Her image appears on every broadcast simultaneously, a beautiful woman photographed from the waist up. She is nude, furred, hair falling in long black ringlets around her face. Of the billions of people who see her, most think she looks like a raccoon, although opinion is evenly divided if she is an alien, a faerie, or a goddess.

When she speaks, her voice is as lovely and as nonhuman as her countenance. “People of Earth,” she begins, then laughs, as if she knows how many first contact stories begin with just that line. Perhaps she does, for she goes on: “You have been beaming your broadcasts into the cosmos for decades of your time, and they have been heard. I am Cassiopeia, and I am on my way.”

The broadcast ends, to be endlessly shared and analyzed. The background behind her was space itself, but from what vantage point? Where did the light illuminating her come from? Was her long hair falling about her beautiful face or floating? And how to prepare for her arrivalby taking up arms, or by throwing them down?

It is precisely twenty-four hours between the time of her broadcast and the time of her arrival, long enough for riots to break out and nascent religions to form and at least one government to topple, but not time enough to agree on any preparationnot that any preparation would have mattered. Astronomers notice first, as stars vanish, first one by one, then in greater number. Orbital telescopes explain the mystery with an impossibility: Cassiopeia eclipses the skies. She is simply there now, between the stars and the Earth.

The last calculation astronomers ever make is her size, as she is illuminated by the sun like any other heavenly body. If her arms were stretched out in front of her, the moon could be caught in her toes and her fingertips might just touch the highest mountain. Other than the sun itself, the raccoon woman is the largest object in the solar system. As she leans toward the Earth, the moon is lost in her hair.

The last calculation astronomers could try to make is the size of her open mouth as her lips part, teeth and tongue brilliantly lit for achingly long minutes as that muzzle moves forward. No cosmologist bothers to run those numbers, though. Would it possibly matter? They have found the Great Filter, solved Fermi’s Paradox, and they only have enough time for one drink of the finest liquor they’d been saving before it descends.

For a moment the sky is the roof of her mouth, then absolute darkness falls across every continent, heat and humidity and pressure building to a crescendo. The world ends with neither a bang nor a whimper. It ends with saliva. It ends with two wet swallows. It ends with a satisfied, sensual moan.

Cassiopeia floats in space, one hand on her stomach, the other idly rubbing Mars to red dust. She is not a goddess, strictly speaking; her kind does, after all, still need to eat. But even such a small civilization will last her some timeby the measure of those that made her last meal, decades.

One huge ear flicks, then cants to one side. Another faint broadcast, hundreds of light years away, another world signaling its ripeness. She focuses. Yes! There it is. A wild planet, not onelike Earththat her kind had planted. She won’t make it there any time soon; she has work to do, worlds to seed, galaxies to shape.

But Cassiopeia looks forward to visiting. It should be delicious.

August 2017