Dr. Conjeeca's office was wide but shallow, so although it took them several steps from the door to reach his desk, they both had to breathe in to squeeze into the chairs. Dr. Conjeeca slid the desk towards him slightly, allowing Darnelle more leg room. The desk was stacked with manila folders, each a file of an orphan at the Orphanarium. Dr. Conjeeca had a policy of never putting a file in the filing cabinets to his left until he'd read it, but more and more of them were starting to build up on his desk. When he'd first planned the Orphanarium -- a cross between an Orphanage and an Aquarium to be funded almost completely by the state -- he'd expected that his staff would do most of the management for him, leaving him to do paperwork, fund-raise, and plan tasteful exhibitions of orphans. Somewhere under the piles of manila folders were the draft layouts for an exhibition of Orphanism-through-the-ages which he'd not seen in weeks.
"Are all the offices in this place funny shapes?" said Darnelle, shifting her weight uncomfortably. She told people she was heavy-boned, though lately the scales had been suggesting that she was laying down lead instead of calcium in her bones.
"Yes, they were fitted in around the central theatre. The walls are heavily reinforced to ensure that water never leaks. There are bank vaults that are less secure that the centre of the Orphanarium." Dr. Conjeeca's voice had taken on a wistful tinge of pride and his eyes were sliding away from Darnelle to the framed cover of Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies hanging on the inside of the door.
"Right. Well, you were asking about other admissions," said Darnelle, hurrying to cut him off before he could get started on mermaids. "Anneliese came in a couple of days before James as well, and she's a bit of an odd case."
"Anneliese Maarhut?" Dr. Conjeeca's eyebrows twitched, dark bushy lines like speed-bumps for sweat.
"Ye-es," said Darnelle, who didn't have a clue what Anneliese's surname was. "How do you know that?"
"She came with a bequest," said Dr. Conjeeca, riffling through a stack of folders until he found the one he was looking for. "It's in here. We get, ahem, a sum of mone-- an annuity -- for as long as we bring her up to believe that she has no DNA. It's a very strange bequest, is that why you mention her?"
"Partly," said Darnelle. "I didn't know they'd gone that far. Poor little dingbat."
Dr. Conjeeca rolled his grey eyes but said nothing; they were in his office now where the children couldn't hear.
"She's here because her parents went to court to get her declared an orphan. They were very determined people, and frankly it looks like it was a fairly horrific case. The courts don't like taking children away from people unless they're poor people, and both of Anneliese's parents stand to inherit large fortunes. The judge tried every trick he could think of to keep the child with them, but they'd hired better lawyers. There's also a rumour they hired hitmen, but since Anneliese's still here that's probably not true."
"Probably," murmured Dr. Conjeeca. "But why orphan your own child like that?"
"They said they couldn't live with her anymore. They said, and she agreed, that she sees things."
"Ah, hallucinations? Or are these spirit visitations?"
"Possibly both, but possibly neither. She sees retarded angels."
"What?" Dr. Conjeeca dropped the manila folder and papers spilled out over the astroturf his office was carpeted with.
"She sees retarded angels. She's very clear on this, I had a long talk with her when she arrived. She said that sometimes when angels play frisbee with their haloes some are knocked from the clouds. Of those that fall, some hit the ground head first and suffer serious brain damage. She says that God refuses to heal them because he's banned frisbee in favour of UFC, so she takes care of them for him."
"She... takes care... of them?"
"I don't know quite what she means, but she seems to have a retinue of them. They seem to be the opposite of a guardian angel; instead of them looking after her, she looks after them and sees that no harm comes to them."
"This has to be a straight-forward case of narrow-focus quixoticism, surely?" Dr. Conjeeca bent down to collect the paperwork up.
"I'm still reviewing her case. There have been a couple of what you might call 'retarded miracles' involving her. For instance, she fell out of a tree a couple of days before being sent here, and before she struck the ground it miraculously turned into yoghurt. Unpasteurised, so almost as risky as hitting the ground itself."
"That's unusual," Dr Conjeeca nodded. "How can I recognise her?"
"She still smells rather strongly of cheese, you can't miss her. She's not the oddest case in recently though."