Feb 2012 10

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]

The chances were good that the bodies would still be in chemical freeze at the Central Morgue, where Antonio Stelwyn and his wife had gone to identify their son. Haggerty had spent more than his share of time there and knew all the examiners by name, since his presence was required whenever a press under his jurisdiction had been judged unclean and he’d requested an autopsy.

As Elsa pulled the Corvair back onto the beltway, Haggerty popped another celtrex, reached into the storage compartment, and retrieved the com they’d taken from Corbin. “I’ve reconsidered your suggestion to contact agent Keenan,” he responded to Elsa’s questioning look. “We need to at least pretend to trust someone.” He punched in the code for Consuela’s office at BBI.

Keenan picked up at the first tone. “Haggerty?” he asked.

“What did you find at the Last Supper Club?”

“A dolphin in a tank and a dead girl in a dungeon with your DNA on her,” he answered. “You aren’t doing yourself any favors staying out there, Haggerty. Come in, tell me what you have, and I promise we’ll use all our resources to get to the bottom of this.”

“I’d love to, agent Keenan, but I’m as suspicious of my superiors at BBI as you are of me. I don’t know if I can trust anyone, you included.”

“I understand your concern,” Keenan said. “But it’s my job to—”

“My only concern is staying free long enough to prove the triple press was staged with criminal intent and prevent more copycats. So why don’t you help me by doing your job? Find the club’s owners and investigate everyone at BBI, especially Consuela. And run an autopsy on that girl with full toxicology. Because unless you or someone else cracks this case, I’m going to keep trying to.”

“Damn it, Haggerty, if you don’t—”

Haggerty disconnected the com and threw it out the window. “This is getting to be a habit,” he said. He laced his fingers together, extended his arms, and cracked his knuckles. The celtrex did little to dissuade what felt like a squadron of ants climbing all over his skin, but he couldn’t afford to indulge them just yet.

“That went well,” Elsa said.

“We’ll see,” Haggerty replied. “If Keenan comes up with anything I requested, he just might be trustworthy. Until then . . .”

The car’s control panel went dark. The engine seized. The car barreled powerless down the belt. Realizing the steering column was no longer under her control, Elsa reached for the emergency brake. Haggerty gripped the roll bar and braced his knees against the dashboard as the Corvair’s state-of-the-art manual braking mechanism engaged, thrusting the vehicle into a screeching fishtail. It jostled and jumped three slots, narrowly avoiding a collision with another car, then came to a jarring halt in the center lane. Smoke from the radials engulfed the interior and the surrounding beltway.

“Get out,” Haggerty shouted. “Before the emergency lane sweeps us!”

Warm clean air rushed into his lungs as they dashed across the belt to a slim maintenance walkway. He bent low, hands to his knees, taking long, deep breaths as the belt section beneath the Corvair broke free and slammed the car into the emergency lane amid a shower of safety foam.

“So much for trust,” he told Elsa. “They must have found DeAngelo and run the VIN number. Damn!” They had only a few minutes before the com call gave Keenan a fix.

Haggerty looked over the side of the walkway. A smaller pedestrian belt ran some sixty feet below. He’d never survive that steep a drop.

“Jason, there.” Elsa said. He turned and saw that she was scanning the edge of the beltway in the direction they’d come from. Her optical scanning systems must have picked up something his human eyes hadn’t noticed.

“What is it?”

“A crude maintenance ladder connecting the belts. It is less than half a mile back.”

The dim wail of sirens approached from a distance. Haggerty and Elsa ran for it. Haggerty’s lungs were in perfect condition but his determination faltered. Before they were halfway to the ladder he wanted to stop and dose. He reached for the unit clipped to his belt and clutched it tight as they pounded their way down the walkway. The sirens grew louder.

“We’re not gonna make it,” Haggerty spat.

“The hell we’re not,” Elsa said, gripping his shoulder and elbow and urging him forward.

Three police cruisers came into view as they reached the ladder. Elsa went over the rail and began to descend. As Haggerty followed he realized he’d left the stolen black box in the Corvair’s storage unit.

They rushed along the belt toward a switchpoint, encountering a half-dozen citizens, none of them wary. But it wouldn’t take long for platform scanners to find their trail once they were identified.

“The Code Six fugitive has changed his face with plastiche,” a female anchor on graveyard shift at Global Networks NewVada reported on an infocrawl as they jumped the rail at Mandalay Junction. Haggerty’s new face flashed across the screen. He pulled his hood forward. “Jason P. Haggerty is considered very dangerous. If you see him, do not attempt to apprehend him. Instead, please call—”

Two male JCs on airboards sat across from each other, their backs to the rails on the swiftly running belt, oblivious beneath Indranet telecast visors. Haggerty and Elsa moved ahead of them unnoticed.

* * *

“I see the morgue allows my kind,” Elsa said as they stood watching lowtech android attendants in blue overalls move past two armed and armored policemen through the doorless entrance of the lonely gray building.

“Not without an I.D. wristlet,” Haggerty told her. “Let’s look at the docks around back.”

They moved quietly down an alleyway to a loading dock currently in use, hiding behind a waste disposal unit while two male attendants lifted a coffin off a conveyor belt into a waiting limousine. Haggerty hoped it was not Tyler Stelwyn’s body, as the macabre solution to gain entry occurred to him. Again he might have the Indran woman to thank.

We need to get you one of those wristlets and a set of overalls, Elsa, he linked.

Before he could protest, she was walking toward the attendants. She stopped one of them, communicating via infrared transfer. Haggerty was startled to observe him unclasp his wristlet and hand it to Elsa, then sit motionless on a nearby bench. The second attendant continued loading as if nothing unusual had occurred.

Elsa secured the wristlet on her arm and returned to Haggerty. I’ll be able to obtain a uniform in the storage shed a meter to the left of the gate, she informed him.

How did you manage that?He’s a Descartes model. They’re simple to override with the proper protocol.

Clearly Elsa’s ethics program was now subject to her PLC and she was comfortable operating outside the law. The damage an android with her capabilities might cause were she to act with malicious intent would be formidable. Haggerty had to proceed carefully — and hope that his own motives remained honest.

Nightworkers paid no attention to Elsa as, minutes later, she wheeled a casket toward the room Haggerty called the Freezer, opened the steel portal, and rolled the casket through. The wristlet merely bleeped to register her entry. She scanned the room to make sure it was unoccupied by workers, then locked the door behind her.

Inside the casket, Haggerty had yielded to the demands of his system, telling himself the two doses left should be enough for evidence. Euphoria washed over him as the glowing digital readout clicked to “5.”

We’re in the Freezer, Elsa linked. Are there cameras that I should disengage?

No, they don’t allow them in here, Haggerty linked back. Let me out.

Haggerty sat up and raised himself by the hands from the casket, his mind clear again. The ants had ceased their Fandango on his nerves. We don’t have much time, Elsa. This building will lock down as soon as someone finds the body you moved.

In the center of the room a woman was laid out for autopsy. Euphoria overcame Haggerty’s usual squeamishness. He glanced at the splayed, cut-open corpse and determined it wasn’t Teardrop, although she was young enough to be one of the copycats. Teardrop and Sunset must be here someplace, but every moment was precious.

Find Tyler, Elsa.

She moved along the banks of storage compartments where bodies were kept, scanning coded indexes. In seconds she found Tyler Stelwyn’s remains and learned how the control panels worked. With a low hiss the drawer slid seamlessly out of the bank.

Tyler Stelwyn’s once golden bronze skin had a bluish tint from the chemical freeze. Haggerty noted a half-finished blisterbrand across his naked stomach.

It appears that no autopsy has been performed, Elsa linked.

And there won’t ever be one if Consuela is behind this, Haggerty responded. She’ll have Corbin judge the press clean. Record please, Elsa. Check his head for contusions.

Elsa glided a hand carefully around Tyler’s skull and neck. No contusions, Jason.

Take samples, he directed.

Elsa detached a coverlet at the center of her palm, revealing a miniature screen. She lifted the hand Tyler had used to press, placed his thumb against the screen, laid his arm down again, and repositioned the coverlet. A needle sprang from her index finger; she injected it into a vein on the boy’s arm and retrieved samples, and began scanning Tyler’s arms.

Someone attempted to open the door, then knocked loudly. “Is anyone in there?” a disturbed male voice shouted.

Haggerty considered possible exits as Elsa hastily extended her scan to Tyler’s naked legs and inner thighs. She moved closer, localizing a patch of skin on the left thigh with her fingers.

Haggerty heard the soft whiz of her eyes shifting focus. The silence outside told him whoever had knocked had gone to get a keycard for the door.

We’re out of time, Elsa.

She depressed a sequence of buttons on the drawer’s control panel and it began to close. Footsteps were audible beyond the door. Haggerty moved Elsa quickly to the casket and instructed her to lie down inside; he managed to get himself on top of her and close the lid just before the door opened.

“Everything seems fine,” the man’s voice said, “except . . .”

Footsteps approached the casket; someone knocked twice on the wood above his head. Haggerty sweated profusely.

“This coffin was supposed to be brought to the loading dock,” the man’s exasperated voice continued. “Bring that one in and take this one out.”

“Yes, sir,” came the automated voice of an android attendant.

Haggerty rested his forehead against Elsa’s with relief.

* * *

Inside of a hearse, inside of a coffin, Haggerty shivered in the dark, counting the miles they’d been in the vehicle since it pulled away from the morgue, as Elsa cradled him, attempting to keep him calm. She was no match for the claustrophobia assailing him. It was bad enough being in there alone, but two of them left almost no room to breathe. He’d had more than his share of nightmares that ended with him in a coffin following a failed press, alert and aware but unable to free himself.

I can’t take it anymore, Elsa. Pass me the stunner and get us out of here.

Elsa forced open the casket lid and handed him the weapon. Haggerty looked through polarized windows at the beltway speeding by. He crawled on the red velveteen carpeting to the cab and banged on the glass.

The startled driver pulled to the side of the slotway and ran to the back of the hearse. He opened the cargo door and found Haggerty aiming the stunner at him. The young-looking man in a black suit stepped backward, hands in the air, as Haggerty and Elsa emerged from the vehicle.

“I don’t want any trouble,” Haggerty said. “Give me your com.”

The man handed it over.

“The body you were supposed to deliver is behind a waste disposal unit at the loading dock,” Haggerty said. “Make sure you see to it.”

“I will.”

You drive, Elsa, Haggerty linked.

They left the driver confused and shaken on the edge of the belt.

“What did you find in Tyler?” Haggerty asked Elsa.

“The pores on his thumb were heavily laced with Happy Styx. Blood analysis confirms he’d had numerous doses. I also detected a known polythinisine-based toxin injected into his left thigh.”

“Our drug?” Haggerty asked.


“That’s proof that whoever killed Tyler wanted people to believe he died from the press.”

“Your logic appears sound, Jason. Now what do we do?”

Haggerty thought for a moment. If he turned himself in he could get medical attention, have his system flushed of the toxins from Max’s white box. But there were two doses left, which meant he could keep going for a few more hours and try to find out who was behind this. His gut told him that once he was in custody, whoever was responsible would make sure he took the fall to stop his interference with whatever they were planning.

The question was what clues remained to follow up. He’d exhausted all his resources. But there was someone definitely not involved in the triple press who would be interested in his evidence. Someone with inexhaustible resources. Haggerty merely had to convince him he was innocent before he killed Haggerty himself.

* * *

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
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Eight, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Eight, Part Two