<<UserID:Webb>> I don’t...
I don’t even know where to start. I’m sick straight through to to the bone, and I don’t even know who has disgusted me more -- the *Expletive Deleted* Legion... or me.
Where did my last recording cut out? With that madman Swanick, I think. Coming up the road into Nipton, he came running straight at me, and I almost shot him before I realized he was unarmed and grinning like a lunatic.
I could barely get any sense out of the man, other than that he had won some sort of lottery and was EXTREMELY excited about it. I remember some little betting pools we used to stir up back in the service, mostly for decent food, trading the less popular duties, or a few caps, but nothing that would make you think the air smelled like wine.
At first, I assumed he must be one of those lucky individuals with whose mental capacity is so limited that they can find joy in nearly anything. I’m sure Swanick’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but, as it turned out, he had reason enough to be acting the way he was.
I didn’t get the reason from him, however. Before I could ask him anything substantial beyond his name -- Oliver Swanick -- he ran past me down the road, still hollering and shouting about his luck. I stared after him, scratching my head as he dwindled into the distance, gradually fading into the heat shimmer on the broken asphalt in the early afternoon sun.
As I got into the town proper, the unease growing in my gut twisted into a full knot. The smoke was coming from far too many places to be tanning fires or bonfires, and the place was empty... completely empty, except for the crows.
Well, that’s not entirely true. There were the crosses.
Oh, god. The crosses. I saw them with my own eyes, and I can still barely believe it.
I’ve seen terrible things. Things, if this world hadn’t gone to hell, that no one should have to see. Things I’d joined the service all those years ago to try and prevent.
I’ve seen murder, rape... cannibalism. But, as horrible as those things have been, somehow they speak of lost humanity, of people lowering themselves to animal states in response to the world. That doesn’t excuse anything -- the notches on my old service rifle would attest to that, if those *Expletive Deleted* Khans with Checkers hadn’t taken it when they rolled me outside of Goodsprings -- but it somehow makes it easier to understand.
We all have that reptile somewhere back in our brains, just waiting for enough of the cage of society to fall away so it can reach its jaws out into the world. But crucifixion? That IS society.
Establishing and following a tradition that allows for the public humiliation, torture, and eventual death of our fellow man is... well, uniquely human. It takes society to come up with something that depraved. I think that’s what sickens me the most.
If this is what is growing out of the ashes... maybe the bombs should have finished what they started.
Lining the streets, hung from lamp posts, telephone poles, anything that would support them, was what was left of the population of Nipton, nailed by the wrists to the wooden beams or skewered on spikes soldered into the metal posts. Some of them were NCR, some were wearing the convict jumpsuits of Powder Gangers, and some were just plain old folks, as best as I could tell.
Interspersed between the makeshift crosses were spears, pikes... even fenceposts... topped with severed heads, their tattered necks dripping down the posts. The fires spread through town were pyres, heaped with smoldering decapitated bodies.
Most of the crucified people, thankfully, were also dead, either from blood loss, exposure, embolisms stemming from their broken legs, or, for the really unlucky ones, the none-too-delicate attentions of impatient carrion birds.
It’s funny -- I remember reading in one of the Vault City medical library’s holotapes that crucifixion actually killed victims via suffocation. That can’t be true, though -- there’s no way that a body with arms angled in that fashion would...
Gah. Stop it, Webb. No sense hiding from reality in textbooks. You’ve got to get this out, just so it’s not festering in your head.
Some of them... hadn’t died. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were still alive. They just weren’t dead yet. Or maybe I just have to think of them that way.
One of them, a young man in brown NCR fatigues, had lost both eyes to the crow sitting on his shoulder. He was moaning softly, almost a whisper. I’m sure it would have been a scream if he had still had the energy for it.
There was nothing I could still do for him, or any of them. Maybe, if we’d been back in Shady Sands or the Hub, with full facilities and supplies, some of them might have made it. Here, all I could do was hurry them on past the pain.
I’d like to say I had enough chems to send them off peacefully to sleep. Unfortunately, I’m a pretty bad liar, even to myself.
The young solider, the one with the missing eyes, heard me cock my revolver. The moaning stopped, and he sagged at the sound. I’d like to say he was sagging in relief. I’d like to say he whispered “thank you” before I pulled the trigger.
Like I said, though, I’m a pretty bad liar.
I walked down the road, stopping before each cross and doing what I could for those left behind. It was methodical work, but far from quiet, and I was so intent on it that I didn’t even notice we were surrounded until ED-E let out a warning series of chirps.
<<UserID:Webb>> Yes, yes, thank you. Just like that.
They must have been behind the doors of the houses along the street, but when I looked away from the last of the crucified, there were men with weapons drawn in a nearly complete circle, with enough distance staggered between them so that they could easily open fire on me in the middle without fear of hitting one another in the crossfire.
They were dressed in sets of armor cobbled together from pre-war sports gear and other miscellany, mostly painted red. Many had helmets, and their weapons ranged from throwing spears to repeater rifles, though all looked well-maintained compared to the standard raider fare.
The Legion. I’d only heard stories before today, but this had to be them, bringing Caesar’s vision of a civilized America across the Colorado. The crosses... the corpse of this entire town... it must have been their work.
They had me dead to rights. I could have shot one, maybe two if I was lucky, before being cut down, and whatever delusions of valor I once had died years ago. I dropped my revolver and raised my hands, whispering to ED-E to keep its laser array powered down while I waited to see what they would do.
I figured that, if it looked like I was headed for a cross, I could go for my rifle and just make them shoot me, rather than giving them the satisfaction.
Instead, I’ve kept my life, but at the cost of whatever pride I had left. Once I had disarmed myself, another figure appeared, walking casually out of the doors of the large town hall at the head of the main street, flanked by two enormous dogs and wearing the better part of a third on his head.
He walked straight up to me, though not so close as to block his comrades’ lines of fire -- and smiled almost pleasantly. He told me, with great satisfaction and in a voice that was calm and oddly feminine, that my presence was fortuitous, and that they had better uses for me than decorating the local signposts.
He dolled it up in language that would have made even a Hubologist roll their eyes, but the long and short of it is this: he wants me to spread the word about Nipton as an “object lesson” to the Mojave, about what happens to those who follow ideals other than those of Caesar.
What had happened was... well, Swanick hadn’t been crazy, at least about the lottery. The mayor of the town, that Steyn bastard whose journal I found, had sold out the local population to the Legion, getting the Powder Gangers to take out the visiting NCR troops and then allowing the Legion to sweep in on the rest. For his trouble, he’d been burned alive on a pile of tires.
The rest of the town had been forced to draw lots. The “winner” had been Swanick -- he’d been freed, with no physical harm done to him, though the trauma of the event may have broken his mind for good. The “runner-up” was also freed, but had his legs broken.
The poor bastard may still be around. He can’t have gotten far with both legs broken. I’ll have to look for him tomorrow, but tonight... I can’t. I just can’t.
The next group “won” the privilege of quick deaths -- decapitations -- though the process was still one by one, meaning everyone was forced to watch their neighbors, their friends, their family members being killed. The dog-hatted smooth talker was quick to point out that their lack of action while watching others die only cemented their guilt in the eyes of the Legion. I thought about the paralyzing terror they must have felt instead, and it was everything I could do not to go for my rifle after all.
In the end, of course, good old fashioned self-preservation -- or, let’s call a spade a spade, cowardice -- won out, and I bit my tongue, listening to the rest of his venom spew out.
The last group were the ones chosen for crucifixion. This was the civilization Caesar had imposed on Arizona, and what he was trying to spread here.
I told them I’d do as they asked, that I’d spread word. Dog Hat's smile, nearly vulpine already, spread even further, and he and his troops turned and left town without another word or a backwards glance at the carnage in their wake.
It makes me feel so covered with grime that I’ll never be clean to have agreed with anything that bastard said, but the simple fact is that he was right, at least about one thing: people need to be warned. If the Legion is already pushing this far west -- on the California border, for god’s sake -- then people need to know that they need to be on their guard, or Nipton’s lottery will just be the first.
Still won’t make it any easier to look myself in a mirror next time I find one, though.
I made camp for the night in the wreckage of some sort of open air theater south of the town -- I couldn’t bring myself to stay inside it any longer today, though I’ll see if I can force myself back in for a look through the ruins tomorrow.
A few geckos were creeping towards the town, perhaps drawn by the smell of so much ready meat. I shot two with my repeater and chased the others off, then made a fire here in the theater lot, but I couldn’t dredge up much of an appetite and ended up smoking the meat instead.
It’s late now, and at least I’ve gotten this nightmare of a day out on tape. Past time to put my head down... though I doubt if I’ll actually get any sleep.
I doubt if I deserve any.