Grace's first glimpse of Ceres is aboard the belt cruiser Waltz. Plate and Taisia, two asteroid miners (called roiders) explain what she sees. Finally, Tim Trouncer explains how the outposts were constructed. Listen to the theme as they orbit the dwarf planet.

From the viewport, she got a good look at her new home. Ceres was an unremarkable dwarf planet, made spherical by gravity, though it was really just the biggest, iciest asteroid in the belt. Its surface was dim, flying by in shades of gray and tarnished silver. Though it was the antithesis of all things that were human and alive, Ceres had hosted humankind for nearly a hundred years. Its economy had begun with mineral extraction, but was now dominated by water export to the belt. It had six permanent settlements, called bodes.

“That’s Bode-6 to port,” Plate said.

Grace turned to her left. Out of the viewport was a man-made spiral resting in a gray valley. Squat barren hills appeared nearby. The monochromatic view made her crave color. She looked back inside the hold, but it wasn’t enough to disperse her astrophobia. She shut her eyes and thought about her family home in cloister. The ranch. Wildflowers in an endless field—purple, gold, and scarlet. The red cliffs against the blue, dazzling sky. Grasslands waving as the gentle breeze cooled the hot summer air. These would be the things she would see when grayscale became too oppressive.

“Six more orbits, then land,” Taisia said from across the row.

Grace opened her eyes and felt better. Her gaze drifted to Tim next to her and then forward, across the heads of passengers. With altitude and velocity decreasing steadily, she got a better view of the colony each time it passed by. It was a white spiral structure built on the icy gray surface. Like a frosty cinnamon roll. Grace could see the landing beacons, strobing the pilots to safety. Two small craft, each with tractor treads, rumbled out of a cargo bay along the outer spiral and headed for the nearby hills. They followed a wide, well-defined trail, though there were lesser tread marks throughout the valley. One trail made a wide arc around what appeared to be an abandoned crawler. It didn’t seem too different from some mining operations on Earth: a little planned, a little haphazard.

“A dust snake created the bode,” Tim said. “The main parts, anyway.”

“A snake?”

“Not a living snake. It’s a big robot that consumes the upper layer of a planet, moon, or asteroid and extrudes a structure out the back.” He pointed a paw. “See? It’s defunct now, but the snake is still attached to the end of the spiral.”

Corey OstmanCeres Rising