Short As Fictober #5: “Team Building”

Dr. Spaulding Wentworth leads his team of students–a group he’s dubbed The Mighty–up a steep grassy hill covered in red and orange leaves. The silver-haired old lecturer walks with a pronounced limp aided by a stout blackthorn shillelagh, and yet despite his advanced years and physical ailments still manages to outpace the four younger people accompanying him today. The day hasn’t gone quite how he’d hoped. During his initial planning he’d anticipated a little more excitement, a tad more gusto on the part of his team, but so far everything’s been met with either lukewarm attempts or at times outright recalcitrance. He’s hoping when The Mighty sees what he has for them at the top of the hill, their attitudes will turn around. They will be successful, and then no villain will be able to stop them.

He pauses at the hill’s midpoint to catch his breath and gauge how far back the stragglers are. 

The team’s de facto leader, Sandy, is closest, about half a football field away, which comes as no surprise. The young woman has the ability to control the earth, and she’s doing so now, causing tiny tremors in the grass-covered terrain to move herself forward. Like an airport passenger on one of those goofy moving sidewalks.

Heft, a fellow born with incredible strength and agility, is just behind her, alternately walking on his hands, turning back flips, and frog leaping up the incline.

Third up the hill is Current, the team’s water mage. She could communicate and manipulate any water source so long as it was smaller than a car and bigger than a thimble. Dr. Wentworth always found these limitations oddly specific, but not problematic. Most water the team works around falls somewhere in this range.

The caboose of this expedition’s train is Solder, the youngest and least experienced member of the team. At 17, he’s only a year into having extraordinary abilities, and quite frequently loses control over the concentrated heat beams he emits from his fingers.

Dr. Wentworth didn’t have any special abilities, though he did fancy himself a deep thinker, a master strategist, and an expert at collaboration. He checks the time on his pocket watch, sips whiskey from a flask, then continues upward.

At the top of the hill, the students find Dr. Wentworth standing in front of the frames of an unfinished home and various piles of building supplies. The old professor’s already put on a hard hat, and has a large roll of blueprints in his hand.

“Welcome, my pupils, to your final challenge on this grand day of team building!” Dr. Wentworth said.

“More team building?” Solder asks. “Haven’t we done enough?”

“Yeah, Dr. Wentworth,” Current adds. “We did the trust falls. We did the ropes course. We even did that stupid exercise where we all have to get across a pretend river with a limited number of stones.”

“I see,” said Dr. Wentworth putting a little more weight on his cane. “But the problem is that you failed at all of those challenges. You didn’t catch Rooster during the trust fall, and now he’s in the hospital with a concussion. Solder, you set every rope on fire, and burned down the course. We have to pay for that. And by my estimation, Heft was the only one of you who made it across the “river,” but that’s only because he jumped the gap, and left all of you to “drown.”

A line of spittle streaks down his chin, as his chest heaves and his face colors to varying shades of red. 

“It has been a long day,” Sandy says, putting a hand on Dr. Wentworth’s shoulder. “Maybe we can all come back tomorrow and do whatever it is you’ve set up. Would that work for you, Dr. Wentworth?”

He shakes off her hand.” And what about you, Heft. Do you concur with your teammates?”

The young man isn’t listening, though. He’s too busy lifting a pallet of roofing tiles over his head.

“Guys, look at this. How much you want to bet I can get another one up there?”

Dr. Wentworth sighs and leans against a stack of plywood.

“Can I at least tell you what I have planned?” he asks.

“Sure,” Sandy says. “We don’t mind, right?”

Solder snorts. “Whatever.”

Current nods.

Heft heaves roofing tiles.

“Do you know why we don’t work well together as a team?” Dr. Wenworth asks as he paces around the construction site like it’s a college classroom.

“Because we don’t really like each other, and we’re more effective fighting crime on our own,” Sandy says.

Dr. Wentworth wags a finger at her. “We don’t work well as a team, because we don’t have a place to call our own. We don’t have a team headquarters. Which is why we’ve been meeting at gas stations and restaurants.”

Heft puts down his stack. “I like Perkins,” he says.

“We all like Perkins,” Dr. Wentworth says, “But it’s not–“

“I don’t really like Perkins,” Current says.

“Shut up about Perkins,” Dr. Wentworth says. “Whether you like Perkins or not, it doesn’t make for a good HQ. I thought if we built our own base together, if can come together on this, we can come together on anything.”

He folds his arms over his chest and smiles at his pupils. Solder raises his hand, and Dr. Wentworth nods.

“Couldn’t you just have paid a professional to do this?”

“Money isn’t the answer to everything, Solder,” Dr. Wentworth says. “Besides, do you know how much labor costs on these kinds of jobs?”

“But what do we know about construction, sir?” Sandy asks.

“There’s no way the other teams built their own HQs,” Current says.

Dr. Wentworth goes over to a pair of sawhorses and rolls out the blueprints.

“I thought we might figure this out together. Between your powers and my intelligence, we should be able to get this done. What do you say?”

Heft brushes dirt from his hands. “Let’s just do it. Sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get back to our lives.”

“That’s the spirit, I guess.”

Over the next twelve hours The Mighty put in significant doses of sweat equity while Dr. Wentworth looks at blueprints, drinks coffee, and calls out encouragement.

In the final minutes of the midnight hour, beneath the light of a yellow harvest moon, Sandy and Current finish the landscaping, Solder uses his heat beams to create mosaic brickwork on the back patio, and Heft places the last shingle. Dr. Wentworth pays a delivery man, then carries a stack of pizzas to the sawhorses.

“Well done, team! I am so proud of you,” he says. “Just look at what you’ve accomplished in such a very short amount of time. Bravo.” He begins to clap.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Sandy says. “You were right. We can work together as a team.” She picks up the stack of pizzas. “Speaking of the team, we really need to start planning for some kind of training room in the house, something that prepares us for any kind of situation.”

Dr. Wentworth starts to follow Sandy. “I couldn’t agree more. In fact I have some–“

“I think we got it from here,” Heft says stepping into Dr. Wentworth’s path.

Sandy, Current, and Solder walk into the house.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Wentworth asks.

“We really appreciate you setting this up and all, but we kind of talked it over and decided that as a team we need a different mentor. We hope you understand.” He follows the rest of The Mighty into the house.

“I most certainly don’t. This doesn’t…you can’t–“

The door closes in his face, and Dr. Wentworth is left standing on the porch of The Mighty’s new headquarters. 

“Well, shit,” he says. “That’s the third team that’s bailed on me. At least they didn’t break any of my limbs this time.”

He pulls his flask from his jacket and starts the long walk back down the hill where he parked his car, and begins planning on how to form his next team of gifted pupils.

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