Jan 2012 27

by Steven-Elliot Altman (SG Member: Steven_Altman)

Our Fiction Friday serialized novel, The Killswitch Review, is a futuristic murder mystery with killer sociopolitical commentary (and some of the best sex scenes we’ve ever read!). Written by bestselling sci-fi author Steven-Elliot Altman (with Diane DeKelb-Rittenhouse), it offers a terrifying postmodern vision in the tradition of Blade Runner and Brave New World

By the year 2156, stem cell therapy has triumphed over aging and disease, extending the human lifespan indefinitely. But only for those who have achieved Conscientious Citizen Status. To combat overpopulation, the U.S. has sealed its borders, instituted compulsory contraception and a strict one child per couple policy for those who are permitted to breed, and made technology-assisted suicide readily available. But in a world where the old can remain vital forever, America’s youth have little hope of prosperity.

Jason Haggerty is an investigator for Black Buttons Inc, the government agency responsible for dispensing personal handheld Kevorkian devices, which afford the only legal form of suicide. An armed “Killswitch” monitors and records a citizen’s final moments — up to the point where they press a button and peacefully die. Post-press review agents — “button collectors” — are dispatched to review and judge these final recordings to rule out foul play.

When three teens stage an illegal public suicide, Haggerty suspects their deaths may have been murders. Now his race is on to uncover proof and prevent a nationwide epidemic of copycat suicides. Trouble is, for the first time in history, an entire generation might just decide they’re better off dead.

(Catch up with the previous installments of Killswitch – see links below – then continue reading after the jump…)



[Previous Chapter / Next Chapter]

“It’s a cemetery,” Elsa stated flatly as she powered the Corvair down a dilapidated section of deserted beltway.

“My family’s final resting place,” Haggerty said. “Pull up to the gate.”

She drove alongside a security fence lined with laserwire to an autoterminal. Haggerty told her his code. She entered it on a keypad and the gate swung wide.

The place was deserted, as Haggerty hoped it would be; at this early hour few patrons ventured out to visit the departed. Haggerty assumed android groundskeepers had monitored their arrival but unless he summoned one via a call button or committed some act of vandalism, he doubted they would hinder him and Elsa.

They stopped at a restroom. “Keep watch while I change out of these filthy clothes and clean up,” Haggerty told his assistant.

He stood shaking on weak legs, his skin burning over spastic muscles, staring at his awful reflection in the restroom mirror. The tuxedo reeked of sewage. He clutched the white box in his hands, staring at the numeral “3.”

It took seven doses to kill and Traci had used one, rendering the unit nonlethal. There was no danger if he dosed again. He needed a clear head and right now he didn’t have one. His skin itched, his mouth was dry, his limbs trembled. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t think. And he needed to think. He needed to calm the craving and concentrate on gathering the evidence required to prove him innocent. He hesitated a moment, then pressed. The unit ticked up to “4.”

With a moan he resisted the orgasm threatening to engulf him. The effort brought him to his knees. It was several moments before he was able to force himself to his feet and strip.

The sink provided as much of a shower as he was going to get. It was a long way from what he needed but Haggerty was satisfied he’d washed away enough of the stench to not draw undue attention in public. He dressed in the stolen cargo pants and sweatshirt, concealing the white box beneath it. He stuffed the ruined tux into a garbage bin and rejoined Elsa, who waited by the car.

“Is everything all right, Jason?” she asked. “You were in there longer than I expected.”

“I’m fine,” Haggerty said, and wasn’t lying. The Happy Styx infusing his system had stabilized his body, leaving him certain that he could do what needed to be done.

They walked along a path, their steps activating pinlights every few feet ahead as they proceeded. Moonlight reflected on the slick gravestones around them. The mere mention of this place had horrified Haggerty as a child. The trip here two years ago with his father had devastated them both; returning alone the following year had drained what little spirit Haggerty had left. Now the place felt welcoming, oddly comforting. They halted before the structure with his surname engraved above the entrance.

“Please see if you can open the lock without breaking it, Elsa,” Haggerty said.

She placed a palm against the ancient key-style lock and in moments the door opened. The vault self-illuminated as they entered, triggering climate control. Haggerty had planned on arriving here today but not on his feet. The irony didn’t escape him; he felt strange anyway.

“Elsa, give me a moment to pay my respects to my family.”

He ran his hand along his mother’s engraved stone. “It’s me, Mom,” he said quietly. “I miss you.” He touched another shelf. “I’m sorry I haven’t come by as often as I should, Dad. I know exactly how you felt now and I forgive you.”

“They were both very nice people,” Elsa said.

Haggerty knew it was a programmed response but he appreciated the gesture. He guessed that he mattered to Elsa in some mysterious way, although surely his biological parents did not.

“They had me when my father was sixty,” he told her. “That was late for those times. I was one of the last children born in NewVada before people needed to register to have kids. They were approved later but they felt one was enough. They were doing their part to keep the population in check.”

“Conscientious Citizens,” Elsa said.

Model citizens,” Haggerty corrected. “But yes, when CC status was formally instituted they were among the first in our cityblock to seek it.”

He moved to the simple silver plaque adorning the next tomb. “Oh Lorraine,” he said softly. “If only you didn’t act so quickly. I understood and forgave you. If only I knew that you’d forgiven me.”

Elsa said nothing this time. Did she understand that respectful silence was what Haggerty would appreciate most? He took two more steps, the most difficult of all. The final stone bore the name of his son. Haggerty had no words left.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Elsa said quietly. It seemed she might say more but Haggerty forestalled her by moving to an empty shelf.

He ran his palms across the shelf with morbid fascination. “This is where they’ll put me when I’m done.”

Elsa came and placed a hand on his shoulder. “I hope that won’t be for a long time to come, Jason.”

He turned to look at her. Elsa was so childlike, her motives pure, her mind unable to grasp the emotional aspect of the facts he’d just given her about the weight of his loss, the erosion of his will to continue.

“Hopefully,” he said, not wishing to alarm her. He wondered if she knew he was lying. “Now let’s review those recordings and find out what everyone’s so eager to erase.”

* * *

Haggerty took a seat on the stone floor, draping an arm across his upturned knee.

“Play Teardrop’s first. Full room projection.”

Elsa’s irises whirled into motion.

They were backstage at the concert. Haggerty could see the audience straining against barricades beyond the wings. He reviewed the girl’s death and found nothing new.

“Play Sunset’s recording,” he told Elsa.

The small mausoleum grew notably smaller. Sunset stood bare-chested before the hotel bathroom mirror. “Dawn, it’s me,” he began, confirming Corbin’s revelation that Dawn was part of Regina’s given name; the boy’s final message had been directed to her. “Someday you’ll probably see this,” Sunset continued, “and you’re gonna think I’m a grokless idiot . . .” The transmission ended with the boy pressing onstage.

Haggerty rubbed his eyes. If anything, the recording proved Sunset was a willing participant, leaving a last testament to his sister. But something about the message didn’t feel right. Haggerty told Elsa to run it again.

The scene played out once more. “But I love my life . . .” the boy was saying.

“That’s it, Elsa,” Haggerty said. “Pause the recording.”

“What did you see, Jason?”

“Sunset said love, not loved.”

“I do not understand the significance.”

“The significance is that Sunset used the present tense. He didn’t say his life was over and he loved it for what it had been. He hadn’t stopped loving it — and he hadn’t decided to end it. People who still love their lives don’t press, Elsa. I don’t think Sunset knew he was going to die.”

“I understand how that interpretation can be placed on his words, Jason. But it makes no sense. He was holding an armed black box that was recording. What else could he have expected to happen when he pressed?”

“That’s what we need to find out, Elsa.” Haggerty dug at his thumb pad. “Let’s see if Tyler Stelwyn’s recording has anything useful.”

They were in another hotel room. Haggerty recognized Cherub on the couch behind Tyler.

“Hey, it says it’s recording!” the boy said as he played with the box.

“Turn that thing off,” an unidentified male voice ordered from across the room. “Ya wanna kill yourself?”

“Maybe,” Tyler answered, laughing, then told the recording device about partying with “the enlightened, the infamous Clone Jesus.”

The transmission ended abruptly when the voice demanded that Tyler “turn the bloody thing off!”

The next installment began with the armed unit adjusting for light inside the closet, presumably in the same hotel. As Tyler moaned in prolonged sexual ecstasy, his envious fellator inquired where she could get whatever he was dosing.

“Do you think he was using the same drug as Sharyn?” Elsa said.

“I’m sure of it,” Haggerty said.

He briefed Elsa on what had happened at the Last Supper Club, omitting the fact that he’d been forced to dose himself and was currently under the drug’s influence. She might decide to protect him from himself and remove the drug from his possession. He couldn’t allow that and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to stop her.

“And you believe the boxes used in the triple press were also loaded with the drug?” Elsa asked.

“Yes, but I need to prove it. Skip back to when Tyler climaxes. Slow the action to half time and magnify. Bring up the contrast and brighten the room.”

Haggerty walked slowly around the image, moving closer for a better angle and kneeling beside the brunette, studying her as she serviced Tyler Stelwyn. The boy’s hand was on the unit as he thrust his hips. “There it is,” he said under his breath. “Elsa, review and enhance visual on the button hand and isolate for the sound.”

As it replayed, it was revealed in all certainty; the visual of the boy’s thumb pressing, the audible pop of the delivery mechanism.

“There’s our evidence, Elsa. Tyler pressed and lived. That box had been reloaded with Happy Styx and Tyler knew it. But he didn’t know the drug could be lethal.”

“You said Traci understood it would kill her, Jason.”

“What if Tyler and Teardrop and Sunset believed Happy Styx was harmless?”

“How could someone control the number of doses to make sure the lethal dose was taken onstage?”

“Perhaps the units were only made available at specific times, so they couldn’t press too often. Sharyn said Teardrop and Sunset had only been gone two weeks, and according to Traci you can detox as long as you don’t overuse. Whoever is behind things could have managed it so the kids thought it was part of the show, that they were making a statement. Remember Tyler’s calling Clone Jesus ‘the enlightened.’ ”

Onstage, Zephyr strutted before the frenzied audience. The kids ran to his side and dosed. Tyler fell along with the others, his face ecstatic. The crowd screamed. This was the point where Corbin had halted their first review. Haggerty watched now as Tyler spasmed, moving in close and trying to read the boy’s mind through his eyes. The crowd kept screaming. Haggerty silently counted out the predictable physiological shutdown he’d witnessed in thousands of recorded deaths. Something was wrong. Did Tyler’s eyes register shock? The unit continued recording, going on and on for what seemed like eternity. At length the projection showed Elsa’s hand reaching for the unit on the stage. The transmission finally went black as the box entered the minthizine case.

“It appears that Tyler Stelwyn was still alive when I retrieved his unit,” Elsa said.

* * *

Excerpt from The Killswitch Review, published by Yard Dog Press. Copyright 2011 Steven-Elliot Altman.

Steven-Elliot Altman is a bestselling author, screenwriter, and videogame developer. He won multiple awards for his online role playing game, 9Dragons. His novels include Captain America is Dead, Zen in the Art of Slaying Vampires, Batman: Fear Itself, Batman: Infinite Mirror, The Killswitch Review, The Irregulars, and Deprivers. His writing has been compared to that of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton and Philip K. Dick, and he has collaborated with world class writers such as Neil Gaiman, Michael Reaves, Harry Turtledove and Dr. Janet Asimov. He’s also the editor of the critically acclaimed anthology The Touch, and a contributor to Shadows Over Baker Street, a Hugo Award winning anthology of Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft stories.

Steven also bares ink on his body, and is bi, as in bi-coastal, between NYC and LA. He’s currently hard at work writing and directing his latest videogame Cursed Love, an online free to play gothic horror RPG from Dark Hermit Studios, set in Victorian London. Think Sherlock Holmes, Jack The Ripper and Dorian Gray mercilessly exploit the cast of Twilight. Friend Cursed Love (Official Closed Beta) on facebook and you can have fun playing out this tawdry, tragic romance with Steven while the game is being beta tested!

Diane DeKelb-Rittehouse spent several years in Manhattan as an actress before marrying her college sweetheart and returning to the Philadelphia area where she had been born. Diane first worked with Steven-Elliot Altman when they created the acclaimed, Publisher’s Weekly Starred-Review anthology The Touch: Epidemic of the Millennium, in which her story “Gifted” appeared. Diane has published a number of critically acclaimed short stories, most notably in the science fiction, murder, and horror genres. Her young adult fantasy novel, Fareie Rings: The Book of Forests, is now available in stores or online.

Interested in buying a printed copy of The Killswitch Review? Well, Steve’s publisher Yard Dog Press was kind enough to put up a special page where SuicideGirls can get a special discount and watch a sexy trailer. Just follow this link to and click on the SG logo.

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Related Posts:
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter One, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter One, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter One, Part Four
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Two, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Two, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Two, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Three, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Three, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Three, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Four, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Four, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Four, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Five, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Five, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Five, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Six, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Six, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Six, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Seven, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Seven, Part Two
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Seven, Part Three
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Seven, Part Four
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Seven, Part Five