“Why do you like Starfield?”

I don’t, I want to tell her, but I bite my lip to stop myself from saying that. Partly because I’m Imogen right now, and partly because…I remember the feeling I had earlier when I looked through the camera’s viewfinder at all of those Amaras just being themselves. The best version of themselves through a character they love and relate to…

And I wonder what that’s like.

For some inexplicable reason, I want to tell Harper the truth. That I’ve pretended to be someone for so long, I don’t know how to be myself anymore. And maybe I just wanted to stop pretending for a little while. I wanted someone else to squeeze into the name Jessica Stone.

Because it feels wonderful to be in Imogen’s shoes. To be anonymous. To be able to sit down on a bench in a hotel courtyard eating a pretzel, alone, without paparazzi snapping photos and the internet asking if I’ve gained weight. To not have to worry about where my next job will come from, whether it’ll be the one to sink my career or if I’ll be the dead Princess Amara, like Natalia Ford, for all eternity.

Will I be typecast as one thing for the rest of my life? How many other dead space princesses can there be?

I bite my lip so hard, I feel it going numb. I can’t answer her. I don’t know how to.

But I can’t stay silent either, so I begin to think up a lie when I see a gremlin head poke out from under the booth tablecloth across the aisle. It stares at me with its narrow green slits for eyes—

And then it disappears again.

So Amon was looking for Natalia Ford’s cat—what was its name? She never goes anywhere without that gremlin-looking thing in her arms. She takes it with her to interviews, she even took it onto Hello, America a few weeks ago to promote the re-release of the original Starfield series.

Harper glances over, but the cat’s already gone. “What?”

“Natalia Ford’s cat! Demonlike creature with glowy-green eyes.”

“Oh, Stubbles! He’s here?”

“Someone was looking for him earlier. I think he’s lost,” I add, and pop out of my chair, hurrying across to the booth that the cat disappeared underneath.

The artist in the booth glances at me, her long blue hair pulled over her shoulder and spilling down onto her sketchbook as she draws a weird-looking alien from what appears to be a video game she really loves.

“Excuse me,” I say awkwardly, and point at her booth, “but I think there’s a cat under your table.”

She gives me a strange look, but then draws up the corner of her tablecloth and gives a start. “THAT’S A CAT?”

At the same moment, with a yowl that I can only describe as warlike, Stubbles leaps onto the next booth’s table and squirrels across it, knocking over displays and posters as it hops onto the next one, and then the next one, eliciting horrific screams from each unsuspecting artist.

“Stubbles!” I call frantically.

It tears across the aisle, hopping from table to table, and I dodge through the crowd after it.

Then it turns, diving between the aisles, and I quickly run to the other side. Harper has already cut over and blocks the cat from heading the other way. It turns around, skittering under a Cersei Lannister’s robes, and pops out the other side with a hiss.

Stupid freaking cat.

As it darts left, I cut across to head it off. It stares me down like the evil green-eyed gremlin it is—

Until a guy adorned with ram horns, wearing nothing but boxers covered with hearts, scoops up the hairless beast with a pillowcase. It jerks and yowls, hissing and spitting in its fabric prison. He holds it out frightfully.

“This, uh, is this yours?” he asks.

“Close enough,” I say and gingerly take the pillowcase. I can see claws poking through the fabric. How in the hell am I going to get this thing out of this pillowcase?

As if knowing my question, he says, “You can keep the pillowcase.”

“Um, thanks.”

“No problem,” he replies, and leaves me with a squirming bag of angry cat. But now that I have it, what the hell am I supposed to do with it? Natalia Ford hates me!

No, she more than hates me.

If there is a level even lower than hate, the slow and simmering rage of a thousand exploding suns, that is how Natalia Ford feels about me.

Harper seems to have the same question. “So, um, do we know where Natalia Ford is?”

“I have no idea—”

Another artist leans over from his booth and says, “Isn’t she in the photo ops right now? Jessica Stone’s supposed to be over there, too.”


Stubbles howls again, but this time it sounds strangely pitiful. Harper shrugs and says, “I’ve already started packing up, so I can close down my booth and we can head over there.”

“Really, you don’t have to go—”

“Are you kidding?” she says with a laugh. “This might be my only chance to see Natalia Ford in the flesh. It’s going to be amazing.”

I don’t want to burst her bubble and tell her that my run-in with Natalia was a good deal less than amazing, but I just smile and say “okay” before I follow her back to the booth to close up shop. She finishes putting away her art pieces and thanks her neighbor—a guy who looks the part of a starving artist, all gaunt face and jutting bones—for looking after the booth while she was gone. After throwing a thin blue blanket over her table, she turns to me and says, “Okay, let’s go find Princess Amara.”

It doesn’t take long to find her. In the photo-ops area there are standing posters with the names of who is in which black-curtained area, and lines that wrap around half of the large room. My—I mean, Jessica Stone’s—is one of those lines. I hope Imogen can handle it. Ethan’s with her, of course she can.

I don’t have to worry about her not sounding like me, either. She’s eerily talented at mimicking my voice.

The meet-and-greet begins in a few minutes. Good. I can just keep my head down, pop over to Natalia’s line, and then pop out again long before anyone notices that I might look slightly too similar to the girl who plays the new Princess Amara.

No one has recognized me yet, at least. People have taken a second look, but I think my disguise is well behind the shield of Jessica Stone Wouldn’t Be Here. Which I am grateful for, but also…

It wouldn’t be so bad, you know.

If Jessica Stone was the kind of person you’d see here. I mean, at a nerd convention, not being in two places at once. That would still be awkward no matter what universe I’m in.

Natalia Ford is gathering her purse to leave, her meet-and-greet over, when Harper and I find her.

A security guard stops us before we can get in—her private security, I might add. Tall, burly guy. Very mustached.

“I, um, I think you lost something,” I shout to Natalia.

She stops and turns around, her eyes narrowing. I hold up the pillowcase. As if on cue, Stubbles lets out a low growl of discontent. Natalia gasps and rushes to me, pushing past security, to plunge her arms into the pillowcase and gather up the cat. The creature begins to purr the second she clutches the furless nightmare to her chest.

I don’t understand this animal at all.

“I know, I know. I’ve missed you, too,” Natalia coos to the rumbling demon cat, and then she says to Harper, “Thank you for bringing her back.” She doesn’t even look at me, even though I’m the one who delivered the cat. “Amon was supposed to be looking after her, but all he ever looks at is his phone, apparently. I don’t know what I’d do without her, so thank you.”

Then she finally gives me a glance—strange, almost like she can see right through my disguise—and turns away, disappearing underneath the black curtain in the back and out of sight. Her assistant, a harrowed-looking college girl with large pink glasses and pink-tipped blond hair, quickly thanks us and follows her boss.

Harper and I stand there for a long moment.

I look at the claw marks on my arms.

Stubbles is a demon cat, there are no two ways around it.

And then Harper starts to laugh. A loud, echoing guffaw that makes her clutch her sides. “We actually chased a cat! That has to be the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever done at ExcelsiCon,” she says, wiping the corners of her eyes so her mascara doesn’t start to run. “Well, now that that drama’s taken care of, what do you say to a party?”

I start. “A what?”

“A party. My friends call it the Stellar Party. It’s space themed. We do it every year in a hotel room. We drink a little, sing some karaoke, stuff like that.”

“Oh, no. I don’t do karaoke.”

And also, I need to find the thief who stole my script. The Twitter account has been quiet for a long time, and I’m beginning to worry.

Besides, what if my cover got blown at this party? I’d end up on the cover of every national newspaper in the country—or at least every gossip magazine. I realize I’m not important enough for, like, the New York Times…

Am I?

“Come on,” Harper eggs, and she’s smiling in this way that makes my stomach twist. “You can stop trying to save Amara for two seconds. Take a breather. Enjoy life. You deserve it. Our princess can fend for herself for an evening.”