Nov 2011 18

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]

“Learn anything?” Woyzeck asked Haggerty as they strolled with Elsa toward the security station at the precinct entrance.

“A few lessons on the music industry,” Haggerty said.

“Thought so,” Woyzeck responded. “How soon can we get the evidence that convinced the chief to clear those interviews?”

Before Haggerty could answer, Woyzeck stopped abruptly. “What the fuck — that’s you on the viewcast,” he said.

Haggerty followed the detective’s gaze to the viewscreen, where a holographic image of him turned by degrees to reveal his full face and both profiles.

“. . . Code Six for review agent Jason P. Haggerty, the chief suspect in the murder of BBI psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Zabrowski,” the commentator intoned the unthinkable. “Agent Haggerty had access to the storage facility where the discharged units were kept, as well as direct control over the investigation. Haggerty has been certified suicidal and is believed to pose an immediate threat to himself and others. . . .”

The security guard sprang to attention. Woyzeck cursed fluently, unclipping his holster and gripping his sidearm.

“I don’t know what’s going on here, Haggerty, but—”

Haggerty yanked the chair from under the guard, dumping her onto the floor, and flung it at Woyzeck, knocking him backward. Grabbing Elsa by the shoulders, he directed her through the security arch. The relays blew and the entire system shorted, showering them with sparks. Haggerty quickly guided her by the arm out the front entrance, into the stifling night, past the first ring of riot squad, and down the steps into the milling throng. The crowd had grown larger during the time they’d been inside, which would make it easier to conceal themselves but harder to get to safety.

Woyzeck was out the door seconds behind them, stungun drawn and shouting orders to the sergeant which the sergeant relayed into his helmet mike.

Haggerty pulled Elsa along firmly. He couldn’t afford to let the crowd separate them.

Jason, what are we doing? Elsa linked.

Trying to figure a way out of here. It’s a setup, he told her. It could be nothing else. Doug was dead and he’d been named the chief suspect, not only in Doug’s murder but in the black market sale of the stolen KV units used in the triple press. Woyzeck hadn’t been wearing a stungun when Haggerty arrived at the precinct. What were the odds he’d be standing within Woyzeck’s reach at the precise moment it was revealed that he was wanted? And who had sent Haggerty to State in the first place? Well rewarded indeed.

They kept low, weaving through the crowd, but Haggerty knew there was little chance of clearing the outer edge of the quad, which now also was ringed by riot police. He scanned the area; those budget-driven layoffs might just come back to haunt the administration, he thought grimly. The police line was thin in some places, particularly behind the group of parents shouting “Save Our Kids! Save Our Kids! SaveOurKids!” who were probably deemed less likely to go out of control than Clone Jesus’s young fans. The streets behind them seemed clear of traffic. If he and Elsa could make it that far, they might be able to reach one of the nearby beltways to the Vegas District and maybe buy enough time for Haggerty to find out who was behind this. They ducked and dodged through the angry throng, who were too absorbed in their own protest to notice them.

A rifleman appeared suddenly ahead. “Halt!” he shouted. “You’re under arrest!”

The CCs nearest to Haggerty pulled away, making him an easy target.

Defend! Haggerty linked, and Elsa stepped before him. The two of them determinedly moved forward.

“Stop, or I’ll fire,” the policeman warned, priming his stungun.

Elsa stretched her arms and weapon-proof shielding sprouted from her wrists down to her waist.

The startled policeman fired. The stun bounded off Elsa’s midriff, leaving only a small tear in her tunic.

But a second policeman had got through the crowd and was raising his weapon. “Switch to detonator,” he ordered.

As he was taking aim, the BBI vehicle tore to a screeching halt between Haggerty and his pursuers. The canopy door snapped open.

“Hurry, get in!” Corbin shouted from inside.

* * *

The vehicle careened out of the quad and slotted onto the minor beltway.

“I need to get myself an assistant like Elsa,” Corbin quipped. “Does she have any brothers? Not that I’m likely to have a job much longer.”

“That makes two of us,” Haggerty said.

“Three of us,” Elsa added, in an unusual attempt at levity. “Though I suppose I can be repurposed as a vending machine.”

In fact, if BBI caught them and did a thorough analysis, they’d find Elsa’s overlooked loyalty chip, along with all the periodic modifications and upgrades she’d performed herself. They’d simply remove the chip and reprogram Elsa, deleting unwanted abilities and appropriating what they found useful, then assign her to another agent. Elsa had to know that as well as he did.

But Elsa’s fate was mild compared to the probable fates of Haggerty and Corbin. If they couldn’t get evidence to clear him of the charges, he and Corbin would face exile to one of the backwaters where the technology for stem-cell therapies didn’t exist. Instead of enjoying long, disease-free lives of perpetual youth, they would be vulnerable to whatever infections and plagues they encountered. Even if they survived, they would ultimately face old age and breakdown of their own flesh and bones. For Haggerty, deprivation of the geno-theraputic celtrex would accelerate the effects of time. His real age would catch up with him in a matter of months and he’d be dead in a few years. Intent on suicide, this did not concern him much, though he’d prefer to go down with a clear record. But Corbin was young enough that she could go on for decades, albeit in an utterly alien society with none of the comforts she took for granted each day.

Haggerty had to admit that she was putting herself at incredible risk to help him. Given their history, he wondered why.

“Are you committing career suicide out of compassion?” he asked, pulling down the rotoscope screens and scanning for pursuers.

“The Dragon told me to assist you,” Corbin said.

“Was that before or after Doug’s murder?” Haggerty asked.

“Before it,” Corbin said. “I saw that last viewcast on my way to the precinct. There were Feds all over BBI when I left. It looks to me like Consuela framed you, to save her own neck.” For once she wasn’t smirking.

Haggerty was surprised that Corbin agreed with his suspicions. If the Dragon thought heads would roll if she couldn’t find someone to blame for the triple press, framing him made sense, however unscrupulous the logic. But she needn’t have mixed Doug’s murder into the bargain. Or was it Doug’s death that had pushed her into framing Haggerty? If so, wouldn’t that let the real killer go free? And if she didn’t know the motive for Doug’s murder, might not her own safety be at risk? Did she know the motive? Haggerty’s head was spinning.

“I’m sorry about Zabrowski,” Corbin said. “I know you two were friends. I’m presuming your innocence, based on how he talked about you.”

“Thanks,” Haggerty said. “I’ve known Doug almost as long as I’ve been at the agency. He was as good-natured as they come. I don’t understand why someone would hurt him. What could anyone possibly gain by his death? He wasn’t part of the investigation. Why would Consuela pin it on me rather than find the real killer — two birds with one stone?”

Unless the Dragon killed Doug. But why would she want him dead?

“What sort of evidence has she fabricated?” he asked Corbin.

“For Zabrowski’s murder? No idea. For the triple press? How about three blank boxes for starters — Which I quickly realized put me at potential risk, since I happened to have seen what was on them.”

“Thank God,” Haggerty said, meeting her eyes. “I was having trouble believing your assistance was simply altruistic.”

“I’m really not amused when my ass is on the line, Haggerty. So do me a favor and tell me that Elsa still has copies of those reviews in her databank.”

“She does — shit, here they come!”

Two armored vehicles, lights flashing, had fallen into position behind them.

“I anticipate more of them ahead,” Elsa offered. “They’ll use the emergency lanes coming toward us.”

“Next offramp?” Haggerty asked.

“Downtown Six,” she calculated. “The shoppingplex.”

“Then buckle in and get ready to commit some major traffic violations,” Corbin said as two more armored cars appeared up ahead.

Corbin slammed the vehicle over the yellow rails, into the emergency lane. “Chicken they used to call it in your day, right?”

“Before my time,” Haggerty called, strapping in and holding his palms flat against the car roof. “But I get the idea.”

“It’s going to be close, agent Corbin,” Elsa warned, having calculated the rate of speed of the vehicles rushing toward them against the distance required to make the offramp without collision. “You’ll need to increase speed by forty miles per hour in the next several seconds” — which was impossible, as Corbin and Haggerty both knew — “if you plan for us to survive this. I’m disengaging the governor now.”

Elsa slotted her fingers into the vehicle’s control panel. Palms mashed against the wheel, Corbin floored the accelerator, her teeth grinding and beads of sweat streaming down her face.

Haggerty braced for impact. The oncoming armored vehicle could withstand the collision; he could see the determined look on the driver’s crash-helmeted face. Haggerty had wanted to terminate, but not quite like this.

“We’re not going to make it,” Elsa said calmly.

“The hell we’re not,” Corbin responded.

She flipped an overhead switch that brought their vehicle’s sirens to life, causing the oncoming driver to reflexively lighten up on his throttle. Their car broke right, into the offramp, with tremendous force; the left front side panel sheered away in a torrent of grated steel sparks. The car was damaged but continued forward under Corbin’s control. She yehawwed in triumph like an old-time cowboy.

Haggerty checked the rotoscope. The other vehicles had narrowly escaped impact but were immobile, blocking the offramp and impeding further pursuit from the slotway.

“Everybody in one piece?” Corbin inquired.

“Thanks for asking,” Haggerty said. “Slot us into the shoppingplex. We need to lose this car.”

Corbin decelerated. They docked and quickly stepped onto the deserted platform that was usually swarming with customers, its beltways inactive because of the hour.

“Elsa, is it possible to block the tracking chips in our coms?”

“I can block them from passing or receiving ping transmissions, but if you use them to make outgoing calls, your location can be traced. Sorry about that.”

“I just don’t want them to know we’ve left the vehicle.” Haggerty said.

He and Corbin passed Elsa their coms; a flash of infrared light passed from Elsa’s left iris to each com as she held it up in turn.

“Ping transmissions blocked,” she said, handing back the coms.

“Autopilot,” Haggerty ordered, reaching into the car. “Fastest possible route, Nevada state line.”

The vehicle departed.

Haggerty scanned the darkened storefronts with his eyes. “There,” he said. “Men’s and women’s apparel.”

He extracted his identiplate and banged hard on the thick glass door. Within moments an irate security guard, looking as though he’d been jolted from sleep, lumbered into view.

“What can I do for you?” he growled from inside.

“We’ve got a warrant,” Haggerty said, holding up the plate. “We’ve reason to believe there’s been a press on your premises.”

“You’re smooth as silk,” Corbin whispered as the guard fumbled for his keycard.

Restrain him, Elsa, Haggerty linked when the door opened.

Elsa grasped the guard and held him in place, locking his arms with one hand and covering his mouth with the other.

“Don’t try to speak,” Haggerty warned him. “I know you must have an alarm word. If you open your mouth, she’ll break both your wrists.”

Secure him, Elsa, somewhere comfortable where they’ll be sure to find him. Then deactivate the surveillance.

Elsa rejoined them as they removed clothes from racks in the minimal off-hours lighting of the Casual Wear department.

“Discard your grays and find a pedestrian outfit that won’t attract attention,” Haggerty told her.

Corbin selected a bronze duratine shirt and a pair of jeans. “I’ll be right back,” she said, draping her BBI coat over her arm and moving toward the changing rooms.

Haggerty stripped off his grays, moving quickly and nearly stumbling as he pulled on a pair of retro khaki cargo pants. The cold floor soothed his bare feet. An undershirt and hooded black sweatshirt completed his transformation into what he hoped would be an inconspicuous CC.

Elsa returned in a beige sheath dress about a size larger than she normally wore that gave no hint of her perfect figure, with most of her perfect blonde hair hidden beneath a cheap print scarf. Haggerty nodded approval. He pocketed the identiplate, pillcase, and keycards from his uniform in the sweatshirt.

Use one of the minthizine bags in your storage compartments to open the inner breast pocket of my grays, he linked to Elsa. You’ll find a keycard there. It’s from the dead girl, Teardrop. Extract it and run a decontamination protocol. See if you can get her address.

Elsa slid the card into one of her hidden ports.

Corbin emerged from the changing room tugging a turquoise wig into a more comfortable fit on her head. “I found it next to the hats by the changing room,” she answered Haggerty’s inquiring expression.

“Good thinking,” he said, grinning. “You have your identiplate?”

Corbin patted her pocket. “Not that I’ll ever use it again in an official capacity,” she said. “Now what?”

Haggerty looked to Elsa. She nodded.

“I have a possible address on the dead girl,” he said.

“You found something the police didn’t know was lost.”

Haggerty bit back his anger at her assumption, since it was correct. He considered telling Corbin that the photo of Regina with Teardrop led him to think the dead girl might be one of Regina’s roommates. But in comparison to their illegal acts during the past twenty minutes, removing the keycard from a press scene seemed of little consequence.

“Yes,” he acknowledged.

“Possession of stolen evidence is a felony,” Corbin said.

“Add it to the list,” he said. “You want out? You could still come away from this in reasonable shape.”

“I doubt that,” Corbin said. “Count me in. As long as we’re sharing, you should know that your girlfriend’s a fugitive of the State of Indiana. I took a glass from your place with her fingerprints and DNA samples all over it, had it analyzed.”

“What else did you learn?” he asked tightly. Trusting Corbin was going to be very difficult.

“Her full name is Regina Dawn Sokolov, and she’s wanted for questioning with regard to a fire set at a women’s clinic. On top of that, she’s a registered gender offender.”

Haggerty was struck speechless, realizing what that implied. Regina had refused compulsory contraception, was capable of birthing unlicensed children.

“Her family were immigrants,” Corbin continued. “They were denied refugee status when they fled from some war in the hinterlands of Eastern Europe. Smuggled themselves across the Canadian border.”

What Corbin was telling him about Regina’s background screamed true from the ideals she had professed. Still, Haggerty did not believe she was nefariously involved in the triple press. He believed with every instinct he owned that she did not, could not have faked her response to the triple press viewcast.

“All right,” he told Corbin. “Let’s see what we find at that address.”

* * *

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.

* * *

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