“Ah, your meta cosplay of Jessica Stone is amazing!” adds a woman, grinning at me as she takes out her phone. “You even have a SPACE QUEEN beanie on, that’s adorable! What do you call your cosplay?”

I hesitate, knowing that if I flee they will think I’m—well—me, and if I play it off then…“Oh, this? It’s just Jessica Stone on Vacation.”

The woman barks a laugh and snaps a selfie of us. “Love it! Look to the stars!” she adds as she leaves through the exhibit, shoving up the Starfield salute. I smile and nod.

Right. Okay.

Time to leave.

Before anyone else can take a photo, I quickly disappear from the exhibit, looking for somewhere to sit and eat my free pretzel, but every bit of the wall is taken by tired con-goers. I shoulder my way to the back exit and out the side of the building, into what looks like a hotel courtyard—a barren space with grass and a sad-looking tree. I find an unoccupied bench and sit down in the quiet to snack on my pretzel and check the texts and emails I missed.

Oh, Ethan texted me a few minutes ago.

ETHAN (5:15PM)

—Vance Reigns is playing the new villain, if you haven’t heard.

—All’s fine here. Keeping her in check.

—Do you have any leads yet?

“I wish,” I murmur, putting my phone back into my pocket. I pry open the container of warm plastic cheese.

About twenty feet away on the grass are two dozen or so cosplayers dressed as Princess Amara (all different kinds, even a Black Nebula version, who seems to be leading the horde). I’ve heard about these get-togethers—meet-ups, I think Ethan calls them.

How many of them are like Imogen and want to save Amara?

You don’t understand, I want to scream at these Amara cosplayers. What about me? How come no one is trying to save me? The negative comments on my Insta and Twitter are so loud, I can barely hear anything else in my life. The strangers calling me ugly are so much louder than my own parents telling me I’m beautiful. My mother once said the only thing that can ever truly be ugly about a person is how they act, who they are on the inside—whether they’re good or rotted to the core.

It seems like there are a lot of people who’re rotten.

I wonder if, to some people, I’m one of them.

I twist my lanyard around my fingers, looking across the loading docks to the patch of green on the other side, and the gathering of Princess Amaras. The girl dressed as the Black Nebula Amara shouts the catchphrase “Look to the stars!” and the others shout “Aim. Ignite!” and thrust their hands in the air with the Starfield sign.

I once asked Dare why he thought Starfield needed a sign—like the Vulcan “live long and prosper” salute, or the Sailor Senshi “I will punish you” hand signs, or that weird Naruto run—and he said because everyone needs a universal greeting sometimes.

Starfield’s is “You and I are made of stars.”

It’s a hand sign that says we are the same.

What a novel thought. I wished I believed that.

The cosplayers are part of a photo shoot, absorbing the best thirty minutes of the day just before sundown. They strike all the poses I’ve had to meticulously learn for the movie’s promo images while trapped in a studio in front of a green screen, a fan blowing at my face to feather out my bleached-and-dyed crimson hair as a photographer told me to push my shoulder forward, lean back a little bit. I hated every minute of it.

Or I want to think I did.

But there is this strange, small part of me that wants to know what it’s like to be them. These girls who love an image of Amara in their heads. Girls who don’t have to worry about conforming to a producer’s or a director’s or the fans’ image of her, or run in heels even though she lobbied—in vain—to wear boots.

I want to know what it’s like to…

It’s silly.

I finish off my pretzel, scooping out the rest of the delicious cheesy goop and shoving it into my mouth. Not having a napkin, I brush my greasy fingers on my jeans. I turn to go back inside the con, but then feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn around, my mouth full of pretzel. It’s the girl organizing the photo shoot—Black Nebula Amara—and she smiles when she sees me.

I recognize her now that I can see her face, even without her black glasses.

“I thought that was you sitting on the curb,” she says and nudges her head back to the Amaras. “I know this is kind of weird, Jess. Don’t worry, I won’t tell”—she adds when I give a start of panic—“but would you mind taking a photo of us? I need one for an article I’m doing, and there’s no one here and the light’s almost gone…”

The sunlight is beginning to dip below the Atlanta skyline. I should say no, because if any of those girls finds out that I’m me while I’m supposed to be at a photo op, but…

I finish chewing my pretzel and swallow. “Sure. Let’s hurry before the sun sets,” I say, taking her camera.

“Thank you!” She twirls around and hurries back to the group. They each strike a pose again and I lift the Canon to my eye, through the viewfinder, with the dusky light painting their glittering dresses and armored suits and polished military jackets in the perfect shade of blue, I think I see what Imogen was talking about. There are two dozen Princess Amaras smirking back at me, all of whom look different—different skin colors and body types and sexualities and gender identifications. Princess Amaras who have gone through the Black Nebula and those who led the Nox King’s military and those who fell in love with Carmindors and Zorines and Eucis. But they all have one thing in common:

They love who they are as Amara. They love themselves.

I click a few photos and quietly hand the camera back to the organizer. She fixes her crown before pulling the camera strap over her neck as the sun dips below the buildings.

“Just in time—thank you so much. I forgot to bring my tripod and I was kicking myself,” she says with a laugh. “You’re a life-saver. Really, thanks!”

“My pleasure, Elle,” I reply, and head back into the showroom.

* * *

I RETURN TO ARTISTS’ ALLEY. THE showroom hasn’t closed, but artists are beginning to pack up and the steady stream of attendees trickles away. I find the aisle with the purple Princess Amara banner and sheepishly walk up to the table.

Harper slams her hand against her chest. “Oh my God, you came back!”

“Um…yeah?” I push up my glasses again.

“I thought for sure I’d run you off.” Her dark eyes linger on the bruise on my cheek, and I quickly look away. “Did something happen to you?”

“I tripped over a Nox King’s tail.”

She winces. “That’s about the worst way to go.”

“Tell me about it.” I sink into my chair behind the booth. There are only a handful of Save Amara pins left. Harper’s been handing them out all day while I’ve been gone. That was very…nice of her.

I guess she must be good friends with Imogen—or was, before I stepped in. I’ve been nothing but cold or dismissive to her.

I’ve been mean and cold to everyone at this con, I realize.

Since when did I start acting like such a witch?

Harper’s packing up her things, zipping her pencil case closed and tossing it into a clear bookbag. I pick up one of her prints. It’s of Amara and Zorine in a heartfelt embrace, and I can’t help but blush seeing a girl with my likeness kissing the likeness of Fiona Oro, who plays Zorine. I hand the print back as I realize she’s putting them all into a box under the booth.

I bite my lip. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, why couldn’t you?”

“Why do you draw these fanart?”

She shrugs.

At first she doesn’t say anything, but then she takes the print of Amara and Zorine out of my hand. “You really don’t know?”

“I mean, I might but I’ve forgotten. Sorry.”

She tilts her head and studies me, as if I’ve surprised her again. It’s the same look she gave me earlier, the kind where she isn’t sure who she’s looking at, but it isn’t who she thought. I self-consciously tug on my beanie.

Crap, I’m not good at this Imogen thing at all.

“I mean, you don’t have to answer—”

“Mo, it’s because I think it’s nice to see ourselves represented. If not on-screen, then maybe in an OTP in fanart. Fanfic. It’s important to show that people like us exist. That we can be happy.”

That we can be.


I’m reminded of Ethan asking me if I was happy. I haven’t allowed myself to be in a long time. I’ve dated who I was told to, and flirted with people who would get me on the cover of magazines, but I’ve been too busy and too worried about my career to think much about—


Anything else.

“Oh,” I say, lacking a better response.

“So,” she grins, still so near to me. I’m tempted to lean away but I really don’t want to. “Can I ask you a question, Imogen?”

I don’t know if I want to answer. I don’t know if I can. Because I’m beginning to realize that I definitely don’t know enough about Imogen to pull this off. I don’t even know where she was born. Is Planet Weird too mean? I clear my throat and say nonchalantly, “Yeah, of course.”