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The Dig pt. 3 (Dust, story 2)

The dim light in Dashner's office shimmers in a gray haze. The sound of the wind has grown clear, though still far off. He's standing in front of the window, looking into the rest of the facility, his hands clasped behind his back.

He's wearing a gas mask, one he liberated from the scavenger team's supplies weeks ago. He made sure to get one with a scratch-free facemask. He didn't want to be blind when everything went haywire. He smiles at his foresight.

The light behind him flicks out and comes on, then flicks out again. Dashner does not move and quietly watches the darkness. A dim, blue glow appears on the far side of the complex.

The door swings open and Director Jacobson steps in. His mask is a simpler one, one that a painter might have used. His exposed eyes are perpetually bloodshot now — he cannot see without his glasses, and he could not find goggles that would let him use them.

He steps into the office, flashlight in hand, and a cough wracks his frame. He gathers the phlegm, lifts the mask, and splatters it on Dashner's floor.

"We're almost there," Dashner says without turning.

"Maybe you are," the Director says, "but most of us will never get to see the results of your little experiment."

"This is going to make the storm stop; it will make the air breathable again."

"It better."

"It will."

The Director begins another coughing fit. He stumbles in and collapses into the chair.

"Not that it matters to the rest of us either way," the Director says.

They are both quiet, staring out the window and the growing blue light.

"You screwed us," the Director says, "You screwed us all."

"I did what needed to be done."

"No, you screwed us," he says, then pauses. Another coughing fit interrupts the conversation. Dashner turns and stares.

"I did what is best for the most people," Dashner says, "It's unfortunate that some will need to die."

"Some?" the Director laughs, "You've killed off half of the settlement. The other half have all been exposed to this toxic filth. I doubt many will last a month."

"It had to be done. This is bigger than just this group of survivors. This affects the entire planet. The needs of…"

"Don't give me any of that Star Trek nonsense. This isn't a choice between whether we should act or not. We could have gotten to the same place without slaughtering the people we, that I have been tasked to guard. Your choices, our deaths."

The glow is now brilliant, bright enough that Dashner and the Director are forced to turn away. They can now hear a loud hum and feel vibrations carried through the facility's infrastructure.

Suddenly, the light goes out. A second passes. Nothing happens. Another second passes and a series of sparks light up where the blue light was before. Next, a massive "boom" carries through the warehouse.

Dashner stairs out the window. His lungs refuse to work, and his heartbeat jumps. His legs go weak, and he stumbles back, grabbing hold of the desk.

"You're a damned fool," the Director says, "and you've doomed us all."

Dashner stands at the glass, looking out into the void beyond his office. The plastic of his gas mask now bears several scars and a crack down one side. He stifles a cough. The windows over the warehouse floor have long since collapsed, and the wind brought the dust into the warehouse. It spins and stirs, an echo of the ever tormented sky.

He knows that somewhere in the dark they are trying again. The few surviving engineers, maybe even the last of humanity, is working on his latest, no, his final design. There will be no more. If they cannot make this iteration work, then there will not be enough energy or enough people to run another experiment.

They all have it now, that fatal cough. The cough caused by the toxic storm that he let in. He let it into the compound, thinking that he was ready. And if he had been right, then the dust would have disappeared months ago. If he had been right then, no one would have died.

He coughs again. Pain shoots up out of his chest. So does the bitter, black phlegm. He spits it onto the floor. No one cares about where it lands anymore; there isn't enough power to keep his office lit anyway.

He thinks about what must be happening and sighs. Technicians are adjusting for the latest numbers, doing prep work. He wonders whether they are even bothering to do safety checks. Doesn't seem like there's much of a point, really.

He steps away from the glass. He waits for a sign, something that would tell him whether the technicians had succeeded. It's been an hour, but who knows how long it will take? The dust has been getting everywhere, and for all he knows, it might still be in the equipment.

He coughs again. He barely makes it into his chair. He has a few hours left, at the most. He fights to stay awake, to stay alert, but the cough takes more out of him every time.

No one would remember his name. No one would recognize that the world had ended and that Thomas Dashner reached out and gave it new life. No one would remember, but he'll at least be able to see. He'll be able to know that the world will not end. He couldn't know how many people were out there, but he hoped.

He hoped that there were people who survived this. If humanity continues, then that justifies his actions, right? If humans manage to re-populate the world, then the sacrifice he made — a few hundred lives — would be worth the billions of people who will come. That's not a bad trade, three hundred for billions, or maybe even trillions to come?

A cough wracks his body. He wants to remove the mask, to take a deep unhindered gasp. That will give him just a hint more air, just a bit more force to let him expell this gloop. But the dust is everywhere. An unfiltered breath will end it all.

He slumps over the arm of his chair, fighting to keep his eyes open. He stares out the office hoping, almost praying. Let it work, dear God just let it work.

A blue-white glow starts to build beyond the glass. It grows slowly. Soon enough, each of the dust particles in the body of the warehouse glows in its own blue-white light. The scene is brilliant and breathtaking. The dust is momentarily transformed into a terrestrial sun.

Dashner does not have the strength to block the light or turn away, and it hurts even with his eyes shut. He is glad of the pain.

Then, in half an instant, the light disappears. All that is left is the afterimage, burned into his cornea. Dashner smiles. He can see light and shadow beyond the glass, and he knows that that is the light of a single streetlight in the middle of the compound's square.

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