Digdoug – Episode 20
“It’s this one,” said Dove, pointing over the little rise as she topped it.
They were all of fifty steps from her living-wagon, where they had stopped briefly to fetch Digdoug’s trousers and for Dove to change as well. Many other such “vardo” wagons were parked near the main road in the Carnyvale. Some of them doubled as magic shops, or even folded out into booths (for gambling) or small stages (for putting on a show). But the ones that were just for living quarters were parked farther back in the grass.
The Dirtamancer shuffled his way behind her, sensing the ground with his feet. He could detect the lead piping that led down to the aquifer before he could see the above-ground components she was pointing to.
A few Carnies sat around on crates, talking quietly. One was passed out completely in the dewy grass. Dove stepped right over him. Digdoug walked around.
The water pump was made of black cast iron, spotted with rust. It was set into a small platform of sandstone and mortar, with no drain other than the sleeving around the main pipe. Digdoug stepped over to it without a word and touched it, sensing the mechanism all the way to its intake cylinder, far underground. The wellspring below was full and fresh, and the pipes seemed okay from here. It was probably the pump mechanism.
“Can you get it working?” Dove asked.
He could. It would be trivial. “I think so,” he said. “Give me some time with it.”
“How much time?”
Really, he only wanted to be left alone for a little while. He glanced up at the morning sun in the milk-white sky. “Hour or two?”
She studied his face. “Want me to stick around?”
Digdoug shook his head. “No. Not necessary.”
“Okay, I’ll be in my vardo. Holler if you need me.” She paused for a moment as if expecting him to say something, but he turned his back to her and pretended to closely examine the pump. A few seconds later, her steps receded away over the grass.
He sighed in relief.
Dove had been perfectly kind to him this morning—and last night too, if he cared to admit it. If she was telling the truth, then he actually owed her his life. She’d given him one “Rand” (a new stat point that he’d never even heard of before) so he wouldn’t disband. Only a minute or two after that, the sun had risen, the Rand was gone, and his physical wounds had healed.
He didn’t know if he should consider that a favor or not. He really didn’t know what value he put on his own life.
It certainly wasn’t much. Without Homekey, what did he have? All of the people he’d been living for were gone now. And wherever they’d gone to, he ought to be with them. He should be standing before the Titans right now, with King Posbrake and the rest of His Majesty’s subjects.
He didn’t want to be alive. Why should he? The only thing he found himself actually wanting was to know what had happened, how Homekey had lost. And if he were up in the clouds, facing Titanic judgment, then presumably They would at least answer that for him.
Down here on the ground, the answers would be a lot harder to come by.
He touched the broken water pump idly. Here was a thing that had lost its only purpose, too. Would he be doing it a “favor” by putting it to work again, or was it at peace now? Maybe it liked being broken. Maybe it didn’t want people jerking its handle all of the time.
He felt his way into the metal, unable to help himself. There was a Dirtamancy problem in front of his face; he had to investigate it.
Most Dirtamancy improvements lasted a pretty long time—from dozens to thousands of turns—just not forever. City managers and units with the fabrication special could keep basic emplacements and traps operating indefinitely, but when fixtures like this water pump broke down, you needed some form of Stuffamancy to repair or replace them.
The iron housing was sound, with no major breaks or cracks. He spent a little juice cleaning up the rust inside and out, and lifted up the handle. He loosened the primer plug with his other hand, and created a few slugs of water inside the suction line, costing a tad more juice. Then he let go of the handle and waited.
If he guessed right, then it would be the leather seal on the stroke rod that needed replacing. The water should drain away through the leaky seal right away.
It did not.
Hm. He sat down on the grass to give it a few minutes, just to prove the integrity of the seal before he tried pulling on the handle. The scruffy, passed-out man snored obnoxiously beside him, a glistening of drool running out of the corner of his mouth. A seal might do some good there, too.
Dove had said he could work off his Rand by doing some repair work for her. She’d used this pump regularly before it broke. So did several of her neighbors, including “Doctor” Herbert Sassafras, the Healomancer who had brought him back from terminal incapacitation (if only by the barest minimum). Dove had said that the Doc would call it even if Digdoug fixed the pump, so that was where he’d started. But there were other chores on Dove’s list.
“Covering your upkeep is the most important thing here,” she had told him on the walk back from Portal Park. “You just don’t know. People disband. I’ve had ta let people I know disband. There’s not a lot of charity goin’ around, you know? You gotta find work. It’s all about survival.”
She couldn’t have picked a topic that interested him any less than his own survival. He hadn’t asked her for the Rand. He would pay it back, but she should have just let him go to the Titans while he was lying there on the ground, crying.
Something else she’d said made him curious enough to break out of his moody silence, though. “You let your friends disband?”
Dove had stared up the road at that point, with a bleak and distant look. “Yeah. You gotta, sometimes. There’s only so much you can loan a guy before you realize you’re never gettin’ paid back. They’re just gonna disband eventually, owing you everything. At that point, it’s just a question of how much you’re gonna lose when they do go.”
Digdoug had trouble fathoming it. “You had the money. But you wouldn’t give it to them?”
Dove gave him a hard, narrow-eyed glare. “That’s right.”
“You mean you looked them in the eye, and told them you wouldn’t give them money to save their life?”
“I did save his life, Digdoug. Two, three, five times, whatever. So did other people. But how many times is too many? I finally had to tell him, no. Not this time. Go take the Long Walk. Wa’n’t like he hadn’t done that before.” She looked up the road again. “But that time, he didn’t come back. I’ve been through that with a couple of people since. That’s why I said, ‘I never do that.’ Usually, I don’t anymore. It’s a...waste.”
They had gone on in silence for a little while, until curiosity again got the better of Digdoug’s mind. “What’s the Long Walk?”
She’d pointed vaguely in the direction of the morning sun. “East side of the island. There’s a place called Short Pier there. If you can’t pay your upkeep, then you go stand there to watch the sunrise and disband. If somebody’s feeling generous, maybe they go by and save you. It’s our last resort. There’s somebody there almost every day, sometimes more than one.”
Digdoug decided that if he did take the Long Walk, he would go to the other side of the island, where nobody would find him.
He spent a few more minutes sitting there on the grass, listening to the sleeping man’s muculent snoring as well as to the distant music of some Rhyme-o-mancy instrument with a lot of whistling pipes in it. The Carnyvale was designed to attract casters from all over the Magic Kingdom in an open attempt to part them from their Shmuckers and Rands. It cultivated an atmosphere of wild revelry, in a place where he gathered the entertainment options were pretty slim. Casters with money trickled in to spend it or gamble it, day or night.
...Instead of going out to Short Pier and saving someone’s life, he suddenly realized. Digdoug shook his head. How completely pointless. What was wrong with people? With the world?
He stood up and tried again to focus on a problem that was less pointless. That water in the priming chamber was staying put, so he pulled down hard on the handle to see what came of it.
He felt water rising up through the pipe, so he kept pumping the handle. The sound echoing through the nozzle rose in pitch as the water took up more and more space. But before more than a trickle had splurted out onto the stones, that sound got lower again. The water retreated back down the pipe. He pumped harder, but he couldn’t stay ahead of the leak.
Ah. Foot valve.
He let go of the handle and placed both hands on the pump housing. Reaching down with his mind, he felt his way through the cool lead and even cooler water, seeking the brass intake cylinder. Lead, lead, lead-lead-lead, lead...brass.
Yes. He could feel the busted spring on the foot valve. It wasn’t closing, so the water was leaking right back out as it was pumped. But his sense of the mechanism from here was muddled and imprecise, and his control was even worse. Work at this scale was really Changemancy, although a Changemancer would have had to extract the whole pump from the well to work on it.
He made two attempts to replace the spring from here, but it was beyond his skill. Counting the two he'd created, there were now three bad springs jammed into the foot valve. He sighed, then cast a fairly hefty fabrication spell, a blunt force solution. The spell would simply replace the entire intake assembly with an almost identical one.
“Sargent/York!” he intoned.
After a moment’s pause, he primed the pump again and began to work the handle. Cold, clear water splashed all over the stones, washing over his bare feet. And even after twenty pumps, it was still flowing. Problem solved. It felt shockingly good.
“I have Dirtamancy,” he said aloud, in answer to his own question.
Without Homekey, he still had his craft. Dirtamancy wasn’t a home. It wasn’t a side to fight for, or a King he respected, or friends he loved. But it wasn’t nothing.
“Dirtamancy?” said a voice behind him.
Digdoug turned to see that the passed-out man had risen unsteadily to his feet. He clutched a brown glass flask, which he held up to his lips for a generous swig. Then he popped a cork in the neck and placed it inside the pocket of his patched up coat. The man squinted at him, as if his vision wasn’t particularly clear.
“Yes,” said Digdoug. “I, uh...fixed the pump, if you want a drink.”
“Hmf, right,” said the man, nodding to himself with a bitter little smile. “Hands off,” he muttered. “Dove’s mark.”