Legal stuff: I don't own the Care Bears or any associated stuff.

Some of the characters and ideas in this story were inspired by the works of other people; I try to give credit where it is due.

I wrote the original "Time of Perils" series some time ago; after I did, I got several new ideas, leading to this "extended edition". I hope you folks like it!

TIME OF PERILS

PROLOGUE: RETURN OF THE CARE BEARS

"Um, hi. Are you Paul?"

A geeky-looking college student looked away from his computer and saw who had just addressed him: The guy had red hair, blue eyes, and looked like he was in his mid-twenties. Odd red jumpsuit, though.

"Yup, that would be me."

"Good, because…"

"Let me guess – you've been having trouble with your college computer account, and somebody told you to "ask Paul in the server room"."

"Uh, yeah."

"No prob, I'll fix it – I've noticed some of our systems are a bit buggy. What's your name?"

"David Hall."

"Paul Edison, king of the server room, pleased to meet you. Here's your account…Wait a sec. You're a freshman? You look older than me."

"I am, but it's my first year here. After finishing high school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do – I spent a few years doing small jobs before deciding I should study more."

"I see. It's my first year too, you know."

"Oh? But…If it's your first year, how come you already work in the server room?"

Paul smiled smugly. "I've been doing a summer course here, and I was good enough that they suggested I work here as soon as I started studying."

"So you're the official techno-whiz, I see."

"Hey, to each his skills. Mine's technology. You?"

David looked a bit uneasy.

"Oh, I'm sorry. You don't have to answer that if you don't want to."

"That's not it – it's just that I'm not sure what I'm good for."

"Don't worry, if I may suggest. I've had friends with that problem. You'll find something."

"It's not that simple…I'm trying to be useful to people" David surprised himself a bit by how open he was being with Paul. There was something…warm in his attitude, that made one feel like he was already a friend. David kept explaining: "I…Let's say there are things I'd like to make up for."

"Hoo boy. I know the feeling."

"What, you've had the same problem?"

"Close." Paul turned away from his computer and explained: "You see, I used to be an outcast as a kid – you know, the nerd every bully picks on. And one day, I decided to get revenge. But what I did caused a disaster – much worse than what the bullies had ever done to me."

"Ouch. Guilt, huh? I know that feeling."

"Yeah. Luckily, we got our happy ending when some friends helped me repair the damage before it was too late. It sure was a relief – heck, even those kids who used to bully me were nicer to me after that. One of them is still my best friend."

"That's pretty close to what happened to me – although I'm not sure we were helped by the same people." He smiled coyly.

"Heh. Probably not – in my case, it was the Care Bears."

David's eyes widened. "The – Care Bears! They're the ones who helped me!"

"You're kidding!" Paul gave a surprised smile. "Maybe we should swap our stories, Dave."

And so, later that day, each one told his story over lunch. Paul said how he had been tricked by none other than Professor Cold Heart, the world's most dangerous mad scientist, into helping him build a Freeze Machine; how the professor then used the machine to freeze the bullies (along with the rest of the town); how the Care Bears (who had previously tried to convince Paul not to try to get revenge) and Paul had worked together, and unfrozen the victims. And how the bullies, realizing how their regular victim had just saved their lives, eventually became his friends, and how one of them, Lumpy, was now studying at that same college.

Then David told his story. How he had used to be an evil shape-shifter called Dark Heart, dedicated to spreading evil through the world. How, with that nefarious objective in mind, he had hunted down the Care Bear Family, the only beings that could stop him. How he had tricked the young Christy into helping him. How he accidentally hurt her. How he had realized he truly cared for her, and how he only saved her with the Care Bears' help. How his selfless act had caused him to lose his magical powers (which were inherently linked to evil), transforming him into a human boy. How he had made friends with Christy and the twins, John and Dawn.

"Wow, David. That's quite a story – I could never have guessed you weren't human originally."

"That's actually rather good to hear. You know, I really owe those fuzzies everything – I wish I had a way to thank them, but I haven't seen them since."

"Neither have I. As a matter of fact…You know, that's actually a mystery most people don't mention: The Care Bear Family hasn't shown up anywhere since some point in the late 80s. Oddly enough, neither have their major foes. I've done a little bit of research on the web about that, and I've heard many stories from people who were helped by the care Bears, but all of them are from many years ago. I haven't heard about any recent Care Bear sighting."

"That's odd – I can't imagine them not coming down to Earth regularly for their caring missions." David suddenly looked worried. "You – you don't think something's happened to them, do you?"

Paul looked worried too. "I really don't know. I'll try to do some more serious research – meet me back in the server room tomorrow at noon."

"Will do."

The next day, two students entered the server room – one was David, the other a female student who quickly identified herself as Christy. Already in the server room were Paul, and a large (it wasn't clear how much was fat and how much was muscle) guy nicknamed 'Lumpy', Paul's friend. After introductions were over, Paul told them the results of his research:

"Here's a list of all the caring missions I managed to pinpoint. I'm probably missing most of them, but never mind that – look at the dates: Until this point, the missions are more or less regular – never a week without a few. Then, suddenly, nothing. It looks like the Care Bears haven't shown up even once after this date – and I can't find a particular reason."

"That's – that sounds really bad", said Christy. "I'm sure they wouldn't stop coming if they had a choice! Something must have happened! We must discover what!"

"Agreed", added David. "We all owe them Big Time.

"Yeah", said Lumpy, "but what can we do? Paul, do you have any idea?"

"I don't know, Lumpy – even with all the stuff I've found on the web, we only have limited knowledge about the Care Bear Family."

"I've known them for longer than you" said David. "You know about their kingdom in the clouds - Care-A-Lot? I can give you its approximate position, but how do we even get there?"

"Well," replied Paul, "I might have something for that…I've been attending this inventors' club, and one of the people I know there will probably agree to lend us exactly what we need."

"Great! I'll ask for John and Dawn's help – I'm sure they'd want to make sure the Care Bear Family is okay."

And so, after a week of preparation, six young fellows finally embarked on a hot air balloon.

"Are you sure you can make it work, Paul?"

"Well, that guy from the club spent several days teaching me how to do it…And the winds are just right to take us to Care-a-Lot. So it should work."

Soon enough, the unusual vehicle transported the six through several miles, and brought them to the clouds – well, maybe it wasn't just clouds, seeing how they could support their weight. But they were still clouds, after a fashion.

"Wow! I can't believe it – we made it to the Kingdom of Caring!"

"I've never thought clouds could be so pretty! But where's everything and everyone?"

"I think the Kingdom of Caring is a fairly big place. We'll have to keep looking if we want to find Care-a-Lot and the Forest of Feelings."

Soon enough, they reached Care-a-Lot. It was beautiful – but something about it was weird.

"Everything is completely still! Not a movement whatsoever!"

"Hmm. See this half-finished sandwich? Looks like an emergency interrupted them, and they had to run somewhere. But this sandwich looks fine – if it has been here for several years, it should be decomposed by now…"

The group quickly searched through Care-a-Lot, but to no avail – it looked like the place had been abandoned suddenly. Finally, while searching the very borders of Care-a-Lot, they found what they had been looking for: The entire Care Bears family…but also several other strange characters; they looked like they were in the middle of a battle – except that none of them was moving by half an inch. In addition, the people there had faces the world had been trying to forget for years: Professor Cold Heart, the machiavellian mad scientist. Frostbite and Auntie Freeze, his helpers. No Heart, the nefarious sorcerer who had been terrorizing the world for much of the 20th century. Beastly, the strange creature that served him. Shrieky, his niece.

"Hoo-kay. What the hey is this mess!"

"I think I can answer that" replied David. "See this huge gem No Heart is standing in front of? I still have some basic knowledge of magic, and I know this is a time gem. They're used for some extremely difficult spells that deal with time itself – like, for example, a spell to freeze everything in range."

"So that's what happened! That explains it – they've been frozen in time all those years! But why would No Heart…I mean, not much sense in freezing himself in time, too, is there?"

"We must set them free!"

"Yeah, but how?" asked Lumpy. "Would breaking the gem work?"

"Well, yeah" said David. "But these things are incredibly hard. I don't think dynamite would dent it."

"Well, something dented it" replied Dawn. "See? There's a crack here."

"That's strange" admitted David. "But I still don't see how we could destroy the gem…"

"I think I know how to" answered Paul. "If we can make it vibrate at the right frequency, it'll shatter. There should be enough equipment in the balloon to make an oscillator, but I'll need your help…"

It took several hours of tinkering, but finally, the machine spun into action, and in a matter of minutes, the huge gem shattered into a zillion pieces. As it did, all the time-frozen beings – and all of Care-a-Lot – suddenly sprung to life. But as they did, magical energies from the gem's shards flowed through them, giving them some sort of shock. They looked like they barely had the strength to stand on their feet.

"No Heart! This isn't the way it was supposed to happen!" yelled a furious Cold Heart.

"I'm well aware of that! Something went wrong with the spell – it was supposed to affect all in range that was good, but it affected everything in range instead!"

"Enough of this", interrupted David, trying to rely on his memories as Dark Heart to look intimidating. "You people are in such a poor shape, you're barely able to stand. Leave immediately, or it will get messy."

The villains glared at him, but they knew he was right – they were too tired to fight. They slowly retreated to a black cloud and some flying platform, which took them away form the Kingdom of Caring.

The Care Bears and Care Bears cousins, also very tired, looked toward their rescuers.

"Thank you…Whoever you are" said Tender Heart. "You look familiar…

"It's me, Paul! You know, the Freeze Machine?"

"We're John and Dawn, from that summer camp! We helped look after you when you were cubs!"

"I'm Lumpy! You know, one of the kids Professor Cold Heart froze!"

"I'm Christy! I was at that summer camp too!"

"I'm, uh…when we last met, my name was Dark Heart, but it's changed since…"

The bears and cousins looked at them in astonishment. "How long have we been frozen!"

"Well…You might want to sit down for this", said Paul.

After hearing their rescuers' story, the members of the Care Bears family (who were feeling much better now) told them their own:

"It had started as a normal day. Then we saw on the star-o-scope that Cold Heart and the rest were coming. We were surprised to see Cold Heart working together with No Heart – but we were ready to fight them.

Professor Cold Heart started using his Freeze Machine against us. We countered him, but it turned out he was just distracting us while No Heart was casting some kind of spell with that huge gem. Some of us disengaged from the fight with Cold Heart, and attempted to stop the spell. We were going to use our stare, when Shrieky did one of her high-pitched screams. We tried to cover our ears – and that gave No Heart enough time to activate the gem. We felt how we were being slowed down – the world around us seemed to be going faster, day and night followed each other in the blink of an eye, and next thing, you were there!"

"Of course! Now I get it!" exclaimed Paul. "Shrieky's scream must have caused the crack in the gem, which was the reason the spell backfired and affected the villains too!"

"Oh. That explains it. By the way, we didn't get to ask you yet – how have things been while we were frozen? For you, and for the world as a whole?"

"We're all in college now. Personally, I'm fine. I have friends, and I'm still interested in science and technology."

"I'm fine," said Lumpy. "I never got back to being a jerk, anyway – and I've remembered that I can be friends with people who are different from me."

"I'm okay," added Dawn. "Not half as many self-esteem problems."

"I concur," agreed John.

"I'm fine," said David. "Still adapting to being human, but I don't regret it a bit."

"No problem here," finished Christy. "But as for the world…Let's just say you have your work cut for you."

"Oh, we will take care of it", replied Noble Heart. "Let it be known – the Care Bear family is back in town!"

Next: Chess Menace!