Participating in online chats and reading fan stories online for the Starship Defiance series was a vastly different experience from actually going to a convention. Toni thought she had been prepared. After all, she had covered a few science fiction-based conventions when she worked for the Cyclone. Then she learned that participating was a totally different experience from standing on the sidelines and observing.
Her first clue came when Jeremy Randolph and his 'crew' showed up with various pieces of costumes and props. A uniform jacket on one, night-vision goggles on another, laser-rifle hanging off the back of another. Everyone wore a T-shirt with the Starship Defiance logo on the back and their rank and 'ship' insignia on the front.
"They're going to let you into the convention with that?" she said when Jake, the boy with the rifle, elected to ride in the back seat of her car.
"It's peace bonded." He turned it around to show her what looked like a plastic clip over the trigger and a cap over the muzzle. "Besides," he added with a grin and a shrug, "it's not loaded. I used to fill it with water and food coloring, but it leaks when it's cold out."
"Oh. Good idea."
Well, Curt had warned her that some of Jeremy's 'crew' were hard-core.
They talked eagerly enough, telling her on the drive about things their club did, such as paper drives, volunteering at the local PBS station during telethons, writing their fan magazine and selling it at conventions. Which explained the ten-ream copy paper box Jeremy loaded into the back of Curt's car. Toni decided they were mature enough to tell reality apart from their play universe, and that let her relax enough to anticipate enjoying the convention. Somehow, though, being warned about the participation drama-slash-war games that would take place all day hadn't been preparation enough.
She was met at the door by a fully costumed alien, what appeared to be half-cat and wearing roller skates, demanding her identification and affiliation. When she just gawked at him, he groaned and called her a 'mundane,' whatever that meant. Then he handed her a small, simple booklet with the rules and order of events for the day, and a map of the various rooms being used by the convention.
"It's okay," Curt said, catching up with her once they were inside and through the registration line. He hooked his arm through hers, and she was glad to hold on. "We're probably the oldest people here, and they'll leave us alone."
He laughed, and even if he didn't keep a tight hold on her arm all day, he did stay close. Toni was glad of that when the first of the participation drama came tearing through the main hallway, accompanied by ear-piercing sound effects, strobe lights, swords, and guns that gave off eerie red and green beams of light. She was nearly trampled by a gaggle of squealing, stampeding fans in full uniform who obviously weren't sure they wanted to participate.Toni let Curt dictate where they went and what panel discussions they sat in on. The food was plentiful, most of her favorite junk food, and cheaper than she had expected. The dealer's room amazed her. Much of the merchandise was quality, sold in retail stores, and what came from private craftsmen was displayed with pride. Jewelry, homemade perfumes and soaps, fan magazines by the score, weaponry, handcrafted textiles, tee shirts, bumper stickers with silly, sometimes rude slogans, music, costumes, and used books. Of the three panel discussions they attended, only one threatened to devolve into a melee of arguing and pushing. Most of the people around them seemed sane, balanced, and there to have fun. It wasn't their entire reason for living, as Toni had often heard said about those in fandom.