Oh, poor Dare.

I don’t know how he feels, but I know what it’s like.

When I initially read the Starfield script, for the first reboot movie, Princess Amara did not die. It’s a little-known fact. But then Amon wanted to stick with Amara’s original arc from the television show. He wanted to make the diehard fans happy, even though so much else was changed, and he thought he could do that by killing her off.

“We want to give our older fans something to recognize,” he had said. “It’ll look odd if you live.”

He hadn’t even asked me what I thought about the script change. He just handed it to me one day during filming—the day after Dare did his building-jumping stunt—and told me to read through the rewritten ending and memorize it.

So I did. The difference was, Amon had told me in private. I didn’t have to learn about it out in public—in front of a crowd of thousands of people. I could process it before the rest of the world found out.

Dare deserved better.

Being an actor is weird sometimes. You get so attached to your character, some plot twist that takes you by surprise. But this is different. I was just a girl who was told that her character, to whom she connected, would die. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy when he told me. It wasn’t a guaranteed out, but I had been naive. Dare…Carmindor had been a dream gig, a fanboy’s dream, and now…

I try calling him for the third time but he’s not picking up. I begin to pace in Artists’ Alley, and the pretzel man’s gaze follows me the whole way, though honestly I can’t bring myself to care at the moment. I know that the panel ended abruptly but I can’t parse how, and my Twitter notifications are pinging faster than I can mute them. What in the world happened? Is Dare okay?

I get so many Twitter comments that the app freezes, so I log onto Instagram instead. I wish I hadn’t. A mind-blowing amount of comment notifications pop up. So many more than usual. I haven’t checked my feed since arriving at the convention, and after a few days the comments usually taper off because of the app’s algorithms. (Ethan once tried to explain all this tech stuff to me, but most of it soared way over my head.)

Before I can tap into the comments, out of the corner of my eye I see a pair of familiar sneakers and look up—there is Ethan with his hands in his jeans pockets. Alarmed, I turn to him. “Where’s Imogen?”

“You got the text.”

“Of course I did, and my social’s crashing because of all the comments.” I try to control my voice, but panic eats in at the edges. “What happened, Ethan? What’s happening?”

“Well,” he says calmly, pushing up his glasses, “Darien found out on stage that his character’s dying, and he didn’t take it well.”

Of course he didn’t.

My eyes are beginning to burn the longer I think about Carmindor dying. Something in my chest is tight and wrong, and it’s so uncomfortable, but people are watching us, even in the back of Artists’ Alley, so I can’t freak out. Breathe.

“I should be happy, right? Carmindor dies, and because of that I’m sure Amara’s not coming back. I’m free. Even if I don’t find the thief who stole my script—I’m free.” My vision blurs and my voice hitches. “Why aren’t I happy?”

Ethan takes his hands out of his pockets and pulls me into a hug. “Because you love it, Jess.”

The hairs on my skin stand on end. I push away. “Love it? Ethan, Starfield was the worst thing to happen to my career. It almost killed it!”

“Jess, I know you, and you’re always so focused on the future. On what’s ahead of you. You never looked around and saw what you had already.”

“What I had?” I scoff, pressing my palms over my eyes, for once glad that I’m not wearing makeup that would smudge. “What I had was a dead-end contract—”

“Then why aren’t you happy that you don’t have to play Amara anymore?” he interrupts, his voice like flint. “I know you’re not.”

“I-I don’t know! This convention has messed everything up in my head.” I try to keep my voice low, but a person buying a salted pretzel is eyeing me curiously. The pretzel man waves them on and I continue in a hushed voice, “I only have a short window in my career—shorter because I lied about my age when I was fourteen—and I refuse to be known as that dead space princess. There are no awards for that.”

“There’s the Razzies.”

“That’s not funny, Ethan.”

He exhales through his nose. “Look, Jess, I love you and you are my best friend, but you are so hardheaded sometimes I could scream. What movies do we remember the best? Do we remember the film that won the Academy Award in 1977 or do we remember the low-budget space opera from that same year that—”



“Rocky won Best Picture in 1977.”

He falters. “That was a bad example. You were supposed to say we remembered Star Wars the best.”

“It was a great year for movies,” I add. “The Omen won best score—”

My phone dings. It’s not a text message but a news report from a celebrity gossip blog that I follow. Tagging me with screenshots of my own Instagram photos—and all the comments underneath.

Death threats. Violent threats. Comments making fun of my hair, my weight, me.

A chill crawls down my spine. They were bad before, but now they’re a torrent of the exact nightmare I never wanted. It’s coming true. It’s finally coming true.

“What did Imogen do?” I whisper, and look up to Ethan, but his face is an impasse of emotion. “What did she do?” I repeat, my voice louder, and I show him the article.

“Jess, she didn’t—”

“Didn’t she? They’re saying it’s my fault—mine!—that Carmindor’s getting axed. Because I’m not there to save him. Imogen said something, didn’t she? On the panel. I should’ve never let her be me.”

Ethan’s shaking his head. “It’s not what—”

“Isn’t it? This entire thing was pointless. There’s no way for me to win—none! If I get the script back, it won’t matter because they’ll blame me for killing Carmindor, and if I don’t get it back and everyone finds out it’s mine, I’ll be the actress who killed Starfield!”

“Jess, please stop for a second.” Ethan tries to grab me around the shoulders, but I brush him off. It doesn’t matter what he has to say.

I’ve seen enough from my comments on social, and the buttons I had to hand out, and the moments on the panels when she almost did the unthinkable, and I’ve already made up my mind.

“Go—leave!” I snap, and slip into the crowd as quickly as I can, dodging between a group of Jedis in training, hoping to lose him. But when I look back I realize that he didn’t even follow.

Ethan’s wrong—I never could have liked Starfield. Or Princess Amara. Or this fandom.

Because the fandom will never like me.

TOWARD THE END OF THE MEET-AND-GREET, the camera dies and the volunteer, a cheery girl with purple hair, excuses herself to go get a new battery. While she’s gone I shake out my nervous energy, my limbs buzzing with excitement. I can’t remember all of the people I’ve taken photos with, or all of their names—although I know I asked every one of them what it was. Whatever toxicity that was in the panel hadn’t made it here, thank goodness.

Ethan finally slips into the photo-op booth. He hesitates, then looks at me, as if seeing that I’m still in one piece and not, you know, torn apart by fans. No, I’m still intact. I’m still playing Jessica Stone.

“Is everything all right?” he asks.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” I clip in reply, but instantly regret it.

He nods quietly and sits on a stool in the corner, pulling out his phone to ignore me, or to pretend as though I don’t matter. I know he’s only here for Jess’s sake, but I wish he wasn’t.

The air is thick with tension. Like Jabba the Hut thick, so thick I’d have to wrap my chains around its neck and strangle it just to make it go away—and I’m not even wearing a metal bikini to do that in.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a guy saunter into the booth. He doesn’t even glance at Ethan, who just got a text and is replying with furious punches. Ethan doesn’t notice him either.

He isn’t supposed to be here, this guy. That much I can tell.

And when he looks at me, my blood freezes.

It’s Jasper.

I would notice him from a football field away, the way he holds himself when he walks, and he grins as we make eye contact. Brown hair and green eyes. Oh how I wish he had looked at me when we dated the way he looks at Me-as-Jessica-Stone now. Then I might not have ended up bawling on the curb at last year’s con.

I instantly get a bad feeling in my gut.

“Amaraaaaah!” Jasper cries, arms wide. He’s wearing a Joker and Harley Quinn T-shirt and jeans, and one of his YouTube filming lackeys is somewhere close by, I’m sure of it. “You broke the internet today!”

I did…?