Today's Reading

When she saw me, she looked away and began rummaging in her purse for her signature rosy lipstick. I guess I felt sorry for her—I don't know—so I unpinned one of the buttons on my lanyard and held it out to her.

"Hi, I'm sorry for bothering you but I'm a really big fan," I said, which was one hundred and twenty percent true. "And I just wanted to tell you that I loved the way you portrayed Princess Amara. It really, you know, struck a chord. So, thank you."

I put the button in her hand: #SaveAmara.

It's from the initiative I'd started to bring Princess Armara back for the Starfield sequel.

She looked down and she just...got really angry. "Save Amara?" She shoved the pin back into my hand. "She can't save anyone—much less herself. She's better off dead."

Then she turned and retreated into a stall.

Honestly, I was too stunned to talk. I just pinned the button back onto my lanyard, checked my reflection in the mirror, and walked out.

I didn't know what to think. Maybe I thought she'd take the pin. Slip it among the dregs of her Prada bag and leave, forgetting it until years later.

Instead, I tried to act as if her reaction wasn't rude, or mean, or that I wasn't beginning to feel just a little bit angry too.

I'd just pulled down my beanie when I felt a tap on my shoulder. "Jess?" a volunteer said, looking at me. "It's almost time."

"No, I'm not—" I pointed back to the bathroom just as the volunteers's earpiece started to chatter. Panicking she did the one thing that volunteers were absolutely not supposed to do.

She grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me down the hallway...

And now here I am.

On the Starfield panel in front of three thousand people, standing room only. Displaced like a Yu-Gi-Oh! card in a Pokemon deck. Like a Nox in the Federation Court.

Like Princes Amara on the starship Prospero.

And I am in really, really, really big trouble.

Through one of the side doors slips a girl wearing a suede jacket and a black space queen beanie. The same beanie I have on. It feels a little like looking into one of those fun-house mirrors. You know it's you looking back, but it's slightly distorted. I mean, not in that wonky super-tall or super-wide way—it's just that something's off and you aren't quite sure what, and only you can tell. She and I have the same wide eyes and heart-shaped face, the same build, and I know she sees the same thing: a girl who looks a little too much like her, as if plucked from some impossible universe.

And right now, at this moment in the universe, 'I've' been mistaken for her.

I remember what Jessica Stone said in the bathroom. The snarl on her lips.

Save Amara? She can't save anyone. There was no love in her voice for the character she'd played, or for the fans who loved her. She's better off dead.

"Jess?" the moderator says, and both Jessica Stone and I turn our gaze to Felix Flores, an internet-famous foodie and founder of the podcast SCIFI BYTES. He's looking at me. Only me. I don't think anyone notices the real Jess in the crowd. "Do you wanna take this question? Spoilers for all of you who haven't seen Starfield yet! How did you feel when your character, Princess Amara, died?"

I blink and my eyes dart to the fan who asked the question. He's tall and gangly, but I can't really make him out, blinded by the stage lights.

Darien hesitates beside me, looking from the moderator to me and then back to the moderator. He begins to lean in to the microphone, but then so do I.

I don't know why. I shouldn't.

Maybe because Jessica Stone is in the crowd, and I'm up here...

...something just shifts.

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.
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