“Uh, Tomu?” The tall man holding the rope pauses in front of Edward, confused. He looks over his shoulder at the bald man with the red eyebrows. “Tomu? This one only has one arm. How am I supposed to-” He trails off and holds up the rope.
Tomu, the calm man with the red eyebrows, disengages himself from a conversation with another and approaches Edward and the man. He peers down at Edward before reaching down and grabbing him by the collar of his shirt. He lifts Edward to his feet and escorts him to the end of the line before telling him to sit down again. The bald man takes the rope from the other and loops it into a noose, then drapes it over Edward’s head and lets it settle around his neck.
“Improvise,” Tomu, the bald man, answers as he hands the loose end of the rope to the man. He smiles and turns away, crossing the room to stand beside the speckle faced man.
“A good haul today, Pebo,” Tomu says to the speckle faced man. Pebo, the man who had lead Edward and the others to the room, looked up at the bald man from his place crouched beside the dead person. The speckle faced man had been upset when he saw the dead man at first, but he seemed less so now. He stood and nodded, looking back at the larger group of people.
“Yes,” Pebo agrees. “Almost twenty of them.”
“This is the largest haul in history,” Tomu says. “No one has ever seen more than two or three of these things.”
“There could have been a lot more if their primitive technology had held up better,” Pebo says.
“Perhaps,” Tomu replies. “But now is a time for festivities, not for complaints. This lot will make an excellent feast.”
Edward’s ears perk at the word feast. He leans to the side to peer around the man standing in front of him.
“What!?” Edward asks. “Feast? You inten-” He doesn’t finish his thought as the man in front of him brings the butt of his gun to meet Edward’s face. It cracks sharply against his cheek and his head is thrown back. The bald man’s words and the blow to Edward’s face seems to disrupt the rest of the group as words of protest spread through them.
“Stop!” One man yells.
“You’re going to kill him!” Yells another.
Several people just scream.
“You’re going to eat us?” The man beside Edward yells at Tomu. He, too, is answered with the butt of another tall man’s gun cracking his cheek open.
“Stop!” Edward yells. He leaps to his feet, throwing himself at the man with the gun. He throws a punch, aiming high for the man’s face, but the noose around his neck is yanked mid-swing and he misses. He stumbles back and falls on top of two people behind him, gasping as the noose tightens. He manages to push his fingers under the rope and pull it away from his neck allowing him a little room to breathe. He stares helplessly as the man he tried to hit raises his gun, a crazed look in his eye and a snarl on his lips. He aims the rifle at Edward and sets his finger on the trigger.
“No!” Someone yells. The triggerman hesitates long enough for Pebo to put himself between him and the people. “No more killing!”
“Move it, Pebo,” the trigger man growls. “I don’t take orders from you.”
“Put the gun down, Chto-to. We need these people alive,” Pebo doesn’t move.
“Put the gun down, Chto-to,” Tomu says, retaining his calm demeanor despite the increased energy of the room. “He’s right. The larger the haul, the greater the feast. Besides, you’ll need your ammunition for the trip back to the ship.” Tomu steps forward, putting himself between Chto-to and Pebo.
For a split second, it seems as though anger will persevere as Chto-to refuses to lower his gun, but he snarls once more and drops it to his side, allowing it to dangle from his shoulder by its strap. He turns and walks away.
Tomu reaches down, moving Edward back into place in line, before taking up the slack rope. He sets the loose end in Pebo’s hand.
“Congratulations,” Tomu says. “You have a pet. He’s your responsibility now.”
Pebo begins to protest but is silenced by Tomu’s raised hand as the man turns and walks away. With drooped shoulders, Pebo stares at the rope in his hand and accepts his fate as Human-Walker. Edward glances to the man laying at his side, the one knocked unconscious by the blow from Chto-to. He’s older, about the age of Edward’s grandfather. Edward sighs and slowly brings his hand up to touch his face. It burns around his eye and he winces as he presses against the puffy flesh. He can’t help put to let his tears run down his cheek.
The third thing Edward thinks is: this isn’t the horrible future I imagined… this is much worse.