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Apex (Out of the Box #18)
Author:Robert J. Crane

Apex (Out of the Box #18)

Robert J. Crane



1.


Newport News, Virginia



She was going to be called “Big E” like her predecessors, though Eric Simmons didn’t know that. All he knew was what he could see, what he could hear, and what he could taste … and that was mostly fear.

He could almost feel it oozing out of every pore, hard-spiked adrenaline on his tongue as he walked toward the big graving dock where they were building the ship. He was sweating even though it wasn’t particularly hot, his armpits soaked in the cool Virginia air.

“I have to do this,” he whispered to himself. And he did. There were no other choices for him.

The dock was immense, and he wasn’t even that close. He didn’t have to be, not for his purposes. He wanted to be a nice distance away, especially given that President Gondry himself was coming here for this dog and pony show. There were signs everywhere, telling Simmons that the ship being commissioned today was the USS Enterprise, ninth of her illustrious name in the US Navy. He didn’t care, though, because of …


Man, the fear. It was just eating at him. Simmons tried to keep his eyes from darting left to right, but it was tough. There was security everywhere. The smell of the crowd was heavy, all the activity making people perspire. Who were these people? Navy families, probably, right? His gaze flicked over the crowd. Yeah. Men in uniform; some women, too; lots of wives; a few little kids.

Simmons let his eyes rest on the ass of a pretty young lady, probably twenty. Maybe a Navy wife? Time was, Simmons would have been all over that. He mopped his brow with a hand, pushing the sweat off, and looked away quickly.

Not anymore. No time for that.

If he did this thing right, maybe he’d have time for that again. But now …

Now he had work to do.

He swallowed hard and walked over to a fence, taking in the big blue sky overhead. It should have been wintery, it being right smack dab in the middle of January, but it wasn’t. A freak heat wave had put the temps clear up into the low seventies, and Simmons even saw some people in shorts. He’d never spent much time in Virginia, preferring New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Aspen, Portland, Seattle—pretty much anywhere more happening than this, but at least this weather wasn’t bad. It was no LA, but this he could deal with.

Simmons put his hands on the fence. To his right, a security checkpoint was forming up. They couldn’t just let anybody into these parties, after all. What if someone walked their ass right onto the deck of the USS Enterprise and set off a bomb?

That’d be terrible, Simmons reflected with dark humor, shivering a little in spite of the heat.

But it probably wouldn’t be as bad as what was about to happen.

Simmons tossed another look over the crowd, the bitter taste of adrenaline in his mouth. Working for someone else was bad enough—he’d done a team-up, he and Cassidy, with that dumbass Clary family a few years back, and that had ended in disaster and imprisonment, thanks to Sienna Nealon. Once he’d gotten himself clear of that mess, courtesy of a Supreme Court decision that opened the gates of the prison he’d been stuck in, Simmons had vowed to never be caught again.

And that resolution had lasted until some black-ops assholes had bagged him just after his release. He hadn’t even done anything to deserve it, really.

His nerves were still stinging, clanging from that day. The door to his hotel room kicked in, strong, metahuman arms dragging him out of bed as he was snoozing next to a pretty little midwestern girl, some kind of portable bugzapper on a stick shoved into the small of his back so he’d danced like he’d done the splits on a barbed wire fence.

Man, even Sienna Nealon hadn’t done anything like that to him.

Simmons clutched the chain-link fence and looked through. He was detached from the crowd now, all the serious, invited guests separating into neat queues in front of the security checkpoint. Ahead, he could see the ship in question, big and grey, stretched out of the dock like a skyscraper laid flat.

Simmons had brought down buildings before. It wasn’t exactly the hardest thing in the world for a man who could shake the earth—and not just for the ladies he was with, was the old joke he used.

He didn’t use that joke anymore. Something about being completely consumed with terror… it really sapped the humor out of you.

A few security guards were eyeing him, but Simmons didn’t care. He wasn’t going to do anything fancy, just kneel down in a minute, maybe tip over after sending a shudder through the earth, give the security boys a reason to think he tripped or something before he actually keeled over.

Heh. Keeled over.

There’d be more “keeling over” soon.

A whole lot more.

Simmons felt a clutch of heat under his collar. The moment was at hand. He’d been waiting for this for a long time, waiting for his chance at freedom, at getting out from underneath everything that had come his way these last few months. The fear came down on him again like a hard weight on his back, and he stooped, breathing heavily. He was still sweating, more profusely than ever. He felt it trickle down the back of his neck, down the small of his back into his skinny jeans, and Simmons squatted on the pavement and touched the hot asphalt with one hand, making it look like he was just steadying himself.

“What are you doing over there?” a security guard asked. Military police. He was making his way over, suspicion clouding his dark features.

“Did you feel that?” Simmons asked. “I just took a break from the line and—man, do you feel that?”

He didn’t actually feel a thing, but he damned sure would in just a second.

Grabbing hold of that fear that was worming around in his guts, Simmons touched the power that was waiting inside him. He pushed it down into the earth and felt the ground move subtly.

“Yeah, I felt that,” the MP said, unsteady legs rocking him back and forth. “What the hell?”

“I think it’s an earthquake,” Simmons said, not bothering to throw in too much irony. Of course it was an earthquake. On the coast of Virginia.

Because he was causing it.

Simmons let it rip, pushing more of that stomach-churning fear into it. Months of it, pent up with no outlet for release. They hadn’t let him have booze. They hadn’t let him have a smoke, they hadn’t even let him surf or ski or even go for a bike ride.

Months of waiting for this moment, doing nothing but fearing—fearing them, fearing him—and waiting for the day he’d be told how he could buy his way out of that hell with one good act of service.

This was it. Walk up to this graving dock at Newport News Shipbuilding, on this day …

And bring the place down.