e-mail: jv.choong [ at ] gmail dot com
If there was one thing Finnegan honestly hated, it was the team-building activities.
Sure he could hate the tight deadlines, the pressure to excel among fellow gods, the need to prove you had the best-run planet ever (and therefore deserved a raise), the rampant sabotaging or even – especially - the fact that his assistant was next to useless when it came to work. However, while each of those things was awful in its own way, none of them could hold a candle to a team-building activity. To Finnegan, these were scams designed to delude a great many gods into thinking they could indeed rise higher than their nature and work as a team to achieve much more.
No. This was the Vaticanny Place, home to all gods of all planets in the universe and thus home to thousands of egotistical, self-absorbed narcissists who would rather have their corpses strung upside down in the Vaticanny courtyard before they would lower themselves to work with their fellow gods as a team.
It could be concluded that whoever had thought up this whole team-building business among gods clearly had been paid much more than what they were actually worth, or was clearly bitter they were not a god themselves and had devised the activities as a subtle form of revenge. However, considering that Finnegan was now behind a large crate with only a baseball cap and tarp to shield him from the rain, sharing that meager amount of cover with four other gods, all he could conclude at the moment was that he really, really, hated team-building activities.
A lady with the head of a cat peered at her watch. "She’s late," Pyoben the Cat God mumbled, leaning against a large humanoid rock formation.
"Think she’s taken a turn for the worse?" A genderless eight-year-old with large black dots for eyes looked up at their leader, a blonde man pacing the ground in front of them.
"I don’t think it’s anything serious – probably on her way her now," the blonde man reassured, patting his pocket in case his cell phone rang. "Haven’t the faintest clue why she’s not picking up my calls, though."
Finnegan pulled his cap lower till it hid his eyes, and muttered, "I hope you didn’t say anything stupid last night."
The blonde man turned sharply to Finnegan. "Funny, shouldn’t you be referring to yourself?" he taunted.
"I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about," Finnegan replied.
"You’ve already forgotten about how you insulted Uta and our strategy for today’s activity during yesterday’s dinner? That’s mighty convenient," The blonde man retorted, bending down to Finnegan’s face. "Is that how rebirth works, Rebirth God? Wake up a totally reincarnated person without any memories of your previous life?"
Pyoben held a paw over her mouth, poorly concealing a smirk.
Finnegan turned to the blonde man. "Firstly, I said that it might not be the best idea to have your entire battle strategy rely on – of all things – a girl who’s coming down with a cold." He shifted his weight, staring the man dead in the face. "Secondly, just because you happen to be Godfrey the Optimist God does not automatically make everything okay we shall be fine. There is planning, there is strategy, all those things that should be included when you’re getting ready for a mock battle like this. You know, like what teams do."
This time the cat lady did not even bother to conceal a rather unfeline-like snort.
Godfrey was silent, then recovered, standing with a confidence that only spelled ‘certain doom’ to Finnegan. "Well I say she’ll be fine and she’ll take some medication and be utterly fine and we can all get on with running down the opposition in no time flat!"
A muffled female singing voice emanated from Godfrey’s pocket, which he promptly fished his out –his handphone. "And I’ll bet that’s her right now apologizing for the delay and she’s already on her way!" He added, putting the phone to his ear. There was a beaming smile, a pause, the slightest downwards curl at the corner of his lips, and finally a quiet "Okay, take care yeah? I’ll see you after this," upon which he hung up to see Finnegan, a cat lady, a child, and a large rock giant staring at him, waiting for a response.
"So, is she coming?" The Cat God asked. Godfrey stared at his phone.
After half a minute or so, he croaked a reply: "No. She’s gotten laryngitis."
Pyoben took quick glances at her watch, watching her team’s chances of winning sink under the weight of increasing bickering between Finnegan and Godfrey. The sound of rain beating on tarp muffled out most of the conversation, but she could make out a few key phrases such as, ‘this is all your fault’, ‘no alternatives’, and notably ‘why are you so useless’. By now the other team would have discovered their team was lacking a sixth member, and would have reformed their strategy around that to stage an offensive and run them into the ground just in time for tea. She looked at Echo, the aptly-named Echo God, sitting cross-legged and staring at the enemy camp. Pyoben slid up to the child and asked, "Can you hear anything?"
"They’re changing their strategy."
"Does it involve running us into the ground?" Pyoben suggested.
They both sighed. Inselberg the Rock God did not show any signs of movement.
Finnegan removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Must it be music?"
"Actually, it has to be a singing voice – the machine would convert the effects of the voice into a larger scale. Uta actually had a song just for building a solid defense wall in front of a person, and the machine would amplify that effect to make a domed perimeter around us," Godfrey explained, patting the contraption in front of him that looked like a microphone attached to a pair of loudspeakers via a maze of tangled wires and bits and pieces Godfrey had found under his couch when he was building the machine.
"So what’ll happen if any of us just read into the microphone?" Finnegan asked.
"It’ll probably just be an annoying distracting buzzing sound, but nothing that’ll stop a full-blown flattening, if what Echo says is true," Godfrey said.
Pyoben slowly raised her paw. "Umm, my people don’t sing much, but we do have battle hymns. Would that help?"
Before Godfrey could open his mouth, Finnegan cut in with his question, "Do you have something that rouses the spirit and instills fear in enemies? The kind of song that says some kind of murderous predator is sneaking around and freaking everyone out because they don’t know what’s going to come at them?"
Pyoben’s whiskers twitched briefly before she said, "Well, we have one that taunts the enemy from the shadows."
"I think I can use that," Godfrey mused.
The large humanoid rock formation shifted its weight, and a low gravelly voice emerged from the centre of the rock pile. "I can play drums," it offered.
Godfrey snapped his fingers. "Echo, can you make it sound like Inselberg’s drums are all over the field?"
Echo shrugged its shoulders and nodded at the same time. Godfrey being the eternal optimist took that as an affirmative answer, and was rubbing his hands in anticipation that things were going to work out better than before.
Finnegan put his glasses back on. "So while Pyoben psyches our opponents out with Godfrey’s machine, Inselberg and Echo will make it sound like we’ve got stone golems charging towards them from all directions, which will hopefully distract them long enough for me to get into their base, take out their guard, and grab their flag."
Pyoben added, "I think we need a decoy."
"What?" Finnegan turned to the Cat God.
"It’s a good plan, but one that they’ll be thinking of as ‘textbook strategy’. Imagine if they breach the perimeter and come across something that they won’t expect to see," Pyoben said.
"That’s true, but everyone’s got their part, where are we going to get a decoy-" Godfrey’s voice trailed off upon noticing the four sets of eyes upon him.
"No. No no no. I have to man the machine-"
"Well if you’re going to be a decoy right next to the machine, there shouldn’t be a problem, right?" Finnegan pointed out, his smirk getting broader by the syllable.
For the first time, Godfrey’s optimism was struggling to keep up.
They crept through the field, trying to hide themselves amidst the various obstacles strewn about. The enemy’s base was now only twenty meters ahead, but the silence was finally unsettling them. Where were the attempts at surprise? The ambush? The part where it degenerates into an all-out brawl among gods that inevitably ends with a massive explosion? While they had expected to flatten the opposing team in time for tea, a short struggle would have immensely boosted morale.
Then came the wailing.
The female voice began with a low droning hum, then a sudden sharp screech. A yodel, then a longer screech than the previous. Someone swore they heard lyrics, but nobody gave it thought long enough to confirm it because then the rumbling began. First a beat. Then a louder, stronger ‘boom’. Sharp ‘boom-boom-b-boom’ beats rose all around them. Two went off to the sides to check for concealed traps or stone golems hiding behind sandbags. The wailing floated loud and clear above the rumbling of golem feet – or at least what they perceived as golem feet, anyway. They were convinced someone was going to ambush them, and they were going to prove themselves right by any means possible.
When Godfrey appeared, all sound ceased.
Godfrey stood defiant in front of the base. Legs apart, hands clenched, body stiffened, as if ready to take on every single one with his bare hands. They immediately fell into familiar battle stances, anticipating the attack. They wanted him to make the first move so they could get the tension over with.
Godfrey slowly tilted his head downwards, a slow nod.
Pyoben took a deep breath and wailed her loudest.
The rumbling did not waste time with build up. The rhythm was loud, clear, and very addictive.
Godfrey raised his hand straight up, the other hand on his waist, and started to dance. His head bobbed to the rhythm, his heels tapping out the exact same beats, and soon he had surrendered to cat yodel and was twisting and sliding around enjoying the odd music his team had created. Thanks to the machine, the effect was ten times more disturbing than intended, which not only left them in confusion and awe at such horrible dancing, but also entirely stunned and rooted them in place, unable to speak, act, or even think of a plan B.
Thus, when they would later look back on that day and recall the time their unguarded base suddenly exploded amidst the song-and-dance routine and Finnegan waved their flag at them, shouting, "Hey look who just lost the game!" with the most obnoxious smile ever, who could blame them for insisting Godfrey’s team had cheated?
Being a doctor at The Vaticanny Place had its moments.
If you asked the doctor, he would tell you about the time he'd had a velociraptor god brought to him all stuck in a large rubber tube because it was trying to make its own tuba. Then there were the usual cases of runny noses, sore throats, and gaping flesh wounds from a godly duel.
Today, the doctor was looking at the first of many with the same symptoms.
"Good morning...Finnegan, is it?"
"Yes, I am. The story goes like this: We had a team-building session, and one of our members caught laryngitis. So we had to improvise our strategy."
"And it’s all well and good, we had a song and dance routine using Godfrey’s machine – it amplifies a song’s effects to a larger radius of people, and we won the game by distracting everyone with Pyoben’s singing."
"But the machine’s effect was a lot stronger than we’d all thought and – look, could you just stop me from drumming on the table? I’ve been doing this for the last two days, I can’t get any work done, it’s driving me nuts!"