Bullet Train to London

I originally wrote this speculative flash fiction piece for Havok, though you can’t access it without membership. My 6-month exclusive contract was up ages ago, so I can publish it here now. And if you’re still keeping up with my terribly sporadic updates, you deserve a fun little shot of adrenaline. Enjoy the read!

“Last mission before you retire, eh? Ready to go home?”

Home. Kiera immediately pictured red double-decker buses, Big Ben, and intimate theaters. Her small studio, overlooking the Thames, would still be unfurnished after her months away. And Justin—was his corner cafe still in business?

“I’ll miss this. But it will feel good to go out with a win,” she muttered into her transmitter.

Pip laughed. “Well, the clock is ticking on us.”

Kiera glanced at the digital stream on the rim of the train: 43 MINUTES to LONDON. The clock was indeed ticking on them.

She picked up her pace as she moved into the next compartment, her gaze sweeping across rows of passengers. Their faces were masked in shadows thrown by the dim lighting and covered windows. Kiera felt a pang of envy at the thick, wool blankets draped around their seats. A shiver went down her spine as she straightened her thin cocktail dress.

“Are you in position?” Jotham’s voice came across the line.


Kiera paused in front of the final cabin, Black Rail Bullet: First Class. The doors slid open with a hiss.

She handed the uniformed guard her ticket and scanned the cabin. A circular bar sat in the middle of the compartment, chandelier lights glancing off long-necked glasses. A familiar classical tune filled the room—Fur Elise.

“Beethoven!” Pip exclaimed. “What a sound for sore ears. After months of that screeching the Valiums call music.”

“Focus, Pip,” Jotham returned.

“Sorry, boss. This new comm system is remarkably clear.”

Kiera blocked out the chatter in her earpiece as she examined the two dozen or so figures scattered around the room. A green light blinked in her left pupil. Facial match.

“Got him,” she whispered.

She walked further into the cabin and slipped onto a vacant stool beside him, signaling the bartender. “One Negroni, please.”

The man beside Kiera cocked his head towards her. “Haven’t seen someone order that in a while.” His own Old Fashioned appeared untouched on the counter.

“Is that a surprise?” She gestured at the other guests.

“Fair point.” He swiveled to look her fully in the face. His raven hair and square jaw lent him a handsome look. “Is London home?”

Kiera shrugged. “It was. We’ll see.”

“Long time away, then.”

“Yes.” She locked gazes with him. “And I’d like to have something to go back to.” She pushed the fold of her dress up to her knee, revealing a holstered gun. “This hurts more than a normal bullet, Wren. I suggest you tell me where you’ve hidden the weapons.”

Wren appeared unfazed, amusement rippling over his features instead. “They’ve got pretty girls working for them now, is that right?”

Kiera’s hand went to the gun, gripping its handle. “We know there are illegal weapons on board. They’re not getting through our borders.”

“How did you get that onto the train?” He motioned at her holster. “Security’s tight.”

“We have an arrangement with Black Rail.” Her expression hardened. “You’re not the only one with people everywhere.”

He laughed. “I’m afraid you’re still one step behind. I bought Black Rail two days ago.”

Pip cursed in her ear, and Jotham drew a sharp breath. Kiera felt her stomach hollow out.

“And you conveniently told us you were coming,” Wren continued. “There are no weapons aboard.” His eyes flickered to the digital stream and she followed his gaze.


She flinched as he leaned in to whisper, “The train is the weapon.”


“No harm in telling you now… You have thirty minutes to live. It’s rigged to explode when it detects Earth’s atmosphere.”

London was not the primary target. Jotham voiced the same awful realization that hit Kiera. “Pip, get down into the crawl space! There’s nuclear fuel running this train!”

“Are you doing this for the Valiums?” she demanded. “What did they offer you for a suicide mission?”

Wren smirked. “It’s not suicide, darling.”

His hologram flickered, just once, and he vanished.

Kiera stared at the empty space, berating herself for falling prey to his gimmick. She swallowed a large mouthful of her Negroni and looked around. A diverse cast of alien species surrounded her, communicating through incomprehensible dialects. All of them blissfully ignorant of their impending doom.

“Pip, Jotham, did you hear everything?”

“Impeccably. What happened to Wren?”

“The old holo trick. Sorry I was slow on the uptake. What are our options?” Kiera willed herself to stay calm. Justin. I will see you again.

“Not many.” Pip’s somber voice mixed with the sound of clanking metal. “We can force an explosion before it hits the atmosphere. Trade the lives of the passengers aboard for, well, Earth.”

“No,” Kiera breathed.

“Unacceptable,” Jotham intoned simultaneously. “Can you disarm it?”

An intercom announcement interrupted them before Pip could give a verdict.

Attention, Black Rail passengers. We will be arriving in London shortly. Please have your documents ready, and thank you for traveling with us.”

The window blinds lifted. Black space sprawled out on both sides of the train, while a palette of stars coiled through the darkness. Earth loomed large, a brilliant blue orb suspended before them.

Kiera’s throat tightened. “You have to stop this, Pip.”

“Okay, this might be crazy”—he broke off, a cackle of static on the line—“I’m going to rewire the sensors, so hopefully it won’t recognize the planet as we enter the atmosphere: the instrument readings won’t match.”

“Wren said the train was rigged to explode only when it detects Earth’s atmosphere,” Jotham mused. “All right, do it.”

Silence overtook the line. Kiera watched the clock.


Her heart leaped when their comms crackled to life.

“Done. But don’t celebrate too early,” Pip warned.

Kiera could not tear her eyes from the window as they sliced into the mesosphere. Clouds fogged around them. She held her breath, fists clenched, painfully aware of every rattle and vibration.

Then, a glorious, midnight cityscape blazed into view below.

“Welcome home, team.”

“Bullet Train to London” – Available Today Only!


Popping in with a quick announcement: my flash fiction story, “Bullet Train to London,” is live on Havok! It’s available and free for all today only (you can become a paid member, and access all the stories from this year so far).

If you want a quick (and hopefully fun) read, take a peek! And leave me a comment / rating if you’re able to. Thanks friends!

A Portrait for Fools

Written for The Unreliable Narrator challenge. No explanation shall be provided, as I’m not sure I can give an adequate one. But I welcome and appreciate any thoughts and feedback. So without further adieu…


A Portrait for Fools

“Please, we worked together once.” The woman’s voice, soft and pleading, still pierced the silence like a knife tearing through sheer fabric. I felt the edge of sophistication pressed against her tone, the persuasive manipulation trembling beneath her veneer of innocence.

The guard, evidently, did not. “Ma’am, he’s had no visitors in ten years. No family, friends, nothin’. And a pretty face like yours turning up out of the blue…“ He trailed off, or his voice fell out of my earshot. Not that it mattered, because his half-dubious tone said enough. This man did not have a quarter of the backbone needed to fight her wiles.

So I readied myself: ten years was generous time for perfecting my vacant stare.

“We had, well, a history.” She spoke haltingly. Oh, her façade was good, too. We made quite a pair.

“A history?” There was the dubious tone again, but the lilt in his voice suggested that he could not suppress a spark of interest.

Fools. They put the best of minds in here and leave the weakest to watch them. I graced the emptiness with a brief smirk.

“—was imprisoned for selling secrets.”

“We worked together before that. Office job, nine-to-fives. He didn’t always live that life.” She was insistent now, perhaps endearingly so. “Well,” she paused, “I don’t think he did.”

“Miss, I understand, but—“

“You don’t! He’s got no one, and I have to, I have to—“ The rest of her words died in a spasm of gasps.

The guard’s response was lost in the sound of metal grating against metal and the jangle of heavy keys. How intriguing—the smokescreen of naiveté, the lure of gossip, and yet it was mere hysterics that made him yield. No one ever taught men how to handle a woman in tears.

And there she was. I drank in the sight of her in one swift glance. Her lipstick was still the bright, blood red shade I remember, but her raven hair was swept back in a tight conservative braid. The black lace shirt offset her long skirt, a plume of white that fell right above her ankles.

She stepped towards me cautiously. “It’s me,” she whispered. “Catherine.”

I allowed my eyes to flit across her face before I returned to looking straight past her.

“They said you lost it—after everything.” She gestured helplessly. “I couldn’t work up the will to see you. Clinically insane. I guess it saved your life. They would’ve put you in front of the firing squad. God, you shouldn’t have done it. You always had these radical notions.” She stared at me, and even though my eyes swept past her, I felt the heat in her gaze. Like the fire they stoked beneath my house. Crimson and orange tides. Black smoke.

Her voice shook, like a thin leaf quivering under a water droplet. “But this isn’t living either, is it? Just a shell, when you were once so full,” she stopped abruptly, closing her eyes and sucking in her breath, before she continued, “so full of words and dreams and fight.” She exhaled the last word forcefully.

And her face and voice and words struck a match somewhere deep inside me, like a small candle held up in a vaulted cathedral. Memories surfaced out of obscurity, rising, crashing against each other and threatening to break the emptiness on my face into something deeply human. I ground my teeth and fought against it, but how do I beat something buried in my very bones? The blood hammered loudly in my ears. Unwitting images flashed through my mind, searing the blank white walls around me with sudden color.

Our small ship tumbling against the blue-green crests as they rounded on us, salt water flying against the mast— 

The black uniformed guardsmen firing, and firing, and I was wondering when the bleeding would begin—

Catherine’s raven hair whipping against my back as they closed in—

Her blood red lipstick and brown eyes—soft when we murmured lovers’ things, but cut out of steel in my last vision of her—

Sweat clung to my skin as I fought down the images, struggling to swallow them, hating that they would not die. They never died. But I held my composure. She would not see the battle. No one did. I was still a shell, a statue, to her. Clinically insane.

“I think I’m the insane one, sometimes,” she was saying. Her gaze had drifted away from my face now too. “That I haven’t let this go. Ten years, and I haven’t let this go.”

My chest constricted, like iron bars bending against my breast. But all I said was what I said to every guard who ever tried to bait me into conversation.

“Am I dying?”

And I was almost pleased. Pleased that I managed to inject the right amount of perplexity and childlike artlessness into my voice in spite of the roaring and writhing inside. But it was a hollow victory.

She did not seem startled that I spoke. “Aren’t we all?” she returned listlessly. For a brief moment, our eyes met. My chest burned.

“But you had one hell of a life, Jude.”

It was the first glimmer of her old ardor and wit. Her real self, stripped of the masks she took on. And my name, rolling off her tongue like both a conviction and a curse. Before I could think too much on it, she closed the space between us. I felt her lips press just against the edge of my mouth. Then her feather-light breath brushed the tip of my ear.

“You can play the world for a fool, but not me.”