I think that before I really started working on the Dust, I hadn’t really thought of a whole lot of the setting, and then I just sort of made it up as I went along.
You can tell that there’s some inspirations in mythological tales for the names, but there’s also elements of American culture and other things as well.
Irkalla is mythological, Nuada and Atreon are references to things (I think? Atreon may just be “It sounds cool”), and Aspera is based off of the Latin word for hope (or, more particularly, the saying “Ad astra per aspera”).
Extropy is named after the transhuman Extropian movement, while Providence, Liberty, and Opportunity are all inspired by early American trappings.
The little intro exposition for this piece is inspired by Biblical stylings, and it was really the first effort I made in defining the setting’s boundaries outside of the titular dust of New Haven. I don’t remember if this was the first or second story I wrote after Grace, but I think it came really close after.
Eynsford is inspired in name by the Eynsford-Hills of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, though I don’t know if there’s really any significance to the choice of the name. I’ve sort of taken to picturing him like Sadavir Errinwright (spelling?) from The Expanse, for no particular reason other than the beginnings of their names and their similar political role.
The focus of this story was to introduce who the Federals were in a relatively “objective” light. They’re the “villains” of the setting, but I wanted them to not be mustachio-twirling damsel kidnappers. They provide for their own, but they’re also willing to foster conflict and perpetuate themselves where they aren’t needed.
Apparently I’m really fond of Bradford as a military name. I feel like that’s due to the influence of a particular historical figure, but I can’t put a face to the name, as it were. Likewise, I think I got Mikkelsen from a random name generator, but I at least remember Mads Mikkelsen’s existence.
Or it could just be that I went with the first Swedish/Scandinavian name I could think of, though Rose isn’t a particularly Nordic name.
And it was recorded
among the first arrivals that there were six-hundred thousand among the
frozen. Around the binary stars of Aspera, there were six colonies:
Irkalla on New Haven closest to the sun, Providence and Liberty on
Jefferson, Extropy on Narcissus, Opportunity on Atreon, and Dublin-II on
Eynsford leaned back in
his chair and sighed. Despite his triumph, he could not help but feel a
bittersweet twinge of regret in the founding of a new empire. “So it is
Aspera had never seen a
real war. They were conspiring to shatter that peace. Such had been the
vogue on old Earth, or so he had been told. Such things were far in the
Of course, so were shooting wars.
The reply came from a
gravel voice with the patience of one rarely interrupted underpinned by
the urgency of one used to making demands. “The coalition is solid.
There is no reason for us not to cooperate. After all, New Haven’s
resources are barred from us if we lack a military capable of taking
“You always worry, Secretary Eynsford. Our worlds are more than capable of coming together to mutual prosperity.” Rose Mikkelsen was Aspera’s most dangerous woman, whether or not Extropy would formally pledge allegiance to her, and Patrick Eynsford had to admit that he had thought of her more than once when he was nursing a glass of wine alone after a diplomatic hearing. Her red dress was the sort of thing one expected to see at a gala, not the negotiating table, but he couldn’t help staring just a little.
That was her intention.
“I’ve already prepared replicants for deployment. Give the signal, and we’ll launch a precision strike on Irkalla and bring New Haven to its knees—if we can count on Providence for naval cover.” General Bradford’s rough voice and straightforwardness only added weight to Eynsford’s sorrow, and he found himself reflexively reaching to pour his new cabal drinks. The rumor was that the general was a quiet drunk. Eynsford felt the pressure of wearing his face very distinctly now. It was bad enough to want Mikkelsen and be so close to her without a chance of even the smallest romance, but to have Bradford cheerfully buying into the cult of destruction was too much for his stomach.
He poured each glass himself, passing them to the heads of state from the whole system—barring, of course, the unfortunates of New Haven. They would find out what had transpired the next day, when they found out that they had been condemned to die. He raised his glass, hoping that the poison inside would work on him the same effects their venomous coalition would work on Aspera.
“To the Aspera Federation, may it last beyond our days.”
The estimates had been wrong. Irkalla was not difficult to assail, and each combat replicant was worth dozens of New Haven’s soldiers. The first newsfeeds showed that the new Federal forces were capable of covering the ball of red dust with an ocean of blood.
The elites rejoiced, proclaiming a mission accomplished and anointing their followers with promises of land to settle and minerals to exploit. In exchange for New Haven’s resources, the Federation promised order, law, uniformity. Each citizen would be equal because of their inherent dignity, not their altered carbon sheathes, being the metric of their worth. The tiny settlements squabbling over water and held in the grasp of cybernetic warlords would see their world turned into an oasis and a model for the system.
But when they went on the broadcasts to announce the annexation of New Haven, the rebels punctuated it with violence. He supposed that frauds built on other frauds ought to be repaid in such a way, but the opposition raised a sleeping anger within him: the spite a booted foot feels as it plants its heel into a dissident skull.
Eynsford remembered the confusion in the moment. A bomb had gone off on the stage, turning his earlier proclamation of the Federation’s era of peace and stability into an ironic echo of itself. Bradford and Mikkelsen disappeared in the blast as he had been walking back to the seats. Only the premature detonation had saved his life, not that he had very much of his body left. The doctors were patching him back up, and the vat would regrow his flesh, but he felt he had lost something else, something more important.
The rebels had taken responsibility immediately, wearing the labels heaped on them by the media with pride and defiance. On New Haven the Federal garrison was hit with a viral attack. Footage circulated of men and women clawing at their faces, the pirate streams reaching out across the mesh on waves of fascination and horror. An image of a soldier who had wandered into the dust and fallen in the scorching sun, his scarred body blackened by the heat was seared in Eynsford’s mind, a haunting image that was the talk of every newscaster on Jefferson.
The victim’s family
could not be reached for comment, but that wasn’t enough to buy silence.
Everyone had an opinion, and for a while it looked like the Federation
might bring its guns on itself, dividing into cells and organs of
It was too early to be
sure that the bombing was even a rebel act. There were factions
operating behind the scenes, and there were many inside the Federation
who would be happy to open up the higher echelons of control for
Eynsford wanted to cry in the cold blue nebula of the healing pod.
This was the image that
had broken his sleep for months. From the first talk of exploiting the
reserves of New Haven to the formation of the Federal state. Such a
structure was beyond men and women, beyond humanity, somehow greater and
more horrible and more terrible. The factories were retooled for war,
their labors turned from plowshares to swords. The replicants were too
few. Boys and girls were sent to war alongside them.
For every rebel they
killed, more took up the banner. The most fervent agitators proclaimed
that New Haven’s resources would be opened up all the greater with the
extermination of its people. Instead of the expected capitulation, bombs
went off on Jefferson and Atreon, the wages of sin. Eynsford’s people
paid the price.
Eynsford had become
accustomed to eating alone. At the state dinners there were too many
ghosts, seats left unfilled by faction or by death. He tried to remember
that his intentions had been pure, that this was the natural outcome of
unification. The next day would show that it was worth it, that the
small pieces of the system came together for a greater machine.
The filet mignon turned
to ash with the sorrow. There had been no great intention, no great
hope. Just the promise of opportunity. Each grasping hand reached for a
rung above it, until the only move left was to claw past others for a
He thought of the latest
news, a troop transport holed by accidental friendly fire. Fifteen sons
and daughters of the Federation who would not be returning home. He had
killed them. Eynsford pushed the thought out of his head. Stray railgun
rounds had killed them, nothing more or less than the uncaring
calculations of a universe in which humanity was an accidental
combination of particles and energy.
He wondered when his
glass had become empty, and filled it once again. The bitterness washed
the ash away, but it was only temporary. The next bite was just as
barren as its predecessor. He got up and looked out the window. The
light from outside washed over him, casting shadowy reflections across
the polished steel surfaces of the flat.
Despite his folly,
Providence looked the same as it had for decades before his birth. The
same towers slid out of the ground and into the sky, their inhabitants
had circulated like blood through the living organism of the colony, but
the bones stood tall. The bombings had stopped in recent months. The
rebels withdrew to their homefront. It would be over soon.
The security system
gently chimed to announce authorized access. Eynsford didn’t bother
looking to the doorway. He knew what had come for him. The first shot
missed, shattering the window.
They hadn’t even
bothered to send a professional. A tear rolled downward, battered by the
wind. The second shot pushed him forward, and he felt the sensation of