Back on Earth, Cera was enjoying a lazy morning in her pajamas as she scrolled through her social media. She paused for a moment on a post that highlighted a possible UFO. She always did find posts like this interesting, opening the thread Cera’s eyes widened as she saw triCERA, her username, being credited for the image. The post had garnered 10,000 views and 900 reshares in the hour it had been shared. Baffled, Cera took a look at her social stats. Sure enough, she had several hundred new followers and a flood of messages waiting for replies.
Cera felt a wave of sickness wash over her. She never did like being the center of attention, she’s an introvert who prefers observing others rather than being the one observed. Feeling the fingers of panic gripping around her chest, she closed her social media and inhaled deeply as a cold sweat began to ooze from her forehead. “Why are you like this, Cera? Nothing even happened. Why are you reacting like this?” Cera hugged herself as she attempted to soothe her nerves by rocking back and forth in the silence of her living room.
A thunderous knocking echoed through her home, followed by Lane’s voice shouting “I’m coming in!” The jingling of Lane’s keys exaggerated each step she took through the house towards the trembling Cera. “Cera? Oh gosh! Wha…” Lane stopped her sentence short as she examined her friend.
Cera didn’t need to meet Lane’s eyes to know what expression she was wearing. She knew it was her least favorite expression of Lane’s—the gaze of pity. She had been the subject of such since their childhood years and she had come to recognize the look by the tone of voice Lane used, by the way Lane planted her feet, by the aura that changed in a snap. It never eased Cera’s nerves, if anything, it made her innards feel like a fuzzy cactus looked: jumbled up, uncomfortable, and prickly. Cera’s eyes felt hot as they began to tear up and her voice unwillingly cracked as she told Lane, “I gave you a copy of my house key for emergencies only, you know.”
“Oh darling, I know that. I had tried texting you, but you weren’t responding which is uncharacteristic of you. I saw your internet fame explode and, well, knowing my dear friend as intimately as I do I figured you’d want someone to watch documentaries and drink wine with, right?”
Cera sniffled her snot back into her sinus cavity as she patted the open couch cushion next to her. “I want to watch a mockumentary though. The one about gnomes being real. And I want us to take a sip of wine whenever that professor with the wild hair tosses up his hands and says ‘Gnomes’.”
“Good thing I brought an extra bottle of wine then.” Lane plopped down beside her best friend, gave her a tight side-hug squeeze, and a reassuring pat on the head. “Internet fame is wasted on the introverts.” Lane chuckled as she winked at Cera. “What’s the worst that could come of this, anyways?”
Cera knew that Lane was right, that this wasn’t anything to get so worked up over. Besides, Cera had shared her photographs because she was excited for others to see the beauty of the night sky and now her photo was reaching thousands of people across the world. This was more than what she had hoped for and it was an accomplishment to be proud of. She could do without the bombardment on her social media account, but it was kind of awesome that she had been recognized by so many people—including the host of The Milky Spiral.
Was that really a UFO in the photo though? The question kept nagging Cera, so when Lane fell asleep at the end of their mockumentary marathon, she loaded up the original images on her desktop to take a closer look. Browsing through her files, Cera came to a string of images that showed what appeared to be a beautiful display of shooting lights; however, beyond the orbs of lights showed a massive dark outline that exuded an ominous aura. Cera squinted her eyes as she strained to understand what she thought she was seeing. “It’s likely a bug on the lens or an optical illusion?” Cera opened the next file to examine the photos within, there she found the popular image that had rocketed her into internet fame.
Her original image was a higher resolution than what was available on social media. Cera chewed her lip as she zoomed in on the suspected spacecraft. Blood flowed from her lip as she leaned into her monitor, disbelief etched onto her face as she sharpened the image for more clarity. Blood dripped to her keyboard. “Shoot. When did I do that?” Cera dabbed her lip with a kleenex as she thought of what to do with the image on her screen.
“Well I’ll be dang,” Lane’s raspy voice felt hot on Cera’s ear, “that looks like evidence of life beyond the ozone.” Lane was hanging over Cera’s shoulder, eyes fixated on the clear spaceship hovering beyond the falling stars.
Cera just wanted to share her latest astrophotography with a small group of fellow night sky enthusiasts, but when her images go viral for exposing alien life she becomes the interest of both her government and the Judger of Worlds. Cera has spent her life hiding under the darkness of night skies and she absolutely does not like having the limelight shining on her. The light exposes too much and with it, she learns that the Galatic "Good Guys" maintain interstellar peace through the destruction of all advanced and aggressive civilizations. Earth will soon be advanced enough to join the rest of the universe, but are they peaceful enough to dodge the "Delete All" button of the Judger of Worlds? Probably not, but Cera might be able to convince the Judge to bend the rules. Well, maybe.