Movie star Eldon Brown had bought a huge Spanish hacienda style house on two hundred acres of mixed scrub oak, pine and grasslands. Sixteen children under the (apparent) age of ten were living there. Six fourth graders. Three thirds. One first grader, two kindergarten. Plus two three year olds and two babies, almost a year old.
Hiring two private teachers to get them up to speed and into public schools by next year seemed like a reasonable thing to do.
Eldon stared at the school administrator and who-ever-the-heck-the-other-one-was in bafflement. "I'd need to get all their birth certificates, shot records and paperwork back and forth to their parents and all that. I mean, if you really want, I'd be delighted to just drop them in your lap tomorrow morning. But you won't have the paperwork for awhile. And while I know they've been taught to read and write and math and stuff, I don't know if it's at your grade level at which subjects. I don't think they've ever had American History. I just figured if I hired a couple of teachers this year, they'd be ready to slide easily into your classrooms next fall. I mean, can you handle six more ten year olds, all at once?"
The Administrator showed predatory teeth. "Actually with our shifting demographic, we've some open classrooms and some classes at their maximum size. Just a single additional fourth grader and we'll be required by law to add another fourth grade teacher. With your six, instead of two classes of twenty-five students, we'll have three of eighteen or nineteen."
"All right. I can see where that would be nice, once you hire the extra teacher. But like I say, the paperwork is, in theory, in the mail. Internationally. Somewhere. If they've mailed it yet. So, do I do the paperwork before or after you get the kids?"
"We'll need you to fill out all the paperwork, then bring in the supporting documentation as you get it." The other woman's brow wrinkled. "Did you say you aren't related to these children?"
"Three of the sixteen. Betelgeuse is the mother of one and the half sister of one. We're a bit of a commune. Actually, I'll probably get the parents to bring in the paperwork, so you can meet them. They'll be in and out a lot, which is why we're consolidating the children. They need the stability."
Eyebrows rose. Didn't a rich movie star look like a stable father figure? He heard stirring and stepped to the door to check. It looked like the five year olds' nap time was over. Well, Rejection and Harm were only three and a half, but close enough to hang with the gang. He backtracked to the visitors. "I need to get the kids a snack, you can wait or come talk in the kitchen."
They followed him while he fried some cheese sandwiches, quartered them and stacked them up on a plate. He collected juice boxes in his other hand and delivered the sandwiches right as Persuasion turned on the TV and vid player.
He retreated. "I don't know how they can watch the same show over and over. I have the whole soundtrack memorized."
"The TV is not a babysitter." The Administrator was glowering.
"No, but the babies will be up in a few minutes, and it really helps to deal with one group at a time. As I've mentioned, we're looking for teachers. And the parents will, eventually, be getting here. Then we'll have more adults, and less TV."
WD chose that time to sound off, loud and long. "Excuse me again." They followed to the nursery, and observed though his expert and experienced changing of diapers. Xcape and Wheeler Dealer were both over a year old, developmentally. They'd been in the no-time bubbles since the Disco raid on their mansion. They sucked down bottles of formula, and co-operated with getting dressed. He put them down and they tottered off toward the sounds of Dumbo. He scooped everything needing a wash into the hamper, put on new sheets and humped the hamper and diaper pail down to the laundry and started a load.
"Now. What more do you need? When do you want the kids dumped on you? Shall I send you the paperwork and wait until you've found at least another fourth grade teacher before they start attending regularly?"
The Administrator looked around. "Where are the older children?"
"Betelgeuse's taken them to the Zoo. It's their favorite place."
Right on cue the front door burst open and a flood kids poured in. Technically speaking there were only nine of them. But they all focused on Eldon and combined to tell him all about the neat animals and how they wanted him to change into various ones.
"And change us too!" Pike's fluffy pale hair was bouncing twice as much as she was, and Eldon hoped the visitors weren't picking up on too much of exactly what was being said.
Betelgeuse swooped around the mass and focused on the visitors.
"Hi. Are you perhaps here for the teaching jobs?"
"No. We're from the school district. We came to ensure that the children are getting an education, preferably in the public school system."
Eldon amplified from under the kids. "They want the kids so they can hire more teachers and fill up some empty classrooms. I explained that the paperwork and stuff is in the international mail somewhere."
"Don't be silly Eldon. Rior would never put original documents in the mail. He'll be bringing it all himself when he comes, I think in about three weeks." Betelgeuse turned back to the administrator and introduced herself.
"Humph. I'm assistant District Superintendent Helen MacCray, this is Gloria De La Rosa the principal of Hefner Elementary School, where your children ought to be attending."
"Well, I've certainly no objection. Eldon, do you know where all the kids were born?"
"Oregon and Texas, mostly. I think everyone always got back to the US for the births, so we're okay there. It'll be the vaccination records that will be a nightmare to get straight."
The administrator frowned. "They don't have vaccinations, or you don't have the records?"
"They're vaccinated. The records will sometimes be from foreign countries. Assuming we kept the records." Betelgeuse frowned. "You know, I know I made copies of Vamp's records, and Epee and Falchion did as well. I maybe able to find them. And I've got Vamp's birth certificate, too."
"How about a snack, you lot?" Eldon wiggled out of the pile and herded the nine off.
"Humph. For someone who spreads himself so thin, he seems like a fairly good father figure." The Principal watched the parade disappear into the kitchen. "I don't know about the food rewards, though."
"Good grief, Eldon's the closest thing to a loving father-substitute some of those kids have. Don't pick on him. The other fathers? Two are dead, three are off who knows where, but they'll show up eventually, and three were, well, one night stands, not members of the group."
"Maybe I should pick on their mothers', instead."
"Maybe you should get to know the kids and see if they have any problems before putting all that effort into it?" Betelgeuse suggested. "Now, I expect there's a good bit of paperwork to deal with?"
"So to speak. We've gone electronic, and we're on the net. So you can fill the forms out on-line, and bring in the documentation when you get it. I think, with all the overseas education, perhaps we'll test for reading and math ability before we place them in specific grades." They swapped looks.
The Principal nodded at some unspoken thought. "How about next Wednesday, we test the nine older children. Can you get the e-forms completed by then?"
"We'll get right on it."
"I don't believe how long these are." Betelgeuse moaned. "And repetitious. What are you doing?"
"Making a word page with all the addresses and phone numbers on them. Cut and paste is your friend."
"And what do we do about Roddie and Rejection having Rior for a mother, and Pike, Quarrel and Rampart having him for a father?"
"Lie. Betelgeuse, we're multidimensional criminals. We lie, cheat and steal for the fun of it. We fear no forms. Leave the Social Security numbers blank. And the names for that matter. Just put the nicknames in. I'll have to take care of that next week. In fact . . . " He dug into the file of documents and pulled out birth certificates and social security numbers from a parallel world. "I'll check these. Depending on the amount of separation, we may be able to use them."
Betelgeuse frowned. "Not if the person is still alive."
"Ouch. True. Ugg, I hate Social Security. Maybe I should go do it right now . . . "
"No. Fill out these forms first. We'll correct things as we get usable documentation."
"And watch out for changes in the birth year we need to make. Those bubbles . . . "
Betelgeuse nodded. "Both fast and slow. Harm's about half her calendar age, most of the rest are a couple of years ahead. Not to mention the different dates in different worlds. It's 2038 here. Oh dear. The three Houston birth certificates are for 2041."
"Something tells me I'm going to be busy at the Social Security office."
"Sixteen kids worth of busy."
He wound up taking all week, as he flew to Houston and with a bit of mental persuasion got access to the county's files. With a bit of help from a dazzled supervisor, he found babies who had died and ran off copies of their birth certificates, requested official copies be notarized and mailed, and removed references to their death certificates from the relevant indexes. In some ways, electronic records were nice. You didn't have to remove the physical copies, nor the electronic copies. The chance of someone looking for a physical copy of something that wasn't on the electronic index was minimal. Then off to the Social Security Office where a lot more force was needed in the compulsion spells. The people who worked here had built up strong mental resistance, even though all their other clients used verbal methods. But he got all nine of the needed documents applied for and in the mail, and the crucial information for the school forms in hand.
He called Betelgeuse, with the kids new "legal" names and numbers so she could finish the forms before the kids were tested.
Then he flew to Salem, Oregon, and did the same for the younger kids. It was tough with the smaller population. But only Harm needed to change her name drastically. And since the school forms had had a place for nicknames, all was well.
The house was quiet when he walked back in.
Betelgeuse waved from the kitchen, and he joined her for lunch.
"They put Roddie in fifth grade. The rest in third and fourth. They were surprised they were so far along. But only Roddie was so far ahead they moved him out of his age group. They're all in this thing they called a gate program, for gifted and talented children. Nightmare, Oppression and Persuasion all started kindergarten yesterday. It's so quiet with only four little ones around. I thought we'd hire a nanny and a maid, and . . . I've been looking at some colleges." She sounded wistful.
"Good plan. What do you think you'll take?"
"Oh, everything! I missed out on any sort of normal school, so I think I'll start with the basics at the community college."
"Sounds good. Let's find a Nanny. Maybe a cook as well as a maid, eh?"
He sniffed. "No reason for you to get stuck with all the work. High time you were allowed to be normal. By the calendar you're about ten, and your time, I'll bet you're not twenty yet."
She frowned up at him. "Eldon, I grew up with the gang. How did a nice guy like you end up with us?"
"Ah, I met Heso, Zap and Ricardo at Prairie Coast, the Wizards School, you know? Ronnie and I palled around with them, a few Rip Crossing Orgies and such. Then Ricardo opened up the Edge of the World Resort, and I went there fairly often. One morning after an orgy, they all cleared out, and I went with them. About a week later I heard about the prince being assassinated . . . and I was on the list of suspects. Maybe I should have left them, then. Gone to the King's Own and told all, right then. But I didn't. I just joined them in running around stealing stuff. Stayed drunk so I was too miserable to think about it. There weren't any more assassinations. At least not that I knew of. Got caught, spent a couple of years listening to all the other guys’ excuses. The guards that were killed during the escape, those weren’t my fault. I didn't feel like a killer until the raid on the mansion. I didn't kill anyone myself, but one of the King's Own was killed. Hell, I knew Dominic from wizard's school, too. After that there really wasn't any going back. Well, all right, I had trouble getting out of that goat spell. Then that World's collective subconscious decided I was the God of Perverts or Bestiality or something.”
He looked around. "That's why I like this world. It's not pushing me. There's so many atheists the Collective is ambivalent about gods."
Betelgeuse nodded. "I just grew up, and practically begged to be allowed to go rob a bank with all of you. I didn't think about right or wrong. Now I'm starting to, and it's weird to look at Mom and Rior, and see how corrupt they are. Epee and Falchion, with not a single hint of conscience between them. They feel so shallow. Or thin, maybe. Lacking the dimension of conscience, morality. And Heso's just a slob who follows orders. At least you were nice. When you were sober."
Eldon winced. "Yeah. Sometimes I wish we hadn't reconnected with the others. We could just be normal, become a part of this society."
There was a double thump from the front door, stumbling footsteps.
Eldon barely beat Betelgeuse to the front entry. Jade and Heso, supporting each other as they staggered toward the nearest couch.
"Quicksilver, again. And Xen. We crossed four worlds to get here, but you'd better close all your Gates and Corridors, they'll be looking for us." Jade was glassy eyed, and Betelgeuse grabbed her, shooting Eldon a panicked look.
"I'll close down everything." Eldon said. He stepped outside and with his eyes closed could see the dimpled scar of the Gate attachment. But with the Gate itself gone, nothing but a detailed search would find the scar. Jade must have been able to locate her daughter, somehow. I wonder if I could find . . . well . . . Never mind. He walked over to the garage, and stepped through to his garage in Altadena. He reluctantly released the Corridors to several local destinations. They'd saved him a bunch of commuting time, but . . . He drove his Mercedes through to the northern California garage, and released the Corridor to his little place in LA. Drat. Now he was going to have to drive back to do that wretched advertisement next week.
Back in the house, Heso was oozing on the couch. Eldon fetched that wine and gave him a shot of it. "Come on, let's find out how much of that blood is yours."
"I think it's mostly Greg."
"Who? Never mind, I don't want to know." He dragged Heso reluctantly to his feet and up the stairs. Down into the adults wing. He aimed Heso at the shower and then went hunting for clothes that would fit him. He passed Betelgeuse, her arms full of clothes.
"What are we going to do? After all our talk about normality!"
"Well, we insist that they either live honestly or leave. It's football season, so I can park Heso in front of a TV and he'll be happy. Jade . . . Maybe we can build a little Quiet Place out on the land, somewhere. Maybe she'll change, once she's not being forced in any direction. She could be the senior sister of a new pyramid, as the kids grow up."
Betelgeuse blinked damp eyes and nodded. She walked on, clearly thinking.
And of course one of the first things he needed to do was illegal. He made them some Driver's Licenses, the main form of ID for adults. He'd have to go back to the records departments down in LA. Find someone who'd died and steal their government numbers. Life just sucked sometimes.