Darien and I, the only two of us on the panel (Amon, our moderator, is late), look at each other. We’re supposed to be talking about what it’s like to play opposing forces. “Star-Crossed in Starfield” is the name of the panel, and, you know, I was feeling pretty good about bullshitting my way through it.

Another phone dings.

Now I shift in my chair, apprehensive.

A murmur sweeps across the crowd.

My phone vibrates for only two things right now: my mothers texting me or another leak of the script.

I don’t know what to do—should I read it like everyone in the audience is obviously doing? My eyes stray to the front row until I realize that Ethan isn’t there. I left the hotel without him this morning. I didn’t go to Jess’s room to see if he’d escort me to the convention, and I did well by myself. The paparazzi greeted me outside the con and I gave them Jess’s best smile as I breezed past.

I don’t need to apologize to Ethan—he was out of line last night, too. Way, way out of line. Although, I barely slept a wink in my hotel room, my traitorous brain writing and rewriting apology texts to him that I never sent.

Not that I would apologize.

Not until he apologized first.

Darien makes the executive decision to check his phone, and the warm look that he’d fixed on his face grows stony.

And then distant.

I check the notification, too. My breath catches in my throat.

Oh, starflame.



PRINCE CARMINDOR hears AMARA’s voice in his head, but it doesn’t matter. He can’t control his body anymore, and his mind is fading. He keys in the code to drop the shields to the Federation’s Commissary. The last stronghold.

He knows he must welcome GENERAL SOND. The Path of the Sun is the only way to find salvation. To find AMARA.


You don’t want to come find me yet, ah’blen. You have work to do.


(talking to himself)

I will always look for you.


But you will not find me here.

He keys in the last number as the door to the control room opens behind him. He hears his name, but it’s too late. Everything is muted. He has lost too much blood from the wound in his side.

CARMINDOR collapses to the floor and does not get back up.

My hands begin to shake. Just as I thought: Carmindor will be conscripted, and the only person who can save him is dead, and they haven’t written in another character who can. From the corner of my eye, I watch as Darien gently sets down his phone. His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows, and his gaze drifts up to mine.

And suddenly, I can see it in his eyes—how he wishes that I were Jess. The real Jess.

My hands close into fists.

The low murmur in the audience grows louder the longer we sit here, unsure of what to do. Do we acknowledge what just happened or press on with the panel? In all my nervousness, I realize I’m biting my thumbnail.

Jess doesn’t bite her thumbnail.

I force my hands onto the table and lean over to whisper to him, “What do we do?”

He shakes his head. “I don’t—”

“Sorry I’m late!” Amon jumps up the steps, rushing onto the stage. He pats me on the shoulder as he passes. “Did I miss anything?”

Everything, I want to scream. You missed every—

Amon sits down at the end of the table and scoots his chair up to his microphone. “Hello there. Thank you, everyone, for coming to our panel. We’re going to start with some easy questions—”

Someone in the audience jumps to their feet. Because of the stage lights, I can’t see who it is, just a dark shape in a sea of shadows. “Is it real?” they shout.

Amon smooths a smile over his face. “I’m sorry, is what real?” he asks, but Darien leans in close to his microphone, shaking his head.

“No, it’s not. It can’t be.”

“Isn’t it?” I whisper.

Another shadow asks, “Are you dying, Carmindor?”

“No! I’m not!” Darien’s voice is sharper than it should be, and then he adds, quieter, as if wondering the same thing, “Of course I’m not.”

“Don’t lie to us!” another person shouts. “Are they killing Starfield?”

My nails dig into my palms.

“Get a better Carmindor!” someone else shouts. “Reboot it again!”

“Kill it!”

“Bring back David and Natalia!” another person cries to more shouts of agreement.

Beside me, Darien’s face begins to pale. He sits back in his chair, but his shoulders are bunched together as though he’s getting ready to spring from the table and leave. Other people shout slogans I’ve read on Tumblr and Twitter, more obscene things that I’m sure Darien has read before but never experienced in person.

There are dark sides of every fandom. The pockets filled with a certain kind of nostalgia where everything is sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with. Where new things are always trash, or judged too harshly, or not up to some unknown holy standard. Where new people with new ideas can’t touch an old sinking ship even if it’ll repair it—make it better than before.

This is that toxic side, bubbling up, boiling over. It’s the side that I’ve had the pleasure of staying far away from because it’s so small and inconsequential. But now, sitting up here on the panel, that sludge of toxicity is pushing right to the edge of the stage.

Jess is always so much closer to it than I ever was. Is that why she hates Starfield?

Is this all that she’s seen of it?

By now, my fingernails are leaving crescent-shaped indentions in my palms. This is my chance to tell the haters off. To make my argument that Amara should be saved—that she deserves to be saved and—

And in saying that, would I be any better than these people shouting that they want Natalia and David back? These people arguing that Jessica Stone can never live up to the dress she slipped into? Haven’t I, too, done that in a certain slant of light? For better reasons—good reasons, I daresay—but I don’t think my heart has been in the right place. I think she holds an important place in the Starfield fandom, but that isn’t why I want her back. I want to bring Princess Amara back because she has become a reflection of my own self-worth.

And Jessica Stone—the girl I’m supposed to be playing, the actress in this Greek tragedy—never wanted that.

Because the fandom never gave her a reason to want it.

Oh, starflame. Now I understand, and it took almost three thousand manbabies to show me.

I set my jaw, my thoughts loud over the roar of the audience as a shouting match breaks out between new and old viewers, hardcore Stargunners and casual fans, shippers and antis, and it’s all a mess. Darien forces back his chair and leaves the stage in long, angry strides and I quickly follow him down the stairs and through the side door into a hallway. I don’t know whether to stop him, to comfort him, or…

I don’t know.

But I have to do something.

So I grab him by the sleeve to stop him. “Darien, do you want to talk about—”

He doesn’t look at me, his dark eyes trained on the ground. “Jess calls me Dare,” he says softly. “People will start noticing if you don’t.” Then he wrenches his arm away and stalks down the hallway out of sight. I clench my fists again. We fans of Amara have been living with the knowledge that she dies for years, since before I was born, but Darien is just now coming to terms with the fact that he might be dead, too.

I look down at my badge. JESSICA STONE. VIP GUEST. And the button beside it, so small I doubt anyone in the audience could read it: #SAVEAMARA.

I could have done what I wanted to do up there on stage. I had the chance.

But I didn’t, because it wasn’t my place. Because I’m messing with Jess’s life, and because Ethan’s right—I am nothing more than a clone, merely playing in her star-studded world. It wasn’t me those fans came to see, but her. It isn’t me they love, but Princess Amara. I just happen to look like her with a little makeup and a lace-front wig.

“You didn’t do it.”

Startled, I turn toward the soft voice.

Ethan is leaning against the wall a little ways behind me, his arms folded over his chest in his usual old-man pose. He looks tired. His raven-black hair hangs shaggily around his face, and his dark eyes behind his glasses look strained. He’s wearing a crumpled button-down with dinosaurs on it, unbuttoned enough to reveal a white shirt underneath, and blue jeans, definitely not in the state of dress I’m used to. Not pristine. Not Jessica Stone’s assistant. He looks like the eighteen-year-old boy he actually is. He pushes his fingers through his hair.

I feel my spine straighten, like it always does around him. “Because you’re right.” My voice cracks. “I’m nobody.”

“Imogen, you’re not—”

“It’s Jess right now, remember?” I turn so he can’t see the tears filling my eyes and start to walk away. “I’ll see you at the meet-and-greet thing.”

And I leave before I give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

I SLAP MY HAND OVER MY MOUTH to stifle a gasp, but the pretzel man notices me anyway and looks at me worriedly. I quickly turn my back to him.