Author's Note: As this story takes place in the context of the Legion, it delves into some grim and disturbing territory. Please be aware that some of the material here is graphic and may be upsetting or triggering for some readers. The 'M' rating here is definitely not for show.
Six heard the first scream while she was brushing her teeth.
She spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the cracked sink, washed it down and peeked out the door of her boarding house room, anticipating that it'd be just another dust-up between Nipton's prostitutes and a powder ganger short on caps and long on excuses.
Instead, she saw Jeb come shuffling down the passageway. His face was unshaven and thin tufts of hair stuck up at the sides of his balding head. "There's Legion out there. Lots of 'em."
Six paused, trying to summon up an image to go along with this new word but nothing came to mind. Recently, she'd discovered that she was embarrassingly ignorant of a lot of facts that other people seemed to take for granted. Judging from Jeb's panic, however, this Legion coming to town wasn't a cause for celebration.
"What do you figure they want?" she asked.
"Not a clue," the old man said. "Maybe they're looking for soldiers. Nipton ain't got no loyalty to the NCR. They want 'em, they can have 'em. Maybe they'll take some of those damn powder gangers too. Those boys been nothing but trouble to this town."
Six frowned. She'd met a couple of the soldiers down at the Good Grub, the local greasy spoon. One of them couldn't have been older than nineteen, his face still rutted with acne scars, the wispy beginnings of a moustache shadowing his lip. He'd bought her a beer, trying to impress her and she'd humoured him a little while, so he wouldn't lose face in front of his friends. He'd seemed sad and homesick, talking about California as if it was a paradise on earth. He'd mentioned his mother more than once.
Six couldn't picture a decent old guy like Jeb selling that poor kid down the river, but maybe she was just being naive, fooling herself. Not every town was Goodsprings.
Six ducked back into her hotel room. She laced up her boots, pulled on her jacket, threw the last of her few possessions into her knapsack and strapped her pistol into the holster at her hip. Time to leave this town in the dust. She wasn't looking for trouble - she already had more than her fair share.
She hurried along the corridor and down the winding wooden staircase to the lobby, where she found Ma Bradley talking to three of the most bizarrely dressed men she'd ever seen. They wore clunky breastplates, silly red capes and leather skirts that left their thighs bare to the dust and the desert sun.
Ma turned, a smile plastered on her face. "We're going to a town meeting out in the square. Nothing to worry about!"
Ma's chirpy, too-bright manner made for a stark contrast with the grim, sun-burned faces of the Legion men. They gathered all the guests of the boarding house together – Jeb and Willis and the three girls who roomed in the basement and took 'gentlemen callers'. They dragged the youngest of them up the stairs, her blonde braids waggling against her shoulders, her freckled cheeks flaming with tears.
Six's hand went to the pistol at her hip.
Ma shook her head, giving her a reproachful look. "Nothing for us to worry about," she murmured. "Not our fight."
Six wanted to ask whose fight it was, but by then, the Legion men were herding them all into the square, where maybe two hundred others had assembled in front of Nipton Town Hall. Their eyes were turned to the veranda, where the Legion men stood with their rifles and machetes, mangy dogs stalking around them and baring their teeth.
Their leader seemed to be the one in the oddest and most terrible attire, a skinned dog draped over his head and shoulders like a hooded cloak. Dark sunglasses obscured his eyes as he surveyed the crowd, but from the tight line of his mouth, Six could tell that he had nothing but contempt for what he saw.
When he spoke, he had a soft, silvery voice and a chilly authority that reduced the crowd's mutterings to silence.
"Degenerates of Nipton, I have come to sit in judgement upon your many sins. For too long, we have watched in repugnance as you traded in flesh and treachery, a town of whores selling themselves to the highest bidder. Now, by the command of mighty Caesar, we have come to purify this filthy brothel."
A puffed-up man in a white suit and a lariat tie waddled officiously down the townhall stairs. He took off his straw hat, holding it over his heart and mopped his brow with the back of his fat hand.
"Vulpes Inculta – that's your name, isn't it? Of the Frumentarii, I believe? I spoke to Aurelius and he said -"
Vulpes tilted his head at the man. To some this might have looked like pity, but Six saw only condescension and a faint, horrible amusement. Her grip tightened on the pistol beneath her jacket and she turned off the safety.
"I give you the 'Right Honourable' Mayor of Nipton. I imagine you all know him well. He was the pimp who sold you, growing fat and smug as he counted his profits."
"This wasn't our deal," the mayor protested. "This isn't what Aurelius promised me. You can't -"
"But we can. And we have," Vulpes said. "Vermin of Nipton, do you know what happens when Legion soldiers show disloyalty? I will tell you. Some of the men are punished and some are made to watch. Today, in the grand tradition of New Vegas, we will have a Lottery to determine which among you will be lucky and which among you will be...less fortunate. When you receive your number, please take care to hang on to it. We wouldn't want you to do something rash that might ruin your chances."
Legion men began to circulate, handing out torn slips of paper as tickets. The crowd stirred, agitated, but each of the townspeople took their ticket. Some inspected it carefully, looking at both sides, rubbing their fingers over the paper. Some turned to their fellows, comparing numbers.
"Good numbers. Pity the fella who's got 13."
Others stared at their ticket in disbelief, as if it was the revelation they'd been waiting for instead of a few numbers printed on a stub of paper.
One of the legionaries thrust a ticket into Six's hand.
Why wasn't she surprised? The number '6' had been dogging her a long time.
Six ripped the ticket in half, letting the pieces flutter to the ground.
The legionary who'd handed her the ticket turned around, brandishing his machete. "Hey! What the -"
She pulled her gun.
"I'm not playing your sick fucking game. None of us are."
She shot him in the neck and he stumbled backward, blood burbling from his throat and streaming down his leather chest plate. He toppled against Ma Bradley, clutching at her skirt, smearing the white cotton with red.
"What are you waiting for?" Six hollered at Ma, at Jeb, at Willis, at anyone who would listen. "Fight them!"
Instead, Willis lunged forward and tackled her to the dirt.
She kicked and struggled beneath him. "Get off me, chicken-shit. This is your only chance and you're going to piss it away? For a ticket in a fake lottery. What do you think you're going to win?"
"She ain't from Nipton!" she heard Jeb holler. "She ain't one of us!"
Something heavy struck the back of her skull and she fell into a dark place like a shallow grave.