Stop me if feels like you’ve met this chap before (you haven’t):
“Before that, he’d worked his way across the sky, serving time on freighters and troop transports, slogging all the way from the core to the rim and back again, saving up the money to buy his own ship. Over the years, he’d hauled every sort of cargo. He’d seen the sun rise on a dozen different worlds, had his nose broken in a bar, and married twice. He’d lost his first wife to infidelity, the second — Amber’s mother — to complications during childbirth. There had been nothing permanent in his life. He remembered it as one long series of farewells. Even now, at the end of his career, he was saying goodbye to his only daughter.”
That’s the rather splendidly named Caesar Murphy, space pilot extraordinaire, setting off on his final flight: a record-breaking trip through “the pitiless fires of hyperspace”, driven by a recurring dream to return an alien creature to “the ruins of an ancient citadel, on a dying planet circling a swollen star”. The first half of the story is a brisk-to-the-point-of-abbreviation collection of scenes that introduce Murphy, his situation, his spaceship, and his love, Maya (“an accomplished jumper in her own right”, of course). The second half is more detailed, more interesting, features the titular dust, and culminates in a moment that could almost be a knowing evisceration of what has come before: Murphy, born in two dimensions, utterly unable to cope with the more emotionally ambitious situation he’s ended up in.
But the story doesn’t know what it has, and doesn’t have the weight to make it work. Murphy turns his ship, and “in the harsh light of the dying sun”, with “the throttle wide open”, it leaps “like an arrow into the empty sky”. It needed to cut the sky like scissors.