Feb 2012 17

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]

Antonio Stelwyn probably wanted him dead but Haggerty had no one else to turn to. Ten hours had passed since the triple press, ten hours in which copycats had to have been escalating. Anyone in another time zone who had been asleep when it happened had woken to a media barrage that, with nothing to counter it, was going to bring about Doug’s worst-case scenario.

The hearse off-looped at the Northside terminus and parked in a public garage. Haggerty and Elsa walked briskly along a blue slate footpath bordered by carefully manicured grass and intermittent wrought-iron benches beneath lush palm trees — all real. If Haggerty was wealthy and Sasha DeAngelo a rung above him on NewVada’s economic ladder, Antonio Stelwyn was in the top one percent worldwide.

At the end of the path the SDS tower soared into the predawn sky. Home to the wealthiest citizens of NewVada, the building was a monument to man’s triumph over Sensory Deprivation Syndrome, the last major medical epidemic of the twenty-first century, and the eradication of all human disease. Haggerty pushed a button on the automated system at the entrance, hoping the Stelwyns would not call the police before he could plead his case.

“Stelwyn residence,” a male voice responded smoothly.

“I need to speak with Mr. Stelwyn,” Haggerty said. “It’s a matter of grave importance. I’m the man who saw the recording of his son.”

The door released. Do nothing if we encounter hostility, Elsa, Haggerty linked as they crossed the lobby. Let me handle it. The tube doors were open and waiting. They shot upward a hundred stories to the penthouse. A soft chime announced their arrival as the doors opened.

“Proceed carefully, Mr. Haggerty.” Antonio Stelwyn greeted them with an antique revolver clutched ready in his right hand. “I know how to use this.”

Obviously Stelwyn had seen the last viewcast. He was dressed in a bathrobe over nightclothes, mouth pinched and thin, his face ashen and unshaved.

“I’m sorry if I seemed rude to you earlier,” Haggerty said. “I was doing my job.”

“And now you’re a fugitive.”

“I’m trying to continue my investigation, Mr. Stelwyn, and I need your help.”

Stelwyn did nothing to hide his astonishment.

“You said you believe Tyler was coerced into pressing.”

“I still believe it.”

“I have evidence that proves you’re right.”

“I want to believe you, Mr. Haggerty,” Stelwyn said, his face a mixture of conflicting emotions. “But how can I when you’re the prime suspect?”

“I’m a prime suspect because of what I know and the evidence I have. Would I come here if I didn’t have proof, knowing I could never escape if you didn’t want me to?”

“Let’s see what you have,” Stelwyn said, lowering the gun. “Come into my study.”

Stelwyn led them through the polished-granite foyer large as Haggerty’s entire compartment past a small, cascading waterfall with a pool teaming with live koi at its base. The shelves in Stelwyn’s study were real wood and packed with leather-bound volumes — an extravagant display of wealth. Trees were sacred, the oxygen they produced too precious, to allow them to be turned into paper, and the only surviving paper books were registered antiques. Haggerty caught part of a gilded title, Do Androids Dream, and wished he were here for purely social reasons. He was reasonably proud of his own library; his slim replitext contained hundreds of classic and modern works he’d loaded into it over his lifetime. But what was a digital library compared to actual books, each volume dedicated to a single work? What would it feel like to hold one in his hands? He wasn’t going to find out today.

Exhaustion made Stelwyn’s tempramassage couch vastly more enticing than the prospects of handling an antique. Haggerty sank onto it without waiting to be invited and popped his last celtrex, hoping to keep the ants at bay a while longer. Stelwyn sat in a chair across from him and waited.

“I must warn you, Mr. Selwyn,” Haggerty began. “It’s clear that Tyler didn’t think you would ever view his recording. He was engaged in behavior that may be difficult for you to see.”

“If it will help me find out who was responsible for my son’s death, I want to see it,” Stelwyn said flatly.

Haggerty instructed Elsa to play the recording at half room projection, same speed and coding as their last viewing, and walked Stelwyn through it.

“As you can see, Tyler presses but the drug isn’t lethal. It simply enhances sexual pleasure,” Haggerty said gently.

Stelwyn’s expression was grim as he viewed the rush to the stage, the screaming crowd, the press. “Why is it still recording?” he asked, choking back a sob, bewildered as the recording went on and on. Finally Elsa’s hand retrieved the box and the projection ended.

“I want you to know how deeply sorry I am for what I’m about to say,” Haggerty warned. “The recording continued because Tyler was still alive, though unconscious. The press didn’t kill him. Someone injected him with the toxins used by BBI after his body was collected and sent on to the morgue. Your son was murdered.”

Stelwyn groaned in pain. He buried his head in his hands. “Who did it? Who murdered my boy?” he asked softly.

“I’m trying to find out,” Haggerty answered. “The likely suspects are all people who want to see this recording erased. That’s why I brought it to you. I deeply regret your son’s death, Mr. Stelwyn. I lost my son two years ago in a car crash.”

Stelwyn raised his tear-streaked face from his hands and for a moment they were two grieving fathers. “How did you go on?” he asked Haggerty.

“To be honest, I’m not sure I did. My son’s death pretty much ruined me and my family. But I hope now that you know what I’ve learned —”

The study door opened abruptly. Stelwyn’s wife, dressed in bedclothes, hurried to her husband’s side. Her face was etched with sorrow, her beautiful raven hair unbraiding.

“Antonio, what’s going on? Harold said someone was here to see you about Tyler.” She looked up and saw Haggerty. “You! You’ve changed your face but they showed the images. You’re the one they’re looking for. You killed my son!”

Stelwyn stood up. “Mr. Haggerty’s not responsible, Sylvia,” he said gently. “He has information for me.”

“What kind of information? Why doesn’t he take it to the police?”

“I don’t have enough evidence yet, ma’am. I was hoping your husband could help me get to the bottom of what happened. For Tyler’s sake.”

Sylvia Stelwyn glared at him. “Don’t you dare speak my baby’s name.” She turned to her husband. “Don’t you see? If he had real evidence, he would have turned himself in and let the authorities handle things. But he doesn’t. He’s desperate and he’s trying to use you, use your pain. He’ll get away with giving Tyler that filthy box if you let him.”

“That’s enough, Sylvia.” Stelwyn took his distraught wife in his arms. “I promise you, I’m not being used. Mr. Haggerty has shown me very convincing proof of what happened to our son.”

“Show it to me!”

Stelwyn and Haggerty exchanged a look.

“It’s too disturbing, darling. Trust me that I know what I’m doing. Please?”

Sylvia closed her eyes in pain. “I always trust you, Antonio,” she said tiredly. “Haven’t I trusted you for the past sixty years?”

“Go to bed and I promise to explain everything in the morning.”

She drew away from his embrace. “Of course, darling.” She gave him a thin, watery smile. “Do what you need to do.”

“Thank you, beloved.”

Stelwyn kissed her forehead tenderly. He led her to the door of the study. They exchanged a few words too low for Haggerty to hear. Sylvia laid her palm on her husband’s cheek; Stelwyn kissed the palm. Sylvia smiled sadly. Standing on tiptoe, she kissed her husband’s cheek and turned away. Stelwyn closed the door behind her.

Haggerty wondered if he’d have been able to bear Josh’s death better if Lorraine had remained with him to share the loss and pain. “If I may offer some advice,” he began delicately, “have someone keep an eye on her. The suicide of an only child frequently leads to the suicide of a parent.”

Stelwyn nodded grimly. He headed toward the com on his desk and placed a call, speaking in low, urgent tones, then returned to Haggerty and Elsa.

“If something happens to her . . . I want revenge, Mr. Haggerty. Now tell me, who is trying to stop you from releasing this recording?”

“I’m not clear how deep the conspiracy runs,” Haggerty said. “It might be my own people trying to set off a contagion of suicides among young people as some kind of unholy population control. Whoever is behind this left little to chance — and that includes the choice of your son. Do you know of anyone who would want to strike at you?”

“I have many enemies, Mr. Haggerty.”

“Do you have a listing of all of your corporations, Mr. Stelwyn?” Elsa requested. “I may be able to correlate data and find something that connects to all of this.”

Stelwyn offered Elsa a chair at his computer and began clicking keys.

Haggerty stood, arms crossed, anxiously digging his fingers into his biceps. “Do you have any celtrex you can spare, Mr. Stelwyn?” he asked.

“In the bathroom down the hall, medicine cabinet,” Stelwyn called over his shoulder.

Haggerty made his way quickly to a garish bathroom larger than a public restroom. He was sweating as he opened the cabinet, found the celtrex cannister, and transferred a few to his pillcase. He pulled out the white box. If he pressed again there would be only one dose left as evidence. The battalion of ants gnawed at his nerves. This isn’t about you, he told his reflection in the mirror. Swear on Josh’s memory that this is the last time.

The digital reader clicked to “6”; Haggerty contained a moan as bliss coursed through his system. Weak-kneed, he returned to the study, pleasantly dazed as he retook a seat on the couch.

Stelwyn and Elsa scanned data silently. “Find what you needed?” Stelwyn asked.

“Thanks,” Haggerty said.

He forced himself to focus. While the drug enabled him to continue his investigation, it made it increasingly difficult for him to care.

“I see that you own a pharmaceutical company that manufactures the serum BBI uses in its KV units, as well as the KV units themselves,” Elsa said.

“North American Health Initiatives,” Stelwyn confirmed.

“This whole thing’s about drugs that kill,” Haggerty said. He gave Stelwyn an abbreviated account of what went on at the Last Supper Club. Stelwyn was clearly disgusted. “The club is run by a young man who calls himself Max,” Haggerty said. “He’s in league with a BBI junior review agent named Corbin. I sent the FBI there but Max was prepared. By the time they showed up, nothing was left of the club but one piece of evidence that implicates me.”

Stelwyn frowned. “Tyler had a friend named Max. He was an Indivisible, as I recall. Ban the Box crowd, part of the Religious Right.”

“That must be how Tyler came into contact with the other kids who pressed,” Haggerty said. “But they hate BBI. And Max doesn’t oppose death now, he deals it.”

“Maybe you do have enough evidence,” Stelwyn said. “I can pull strings at the mayor’s office.”

“No offense, Mr. Stelwyn, but I doubt even you could help me turn my evidence into freedom,” Haggerty responded. “I still need to find out how the band fits into the picture and the motivation behind this.”

“If you need to find that boy Max’s motivation, go to the man who molded him.”

“If we knew who his father was . . .”

“Not his father,” Stelwyn said. “We hope and pray it will be us, but it rarely is. I’m talking about Yosif Svoboda, the man who founded the Indivisibles. He’s been on both sides of picket lines at any number of my firms. He’s a retired NASA scientist with a stunning command of technology. He can argue technical points beyond the comprehension of most protesters. I’ve heard him speak. Joe Svoboda is a very charismatic man.”

Joe, Haggerty thought. The Anglicized version of Yosif. Regina had spoken of her friend Joe who jacked the Indranet and built bulletproof tek. Could she have meant Yosif Svoboda? And if so, would she have flown to his side?

“How can I find him?” he asked Stelwyn.

“That’s a good question. I’m sure the FBI would like to know the answer. He’s just below you on their most wanted list. Top of mine.”

A knock at the study door. “Come in,” Stelwyn said.

A man in the formal attire of a butler poked in his head. “Sir, there are several members of the police downstairs, led by a Detective Woyzeck. They’re demanding to have a word with you.”

“Show them into the morning room, Harold,” Stelwyn said calmly. “Tell them I’ll be with them directly. Offer them whatever they like to keep them occupied, but avoid answering questions until I get there.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Damn it, Sylvia,” Stelwyn swore quietly when they were alone again. He gave Haggerty a hard look. “If anything you’ve told me is rigged . . .”

“I’ve told you the truth, nothing was rigged,” Haggerty said.

“Can your assistant fly a Jetpod 786?”

“I can,” Elsa said.

Stelwyn extracted a keycard from a desk drawer and passed it to Haggerty. “It’s on the roof,” Stelwyn said. “Take it and contact me when you know more. I’ll hold them off as long as I can. Of course, I have to tell the police you forced it from me.”

“Of course,” Haggerty said. “Be careful. Woyzeck may be in on this.”

“I’m a sensible man, Mr. Haggerty. Get more evidence.”

Stelwyn moved to the door and left.

“Jason, do you believe Regina may be with this man, Yosif Svoboda,” Elsa asked as soon as they were alone.

“There’s a very good chance,” Haggerty replied. “What’ve you got?”

“From reading Regina’s notes, I understand she doesn’t trust the com system, Jason. She thinks it’s too vulnerable to cracking. She uses her personal electricity protocol for communication through her handheld. If I access the main electrical power supply system terminals, I think I can now cross correlate for her PE signature and determine her location. But this will alert BBI to our whereabouts.”

“They know we were here anyway,” he said. He glanced at a grandfather clock in the corner. “Do it fast, Elsa.”

Her android fingers blurred at the computer terminal’s holographic keypanel. Holoscreens came and went faster than Haggerty could follow. “She gained access in your compartment,” Elsa said. “That’s one address. We can assume she accessed often from her own address. There, I’ve isolated the signature of her handheld. Let’s hope the power company updates continuously.” More screens flashed past. “I’ve got her signature, Jason. Used less than half an hour ago.”

“Then clear your trail and let’s go find her.”

They scrambled up to the roof and into the hangar. Elsa keyed the ignition; thrusters fired the small craft off the SDS complex into open sky.

Haggerty looked beneath his feet through the pod’s viewer and saw Detective Woyzeck standing below them — red-faced, fists in the air, middle fingers jabbing upward. His curses were muffled by the sound of the jetpod engines.

* * *

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
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
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Eight, Part Three