Power Ranger Mania The Fanfic Shoppe The Yost  


Disclaimer: I know I do not own the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, any of their ideas or characters. They are the property of Saban. I am simply borrowing them so I may play for a while. I will put them back none the worse for wear when I am finished. I am not receiving monetary compensation for my efforts on this story.
Timeline and notes: Doesn't everyone who follows the Power Rangers wonder how the first five ever became friends in the first place? I know there are other stories out there that address this issue, but I just had to make my attempt. The bulk of the story takes place years before the Power Ranger team was assembled. The last part shortly after Jason gave back the gold powers. Please note: I have never seen the episodes concerning Jason's giving up the powers, so I am using the little bit of knowledge I have gained from other's stories, and episode guides from some PR sites. Consequently, any inaccuracies are completely due to my ignorance. Also, I don't know diddlysquat about fire fighting, so those inaccuracies are also due to ignorance. The story is rated, um, PG, I guess. Not much cursing. Minor violence. On with the show....

Forged in Flames
by Mele (ktutt@earthlink.net)

Jason Lee Scott was hurrying along the street in anticipation of getting home and having a snack. Karate practice always affected him that way. He was invigorated, and hungry at the same time. He also felt invincible, and strong, as only a healthy ten-year-old can feel. That was the age he had achieved with the passing of his birthday the previous month.

He was so intent on getting home he almost didn't hear the voices emanating from the alley as he passed. But the sound of a cry of pain caught his attention. He looked down the alley to see three bigger boys, probably twelve or thirteen years old, harassing a much smaller boy. Jason could not just walk by and ignore such an unfair situation. He headed into the alley, knowing he would probably not escape unscathed from the altercation, but also knowing he had to help the other boy.

"Hey! What are you doing? Leave him alone," Jason mustered all the authority he could and projected it in his voice.

The larger boys were taken aback for a moment, until they realized the speaker was younger than they were.

"Get out of here, kid. Unless you want some of this," one of the thugs said menacingly.

Jason could see past them now to their victim. A boy who was probably the same age as Jason, but easily a couple of inches shorter and much slimmer in build. The other boys had already done a pretty good job on him, his nose was bleeding, and one eye was already swelling and blackening. He held his left arm to his side as if it, or the ribs on that side, hurt. He was crying and cowering from the trio that surrounded him.

Jason felt a surprising burst of anger. Three against one was unfair odds under any circumstances, but it was ridiculous when the one was so much smaller. "Leave him alone!" he ordered them.

"Guess he does want some of this," one of them commented with an unpleasant laugh. "We do have enough to go around." With that the larger boy attached Jason.

Or at least, he tried to. Jason easily sidestepped the attack, and as the larger boy stumbled past Jason swept his feet out from under him. The big boy went down with a thud.

The other two attackers went after Jason simultaneously. Jason dodged one, tripping him as he went by, and met the other's attack face on, using the boy's momentum to flip him over Jason and land him flat on his back, his wind knocked out of him. The first boy managed to grab Jason before he could get into a defensive position and the boy Jason tripped came up and started to hit Jason. The blows were painful, but Jason kept his wits about him and looked for a chance to turn the tables. It came when the boy who was punching him moved in too close, and Jason could reach him with a powerful kick. The blow landed in the boy's middle and he dropped with a groan. Jason was then able to twist out of the grip of the boy who was holding him and land a couple of hard blows before the boy could recover. The three bullies were enraged by the fact that a younger boy was doing so much damage, and the situation would have gotten much worse if not for the strong voice that rang down the alley.

"All right boys, knock it off!" Jason was both relieved and dismayed to see his father standing at the head of the alley.

The three young thugs took off without a backward glance, as Jason slowly walked up to meet his father.

Jack Scott was anything but happy with his son at that moment. He and his wife, Marjorie, had realized early that their offspring would be a very strong boy. With that in mind they had taken extra measures to ensure he realized the responsibility that came with physical strength. That was one of the reasons they had enrolled Jason in karate classes, so he would learn self-control. They realized that they were lucky Jason had such a good heart. He was not a bully, but he could be goaded into fights, and once in a fight he could do damage. This is what worried his parents.

"What did I tell you would happen if I caught you fighting again?" Jack asked sternly.

"I would be punished," Jason answered quickly. "But, Dad..." he started.

"No 'buts' about it, young man. Were you fighting?" he asked sharply.

"Yes, sir," came the resigned reply. Jason knew better than to argue with his father.

"Then you will be punished, I'm sorry to say. I think a few strokes with my belt might serve as a reminder not to fight," he stated.

"Yes, sir," was all Jason could say in reply. He looked quickly around the alley. The smaller boy had disappeared. He sighed quietly.

"Come on, son, let's get this over with."

Jason walked dejectedly beside his father. Boy, had things changed suddenly. In just a few minutes he had gone from feeling so good about life to facing the strictest punishment his father ever meted out. Jason rarely did anything to deserve the belt, but when he did he quickly regretted it. He took slight comfort in the thought that at least he had allowed enough time to let the smaller boy get away. Someone got some good out his effort anyway.

They had turned into the Scott's front yard when a soft voice piped up behind them. "Excuse me, Sir?"

Jason and his father turned to see a slender boy with dark blond hair standing at the front gate. Jason recognized the boy from the alley. It was pretty simple considering the blood smeared across his lower face and the hideously swollen black eye.

"My God, Jason, is this who you were fighting?" Jack couldn't believe his eyes.

"NO!" both Jason and the other boy spoke as one. Jason's tone was one of horrified disbelief. Could his father think he was capable of beating up someone so much smaller than he was?

"No, Sir," the other boy reiterated. "I just wanted to tell you that I was the reason your son got into that fight. The other boys were beating me up and your son came to help me. I kind of got the feeling you were mad at him about that," as he spoke he was slowly backing away.

Jack Scott had been a police officer for over ten years. He knew the look of a victim of violence who was struggling with the shock and fear that came after the pain. His voice became soothing and gentle. "What is you name, son?"

"Billy Cranston."

"Billy, are your parents home?"

"My dad will be home soon, sir." The kid was excruciatingly polite.

"What about your mom?"

"She died last year," came the soft reply as Billy studied the toes of his sneakers.

"Why don't you come on inside and let my wife take a look at you. She is a nurse, she can give you some ice for your eye, and make sure you don't have any other injuries." Jack offered.

"That's okay, I know what to do." Billy was still retreating slowly.

Jack's heart went out to the boy with that response. He suddenly realized who the boy was, why the name had sounded familiar. There had been a car accident last year that fortunately happened while he was off duty. A drunk driver hit another car head on. The family in the second car had just recently moved into Angel Grove. The woman in the car had died at the scene, in front of her husband and young son. Jack remembered the officers who had been on duty had kept in touch with the survivors for a while. They had told him how the husband seemed to be having a particularly hard time coping with what had happened. Jack now wondered if the man had ever come to grips with his wife's death, or had been able to help his son deal with it.

Whatever the situation with his father, the boy could use some help now. Jack did not want to have to chase the kid down, but he couldn't just let him leave without at least assuring himself that he had no other injuries. He was curiously moved by the boy's odd combination of vulnerability and courage. For he knew it had taken a great deal of courage to step forward and speak up when he was so obviously scared. Jack was trying to find the words to reassure the boy when Jason spoke up from beside him.

"Come on, Billy, my mom's great. She will fix your eye up and give you the best brownies in town." Jason declared with a child's unfeigned enthusiasm.

Billy looked up longingly. "She won't mind? I don't want to be a bother."

"Nah, she's a nurse. She's used to bleeding people." Jason said artlessly.

"Okay. Thanks." Billy said with a shy smile.

Jack ushered both boys into the house.

A half-hour later Jason and Billy were sitting at the kitchen table eating brownies and discussing the latest issue of the "Fantastic Four" comic book series. Marjorie had given Jason and Billy a quick look over when they got inside. Jason had some bruises, fortunately they were not too bad. Billy had the spectacular black eye, but his nose wasn't broken, nor were the ribs he had been protecting with his arm. She prescribed ice for Billy's eye and brownies and milk for both boys, then left them alone. She and Jack listened unobtrusively to the boys' conversation from the next room. They exchanged incredulous looks when they heard Billy explain in exact detail why a machine used in the comic strip could never work in reality. The boy had an impressive grasp of basic physics, chemistry and engineering. It was quite obvious he was far more intelligent than average.

"He must be at the genius level as far as his IQ goes," Marjorie said softly to her husband.

"No kidding, I didn't understand half of what he was talking about," he replied. He had never been a good science student.

"I doubt Jason did either. I hope this turns into a lasting friendship. I get the feeling they both need each other," she replied.

In the kitchen the subject had changed to a project Jason was working on with his friend, Zack. "We have been working on a model rocket, the kind where you build the whole thing yourself, mix the powder for launching it, everything. It's awesome. We have set it off a couple of times, but it doesn't go very far. I think we got gypped on the blasting powder. We are going to try again tomorrow. Want to come?"

"Will Zack mind?" Billy looked a little worried.

"Nah, Zack's cool. He gets along with everyone. You gotta watch him, though. He gets all hyper and starts dancing around. Doesn't need music or anything. He says he hears the music in his head and his feet can't stop. It's so funny to watch," Jason said with a laugh.

"Sure, where are you going to set this rocket off from?"

"Zack's back yard. He lives over on Sycamore Street, the only green house on the street, number 2879. But it you want, just meet me here in the morning and we'll go over together."

"I'll meet you here then. Gosh, look at the time! My dad will be home by now. I'd better be going. Thanks for brownies Mrs. Scott," he said politely as Jason's parents came into the room.

"You're welcome, Billy. It was nice to meet you," she replied, glad to see the boy smile.

"See ya tomorrow morning, Billy."

Jason was just settling into bed when his father came in. Jack sat on the edge of his bed and studied him for a long moment.

"Jason, I owe you an apology. I was wrong to not let you explain why you were fighting this afternoon. And furthermore, I was wrong to assume you had been the one fighting with Billy. I am sorry," Jack said solemnly.

"That's okay Dad. I WAS fighting, after all, and that was what the rule was about. We had never said anything about why. But I am glad Billy showed up when he did," Jason admitted with a small smile.

"I bet you were. What did you think of him?" Jack was curious, Jason had said little about his new friend after he had left.

"He's okay. Seems a little sad I guess. But he sure is smart, at least he sounds smart." Jason replied.

"Yes, he did. It also seemed like he needed a friend, I'm glad you invited him to join you tomorrow." Jack couldn't help his pride in his son's kind heart.

"I figure Zack will like him and he seems like he would have some neat ideas for things to do," Jason said in an offhand way. It was obvious to Jack that Jason didn't think what he had done that day was a big deal. Jack's pride increased as he got a glimpse of the unfeigned kindness that came naturally to his much-loved son.

"He probably will. Good night, son, sleep well. I love you," Jack said the last softly, but not so softly Jason wouldn't be able to hear it.

He shut off the light and left his son to his dreams.

The next day found Jason and Billy pedaling their bikes over to the Taylor house to meet Zack for the rocket launching. Billy looked much better—the swelling around his eye was already going down. He seemed a little nervous about meeting Zack, and frankly Jason was a little worried too. He had forgotten to mention that Zack was African-American, and he didn't know if that was a problem with Billy. If it was, he would have to ask Billy to leave, but Zack would still be hurt. He hoped that wouldn't happen.

Zack was waiting for Jason in the front yard. He looked curiously at Billy as they rode up, but greeted Jason with a dazzling smile.

"I was about to give up on you and shoot for the moon by myself," he declared with a laugh.

"Ah, you wouldn't even make it to the clouds," Jason shot back. "This is Billy. I invited him to join us in our historic launch."

Zack smiled at Billy openly. "Hi. I'm Zack," he offered his hand to Billy. When Billy reached for it Zack snapped his hand up so Billy ended up grasping air. Zack offered him a quick grin. "Gotcha!"

Billy looked like he didn't know what to think of Zack, but Jason was only slightly amused. "Come on, Zack, don't be a dweeb."

"Sorry, didn't mean to be mean," Zack said to Billy with another smile.

"'S okay," he mumbled, then smiled tentatively.

Zack's smile brightened considerably. "Cool! Let's get this show on the road!" he enthused.

They headed to the backyard, where Zack had everything in readiness. He was explaining to Billy what he had done. Billy listened quietly, offering no opinion but observing everything closely.

Jason and Zack conferred briefly on who got to actually activate the ignition, then all three boys backed away to watch the launch. Zack set it off and the rocket shot from the launching pad, but only went up about 20 feet before petering out. All three boys were disappointed.

"I swear, the powder kit they sold us was bad," Zack declared.

"May I see it, and the instructions that came with it?" Billy asked.

Zack handed over the stuff, and he and Jason watched as Billy quickly read through the instructions. Billy then asked Zack to demonstrate how he mixed the two powders together.

"I think I know what went wrong. You mixed them equally, but the instructions say to use a three to one ratio," Billy explained.

"What do they mean by a 'three to one' ratio?" Jason asked curiously. Neither he nor Zack were great math students.

"It means if you put one scoop of Powder A in you have to mix it with three scoops of Powder B. Look, like this." Billy quickly mixed up a new batch of the launching powder.

Zack had retrieved the rocket, so they set it up again, using the powder mixture Billy had made. This time when Zack set it off, it went OFF. All three boys watched in awe as the rocket shot so high it seemed to them it would run into an airplane up there. They whooped with unrestrained joy at the success of the launch.

"Whoa, Billy, that was awesome! Where were you last week when we couldn't even get it to go as high as the tops of the trees?" Zack spoke with his customary enthusiasm.

"I didn't really do anything, you guys did all the work. I just knew the math," Billy was somewhat embarrassed by Zack's praise.

"Whatever, but that was GREAT!" Zack was still high from the success of the launch.

"Yeah, we really needed your help for that last part," Jason added.

Zack walked up between the other two boys, hooking an elbow around each of their necks. "We make a heck of a team! We can do anything, what with Jason's brawn, Billy's brain, and my style, we are unbeatable!"

And, as Jason had warned him, Zack started to dance around the yard to music only he could hear. Jason looked over at Billy conspiratorially.

"What can I say? He gets a bit excited."

The next few weeks sped by as the three boys' friendship continued to grow. They had found Zack was right about their making a good team. Zack supplied the imagination, Billy the know-how, and Jason the power to do anything their active minds came up with. Of course, not everything they attempted was a complete success. They had each had to cough up two weeks allowance to replace the Taylor's trashcans after the "Great Trashcan Race". And the far corner of the Cranston's back yard still showed the scars from the "Mystical Buried Treasure Hunt."

Summer vacation was rapidly coming to an end, so Jason decided they needed to have a "great adventure" before it was over. They decided to bike deep into Angel Grove Forest and stalk the Bigfoot type monster that had been spotted there. (Or, so they had heard.) They would leave in the early morning, Mr. Taylor would give them, and their bikes, a lift to the lower camp area where they could start their search. They would pack lunches and meet Mr. Taylor back at the starting point at 5 p.m. They were excitedly discussing their plans when they heard feminine giggling behind them.

"A monster?" Giggled a petite brown-haired girl wearing a short pink dress.

"In Angel Grove Forest?" Her companion was a delicate looking oriental girl in a bright yellow blouse.

"Come on, Kimberly, be nice," Billy said to the first girl.

"Sorry, Billy, but it is funny. You guys think there is a monster in the forest," she pealed out more laughter.

"You know her, Billy?" Jason asked. He vaguely recognized the girl in pink, but couldn't remember her name.

"Yeah, she lives near me, her name is Kimberly Hart," Billy supplied.

The two girls finally settled down, but the merriment that sparkled in their eyes betrayed their attempts to listen soberly to the boys' plans. Zack explained how he heard the rumor about the monster from another kid he knew, and Billy explained their plan to track it, and Jason their plan to trap it.

"You don't really believe there is a monster, do you?" Kimberly was still skeptical.

"Maybe not, but it will still be fun," Zack declared with a grin. "Lots of times we start out doing one thing and end up doing something else that is even more fun."

"Well, there is no 'maybe' about it, there is no monster. And what can be fun about spending the day traipsing around the forest getting hot and sticky?" Kimberly shot back.

"You can have lots of fun, if you aren't scared. But I guess you'll never know, will you?" Zack baited her.

"I'm not scared in the least," Kimberly declared haughtily.

"Oh, yeah, I think you are. I think you are scared of being in the forest, and I think you are scared there might be a monster." Zack was really getting into teasing the girl.

"I'm not scared, and I'll prove it! Trini and I will come with you boys, and we get to laugh at you when you can't find a monster. So there!"

"You weren't invited, you can't come," Zack shot back at her.

"What are you? Scared I might be right?"

"No way! Okay, you can come along, we meet at my house at 6 a.m. tomorrow. Bring your bikes and lunch."

"We will be there, Zachary Taylor, and we will prove we aren't scared and there are no such things as monsters!" With that Kimberly stalked off without another word.

Trini turned to the three boys. "It was nice to meet you, I guess I'll see you in the morning. My name is Trini, by the way." She smiled slightly and hurried to catch up with Kimberly.

Zack turned to the other boys to see them looking at him strangely. "Um, guys, hope it is okay if the girls come along," he said sheepishly. "I didn't mean to just take over like that, but she really got to me."

"Kimberly can do that to people. She is really very nice, but she won't let anyone take advantage of her. She has a lot of spirit," Billy said.

"Yeah, I noticed. Well, it's a done deal now. They might not show up anyway. And if they do, well, we will worry about that then," Zack decided.

"Oh, I think they will show up, Kimberly is not one to back down."

Trini finally caught up with Kimberly. "Hey, what's wrong? Don't you like that guy?" she asked. Trini was new in town, and Kimberly was the first friend she had made.

"Zack? Oh, he's okay. He just gets to me, you know? I don't know him that well, but he tends to tease people, goad them on. I shouldn't have let him get to me. But, no one can accuse me of being afraid of anything. I'm not afraid." Kim declared.

"I believe you. Are you really going to go tomorrow?" Trini asked.

"If my parents say it is okay, I will be there. How about you?"

"I'll be there too. I'm not afraid of the woods or anything in it," Trini stated stoutly.


"Who were those boys, anyway? If I'm going to spend tomorrow with them it might be nice to at least know their names."

"Oh, well, Zack is the guy I was arguing with. The big guy is Jason, he's into karate. I don't know him well either, but he has always seemed nice enough. The other one is Billy. He lives near me so I know him better than the other two. He is real nice, but very quiet and shy. Oh, don't ask him about his mother, she died last year, it was really sad," Kimberly added.

"What happened?"

"Car crash. Billy was there, he saw everything. I heard my parents talking about it one night, my mom knew Billy's mom a little. It really shook her up." Kim looked upset at the memory.

"How awful!" Trini had not known anyone who had had a parent die before. She couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose someone like that.

"Yeah, it was."

Billy was in his kitchen making his lunch for the next day's adventure when his father wandered in. Wallace Cranston was a small, slight man, with thick glasses and a defenseless look about him. He watched his only child quietly for a moment as Billy spread jam thickly on the bread.

"Tomorrow is the 'great forest adventure'?" he asked Billy.

"Yeah, I'm going over to Zack's house at 6:00 a.m. to meet the others. Kimberly Hart is going too, as well as a new girl in town, Trini. It should be a lot of fun." Billy smiled at his dad.

Wallace was glad to see that smile. Smiles had been a rare commodity in recent months. Billy had always been tormented by larger boys who beat him up because he was so much smarter than they were, or because he was well liked by adults, or simply because he was an easy target. He learned young, and the hard way, that life could be difficult for those who are different. The frequent beatings resulted in his withdrawing somewhat from others, developing an introspection that was most unusual for so young a boy. Then, after the accident and the loss of his mother, Billy had become even more withdrawn. Wallace was not so caught up in his own misery that he did not notice his son's problems, he just had no idea how to help him. His helplessness in the face of his son's pain was difficult to accept. Then a few weeks ago, Billy's conversations became peppered with talk of "Jason", and "Zack", and the things they did together. Wallace saw the wall of loneliness around Billy slowly crumble, and the sadness overshadowing his heart lift. Wallace's own spirits lifted as well. His son was the only light he had in his life, and seeing him happy was a solace to the lonely man.

"You kids will be careful, right?" Wallace asked, looking directly at Billy.

"Of course we will. We always are, evidence notwithstanding," Billy said a bit sheepishly. He had picked up a sprained ankle a week ago during one of their adventures, this time in the far corner of the Angel Grove Park.

"Um-hmm, of course you are," Wallace smiled. "When will you get home?"

"Mr. Taylor is picking us up at 5 p.m., so I should be home by six. Is that okay?"

"Yes, it's okay. Just don't be late, I don't want to have to come after you." He said sternly.

"We won't be late, I promise."

Kimberly Hart had gotten permission from her parents to go on the trip into the forest. She had been lucky, both her mom and dad were in a good mood, which was becoming a rare occasion around the Hart home. In recent months her parents were more and more often on opposite sides of an issue, whether it was who should be President of the United States or if their daughter should spend the day exploring the forest with her friends. Kimberly found herself unconsciously checking her parents' moods before doing anything else. If both were okay she went on with life as usual, but if one or the other were in a bad mood she found herself trying to ensure everything went extra smoothly to prevent an outburst of anger. It never occurred to her that the problems her parents were having had nothing to do with her. She was convinced that if she did everything right they would be okay, so she focused the majority of her considerable energy on making life as easy as possible for them.

It was a losing battle, but she didn't know that.

Kimberly had just laid out the outfit she was going to wear in the morning when she looked up to see her mother standing in the bedroom doorway.

"Who are the other kids you are going with?" Eileen Hart asked.

"Trini, Billy, Jason Scott, and Zack Taylor." Kim replied.

"Billy Cranston? He finally got some friends? Well, good." Eileen said, "Is Jason the son of Jack Scott, the police lieutenant?"

"I think so, his dad is a policeman at any rate, and Zack's dad works for the county," Kimberly supplied.

"Well, I guess they are all good kids, then. Trini seems very nice," Eileen added.

"She is. We don't really have a lot in common, but she is a lot of fun to hang around with," Kimberly said.

"Maybe she will interest you in something other than shopping in you spare time," Eileen smiled to take the sting out of her comment.

Kimberly smiled weakly. Shopping was one of her ways to make herself feel better when the parents were fighting. She'd been shopping an awful lot recently.

Just then Kimberly's younger brother, Kenny, poked his head in the door. "Where are you going tomorrow? Can I go, too?" he whined.

"No, pest. Not this time. We are riding our bikes on rough trails, you couldn't keep up. Please, Mom?" Kimberly turned a supplicating look to her mother. There was no way she wanted her seven-year-old brother to come along tomorrow.

"Not this time, Kenny. Maybe Kimberly will take you to the matinee Saturday to make up for it?" The last part was half question, half suggestion.

"Yeah, I can do that instead, okay, Kenny?"

"Can we see the scary movie?"

"Yeah, if you insist. But you'll just have bad dreams." Kim stated.

"I don't care, it's a deal!" Kenny decided.

"Good! That is taken care of. Now, you kids get ready for bed. We'll be in to say goodnight in a few minutes," Eileen said over her shoulder as she headed for the living room.

Kimberly chased her brother out and settled into bed. When her mom and dad came in to say goodnight, they seemed strained. Kimberly felt sudden dread, knowing they would be fighting later.

A couple of hours later she was awakened by the sound of her parents shouting at each other. They sounded so angry! She was fighting back tears when she heard her door open, and in the faint light saw Kenny approach her bed.

"Are you awake?" he asked in a trembling voice.

"Yeah, come on and lay down here. Are you scared?" Kimberly asked gently.

"Yes," he said, and Kimberly realized he was crying.

"It will be okay, really it will. Things will get better, I know it," she tried to soothe him with confident words.

"When, Kimberly? When will they get better?" he asked piteously. "I don't know," was all she could say.

Trini Kwan awoke with the first rays of the dawning sun. She always awoke at sunrise, no matter where she was. She stretched and looked around a bedroom that was finally beginning to feel like it was hers. She hated the first month or so in a new house, when nothing was familiar yet. Thank goodness her parents were convinced they were going to stay in Angel Grove for a while. She was sick of moving, living out of boxes, and never getting to make friendships that would last. She grabbed the clothing she had set out the night before and headed to the bathroom to prepare for the day ahead.

She was actually quite excited to be going on this foray into the forest with the other kids. She got a good feeling from all of them. And she had become friends with Kimberly so quickly. Trini was not normally the most outgoing of people, so she had been surprised at herself when she approached Kimberly at the mall and asked her advice on a shirt she was looking at. That had lead to a further discussion of fashion, color coordinating, and mall etiquette. That had lead to them spending the bulk of the day together, and, somehow, that led to them spending the bulk of the remaining summer together.

Now this—an all day adventure in the forest. Trini had never had an experience like this before. She was looking forward to it keenly.

She went into the kitchen to get some breakfast and pack her lunch. As usual, her father had beaten her to the table.

"Good morning, Father," she greeted him. She always addressed her parents in a formal manner, it was a family tradition.

"Good morning, Trini," Russell Kwan replied. He favored his younger daughter with a warm look. She looked happy this morning. "Is this the morning of the big outing?"

"Yes, I just need to pack a lunch and I'll be ready to go. Thank you for giving me permission."

"You have a great deal of good sense, Trini. I know you will not do something foolish. You have always merited our trust," he replied.

"Thank you." They ate their breakfasts in silence for a while. Trini treasured these quiet mornings with her father. Russell Kwan was a busy man, he loved his work as an engineer. He had changed jobs several times looking for one that would provide stability with a variety of duties. He hated to be static in anything, especially work. The Angel Grove Power Plant provided the work environment he was looking for, as the town provided the type of environment he wished to raise his two daughters in. Trini was the daughter who took after him. Julie was more like their mother, Michelle. The two of them were sometimes more like friends than mother and daughter. The same applied to Trini and her father, their father/daughter relationship was heavily spiced with genuine friendship, they were kindred spirits.

"Do you think you will become friends with all these children?" Russell asked at last.

"Well, I think I'm already friends with Kimberly, and the boys seemed to be nice enough. Kimberly said she knows the one, Billy, pretty well and that he is very nice. She said both the other boys have good reputations. Beyond that, I can't say at this time. I hope they all become friends. It would be nice to have friends that last more than a year," she said wistfully.

"Who knows, this may be the start of something good."

Clayton Taylor and his son, Zack, were wrestling the utility trailer out of the garage. They needed to hook it up to the Bronco so they could haul the five bikes up to the Angel Grove Forest. Zack was all but bursting with energy.

"This is going to be so cool! All day by ourselves with so much to see and do. It is gonna be awesome!"

Clayton was amused by his son's enthusiasm. His eldest son was a constant source of joyful energy. His great aunt once said that Zack had the "habit of happiness", and his father was inclined to agree with that assessment. Angel Grove did not have a large African-American population, Zack was only one of seven black students in his class. Some youngsters would become bitter or embattled under those circumstances. Not Zack. He found friends to whom skin pigmentation was unimportant. Clayton had known Jason Scott for a couple of years, since Zack first brought him home. Jason was a great kid, he and Zack got along better than most brothers did. For that matter, better than Zack got along with his own brothers. Then recently Billy had started hanging around. Though Clayton hadn't gotten to know the boy yet, he seemed to be as unquestioningly accepting as Jason was. Zack was lucky to have friends like that, and, in Clayton's admittedly biased opinion, they were lucky to have Zack as a friend.

"Thanks again, Dad, for taking us all up there. It's so cool of you."

"My pleasure, Zack. Just be sure you are all there when I come to pick you up. I don't want to end up regretting my helping you out."

"No problem, Dad. We'll be there!"

The five youngsters waved to Mr. Taylor as he turned around and left them with their bikes at the lowest campground in Angel Grove Forest. As the Bronco rounded a curve and moved out of sight, the kids all looked around. The day was perfectly still, the temperature would probably not exceed eighty degrees, and the sky was a pristine blue ceiling above them.

"Gosh, it is so beautiful here," Kimberly breathed.

"Absolutely. I'm very glad I could come with you guys. Thanks for inviting me," Trini added.

"Um, I don't remember exactly how you ended up being invited, but you are welcome anyway," Zack said with a huge smile. "Which way should we head out?"

"According to this map and my compass, we need to head that way," Billy announced, pointing to the south. "Didn't you say the monster was sighted near Harper's Gorge?"

"Yeah, that is what they said," Zack agreed.

"Then, let's do it!" Jason enthused. "Wagons Ho! and all that sort of thing."

With a burst of giggles the kids headed out to their adventure.

Almost four hours later the five explorers stopped for a break. They had not seen so much as a hint of a monster, but they had seen various forms of wildlife, including a couple of deer that peered curiously at the children before leaping soundlessly and gracefully off the path. The path was getting progressively steeper and sandier, and they found they were spending more time walking their bikes than riding them.

"What do you say we leave our bikes here and continue on foot?" Jason suggested from his seat at the base of a huge pine tree.

"Sounds like a plan to me. I'm tired of trying to wrestle it through all this soft sand," Zack agreed. "But what are we going to chain them to? All the trees are too big around for our chains."

"We could chain them together. It would be virtually impossible for someone to pick up all five bikes at once and carry them all the way out of here. There are much easier ways to steal a bike," Billy suggested.

"Yet another good idea from the brains of the bunch!" Zack declared with glee. Billy had long since realized Zack's teasing was never mean spirited, so he just grinned when Zack made that comment.

"Jeez, Zack, do you have to be so mean to Billy?" Kim grumbled.

"He's not being mean, Kimberly, he's just being, well.....um...he's being Zack!" Billy tried to explain.

"Humph!" was her only comment as she joined the others in chaining the five bikes together.

With that done they headed out on foot, still aiming for Harper's Gorge where the monster was allegedly sighted. Zack was telling the others a long, involved joke concerning a monkey, a bank, and a red sports car that was made funnier by Zack's inability to get the facts straight. The sound of their laughter caused minor panic among the smaller forest creatures.

Miles from where the five Angel Grove children hiked through the forest, a family of six was breaking camp. They loaded their Suburban with their camping gear, checked to be sure they had properly cleaned up their campsite, and carefully doused the fire. Satisfied they had done everything they needed to, they headed on out, never noticing the small column of smoke coming from the shrubs on the edge of the campsite. A spark that had been expelled from the fire when a piece of green wood snapped in the flames had smoldered beneath the bushes for over an hour. The dry old leaves and twigs were the perfect kindling. Soon the smoldering debris gave birth to a small flame, which would quickly grow. By the time it was discovered, it was out of control.

Trini could not remember a day she had enjoyed quite as much as this one. She had come to realize she liked all her companions. Jason was a natural leader, calm and decisive, with a strength the others seemed to instinctively turn to. Zack was so happy and relaxed, but she suspected that beneath the easy come, easy go exterior was a fiercely loyal heart. She also detected an odd sort of strength in Billy, the kind of strength that was more intellectual in nature than the others. And Kimberly's frivolous exterior hid a warm, sensitive heart coupled with a strong determination to do what that heart told her was right. Trini wasn't too sure what she herself added to their group, but she sensed they complimented and completed each other. She felt she belonged, in a way she couldn't explain and had never experienced before.

With these four friends, she just felt right.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts she walked into Billy when he stopped suddenly in front of her.

"Oh, I'm sorry Billy," she said, as she reached out to steady him when he stumbled. "I wasn't paying any attention."

"It's okay, Trini, you didn't hurt me. Why are we stopping?" he called out to Jason, who had been leading them.

"We're trying to figure out where to go now, there is a fork in the path. Do you still have the map?"

"Yeah, here, let me see where we are," said Billy as he pulled out the now worn map.

He went to join Jason at the point where the path forked, carefully studying the map. "I think we go right," he finally decided.

"Right it is," Jason agreed without argument. "Maybe we should mark the path to remind us which way we need to go when we come back," he suggested.

The suggestion was met with enthusiasm from the others, who decided a small stack of rocks would suffice. Once they had set up their marker, they headed quickly onward. It was almost noon and they would have to turn back soon if they wanted to get out in time. They figured they would take at least an hour less to get out than to get in as they would be going downhill coming out of the area. Harper's Gorge was within a half mile.