alone! I don't want your stupid love and caring! I hate you! Hate you! Hate you!"
The rest of the children in the room sank back, but Grams didn't even flinch, or stop smiling.
"We only want to help you, Shrieky.
-I don't want your help! I don't want the help of any of you!
-Then what do you want?
-Shut up! Leave me alone!
-I'll be going now, Shrieky. But I'll be back to help you."
As the old Care Bear left, Nicholas's girlfriend asked him: "Do you think this is actually helping?
-Slowly, yeah. I think even anger is better than apathy. At least she reacted here."
"Oh rapture!" Patterson actually had tears in his eyes as he knelt on the surface of Care-A-Lot. The flying car was already going down to pick up some more members, and Patterson and six other followers of the First Church of Care-A-Lot looked around them. Truly, this was a sight to behold – the land built out of clouds. The rainbows. Everything.
"It's a rainbow fantasy" whispered one of them.
"We're in a holy land.
-No, it's better: We're in the Kingdom. An actual piece of Heaven. We must treat it with the utmost respect. And now, we have to find the ursine saviours."
In another part of the Kingdom of Caring, Warren was talking with Bright Heart.
"Sorry I lost control again. I hope I didn't ruin anyone's day.
-Don't worry. Strum was a bit surprised, but we explained to him that this was normal behaviour for you.
-But it shouldn't be."
True Heart and Noble Heart quickly caught up with Bright Heart and Warren as they were nearing the raccoon's workshop.
"Is everything okay, Warren?
-Sighhh…As usual. You know about my temper problems. Sometimes I think – "
Before Warren could finish his sentence, a group of star buddies suddenly rushed toward True Heart and Noble Heart and began whispering in their ears. The two founders looked surprised by what they heard.
"What's the matter?" asked the mastermind.
"Well…A group of people has just reached the outskirts of Care-A-Lot with a flying car. Apparently, they're from the First Church of Care-A-Lot."
"The…Morons…From the First Church of Care-A-Lot…Here?!"
As his hands began to shake, he turned toward the workshop, grabbed a nearby metallic bar, and let out a cry of rage as he twisted it with his bare hands. He then put it on the ground, and rested against a wall.
Bright Heart examined the metal bar. "Anybody ever told you you're stronger than you look?
-Anger gives you strength. Now if you'll excuse me," he got up and began walking away, "I think it's better I leave immediately. If I meet those lunatics, there's a high probability that my self-control will again prove insufficient."
As the mastermind left, Bright Heart commented: "Great. What do we do now?
-We'll find a way" replied True Heart. "But Warren too will need our help…"Part two: Peace on Earth
"Guests are always welcome" Tender Heart explained uneasily to the members of the First Church of Care-A-Lot (or FCCL for short). "We don't have guest rooms, but I'm sure we can arrange for you to sleep in the Hall of Hearts if you intend to stay here overnight.
-We intend to stay here as long you permit, Blessed One" replied Patterson with a blissful expression.
"Oh great" thought Tender Heart. "I'm used to us Care Bears making a good impression, but this just isn't right. How do we explain to them that we're not messengers from God or anything, but just people who want to help?"
He then returned to True Heart and Noble Heart.
"It looks like they want to stay here as long as they can – that is, as long as we let them. I think if they could spend the rest of their lives here, they would.
-We can't lead them on!" exclaimed True Heart. "We have to tell them the truth!
-Of course we do, True Heart," Noble Heart said, "but we have to do it tactfully. Remember what Warren said when he first told us about them – if we just tell them like this, they could go crazy.
-They're already crazy, if you'll ask me" Playful Heart unexpectedly entered the conversation. "From the way they're looking at me, I guess if I told them to stand on their heads all day, they would.
-Don't even think about it" warned him Tender Heart.
-I wouldn't!" protested the monkey.
"I'm sorry, Playful Heart. I'm just nervous about this – I'm used to fighting villains, but this?!"
Back at the HQ in Rainbow City, most people were part amused, part confused, part upset about the recent turn of events.
"Oh well," said Arnold, "we've managed against a Lex Luthor wannabe, an evil clown with superpowers, World War III and a planet-eating black hole. We should be able to survive with a few nuts who think the Care Bears are actually angels of God, right?
-Point taken, Arnold" conceded Alice. "But still, I hope they'll snap out of it soon, and without causing any trouble.
-Preferably before the wedding, eh?
-Yeah, that too" she smiled. "I'm worried about Warren, though. You know he hates those people's guts.
-Which isn't really fair to them, if you'll ask me" said Nicholas. "Just because a bunch of zealots ruined his teenage years doesn't make it okay to become as intolerant as them. And the people of the FCCL never did anything wrong.
-I think in the boss's mind, being an idiot is an unforgivable crime" replied Arnold.
In another room in the HQ, Warren was busy on his computer when someone entered the room.
"Oh, hello, Lumpy.
-Hiya, Warren. Whatcha doing?
-Several things. Giving the Care Bears some advice on how to handle the FCCL for a while, reading some of the communications from the SS Exodus, debugging our systems. And you?
-I just came back from a caring mission with the twins. Um, look, Warren…I just wanted to apologize.
-For what exactly?
-Well…I know it's been some time ago…
-You mean, what you said after I yelled at Tugs?
-Yeah. I said you cared more about your machines and strategy than about people. I'm sorry…I still can't believe I said that.
-It's hardly surprising. You were angry. And I more than anyone should know that anger can distort one's judgement. Apology accepted, Lumpy – and I sincerely appreciate."
It was right after sunset, and Friend and Secret were coming back from a late caring mission. They found Wish observing the sky with her star-o-scope, with Harmony sitting beside her.
-Hi. How was the mission?
-It went without a hitch." Secret nodded in agreement. "And…Here?
-The 'guests' are now installed in the Hall of Hearts" replied Harmony. "Good thing Care-A-Lot is big enough, because I feel really awkward around them. They don't want to be our friends, they want…Actually, I'm not completely sure what they want.
-Can't Warren help us out with this?" asked Friend.
"He gave us some advice, but he's trying not to get too involved" replied Harmony. "He gets angry whenever he thinks about them. I'm not sure why.
-Well, you know Warren gets angry easily" said Wish. "Do you remember the time when he told us about his story? I think he's been like that ever since."
The teal-coloured bear looked pensive. "I just wish…I just wish he could finally have some peace of mind. He deserves it, after all he's done."
It was now Secret who looked pensive. He then whispered into Friend's ear.
"Secret Bear says Warren once told him the reason he's always angry. He can't tell since it's a secret, but he thinks you might help him, Harmony.
-You think so?"
It was 10 P.M. in Rainbow City. In the street, a man was in the process of opening a house's front door when he noticed a small figure approaching.
"Harmony? What are you doing here?
-I wanted to have a word with you, if you don't mind…Warren.
-I don't. Please come in."
The Caretaker and the Care Bear entered the house.
"You know, I don't think any of us has ever come to your home before.
-I've moved many times over the years. I never stayed in one place very often during my time as a criminal mastermind, and when I created the Caretakers, I decided to move to Rainbow City. The commute isn't much of a problem when you have the Rainbow Rescue Beam, but I still thought living close to the HQ would help."
Harmony looked around her. All in all, it wasn't too different from what she had expected: Everything was well-ordered, a top-rated computer was surrounded by other pieces of electronic equipment, several bookcases were completely full – she noticed encyclopaedias, science books, chess-related books, computer manuals, and books containing knowledge of every kind – but also science-fiction books by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Jules Verne, Stanislaw Lem, Harry Turtledove…Mysteries and thrillers by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Tom Clancy…Literature by Mark Twain, Victor Hugo…And, to her surprise, a non-neglectable treasury of role-playing game manuals and comics, ranging from Stan Lee to Alan Moore.
"What is it that you wished to talk about?" Warren interrupted her musings.
"Well…I was talking with Wish, Friend and Secret. At one point, Wish said she wished you could have some peace of mind.
-She's told me that once, as you might recollect; I told her to save up on her wishes, as she was going to need them soon. It was back during the Freeze Germ plot.
-Anyway, Secret said you told him the reason you're always angry. He didn't say what it was, of course, but he said I could help you. And I thought…You've helped us so much. The least I could do was help you, since this time you're the one who needs it."
Warren didn't say anything at first. He appeared to be thinking…Then he looked up, and said:
"You know what? I'll tell you the story.
I've already told you the story of the Perfect Book, and how all of Salvation Town turned against me because I had tried to explain to those fanatics that their beliefs were untrue. I wasn't exactly a ray of sunshine before that, but the events nevertheless had an important role in my turning into a bitter, cynical, ill-tempered arch-villain.
-I know that. But it's been, what, twenty years? You have friends now! What is the problem?
-It's that, you see…I have kept all the anger from that time. It never went away.
-After all those years?! You're still angry?!
-Allow me to explain: Back when every recess I had was borderline a battle against hordes of classmates, I shouldn't have made it. I should have been beaten up every day, and frankly, I'm not even sure I'd have survived – they out-numbered me 8 to 1, on average. But I managed. I got away most of the times, and some other times, I fought them effectively, until one day I defeated them so thoroughly they left me alone. That wouldn't have been possible normally – I was this skinny science geek, and they were entire gangs of bullies. What made it possible?
Two things: The first was that I was much, much smarter than them, and used my intelligence for more than just academics. The second was that I was much angrier than them.
-What do you mean?
-It's a matter of motivation, Harmony. People – and that goes for humans and Care Bears alike – rarely use their full potential. It's only when we're extremely motivated that we use our full abilities. I'm sure you've noticed that.
-Well, yeah. When I'm protecting my loved ones, it often amazes me what I can do. And it's the same for the others.
-That's exactly my point: The right motivation can make a huge difference. And my motivation wasn't just the will to survive and not get beaten up – it was also anger. I was absolutely enraged at them. And against all the other zealots of that idiotic town. That anger gave me the strength to fight them, and the motivation to keep on fighting, never giving up. The anger kept me alive.
Then came the monkey-bars incident, and after that, they left me mostly alone. But I was still angry beyond words at the entire town. I didn't even try to shed that anger – on the contrary, I clang to it. Embraced it. I discovered that I could channel it into my various endeavours – it was a powerful motivation, and with it, I could achieve just about anything. I was fuelled by grudges, and with that, I didn't let any obstacle stop me.
When I turned 18, I left Salvation Town – at least physically. But I never let myself forget the anger. I needed it. And with it as my motivation, I could achieve more than several people put together. It took me eight years of college to earn two PhDs, in Physics and in Computer Science. And I had even managed in the meanwhile to study biochemistry, engineering, and more on the side. Because I wouldn't let any of the difficulties slow me down. It didn't take me many years to establish my positions as a criminal mastermind afterwards – by the time you came out of time-freeze, I was ready, and jumped on the opportunity.
The C-bomb debacle made me realize I wasn't infallible, and thus had no right to take over the world. But it didn't make me any less angry. The grudges have kept fuelling me all along – I'm rather certain it improved my determination while we were opposing villains of all stripes. Of course, there's a downside: Keeping all these grudges means I get no peace of mind, and it doesn't take much to make me explode. And unfortunately, people tend to get caught in the blast, so to speak."
Harmony looked at him. Then she spoke: "But Warren, you know that peace of mind is a good thing! Why don't you just let go of all that anger, and try to be happy?
-Well…If I did, what would there be left? I've been running on anger for most of my life. It has given me my steel-strong determination. What would I be without it? Sure, we've defeated all the major threats. But there's always risks. And besides…What am I, if not the perpetually angry mastermind?
-Well, for starters, you're a good person, and you care enough to help around.
-Am I really? I'll be honest with you, Harmony – at times, I suspect my motivation for trying to fix the world wasn't altruism as much as perfectionism. I quit my job as a sysadmin when I began my criminal career, but I'm still a technician at heart – seeing a system malfunction just drives me insane. When I saw how badly the world was faring, that was the reason I wanted to 'repair' it.
-But you tried to make it better for people! You created the Caretakers because you knew it was for the best, even though many things about it upset you! You risked everything to save us! You've been a real friend for all of us, Warren.
And motivation? Warren, you should have seen yourself when you saved us from the Prank. All you wanted was to protect your friends.
-True. I was extremely scared that you might get hurt…
-That's my point. I'm sure you can find other motivations than anger."
Warren remained silent for a moment. He became all pensive for a few minutes. Harmony wanted to speak to him, but decided not to interrupt his thinking.
Finally, he looked up, and said: "You know what? You're entirely right. And it is more than time for me to move on and forgive them.
-That's the way!
-But it isn't easy. I'm not used to forgiving people.
-I've seen you go from arch-villain to world-saving hero in no time, I'm sure you can do this.
-Right again. And you know what? I forgive them."
Again, the room went silent for a moment. Then Warren spoke up again:
"It feels better than I expected.
-How do you feel?
-Better than I've felt in years" he said, and actually startled her when he gave her a warm smile. "Like I just got out of a dark dungeon. I guess Pat Brady knows what he's talking about…
-Nevermind. Harmony, I actually feel good! I'm happy, for crying out loud! I had almost come to believe this went against the laws of physics!"
The Care Bear smiled. "See? It was worth it!
-You bet your sugar-sweet existence that it was! I have good friends, I'm doing useful things that actually make the world a better place, I enjoy all the science, technology and strategy, I have people who care about me and whom I care about – life is grand!
-So are you going to get back in touch with your family now?
-No. What for?" Warren didn't stop smiling for a moment.
"Uh…You said you forgave them…
-I did. But I'm forgiving them for my benefit, so that I can have my peace of mind. That's not going to make them a notch more open-minded, or more accepting of my dissent. Don't get your hopes up, Harmony – there isn't going to be some perfect happy ending where they accept me back, or anything. But it doesn't matter: I have real friends, why should it concern me that some people far away hate my guts?
-Anyway, thank you from the bottom of my heart, Harmony. And thank everyone else too – I think you Care Bears have been a pretty good influence on me overall.
-Do you want me to stay for a while…?
-No, it's late, and you ought to get back to Care-A-Lot. But before you go…There's something I've never told you. I love you all. You, and Bright Heart, and Wish, and Grumpy, and True Heart, and Noble Heart, and Hugs and Tugs, and everyone else!
-We love you too, Warren.
-I knew that as well as you knew what I said, but I guess it's worth repeating often, isn't it?
-You bet." And with that said, Harmony exited the house.
The next morning, at the Caretakers' HQ, Christy was surprised to meet Sophia.
"Hi. What are you doing here?
-Hanging around your headquarters rates as far less boring than hanging around my neighbourhood. Trust me on that one.
-Sure, but…How did you get here?
-And what about your parents?
-They don't know I'm here.
-Don't worry, Christy. I know what I'm doing, okay?
-Sophia, as soon as Warren gets here, we're having a talk…"
By coincidence, that was exactly the moment the mastermind entered the HQ.
"Ah, Warren. Glad you're here-"
Christy stopped mid-sentence, baffled by what she saw.
"Good morning, people! Wonderful day, isn't it?
-The one and only!
-G…G…What's going on around here?!
-Oh, I'm in a good mood. How high does that rank among signs of the apocalypse?
-Uh-uh-uh…Okay. Calm down. Warren, what in the name of…Is that you?
-If you mean Checkmate Warren, then the answer is "yes". What made you doubt it? Was it the sunny smile? The cheerful attitude? The look in the eyes that doesn't say "I'm plotting your death right now"?
-All that and more…Okay, so will you explain, please?
-Well, to make a long story short, I've decided to open a new leaf. I've let go of all the grudges I've been holding for years, I've shed away the anger, and actually noticed that, all things considered, I have a wonderful life. Don't worry, you'll get used to it.
-Hold it," interrupted Sophia. "I'm thinking of a number right now. Which is it?
-Hmm…My guess would be 161,541,651,516,125, which is what you get by putting side-by-side 16 (for 'p'), 15 (for 'o'), 4 (for 'd'), 16 (for 'p'), 5 (for 'e'), 15 (for 'o'), 16 (for 'p'), 12 (for 'l') and 5 (for 'e'), spelling 'pod people'.
-Good. I was just checking to make sure you weren't brain-damaged or something."
"Oh great," thought Christy, "now we have TWO super-geniuses!" She then spoke up:
"Okay, I guess I should be glad that you're in a good mood for a change. Maybe that means you'll be able to help out more with those people from the FCCL…
-Of course. I've forgiven my parents and the people of Salvation Town; I should be able to do this.
-Really? Does that mean we can call you Warren Wilson now?
-I won't get angry if you do. But I've kind of grown fond of the name Checkmate Warren, to be honest…
-Okay, as you wish. But what about Lorelei? Her parents don't know she's here.
-That will be dealt with at the appropriate time. Right now, I must go to Care-A-Lot. I'll prepare the Rainbow Rescue Beam. Oh, and by the way, sorry for freaking you out.
-That's okay. It's weird, but no sweat.
-I was actually referring to how I'm going to freak you out even more in a few seconds.
-I just wanted to say that I loved you all. You, you, Isaac, Paul, David, Alice, John, Dawn, and everyone. You're all wonderful people. Oh, and Christy – be careful, you might swallow a fly if you keep your mouth in that position."
"Warren will be beaming up here in a short while," explained Bright Heart in the headquarters of Care-A-Lot. They had moved the Rainbow Rescue Beam there after removing it from the S.S. Friendship. "I really need to go, so could you take care of this?
-No problem" replied Grumpy and Cheer. The raccoon left, and a couple of minutes later, the beam activated. The mastermind appeared.
-Hi, Warren…Um, you look…
-Happy? That's because I am.
-Um, great. Any special reason?
-As a matter of fact, an excellent reason. But maybe I should explain the whole story…"
As the human and the two Care Bears walked through Care-A-Lot, Warren finished his story.
"And that's why I feel so good right now. So to answer your question, Cheer – yes, I do have a reason to be happy. The same as yours.
-What do you mean?
-Well…I'll be honest with you, Cheer: Most of the time, your cheerfulness annoys me. But I have at times wondered what you were so cheerful about anyway. I had a theory – and now, I'm certain of it: You have an excellent reason to be happy, and that reason is that you don't need a reason to be happy. And I guess that's enough for me, or for anyone, really. If we realize it.
-How do you manage to make it sound so complicated?" laughed Cheer.
"It's a gift. Incidentally, Grumpy – I've noticed you've recovered pretty well from Control's little mind games. Not feeling like a threat to those you love anymore, I hope?
-I'm much better now. And it's not just because I saved the day when we were fighting the Devourer. It's just that, well – I realized Grams, Noble Heart and True Heart were right: If my family and I care about each other, that's a good reason enough for me to stay. Not that I stopped being grumpy or anything, of course.
-Of course. It's not like I'm going to stop being a know-it-all, either."
A short while later, Warren was discussing the situation with True Heart and Noble Heart.
"I've been thinking about it. The people of the FCCL are looking for something – hope, meaning, goodness and what-have-not. Their quest is an honourable one, all in all – we're just looking for a tactful way to tell them they're looking in the wrong place.
We can't give them the ultimate meaning of life, or some contact with God, or anything of the kind. However, the basic lessons you've been preaching to the world – kindness and the such – are at least half of what they're looking for.
-So we should just teach them what we've taught children and people for years?" True Heart didn't sound convinced. "Somehow, I don't think that'll be enough…
-It wouldn't – at least, not if you take care of it. You see, any lesson you try to teach them will be distorted by the flawed perception they have of you.
-So what should we do?
-Have that lesson taught by someone else, of course! Let me explain…"
The members of the FCCL were all reunited in one spot, eager to listen to whatever it was that True Heart and Noble Heart wanted to tell them. They also noticed Checkmate Warren standing beside the two founders, and some of them were whispering about it.
"Friends," True Heart began, "we've had a few discussions, and we've decided that it would be for the best if, for the next couple of weeks, you participated in the Caretakers."
The FCCLers looked puzzled.
"You don't have to," Noble Heart hurried to say. "But it would be for the best."
Patterson raised a hand.
-Excuse me," said Patterson, "I don't doubt your judgement, but…I'd like to understand. Last time we went – I mean, last time I went to the Caretakers, I wasn't greeted with enthusiasm. What now?
-If I can answer that," said Warren, "what happened last time was mostly my fault, and I apologize for it. It's a complicated story, but I promise not to do that again.
-I see. But…Will we be allowed to come back here…?
-You're not being forced to leave" replied Noble Heart. "Do as you will."
Predictably, all FFCLers agreed to participate. Before they were sent to Rainbow City with the Rainbow Rescue Beam, Warren made a quick call to the HQ, to warn everyone.
"So this is your headquarters. I'm impressed" admitted Patterson.
"Thank you. If you're going to help around, then let me present everyone to you. This is David – he used to be an evil pseudo-demonic entity devoted to the destruction of the Care Bears, until he abandoned his evil ways and turned human. This is Paul, our gadgeteer. Alice, princess of the Caretakers.
-Sorry, private joke. This is Christy, our spokeswoman for hyperactivity. The twins, John and Dawn – Dawn's our web-designer, John manages to be a bit useful at everything. Lumpy, the muscle. Nicholas is our expert in magic, both real and circus-oriented. Arnold is the tricky one, Isaac is the voice of reason…As for Sophia here, she's not a member yet, but I believe she has some potential.
-…yours truly, Checkmate Warren. Mastermind of all trades.
I'll let you all make acquaintances in a minute…But before I do, let me ask: Do you know what the Caretakers' mission is?
-I thought as much. Well, allow me to explain:
Since the dawn of recorded History, and probably earlier than that, there have been attempts to make the world a better place. Countless systems have been proposed. Political systems, economic systems…Democracy, communism, capitalism, and more. Some of these have, as a matter of fact, improved the world we live in. Some didn't. Some even made it worse. But all of them had one basic flaw – and that flaw is people.
No matter the type of government, no matter the economic situation, no matter the societal organization, life remains hard as long as people remain unkind. That's what we're about – kindness. We try to show kindness to those who need it, and have them show it to others too. Tell me - do you think that's a worthy goal?
-And would you be willing to help?
About half an hour later, Nicholas came to see Warren.
"I guess Christy was telling the truth…You are cheerful. I never thought that could be creepy.
-Like I told Christy, you'll get used to it. And I notice you finally got yourselves glasses.
-Yeah, I had almost forgotten how non-blurry the world was. So…You think you know what you're doing with the FCCL?
-Quite. After some time in caring missions, they'll learn to appreciate the message enough to disregard some disappointment from the messenger.
-What I mean is that they'll understand that it's kindness and caring that matter, so they won't fall to pieces when they learn the Care Bears aren't messengers from Heaven. They'll still have something meaningful to hold on to.
-I see. But what I'm really impressed with is how calm you are about the whole thing. Only yesterday you'd have erupted in anger if they came here.
-I know. I guess my perpetual anger is history now.
-That's great, 'cause…Um…I…kinda lost my Care Blaster…"
Warren looked fixedly at Nicholas, then abruptly got up, shook his fists in the air, and yelled: "Genius SMASH puny moron!
-No! Wait! I – oh." Nicholas had stepped backward while shielding his head with his arms until he saw Warren's grin.
-Har-har. You're a riot.
-Oh, and ask Paul to locate your blaster. It should take a minute at most."
At that moment, Sophia came in.
"Hey, Warren. I think it's time I go home. Are you sure you can handle the lunatics?
-Positive. And tomorrow's a big day – two vital caring missions, one of which I'll be participating in. If I recall correctly, you're busy that day?
-Afraid so. You'll have to tell me how it went."
She turned to leave – but then turned again, and took a good look at Warren. She then said: "And what happened next? On the Internet they say, That the mastermind's heart grew three sizes that day."
The next day, each of the Caretakers' caring missions was accompanied by an FCCLer or two. For instance, the mission at the CareNet orphanage included brother Jeffrey and sister Billie. The other members were Nicholas and Grams.
"So…That girl is an evil sorceress who served the villains for years?
-You could say that," said Nicholas. "The truth is that, more than anything else, she wanted to have the approval of her father and uncle, Control and No Heart. But now they're gone forever, and she saw that her father didn't really care about her. No wonder she's in a bad shape. And since the entire value system she was raised with encourages her to be "evil", that makes it even harder to help her. But Grams and I have been progressing…"
Nicholas's recap was cut short by the squeals of the orphanage children:
"It's Mr Nicholas!
-Maybe I should tell them to call me Cherrywood," he mused, when his co-worker and more-than-just-a-friend greeted him.
"Hi, Nicholas. Hi, Grams. Hi, Mr and Mrs…
-Just call us Jeffrey and Billie. You are…?
-I run this orphanage." She then turned toward her boyfriend: "I see you finally got glasses. I guess the doors are safe again…And I told you glasses would look good on you.
-Thanks. Anyway, can we have a talk with Shrieky?"
As it was their first time on a caring mission, Jeffrey and Billie only watched from afar as Nicholas and Grams approached the wannabe child-villainess. Shrieky wasn't particularly happy to see them, but at least she reacted: "Oh. You again.
-I told you I'd come back to help you" reminded her Grams. "And Nicholas won't give up, either.
-I – don't – want – your – help!
-Okay, now listen to me," said an exasperated Nicholas: "You've been like this ever since Avalon. How much longer exactly do you intend to keep sulking like that, a century? We're trying to be nice here, but you're so focused on what happened with your father that you don't even notice the rest of the world!
-Don't you dare speak of my father!
-Fine, but you get over him first!
-I'll never betray my father!
-He betrayed you. And now it's over. We're at another chapter of the story.
-You…You…" Shrieky couldn't find the words to express her rage.
"We know it's very hard for you, dear" said Grams. "That's why we're offering our help.
-You…I hate you all! I…" Shrieky trailed off, the words stuck in her mouth. Tears appeared in the corners of her eyes, and began trickling over her face. Grams hugged her.
"Get off me!" yelled Shrieky through her tears. "Go away or I'll kill you!"
Grams just kept hugging her. Finally, Shrieky erupted in tears, and hugged back, crying.
"Next time we do a good-cop-bad-cop routine, I'm the good cop" said Nicholas.
"You weren't bad, just blunt" reassured him Grams. "She had to be told.
-Anyway, you were right – that "wall" she had pretty much crumbled. Do you think it'll be easier for her now?
-She's admitted that she needed help. That's an important step. And she's let herself cry. It's much better than holding it all in the way she did.
-And in no small part thanks to you. I guess all that experience does have its use.
-You helped a lot, Nicholas. You both did – I've never seen a better-run orphanage."
Somewhere else, Patterson and another FCCLer were accompanying Warren, Paul, Lumpy and Tender Heart.
"There you are!" exclaimed Fred upon seeing them. "The Professor's still there, as usual.
-Nothing has changed," added his aunt. "He still won't forgive himself.
-We'll take care of it" replied Warren. "And if I may say…I must commend you two on your loyalty."
As the caring mission got in the room, Patterson asked Paul: "I don't get it. It's Professor Cold Heart we're talking about, right? One of the great villains? Why are we supposed to help him?
-It's a long story. The professor wasn't really in his right mind when he committed his crimes – and besides, he's genuinely sorry. We've all forgiven him.
-Fine…But why does he need our help?
-Because he just won't forgive himself. And until he does, he'll remain miserable…"
Michael Hart was laying in his hospital bed, weaker than ever. He wasn't surprised at getting a visit - he got a caring mission every day – although he was surprised at the number of people who came.
"Hello, professor Hart.
-Hello to you all…" he squinted at Paul and Lumpy, then said: "I recognize you…
-Good," said Warren. "At least your brain's still operational.
-For all the good it's done…All that brain of mine did was come up with evil schemes!
-If it's any consolation, I think some of those schemes didn't really involve your brain much.
-What do you mean?
-Two words: Concrete…Rain.
But more seriously, professor…You know very well why we came here.
-I know. You still want to help me. Even though I don't deserve it.
-Professor," said Paul, "you said you recognized us. Well, you must remember how, when I was a kid, you manipulated me into helping you use the Freeze Machine on my hometown. You tricked me into risking my life in the bell-tower. And you gloated how it was thanks to me that you were going to freeze the population. Well, guess what: I forgive you. And if I forgive you, how can you not forgive yourself?
-Yeah," concurred Lumpy. "I'm one of the kids you froze, and I've forgiven you. What more do you need?!"
The professor remained silent for a moment, then replied: "Does any of you have any idea how it feels…To have villainy of the highest magnitude on your conscience?
-Not really," replied Warren. "Even when I was a criminal, I was still trying to do what's right. But let me tell you what I think, Hart:
I think that, aside from that unfortunately-long interlude when you had no feelings, you're a man with a strong morale sense. You want to do what's right, and won't accept any misbehaviour on your own part. Now, because of certain circumstances, you find yourself more-or-less responsible for terrible crimes. And you feel that you deserve punishment. You won't forgive yourself, simply because you fear that if you did, you'd be committing an additional injustice – the one of going too "easy" on yourself.
But…If it had been anyone else in your position…You would forgive them, wouldn't you? You're just being harder on yourself, because you don't want to even risk being unjust again."
The professor was lost in thought again, then replied: "That's correct, yes.
-Well, allow me to tell you this: Punishing yourself will accomplish nothing. It won't make up for the suffering you caused – it will only create additional suffering, namely yours. Your repentance is genuine – and that's all you need to deserve forgiveness.
-That's right," added Tender Heart. "It won't do any good to refuse to forgive yourself."
Again, the professor remained silent for a moment before speaking up again:
"Do you…Do you think I can make up for all I did?
-You can at least try" replied Warren. "But whether or not you succeed, it is vital that you stop beating yourself over the past. Are you willing to move on?
-I…Yes."Part three: Goodbye World
"The authorities seized Cold Heart Castle a while ago; I had to pull a few strings to get us access here" explained Warren, as he walked through the castle's corridors. Next to him was professor Hart, whom Fred was helping to walk; shortly behind them were Paul, Bright Heart and Sophia.
"This place still gives me the chills;" admitted Bright Heart. "Couldn't we just work with the blueprints we have?
-I'd rather have everything at hand," replied Warren. "Better to be thorough. Some of those machines could bring a lot of good to the world.
-Maybe so, but how can I help?" wondered the professor. "You seemed to grasp the design well enough by yourself, Checkmate Warren – you figured most of it from the blueprints. And anyway, isn't the Neutronian technology light-years ahead of us?
-It isn't that simple. I've grasped the general principle of most of your inventions, true – but it could take several years for me to master everything. It is a lifetime of your work we're talking about, and you are a scientific genius, even if not on my level.
As for Neutronian technology…It doesn't cover everything. The Nano-folks lived in a very high-energy environment, so their progress in cryotechnology has been…Limited. They certainly didn't master Bose-Einstein condensates.
-…What?" asked Paul.
-Bose-Einstein condensates. As you're certainly aware, a laser is simply a ray of uniform light; however, this uniformity gives it interesting properties, which have found countless applications in industry, medecine, electronics…Well, when you bring certain types of matter to temperatures close enough to absolute zero, quantum effects render them completely uniform – as if there was only one atom.
-Oh great," muttered Paul, "quantum mechanics again. Electronics are fine, relativity I can sorta grasp (I think), but quantum mechanics make me feel like my head's going to explode.
-I know the feelings," said the professor. "I barely understood enough to build my machines.
-Well, you can't argue the results" said Warren. "With the condensates, Hart here has been able to create some kind of "material laser", which allowed many effects…Not the least of which was making the Freeze Machine work without breaking the rules of thermodynamics.
-And it's time to finally put those inventions to good use" said the professor, as they reached the storage room. "I hope it'll help…
-It most certainly will. But it's not the only way you can help…"
Meanwhile, in Rainbow City, another scientist was studying something else.
"Heads," observed Isaac after the coin landed. "Looks like you win again – and that closes the test.
-Yeah, after throwing the coin two hundred times" replied Good Luck. "Well, I hope that was useful to your work – like I said, they don't call me "Good Luck Bear" for nothing.
-Actually…I've kept counts, and got pretty much the results I was expecting. You see, Good Luck…You've won 97 times, and lost 103.
-Are you sure?" Good Luck seemed puzzled. "I was almost sure I had won most of the times…
-It was all in your head, actually. I was uncomfortable with the whole concept, truth be told…
-What do you mean?
-What I mean is that, from a physical point of view, there's no such thing as "good luck" or "bad luck". Things just happen according to whatever rules apply, regardless of whether the results are good or bad from our perspective. I wanted to test my theory – that luck is psychological.
-Psycholo – look, I'm pretty sure I've been lucky all my life!
-After a fashion, yes. You see, your luck consists in that you're skilled at creating and noticing chance opportunities that other people miss. You're relaxed and open, so you can see those things – you're lucky through your attitude. It's like Warren sometimes says – the good strategist knows how to turn any situation to his advantage. You're skilled at seeing the advantages.
-Okay…If you say so. But is that a good or a bad thing?
-Well, it means you're not any likelier than anyone else to win at something that depends on nothing except probability – I'd suggest staying away from casinos, but that's good advice for anyone. But what it also means is that anyone can learn to be lucky like you!
-Oh. So when I was helping kids who were down on their luck…
-…You weren't actually giving them some of your luck – you were actually showing them how to adopt a "lucky" mindset. Remember to teach that to your cubs, too…
-Hey, that's a bit early for that!" grinned the bear. "The ceremony's still two weeks away…"
Warren, Nicholas and a couple of FCCLers were accompanying a scruffy-looking elf at the CareNet orphanage.
"Why do I have to do this?" grumbled the elf.
"Because you've caused trouble for years, and if you don't help us, I'll make sure you have to pay for your actions" replied Warren. "And anyway…You wouldn't want to make me angry, would you?
-Good. Then go!"
The children were surprised when the green-skinned fellow entered the room. He moved toward Shrieky, who was busy reading a book on the History of Avalon that Nicholas had given her yesterday.
She looked up, puzzled. Who was that?
"Um, hi. Who are you?
-Don't recognize me?"
Even more puzzled, she looked hard…Then her eyes went wide:
-Correctomundo! And back to my old shape.
-What's the matter, cat got your tongue?
-It's…It's really you…But you look so…Different…
-Hey, I used to look like this before the Guardians changed everyone in Avalon into their slaves. But it's all over now. I'm back in Avalon; no more "do this Beastly, do that Beastly". Even no "Beastly" at all!
-What do you mean "no Beastly"?
-What, you thought Beastly was my real name? That's only how No Heart decided to call me. My real name's Fianno-Arkel Erlen.
-Wha…? This is just too weird. My head's gonna explode.
-Big loss. Anyway, I came here 'cause the Caretakers and Care Bears wanted me to meet you. Not sure why, but they said they wouldn't get me in trouble for what I did for No Heart if I helped, so…
-So…You're…Back to Avalon? Away from the castle?
-The castle's been turned into a museum. And yeah, I'm back in Avalon. I actually found a few pals from way back. It's been decades since No Heart summoned me, but some of them didn't forget me.
Sooo…How 'bout you?
-Um…Well, I've been here all the time. The Care Bears and Caretakers keep sending people to try to help me, or whatever…And…And…
-What's the matter?
-It's just…You know…Things just changed so much!
-Oh, that. Well, yeah.
-You know…" Shrieky seemed to grow uneasy; "…back when Checkmate Warren kidnapped me on Avalon…He made this set-up where my father could try to kill him, but would have to kill me too. My father…Tried. He failed, but…Well, he tried! Even though he knew it could kill me!
-So? They didn't care about anyone, remember?
-I know, I know. It's just that, well…It really hurt me. And you know why?"
Shrieky stood up. By reflex, Beastly stepped back – he had regained a lot of confidence together with his elven shape, but he still wasn't completely unafraid of the young girl.
"I'll tell you why: Because I loved my father. And my uncle too. I really looked up to them. Remember what I used to say whenever I was trying to hurt the Care Bears? "Uncle No Heart will be so proud of me".
I guess it was really stupid, trying to destroy all the caring in the world, when I cared myself for them. But I didn't even think about it. And I didn't think about how they didn't care about me.
And now…Now everything's changed. They're gone…And I'm still here.
-So…What are you gonna do?
-I don't know yet. I'll see…"
From behind the door, three people were smiling.
"I knew Beastly would provide the necessary shock!" said Warren. "Now she can finally turn a new leaf, and she realizes it.
-Thanks for all your help – you and the Care Bears both" said Nicholas's girlfriend. "Hopefully she'll get along better with the other kids.
-I'm sure she will," replied Nicholas. "First Cold Heart, now Shrieky. What next?
-Well, there are still a few loose ends to take care of" answered Warren. "Speaking of Hart…I'm afraid he's nearing his end.
-What do you mean?
-Come on, Nicholas…You've seen him. He's a complete wreck after all that's happened. He may have partially recovered on an emotional level, but physically, I don't think he can recover – he's a very old man, after all. I don't think he has more than a few days left…Which is why the recording had to be done today. And I believe it would be for the best if some of us helped him on his last days…
The entirety of the Care Bear family, Caretakers, FCCL, and a few more – notably Fred and his aunt – were reunited around the weakened Michael Hart, lying on his hospital bed.
"So kind of you all to come," the old man managed a weak smile, after shaking hands with Fred's aunt. "Funny, I used to think I'd die alone…
-You know I wouldn't leave you alone, professor" said his assistant.
"Sometimes I think you're just too loyal, Fred. Be careful not to let it get you in trouble again…
-Even with all what's happened, I'm glad I've known you, professor. You're one of the greatest guys I've known…And the best teacher I've ever had!
-Then I hope what I've taught you serves you well. Speaking of which…" he turned to Warren.
"The matter of Cold Heart Castle has been taken care of" reassured him the mastermind. "It will now become again the meeting place of the Cryogenics Institute, and has been re-named Kelvin Castle. Although the north wing is being turned into a museum, like No Heart's castle…After all, the events that happened shouldn't be forgotten with time.
-No, they shouldn't" agreed the professor, who was experiencing difficulties talking and breathing. "The…Recording?
-It'll be aired within a couple of weeks. Your help is most appreciated.
-Glad…To be of service…"
The old scientist turned to the Care Bear family, and said: "One last time…I'm sorry for everything.
-You're forgiven." Tender Heart took his hand. "For everything. And thank you for trying to do better."
Tears were already showing in Fred's eyes when Hart turned to him again: "Fred…Thank you…for everything. Keep going…You're in charge now. And…Take care of your aunt."
With that said, he waved one last time. Then, his hand came down, and one of the most unusual of hearts stopped beating.
"PROFESSOR!" Fred cried. His aunt quietly brought her handkerchief to her eyes. Several Care Bears and Cousins (and a few others) shed a few tears.
The next day, Warren, Fred and Cozy Heart were at Kelvin Castle.
"Are you sure about this?" Fred seemed uncertain.
"Absolutely positive" insisted Checkmate Warren. "And don't tell me the professor didn't inform you of this.
-Well, when he said I was "in charge", I didn't think…
-But you are. Legally, you and your aunt are now the owners of Kelvin Castle, with the Cryogenics Institute having the right to use it for their annual conference. The lab is still pretty functional – which means you can continue the professor's work.
-But I don't have even half his intelligence!
-No, but you've worked under him for many years, and understand his work better than almost anyone else. I'd suggest turning the west and east wing of the castle into research centres – you can hire cryotechnology experts from all over the world who will gladly work here.
-So…I'm now lab director?
-Pretty much. Incidentally…I know I would gladly work on a thing or two here. And the same goes for Bright Heart and Paul.
-Okay, sure. But isn't the castle a bit, you know…Gloomy?
-That's what I'm here for," replied Cozy Heart. "I have plenty of ideas to make this place friendlier. For starters, we could put a few fir trees over there…Do something for the chimneys…And…"
A week had passed since the death of professor Hart. Warren was on the phone at the Caretakers HQ: "Yes, this Neutronian technology works just fine. Those computer chips should be faster than those currently on the market by 6 or 7 orders of magnitude…But I suggest starting slow, Mr chairman. Right now, there isn't much demand for computers that powerful – it'll only come when other technologies will require such computing power. Progress begets progress and all that. We can provide you with the technology to make computers ten times faster – we'll see about the next order of magnitude a year or two from now, after this level of technology has been assimilated by society. There is no need to rush things."
After hanging up, he walked to the HQ's lobby, where he saw Patterson and David coming back from a caring mission.
"Mission report, David?
-It went just fine. I think we really helped.
-Good. Patterson, do you concur?
-Hue? Um, I suppose so…
-Perfect. If you don't mind, I'd like to have a word with you…"
Back in Warren's office, the mastermind spoke again:
"Tell me, Patterson…How would you describe your time among the Caretakers so far?
-Well…It was odd at first, but it feels great after a while. I mean, we get to be useful, and that's certainly a pleasant feeling. We helped a lot of people – and to be honest, I think I also learned a few things myself.
-What do you mean?
-You haven't said everything, Patterson – only the good parts. There's no need to sugar-coat things.
-…Fine. Well, yes, there's this one thing – I'm a bit…Uncomfortable. And so are the other Church members.
-And what is it that you're uncomfortable with?
-Well…" Patterson looked uneasy.
"You may speak freely, Patterson. I mean it.
-In that case…Well, it's about your relationship to the Care Bears.
-They're our friends.
-I know, I know…It's just that…I think you think of them as equals.
-That's correct, yes. Why does that disturb you?
-Well…You know our opinion on the matter!
-Unless I'm severely mistaken, your opinion is that they're messengers of God.
-That's the dogma of the FCCL, Patterson – but none of Caretakers share your opinion. To us, they're just flesh-and-blood mortals, like ourselves, who have taken upon themselves to make the world a better place. We treat them as equals because that's what we believe them to be.
-Hold it a moment, my friend. Tell me – if it was true, then what?"
The FCCL member remained lost in thought for a while, then replied: "Well, I'd be very disappointed – and I think the rest would share my feeling.
-Understandable. But aside from that? Would you hate and despise them for falling short of your expectations? Would you turn away from the values they profess – kindness, love, caring and the rest? Or would you say – judging from your time here – that these values are important and meaningful, regardless of whether their messengers are angels or mortals? Is the message valid, even if the messengers weren't as much as you thought?"
Again, Patterson remained lost in thought. Finally, he said: "Well, hypothetically, if they turned out to be mortals like you people believe, that would be a disappointment – but the ideals they (and you) work for remain valid. I know I'd remain grateful for everything I learned over the last few weeks.
-So now, you answer this one: What would you do if it turned out I was right?
-Heh. Good question, and I'm not sure what the answer is. I've never been one to follow an authority figure, mortal or otherwise – I'm content just trying to do what I believe is best. If there turned out to be a higher meaning behind everything…I don't know what I'd do.
-Are you saying…You don't believe in a higher meaning?
-Me, personally? No. But some of the Caretakers would disagree with me. We're not united by common metaphysical beliefs, but by an ideal and a commitment. My opinions on the matter are not representative of the opinions of other Caretakers.
-So what are your opinions?
-I believe in what makes sense. In what's consistent. I see the world around me; I assume (for the sake of practicability) that my perception isn't overly flawed; I observe, try to figure out the rules according to which it all works. If I ever see anything that indicates there's a higher meaning behind everything – not just particles and energy floating around – then I'll believe that. Until then, I'm what philosophers would call a materialist: I believe there's nothing beyond the physical world that we see."
Patterson looked ill-at-ease. "But, if that's all you think we are – atoms and molecules – then what's the point of all this? Why bother with love and caring? Or anything else?
-Because, even if it's meaningless from a universal perspective, that doesn't in any way make it meaningless from our perspective. And that's the perspective that matters to us.
-Just a week ago, we accompanied a man in his last hours. Several of you were his friends. You really believe that he's gone forever?!
-I don't like it…But whether I like or dislike something doesn't change whether or not it is true, except where I can change things. I can bring down a mega-criminal like Control, but I can't provide everybody with a comfortable afterlife – well, maybe with the Omega Point…
-Never mind. Anyway, if you believe there's some part of us that survives physical death, then fine. I just happen to have a different opinion. I believe this life is all we get – one more reason I'm trying to make Heaven on Earth. Tell me – does the fact my opinion differs from yours make me despicable in your eyes?
-I…No. It…Disturbs me, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends.
-I'm glad to hear it." Warren extended a hand, which Patterson hesitantly shook. After Patterson left the room, Warren grinned – almost done! Still a few FCCLers he had to talk with, and they'd be ready…
Two days later, Tender Heart was making a stop by the HQ at Rainbow City and having a talk with Christy when Patterson, with the rest of the FCCL behind him, hesitantly approached him.
"Excuse me, Tender Heart…I…We just have to ask a few questions."
The bear looked at them, then said: "All right. What do you want to ask?
-Well…You probably know what the First Church of Care-A-Lot believes in. We…We believe that you and your people have come down from the Heavens as messengers of God, bringing His words to the people of Earth.
What we have to know is…Are we right?"
Tender Heart looked at them, a bit sad, then replied: "I'm sorry, but, no. We're not messengers of God, and never said we were. We're like you. We just care about everybody. We just want to help."
Looking glum, Patterson turned to face his brethren, then said: "As chairman of the First Church of Care-A-Lot…I hereby…Declare the Church…Disbanded." His voice almost broke down mid-sentence. The others seemed depressed too.
Uneasily, Tender Heart spoke again: "Listen…I know you people are looking for something, and you thought you had found it with us. I'm sorry – we can't help you find it. But we would like to at least be your friends."
Tender Heart extended his paw. With a weak smile, Patterson shook it. "I'll take it over nothing."
Turning to face Warren, he said: "Tell me…The whole reason we were asked to work with you…
-…was so that we could gradually show you where you were wrong. We thought it would be better than just dropping something like this on you all at once.
-I understand. But what now?
-Now? It's entirely up to you. I've been where you are, by the way – and I recommend taking a few days to think things over. Afterwards, do as you will, friends."
Later on, David joined Warren in his office.
"You told them to do as they will. Well, I know better.
-What do you mean?
-I mean I know you; I'll bet you already know in advance what they'll do. You always predict people's moves before they choose them.
-True. But that doesn't make it any less their choice.
Anyway, you're mostly right – I believe I have a pretty good idea of what they'll do. Some will pursue their quest, study theology, try to find God, or whatever. Some will return to families and friends they haven't contacted very often lately. Some will decide to continue their activities as Caretakers. Please note that these options are not mutually exclusive.
-Hold it – you think some of them are going to become permanent Caretakers?
-Those of them that enjoyed feeling useful, mostly. However, we have some more pressing concerns.
-In case you forgot, there's a double wedding coming up."
It had seemed an obvious choice, at first, to hold the wedding in Care-A-Lot. Most people had gotten so engrossed with the preparation of the ceremony that they hadn't even thought about the legal aspect of the whole thing – Warren surprised Paul and Alice when he revealed his wedding gift: He had pulled a few strings to accelerate some bureaucratic motions, making sure the marriage in Care-A-Lot was legally recognized in the US.
Naturally, the entire Care Bear family (including, of course, Perfect Panda), as well as all the Caretakers and the families of Alice and Paul were present. So were most former members of the FCCL, a few friends from Rainbow City, Songfellow Strum, Sophia, and more.
"Nervous, pal?" asked Lumpy, as he helped Paul with his bow-tie.
"Nervous? Me? Why would I be nervous? I'm aaall calm. I'm so not-nervous, I'm only 135% as nervous as when we were fighting the Prank. I think I need to restart my heart.
-Hey, are you ready yet?" came Alice's voice from around the corner. "We have 30 minutes left.
-I'm almost ready and…" Paul stopped mid-sentence as not one, but two Alices, each sporting a wedding-dress, came into the room, with mischievous smiles.
Lumpy twitched. Paul, mouth wide-open, looked first at the one on his left, then the one on his right, then left again, then right…Then closed his mouth, focused, looked closely at both…
"You're Alice," he said, pointing at the one on his left. "You're the princess of Wonderland – er, sorry, I mean queen.
-Good answer" said Alice, who began to laugh. Her royal look-alike calmly giggled.
"Ooo-kay, I guess I should have expected you to pull something like that" grinned Paul. "But how did you get two identical dresses…?
-We didn't really" replied the queen, as her dress suddenly began to change, turning into a traditional Wonderland royal robe. "Your friend Nicholas agreed to throw a simple illusion spell on it.
-I see. Well, I know a wizard who's going to find an electric vibrating device in his pillow sometime tonight!"
"Oh my gosh, I'm so excited! I mean, more than usual!" said Cheer. "This is the first time in ages that we're having a wedding in Care-A-Lot!
-Actually, we've only had one wedding before, and it was a disaster" reminded her Grumpy.
"Yes, but that was different! Then, it was a fake wedding staged by Professor Col – you know. This time, nothing can go wrong!
-Every time I hear someone say something like that, I get cold shivers in my spine.
-That's my favourite pessimist," said Cheer, hugging him. "You're never going to change, are you?
-Not really, I guess. Are you saying I should?
-No. I like you just the way you are.
"If there is anyone who thinks these people should no be married, let him speak now or forever hold his peace" said Love-A-Lot. The room remained silent for a while.
"I declare them husbands and wives!"
Tender Heart clapped his paws.
"How do you think it was?" asked Love-A-Lot.
"Perfect. I think that's enough practice. Maybe we should join the others."
He turned to leave the room, then noticed his friend lingering. "Hey, is everything okay?
-Yes, Tender Heart…I've just been thinking lately. Good Luck Bear and Polite Panda will be the first members of the family who get married. I've just been wondering – will I one day say the words "I do"?
-I'm sure you will," smiled Tender Heart. "We'll just ask True Heart to lead the ceremony."
"I guess the day has come" said Noble Heart.
"Indeed" concurred True Heart.
"True Heart, are you all right? You seem a bit…Troubled.
-I'm fine, Noble Heart…It's just that…For the first time, a member of the Care Bear family will be leaving the Kingdom of Caring. I'm happy for them, but I can't help feeling a bit sad, too.
-I understand. I'm sure Good Luck feels that way too.
-I'm sure he does. Sigh…They've really grown up, haven't they, Noble Heart?
-They sure have. And wherever they go, I know they'll make us proud.
-As they always have."
"Are you ready, Good Luck?
-A-as ready as I'll ever b-be, Wish. My stars, I've never felt so nervous…
-I saw Polite five minutes ago; she feels the same. So does Paul, and so does Alice, although she doesn't show it as much.
-Hn…You know, Wish…I just want to say again that I'll miss living with you all. I really will.
-We'll miss you too, Good Luck. I'll miss you. But if that's what makes you happy…
-It is. But I'll always treasure the memories of my time here.
Looks like the time has come. Well, wish me luck!
"Friends, we're gathered here today to marry Good Luck Bear to Polite Panda, and Alice Parker to Paul Edison" said Love-A-Lot, this time for real. "Polite, do you take Good Luck to be your lawfully wedded husband?
-I-I-I do," stuttered the panda, blushing furiously.
"And do you, Good Luck, take Polite to be your lawfully wedded wife?
-I sure do," said Good Luck, blushing only a notch less than his bride.
"Do you, Alice, take Paul to be your lawfully wedded husband?
-Of course," said Alice self-assuredly.
"And do you, Paul, take Alice to be your lawfully wedded wife?
-Y-yeah – I mean, yes!
- If there is anyone who thinks these people should no be married, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." Playful Heart resisted the urge to make funny noises.
"I declare them husbands and wives!"
Alice kissed Paul, who returned the kiss after getting over the surprise. Good Luck hesitantly kissed Polite on the cheek, causing both of them to blush even more deeply – but she eventually returned it too. Applauses and hurrahs erupted from all over the room.
The party lasted till late at night. At its end, both couples departed on a honeymoon – Alice and Paul took a flying car, Good Luck and Polite took a cloudmobile. Of course, they'd have to make it short – Perfect could only keep the valley warm by himself for a week at most. But that would be enough.
Good Luck made his good byes to everyone; many shed a few tears, including Brave Heart and the cubs. His many family members made him swear no less than five times that he'd come to visit within three weeks at most.
Finally, things calmed down. Looking around the mostly deserted Hall of Hearts, Grumpy told Cheer: "Well, I guess you were right this time – nothing went wrong for once.
-Except that we'll have to clean up tomorrow, of course.
-Hey, that's my line!"
Both Care Bears laughed.Part four: A New Era
Grumpy rushed inside Bright Heart's workshop. The rest of the family (aside from the three residents of Paradise Valley) were already there.
"Am I late?
-You almost were" smiled Bright Heart. "It's starting any moment now – I didn't have a TV set handy, but I arranged it so that it would show on the computer screen."
The image appeared – not only in the workshop, but in millions of homes. Love them or hate them, mass media have an unquestionable power.
It had been expensive to arrange for the message to be broadcast, but hopefully it would be worth it.
Checkmate Warren appeared on a white background. He almost immediately spoke up:
"Hello to all. Allow me to tell you this little story:
Only a few years ago, I was the greatest criminal mastermind in the world. I drew upon nearly-unlimited supplies of anger to scare off anybody who opposed me – and in the end, I always got my way. Invariably.
I had it all – technology more than a decade in advance on anyone else; obscene amounts of more-or-less legal money; hidden lairs from which to launch my nefarious plots; even the occasional henchmen to do my biddings. Nobody dared oppose me – not the police, not the FBI, not even the army. Everybody was too scared of me to stand in my way.
So, where's the catch? I still wasn't happy. Okay, so my life wasn't the empty void some people complain about…But it lacked something. Several things, actually.
So, I eventually wised up, cleaned up my act, gave up on the criminal career, apologized to some good people I had hurt, and tried to do some good for a change. I learned to let go of all my anger, to forgive people, and to befriend them.
Now, I'm happier than ever before, I have an actual peace of mind, and several good friends who care about me and about whom I care. Life's never been better.
My name is Checkmate Warren, and I'm a super-genius."
He smirked, then turned serious again: "Okay, parodies aside, I'm trying to say something important here: If we ever want to have a better world, we must begin by bettering ourselves. It may sound trite, and corny, to advise people to be nice and kind to each other – and yet, this ranks among the best advice that can be given. Don't think you can't do it – if a colossal jerk such as yours truly could become the semi-tolerable jerk that I am today, then anybody can change. It's not always easy, improving – but it's worth it. It's worth the world.
It's simple things – forgiving those we're angry at, whether it's for a good reason or not; showing simple kindness to people in everyday life, strangers and close acquaintances alike; sharing your feelings with friends; do that, and the world will be a little bit better, at least for you."
The camera rotated, and now showed professor Hart, sitting on a chair, weak. It was his turn to speak up: "Hello. As most of you probably know, I was once known as Professor Cold Heart. For many years, I have been among the cruellest, nastiest villains in the world. But before that, I was actually a pretty decent fellow…Until the day my wife died.
I loved my wife more than I can express with words. It hurt so much, that I decided to end the pain – by using an invention of mine to turn off my feelings. No feelings meant no more grief; however, it also meant no more joy, friendship, caring, or warmth. With my feelings shut off, I had become an empty shell – there was nothing left for me that was worth living for. All I had left was a stabbing jealousy toward those who could still feel, and I embarked on a nefarious quest to rid the world of feelings, just like myself. It's only in the Avalon War that my feelings were brought back by the Care Bear family and the Caretakers. It's brought back the grief…As well as remorse for all I've done…But it's still better than being an empty shell."
The professor, in his weak state, had to stop for a moment. He then followed:
"You might be wondering how that applies to you. After all, odds are you don't have access to machines that can turn off feelings. But what I did was just an extreme case of what all too many people do all the time, without technology – we're so afraid of getting hurt, that we wall everything off. Instead of dealing with grief, we try to shut off our feelings, losing the most important thing in the world. And we're so afraid of showing even the slightest vulnerability, that we rarely tell anyone we love them – except, sometimes, for our children, whom we believe too weak to threaten us. And even to them, we don't say it often enough.
We have to learn to take the good with the bad – the joy of love, caring, and feelings, together with the risk of getting hurt. It takes courage, but it's better than the alternative.
I hope people can learn from my terrible mistake. And while I'm here, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone whom I've ever hurt – before or after my transformation. I'll probably be dead by the time this message is broadcast, but I nevertheless hope that you can forgive me – if not for my sake, then for yours. Good-bye."
Again, the camera rotated – this time showing Tender Heart.
"Hello everyone. My name is Tender Heart. I'm a Care Bear.
My family and I have been helping people for many, many years. We have seen the best and worst in people. Sometimes, you can choose to become cold and uncaring – or you can choose to be kind, and loving. It's all up to you.
Very often, you're afraid to share your feeling. I can understand it, but I can also tell you – in the long run, everybody's better off if you overcome that fear. You, because you won't have to keep everything inside, and those around you, because they can share with you too. You can make friends, have loving relationships, or at least be at peace with yourself.
There are so many qualities in the human heart – forgiveness, generosity, courage, kindness, and more. Any of you can choose to be good – it's not always easy, but it's the right choice. And we trust you to make it."
Again, the camera rotated, going back to Warren.
"Well, that sums it up. All of you can improve – and if you need any help, just ask." And as Warren faded from the screen, a written message appeared: "www.care_for_all.org".
"Well, here goes" reflected Tender Heart. "I just hope we reached people.
-I'm sure you did" reassured him Love-A-Lot.
In Rainbow City, the Caretakers too had watched the broadcast.
"Not too corny, I hope?" asked Warren.
"Time will tell, I guess" replied Isaac.
"I liked it" said Christy. "But tell me…Do you really believe we can change the world?
-We've already started – and trust me, there's more to come. Speaking of which, aren't there caring missions scheduled today?
-On it. But what about you?
-I'm going on a mission three hours from now. But before that, I'm expecting a guest…
-I've been here for nearly five minutes already" came Sophia's voice from the doorway.
"Ah! Excellent. I trust everything is all right?
-Same as usual.
-Good. You know, I got this interesting communication from the S.S. Exodus…"
"So…How's life angst-free so far?" asked the child prodigy.
"Wonderful. By the way, I've noticed you're getting along pretty well with the other Caretakers…
-Well, yes. I guess you were right – it is nice to be friends with them, even those who are far less intelligent than me.
-But of course. But tell me – what about your parents?
-Eh…What's to say?
-You know very well. It would be advisable for you to try to get closer to them.
-Why? I didn't choose to be their daughter.
-No, but you can choose to be their friend. That's the wise thing to do, considering that you're going to spend a good deal of your life with them. Besides, they already care about you, and you care about them at least a little – you might just as well make the best of it.
-I know they care about me, Warren…But…I also make them uncomfortable.
-Why? Because your superior intelligence makes you alien to them? Think back, Sophia – there is certainly some truth in that, but I'm sure you'll realize that, to some extent, you've cultivated this feeling. You've grown somewhat disenfranchised with them, so you liked the fact that your intelligence drove them away – and left you alone and undisturbed. That's a waste, Sophia.
Yes, your intelligence does make them slightly uneasy. But you could remedy to that by trying to get closer to them, and showing that, super-genius or not, you care about them.
-I'll…Think about it.
-Only if you don't use that sentence as an evasion.
-Touché. Okay, I promise I'll do something about it within the week.
-Good, because you can't keep coming here indefinitely without your parents' knowledge – it's better to ask for permission than forgiveness.
-I guess you would know, hm?
-Touché. I am the guy who tried to take over the world "for it's own good"…All part of the "quick-and-dirty solution" mentality I absorbed in Salvation Town.
-The people who were looking for the cheat codes of life.
-Interesting way to put it. But not wholly inaccurate…
-Well, judging from all the effort you've put into the Caretakers and CareNet, I'd say you've broken away from that mentality just fine.
-True…But I was still carrying the anger they had given me. It's only now that I'm truly free from it…Only now that I can truly say: Checkmate, Salvation Town!
And since we're talking about my past…That reminds me: I have a call to make…"
WebKnot was a mighty empire, and Larry was its king.
Well, that was the way he liked to think of it.
In truth, WebKnot was merely a medium-sized ISP (Internet Service Provider), and while Larry was the CEO, he sometimes seemed more like a clown to the staff – simply put, he wasn't the most talented manager in existence, albeit not Dilbertian, either.
WebKnot had, at a time, come pretty close to bankruptcy – that was years ago, and what happened next was something Larry preferred not to dwell about, even if it had saved the company. Right now, he was reading a proposal for a new type of network, which would improve bandwidth by an entire order of magnitude – some of the new alien technology. The scary thing was that, according to what he'd heard, that would only be the beginning – the alien technology would eventually allow to go much further.
His musings were interrupted when his secretary transferred an external phone call to him. He noticed she seemed somewhat…Afraid? when she said it was for him…
-Ah, Larry. It's been a while."
The CEO could feel his blood turning into ice – well, that's the way it felt; even after all these years, he still recognized that voice – and was still deathly afraid of it.
-Checkmate Warren, at your service.
-Wh-why are you calling?
-You may relax, Larry – I don't intend to cause you or your company any harm. I'm not even trying to scare you this time, even though it's a predictable result…
-What…What do you want?
-Well, it may sound strange to you, but mostly, I'm calling to apologize."
Larry thought his head was going to explode. "A-ap-ap-p-pologize?
-I… » Larry processed the information. He figured if Warren was calling to apologize, that meant this time, he had the upper hand:
"Well, you damn well better! After what you did to my company…
-Oh really? As I recall, WebKnot was going bankrupt at the time. Rarely had I seen so much incompetence thrown together in one spot – you were going down before the Dot-Crash! Really, I was the only competent employee – but there's only so much a system administrator can do. That's what prompted me to take over the company.
-By blackmailing me over things I hadn't done!
-Yes, forging evidence was deceptively easy in my position. You know, Larry – it would have been pretty easy for me to actually acquire the company, through some manipulation or another. But I never did. Instead, I reorganized it, making it semi-efficient…
-And using it as a starting point for your nefarious plots, you heartless fiend!
-Yes, controlling an ISP was pretty helpful at the beginning of my criminal career. I believe the FBI made a quick stop by WebKnot a few months after my departure?
-They thought we were linked to you!
-Technically, you were. I understand they predictably left you alone after the "money-man" incident – you know how the authorities don't want to meddle in that which is overly weird.
I'm not all that sorry for taking over the company, Larry – I pretty much saved it. I'm just sorry for the way I treated everybody – I could have been nicer. I called to apologize, that's all. Have a good day."
It was dinnertime at the Schroeders'. Mr and Mrs Schroeder were done talking about their respective days. Lorelei apprehensively spoke up:
"Mom, dad…" – that opening was enough to surprise them. They both looked at her wide-eyed.
"Heh. I knew that would get your attention.
-Um…You never call us "mom and dad".
-That's just because I've gotten used to calling you by your names. I hope you don't think it means anything…" Both her parents seemed uncertain of what to think.
"Listen, I need to have a word with you…
-Okay, it's like this: You see, I think we've been…Drifting apart over the last few years. Some of it was my fault, some yours. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that…We don't have to drift apart like this. Even if we…sometimes have trouble…relating…That doesn't mean we can't try harder. And when all comes down to it, we do care about each other. So, I guess I just wanted to say…I'd like to get closer to you guys. And…I…love you."
Without a word, her mother hugged her. Her father joined up immediately. She could almost swear they had shed some tears of emotion.
"Alice! Paul! It's a pleasure to see you again!
-I hope the honeymoon went pleasantly?
-Oh, it was a blast! What did we miss while we were away?
-A few things happened. We aired the recording of Warren, Hart and Tender Heart…
-We caught it on TV" Paul cut him.
"Warren's still holding the serene attitude, so I suppose it is safe to suggest it's a permanent change.
-Good for him, I guess" said Alice. "Did he change in any other way?
-Not really. He's still the same calculating strategist. And since we're speaking of super-geniuses, I think Sophia has been getting along far better with her parents lately.
-More good news! What else?
-Well, I've recently been contacted by the International Mathematical Union. Apparently they have decided to award me the Fields Medal.
-No kidding!" Paul's mouth went wide.
"Congratulations, but…What is the Fields Medal?" asked Alice. Paul explained: "It's like the Nobel Prize for mathematics, except it's only awarded once in four years.
-Oh! Then really congratulations!
-Why thank you. I'm half-expecting Warren to get the physics Nobel prize for all his work sooner or later, by the way…
-What did you get it for?" asked Paul. "Your mathematical theory of ethics?
-Correct. Normally I wouldn't have expected it to gain official recognition so quickly, but the Care Blaster proved that it worked just fine. And Neutronia seems to agree.
-Heh. I guess you don't argue about those things with a millennia-old alien civilization that has every aspect of science and technology figured out…
-Not every aspect. Neutronia was advanced in physics, but even now, they still continue scientific research. There is still much to discover…And even more to invent.
-Is there really?" asked Paul. "I mean, they have nanotechnology that made Control's nanomorph look prehistoric, tachyon communication and scanners that reach the other end of the galaxy in seconds, faster-than-light travel…What's left, aside from cryotechnology?
-Many things. For starters, there's artificial intelligence.
-AI? But we already have that! Dark Heart was artificial. So was the Prank. Or the Great Wishing Star, not to mention the Devourer of Worlds!
-Dark Heart might be artificial – we're still studying that – but the Balance-Keepers had no idea how to create intelligence from scratch. Their method was actually pretty frankensteinesque – you see, they took bits of multiple brains, and converted the thoughts into…
-Please don't go too deeply into that.
-Sorry. Anyway, when Control created the Prank, he did mostly the same – he copied the thought patterns of several human beings. To be more specific, a busload of mental patients and serial killers. He then used his mind-magic to shape it into the horror that we met.
As for the Great Wishing Star and the Devourer…The computers of the Nano-folks can create intelligence, but only as a pattern that emerges from vast systems. In other words, they only manage to obtain it as a by-product. A Neutronian super-computer can reach the intelligence of a gnat. To create truly intelligent entities, they had to turn entire stellar bodies into computers – not a very efficient method. To make a long story short, I think there's going to be a lot of research into AI in the future. And that's just one field – there are plenty more.
-So we scientists aren't going to end up unemployed just yet.
-Correct. But you were asking what had happened in your absence…Well, there's one more thing…"
"I now officially declare the new branch of the Caretakers open!" said Warren. Many cheered.
"I still remember, not all that long ago, how Warren asked for our help creating the Caretakers" Tender Heart told Nicholas. "Now it's your turn to teach these people how to help others – well, I guess you already taught them a lot…
-You bet," replied Nicholas. "They did work with us for a long while.
-Most of them did" Warren joined the conversation. "The former FCCL members. But there are a few newbies, too.
-And to think, when you first met the FCCL, you had a fit," Arnold grinned. "Guess they're turning out to be pretty helpful after all, hue?
-Well, they started out as a liability…Which has now become – an asset. It's like I always say – the great strategist knows how to turn any situation to his advantage. Or in this case, the advantage of the world.
This is the second branch of the Caretakers, but, mark my words, it won't be the last. I've already talked with Thomas about creating one in Salvation Town. Within ten years, I believe we can have branches in every major city – and number in the tens of thousands.
-That's huge," said Alice. "Do you think we have the resources for something like that?
-We'll obtain the resources! We already have the official support of Avalon (who'll need our help more than anyone) and the Nano-folks. And with the new technological revolution under way, having the resources for something like this won't actually be as hard as it is nowadays. Besides, we're the closest allies of the Care Bear family…And we have the public's trust, which we lacked at first. We're going to change the world!"
In summer, this was a busy place. It was a summer camp, after all. But right now, it was the end of spring, and the area was mostly deserted. However, one of the wooden cabins contained no less than four people.
"The entrance to the lair was through this wall, right, David?
-Yeah. You know, I've wondered a few times if I could bring it back…I don't think so. And if I could, would I want to?
-You tell us. It was your home for God-knows-how-long" said Christy. The twins nodded.
"Well, yeah. It did hurt a bit when it fell apart. But I don't think I'd really want to go back there…It would remind me too much of what I was back then.
-A deluded fool?" suggested Dawn.
"But not really a monster", added John. "Just convinced you were.
-I guess so. But that's not the reason I wanted to come here…
-Then why?" pressed Christy. "I know you don't like being reminded of your time as Dark Heart. So why'd you want to come here of all places?
-Because I wanted to remember something else. I wanted to remember how I stopped being Dark Heart. I know I've already told you all this, so stop me if I'm boring you – but the truth is, I didn't like being Dark Heart. But I kept doing it, because I believed it was my purpose. When I realized that I did care about you, well…That also made me realize I wasn't the destroyer of goodness the Balance-Keepers thought they had created. Okay, I didn't know who the Balance-Keepers were at the time, but my point is – I suddenly discovered I was free. I didn't have to destroy all goodness and kindness in the world – I could live however I wanted!
-What weirded me for some time was how enthusiastic you were about being able to run and jump," said Dawn. "I mean, couldn't you do that before, too?
-Yes, but…Well, I was free! That made it different…And I kind of got carried away.
At the time, it amazed me that you guys wanted to be my friends, after all I had done. I know now about caring, love and forgiveness…But I think it says a lot about you that you acted the way you did, and at such a young age.
-We had good teachers", Dawn smiled.
"The very best", concurred John.
"The Care Bears. Thank goodness for them, I guess. I don't know what we'd be without them.
I've been thinking about everything that's happened since then…Growing up as a human with you…Going to school, finishing school, just plain living, college…The "quiet" period. And then…The day it all started again.
-You mean, when you met Paul?
-On my first day of college. I'm still amazed at how quickly it all went – in no time, we came back to Care-A-Lot…
-First time for me", reminded him Christy.
"Yeah, sorry. How we freed the Care Bear family…But also the old villains.
Then, quiet again…Until we hear on the news that the super-criminal Checkmate Warren is sending an ultimatum to the world. Then the C-bomb – several hours without feelings, until a rain of serum saves us. Then again some quiet, until Checkmate Warren shows up and hires our help in the Caretakers. And then, peril after peril…Until now. I just…I guess it's been quite a trip. And I'm glad I made it with you.
-Same here", said Christy. "It's been a pleasure.
Another voice came now: "Mind if we join?"
The four turned around, and saw the unexpected visitors: True Heart and Noble Heart.
"We heard you were here, and thought we'd like to come back too" said the horse.
"You know…You were actually the first caring mission, ever. So it's a bit of a starting place for me, too" explained the bear.
"Well, you certainly did a good job" said John.
"You really helped us. But you know it, of course.
-Well, since you said it several times…Yes.
-We were talking about all the things that happened…But I guess a lot of things happened to you, too. You had to fight against all the perils…
-…And we're still getting used to peace. Or to all the things that have changed. It's strange…But it's also a good thing. The world is becoming a better place.
-So I guess it's time to enjoy it.
-It's always time to enjoy it!" said True Heart. "Even in the darkest hour, life should be enjoyed as much as possible. And now, that an era of peace and love is starting, that's still true – it should just be easier to enjoy it.
-Amen to that."
"Ah, Mr and Mrs Schroeder. What a pleasure to meet you at last.
-Thank you, Mr…Warren…
-Just call me Warren. You can guess why I invited you here, right?
-It's about our daughter, we think.
-Correct. As you certainly know, Lorelei has…Potential. In astronomical quantities. I would like to help her achieve her full potential.
-How much do you know about her?
-Well, she contacted me on the Internet a few months ago. I was intrigued at first by her intelligence, but when I realized she was still a child, I knew what I was dealing with: A super-genius in training.
-What do you…
-Allow me to explain: As a child, I was a lot like Lorelei. There was one big differences between our childhoods, though: I grew up around lunatics, and became a social outcast – and I don't mean by it that I was ignored, no; to be ignored would have been far better a fate. I was despised by all, and had to fight more than any child should ever have to.
Lorelei's situation, in that regard, is quite different: Her parents are sane, normal people. You may be slightly uneasy around her intellect…
-Yes you are, and don't bother denying this. As I was saying, you may be slightly uneasy about her intellect, but you remain loving parents – you accept her as she is. I must commend you on that, considering my own experience.
Lorelei could use love and caring – but she needs intellectual stimulation. School won't provide it…
-We tried to get her into a higher grade, but she doesn't want to.
-That's because she knows that she'll attract negative attention from schoolmates. She has already learned everything years beyond her classes, and only goes there to avoid trouble. She doesn't learn anything at school, because she already knows everything they teach. And she learns even more at home.
I suggest taking her out of school, for starters – it's better to let her learn independently.
-But what about her classmates? What about friends?
-Let her make friends with the neighbours' kids – she doesn't get along well with classmates. That could change one day…But in the meanwhile, it's a waste of time to send her to a place of learning that teaches her nothing.
Now, come with me; I want to show you something."
He took them to the workshop, where he presented a small device to them.
"What is it?
-A communicator we built recently. It's not the best on the market, but it works just fine. We made it following a design your daughter sent me.
-It was a mental exercise. She not only succeeded, she also enjoyed it. So if I may suggest…
You can give Lorelei love. That's important. I can teach her how to use that amazing mind of hers to the best of its abilities. A skill demands to be developed. What I would like to obtain is your permission to tutor her. Teach her science, technology, History, and all that she needs to know – what she hasn't learned by herself yet, anyway.
-Mr…Warren…I want my daughter to be happy, not to become a thinking machine.
-I agree. I certainly wouldn't want her to go through life without the love and caring of family and friends. That's why I explained to her that these things are important and valuable, and that she should try to get closer to those who cared about her – such as you. She said your relationship had improved recently?
-Good. She's learning the importance of those things. That's roughly as important as the more intellectual matters she still has to learn.
So tell me…What do you think?
-We…We'll need to consider it.
-Understood. How about you bring Lorelei for a meeting next Saturday?"
"It's funny," said Shrieky. "This place used to make me sick, but now…Now it doesn't bother me so much.
-Your dislike of Care-A-Lot was mostly a learned reflex," explained Warren. "Now that you're starting to steer away from what No Heart and Control taught you, you can see this place through your own eyes, instead of theirs.
-I…I don't think everything they taught me was…You know…
-Some of Control's teachings were useful, from a practical point of view. But he never taught you how to be happy – happy people are harder to control. Ah, here's our destination
-It's Bright Heart's workshop.
-Correct. Let's get inside."
As soon as they came in, they were greeted by the raccoon. Grumpy and Sophia were working in a corner.
"Hi! Good to see you!
-Good to see you too."
Shrieky remained silent. Grumpy said hello too, and Sophia approached.
"Ah, allow me to make introductions" said Warren. "Sophia, this is Shrieky – you've heard of her. Shrieky, this is Sophia, my…Student, shall we say.
Warren turned to Bright Heart. "So, what do our subatomic friends say?
-Apparently, the neutron star they found will do just fine as their new home; they're already colonising it, and have named it Nova Neutronia – well, at least that's how it translates.
-Gooood. Oh Shrieky, in case you're wondering – we're talking about the Nano-folks. You know, the people who were enslaved by the Devourer of Worlds.
-Oh. They've found a new home?
-Yes. But they're not the only alien civilization we've contacted…There were several worlds that were hiding from the Devourer. Now that it's gone, they can again communicate, and even travel – and thanks to Neutronia, all of them have the technology to reach the stars. We're at the beginning of a new era – multiple civilizations now have the means to communicate and travel on interstellar distances. Do you realize what that means? Interstellar, eventually even galactic civilization. There will only be limited contact at first…But it'll keep developing. Before you know it, there will be commerce…And then even more.
-Yes, more. I've been thinking about it…And I've concluded there will be need for a vast organization to help everybody care.
-Like the Caretakers?
-Not exactly…I mean something much, much bigger than the Caretakers will ever be. I'm talking about a semi-political organization…Not one that will control the galaxy, but one that will spread ideals, and help those in need. Perhaps some type of federation…But that'll be way after my time.
-Don't worry," said Sophia, "you'll just leave me the guidelines.
-Heh. That I will."
Turning to Shrieky, he said: "That's for the far future. But for now…Now, we must deal with this world. Only a few last things to take care off…
-What's left?" Grumpy's head emerged from under the machine he was repairing. "All the villains have been defeated, or left their evil ways. The Caretakers will help us make the world a better place, and so will CareNet. So…?
-Well, Sour Sam is scheduled to be released some time from now…But I doubt he's anything we can't handle. There is the matter of Avalon, however…
-What about Avalon?" asked Shrieky.
"Well, as you probably know, Avalon was (and, to some extent, still is) an extremely traditional culture. That dates back to the conflict of Chaos and Order, a long time ago – if you've studied Avalonian History thoroughly enough, then you know the faction of Chaos left Avalon in the end, and created Wonderland – eventually losing any resemblance they had to the elves who had stayed (chaotic magic does that). The faction of Order remained in charge of Avalon – and traditionalism, for better or worse, became a cornerstone of their society.
And among all the traditions, there was one particularly important for the events that came next – that of the Guardians.
-Guardians protected Avalon for generations. They hunted down the vampires, among many other criminal factions – as well as other threats. As you know, Guardianship is hereditary, and transmitted to the eldest child of the current Guardians – or, in the absence of such a child, to next-of-kin.
Merlin and Alia were the latest Guardians. They lost their souls creating the barrier to protect us from the Devourer. After becoming Lord and Lady Uncaring, they plunged Avalon into a decades-long nightmare. They are now gone forever.
Their eldest child was Nollius. He is gone forever too. So is his younger brother, Quenos. The only remaining member of that family is you, Shrieky."
The young sorceress looked at him for a moment, then said: "I…I don't think I can defend Avalon. Even if I had the power…I'm just not that kind of person. I'm not selfless enough for that. Can't someone else be Guardian?
-If it was possible, would you really want someone else to do it? It's your heritage.
-Heritage from people I never really knew. I only saw my father and uncle after they lost their feelings. I don't want to spend the rest of my life protecting Avalon.
-I knew you'd feel that way. And no, Shrieky – you don't have to be a Guardian. Nothing's forcing you. However, even if a time of peace is forthcoming, Avalon will still need Guardians – both for the sake of tradition and for upholding the law.
-Then what should I do?
-Well, the law of Avalon allows for Guardianship to be transferred, actually. And I happen to know someone who'll gladly take it.
-The name's Stalec Igmar. When Lord and Lady Uncaring came into power, he was among the first to oppose them…And he's one of the few whose spirit wasn't broken by the torture of their dungeons. He has the sense of duty, the ethics, the competence, and the willpower – I'm certain he'd make an excellent Guardian."
"…and by the power invested in me, I transfer the honoured duty of Guardianship to you, Stalec Igmar, son of Lancen and Gween" said Shrieky, handing him a parchment.
"I accept the responsibility" replied Stalec, taking the parchment.
Tens of thousand of elves – as well as several non-Avalonians – applauded. As Shrieky came back to the defenders of feelings, Warren asked her: "So…Not too sorry, I hope?
-Not too much. I know I'd have made a lousy Guardian – and I wouldn't even want to be one.
-Maybe not. But you can be proud of yourself, Shrieky" said Tender Heart. "Despite all odds, you learned how to do what's right, and how to share your feelings.
-I got a lot of help."
"Grams, when will Good Luck be here?" asked Hugs.
"In a few hours, dear.
-I miss him.
-I know, my darling. So does everybody – and he misses us too. But he can visit us every now and then, and besides – at least he's happy in Paradise Valley, with his wife. Tugs, what are you doing?
-Uh, it's an exercise – Warren said it's to train my willpower. I've been doing it for fifteen minutes.
-All that long? Then it must be working.
-Yes, but I've had enough for now. And I'm getting bored…
-So am I" said Hugs.
"Then, would you like me to tell you a story?
-Oh goody-goody-gosh! Yes!"
While Grams was entertaining the cubs with her story, Warren was having a talk with Nicholas.
"I guess it's settled. Everything has been taken care off – now we just need to take things slowly, and make the best of the world.
-I'm glad for that…But tell me, Warren: Won't you get…Bored? I mean, you don't have your unfriendly rivalry with Control, or your plans for world domination – so what are you going to do with that brain of yours?
-Don't worry, Nicholas – it won't lack its uses. Trust me on that one. I have to design the future, among many other things…
-The future, you say? What kind of future should I expect, if you're in charge of it?
-I'm not controlling the world, Nicholas – just influencing what I can. Your future remains in your hands – so if I try to imagine you a few decades from now, that would mean…
-I've dealt with all kinds of magic, Warren, but nothing that could predict the future.
-Of course not. That would cause paradoxes. I can, however, make educated guesses and conclude what will most likely happen.
-So...What's most likely in store for me, a few decades from now?
-I can see it from here: You and Mrs Cherrywood – your current girlfriend, of course – will run the CareNet orphanage. And despite everything, you still hold evening prayers – but I wouldn't complain, since you take care of the children more lovingly than anyone else could.
-Hey, I thought you had laid off the anti-religious bigotry!" said Nicholas jokingly.
"I'm morally obligated to tolerate different opinions, Nicholas – that doesn't mean I have to like them, anymore than you have to like mine.
-True. So…I suppose the whole place looks like a super-ultra-high-tech place?
-Of course not. Haven't you heard of calm technology?
-It's how we call technology that recedes in the background – it works, but we don't see it. It should be extremely advanced in the time-period we're talking about – and knowing how old-fashioned you are, you'll probably have that place use almost exclusively calm technology, so that it looks like it was taken straight out of the 20th century. As a matter of fact, I'll bet you'll still have those glasses. You're hopeless, Nicholas – have I ever told you that?
Anyway, you and your wife take care of the orphans, and are doing a very good job at it. Almost every night, you show them magic tricks – mostly the circus kind, because, for some reason, you're uncomfortable with using real magic for trivial things – and you tell them stories. Very often, these are real stories about the Care Bears – and when you tell them about the Spirit Book story, you still give the modified version, with the "literary licence". And, considering the lifespan of Care Bears, I would expect some of them to come visit the orphanage from time to time, to make sure everything's all right. And when all comes down to it…You're happy.
-Fascinating. But it's not certain, is it?
-The future never is – we shape it all the time. But this is definitely likely, considering what I know.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to take my leave – the International Chess Championship won't wait, even for me.
-Okay, good luck.
-Thank you. Not that I'll need luck, mind you…"
Before Warren left the room, he stopped, and said: "You know…It's still sinking in.
-It's over. We've beaten the Time of Perils. It is now time for Peace."THE END.
"It is never too late to be who you might have been." - George Elliot.
Well, I hope everybody enjoyed this series. It took me about a year to write – so I hope everybody's as satisfied with the result as I am!
I hope it wasn't too complex. I hope I didn't screw up on the emotional parts – because, truth be told, it was hard writing those, considering my own lack of experience.
It actually surprised me, that I started writing Care Bears fanfictions – despite some good childhood memories of the shows and one of the movies, it wasn't at any point my favourite. Somehow, I like Care Bears more now than when I was a child – maybe because their message of love and caring seems all the more meaningful now. I hope I managed to convey it here, amidst all the science, strategy, and plots within plots. And while the Caretakers in general and Checkmate Warren in particular have often taken the lead, I hope I've given those adorable fuzzy altruists the place they deserve.
Some of the opinions expressed in these stories are mine. Some are not. I tried to make things mildly realistic, and grounded in the real world – and as a result, some situations have slipped in that most people wouldn't expect in a Care Bears story. Be it the mass-murders perpetrated by the Prank (and the 9/11 re-enactment) or the religious issues raised by Warren or the FCCL, I hope nobody was offended.
I intend to keep posting stories on the Web. Several of them will have nothing to do with Care Bears…But eventually, I plan to do something connected to this series. Whether my plans take off or not remains to be seen…But I'd like to thank every reader.
One last thing: As in most of my stories, this one contained several references. Here's the explanations:
-Lorelei Schroeder, or Sophia, was a tribute to the webcomic "Mindmistress", which is made by my friend Al Schroeder (whom I'd like to thank for letting me use the name). It can be found at (preceded by a http:// ).
-Moller is a real-world company that's working on "flying cars".
-Pat Brady is the cartoonist of "Rose is Rose", which would probably be the favourite comic of the Care Bears if they received the daily papers.
That's it, folks! Hope you had a good time, and the best of wishes to all!