“Hey Ed, got any plans next month?”

The sudden appearance and voice of his manager, Robert, startled Edward Aldrich from his computer-induced reverie. He blinked and peeked around the barrier of flat-screened monitors, spare parts and empty energy drink bottles. “What?”

“I said: do you have any plans for next month?” Robert Wong repeated his voice and posture now serious.

Edward reflexively keyed up WinAmp and killed the music. He really hated to put Megumi Hayashibara on pause like that, especially since it was Plenty of Grit, the opening theme for the latest addition to the Slayers series, Slayers Revolution. Even though the volume was pretty low, he had to at least show some measure of respect and pretend he was giving his full attention to his boss. “Do I ever?”

“You tell me.” Robert replied as he slid his narrow glasses up his nose just slightly. “You usually have something going on where you’re going here or there for one of those Japanese cartoo-“

“Anime” Edward gently corrected.

“- yeah, that. Those conventions or whatever it is that you go to.” Robert continued without stopping.

A barely noticeable look of annoyance slipped over Edward’s features. He had been working with Robert for several years now and his convention schedule had not changed much over that time. Besides, he made it a point to mark and share his calendar appropriately months in advance, at least. In Edwards’ eyes, Robert should know enough by now to not bother asking that question. “Just AWA at the end of the month…but things will pick up in October though. Why?”

“The guys upstairs apparently have a couple of jobs they want someone to take care of overseas. They were talking about travel for most of September in Europe.”

 “And they want me to go, right?” Edward said as he lifted a brow curiously.

Robert shrugged. “Not exactly. A call for volunteers went out to the managers’ list and I volunteered you.”

Edward frowned. It wasn’t that Edward hated travel. He loved it, but only on his terms. He knew that traveling for work left little time for fun, and not only that, he also knew these things usually ran longer than what was allotted. Even as the thought sank in, he could see his weekend in Atlanta all but ruined, if not missed entirely. “Gee…thanks.”

“Don’t be like that Ed.” Robert smiled. “I’m doing you a favor. Seriously man, you need a vacation. You know, get out of the office and enjoy yourself.”

“I do. I go to my anime conventions.”

“You take a Friday if you need it. Sometimes a Thursday or a Monday as well. Other than that you’re here so often, I would swear that you lived here.”

“Yeah…well, there’s work to do. Besides, I have to make up for all that time off I take…” Edward replied, as if he had been chastised.

Robert scratched the back of his head and then exhaled. “Look, I really appreciate that. I do. I wish half of the team had half your work-ethic half of the time. But this isn’t healthy. Try to look at it from my perspective; if you fell over from exhaustion or had some sort of breakdown because you don’t know how to take a proper vacation, that would cause a lot more trouble than you being out of the office for a few weeks. Trust me.”

Edward scratched the side of his chin as he thought about that. Rob did make a good point. Besides, as long as he was able to have the full weekend at Anime Weekend Atlanta, there was nothing to complain about.  “Alright, I get it. What do you need me to do?”

Robert smiled. This turned out to be a lot easier than he thought it was going to be. “Nothing. HR will send you your travel information through email and I’ll make sure you have all of the information and materials you need for the job. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to let the guys upstairs know what’s going on. Thanks Ed.”

“Not a problem.” Edward replied with a two-fingered salute. Once Rob had left, he turned his music back on and returned to work.

* * * * * * * *

Edward frowned as he looked at his flight information for the fifth time since getting past security. Bermuda? Why in god’s name was he stopping in Bermuda? If Northrop-Grumman actually had some work for him to do there he could understand. Even if it were a standard layover/flight transfer he could understand it a little better as well. But for crying out loud, this was pointless! He decided that it was useless getting upset about it now. He almost forgot one of the cardinal rules that got him through eight years of the Army: “yours is not to question why, nor is yours to reason why—yours is just to do or die.” No, he wasn’t in the Army anymore, but Edward found that even in the civilian world, the folks at the top of the food-chain made some really silly decisions and more often than not it was best to just not question them. “At least I got a window seat...” He muttered to himself under his breath as he fished out his MP3 player and turned it on.

Before he got himself too comfortable, the flight began boarding. With a grumble of irritation that had not been made since he redeployed from Iraq with the first Cavalry Division, Edward got to his feet, gathered his carry-on luggage and got in line. Edward had been on enough flights to know how things worked and he tried to hide his irritation at those who just did not have a clue. Was it that difficult to have your boarding pass out early? Was it that hard to have your ID out, or at least ready if the airline crew needed to see it? Edward clenched his hand into a fist within the pocket of his trenchcoat in irritation, savoring the pop his knuckles made in the process.

He knew it couldn’t be good for his hands and fingers, but it was better than the alternative. It just wasn’t that hard! Edward took in a slow, deep breath and then exhaled as the song on his MP3 player changed to a new track. Ahh, Tobira no Mukou e, one of the ending themes from Fullmetal Alchemist by YeLLOW Generation. Good song. Too bad they split up in ’06. That slight distraction calmed Edward enough that he was able to refocus himself and just get onto the plane.

It was only as he was looking for his seat did Edward begin to take notice of some of the people on the plane as well. First was a kid that looked far too smart for his own good. Poindexter was the first thing that ran through his mind for that fleeting moment. There was just something about that sort of people that set him off. Maybe it was that they seemed to think that they were better than everyone else. Granted, he was a geek and as much of a social outcast as anyone and was likely as awkward (if not more so), but just those guys seemed to have more pomp and arrogance than they had any right to and only a massive vocabulary to back it up. This was followed quickly by a Native American woman sitting quietly. Edward wasn’t exactly too sure what to make of her demeanor, but he also knew it wasn’t terribly often they were seen this far from the reservations. Further thoughts on the matter were derailed by the second-biggest country bumpkin he had ever seen. First thoughts:  Texas or Georgia. In Edward’s experience it was only those two states that managed to get people of that size regularly. Near the country-boy was quite possibly the most average kid he had seen ever. The only thing that even caught his attention was that he was drawing. Edward liked to tell himself that he could pretend to draw, and he wasn’t bad… but his abilities were limited to fanart and cobbling together pictures for his RPG characters and very little else.

Eventually Edward found his seat and slid into it awkwardly. This was one of many times he cursed his weight and build. While he was nowhere near as large as what most folks would consider “fat and overweight”, the fact of the matter he was. He put his carryon bag in the seat next to him and then raised the arm rest so he could actually be comfortable. As he fished out a copy of Cannon God EXaXXiaon by Kenichi Sonoda, Edward silently prayed to the Emperor of Mankind that nobody would sit next to him. That was always an inconvenience while traveling. Fortunately, his prayers were answered and Edward was able to both read his manga and enjoy his music without disturbance. Well, almost no disturbance anyway. There was a bit of noise when country-boy called out to an off-duty pilot to get him another beer. Edward was able to drown that out easily enough, though he found the mistake, or, rather everyone else’s reaction to that mistake, amusing.

What seemed like moments after that particular incident Edward heard something about upcoming turbulence or something. He couldn’t be sure. What he did hear was a request to fasten seat belts. Under normal circumstances he ignored such warnings, mostly because any turbulence a civilian aircraft would go through was nothing at all like the combat landing from a C-130. But this time, something told him that it would be wise to do so. Perhaps it was the combination of the suddenly darkened sky in combination of JAM Project’s Storm Bringer or something else entirely. Either way, Edward secured his baggage and sat back down, fastened his seatbelt and folded his arms across his chest before laying his head against the window. He had found that the best way to whether a bad or rough flight was to simply sleep through it. Before losing consciousness, Edward heard the beginning notes to Konya wa Hurricane from Bubblegum Crisis

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