Astra Economos, professor of Space Sciences at the California Institute of Technology, was pouring over the most recent stack of papers when she was interrupted by a “ding” from her phone. Stretching, she glanced down and saw a notification that said: “New moon tonight- get going.”
Smiling, Astra gathered her things, locked her office, and began the trek to her car. Her destination was over three hours away, and she needed to get a move on if she hoped to make it by sunset.
Thirty-minutes later, Astra was navigating the notorious California traffic on her way to Death Valley National Park. She had her telescope carefully packed in the back seat, along with a blanket, some water, and a few snacks to tide her over until dawn. Excitement spurred her on, and she was determined to cherish every moment of this special night.
Astra could barely see the stars as she made her way to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes of Death Valley National Park, and she found the perfect place to set up her telescope on the side of the road. She could see another vehicle a few yards away, and a small light was sweeping the dunes as the owner walked through the sand. Astra focused on getting her telescope in the proper position before the darkness enveloped her completely, and, after a few moments, the sky practically erupted with stars. Astra gasped in wonder- after all her years studying space, the sight of it never ceased to amaze her.
Just as she was settling into the night, she heard a voice cry out in frustration. Sighing, she looked at the other vehicle and saw the figure of a man walking towards her.
He paused at the edge of her vehicle and turned the light on his face.
“Sorry to bother you, but I can’t get my telescope to focus. I think it’s broken, and I need to find a specific star for my astronomy class. Do you mind if I look through yours?”
He looked older than her usual students, but Astra’s heart couldn’t turn down a cry for education. She nodded.
“Sure, but why don’t you bring me your telescope first. I may be able to fix it.”
The man went to his vehicle and brought back a worn-out telescope. Astra turned it over in her hands gently.
“Ah, here’s your problem. Your eyepiece is missing.”
She rummaged through her trunk for a moment before bringing out a spare eyepiece and inserting it into the slot.
“Here, try it now.”
“Thank you. I’m Dimitri, by the way.”
“Astra. And you’re welcome. I hope you find your star.”
Thinking that was the end of it, Astra turned back to her telescope and began her search into the night sky. However, she soon heard a scuffling next to her. Looking away from the sky again, Astra found that Dimitri had set his telescope next to hers. She sighed.
“Which star are you looking for, Dimitri?”
“One called Omega Centaur.”
“Oh, you mean Omega Centauri. That’s not a single star, you know, but a whole cluster of them. Look South.”
Dimitri thanked her again before drifting off into silence. Astra began scanning the skies once more, finally settling on a small, metallic-looking object just to the west of the Andromeda Galaxy. She smiled in relief before she was interrupted by a tap on her shoulder.
“Sorry to bother you again, but I can’t seem to find it. Can you help? You seem to know more about this stuff than I ever will.”
Annoyed at another interruption, Astra found Omega Centauri with ease.
“There you go. I’ve been before, you know. Lovely place. Lots of scenic views.”
Dimitri looked at her for a moment before bursting into laughter.
“Yeah, and I’ve been to the moon. No one’s been to a galaxy before. It isn’t possible.”
“No human’s been there, true. But my people have, and others like us. It’s quite easy.”
Dimitri laughed again. “What, so you’re an alien? Please. No one believes in that crap anymore. Aliens don’t exist.”
Astra was stunned. “How do you know they don’t exist? Look at the sky, at the millions of stars and planets that we can see with the naked eye. Now, think about all the planets and galaxies that we can’t see. Who’s to say they aren’t teeming with life?”
“I mean, if they were teeming with life, we’d know about it. They would have visited us or found ways to communicate with us.”
“Oh, they have. Hundreds of people have reported UFOs and other unexplained encounters. Surely you’ve heard about them.”
“Yeah, but the only people who’ve had these encounters are kooks and crackpots.”
Astra studied Dimitri beneath the starlight. He looked sure of himself, but also scared- like the truth might unravel his world. She sighed.
“Listen, the universe is vast and intimidating for a species as young as you humans are. It’s natural to be afraid of what lies beyond the stars, but you shouldn’t let that prejudice your mind against the possibility of extraterrestrials. Most of us mean you no harm and are here to observe your development.”
Dimitri looked at her warily. “My development?”
“Yes. Well, not you specifically, but humanity. When you show signs of maturity, the word will spread and bring diverse lifeforms from all over the universe to make contact.”
“Oh! Like Star Trek?”
Astra shrugged. “Sure, like Star Trek.”
“Why didn’t you say so! I watch them every Sunday night on Netflix.”
They both went silent as the night wore on, and Astra kept her telescope trained on the metallic object, watching as it danced and changed colors with the stars around it.
Once midnight had passed, Dimitri stood up and gathered his things.
“Thank you for your help, Astra. Human or not, you’re a good soul, and even though I don’t believe in aliens or whatever, it would be cool if they did exist. Goodbye.”
Astra watched as Dimitri left her alone in the California desert, wondering if one human could open enough minds to the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It wasn’t Dimitri, but maybe, somewhere, she’d find the right person for the job.
As the dawn approached, Astra took one last look at the metallic object and watched as it faded into the blackness of space. Gathering her things, Astra smiled to herself.
Somehow, she would make them believe.
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