An Excerpt from Ceres

by L. Neil Smith
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise


Author’s note: Although the “Ashland Event” is mentioned elsewhere in the novel, this is the most detailed section I’ve written about it so far.

To set the scene, Llyra Ngu, a young figure skater and the great granddaughter of Emerson Ngu from Pallas, travels to the Moon with her private coach Jasmeen Khalidov, and her grandmother, Julie Segovia Ngu (a beautiful woman in her 70s who looks to be in her 20s, thanks to regenerative therapy), working up the “gravity ladder” from Pallas, where she was born at a twentieth of a gee, to the one full gravity of Earth.

“In” the Moon, she meets Jasmeen’s eccentric uncles, who run the Larsen Farside Observatory, built to give early warning of incoming Solar debris so it can be deflected or captured before it hits the Earth. As the chapter opens, they are on their way to visit the observatory …

Chapter XXI: The Egress

Someday we will have the means to reach the stars in a reasonable amount of time. We will eventually meet people who will think surprisingly like us, but who probably won’t resemble us at all. When they refer to the language of our planet, they will mean English. When they refer to its cuisine, they will mean Chinese.
Make mine kung pao—extra spicy!
The Diaries of Rosalie Frazier Ngu


Ali’s big 2031 Rasputin Electric Moonmaster had carried Llyra and her companions into the 28-day Lunar night before she fully realized it.

Abruptly, Saladin said, “We are about to arrive at what has aptly been called ‘back of beyond’, because of something that happened on Earth in winter of 2089, something everybody on Earth knows about. You are not of Earth, little one, for three generations. Do you know what is?”

Julie had started to say something, but held her tongue, instead. Saladin’s question had been addressed to Llyra. Although Ali’s big vehicle had just taken them across the terminator, the sky didn’t look particularly different—they weren’t much accustomed to looking directly at the sun—but the ground that lay about them now, except for a ridge or promontory still standing in the sunlight for a while, was lit only by the pale blue light of the Earth, which was about to set.

“Everybody in the Solar System knows about that, Dr. Uzhakhov,” Llyra replied. “On December 5th, 2089, an asteroid hit the Earth near the city of Ashland, in Ohio, which is a district of the Old United States. It killed about fifteen million people, and made a new Great Lake.”

He nodded. “Very good, young Miss Ngu. Only lake is great only by courtesy. And most people were killed when impact triggered New Madras earthquake fault.” He sighed. “Was not even real asteroid, technically speaking.”

Jasmeen grinned. looking at her feet and shaking her head. She’d always thought her uncles were funny, even when they didn’t mean to be.

“Was comet nucleus,” Ali, still at the wheel, told them over his right shoulder. “Great big ball of slushy ice just like you buy in plastic cup at neighborhood convenience store—if you like ammonia flavor.”

Llyra and Jasmeen both said, “Eww!” simultaneously, while Julie laughed.

“Yes, is very funny thing,” Saladin went on.

“Not funny, ‘Ha-ha’,” Ali interrupted. “funny ‘sheesh’.”

“Funny sheesh,” Saladin agreed. “Before Ashland Event, everybody knew celestial object—metallic asteroid—had wiped out dinosaurs and most of their contemporaries. Some even knew about the one that came before, wiping out many more species, making place on Earth for dinosaurs.”

“Presence of iridium in Cretaceous-Tertiary soil boundary gave game away,” Jasmeen observed. “Two scientists named Alvarez discovered it.”

Llyra volunteered, “Luis and Walter Alvarez. They were father and son. And there’s evidence of several other impact events like that one.”

Saladin beamed at them both. “Yes, lovely scholars, gold stars all around. Some even knew that Earth was millions of years overdue, statistically speaking, for new Extinction Level Event. But Ashland Event was not one of those. Was minuscule compared to K-T and P-T events.”

Llyra sputtered, “But it killed millions of—”

“Ah, but Ashland Object saved many more lives in final analysis than it took—do no look at me that way, please, Jasmeen. Is most unbecoming in properly respectful niece. Ashland frightened human species into doing something that simply knowing of risk did not accomplish.”

“And what was that?” Saladin’s improperly respectful niece asked him.

“Curringer Corporation and others,” he replied, “organized private system of detection and defense we operate here today. Nobody wanted government—any government—involved in system, because power to deflect asteroid away from Earth is power to deflect it toward Earth.”

Ali nodded. “Nobody trusted nutball president not to do that someday.”

“In 2103,” Saladin continued, “private system paid off bigtime when metallic asteroid ten miles in diameter was detected two years travel time in advance and was deflected by asteroid hunters from collision course with Earth, probably saving every living thing on planet.”

Llyra nodded. “I knew about that, too.”

“Ali and me … ” Saladin began.

She said, “I know, Dr. Uzhakhov, you and Dr. Khalidov were the detectives.”



Three-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith is the author of 23 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collection of articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website “The Webley Page” at Autographed copies may be had from the author at [email protected].


Reprinted from The Libertarian Enterprise for March 7, 2004

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