“STOP!” Orchid jumped in front of the passing agents and pointed to the floor. “Dinosaurs crossing.”
“We don’t have all day, Orchid,” Olive said exasperatedly.
“Seriously? Come on,” Otto added.
“Is that all of them?”
Orchid gave one last sigh, and jumped up from the floor. “Now you can go.” She turned to her dinosaurs. “All right, you three. You’ve been so badly behaved during our walk, we’re going straight home.” She picked up the dinosaurs and began to march down the corridor to her dinosaur room.
Stupid Otto, always thinking I’m a child. The thought slipped out before she could contain it. Horrified, she stopped in her tracks and clapped her hand over her mouth. Such thoughts were dangerous. Please, please, don’t come . . .
But Orchid’s pleas went unanswered. Blinding pain shot into her temples. Reeling, she fell to the ground. Fight it, fight it! Ms. O’s words ventured into her mind.
Tears streaming down her face, Orchid scrambled to her feet. But the world was already swaying, a sign she was about to lose control. I need to get to my dinosaur room! Orchid began to sprint towards the door. Wrenching it open, she caught a glimpse of her forgotten dinosaurs, looking lonely. I’ll get you as soon as this is over, she promised before slamming the heavy door shut.
The colors of her dinosaur room swam into Orchid’s eyes. Trees turned electric blue, swelled up, and burst. A butterfly began spouting a rainbow trail, then flopped to the ground, brown and lifeless. Fight it, fight it, all her dinosaurs chanted. All Ms. O’s voice.
“I’M TRYING!” she screamed, even though she knew Ms. O couldn’t hear her. “I’m . . . trying . . .” Orchid slumped against a wall, her energy sapped. The room flashed with a blinding light, then turned stark black and white. The world finally spun and twirled out of her reach, and Orchid was whirled into a dark place. That was all she remembered.
Orchid opened her eyes. The skylight filtered in a cool yellow light, illuminating dust particles floating downward. The calm after the storm. She was half-content to stay like that, lying on her back, looking at the dusty sunshine, until she finally steeled herself to get up and take a look around the room.
Trees were scattered on the ground, branches torn from trunks. Wallpaper had been ripped from the walls, showing stained whitewash underneath. A dinosaur lay on the ground, its neck severed by all but one wire.
Orchid slumped back onto the ground and started to sob. She had failed again.
“What are you staring at?” Olive followed Otto’s gaze. “Orchid?”
“I’m not staring at her,” he mumbled. “I’m just looking at her for a really long time.”
“Well then, why are you looking at her for a really long time?”
Otto turned and looked at Olive. “Is Orchid’s partner invisible like Oz?”
“What?” Olive was taken aback by his question. “Um, no. She doesn’t have a partner.”
“Why not? Everybody else does.”
You are not to tell anyone, ever, what happened that day. Ms. O’s words echoed in Olive’s head. “Um, there . . . isn’t anyone available.”
Otto looked at her skeptically. “But she’s been partnerless since I joined the squad. And we’ve had new recruits. Why doesn’t Ms. O give anyone to her?”
Olive shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “I don’t know. I guess Ms. O has her reasons.”
“But why would Ms. O keep someone alone for that long? Maybe she forgot about her. You know what? Let me go up to her office and remind her. Nobody should have to be partnerless.” He got up from his desk and started to walk away.
“NO!” The word came out louder than Olive meant it to. She winced as the whole squad turned to look at her. “Otto, you don’t want to do that. Orchid — she just likes to work alone, okay? And I don’t think she’d want you meddling in her personal business.”
Otto slowly sat back down. “Okay,” he finally said. “I won’t ask. But there’s something about Orchid you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”
“No! No, nothing at all.” Olive was suddenly very interested in filing her paperwork in the right drawers. She was the only one, other than Ms. O, who knew about Orchid’s attacks. Ms. O didn’t like to talk about them, or how the training was going. “Orchid’s not your partner, and she’s not your sister, so stop interrogating me!” she’d snapped the last time Olive had asked about her. “Now go away! There are some laser chickens in the town square! What are you waiting for?” Olive had hurried away with Ms. O’s final “GO!” following her.
“Olive!” Olive blinked to see Otto waving a hand in front of her face. “Earth to Olive, your badge is ringing.”
Disoriented, Olive looked down and saw that her badge was indeed ringing. “Go for Olive,” she said, holding the badge/phone to her ear.
“WHY DID YOU NOT PICK UP?!” Ms. O shouted into Olive’s ear. “I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THE LAST TEN SECONDS!”
“Sorry, Ms. O. What’s going on?”
“Get to the park! NOW! And don’t bring Otto!”
“Why shouldn’t I bring Otto?”
Feeling uneasy, Olive rushed out of the room.
“WHERE WERE YOU?” Oprah growled at Olive. “This is urgent! I don’t want you treating this like a case.”
“It’s — not a case?” Olive looked confused. “Then what’s the problem?”
“What’s the problem?” Oprah repeated incredulously. “For odd’s sake, look around you!” She sighed inwardly. Olive could be so wrapped up in something, she couldn’t see what was right under her nose. She needed to fix that if Olive was ever going to become Ms. O. If she chose her. Oprah still wasn’t entirely sure. Yet. She didn’t know — she did feel an obligation to Octavia. But Oprah still hadn’t entirely forgiven her after that 6:00-6:05 incident . . .
“Whoa! Was it a tornado?” Olive’s shocked voice broke through Oprah’s thoughts.
“No, Olive.” Oprah swept a gaze at the broken and branch-scattered park. “It was Orchid.”
Olive took a moment to take this all in. “So I’m guessing her training isn’t going too well?”
Oprah sighed again, for the second time in five minutes. She was really getting too young for this. “You can’t tell her this, Olive, but Orchid isn’t going to get any better. All she’s going to get is stronger. She destroyed this park without ever touching it — she was in her dinosaur room all the time; I was watching on the security cameras. Her power — it’s like someone blowing up a balloon, but at the same time someone’s trying to stuff the balloon in a bag that was too small for it to begin with. Does that make sense?” It wasn’t the greatest analogy, but it was the best Oprah could come up with on the spot like that.
“Well,” Olive answered thoughtfully, “if you want to keep going with this, if the person suppressing the balloon cares at all about the balloon’s well-being, she’ll stop trying to get it in the bag. Otherwise the balloon will just . . . pop.”
“Are you accusing me of trying to shell out Orchid?” Oprah’s voice suddenly grew hard. Yet she knew, deep inside, that her best agent was right.
“I’m not accusing you of trying to shell her out. I’m accusing you of trying to break her before she can get strong enough to resist that balloon bag.”
“Forget the balloon bag! Having no power is certainly better than being cursed!” Oprah objected. “I knew you would say this. But you know what? Spare the rod and spoil the child, that’s what the townsfolk say. If I just leave Orchid to her own devices, she’ll leave the world to ruin! Her powers can never reach full potency and I will make sure of it!” Exhausted from her tirade, she sat down heavily on a bench and pondered the situation. “I should never have saved her. I should have just killed her there and then. One of the lambero — an awoken one, no less — is much too dangerous for this world.”
The two agents sat there on the bench for a while, together with their thoughts. Oprah’s heart was filled with apprehension; she loved Orchid and wanted the best for her, yet she feared what would happen once she became untrainable. She remembered that moonless night many years ago, when she had found Orchid standing over a dead body, no light reflected in soulless eyes. Oz had been with her, had whispered to kill her, and Oprah had been about to . . . but she had been too softhearted. Could one life saved justify a world lost? That was the kind of question Oz would have known the answer to, before he had shelled out. But now, Oprah had no idea how much Oz remembered anymore, if he still remembered anything at all.
Finally, Olive spoke. “What did you bring me here for?”
Oprah snapped back into business mode at once. “I thought I could use your advice. I guess I was wrong.” She began to stride off to the tube entrance. “Call Agent O’Hara. I want a juice box ready for me the moment I step foot into that building!”
When Olive was gone and he didn’t have any work to do, Otto liked to wander around headquarters. This happened often enough that Otto could truthfully say he knew where all the important parts of Odd Squad were. That is, he knew the paths to the donut room, the cookie room, the cupcake room, and the break room.
Since Olive had left without notice, Otto made a beeline straight to the donut room. He was about to pull the door open when he noticed Orchid disappearing around a corner.
Remembering his conversation with Olive, curiosity about Orchid overcame him. Otto looked mournfully at the donut room before he set out to follow Orchid. He could get a donut later. It would be covered in chocolate and rainbow sprinkles . . . but this couldn’t wait. Soon Orchid would be too far away to follow.
Why are you snooping? Olive’s voice trickled into Otto’s head. It’s wrong to snoop. Don’t you have work to be done?
Work can wait, Otto rebutted. Orchid can’t.
Why are you so obsessed about Orchid? Do you want to be her partner? Are you putting her over me?
Otto sped up his pace, infuriated. I don’t know what’s deluded you. You were never first to me, Olive. I have a family, you know!
A family that doesn’t know the real you, the Otto who pretends to go to school each day but really comes to headquarters to work with — guess who? Me! Otto swiped at the air, then punched his head. Olive taunted him, just out of reach. By the time you decide to leave, I’ll mean more to you than your little family ever did. Just wait and see. When agents leave the squad, they leave changed. They’re never truly part of their family again, because this is their home. We are their family. They’ll be filled with an intense, dreadful longing for Odd Squad. But they can’t come back, because they took an oath. The longing infests their minds and poisons their hearts. It eventually drives them insane —
Otto clapped his hands over his ears. “STOP IT! STOP IT!”
“Otto? Um, are you okay?” Otto looked around and noticed Oscar a few yards behind him, wearing an odd metal hat with colored wires protruding from it.
“Oscar! I need to find Orchid.” Strangely, the voice had stopped.
“Orchid? She just passed by. I think she was headed for the break room. Why are you looking for her?”
“Oh, um, no reason.”
A small dot on Oscar’s hat began beeping and flashing red and blue.
“What is that thing?”
“Oh, it’s my lie detector. I just put the finishing touches on it this morning.” Oscar took off the hat and fiddled with the wires.
“What’s the difference between that and your truth-sniffer-inator?”
“The truth-sniffer-inator sniffs out truth, but the lie detector sniffs out lies,” Oscar explained. “It’s actually quite a big difference. You see — waaaait. You were lying to me! What’s the real reason you’re looking for Orchid?”
“Um, well, um, I guess, um, oh, I . . . wanted to ask her some questions?” The lie detector flashed green and emitted a long beep.
“That’s not the complete truth, Otto.”
“Why are you interested in what I’m doing?”
“I want to see if the hat works with people other than myself. Also, I’m bored.”
Otto sighed. There was no getting out of this one. “I wanted to figure out why she doesn’t have a partner.”
“Wow! That’s a great idea!” Oscar pulled out a Sherlock Holmes-esque cap from his lab coat and fixed it on his head. “Let’s fly into this case and crawl out of it!”
Otto cocked his head. “Wha?”
Oscar suddenly looked uncomfortable. “I’m still trying to find a catchphrase. I guess that one’s a no.”
As soon as she entered the break room, every agent in the room suddenly collapsed and covered their ears.
“What’s going on?” Orchid thought aloud.
“The witch!” Oren gasped in fury as he sank into a chair. “She’s got no right to tell me I’m good for nothing! I’m good for everything! Do you hear that, Ms. O? I’m a million times a better agent than you ever were!”
The door to the break room suddenly flung open. In the doorway stood Ms. O. “Orchid! In my office! Now! And close the door behind you!”
“YOU!” Oren jumped up, outraged. “How’d you get into my head, Oprah? How?”
“Orchid! Come.” Ms. O walked away without another word. Orchid thought it best to follow her.
Ms. O tumbled into her office chair, holding her temples. “No, O’Donahue, no,” she muttered. In her normal voice: “Orchid! Six juice boxes! Stat!” Orchid hurried to the juice bar. When she got back, her arms full of juice, Ms. O was still murmuring to herself.
“Over a century together, O’Donahue. That’s more than any agent here today can say. How could you turn on me like this?” A pause. “I loved you, O’Donahue. And you’re telling me that after all those years, I meant nothing to you? Nothing?”
“Ms. . . . Ms. O?”
That seemed to snap Ms. O back to her senses. “Shut up, O’Donahue! You’re not real!” Ms. O turned to Orchid. “I don’t want you working in the office anymore. From now on you’re confined to your dinosaur room unless I call for you. No exceptions."
Orchid was shocked. “But why? What have I done?”
Ms. O suddenly seemed old and sad again. “Nothing, Orchid. You’ve just grown, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. But your presence is making people hear voices. Fabricating heartbreaks. I can’t let this happen, or Oren and everybody else who’s hearing my voice is going to send the place up in flames. It’s for your own good, Orchid. Now go. I’ll bring your dinner down in two hours.”
Ms. O shuddered. “Definitely not Oksana. Go.”
The tears that hung in her eyes finally spilled over, and Orchid ran to her newly repaired dinosaur room, leaving a trail of anger in her wake.