It came down like snow. Like a blizzard, in fact, smearing the space between the cloud tops and the ground into a disorienting blur of whirling, blinding, chaotic particles. For a moment, just before descent, Ken became absorbed in the abstract motion and found it profoundly beautiful. Perhaps it was this tendency—to become transfixed by the tumult—that led to this outcome. But soon he shook it away, remembered that millions were dead and dying, and he sighed loudly. Responsibility sat heavy on his sagging shoulders.
Only the impressive spire of the five-kilometer-tall Citadel Tower stood above the artificial clouds that now wrapped Rocinante’s moon, Dorothea, in a bright choking dust. Cervantes was the most populated system outside of Sol, and Dorothea was its crown jewel. It certainly sparkled now, multifaceted to the last.
Ken set the shuttle down at the base of the tower. He couldn’t bring along all the equipment he’d wanted because the shuttle was so small, though it was the largest he could acquire with a polytessellated graphenite outer coating, which was needed to repel the twinkling smart dust trying to repurpose the hull’s atomic structure. Unfortunately, the coating also prevented him from propagating the null field from within the shuttle. He had to expose himself to the storm.
He accepted it as cosmic justice.
Ken set up the equipment he’d manage to fit into the cargo space—just the necessities: a generator, a propagator, and an amplifier, which he’d wired several levels of feedback loops into, hoping to maximize the effect. But he could only fine-tune the field while it was in use and conferring with the dust. He wished somebody had taken the time to come up with a polytessellated graphenite suit. Hmph…somebody. He started the equipment and dropped the cargo ramp.
The tiny, angry, confused particles breached the opening with the determination of killer bees. The rapid pulses knocked them down, but endless more pressed in. Ken continued to tune the null field as the smart dust nibbled at his fingers, his chest, and his eyes, but it was working. Countless lives would be saved by his actions today, but not his. And it wasn’t for his sacrifice that he’d be remembered.