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.

“Yes.”

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.

31 MINUTES to LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM, EARTH.

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

“What?”

“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.

16 MINUTES to LONDON.

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.”