CHERRY HILL An unsuspecting visitor to the Crowne Plaza Hotel did not have to spend much time looking around before realizing that these friendly, if oddly dressed, people were not the ordinary Cherry Hill crowd.
The place was abuzz Saturday with Trekkies, more than 1,200, who gathered for Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention, a three-day event that ends Sunday.
They weren't just playing the part of the Starship U.S.S. Enterprise enthusiasts. They were wearing it, reveling in it, encouraging it to course through their veins as though the sci-fi series were a life force all its own.
For these fans, it is.
The first clue was a man wearing a T-shirt with the message "U looking for Tribble?" That's a reference to Tribbles, the soft, furry, creatures that starred in one of the most beloved Star Trek episodes, "The Trouble With Tribbles."
The next clue was nearby in the hotel lobby, where there was a gathering, in full regalia, of members of the Imperial Klingon Forces, an international nonprofit that has, according to its business card, "proudly served the Empire and local Communities with honor and glory since 1994."
Sitting with them was Jim Macintyre, 64, of Butler, N.J. At least, that's what the muffled voice said from within the full-body costume, which included a rocky, silicone face and a large, silver interstellar weapon.
Macintyre said he was "a member of a species with the misfortune of evolving on the Klingon-Gorn border. We're the people who talked the Klingons and Gorns into a nonaggression pact so they could cross borders" to visit their loved ones.
Not far from that group was Randy Jennings, 48, of Fairfax County, Va.
On weekdays, he said, he does consulting. This weekend, he was dressed as part of the Borg. You know, the Borg, the Star Trek: The Next Generation species of collective cybernetic organisms, Jennings explained.
He made the outfit himself out of plastic toys, tubes, and other items he bought at hardware and dollar stores. It cost about $600 and required lots of creativity over five months.
Jennings, for instance, adapted a piece of downspout to serve as a high-tech prosthetic arm with a claw and another metallic contraption where fingers would be. His headpiece was made from three plastic soldier hats cut up and reassembled "to fit my fat head." He topped it off with the shell of a horseshoe crab.
On his back was a baby doll.
That, Jennings said, is the baby Borg Queen. The original Borg Queen was killed by Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: First Contact, a 1996 film in the franchise.
"I am the prince consort," Jennings said.
His attire was a hit.
Every couple of minutes, Starship Enterprise crew members, creatures, or plain old civilians would ask Jennings to pose for photographs. Fearless children walked right up to him. "I haven't seen a Borg in full regalia in a long time," said one man, excitedly.
The compliments fly every which way at a Star Trek convention. Jennings interrupted himself when a woman in costume walked near him.
"Nice chick Gorn outfit," he said.
That Gorn, a member of the bipedal reptilian species first seen in the Star Trek episode "Arena," actually was Mayra Filippone, 31, a landscape architect who came from Baltimore for the gathering.
"Isn't it hot in that reptilian getup?" she was asked.
"As hot as Vulcan," she replied without hesitation, referring to the planetary home of the famed Mr. Spock.
These fans know they have a passion that may seem extreme to the outside world.
They don't care.
Jennings made his costume - and shows it off at conventions - because "it's fun to be a kid again."
Filippone said Star Trek aficionados are no different from any other fan.
"I think all those people who wear jerseys to football games are weird," she said.
The biggest buzz from attending Star Trek conventions, Filippone said, is meeting people and making new friends.
All 1,200 attendees seemed to be friends as the lights dimmed in the ballroom. Their cheering and whistling made the room rumble as if a spaceship were about to land and deliver an intergalactic superstar.
That's exactly what happened. Kind of.
Out from behind the stage, in the glow of a spotlight, appeared Captain Kathryn Janeway - actress Kate Mulgrew, the star of Star Trek: Voyager, which had its first run on television from 1995 to 2001.
Mulgrew walked out and held her arm up high, triumphantly, taking in the adoration. She never tires of such greetings, the actress said.
To the Star Trek fan, a convention is even the perfect place to celebrate a birthday. Sitting on the floor, hunching over a laptop computer, was Klingon Jan Midgette, who lives outside Atlantic City. She was wasting no time uploading photos from the convention to her Facebook page.
Saturday was the real-life artist's 40th birthday. She said she planned to celebrate the usual Klingon way: