This is a fanfiction story that takes place in the world setting of Worm. Worm is a Supervillain serial story, with a serious amount of work, world-building, and character depth built into it. You can find it with an appropriate google search, probably by including the keywords "worm", "parahumans", and "wordpress".
Worm is the property of its author, a person who goes by the alias of Wildbow. I intend no infringement upon his property, nor profit from this story. I write this only for fun.
INTO THE SUNSET
1938 Hours 05/20/2012 HIGHWAY 20 FORT WORTH - ABILENE
The van sped west, toward the sun now setting among the scrubland ahead, and Raymond Callahan tapped his index fingers on the wheel as he went, waiting for the signal.
This part of Texas was reasonably green, if somewhat flat. He hadn't been here before. Closest he'd come was the base at Fort Worth, but that had been long ago and he'd been flown in and out without examining much of the countryside.
A hand found the dogtags at his throat, and he ran his finger over the raised characters, before returning his digits to the gearshift.
That HAD been long ago. And there was no sense in thinking too deeply about it now. That would just distract him from the mission.
He didn't need distractions right now.
He'd traded everything for the mission. Everything he was, and everything he'd ever be. There was only one way this could end, but if he was lucky, and he was good, and he stuck to the plan, then he'd complete the mission before he died. After that, anything that happened to him... Well, he'd worry about it THEN.
The tablet on the seat next to him beeped, and he eyed the highway before picking it up. Clear stretch. Should be good to read for a bit.
The email had no content, save the subject.
LANE'S TRUCK STOP IN 2 EXITS
Well. Time to get to work.
1946 HOURS LANE'S TRUCK STOP, HIGHWAY 20
He put on sunglasses before exiting the van, and taken the dog tags off, tucking them into a pocket. Not much he could do about the hair, but he'd forgone the traditional jacket in favor of a polo shirt and slacks. Just another tourist...
A few minutes pumping gas, swiping the card, then moving inside. Looking over the magazine racks, giving himself time to be noticed. The TV was blaring away, and he tuned in idly as he waited.
"...This, the thirtieth anniversary of Scion's emergence on May 20th, 1982. The world was forever changed that day, as the World's first parahuman was spotted flying above the Atlantic ocean. The first, but not the last. As the year passed, and this strange, incomprehensible golden man began to make himself known to the world by committing selfless acts, saving lives of those in need in almost a random fashion across the globe, more parahumans began to emerge from the population."
He glanced up at the screen. A local station. Must be a slow news day, he thought. The anchor was doing his best to avoid showing boredom, relaying information that children were taught in grade school, converting it into empty sound bites and filling otherwise dead air.
"And in the decades since, the first and foremost organized parahuman group, the Protectorate, has pledged service to humanity, to protecting the world from those who would abuse it, to making the world a little better through putting their lives on the line. Whether intervening in disasters both natural and manmade, jailing supervillains, or putting their lives on the line against the terrible threats of the monstrous Endbringers, the Protectorate has fulfilled their oath to support and abide by the oversight of the PRT, the Parahuman Response Team."
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a man in a business suit walk out of a lottery kiosk, and enter the restrooms. Finally, he thought. He waited a minute, before starting to follow.
Then the newscaster continued, and the voice from the screen stopped him cold.
"One such threat was located and contained last night, in our very own city of Nacogdoches. The parahuman vigilante Raymond Callahan, better known as Devil Dog, was cornered in the Hotel Fredonia center after brutally murdering local supervillains Foolsgold and Imperial. Three local heroes were caught in the crossfire, and one, Cypher Nine, remains in critical condition. Devil Dog was killed during the Protectorate response, and while his remains have been recovered, Southwest News Seven reminds viewers that the unique nature of his powers-"
Ah. THAT explained much. Raymond forced himself to look away, and walked into the restrooms. He'd grab a paper and read the details later- No. No, he could browse it online. He was still getting used to the tablet, but it was more convenient.
Still, he preferred newspapers when he could get them. There were times it felt like the modern era had left him behind, when he felt like he was running to keep pace. It was hard to learn things, harder to remember new information learned since that day in 2001.
And judging from the news report, his brain was going to be rusty for a while. It always was.
In the restroom, the man in the suit was washing his hands. His eyes didn't look at Raymond as he finished, straightened up and walked past him, leaving a taped packet on the restroom shelf.
Raymond pocketed it, moved into a stall, dropped his slacks and sat on the crapper while he read.
There were three documents in there, bundled up tightly and stapled together.
The first was a location. Sancti, Texas. A small city north of here, according to the brief. Oil city, lots of businesses, lots of money for its size. Lots of crime. A fair amount of supervillains, too, and not nearly enough heroes.
Ray felt his lips draw back over his teeth.
The next page listed his primary targets. He looked through the short, unemotional summaries on their sheets, paused as he saw the last one. He felt the grin spread wider, and bared his teeth with animal joy. He'd been WONDERING when this particular number would come up.
He only spared a few seconds for the emotion, then moved on to the third document. A name, a picture, an address. His grin vanished as he read the details, then nodded once in satisfaction. Well. His allies had thought of everything, this time around.
His musing was interrupted by shouting from outside. Unhurried, he stood and pulled his pants up, then moved out of the stall. He pocketed the documents, and their wrapper. His allies hated loose ends, after all.
"I SAID OPEN IT UP GRANDPA!"
He rolled his eyes behind the sunglasses. Seriously?
He moved over to the restroom mirror, and looked it over. Sure enough, there were a few good edges... He wrapped his hand in a paper towel, selected one of them, and gave it a firm wrench, breaking a chunk of glass free.
The shouting from the travel mart continued, as Raymond headed to the entrance, crouched down, and stuck the mirror out, low to the ground and angled so that he could see.
Yep, it was a holdup. Two teens with pistols in front of the counter, one with a shotgun threatening a young couple and their toddler-age kids over in the snacks aisle. .357 Magnum revolvers and a Mossberg pump action, he noted absent-mindedly.
"I-I can't," the man behind the counter stuttered. He was on the late side of his sixties if he was a day, with white whiskers and wire-rimmed spectacles. "It's on a time lock, and besides there's only-"
The rightmost teen punched him, sending him to the ground behind the counter. And for a few seconds, out of their sight.
Raymond was already moving, retrieving his KA-BAR knife from its ankle rig as he went, then walked briskly toward the shotgunner, hand held down, keeping the knife out of sight. The punk turned and took him in, whipping the gun around and yelling "HEY! HEY DOWN ON THE GROUND YOU BIG MOTHAFUC-"
Raymond dove for the ground, kept on rolling, grabbed the shotgunners leg and yanked it out from under him as he drove the KA-BAR through the kid's wrist and into the tile of the floor. He squealed, and Raymond planted a foot on his throat, grabbing the shotgun in the same motion as he pushed himself into a kneeling position, ignoring the gurgling youth.
By now they've noticed things aren't going to plan. He figured, and the man and his wife shrieked and pulled their kids down farther to the ground as the thugs up toward the counter fired panicked shots into the cooler behind Raymond, shattering glass and beer bottles as he kept his head below the aisle, aimed at one of the shelves, and fired.
The twelve-gauge buckshot punched a hole in the flimsy particle-board shelf, the first punk's abdomen, and the snack-racks behind it. A spray of blood and chips coated the counter, and Raymond was rolling as the second punk's blind fire tore through where he had been kneeling, perforating the downed shotgunner as he fought to free his wrist from the KA-BAR.
Raymond kept rolling, counting as he went. Four... Five.. Six.
And he rose, sighting down the barrel as the kid broke the revolver, fumbled out a speed loader, and froze. Cartridges fell to the floor, in a pitter of brass rain.
The kid dropped the revolver, raised his hands. "Man, I give. Go on and read me my rights, I know how this-" Raymond pumped the shotgun. The kid's eyes widened. He couldn't be older than sixteen, dressed in baggy pants with some sort of gang colors on his jacket. Young. Young and stupid. Young and stupid and dangerous.
"Hey! Hey, what is this! I surrendered! Man, you can't just shoot someone in..."
He looked at Raymond, REALLY looked. And he KNEW.
The shotgun spoke, and he dropped, kicking, heels drumming on the dusty tile floor as the blood pooled and spread around his groaning friend. The kid was clutching his belly, trying to keep his guts in. Well, what were left of them.
He spared a glance to the shotgunner. Three of his friend's magnum rounds had found him, he wouldn't be getting up again. He glanced at the civilians... The wife had grabbed the kids, shoved them into the corner and was hunched over, keeping them low and still and shielding them with her body. Raymond approved. The children were crying, scared. The husband had a cell phone out, was punching numbers as fast as his shaking hand could go. He scrambled backward on his feet and rump as Raymond walked over to him, took the phone from his hand without any real effort, and popped the battery out. He handed the phone back, and the man said nothing, fear on his face.
Raymond turned toward the door... And the old man behind the counter rose up, a pistol in his hand and pointed at Raymond. Thirty-eight, he noted. Not great stopping power, but the man moved like he knew what he was doing-
The old man had a tattoo on his arm. An eagle, a globe, an anchor.
Raymond lowered the shotgun. Smiled. "Hoo-ah." He said.
The old man looked at him. His previous cowardice with the punks had been a sham, Raymond could see. Those eyes were shooter's eyes, Ray himself saw copies of them in the mirror every morning when he was shaving.
The pistol lowered. "You're him, ain't you."
Raymond moved over to the shotgunner's dying body, ground a foot into the bloody mess of the boy's hand, and retrieved his knife. He didn't answer.
"You didn't need to kill those kids."
Raymond stood, wiping his hands on a nearby magazine rack. He said nothing, looking between the dead teenagers, and the family cowering in the corner of the snacks aisle as beer seeped out the ruined coolers, mixing with the spreading blood. He looked at the mother shielding her toddlers, and then back at the old man. He didn't say a word. He didn't need to.
The old man sighed, replacing his pistol behind the counter. In the distance, sirens started to rise. Raymond walked towards the door, pausing to pocket the revolvers as he went. .357's were decent enough for sidearms, if a little flashy.
"Shit. Thought I saw the last of this in Khe Sanh. Get out of my store, Devil Dog."
Raymond paused, smiled. "Semper Fi, pops."
"Sempre Fi, you fucking nutjob. Now scram."
He climbed into the driver's seat, dropping his new guns in the back before shutting the door and starting her up. He gauged the sirens from long experience... He figured he had two minutes. He pulled out, unhurried, and joined traffic. At the next exit he'd pull in and swap out plates, stick a false logo on the sides. There were hundreds of thousands of vans just like his throughout Texas, and he'd been doing this a long, long time.
After that... Sancti. Sancti and some REAL targets.
As he rejoined the highway, he watched the cruisers scramble down the other ramp, towards the gas station and the three dead gangers. Yeah. Two, maybe three minutes, at least. Easy.
Still, it bothered him that he hadn't taken the store clerk's measure. One shot of that crappy little .38 could have put him down. It was a rookie mistake, a FNG mistake. If he slipped up like that in Sancti he'd be dead. Worse, he'd fail the mission.
Death he could handle. But his failures grated on him. After all, he'd traded everything he had for the mission. If it failed, it was all for nothing.
And so he drove on, into the sunset, leaving corpses behind him.
Nothing he hadn't done before, many times over...