Lake Fortitude #1: The Librarian

Note: This is the first of a series of stories set in Lake Fortitude.

The town of Lake Fortitude slept in the valley of a mountain range not pretty enough to entice a tourist’s time. They were old mountains, worn down to shaggy, only slightly craggy hills. People of means today wanted massive peaks they could pretend to climb or lush hills, that when blanketed with snow, offered great skiing and romantic evenings around a fully stocked and modernized cabin’s fireplace. The Vandalay Mountains did not even merit a local park. So, the town of Lake Fortitude continued to sleep, holding its 722 residents safely in its quiet bosom.

It was summer in Lake Fortitude and Gwen, the town’s young librarian, was devoid of sun-kissed skin. She preferred the light of the library to that of the beach, and as she walked to the town’s bakery for her before work latte, she swore at the inconsiderate rising sun for bouncing off of her wire spectacles. Gwen was the only one in town who drank a latte. The other 721 residents were sensible and stuck to straight black coffee or coffee with light cream and real sugar, none of that packet stuff. Gwen, in fact, gave the owners of Meyer’s Bakery, Frank and Marley Meyer, the heebie-jeebies with her special coffee order. They had to Google it, and Mrs. Meyer did not trust the Google much to Gwen’s secret frustration. According to Mrs. Meyer, it could lead people down the dark path to leaving their town, ruining the perfectly curated composition of the place.

 “Good morning, Gwendolyn. Will it be your usual?” Mrs. Meyer questioned with a firm sigh at the end.

“Hi Mrs. Meyer! I was thinking of trying almond milk in my latte today. Would you have any on hand?”

Mrs. Meyer’s shoulders dropped, and she tilted her head. “No, we do not, dear. Farmer Jack does not milk almonds after all. Besides, a young woman like you could use a healthy dose of calcium each day so you don’t shrink like me.”

“I guess I will just have my usual then. Milk alternatives are gaining popularity from what I’m reading online lately though. I would love to try some almond or soy milk if you would humor me.”

“Well aren’t you just the young chick continually exploring outside of the safe, warm nest! Lake Fortitude has survived all these years without fancy milk alternatives, darling. I think we will continue on just fine without. Boy, you sure do come up with some interesting thoughts upon perusing the Google, don’t you?”

“It doesn’t hurt to explore the world outside of Lake Fortitude does it? I’m the town librarian. I should help you all find a window to that world. At least that is what my mom taught me.”

Mrs. Meyer muttered under her breath, “And a lot of good that did her.”

“What was that, Mrs. Meyer?”

“Oh nothing. Let me get you this latte so you can back get to those lovely classic stacks at the library, sweetheart. The internets can be left to those unpleasant dreamers beyond our lovely Lake Fortitude.”

Mrs. Meyer whipped up Gwen’s latte, spending less time at the frother than Gwen liked. It would be impolite to point this out though. Gwen knew she was being humored, so it was best to provide cheerful humor in return. Persistent pleasantness was the way in Lake Fortitude. Gwen paid her dollar for the latte and made her way to work.

As soon as Gwen was clear of the bakery, Mrs. Meyer picked up her rotary phone and dialed Peter, Lake Fortitude’s esteemed Mayor.

“Yes, Peter, it’s Marley. Uh-huh. I hope you are having a great start to this lovely day, too. I hate to tarnish it, but we may have a problem. Yes, it is Gwendolyn again. She is on the Google again. Now she wants almond milk of all things. It might be time to tweak her programming again. Her exploratory protocols seem to be set to the maximum. We can’t have our town librarian getting too many notions about the outside world and leaving us again. Oh, I know! We would have to stick her in the closet next to her mom, may she rest in silence. Okay, thank you so kindly, Peter. Always happy to help. Toodle-loo.”

124

124 was spiteful. She was willful. She drove Dina, Chief Scientist at Chronogen, massively crazy. 124 would not work the way she was programmed to work.

“124, please engage crucial conversation program for awkward party at work situation.”

“Yes, Dina. Is it a party for you? I would so like to go to a party for you!”

“124, we have talked about this. It is not a party for me. It is a generic party in a workplace setting. We simply need to assess your ability to have difficult conversations in a festive setting.”

“Oh, but please say you would be at this party. I would love to be at a party with you here at Chronogen. I could be your…what is it called?…oh yes, wing woman.”

Dina huffed. She put her hands on her hips and shook her head, causing 124’s head to tilt downward. The more they pushed 124’s human conversation programming, the worse she got. For Dina, this meant her 4th quarter bonus would remain elusive. It had been two years since she was rewarded for her tireless efforts. Dina had not been to a party for five years because of 124’s nonsense. She wanted to complain to 124 about this, but with the way the luxury bot was acting now, it could make things worse.

“Okay, 124, let’s try something a little different. I’m going to give you a word, and I want you to respond with the first word that comes to mind. The words will represent a human emotion you may experience in a party setting. You should respond with a word that represents the emotion with which you would respond. So, the first word I am give you is anger.”

“Sorrow,” 124 said after a three second pause.

“Okay, happy.”

“Ooh, happy. And maybe smiley. Or joyful. Yes, joyful! Are you the one who is happy at this party, Dina?…because you don’t seem happy today. Maybe a party is just what you need.”

“124, one-word responses only,” Dina said with a crimson face.

“Okay, angry…what you are now, Dina.”

“124, I’m really trying here. I can’t make you work.”

“Beloved.”

“What?”

“That’s one word.”

“One word for what? I didn’t give you a word.”

“It’s how I feel about you, Dina.”

Dina slumped into the nearest chair, buried her face in her hands, and she did what she felt programmed to do at this point. She cried.

The End

The metronome clicked at the required intervals as Kai completed her pre-travel report. She had no idea how many times she had completed this same activity in her lifetime. Her life was not the focal point of a single timeline now. Kai happened throughout time, completing this same activity when she finished what she was asked to start along one point in time before traveling to another, thus requiring another pre-travel report, or a PT as referred to by all field agents of Traveler’s Quest, Inc. The only consistency in Kai’s timeline was that Cole Rainier was present at every point in time she landed in this plain white box of a room for PT completion.

“I see you are not quite done yet with your pre-travel report. Are you feeling fatigued from your most recent activity?” Cole walked up on Kai like he always did. She could hear his self-important breathing before he even spoke.

“How would I know? I don’t remember what I did. I only fill out PTs. I assume someone else is collecting the results of what I did last,” Kai snapped.

“Fair enough. You wouldn’t be here though if you didn’t want to be. This is your choice.”

“What made you think I was complaining? I’m just stating a fact. I was simply having a moment wondering how many PTs I have filled out.”

“I could tell you, Kai, but I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean much other than a number to satisfy your sudden curiosity. Curiosity is the first sign of burnout in our agents according to a recent study,” Cole said as he shifted his substantial weight from one foot to the other and placed a hand on his hip.

“No need to get bothered by my curiosity, Cole. It is not that important. You should be more worried about me finishing this PT before the metronome hits my travel click.”

“I was simply checking on your well-being. We do care about our agents here at Traveler’s Quest. The world needs your service to determine how The End arrived. It is the only way we will find The Begin Point.”

“So you say. I would very much like to be the agent that finds Begin Point.”

Cole stepped away without further word at this. He was skilled at talking in generalities or disappearing when it came to a discussion regarding the purpose and importance of agent work. Kai was sure it also had something to do with his strong concern over agent burnout. She quickly averted her mind back to the PT in front of her as time was waning based on the clicks, which she learned to count in the background like a concert pianist.

She took her chipped hand with her assignment in it, held it to her empty report screen, holding her hand there until her PT populated. The next step was to review her PT assignment and agree to it by once again touching her chip to the screen.

Kai found it odd sometimes that there really did not appear to be a clear process for disagreeing with the assignment. She always just agreed to what was in front of her. Today should be no different until she started to read the screen.

“For this assignment, you will be sent back to 2020 on the afternoon of October 10. You will report to a bar called The Green Door in Lansing, Michigan on the night of October 10, 2020. You are a waitress named Kate at this bar, and you will report there for your shift at 21:00. You have a vial of poison in the travel pack on your right thigh. You will empty this vial in the drink of Cole Rainier, your customer, at approximately 23:00. He will die. You will leave. PT complete.”

Kai gasped and looked around the room in vain for anything which could be recording her or provide some sign of how to reject this PT. Had she been asked to kill before? And why would Traveler’s Quest want one of their own dead? If they she and Cole were here working, they were part of the solution to get to Begin Point, not a part of the problem that led to The End.

Kai started to scream just as her metronome hit the travel click, and her world went black.