Karyn got out of the van, Bluetooth in place, and looked around nervously.
“Are you sure I can’t go with you?” Derpy asked.
“Honestly? I’m afraid to let you in the building.”
An hour earlier, Derpy had sat in Karyn’s room and listened to her plans.
“So there’s this huge event for all the fans of My Little Pony, and I saved up enough to go. I’d sure like you to be there with me,” Karyn had said.
“Will the people there know me?”
“Are you kidding? Everyone there will love you. We won’t tell them it’s really you. They’ll think it’s probably just two humans in a costume. But you’ll be able to be visible in front of them and to just be yourself. There is one catch?”
“What’s that?” Derpy had asked.
“We’re flying there, and not the way you usually do it.”
On the limo ride over, Karyn had explained all the procedures about flying in an airplane, and how Derpy couldn’t sneak on board, even if she were invisible.
“Can I at least come in and see this body scanner thing?” Derpy asked.
“All right, but listen. This is serious stuff. People get banished to an island for saying the wrong thing in here, so if anything even looks like it’s going wrong, freeze time and get out fast. Agreed?”
They went into the airport, which had high enough ceilings that Derpy could fly up and avoid all the people. She looked around in awe.
“It’s so pretty! Everything is all white and clean, and all the humans are so busy.”
“Don’t let the cleanliness fool you,” Karyn said. “All of these people are in a high state of tension. At any time, someone’s flight could be cancelled or something, and then they’d get really angry. Flying on planes is one big pain in the flank.”
She went up to the check-in counter. After a half-hour of waiting in line, she reached the front and checked her bags. After the representative spent what seemed like another fifteen minutes typing on her computer, Karyn received her boarding pass and was on her way.
“OK, Derpy. We agreed. Here’s where we go our separate ways. I’ll meet you in the other airport.”
“But how will I know which of these airplane thingies you’re on?”
“See here? I’m at gate A23. They’re numbered the same way on the outside. Just zip around and you’ll see that code.”
Derpy watched in silence as Karyn unpacked her laptop, emptied her pockets, and took off her shoes. Then she was hurried through the clear booth. Derpy was mostly confused, but she liked the wooshing noise it made.
Karyn re-packed everything and sat in the lounge to wait. She got out her book and read for a while. After about ten minutes, she heard, “Psst.”
Karyn lifted her head. She looked around her, but saw no one in the immediate vicinity.
She took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then said through her teeth, “I know that can’t be Derpy. I know that after all my admonitions, she wouldn’t be so bold as to come with me anyway. I know she wouldn’t want to get me in trouble like that.”
A timid voice said, “Um. . . I just really wanted to ask you something.”
Karyn slammed the book closed and reached for her Bluetooth.
“How did you get past the security?” she asked.
“I didn’t. I flew outside and found gate A23 like you told me. There was this big square tube there, so I flew into it and I found you here. So I figured it was all right.”
“I guess you didn’t know any better. I thought the plane would be blocking the gate. All right, stick around. What’s your question?”
Karyn heard Derpy’s voice move and determined that she was sitting next to her. “Well,” Derpy said, “I was watching some of the planes take off and land, and I can’t figure out how they fly. They don’t even flap their wings!”
“OK, here’s how I understand it, which may not be one-hundred percent accurate. You see the curved shape of the wing? When the plane moves forward, it gets the air rolling like a tube. Once the air gets over the wing, it keeps rolling downward. That downward roll creates an area of low pressure under the wing, which in turn provides lift.”
“It seems awfully complicated. I just push down on the air with my wings and I go up.”
“Yeah, but you’re doing it with magic. If a scientist saw you fly, he’d say it couldn’t be done.”
Derpy scoffed at that, but just then someone sat down next to Karyn, so they had to cut short the conversation. The plane arrived soon after and people got on line.
As she advanced in line, Karyn whispered, “OK, you follow after the plane. It goes fast. I hope you can keep up.”
“Don’t worry,” she heard back. “I’ve got a plan.”
Karyn got on board and went through the tedious process of shuffling toward a seat and performing the Olympic-level weightlifting needed to get her bag in the overhead compartment, then took a row with a window seat. She settled in to ignore the oxygen mask demonstration and read the catalogue of wall-sized crossword puzzles, vinyl-to-iPod music converters, and replicas of Harry Potter wands. She wondered what it was about flying that made the catalogue company think that people were suckers for useless baubles.
The plane took off and she leaned against the window in a half-successful attempt to go to sleep. She kept having visions of Derpy flying behind and trying to catch up. When she came to, the seat-belt sign was off and everyone was using their laptops. She slid the window shade up.
The gray pegasus pony lying lazily on the wing barely surprised her. Of course she did. She’s not even going invisible. She’s just counting on nobody looking out at the wing. She’ll probably say something like, “Well, there was a lot of noise, so I couldn’t talk to you. I had to make sure you knew I was safe.” I’m not even worried anymore. Unless the pilots notice that there’s something weird messing with their aerodynamics.
Yeah, I’m just going to pretend I didn’t see that and hope they know what they’re doing.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Around the time that the landing gear was lowered, Derpy slipped off of the wing and coasted in behind the plane. Karyn found lots to annoy her in air travel, but her biggest peeve was the interminable wait for the crew to open the door and for people to get out once the plane was at the gate. Eventually, she shuffled down the aisle and into the airport.
This time she expected Derpy to have flown in through the gate. It would make sense here, since it was the easiest way to track her rather than trying to hook up later. So once she was in, Karyn perked her ears and listened for Derpy’s voice, but with no luck. She decided to get her bag first and then find Derpy.
She felt awkward, since all of the usual methods she would use to meet up with a friend were unavailable with Derpy. She couldn’t call her on a cell phone or e-mail her or suggest a landmark that they could both reach. Standing at the baggage claim and wondering what to do, she felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around to see nothing. Derpy had found her.
“How’d you know I’d be here?” Karyn asked.
“Easy. I just checked the arrival board for which flight went to the gate that you landed at, then saw which baggage claim was servicing that flight.”
“I never know when you’re going to turn out to be a genius about something human.”
“I do have one piece of bad news, though,” said Derpy.
“When I flew in through the baggage claim, I saw that your bag was near the bottom.”
Karyn laughed. “Nothing more than I expected.”
After an endless wait, she got her bag and they left the airport. “Well, Derpy,” she said, pointing, “there’s the big city. What do you think?”
Derpy said nothing for a moment. She was drinking in the brownstones, the el train, and, off in the distance, the skyscrapers.
“It looks like a good skeleton for a city like Canterlot. The castles are there, they just need all the decorations. And the whole thing could use a good scrubbing,” she said.
“Definitely,” Karyn said. “In more ways than one. Come on, let’s get to the hotel.”
They made their way to the elevated train station. Ever since the first time they had gone out, the time they saw the movie, Karyn had had to deal with her ethical quandaries about buying one ticket when two were doing what the ticket allowed you to. But at the station, she muttered to herself, “Seven dollars for this train? Well, I’m calling it three and a half.”
The elevated train was a special line that connected to the regular subway system. The trains only ran every twenty minutes, and in deference to Murphy’s law, one had just left as Derpy and Karyn made it to the platform. After a long wait, they finally got to board.
“Is this all there is?” asked Derpy. “I can see why you’re so keen to ride on an Equestrian train. They’re far nicer than this.”
“Yeah. This one is just about getting from one place to another.”
When they got to the subway station, they encountered a problem more pressing than poor aesthetics. During the evening rush, each train was so full that if Derpy got on, people would definitely feel the invisible pony.
“What do we do now?” asked Derpy.
Karyn sighed. “Short of taking a cab, which I probably can’t afford, we could wait until the crowds thin out.”
“That could be forever.”
“Wait! I’ve got an idea. Remember when I caught that cold?”
Karyn waited next to the doors of the next train with Derpy hovering overhead. As the people on board got off, Karyn gave a loud sneeze. “Ugh, I am definitely coming down with something,” she announced.
She was not given a wide berth, but it was enough to fit a pegasus.
When they reached the center of the city, they had to walk—or fly—six blocks to the bus station. Derpy’s mouth hung open throughout the flight. “All these lights and signs! We have nothing like this in Equestria.”
Karyn felt a touch of pride.
At the bus station, there was less of a line and the prices were reasonable. The sun was starting to set as they traveled west. The red haze cast over the suburbs dazzled them as they looked out the bus window.
Derpy whispered into Karyn’s ear. “There’s so much going on here. Is this all for us ponies?”
“Heh, no. It’s Friday afternoon, and it’s rush hour. All this hustle is still people working,” said Karyn. “It’s always fun when you’re on vacation and everyone else isn’t. Everything is busy, but you have the time to take it slow.”
“I guess,” said Derpy. “I think it’s always good to take it slow.”
After checking in, they made it to the hotel room. “Now, I have to teach you the most important thing about staying in a hotel.”
“What’s that?” Derpy asked.
“As soon as you get in, you have to turn the air conditioner on full blast and leave it there. It’s the only time that you can make it as cold as you want and not have to pay extra, so don’t forget it.”
Suiting the deed to the word, Karyn opened a small metal plate on the air conditioner and turned it on full blast. She sat down right on the vents and let the cool air blow up through her shirt. “Ah, feels so nice,” she said.
Derpy looked askance at Karyn, and lay on the bed farthest from the air conditioner. “So what are we doing tonight?” she asked.
“Well, I was thinking that I would grab dinner and pick up our badges for the convention. You could come with me, but I think it’s better to save your grand debut for tomorrow. Understand this about conventions: there’s an awful lot of standing in line waiting. Also sitting in rooms waiting. Or hanging around halls waiting.”
“I’m sensing a pattern.”
“Yeah. But the point is that if you’re expecting everything to be a constant stream of entertainment, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re prepared to wait, you’ll be able to take it in stride. Forewarned is forearmed.”
“Actually, I’ve got four legs and no arms,” said Derpy.
Karyn shook her head. “Everyone’s going to love you tomorrow.” She picked up her purse and headed for the door. “Sandwiches OK for dinner?”
Karyn went outside in the heat. Walking down to the convention center, she felt a little pride as she looked at the other bronies and pegasisters. Sure, plenty of them could draw better than she could, or make plushies or music videos. Heck, some of them were probably on intimate terms with the big names of the show. But none of them knew a real pony from Equestria.
At least, she assumed so from what she had seen on her visits there. It would be funny if every brony had a secret pony friend, but each of them thought they were the only one. Her daydreaming was interrupted as she reached the convention center. There was no line for badge pickup, so Karyn was able to walk right up and present her two receipts.
“Do you have your ID with you?” the volunteer behind the desk asked.
“Right here,” Karyn said as she handed over her driver’s license.
“And the other person you’re picking up for?”
“Do I need her license too? I have the receipt.” Karyn was worried about this potential hangup, but not too much. She knew that if the convention enforced the rule about registration to the letter, they would have a lot of angry people demanding refunds over some silly paperwork. They would be better off putting their efforts into detecting fake badges and people who just tried to walk in without one.
Badges in hand, she got the sandwiches and returned to the hotel room. Derpy was reading through the card that listed all of the amenities the hotel offered.
“You know, Karyn, there’s a lot of cool stuff here.”
“There is. I always wonder why hotels go so far out of their way, when basically all of their guests are just using the hotel as a base to do something in town. Actually, I always thought that it would be kind of cool to take a vacation and just take advantage of all that hotel stuff. Order room service, use the spa and the gym and the pool, eat in the restaurant, that kind of thing.”
“That might be fun. But certainly not this weekend,” Derpy said.
“Nope. This weekend is going to be all about the convention. And it’s going to be awesome.”
In the early morning, Karyn got up early and made fried bread for breakfast. The kitchenette in the suite was tiny and cramped, and the smoke from the grease overwhelmed the cheap range hood. Derpy woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm going off.
“Ugh, what time is it?” she asked.
“Not too early, but I wanted to make breakfast,” shouted Karyn over the alarm. She had shut off the stove and was trying to fan the smoke away from the alarm.
Derpy was still groggy, but she saw the smoke and Karyn’s futile gestures, and she figured out what was going on. “Hang on,” she said. “Let an expert handle this.” She got off the bed and flapped her wings rapidly. The smoke cleared and the alarm shut off. Karyn ran to the window and opened it. The room quickly cleared.
“Thanks. I guess that means it’s done.”
Derpy was not used to hot breakfasts, and she was enthusiastic in her praise. “You can cook breakfast for me anytime!” she said.
Now wanting to risk the stove again, Karyn contented herself with bread and butter. As she was cleaning up the dishes, she said, “Now, one more important thing, not so much for a hotel but for a convention. You’ve got to shower every day.”
“Um, duh,” said Derpy. “I shower every day even when I’m not at a convention.”
“Yeah, but a lot of people who come here to party are too drunk or lazy to shower, and they stink up the place something awful. You’re going to be in a building with four thousand humans. That’s a lot of body heat.”
“Well, I won’t make any of the stink. Can I have the shower first?”
Still in her pajamas, Karyn sat on the couch and went over the convention schedule. It’s nice that they’re only running two tracks, she thought. I remember going to the comic book convention where they had over a dozen tracks. I missed so much stuff because it was at the same time or too far away. I think I can see just about everything I want here. She took a highlighter and marked out the events she wanted to attend, going over the most important ones two or three times.
The shower turned off and Derpy emerged in a cloud of steam toweling herself off. “It’s all yours,” she said. “What do I do with the towel?”
“Just throw it on the floor. The maid will come through and give us more later.”
“Really? Whoa. How much do we have to pay for that?”
“Nothing specifically for linens. It comes in with the bill. It’s not cheap, but once in a while you’ve got to treat yourself, right?”
“Yeah!” Derpy said. She had a look of distinct enjoyment as she spiked the towel to the ground.
Karyn showered and brushed her teeth. Throwing on a T-shirt and shorts, she turned to Derpy and said, “Ready to go and meet everyone?”
“Almost. How do I get this on?” Derpy asked. She was fumbling with the badge.
“You can’t get the lanyard over your head?”
“No. I can’t.”
“Well, that can’t be right,” said Karyn. “Your head’s not that much bigger. Flatten your ears.” She tried to get it over Derpy’s head.
“Ow, ow. Watch it.”
“OK, wait a minute. Let’s think about this. If we can’t get it over your head, and we can’t separate it from the lanyard, and obviously we can’t pin it to your clothes because you’re not wearing any, what we could do is to just keep it over one ear, but then we have to worry about it falling off. Wait! I have a bobby pin. That should keep it in.”
She suited the deed to the word and grabbed her own badge. “Now, how am I going to do mine?”
“Can’t you just put it around your neck?” asked Derpy.
“I could, but the problem with that is that as I’m walking around, it’ll turn and they won’t be able to see the front. Not a serious problem, just annoying.”
“You sure know a lot about these conventions.”
“Yeah, I’ve been to a few in my time,” said Karyn. “What I’ve done at some is to take two lanyards and attach one each to separate corners. But this one only has a single hole in the middle. I know, I’ll just run it through a couple of my belt loops. There.”
With the last obstacle out of the way, they left the hotel room and headed for the elevator. When the door opened, a young man in a Fluttershy T-shirt came out and did a double take at Derpy. He looked like he was about to say something, but she and Karyn entered the elevator and the door closed quickly.
“This is pretty cool,” said Derpy.
“To be about among the humans without having to disguise myself and hide and fly out of everyone’s way.”
“I think you’re a little bit of an exhibitionist,” said Karyn with a smirk.
“I sure am! This is going to be a great exhibition.”
“That’s not what I meant, but maybe it’s better you don’t know.”
The elevator reached the ground floor, and Karyn and Derpy stepped out into the lobby. They were getting ready to walk out the door when they heard, “Excuse me?”
They turned and saw the young lady at the check-in counter addressing them. Karyn was worried that she was about to be assessed a horse occupancy fee or something.
“I’ve been seeing a few people dressed in horse ears and such, but this is the best costume I’ve seen. Can you tell me what’s going on?”
“It’s a convention for My Little Pony,” Karyn said.
“That show from the eighties?”
“No, this is Friendship is Magic. It’s new and the ponies in it are real. My friend Derpy here is from Equestria.”
Derpy gave her a look, wondering why she was giving away the truth, but the hotelier laughed. “Cute. There’s really a lot of interest in it?” she asked.
“Oh, yeah. You should give it a look,” said Karyn.
“Maybe I will.”
The girls reached the outside, and Derpy said, “Karyn! We’re not supposed to tell anyone else about Equestria.”
“That’s the beauty of doing this at the convention. We can tell them that you’re really Derpy Hooves, which is perfectly true, and no one will really believe it. Just don’t take off and go flying around.”
The hotel was right next to the convention center. In the steamy morning, the convention-goers were milling about ready to enter. There was still an hour to go before the main doors opened, and a shaky line was forming. Karyn slipped in line just as if nothing was unusual, and Derpy followed after.
The first person to notice Derpy was standing in line in front of them. “Whoa! Cool costume! Can I get a picture?”
“Sure!” said Derpy. He snapped a picture with his phone.
“Check it out,” said a girl who hadn’t decided to get in line yet. “It’s Derpy Hooves!”
“Oh, wow!” said her friend, “That is so perfect. You must be a professional seamstress or something. How long did it take you to look like that?”
“Not long,” said Derpy. “I just showered and brushed my mane.”
The two girls laughed. “Yep, you’re Derpy all right!”
Another young man came up to them. “Excuse me, could you please say, ‘I just don’t know what went wrong’?”
Derpy bristled a little, but she recited the line. As everyone waited for the convention to start, she was pressed into service as impromptu entertainment. After many people asked her for pictures and hugs, she got a moment to whisper to Karyn.
“I’ve never gotten so much attention,” Derpy said. “I think I like it a little.”
“It’s a real role reversal, huh?”
“What do you mean?”
“This time, I’m the one who’s invisible,” said Karyn.
Just then, neither of them was the center of attention. The main doors to the convention floor opened.
Next week: the convention itself! Note: all. . . well, most. . . events in this chapter and the next are based on my actual experiences at Bronycon 2012.