Chapter 1 Preview
"Hey Geeks and Gamers, this is Jeremy coming at you with another videoooo.”
It was his third video of the day, and his best. A truth-bomb on Galaxy’s Edge, thanks to a Twitter tip-off from Dataracer. Jeremy watched it back and scrutinised the detail as he fiddled with his Star Wars cap. Am I losing my touch? he wondered. Or maybe he was losing his mind. Because if the YouTube stats were correct, all of his recent videos had hardly any views.
Jeremy picked up his cell phone and dialled the first fellow-YouTuber he could think of. His call went straight to voicemail where he was greeted with a familiar message.
“This is Ethan Van Sciver, twenty-six year veteran of the comic book industry, the world’s most charming, elegant, eloquent and humble man, and great big Star Wars fan. Leave a message after the tone.”
“Get back to me ASAP,” said Jeremy. “And change your personal greeting, it’s too damn long.”
He had barely hung up when a chat request pinged on his computer screen. Leia, his pet Chihuahua, lifted her head at the sound of the noise. She had a distinct look of annoyance on her face (anyone who says dogs don’t have facial expressions has never met Leia).
“It’s ok girl,” said Jeremy. “It’s just Uncle Ethan in the chat room. Go back to sleep.”
He donned his headset to avoid disturbing Leia. She was every bit the princess as her namesake.
“Jeremy!” shouted Ethan, demanding his attention. “I just picked up your voicemail. Have you been on YouTube today? Dude, something’s going on.” Ethan spooned a mouthful of pie into his mouth. “I posted a video earlier and it’s got zero views. I mean nada. Not one.”
“Same here,” replied Jeremy. “Are you eating pie at 11am?”
Ethan shrugged. “I did an all-night drawing session. My new Cyberfrog comic won’t sketch itself. This pie is my supper. Or breakfast. Or maybe both.”
Jeremy’s cell phone started to ring and Leia grumbled at another interruption to her nap. It was Anna. Even before he answered, Jeremy knew why she had called.
“Hey, Anna. Don’t tell me – your YouTube views are down.”
“Hell to the freakin’ YES they are,” she yelled. “They’ve fallen through the floor! What’s going on?”
Since they each passed a 100k YouTube subscribers, their videos regularly pulled in thousands of views within hours of posting. Now it was just a handful.
“It’s the same for me and Ethan,” said Jeremy. “Jump on the group chat.”
Anna hung up and within seconds her face popped up on screen. Except it wasn’t her face.
Ethan started laughing, revealing a mouth full of pastry. “Are you cosplaying Anna? You’re angry, and cosplaying. That’s hilarious.”
Anna’s face was one-half Ahsoka Tano, one-half Darth Maul. Her snarl only added to the menacing face-paint.
“I’m glad you find it all so funny, Ethan. I spent an hour on this make-up for a new video. It will be a total waste of time if our audience has completely disappeared.”
Disappeared. That’s exactly what had happened, thought Jeremy.
“Relax,” he said. “There must be an explanation for all of this. Maybe YouTube has gone down.”
But YouTube was working fine, and it wasn’t just their videos that were affected. When Jeremy checked his Twitter account, none of his recent tweets had any likes or retweets. The only activity was a single DM from The Fandom Menace blogger, Itchy Bacca. Jeremy clicked on the message and immediately became curious.
“Guys, I’ve got something from Itchy.”
He opened the attachment and began to read what appeared to be a screenshot of an invitation:
Dear Itchy Bacca,
As a highly valued fan, you are hereby invited to a TOP SECRET Star Wars convention in New York City. We recognise that the fanbase has become divided, and we want to heal this division. Only by listening can we hope to improve.
Your travel and weekend accommodation will be paid for. All we ask is that you treat this invitation as highly confidential, and do not share it with ANYONE.
A car will collect you at 11am tomorrow. We look forward to meeting you.
Below the image of the invitation, the message contained a single word:
Ethan coughed and sprayed pie over his webcam. “What the hell? Where’s my invite?”
Jeremy scrolled through Twitter, searching for activity from any the people he knew: Jeff from World Class Bullshitters, Jessi Milestone, Josiah Rises, Drunk 3PO. It was the same for everyone.
“Guys, I think this scam has affected the whole of The Fandom Menace.”
“I think you’re right,” replied Anna. “My timeline is empty. All social media activity stopped at 11am. Is this some kid of computer virus?”
Jeremy double-clicked to open the invitation once more. “11am – that’s when the car would have picked up Itchy. It’s also the exact time he sent this message asking for help. And who the hell is Y.B.?”
Ethan wiped his webcam clean with his sleeve. “Ah, come on dude. You don’t really think this secret convention is real, do you? Even if it is, why would they invite the whole of The Fandom Menace and not us?”
As Jeremy pondered the question, he heard a car pull up outside his property. He dashed to the studio window and accidentally knocked a furry Mario Kart turtle from his display shelf. Leia reacted to the sudden commotion and jumped up.
“Quiet girl!” he said as he peered through the blinds.
A black Mercedes with tinted windows was parked outside. The driver climbed out and looked up and down the street. He was dressed in a dark suit and wore sunglasses, despite the overcast weather. Something about him seemed off.
“Jeremy!” shouted Anna through the webcam. “There’s a black car outside my house!”
“Mine too,” said Ethan. “This is exciting!”
Jeremy scrambled back to his computer station.
The doorbell rang and Leia started to bark.
“Don’t answer the door,” he said, grabbing his Alabama hoodie and his car keys. “Get out of your house. Meet me at the diner as soon as you can!”
He switched off his computer and scooped up Leia as he ran from the studio, headed for the back door. Something serious was going down, and he had no intention of hanging around to find out what the mysterious driver wanted.
The doorbell rang again.
And this time it didn’t stop.