As he stepped out of the air-conditioned court building into the warm outside air, Jamieson looked up and frowned. The sky was dark, with a funny mottled look to it. Rain coming then, perhaps a thunderstorm. A bad one, by the look of it. He couldn’t recall seeing a darker sky in the middle of the day.
Long ago, when he had been a boy, he would of course have thought it was going to snow. It was February, after all. But there hadn’t been a snowfall here now for – what? Thirty years, perhaps. No, it would be rain, maybe one of those torrential downpours that were happening more and more often now. Some people were saying they should be called monsoons – here in Edinburgh!
As he made his way down the street, the first drops began to fall, and he cursed himself for having forgotten his umbrella.
Except that the drops weren’t wet. He stopped, as many others were doing, and looked up. Black flakes were drifting down gently from above. Snow, then, after all. But… snow was white, wasn’t it? He couldn’t have forgotten that, could he? But these flakes were pitch black. Was there a fire somewhere?
He held out his palm and several of the flakes fell on it, each about a half-centimetre across. He rubbed one between his fingers and it crumbled into a very fine, black dust. Like black talcum powder, he thought. Irritatedly, he noticed that his fingers were now black, and rubbing them with his handkerchief didn’t clean them much.
He pulled out his phone and asked for the news. The first item sounded like some kind of international incident, typical stuff:
The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned India for its unilateral geoengineering action in the possible strongest terms….
He flipped past that story to the local news. Nothing about a fire there, but reports coming in about strange weather conditions.
The black flakes were falling fast now. His white shirt was going to be ruined. The flakes were so fine that they came apart on the slightest movement, and were powdering all over it. Damn, that was a £200 shirt!
The stuff was starting to build up on the pavement, too, and people were making tracks in it, their footprints looking remarkably like the prints that the original Apollo astronauts had made on the Moon before he was born. What a nuisance! Someone should be doing something about it.
Unwilling to get more of the stuff on him, Jamieson ducked into an arcade and lifted up his phone again. Surely there was some explanation?
But the front page was still stuck on that international story:
In Breaking News, the Indian Foreign Ministry has just released this statement….
Jamieson flipped directly to the statement. He fast-forwarded through the first few paragraphs.
…millions of Indians have died and are dying this minute due to the excessive heat, which has rendered many parts of India a desert. The intransigence of the major polluters in refusing to make the same drastic cuts in emissions that India herself made a decade ago…
More of that climate change claptrap, then. Jamieson looked out into the street. The black fall seemed, if anything, to be getting worse. The stuff was starting to form into drifts, and cars were starting to skid in it. There would be an accident any minute.
He looked back at the phone. It was saying:
…for this reason our scientists have developed a radical solution based on advanced nanotechnology. We have been working on this technique for the last twenty years in secret due to its possible military applications. However, today we have applied it to solving the world’s greatest problem…
Buckets-full of the black stuff now. It was starting to pile up, and for the first time he started to feel real unease. Would he be able to get home?
…powered by solar radiation, the nanomachines we released today are already converting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane into their elemental components…
A car skidded in the slippy, sooty material, and came sliding, swerving, directly towards Jamieson, not fast, but too fast for him to dodge. He dropped the phone and tried vainly to stop the vehicle from squashing him into the brick wall behind him. As a horrid internal blackness fell down upon him, the last words he heard were:
…further, the intelligent agents in these nanomachines have been directed to concentrate their efforts over the cities in the world in those nations which have been most responsible for our current situation, as a punishment for the refusal of the major powers…
Two hundred and fifty years of the Industrial Revolution, triggered off by the Scotsman James Watt, two hundred and fifty years of belching chimneys, of steam trains, of cars and ships and planes powered by fossil fuels, by coal and gas and oil.
Two hundred and fifty years later, the carbon was coming home.
by David R Grigg
(C) Copyright David R Grigg 2012. All rights reserved.