Nov 2011 04

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]

Haggerty considered stopping downstairs to order a new black box — it wouldn’t take long, as his requiem was on file — but the Dragon had sent word that he was to get himself to State with no further delays. And the more he thought about it, the more inappropriate registering a lost box seemed right now. How would he explain it?

A huge mass of people overflowed the quad in front of State Facility Four. From the ramp, Haggerty could detect Clone Jesus fans holding burning candles, and heard the band’s music blaring from hundreds of coms set at maximum audio. A cadre of what Haggerty guessed to be angry parents milled about on one side beneath a SAVE OUR CHILDREN FROM CLONE JESUS! banner. Nearby, another group gathered under a banner proclaiming INDIVISIBLE! —The term niggled at Haggerty’s mind for a moment until a connection was made. Haggerty remembered that the Indivisibles were the back-to-nature cult founded by Svoboda, the character Tanner had mentioned that morning. Nice to know the Religious Right weren’t the only extremists represented in the somber crowd. Interspersed throughout were what appeared to be ordinary Conscientious Citizens who likely were neither parents, Clone Jesus fans, nor political extremists — people with the dazed look of accident victims driven from their climate-controlled compartments into the torpid streets in search of fellow witnesses of the tragedy to share their grief with.

Yet most of the country was still asleep. Haggerty recalled Doug’s words uneasily. If throngs this size and variety were forming in the middle of this stifling night, what would morning bring, when another twenty-two million NewVadans awoke to endless repeats of the triple press — to say nothing of the rest of the country, the rest of the world? As the review agent assigned to those presses, it was his responsibility to find answers and prevent disorder.

Elsa gained clearance and slotted into the parking structure adjacent to precinct headquarters. Since there was no direct access to the building, they were forced to find the street entrance. They made their way through the crowd to where soldiers in riot gear ringed the facility’s perimeter. Haggerty displayed his BBI identiplate to a harried sergeant, who waved him and Elsa through to the lobby.

The hypersteel walls, once gleaming silver, were now gray, pitted, and scored. Police departments had been consolidated into statewide agencies in the middle of the twenty-first century, and there was little money for noncritical expenses. Although the state and federal governments both contributed funds, there were too many cities with similar claims and not enough credits to go around. Consequently, police were dependent on local taxes for their operating budgets. Credits were tightly allocated, resulting in massive layoffs and the freezing of police wages and benefits. Forensic labs had been closed and precincts consolidated. The NewVada precinct façade had gone uncleaned for decades, while carpeting inside was threadbare and the waiting rooms all had broken furniture not likely to be fixed or replaced soon.

But the city’s police force boasted state-of-the-art security equipment, weapons, and surveillance, and the guard on duty was protected by a permaglass partition that could stop a rocket.

“What can I do for you?” she asked briskly as Haggerty and Elsa approached.

“Review agent Haggerty, BBI,” he told her. “Here to meet Detective Woyzeck.”

“He’s expecting you,” the guard said. She was about to buzz them through the security gate when her attention riveted on the lobby viewscreen.

“Oh, no,” she said. “Not another one.”

Haggerty and Elsa followed her gaze.

A boy stood on a rooftop, scattered lights from hypersteel towers glimmering behind him in the black night, a beatific smile on his face and an earset just visible beneath his shaggy brown hair. He couldn’t be more than twelve years old. “But I understand,” he said dreamily. “Maybe someday you will, too.” He stretched his arms wide, closed his eyes, leaned backward, and tumbled off the roof to the beltway below.

“We believe this footage was somehow sent directly to Channel 115 from the victim’s com,” a voice droned as a smiling picture of the boy filled the screen. “Timothy was a sixth-grader at NewVada Primary Education Facility 29. He had recently been approved for a full athletic scholarship with complete bio-enhancement, to the Mid-level Education Facility of his choice.” The screen split to include a live shot of the boy’s body splayed against the beltway, blood pooling around him.

“Don’t know how the kid got the roof door access code,” the guard said, returning her attention to Haggerty and Elsa. “Or the other jumpers, either.”

“There were more?” Haggerty asked with growing dread.

“Half a dozen so far,” the guard said grimly.

Doug’s worst-case scenario had started. The sooner Haggerty could talk to the band, the sooner he could get them to stop what was happening.

The guard pulled herself together. “You’re assistant a ’droid?”

Haggerty nodded confirmation.

“You can enter through the security archway to the left,” she instructed him. “But your assistant’s powerpack will raise hell with the scanners. I’ll open the gate for her.”

The guard depressed several buttons on her station console and Haggerty passed through the archway, peering at the elaborate sensory display that was capable of identifying and, if necessary, detaining or stunning him. The guard then drew the gate aside just enough for Elsa to squeeze through, and manually searched her for weapons before clearing her to join Haggerty and returning to the viewcast.

Detective Woyzeck met them, moving sluggishly like someone who’d downed too many bottles of KeepAwake in too short a time.

“We gotta stop meeting like this,” he greeted Haggerty. “Wanna guess who I just had to fend off?”

“Antonio Stelwyn and our new buddy Primrose.”

“You got it in one. What do you say the two of us retire right now and get the hell out of here?”

“Where do I turn in my identiplate?” Haggerty deadpanned. “Have you gotten a lead on the other two kids?” he asked.

“They were carrying false ident and there’s nothing to tag them with yet,” Woyzeck said, leading them toward one of the unoccupied interview rooms. “That’s the problem with kids — no priors, and if they haven’t applied for licenses or work visas, they slip through the cracks. Sure the Feds can break the Privacy Act and order a warrant for a DNA trace, but so far they’ve denied our requests. No idents off the boxes?”

“They were black market units, serial numbers thoroughly effaced.”

Haggerty took a seat in one of the room’s mismatched chairs.

“Why am I not surprised?” Woyzeck sighed, seating himself on the opposite side of the scarred wooden table.

“At least four JCs committed copycat presses after the viewcast,” Haggerty said, “and I hear you’ve had reports of a half dozen illegal suicides. BBI’s nervous it’s going to get worse.”

Haggerty explained contagion theory briefly to Woyzeck, then asked. “What charges are you holding the band members on?”

“Band and their manager, Shintag Lake,” Woyzeck corrected. “Who’s a real shithead. Has his lawyers all over us threatening illegal detainment suits. Chief gave him the main conference room upstairs and a couple of phone lines. They’re currently being held on three felony-two manslaughter counts of assisting an illegal suicide and a violation of the ordinance making it illegal to conduct a suicide for entertainment purposes or to host or promote such events.” He grimaced. “But the charges may not hold up, because although they seemed to condone the presses they did not assist them, and the language of the ordinance is weak and has never been tested before — as their lawyers rudely pointed out.”

“What do the band members say?” Haggerty asked.

“The lead singer, Zephyr, pled the Fifth — right after he told me to fuck off. Wiseass. Then the rest of the band did the same. Except the bass player, kid named Cherub who actually seems like he gives a crap. Lake claims they knew the kids but had no prior knowledge of their intentions.”

“How long can you hold them?”

“Not long with the amount of pull they have,” Woyzeck said in disgust. “It’s gonna be out of our hands soon, anyway. Feds are on their way. Should be here within the hour.”

“I’d like to talk to the bass player and the manager,” Haggerty said.

Woyzeck chuckled. “Mind telling me how I broach that to my boss?”

“What if I offered you a few more charges, like that the minors were using illegal narcotics while partying with the band. Think that’d get me in?”

“You have recorded evidence?”

Haggerty nodded.

“When could we have it?”

Instantly, Haggerty thought, scratching the back of his neck. They just needed to show Elsa to the appropriate interface. But right now, the recordings were his only leverage.

“I’ll have BBI send it over the minute I complete my interviews,” he said. “I realize the time to build your case is limited.”

Woyzeck scrutinized Haggerty’s face with the skill of an accomplished poker player, his expression giving away nothing. Whatever he was looking for, he seemed satisfied he’d found it.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll go talk to the chief.”

“Thanks,” Haggerty said. “Tell him I’m just interested in learning if they knew how the kids came into possession of the black boxes.”

Once Woyzeck had left the room, Elsa turned to Haggerty.

Keep it private, Elsa, he linked. The interview rooms are probably under full surveillance.

Then you do realize that those recordings are still uploaded in my storage banks.

Of course, but I don’t want Woyzeck to know yet.

Haggerty fingered the dead girl’s keycard through his pocket. He needed to get the damned thing decontaminated, investigate its info, and make sure he gave it to Woyzeck in a way that wouldn’t land him in trouble.

* * *

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