He swallows thickly and, apparently finally making up his mind, straightens his spine and sticks his hands in his pockets in a very jerklike way. “I was merely giving my fans some one-on-one time, unlike you. You haven’t been seen in years.”

“I prefer anonymity in my retirement, but maybe I should’ve come back and taught you some manners, kiddo.”

“Manners? Like I could learn anything useful from you, old man,” Dare bats back.

The crowd is growing, and now everyone is most definitely interested in this showdown. They don’t even notice Milo and me.

Imogen’s brother pats me on the shoulder, and I hurriedly wiggle my hairpin into the bottom hinge. It pops off and the glass door falls open. Milo catches it, and I grab the dress on the metal mannequin, folds of spun silk and taffeta, and pull it out of the case.

In the next blink, we’re gone.

“SO, WHERE’S YOUR BOYFRIEND, PRINCESS?” Vance’s oil-slick voice purrs behind me. “Darien got cold feet?”

I resist the urge to shove my fist of fury right into that smug jawline of his and instead whirl around to him and feign shock. “Oh look, a wild nerfherder appears!”

His blue eyes narrow. “You look nervous, sweetheart.”

“And I’ve told you not to call me that, supercreep. What, are you done flirting with the volunteers? Were you lonely, Vance?” I say, trying to keep my voice in Jessica’s range, but after using it constantly these last few days, my vocal chords waver in and out.

He smiles at me and begins to say something, but then Amon bursts through the doors, clapping his hands loudly to get our attention.

“All right, crew! Let’s—wait, where’s Darien?” he asks, taking a frantic headcount of the panelists. “Where’s our Carmindor?”

I clear my throat and say in Jess’s sweet accent, “He went to take a piss.”


I shrug. The lights on the stage begin to rise.

Amon glances at his phone, and his lips curve down into a frown. Vance nudges his chin toward him. “What’s wrong, Boss?”

“Nothing—it’s nothing. Everyone, gather round!” He motions to bring us all in, and Calvin and Vance circle up with me. “Here’s where we get to announce your hard work and the title.”

Calvin thrusts up his fist. “Heck yeah! Beating that leaker to the punch!”

Amon’s phone begins to ring, but he quickly silences it.

“That too. Are you ready, team?” He sticks his hand out into the middle, and everyone puts their hands on top of his. “Jess, I know you’re off in your own world, but are you with us?”

I blink out of my thoughts and put my hand with theirs.

“Look to the stars!” he starts. “Aim!”

“Ignite!” we cry, and break the circle.

Bunch of nerds, I realize. The lot of them.

Except for Vance. Vance can go take a hike off the nose of a Nova-class star cruiser.

The lights in the audience crash to black, and the Starfield theme comes on, so loud it vibrates my chest. Excitement races across my skin like electricity. Jess should be here experiencing this. She should be the one about to walk out onstage.

She’ll be here, I remind myself, and I eye Vance for the umpteenth time. Bran should be taking over his Twitter account by now, getting his phone number.

Amon climbs the stairs to the stage first, and the rest of us follow into the blinding light.

The roar of the crowd is…monstrous.

Three thousand screaming fans, and even more watching the live-stream on the internet. With so much Starfield fandom gathered in one place, there’s no way not to feel alive. Like every one of us is linked in some cosmic tapestry, all of our lives affected, in some small way, by Starfield. I close my eyes and listen to the crowd singing along to the theme song like it’s their own heartbeat, and there’s nothing quite like it.

There will be nothing quite like this ever again.

Amon introduces us. I try to squint beyond the glaring lights pointed at me, but I can’t see if Jess is in the audience. I can’t see Ethan, either. Wherever Bran is, he should be calling Vance’s phone right about now. I glance down the table to the phone’s screen but it’s dark.

Please let this work, I pray to the impossible universe.

“So! Before we get into the questions, and as we wait for our Carmindor,” Amon says into his mic, setting his phone on the table. The screen blinks on—someone is calling him.

And not Vance.

About a thousand expletives race through my head.

No way.


“I want to give you all a surprise—the title of the sequel! Can we bring it up on the screen?” he shouts back to the guy operating the lights. But what he hopefully doesn’t see is that the tech guy excused himself a few minutes ago after a fan—Elle, really—accidentally spilled an Icee all over him, and Ethan, cosplaying a techie in a too-short black shirt, quietly took his place.

I just hope Ethan knows how to operate the light board.

But the lights don’t even flicker.

I watch Amon’s phone light up as the number calls again, and again, but because it’s set to silent, it doesn’t vibrate. I begin to feel sick to my stomach.

Vance isn’t even looking at his phone, which is also faceup on the table. He gets a text from his mom (SWEETIE U LOOK SO HANDSOME!!) but that’s it.

Oh no.

Amon clears his throat. “Uh, tech guy? Hello—”

This time the lights flicker.

We need to stop this now.

The plan has become our worst-case scenario and I’m really regretting not telling Jessica about how unlucky I really am.

“Hey, is there a technical difficulty? I can show the title later—” Amon says, but he gets shut down very quickly by raucous booing fans. He quickly holds up his hands. “Okay, okay! We’ll wait.”

Vance glances over to me as if I’m responsible for this, and I give him a cheesy smile and wave, one finger after another, because yeah buddy we’re in this. We’re here for the ride. There’s no way to stop Bran, and it’s too late to call off Ethan, and the stage lights are crashing to black.

Besides, you know what they say:

Anything can happen once upon a con.

Everyone sits in darkness with baited breath. No one moves. No one speaks. It’s as if a weighted blanket has been thrown over the entire room. The audience is looking expectantly at the screen behind us, waiting for it to display the title and logo of the Starfield sequel, when suddenly the back door bursts open.

The thump of heels on padded retro carpet is the only sound in the room. From the light leaking in through the open doors, I watch as the folds of her radiant dress billow around her like a swirling dark-purple nebula, rhinestones and glitter and starlight sewn into the seams. The original, stolen straight from the glass coffin it was kept in. The dim light sparkles against her golden tiara, inset with crimson jewels to match the blood-red of her hair.

Starflame, she looks like Amara.

She looks like our princess never died.

I’VE HEARD FROM MULTIPLE SOURCES, ALL of them named Darien, that if you watch Starfield in chronological order, Amara has a redemption arc to rival Prince Zuko’s. She actively hates Carmindor in the beginning, she hates everything he stands for, she hates the Federation and the Intergalactic Peace Treaty. She wants to make her father proud.

In the second half of Starfield, she realizes that nothing can make him proud. There are lines she can’t cross. There are things she doesn’t want to do. There are things she does anyway.

And in the final episodes? She may not be nice—but she is good.

I am the best parts of her, and part of the Amaras I pass in the crowd—the gender-bent one across the aisle, the ten-year-old one with glitter in her hair, the Black Nebula Federation Princess Amara come back from the grave. I’m a part of every Amara at the con, every Amara on the screen—just as the first Amara is a part of me.

And we don’t die quietly.

There are stories that you tell and stories that tell things to you; stories that win awards and stories that win hearts. Sometimes they’re the same. Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes the stories you want aren’t the ones you need, and the ones you need are the ones you never thought you’d like.

Perhaps this is one of those stories.

Perhaps Starfield is one of those kinds of stories to me.

With each step I take, the crowd grows increasingly restless. They begin to understand just what’s happening. That the Jessica on the panel is not me.

Vance Reigns lays eyes on me for the first time. “You—you’re Jessica? The real Jessica?”

I cock my head to him. “Are you the real Vance?”

He jabs a finger back at Imogen. “Seriously? This fake has been playing you? This whole time?”

At the end of the table, Amon tries to keep the panel under control. “There’s probably a reasonable explanation for all of this. Jess? Whichever one of you is real?”

“We’re both real,” I tell him.

Imogen is shaking her head at me. Something is wrong.

“Then why don’t you explain it and let us get back to our panel?” Vance replies, and if I didn’t know better I would’ve thought he was being very amiable. Not about to lose his temper. But there’s a muscle throbbing in his jaw. He doesn’t like being taken for a fool. “This is pretty rad.”