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Temporary Duty by Mike Schneider

No. 30 walked into the break room, drew a cup of coffee, sat down across the table from the room’s only other occupant.
    “How’s it going 45, where’s the Old Man sending you this week?”
    “Manila to cover a tsunami. I’m getting tired of these natural disasters. Too much work, too few troops.”
    “Too few is right. I had six capsized boatloads of Syrian refugees in the Mediterranean to contend with in one night, by myself, a couple weeks ago. I forget the exact number of drownings but the boats were grossly overloaded and only a half dozen survived. I’m hoping for something a little easier this week.”
    “Like what?”
    “Maybe the California wildfires, just a handful of people cashing out there, 20, perhaps 30, and generally well spaced. Important but not nearly as sad. They’ve had much better lives than those dodging bullets and living in the rat-infested rubble of the Syrian Civil War.”
    They were silent for a few minutes, 45 chewing on a chocolate doughnut from a box of Krispy-Kremes in the middle of the table, 30 looking off into the corner rather plaintively.
    “What you thinking about?” 45 asked.
    “About how much easier it was when the complement was still 5000. We were busy but we could get it done with relative ease. The Old Man cuts staffing by 60 percent and now it’s nearly impossible.”
    They stopped talking for a few more minutes while 45 enjoyed a second doughnut, glazed this time, and 30 fiddled with his cell phone.
    “Forty-five, what’s the worst case you’ve ever been assigned?”
    “I don’t know. The Titanic wasn’t the worst in terms of fatalities but it stands out as one of the most tragic. Fifteen hundred people died for nothing. It wasn’t in the original plan, then the Old Man got a wild hair up the ass and ‘Boom!’ iceberg.”
    “Yeah, that wasn’t good. How many more years do you have on this detail?”
    “Only one hundred and three. You?”
    “A hundred and five.”
    “I don’t know about you but half a millennium on this assignment is way more than enough for me.”
    “Same here buddy. It’s going to feel so good getting back to being just a regular angel again.”
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