Note: These events occur during the time that was not counted, more than 187 years before the events of Newfound Courage.
Solvent Market was simultaneously one of the luckiest and unluckiest humans in the whole Afterwhen. His every fortune was perfectly weighted with tragedy.
While his family was one of the very few to survive the world’s first death, they did so trapped underground in a deeply unpleasant place. He had plenty of food, but it was a tasteless moss that had an unpleasant grainy texture.
Water wasn’t a problem either, but no matter how much he boiled it, every drop had a deep copper taint. He was surrounded by family members, all of whom were long dead.
While today started as any day in Solvent’s tiny world did, it would end in the utter annihilation of everything that he ever thought to be true.
When he awoke, it was the seventh week since he had initially forgotten to open his eyes. His world was so truly small, and so completely under his control, that without even realising, he had begun to move exclusively through touch and muscle memory.
Solvent got to his feet, his bones creaking, and began his daily rituals.
He slowly shuffled three steps to the left of the centre of his universe and gently chimed, “Good morning, Susan”. Solvent never spoke above a whisper, just like his family before him.
Four steps to the right, “Hello, Arthur”. Five steps ahead, then one diagonally to the upper left, “How about this weather we’re having Sundeep?” At each stop, he reached out his hand and shook it in the air, imitating a handshake.
If he’d had his eyes open that morning, he might have realised that his daily routine, his carefully choreographed waltz in the dark, was but a single step to the left off. As a result, seventeen minutes later he sent Susan’s bones crashing to the ground.
The silence was broken. A silence that, with the exception of his own voice, had not been broken in such a long time. Solvent had forgotten that silence was something that could be interrupted when he didn’t specifically will it to be so.
This unnerved Solvent. His world was small, but his world was his.
To calm himself he decided he would have to dream. He finally noticed that his eyes were closed. He paused, briefly wondering how long it had been since he had last used his sense of sight. With some difficulty, he then opened his eyes. He blinked for a few moments before heading directly to the centre of his universe.
Therein stood the shelf that contained the liquid that gave him dreams today and headaches tomorrow. Happiness weighted perfectly with pain.
With an arched back he gently ran his finger over the colourful bottles. They glowed in every colour Solvent had ever known: green, blue and purple. To him they were beauty. They were the only thing that broke the unrelenting grey. The only thing worth opening his eyes for.
He tried not to play favourites with the bottles, so while the green bottles sung to him, he used them most recently, and if he was honest with himself, most commonly. So today would be a purple day.
When the lid came off, Solvent breathed in deeply. Before long, he was surrounded by colours that only existed in his dreams. Sunny yellows, strong pinks and violent reds. It was beautiful, the most beautiful thing in his universe.
He understood completely why his parents had named him after them. The beauty they let him dream was the most pure in his universe.
This time, when Solvent awoke, he remembered to open his eyes. His head stung, as he had expected. Since he had fallen asleep before he finished his routine, it was still yesterday to him.
To accompany his ringing head, he noticed his stomach was roaring at him. He fixed himself a large bowl of moss, and accompanied it with a cup of water. The only enjoyment Solvent got from the meal was the elevation of his stomach pain and a slight numbing to his headache.
Afterwards, he continued on with his routine in the dark and eventually, he made it to his final stop. At this stop was a simple grey box, with two clean sets of bones laying inside. His mother and father.
He sat on the ground at their feet and hummed to them until he lost track of himself.
He was still humming when, for the second time that day, there was a sound that Solvent did not sanction. Perhaps the loudest sound he had ever heard. A deep, hollow crack that shook him, then, a hole opened up in the roof of his world, and through it, a male human fell.
Fear stormed through Solvent before settling unpleasantly in his stomach.
He flew to the centre of his universe and picked up a bottle of green liquid. He hugged it close to his body, and retreated into the densest shadow he could find.
The human who had fallen through the roof groaned as he lay on the ground. Solvent watched him.
He was dressed in a light brown, long sleeved shirt with dark brown trousers. His right arm was mechanical and built from copper. Nestled on top of a messy mop of hair sat a thick pair of goggles. A glowing warm white light was strapped to his left shoulder.
After staring at the other human for a few moments, Solvent had a startling realisation, his world suddenly contained the colours that had only previously existed in his dreams. Things that he always thought were gray, were red, or yellow or pink. These colours had existed all around him, and he had no idea.
For the first time in his life, the sun was pouring into Solvent’s little universe.
While this alone was enough to move Solvent into a state of shock, there was one more thing.
It was a sensation on his skin, he let it take him. It was cool, fresh, and cleansing. It was spinning and dancing all around him, it ruffled his hair and breathed through his clothes. It was something he could never have comprehend if it were explained to him.
It was fresh air.
“Oh no,” whispered a trembling voice.
Torn from his euphoria, Solvent edged out of the shadow, squinting against the light and focused on this new figure. He was sitting up now, and he looked at least as terrified as Solvent had felt a few moments earlier.
Noticing Solvent for this first time, he scrambled to his feet. Then, he stood, staring down his copper shoulder at him.
“How... how did you bring those colours... in here?” asked Solvent in his whisper.
“Are we in Deadworld?” responded the other human in a voice that to anyone else would have been a normal speaking voice, but to Solve, was screaming.
Panicked now, Solvent responded “but the colours, how did you - “.
Solvent was interrupted by the other human, “Are we in Deadworld?” he repeated.
“There are... other worlds?” enquired Solvent, curious, “this isn’t all there is?”
A change washed over the other humans face. Pity.
“You’ve been down here a long time, haven’t you?”
Solvent wasn’t sure how to answer this, he said ‘down here’ like there was some sort of ‘up there’.
“I’ve always been here”, replied Solvent.
That seemed to solidify his pity. He sighed, looking down at the ground for a moment, before looking up and staring Solvent directly in the eyes.
“My name is Jorrow, what’s yours?”
“My name is Solvent Market”.
“That’s a... I’m going to call you Solve for short, is that okay?”
A welcoming smile grew on Jorrow’s face as he reached out his still human hand to Solve. Solve reached back and took it. Solve was finally shaking hands with a living person again.
“I didn’t mean to fall through your roof Solve, I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to patch it up once I’m out of here,” said Jarrow.
“Are those... those colours and this... this air, are they up there?” stammered Solve.
Speaking quietly to match Solve, Jarrow replied “Ah... yeah, they are.”
This was all very hard to comprehend to Solve. He had never even imagined there was something outside his universe before. But there was. It had more colour. It had better air.
Solve walked back into the shadows, still clinging to the bottle of green liquid, while Jarrow stacked rubble to build makeshift stairs.
Could he continue being here, knowing that there was more out there? He fought with this question. Could he continue his routine down here when the colours could guide his days up there?
What about his parents? What about Susan, Arthur, Sundeep and the others? This was where they lived their lives, and where they rested now. Was it not good enough for Solve to do the same?
There was a crash as Jarrow’s makeshift stairs partially collapsed. He didn’t curse, yell or wince, he just continued on, patiently.
Glancing over at him again, Solve noticed how the other human was trembling.
“Are you... okay, Jarrow?”
“Oh, yes of course it’s just... well, you do know this place is basically a nightmare, right?”
“You mean, it’s not like this up there?”
“No, it’s not. If I’m being honest with you, I’d never even seen human bones before falling through your roof.”
Never seen human bones before? What on earth did he do with his ancestors? Bury them in some pit? Like a barbarian?
Interrupting Solve’s train of thought Jarrow said, “where I’m from we are taught from a young age about Deadworld. The world beneath our own. We’re taught to fear it. For good reason too: it’s dangerous.”
“It’s not dangerous. My family has lived here since the beginning.”
“There is a lot they didn’t tell you, I’m afraid, Solve,” he paused, “would you like to come up with me?”
He felt his insides squirm as he grappled again with the thought of leaving. It made him feel guilty but it made him feel relieved and after a few moments of hesitation, he responded, “yes.”
When Solve followed Jarrow up his makeshift stairs and into the wide world of Afterwhen, he took nothing with him.
“Should we repair the roof before we go?” ask Jarrow.
“No... I think they would have like to know there was still colour after all.”
By Curtis Campion