Nov 2011 11

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 conference room they were shown into was a far cry from the cubicle with mismatched chairs and ancient table they’d just left. Haggerty guessed they reserved it for interrogating celebrities and other detainees with the power to make things difficult for the chief of police. Apparently one of the critical uses for the police budget was to provide the chief with a private suite the size of the average CC living compartment. There were two men in this room. The band’s bassist sipped what looked to be an imported carbonated beverage while taking in whatever the extremely agitated man standing next to him was whispering in his ear. Haggerty pegged the man as a lawyer. Despite having been called out of bed in the middle of the night to represent his client, he was immaculately dressed in an expensive, conservative suit with an equally expensive com visible in the breast pocket. The lawyer straightened as they entered the room, gave the bassist a stern glance, and turned his attention to the newcomers.

Woyzeck performed the introductions. Haggerty recognized the lawyer’s firm as the proprietary counsel to the rich and celebrated. Gregory, Mendell and Finkelstein had a reputation for winning cases even when their clients’ guilt was widely accepted. He wanted very much to excuse himself to pop a celtrex, but decided against it.

Woyzeck futilely raised his empty KeepAwake bottle to his lips. Finally he gave up and poured himself a mug of coffee from the carafe on the counter beside a sizable refrigerator. The counter was also equipped with an antique espresso machine and an assortment of refreshments including a bowl of real dried fruit.

Haggerty and the lawyer shook hands and took seats at the polished mahagony conference table, with Haggerty opposite the lawyer and his client.

“Mr. Haggerty,” Ryerson began in his best courtroom voice, “you will please limit your questions to your company’s hardware. I warn you that I will veto any question pertaining to the criminal investigation.”

“Understood,” Haggerty said as Elsa poured coffee into a porcelain mug and handed it to him. “My assistant will be recording, if that’s acceptable.”

“That’s acceptable, on the condition that such recordings will be used solely by BBI and not made part of the criminal investigation. But understand that I’m only allowing this to show that my clients are willing to cooperate.” He tapped the com in his pocket. “I’ll make my own recording, as well.”

Haggerty glanced at Woyzeck, who nodded agreement. If anything pertinent to the detective’s investigation was said, he wasn’t apt to forget it. Client-attorney privilege protected whatever Ryerson recorded, and Haggerty’s recording wouldn’t make or break this case.

“Your condition is noted,” Haggerty said, sipping his coffee, and turned his attention to the bassist.

Elsa began recording.

“Let’s dive right in. I assume that Cherub is your legal name. Is that correct?”

“Right, had it changed,” the bassist answered.

Had Haggerty not recognized Cherub from the viewcast, the blisterbrandings he and his bandmates favored would have given him away. Cherub couldn’t be more than twenty-two years old, Haggerty surmised. His hair was cropped and spiked and tinged with the popular gold and silver. Blisterbrandings were visible from the top of his tunic to the base of his neck and also adorned his palms. He seemed slightly high and, as was to be expected, somewhat nervous.

“Did you know the JCs who pressed had black boxes in their possession?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Did you know they were illegally obtained?”

“I figured.”

“Do you know how the kids came into possession of them?”

“Not exactly.”

“How do you think they got them?” Haggerty said.

Cherub looked to Ryerson.

“My client has stated that he does not know. Whatever he would answer is pure conjecture and speculation, and not admissible in court,” the lawyer told Haggerty. “You know that.”

“And we’ve agreed that this interview is not part of the criminal investigation,” Haggerty reminded him. “But anything your client can tell me might help us clear up this matter.”

Ryerson told Cherub to answer.

“I guess they got them the same way we get whatever we want — through Shintag or one of his assistants.”

Ryerson winced.

Haggerty swooped in. “Did you know the kids were going to use the boxes onstage during the concert?”

“Don’t answer that,” Ryerson instructed his client.

But he was too late.

“I didn’t know she was going to kill herself,” Cherub blurted. “She was a good kid and she seemed happy.”

Woyzeck smiled at Haggerty.

“That pertains to the criminal investigation, Mr. Haggerty,” Ryerson said, trying to regain control. “I insist that it be removed from the recording.”

He turned to Cherub.

“I must caution you not to answer questions against my advice. As your lawyer, I am experienced in how certain lines of questioning can lead to an appearance of wrongdoing even if you’ve done nothing wrong.”

He glared at Haggerty. “Pull a stunt like that again, and this interview is over right now.”

Haggerty nodded. “But since your client brought up the girl, let’s talk about her,” he suggested. Before Ryerson could object, he said, “She had an unregistered unit, and we can’t ascertain her identity.”

“That was a global viewcast,” Ryerson said. “Surely someone recognized her. No one’s come forward with information?”

“No one,” Haggerty confirmed. “And we’re not in a position to wait around for leads to drop in our laps.”

If Ryerson wanted to prove his client was being cooperative and gain leverage in the criminal investigation, he’d have to cave on this point.

“All right, Mr. Haggerty,” he said tightly. “Ask your questions.”

“Do you know who the girl was, Cherub?”

“She called herself Teardrop,” he said. “Never assumed it was her real name. I told the police that.”

Haggerty recalled the blisterbrand on the girl’s cheek as Woyzeck nodded.

“And Tyler Stelwyn. You knew who he was?”

“We all knew who Tyler was.”

“What about the other boy?”

“Never caught his name,” Cherub said. “He was a quiet one.”

“You hung out in hotels with them for weeks and you never asked him his name?”

“That’s the end of this line of questioning, Mr. Haggerty,” Ryerson said.

Haggerty tried a different tack. “Are you a believer in the product my company dispenses and the services we provide?” he asked Cherub.

“Don’t answer that,” Ryerson said forcefully.

Cherub ignored him.

“I don’t think the government should have any say in the matter,” he told Haggerty, looking him directly in the eyes. “I believe in a person’s right to die as they see fit.”

“Do all your band’s members feel that way?”

“I insist that we end this interview,” Ryerson said.

Cherub reclined in his chair, put his boots up on the table, and took a long pull on his bottle. “Ever listened to any of Zephyr’s lyrics, Mr. Haggerty? I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but it’s pretty much all there out in the open,” he said.

“Would you be willing to publicly decry the act?” Haggerty asked. “We have grave concerns regarding copycats among your fans. Some have already pressed or found other ways to suicide. Your cooperation could prevent further tragedies.”

“That’s very sad,” Cherub said. “But I would not decry it, if that’s what they chose to do.” He gave Haggerty a pitying look. “You don’t grok, do you? We’re no longer one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. We’re divided by age, by privilege. The average age for first jobs, legal ones anyway, is rising every year. The Gen-Ohs aren’t going to begin their careers until they’re in their sixties. Who the hell wants to wait that long for life to start? They can’t afford to live. So every day, underage citizens file petitions under the Kevorkian Act. And every day, the courts approve those petitions and the government puts Killswitches into their hands. What’s the difference if someone doesn’t bother with the formalities? Isn’t the choice already made? Hasn’t society already said it’s okay to make that choice? Who the fuck am I to decry what’s going on?”

“This interview is over,” Ryerson interrupted, pulling his client to his feet.

“Wait,” Cherub stopped him. “Do you happen to know when the funerals are planned?” he asked Haggerty. “I’d like to attend them, if I’m free.”

“The Stelwyns haven’t informed us of their arrangements. If we can’t find next of kin, I don’t know how long the bodies of the other two will be held before the state inters them.”

“We’re out of here,” Ryerson stated firmly.

“Thank you, Cherub,” Haggerty told the bassist. “I wish you the best of luck with your case and your career.”

Woyzeck led Ryerson and Cherub from the room.

Polygraphic analysis? Haggerty linked to Elsa. The old term had stuck for a vastly more sophisticated analysis of human physiologic reactions, such as pupil dilation, than had been available with the ancient polygraph machines of past centuries.

Elsa considered her analysis. He grew extremely agitated when you asked about the boxes. He knew they had them, and that they were going to use them onstage. However, when cross-analyzed with his admission that he had no prior knowledge of the girl’s intent to die, I calculate a ninety-seven percent certainty that he was telling the truth.

Haggerty considered, sipped his coffee. He knew they were going to use the units, but not that they would die? That doesn’t make sense. Did he think they were just making a political statement?

Elsa reviewed the data. His indication of the girl specifically, not the three collectively, suggests her death in particular brought emotions of remorse.

I caught that, Haggerty sent through the link. I’d bet they were sleeping together.

That is my analysis, as well, Elsa agreed.

Think there’s any connection to that cult, the Indivisibles? Haggerty asked.

His response to your inquiry on right-to-die issues was markedly hostile, but he does not appear to believe in the right to die. His comments about the Kevorkian petitions and reference to the Indivisibles indicate disapproval, but perhaps also resignation. I don’t believe he’s a member of the Indivisibles, merely that he’s acquainted with their philosophies and finds merit in them. Overall, he doesn’t think that they will effect any change in society, and he is resigned to things as they are. Cross reference of full interview suggests that he was well rehearsed, knew to some degree that the incident was planned, and strongly disapproves of what actually occurred. It came as a shock to him.

“You don’t grok, do you?” Cherub’s challenge sounded in Haggerty’s mind, echoed by the boy Timothy’s words before he threw himself off the roof: “Maybe someday you’ll understand.” Haggerty doubted that he ever would.

Thank you, Elsa, he linked. I’ll want a full briefing on the Indivisibles later. They seem to keep popping up. Now let’s see what we can get from the band’s manager.

* * *

Shintag Lake had turned the room where he was being held into the temporary nerve center of his global entertainment corporation. To Haggerty it seemed like security measures were keeping out undesirables rather than restraining the occupant. The conference table had been moved against one wall, and most of the chairs that usually surrounded it stacked to the side. The few kept in use were scattered throughout the room and the center of the floor was piled with large cushions covered in costly hand-painted silk — certainly not part of the original decor. Lake’s clothes were even more expensive, with one element predominating. His vest, flared pants, and boots were all black suede. He hadn’t bothered with a shirt; his smooth, hairless chest was visible under the open vest. If Haggerty had thought the leather jacket on the rich kid in the Orphanage men’s room was a statement of contempt, Lake’s fabric choices were beyond that: CCs who might find his wardrobe deplorable were less than dirt to him.

“If one person suggests we cancel a single tour date, I’ll cancel them all. Do you understand!” Lake barked, his com’s earset half buried beneath thick, braided hair.

Two female assistants, of Asian descent like Lake and clad in red suede sheath dresses with mandarin collars and hems slit to the thigh — suede seemed to be required wear for his employees, as well — made notes on their coms as he paced the floor. The four-foot-seven mogul barely acknowledged the new arrivals, dismissing them with a hand wave. Finally he disconnected his call and turned to one of the women.

“Pasha, get me a drink. Then get someone on the line from the appellate court who can make a decision.”

He muted the viewscreen.

“Just the collector,” he ordered Woyzeck. “You and the android remain outside. And close the door! You’re letting the air-conditioning out.”

Haggerty looked at Woyzeck, who nodded that the break in procedure was all right. It bothered Haggerty that Elsa would not be present to polygraph, but he would take what he could get.

Lake motioned his assistants to leave; they hurriedly retreated to a smaller room off the main conference room, rather than into the corridor with Elsa and Woyzeck. Acknowledging Haggerty with a bob of the head, Lake waved him into a chair as he himself sank onto the pile of cushions.

“My name is Shintag Lake,” he said. “No doubt you know who I am, just as I know who you are, Mr. Haggerty.”

“Sorry to meet you under such harsh conditions,” Haggerty said ironically.

“Don’t waste my time with your attempt at amusement. Ask your questions.”

“All right, then. Did you get those kids their stolen units?”

“I authorized it. Whatever the band or their select entourage requests — drugs, women, bloody farm animals if they feel like it — I see that it is obtained for them. Why they want something is of no consequence. I keep them happy because they make me money — a very considerable amount of money.”

“Are you saying that you had no direct knowledge of what you were supplying, or the purpose for which it was intended?”

“Your hearing is good, at least,” Lake said dryly.

“Do you know who supplied the boxes?”

“I employ over four hundred men and women to do my bidding, Mr. Haggerty. I have as little knowledge of where things come from as I do of which delivery service prepared the band’s last meal.”

“Can you find out?”

Pasha returned and knelt at Lake’s side, offering him a snifter of brandy. Lake took the snifter and dismissed her to search for an amenable judge.

“I suppose it is possible,” he said. He sipped his brandy. “But why should I?”

“The recordings off those units provide damning evidence against the members of your band.”

“Clone Jesus is only one of my bands, Mr. Haggerty. In my hundred and two years I’ve had scores of them, and I’ll have scores more before I’m through.”

“But Clone Jesus is the one that will go down in history, and like it or not my findings will be part of how that history is written. I don’t think you want your role in it tarnished by my proving you a willing participant in the corruption of minors through narcotics and a rash of suicides used as a promotional device.”

Lake searched Haggerty’s expression for any trace of bluffing.

“You think you have power over me, Mr. Haggerty. You haven’t the slightest notion of what power is. If you held it for a moment, it would slip through your fingers like sand.”

“Maybe,” Haggerty said. “But Antonio Stelwyn does, and he will probably hold you responsible for the death of his only son. You don’t want that hanging over your head.”

Lake took another sip of brandy. “You have finally managed to impress me, Mr. Haggerty.” He inclined his torso in a half bow.

Haggerty bowed back. “You’ll contact me with the name of the provider as soon as you have it?”

“And you offer in return?”

“What do you want?”

“The recordings,” Lake replied.

* * *

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