“What do you think I should do with it?” Cera asked her friend.
“Huh, it’s not like you handled the small bit of attention you recently got online all that well. An image like this will circulate faster and earn you more notoriety than that other fuzzy image." Lane leaned back against the couch, her knees squeezed to her chest. “You’ll likely get folks calling it photoshopped, but there will be others who will take it at face value as well.” She rocked her head back and forth on her knees. “Honestly, I say you share it. Your dream has always been to be a professional astrophotographer---something like this will boost your portfolio and may open a door to your dream career. I certainly don’t want to lose you in my lab, but as your friend, I can’t help but want the best for you.”
Cera smiled widely at her friend. “You really do love me, don’t you?” Cera teased Lane as she readied her social media account to share the image. After some thought, Cera uploaded the image with a small shoutout to The Milky Spiral and a trending hashtag from the previous hot thread. Her newfound popularity skyrocketed the image to the front page of all UFO-based websites and articles. Cera’s social media saw a spike in traffic and follows, and her messages were flooded with new inquiries, questions, and requests. Cera was overwhelmed with attention, so for the following days she retreated to life offline as she calmed her nerves.
Cera sipped her chamomile tea as she waited for the sweet embrace of sleep to cradle her. From her bedside, her phone chimed and buzzed with updates, but Cera continued to ignore it. She inhaled the fragrant aroma of her tea and stared up through her skylight at the twinkling night sky. She thought about how nice it would be to be out there with the heavenly bodies, to observe the wonders up close, to see far beyond the scope of her camera lens. She took one final sip of her evening tea before snuggling down deep into her fluffy comforter that smelled of fresh lavender.
Ding-ting! Ding-ding-ting! Cera yawned as she reached to silence her phone. Ding-ting! Ding-ting-ding! Confused, she sat up in bed and blinked at the background light of her phone blazing in the dark. “It’s six in the morning. What’s going on?” The noise that woke her ceased, but in its place, a loud knocking took over. Bam! Bam! Bam! Cera’s skin felt prickly, her blood ran cold. Who would be at her door so early in the morning? Why was that knock so aggressive?
“Cera Collins!” A gruff male voice called out from the predawn darkness. Bam! Bam! “Miss Collins! This is Special Agent Law of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force. The UAPTF has some questions concerning recent images captured and shared by you. Please open up!”
“Just a minute!” Cera shouted back through the dark as she turned on her lights. In a hushed whisper she spoke to her phone, “Cortana, what is the “UAPTF”?” In a brief moment Cortana replied, “The UAPTF is steered by the Department of the Navy and is tasked with investigating UAPs or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Their mission is to detect, analyze, and catalog UAPs that could potentially pose a threat to national security.” Cera felt reassured by the information that the UAPTF was legitimate but also concerned that such a branch had taken an interest in her. Wrapping her robe around her tightly, Cera peeked through her window to see who she assumed to be Special Agent Law and a female officer with him.
“Cortana, send a high priority text to Lane with the following message: ‘Urgent! Be my guardian angel. Passcode: StarryBeltUnbuckled.’ Send.”
Cera unlocked her front door and began to crack it open when the door was forcibly swung wide. Cera stumbled backward but managed to regain her balance. She gawked at the doorway where Mr. Law wasted little time strutting into her home. “Let’s see, the kitchen should be, ah, yes. This way.” Mr. Law walked past Cera without so much as acknowledging her presence. The female officer greeted Cera as she closed the door behind her and ushered Cera to the kitchen.
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.