The Plumber

When a pipe in the middle of campus bursts, it causes a significant problem for a number of students. They have classes on the other side of the sidewalks that are currently awash in running water three times wider than the sprinkler overflow. And annoyingly enough, it’s a water main. So it’s not just three or four sidewalks covered, but half the campus is cut off from the dorms and other buildings. The grass is swimming in it, and the water is coming out just fast enough that it flows there too, like a swamp. There’s a significant portion of faculty that can’t cross, either, and there’s a general, heavy feeling of unease as those who can cross the water begin to realize the friend they were walking with is stopped just before it. Stuck.

She isn’t called.

But sometime around lunch, when the crowded cafeteria is even more packed than usual thanks to people who can’t go back to their dorms, a big, unmarked truck pulls into the parking lot, and a woman climbs out of the driver’s seat. She opens the back on an array of tools, a number of which she puts in a bucket, and a few of which she puts on her shoulder before, without being told, she wades into the now-four-inches-deep water and follows it to its source.

Trailing on her heels is something that is not a dog. The Gentry know it is not a dog, and clear a path for the mortal woman it accompanies without having to be told. Ignoring, deliberately, that she comes only with a ring of steel, wrenches of aluminum, and not an ounce of salt to be found on her person.

A student that sees it go by remembers a voice, lost now, whispering in their ear “It’s a dog today” and hurries into a building out of its line of sight.

The Plumber surveys the damage, the water six inches deep here where the break is, and sighs.

“Water,” she tells the crowd, “Is not going to be available to that half of campus,” she points to the dorms, “until this is fixed. I’ll have to shut it off. No showers, don’t use the toilets.”

She knows the word will get to where it needs to go, and moves off to find the shutoff with the Not-A-Dog trotting at her side. He helps her dig out the pipe itself, because she didn’t bring a digger or any heavy equipment, and she thanks him with a scratch behind the ears and a kiss on the nose.

After, she swears, blistering the air almost visibly, when the problem comes to light. It reminds the watchers that she wasn’t called. She’s simply shown up where she’s needed, because this is a thick pipe; an old pipe. It’s been eaten away by time, cracked, and collapsed, and a fairly large section of it is unsalvageable. She’s going to have to cut it out.

That brings a few more almost familiar curses to light where They flinch, knowing too-well where she learned them, and with whom she walks.

Somehow, one of the Geology Lab’s rock-cutters is in her bucket of tools. It makes cutting out the ruined section of pipe much faster, and she doesn’t question it. She measures, swears, cuts, and all the while the crowd, standing around in almost-stagnant water, inches a little closer and a little closer.

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