The Sunrise Plan
Little Scout perks his ears. He stands up and looks down the valley.
“What is it, kiddo?” asks Robert, then he senses it, too. The pack is returning early this morning. Something is wrong. He turns his head as the first wolf, Lark, rises over the headwall of the small ravine. The other wolves soon join him.
“Little Scout, you’re up,” Lark says. He’s clearly perturbed by this, but also glad there won’t be any time wasted nudging him awake. He looks at Robert. “You’ve been keeping my boy from his nap.”
“Hey, don’t look at me, Lark,” says the fisher. “I was just digging around for-“ He stops as Lark’s stare unnerves him. “On second thought, go ahead and look at me, that’s cool.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Little Scout says grudgingly. “I’m ready for your orders, sir.”
“Orders?” Lark says. He and the boy have had some discussions over his reliability lately, but the cub’s insolence is frankly more grating than a few botched assignments. “Okay, we were going to send you up to the ponds to watch some campers, but my orders this morning are to tell us everything you know about the group of trucks you saw.”
Scout jumps at this. “Now, dad?” he asks.
“Yes, now. How many of these trucks were there?”
“Oh, that depends, Dad,” Little Scout says. “They had six of those forest trucks, but there was a long truck with a big round box on it, like the biggest tree trunk I ever saw.”
Lark nods. “That’s was probably a tanker,” he says. “What else?”
“They were carrying other machines. These rolling horses.”
“The rolling horses,” Lark says. “I believe the humans call them ATVs. How many?”
“I saw four, and they also had a spinning bird on a bridge truck.”
All the wolves cringe at the thought of the spinning bird. Not much can spook a wolf, but the flying monsters are capable of ranging deep into the wilderness and raining hot metal on anyone caught out. That’s fearsome enough, but the rolling horses can carry the humans up all but the steepest trails, faster than any wolf.
If the humans have those, it means they aim to use them.
“How many people do you think there are?” Wheat asks.
Lark thinks about it for a moment. “Their cars usually have one or two people, but this sounds like they’re on some kind of mission. If it were us, we’d bring everyone we could, right?”
“Right,” Wheat says. “They can put four in each of them, and the two trucks.”
“That’s twenty at least. Maybe thirty,” Lark says. The pack stands in silence for a few minutes. The average groups of people number probably four. Families, like small packs. They tend to keep to the village and sometimes venture into the woods, but not very far.
Small parties without pups might go further, to the mountain peaks, and may even stay out overnight. They tend to bring a lot of their human ritual accoutrements and conveniences with them. On rare occasions these people even hunt, taking one of the valley’s forest residents home on the hood of their car. But the season for that is a long way off, at the other end of the summer.
Larger groups arrive in convoys like the one Little Scout saw, but not of forest-painted trucks. Sometimes people show up in vans and larger conveyances. These folks hardly leave pavement, preferring to course in and out of their village structures where they sit pointlessly for long periods, poking at beeping devices or prodding a plate of meat they had no hand in taking.
Disgusting. But this is what the pack knows of people, from decades of watching from the hills. The group of noisy, green vehicles is new behavior.
Lark squares up. “We only have one mission right now,” he says. “Information. Where are these things? What are these people doing? What can we learn from our comrades? We need to launch the sunrise plan.”
The sunrise plan. All the wolves shudder at the sound of it. It’s dangerous. The last time the sunrise plan came to the valley, they lost half the pack, and many of their friends. The plan involved monitoring the humans during daylight hours. They risked being seen, and in the case of wolves, feared. That time, the people turned out to be building a ski resort, something the woods dwellers thought to be the zaniest thing they’d ever seen.
But too many sightings of wolves, bears and moose while the sun was in the sky triggered a massacre that lasted two summers. It led to a lot of pursuit and narrow escapes, and in many cases, no escape at all. The wolves and their neighbors knew the story as it had been told across generations.
“Can we survive that?” asks Wheat. “Our numbers aren’t what they were then.”
Lark looks at him and bows his head only slightly. Wheat and Marcella are the only pack members he’ll let question him about a decision this impactful. “That turned out to be an endeavor that didn’t concern us, and yet many died. This new development may be targeting us.”
“Which is why we might need to stay out of danger,” says Wheat.
“Which is why we might need to know,” growls Lark. He is clearly finished answering questions, and he is more certain of the sunrise plan than before. “Marcella, you will bring word to the deer. Master Scout, you will apprise Quick Scout of these orders. Robert, we need you to call forth your specialty and monitor the town.”
“Will do, Cap’m,” Robert responds, thrusting his head and upper body upright. He’s been sort of an honorary pack member since his escape from the flood with Little Scout.
Lark reminds the group of the importance of certain aspects of the sunrise plan. “Let nobody follow you, and if anything happens we won’t search for you. Be back here before the shadow of Noon Peak leaves the river.”
“Lark, with respect, what of Shauna?” Wheat asks.
Lark nods at this. Shauna had gone west to meet with another pack from the big valley. A great messenger, she is on assignment to share information with packs from all compass points. Her spring ramble is always extensive and fruitful. “You’re right,” Lark says. “She may have information from the river pack we could use. Find out what she’s learned, and wait for us. We may need her to go to the packs beyond the valley.”
All the wolves nod and accept their fates. It is the way of the pack. But there is one question left, which falls to Marcella. “And who goes to Kayak, Lark?”
Lark gazes at her knowingly. “I will visit Kayak and his clan,” he says. “And I will take Little Scout.”