The imported jar is filled to its midpoint with a soft, transparent dust which, according to its label, is a form of “powdered water.” The printed instructions on its reverse are easy to follow:

1. Fill the container to just beneath its lid with liquid water.

2. Insert cork.

3. Shake vigorously for thirty seconds.

Upon doing so, the substance slowly rehydrates and returns to its original form. Once this is done, however, the bottle contains less water by volume than was added in the initial step. In other words, the net amount of physical water in the universe decreases.

While seemingly paradoxical, the reason behind this conclusion is easy to understand. The reintroduction of water to the substance appears to restore it to its initial state, but the amount of water required for each individual granule to obtain its original properties is a greater volume than that of the granule itself. If the water is dehydrated once more, the original amount of water is again present- but so is the same amount of powder. The thing without itself is somehow of greater mass than the thing itself.

A question then arises: if rehydrating the water results in less water overall, why would anyone manufacture such a thing as powdered water? After all, the dehydration of goods typically allows for the storage of a greater quantity for later use, but in this case, the opposite is clearly true. In fact, its presence only seems to take away from the universe at large.

The answer appears to be that powdered water is not a product in itself, but rather, a byproduct. The dehydration of water is the real meaningful process, as it allows for a greater volume of water to be produced from a smaller volume. Due to the law of conservation of mass, however, the sudden introduction of new matter into the universe results in the creation of a sort of negative matter- a material debt. This residue can be held, felt, and even tasted, but it’s not there, nor is it not there- rather, it is less than there.

Powdered water is, if nothing else, just this: a simple reminder of that which is owed to the void. Somewhere else, out in the abyss between stars, the interest of a much greater debt is slowly accumulating: that of the existence of all things. It is too large to ever be paid off, but it also cannot be defaulted upon. As such, the bottle’s owner has a choice: they can either follow the listed instructions and pay their dues as part of their place in the cosmos; or, they can accept the futility of such an action, and empty it into the wind.

Gnomes have a more intimate relationship with this debt than humans.

Cuttlefish have a special organ dedicated to carrying this debt substance while visible.

Ingesting the debt for one's own existence can be performed to travel between worlds.