Oct 2011 14

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]

The DeLongpre residence was typical of most CCs’ compartments. Surveying the shabby but neat cramped living room, Haggerty reflected that Regina had been wrong. He didn’t live like the other half. The top ten percent, maybe. And the Gen-Ohs couldn’t even hope for as much as the little the DeLongpres had. He accepted a glass of water from a young M.T., who pointed out where the press had occurred and the fallen black box before wheeling the copycat’s body out the front door.

Since no foul play had been indicated and the girl had been uninsured, neither police investigation nor full review were required. Corbin would watch the final recording to see if any personal messages needed a copy-and-release authorization, but that was unlikely, given that the dead girl had pressed in front of her parents. Presses of persons not yet a legal adult were the most harrowing cases. Haggerty hoped Corbin was up to the task as she sat down with the girl’s parents to begin the interview.

“I’m taking the box,” he told Corbin.

She nodded agreement.

Discreetly dosing a celtrex, Haggerty gloved up and prepared to assume possession of the discharged unit at the foot of the small viewscreen. As he reached for it, something on the edge of the table caught his attention: a photograph of the DeLongpres with their daughter at Disneyland. Slightly chubby, pimpled, with braces on her teeth, the young girl stood with the aid of a small crutch — one leg being notably shorter than the other. Quite a contrast to the perfect bodies and faces of the teens she’d just emulated. Even with all the DNA screening that preceded the grant of a license to have a child, defects still occurred. Though painful to endure while they lasted, such physical imperfections could be fixed by plastiche once a child’s body finished growing. This girl’s never would.

Haggerty picked up the unit, relieved to see the serial numbers intact. He cased it, put the gloves in a biohazard bag, and walked down a short hallway to the DeLongpres’ tiny washroom to clean his hands. He returned to the living room as Corbin was attempting to wrap up her interview with the parents.

“Mr. and Mrs. DeLongpre, this is my associate, Mr. Haggerty,” she said.

The mother extended her hand limply. Haggerty returned the pressure of her fingers firmly.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.

She nodded, tears glistening on her cheeks.

“Their daughter, Pamela, was in possession of a unit after successful petition under Kevorkian Act 516,” Corbin said flatly, simply stating facts. “It was a calm decision Pamela made after watching the broadcast. I judge this a clean press.”

“A clean press!” the father exploded, his pain obvious to Haggerty.

“Arthur, please calm down,” his wife said quietly.

“Calm down! These people don’t know the ridicule our baby suffered!”

“Sir, I assure you—” Corbin began.

“Assure me of what?” DeLongpre snarled. “That you understand our loss? Have you lost a child?”

“No sir, I haven’t. But—”

“Do you know how long we waited for permission? Thirty goddamned years. Pamela was everything to us! You might as well hand us our own fucking boxes right now!”

He stormed out of the room, smashing a lamp as he went.

Haggerty understood what the father had not spoken. When couples lost a child they could apply for permission to have another and usually get approval. But when the lost child had congenital defects, permission was denied.

“I’m so sorry,” Mrs. DeLongpre said contritely, ineffectually dabbing her eyes with a crumpled handkerchief.

“It’s totally understandable, ma’am,” Haggerty said gently. “Do you mind if I ask you a question? Did Pamela listen regularly to this band, Clone Jesus?”

“Not that I know of,” she said. “She keeps to herself mostly. She doesn’t have many friends. She really likes —” Mrs. DeLongpre gave a choked sob, pulled herself together. “Pamela really liked to listen to music over the Indranet after school.”

“Could we please see her room?” Haggerty asked.

Corbin looked at him aslant, the gears turning in her head. They’d interviewed the parents and retrieved the unit. What could they possibly learn from the girl’s room?

If Corbin didn’t want to come along, that was fine by Haggerty. He turned to follow the mother. Corbin joined them, not about to let him gain control of the case.

Pamela DeLongpre’s room was smaller than the walk-in closet in Haggerty’s master bedroom. Haggerty looked at the unmade bed, the outdated computer terminal, the bare white walls.

“Ma’am, would you excuse us for a minute?” he asked politely.

Mrs. DeLongpre withdrew from the doorway where she’d been standing and returned to the living room. Haggerty closed the bedroom door behind her.

“What is it?” Corbin asked him. It was more a challenge than a question.

“I’ve never seen a teenager’s room this empty and organized,” Haggerty said. “Not even a poster on the wall.”

He went to the terminal and powered it on. The Indranet default page was dedicated to Clone Jesus — no surprise there. The glow from the screen bathed Haggerty’s face in soft purple as music surged out at the two agents, a soft ballad, presumably one of the band’s.

“Turn out the lights,” Haggerty said over his shoulder.

Corbin dialed the lights off.

Immediately glowfitti covered the walls, the desk, the ceiling, even the bed sheets — a haphazard collage of hearts, poetry, and song lyrics generated by the site. Haggerty powered down the terminal and the room went dark.

Back in the living room, Haggerty retrieved his com from an outer pocket, ignoring his uneasiness as his fingers brushed against the keycard secreted in the sealed inner pocket beneath it. He flipped the com open and punched in a recall code, detaching the plasticine strip the com produced. Without grief counseling, the DeLongpres would probably end up divorced. And then it would only be a matter of time before their lives consisted of too much dosing, too much self-indulgence, and too little attachment to anything or anyone. Arthur DeLongpre’s grief could turn him into a clone of Mitch Tanner. Haggerty hoped Mrs. DeLongpre wouldn’t let that happen.

“Thank you for your time, ma’am,” he said, offering her the strip. “I know what you and your husband are going through. This is the contact info for a grief counselor I’ve worked with personally.”

Her eyes met his as she accepted the strip. “I’m so sorry,” she said, understanding what he’d left unsaid.

“Give him a call,” Haggerty said gently. “It’s a free service.”

* * *

“I don’t know how I lost control in there,” Corbin muttered as they made their way back to the vehicle.

“You’re welcome,” Haggerty said ironically.

She glared at him. “Thanks for handling it,” she finally responded, the words clipped, tight.

Haggerty was tempted to leave it at that, but someone had to take Corbin in hand, if only for the sake of the next of kin she would deal with in the future.

“Believe it or not, your loss of control had less to do with control than with experience,” he told her. “There are things they can’t teach you in training. You can only learn them in the field.”

Corbin looked unconvinced.

“What have you got for us?” he asked Elsa as they strapped themselves in place in the car.

Elsa swiveled in the driver’s seat. “I’ve identified the men and women in the hotel room. All are either band members or known associates. Unfortunately, neither local nor national databanks can make positive ident on any of the three children.”

“Of course they can’t,” Corbin snapped. “The only databanks we can legally check are for convicts, missing persons, and government employees. Lax chance of finding them there. The transit and consumer purchase databanks would give us idents in five minutes.”

“Those sources are constitutionally protected,” Haggerty reminded her. “I’ll be happy if we get them in five hours.”

“They’re already dead,” Corbin retorted. “What’s the harm in accessing files where we know we’ll find records? Who does that hurt?”

“Any number of living people who don’t want the government poking around in records showing where they’ve been and what they’ve purchased,” Haggerty said. “We’ve got to exhaust all other methods of identifying the bodies and prove the existence of a public danger before any judge will let us anywhere near the other databanks. You know the drill. Or you ought to.”

“I think it’s stupid,” Corbin persisted.

“Tell that to the Founding Fathers,” Haggerty said dryly.

He turned his attention to Elsa. “Anything else we should know?”

“Detective Woyzeck is en route to State Facility Four to interrogate Clone Jesus.”

“How long have we got until the Dragon wants me online?”

“Thirty-six minutes.”

Haggerty laid his head against the seat cushion, closing his eyes.

“You want to lose me, don’t you?” Corbin said, her blue eyes glittering with annoyance.

“Come again?” Haggerty said.

“You want me out of the way so you can go question your subversive girlfriend. You know she can identify that dead girl.”

Corbin was partially right, damn her. While he was by no means certain that Regina knew anything that could help them get an ident, it was true that he wanted to talk to her about the situation. It was equally true that he had a keycard in his pocket that might provide the information they needed, but Corbin didn’t know that. Because he had removed it from a press scene without proper clearance, she might try to use it to get him thrown off the case or charged with interference in a criminal investigation.

Haggerty didn’t like the idea of Corbin coming anywhere near Regina. Who knew what she would accuse her of? He also realized that he had to ask himself why he was protecting Regina. Had their physical intimacy changed the equation between them? Could he trust his own judgment when it came to Regina? Was she actually involved in what had happened? Maybe he needed someone like Corbin — someone pushy and obnoxious and competitive — to get to the bottom of things.

“Take us to my compartment,” he told Elsa, resigning himself to the inevitable.

But when they got there, Regina was gone — along with his KV unit.

* * *

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