A Shot In The Dark
“I saw nobody back that way,” Robert reports when Lark meets him at the edge of the woods near the human base. “I followed their tracks the whole way through Lost Pass. Nothing.”
“Likewise,” Lark replies. “But I didn’t expect to see anyone up on Flat Mountain. What do you make of this place?”
The human base is a depot of metal buildings housing the machines they use to clear roads of snow and build new asphalt meadows. It is surrounded by a steel wire fence made of links and topped by a spiral of powerfully sharp metal wire. Devil wire, they learned to call it. Lark knows the razor-like metal well from a previous foray, when he and some bobcats were practicing their hide-and-pounce tactics near here. He found a stretch of the devil wire discarded in the woods, and still has the scars on his hind leg from struggling with it.
“They’ve been standing there the whole time,” Robert says, nodding to the two humans standing inside the fence. Neither of them were the ones he saw riding off toward the bog the previous morning.
“I’ve seen their lights from the ridge. More humans are coming up the valley into the town, but nobody is being allowed out,” Lark says. “This is where they’re running it all.”
Below the depot is a network of human byways and dwellings extending partway up the hillside. It’s where the most of the ‘stayovers’ – those who live in the valley through the winters – spend their time. They seem to spend much of it sitting in their nearly identical buildings, drinking and staring at blinking panels and beeping devices.
Lark continues, “Their dens below here are dark tonight. I think someone has shut off their machines.”
“Didn’t Shauna say she saw their lines down?” Robert asks.
“She did. These men have disabled the wires we see along their route forty-nine,” Lark responds. “Yet they are able to bring their own light.”
The corral the two men are standing in also hold several metal structures, two more of their rolling horses, and several of their other machines. At the far end of the lot is the spinning bird, sitting silently, waiting to be taken to the sky to rain metal and fire against the valley’s residents. Its tasks have mainly been applied to containing the humans within the village, but Lark knows it can be pressed into use against his kin just as readily.
The entire lot is dark, except for lights of blazing white the two men bear on their heads, and a strip of yellow beaming under the metal door into the largest building. The men have been talking, barely audibly, for as long as Robert has watched them.
“We should move in closer,” Robert says. “See if we can tell what they’re saying.”
Lark shakes his head. “We don’t want to be seen skulking about,” he says. “Better they know nothing of our interest here.”
“C’mon, just for a few minutes. Let me go in and listen to-”
Robert is interrupted by the arrival of another vehicle. The men open the gate and it enters the yard to stop by the building. Two more men step out and take a large box, one of the unnatural bins they use. Not wood, not metal, but something else. Normally they use a cover to keep out the weather, but this has none.
“What are they carrying?” Robert asks, as the men below start jabbering to each other.
Lark sees a pile of devices in the bin. “It looks like a cache of the blinking things they’re always clutching in their hands.”
The men are pointing and sweeping their arms across the valley below while they yammer on. They laugh about something.
“They talk on those things,” Robert says. “Are they trying to keep everyone from using them?”
“They’ve been letting other humans in but not out. That must be why they’re blocking the passes,” Lark says.
“I don’t get it, Boss,” Robert says.
“They want to keep the humans outside the village from knowing what’s happening here.”
At that instant, a loud bang is heard from the darkened village below. Lark and Robert duck back into the trees and watch the men turn to look down valley. There is a chattering voice from the devices on their belts, and two of them hop into the truck and head down the road.
“I should follow,” says Lark. He turns to see that Robert is eyeing him expectantly. “Sorry, someone needs to stay here and watch the base.”
“You sure? There’s nothing happening here,” Robert says.
“But something will, and when it does, we need to know the pattern.” Lark doesn’t need to say anything more. His gaze locks with Robert and the fisher crouches back. Lark is right. One thing about humans the valley dwellers know, is that if you watch long enough, their patterns will be entirely predictable. Robert’s observations could be essential to understanding what is going on.Lark heads off through the woods along the roadway, three more men emerge from the building and get into a truck. The spinning bird stays at rest, for now.