Crowley was one of the few on the probes who actually had a real chance of a good life on Earth, before getting sacrificed to space, of course. He owned a small boat shop on a small lake in lower Alberta after he got some money together from working for the Canadian Air Forces. He had left service when things were leading up to the cross-seas war. Although now through his thoughts he couldn't place a name on the lake or even the town he had lived in at the time. Something usual, Pine Ridge, maybe, no, that wasn't it. Damn this sloshed memory.
His wife, whose name he did remember, always would, Marlene, ran a bar next door and his two kids, both from previous marriages, had grown and moved south into America. At the time of the abrupt shock of getting the knowledge that he was drafted, he had not spoken to his either of his kids in two years. He remembered the day he left like the first time he got laid or his first time in flight, one of those memories that seep into the bone and never come out, while the rest just wash off in the hot shower every morning.
Crowley was sorting through shipping documents, registering what came and went. The door to his tin shack that was placed off the southern tip of the lake hung open, the full sea breeze shooting through the opening in mists. He enjoyed that feeling, it never got old. The lake was man-made, but still a beautiful site. At least here he had trees, old pines shooting up all around the lake, aspens and cottonwoods hanging on the small creeks that poured off the nearby jagged mountain into the expanse of blue. The lake, from an aerial view, resembled an egg, broken in the middle with a small river coming from one side and exiting the other.
Some man in Michigan needed two huge motors, the cost of which to ship was more than the motors were worth. Another man needed some of his famous tackle that he made in the back. A few other orders remained on the page as a man blocked the light pouring in through the doorway. Crowley looked up, and was surprised not to see the usual tourist or local, this man was different. He oozed order. He was dressed casually enough, but his shoulders were squared back and he held too much air in his chest, like if he breathed he'd deflate like a balloon and shoot upwards in a flash. Stern, germanic, serious, he even walked with emphasized motion. The old man behind the counter let the electronic device that held his order list fall to the desk and kept an eye on the man as he snaked a few feet from the door, taking in his surroundings like a rat knowing it's being led into a trap, or a spider walking around the edge of the web, eyeing the quivering fly, not quite dead, he wasn't sure which fit better. The hunter or the hunted. Crowley was about ready to ask him what he needed when the man read his que and opened up with a voice like that of a dull ax beating on a chunk of wood, dead and lifeless, harsh and full of misplaced resentment, the tall man's thin lips cracked,
"Crowley Huggins Jr." how'd he..Jr, it hit him like an ice pick to the chest, "Airborne 4th division?" The man's gaze turned from the motors and poles hanging across the walls and leveled with Crowley, dark, too dark, the eyes were unlit lanterns in the darkest of caverns. How could this man see,
"Yes." The old man never broke eye contact with the pale, tall man, "A long time ago, at least, just Crowley now," His voice was a croak, a frog that'd been away from the water too long, the cigarettes must be catching up with him, "What can I do for you?" The man's eyes turned even more distant, receding into the piece of paper he'd learn to memorize, his voice becoming as stagnant as the mountain looming behind him, over the crest of the breaking waves, the same voice who crushed thousands of lives with just his breath.
"As you know each probe must have a human pilot as the A.I. of the ships do not harbor landing instructions, for this reason, we have found that as once a member of the Canadian Forces that you have the skills necessary to escort one of these probes, and hopefully, land it one day." His face remained the same.
Crowley looked into those eyes, slackjawed and unable to fathom how this being breathed and slept on a daily basis. Flashes of rage flew through his thoughts as fast as the mist was carried by the wind.
"Good luck, and best wishes." Emotionless, stoic, his arm reached from his pocket to the counter, as though the man was a mannequin and some unknown man held strings from the rooftop, he placed a piece of paper, synthetic, of course, and turned and snaked out the door in just a few brief steps. From the casualness of his words Crowley had expected him to turn around right before he left and go, "And have a nice day," like the young baggers who worked at the grocery store.
Dumbfounded, Crowley shakes his head as the blackness of his vision was replaced by the vacantness of the ship. A dream? perhaps, but it was too surreal, too real, it was the events. He was in the same position as before, his drink not even spilled.
"You're losing your mind, old man," He assured himself as he waiting for something to grab him in the dark and wake him up and place him back on that day so he could call his kids and hug his wife more than he did, nothing came, "Losing your mind, if you keep thinking thoughts like that, when you can't even remember the name of the town you lived in for seven years, or the name of the lake you sat near every day." He shakes his head again, shoulder length hair parted and cracked against the side of his head.