Imogen winces, her lips pressed into a thin line. She picks at the rough handle of the mop, as if I had asked her to explain solar combustion. Now that I finally have a good look at her, I much prefer her with a pink pixie. She looks a little too much like me in that brown wig and drawn-on mole, and I’m really not all that surprised she pulled me off so well. In any other life, she could’ve been me.

There is a theory of parallel universes—or a multiverse—much like String Theory’s extra dimensions of spacetime. It’s the speculation that there are other parallel universes running alongside ours with different pasts and different futures—where one choice you make splits off into another parallel world. So, perhaps there’s a universe out there where the impossible happens and I’m not Starfield’s princess.

Perhaps there is a universe where a girl with a pink pixie is.

“Princess Amara is brave,” Imogen finally says, and her voice is soft and timid, like she’s telling me a great secret not many people understand. “And resourceful and she’s the kind of princess who rescues herself, you know? She wasn’t made to be someone else’s character arc. When I first saw Starfield, I knew her. She wasn’t perfect—and that’s what I needed. She’s constantly in her father’s shadow, or Carmindor’s—but she tries so hard, constantly, to cast her own. And in the end she does by becoming the best version of herself. That’s why Amara means so much to me. She taught me that I can make mistakes, and own up to them, and be better because of them. So…I want to apologize—I didn’t know what you’d gone through. Or I mean, what you go through.”

I snap my gaze up to her, and she quickly looks away, but it’s too late. I know that tone. “What happened? Did something happen?”

Her mouth thins, and she sits down on the other side of the booth in silence. The waitress refills my glass and, seeing that she’s interrupting something, quickly hurries away. Imogen refuses to meet my gaze.

I don’t know Imogen very well, but I know that when she’s quiet, there’s something incredibly wrong. “Imogen, what happened?”

“It’s stupid. I mean, it’s done now.”

“That doesn’t tell me what happened.” Then I add, “It wasn’t Ethan, was it? I know you two got into a fight last night but…” I reach for my phone in my pocket and pull it out to call him. “I don’t know what’s come over him but—”

“NO!” She almost climbs over the table to stop me from texting him. I stare at her, startled, and she melts back into her seat in embarrassment. “No—it’s not him. It’s really not that big of a deal, okay? During the meet-and-greet today, a guy I knew came in. He just—his hand ‘slipped’ and he—you know—sorta copped a feel,” she says hurriedly, her cheeks burning.

Oh. Oh no.

“It was mortifying,” she adds quickly, “and before you ask, he didn’t recognize me. He thought I was you.”

Wait—she thought that I’d be mad at her? I’m furious, but not at her. I exhale through my mouth, the one thing I can do to keep myself calm as I process this. “And you’re okay?”

“Me?” She gives me a surprised look. “I want to punch his teeth in, I’m so mad.”

“You and me both,” I reply, and on my phone I pull up the email for the con’s management team.

“Do you know this asshole’s name?”

“I don’t know if he’s going under his real name or his YouTube name, but I’m supposed to meet him tomorrow after the con anyway. He wanted to tell me something. Me, Imogen. Not you,” she clarifies, and with a relieved sigh, she stands to put the mop back into the bucket. “I can really pick ’em, you know.”

I send off the email. “Well, if you meet him tomorrow, I just told management—although I’m sure Ethan already has, too—to tell security to come by so you won’t be alone.”

“Pff, I don’t need backup.” She puts up her arms and flexes them. “I got these deadly weapons.”

I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from grinning. “Do you always resort to jokes during serious conversations?”

She lets her arm flop down and sighs. “Yeah, it’s kinda a natural defense.”

“You must be great at funerals.”

“Oh, I’m dead serious,” she says with a straight face, and for a moment I can’t tell if she’s joking, but then she snorts a laugh and shrugs. “I’m just silly. I can’t help it.” She glances back at the booth where she and Vance were sitting. “Trying to be you was a lot different than I thought it’d be.”

That amuses me. “Because my life is so perfect?”

“As if.” Then she slowly turns her eyes to mine. “Because you’re a real person.”

Oh. I quickly look away.

A group of Starfield cosplayers comes in and sits down at the opposite end of the restaurant. They barely even glance over at us, chattering about the latest Starfield news and the leaking script, discussing rumors about Amara’s return—and lack thereof.

“I don’t think I want her back,” says the Carmindor cosplayer. A genderbent Euci glares at him. “Don’t start again.”

“I think she’s whiny and too perfect. I mean, she can pilot a Starkadia without any training and resist General Sond’s conscription? Come on,” he scoffs, “she’s a Mary Sue. She doesn’t even do anything, and the actress who plays her isn’t even hot.”

“Shut up, Mike,” says a General Sond cosplayer, snapping open his menu, “and stop being a sexist asshole.”

Imogen watches them thoughtfully, and I wonder—what were the odds of running into Imogen in the first place? What were the odds of meeting Harper? Of stumbling on that Princess Amara meet-and-greet? Running out in front of Natalia Ford’s car?

Maybe this is the impossible universe after all.

“You know, I thought I could hashtag Save Amara all by myself,” she says, pulling me out of my thoughts. “I mean, I did everything. I started petitions, I made buttons, I spearheaded the movement, I collected all the signatures. I even thought that if I were you, I could actually change things…” She shakes her head. “But, after everything that’s happened, I realized that I never stopped to wonder why you didn’t want to be Amara anymore. I never realized that the only part of Starfield you ever saw were the bad parts—and I’m sorry. I was looking at my fandom through rose-tinted glasses, and in the end I was kind of more the bad part, wasn’t I? To you, at least.”

I shrug. “Lot of fans want to save their favorite characters or TV shows.”

“Usually the actors also want to, you know? I didn’t even think about why you didn’t. If it’s because of fans like the guy in the meet-and-greet…I can understand why you’d hate Amara.”

“Mo, I don’t hate Amara,” I clarify. I drop the fry into the basket and wipe my hand on my napkin. Then I log into Twitter and turn on my phone to let her read the comments.

Slowly, her mouth falls open.

“I once told Dare that as actors, all we can do is embody a character for a while and play them as best we can. I remember like it was yesterday—we were sitting on set and he was so incredibly nervous to play Carmindor.” I grin at the memory, drawing stars in the condensation on my glass of water. “He looked up to the fictional Federation Prince. I didn’t understand why then, but I do now. Sometimes the best heroes are the ones in your head—but that doesn’t make them any less real. I remember telling him that it didn’t matter whether you were the Val Kilmer Batman or the George Clooney Batman, you were still valid. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.”

Imogen turns off my phone, and there is a crease between her brow, a little like worry and a little like anger. “Oh Jess…I didn’t know it was this bad. I’m so sorry.”

“Me, too. I’m sorry I lied to you at the beginning. The truth is, I messed up pretty badly too. I was so intent on not being Princess Amara that I didn’t stop and look to see what I had right now. Just because Natalia Ford has a dead-end career doesn’t mean I will.”

Imogen’s eyebrows furrow. “Dead-end? But…she went on to do other things, you know. She’s—Natalia Ford is one of the most prominent TV showrunners in Hollywood. If a network needs a series course-corrected, they bring her in. She’s won three Emmys for her work.”

I blink. “No, she hasn’t.”

“Yeah. She definitely has.”

“Then why haven’t I head of her?”

“Well, she goes by N. A. Porter—”

I give a start. “As in Blades of Valor N. A. Porter? The Sunrise Girl N. A. Porter?”

“Yeah, Jess. You didn’t think she made all of her money from syndication, did you? They got paid peanuts for Starfield,” Imogen scoffs.

This information settles into the soft matter of my brain like pebbles at the bottom of a pond. When I complained about being typecast, about always being a foil, Natalia Ford told me to change things. Like she had as N. A. Porter.