Mar 2012 09

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]

“Jason!” Regina cried and rushed to him. Instinctively his arms reached to hold her.

“I’m so glad you’re alive,” she said. She laughed through her tears. “Although I wish you’d found a better disguise.” Her hand rested lightly on his plastiched cheek.

“Regina,” he said, staring down at her tearstained face. It felt so good to hold her again. She looked the same as when he’d seen her last — the same clothes, including his shirt. But so much had happened to him since then. “I’m so sorry about your brother.”

She placed a finger gently against his lips. Haggerty pulled her close.

“Your friend Traci is —”

“We know,” Svoboda said. “You’ve been blamed. We know you’re innocent. We know everything you’ve learned, from watching your investigation through Elsa. And I have information you don’t have that you’ll find useful. That’s why you’re here. Let’s go into my sitting room, shall we?”

“Come to me after, Jason?” Regina pleaded.

“Count on it,” Haggerty told her.

She went to Svoboda, clasped his hands, and stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheeks. With a tremulous smile to Haggerty and a sidelong glance at Elsa, she exited the room.

“Our meeting was no coincidence, was it?” Haggerty asked Svoboda.

Svoboda smiled. “I sent her to spend the night with you. Don’t look so hurt, Mr. Haggerty. It was completely her choice to seduce you. I sent her to keep you from pressing.”

“How could you possibly know I was going to press?”

Svoboda placed a hand on his shoulder. Haggerty winced.

“I could tell you about deviations in your normal routine, graph the downslope of your psychevals I’ve pilfered from your company. But I won’t. I knew you were suicidal because your assistant knew it.” He glanced at Elsa, who stood to the side surveying the device that transmitted her audiovisual signal. “That red button on top will cut the connection and end transmission,” Svoboda told her. Before Haggerty could speak, Svoboda prodded, “Again I apologize. Please, come inside and make yourself comfortable.”

The adjoining chamber felt like a retro-Moroccan sensual hashish dream: wine-colored draperies, fire in a large pit, pushpillows for seating. A pitcher of water had been placed on a circular table of beaten brass, along with a pair of tall plastic cups. Svoboda poured water into one of them for Haggerty.

Haggerty used it to down three celtrex, covertly inserting them beneath his tongue while his host poured himself a cup of water. Elsa sat beside him expressionless.

“Clean water must be a luxury out here,” Haggerty said, extending his cup for a refill.

“I’ve got it pretty well rigged,” Svoboda said. “I’m glad you appreciate it.” He refilled Haggerty’s cup. “You may wonder why I’m skilled at these antiquated technologies.”

Haggerty took the bait. “Tell me.”

“I invented most of them or oversaw their implementation,” he said. “Including the one that’s kept you gainfully employed for the past six decades.”

“That’s not possible. The Kevorkian unit was invented by T. J. Soverign.”

“At that time I was still using the Anglicized version adopted by my grandfather when he came to this country. My full name is Tomas Yosif Svoboda.”

Haggerty scrutinized the man before him, comparing the dark eyes, the reddish hair to his memory of the portrait he’d passed daily going to and from his office at BBI. The skin was now deeply tanned, but it was easy to imagine how pale it had been before decades of exposure to the sun. He calculated the English equivalents of his present ethnic name.

“Thomas Joseph Sovereign,” he said.

“That is the name my father gave me,” Svoboda acknowledged. “I used it until I realized my great mistake, my terrible sin, and rejected what I’d done.”

“You invented the box and then had some grand religious conversion?”

“Not a religious conversion,” Svoboda told him. “I merely came to my senses. Please allow me to explain.

“Before the stem was cracked, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She went through endless surgeries, chemotherapies, radiation treatments. Her disease would retreat for a while and come back more aggressive than ever. Eventually, the fight was useless. But it took a long, long time and her suffering was terrible. Our doctors were compassionate — they gave her more pain medication than was legally allowed — but she was begging for death long before she finally succumbed. Her story wasn’t uncommon. I vowed to do everything possible to see that others didn’t go through that kind of suffering.

“I had studied engineering at MIT, courtesy of the United States, and when I got out Uncle Sam expected a lot back from me. Before I knew it I was heading the think tank that oversaw all new technology directives for everyone from the Department of Energy to the CDC to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. Endless funds were put at my disposal. I invented the Kevorkian unit to provide a more humane way for the terminally ill to end their lives. I fought for the legislation to make its use legal and then sat on the board of directors at BBI. I didn’t foresee what would happen. KV units weren’t just prescribed for the terminally ill. Soon the laws were changed to allow anyone who could pass a minimal psycheval to press when they saw fit, not just to escape terminal illness but to escape periods of treatable depression or boredom. And BBI evolved to accommodate these changes.”

“So you retired to the desert and founded the Indivisibles,” Haggerty said.

“Again, that came later. Initially I thought I could fight the system from within. I moved to another agency and continued to invent the best tek I could. Which I did well and prolifically until the satellite defense grids went up and we sealed ourselves off from the world.”

“You say that like you think it was a mistake,” Haggerty said. An ant nibbled his thumb.

“I do,” Svoboda said, folding his arms across his robe. “Sealing our borders was the worst decision the American government ever made. Our insularity was bound to hurt us eventually.”

“You blame the government for what’s happening now?”

“It could have been avoided with foresight. I curse myself every day for not getting involved earlier in protesting the system.”

“How old are you?” Haggerty asked.

“One-hundred-fifty-six.” Svoboda smiled at Haggerty’s astonishment. “I can remember what it was like to pump my own gas and I rather miss it,” he said. “It can be difficult watching everything transform around you while you continue relatively unchanged, but it gives you perspective. I have a deeper understanding of what’s happening and why. In a way I’ve played a role in recent events.”

“You’re part of the conspiracy?” Haggerty said, startled.

“Mostly I’m an observer,” Svoboda answered calmly. “But I may be responsible for Max Jennings, who is responsible for this conspiracy, as you call it. I first met him when I was demonstrating against one of Antonio Stelwyn’s companies, North American Health Initiatives. Young Max was a rising star in their chemtech division.”

“I would swear he’s under thirty,” Haggerty asserted. “That’s too young to be legally employed.”

“There have been exceptions to child labor laws almost as long as those laws have existed, Mr. Haggerty. It is rare, but corporations pick off the best and the brightest from our top universities from time to time, offering them full-time work for a fraction of what they pay legal adults. Max impressed the right people while he was still in school, and the required exemptions were duly processed.”

“It couldn’t have been Stelwyn. I don’t think he knows Max worked for him,” Haggerty said.

“You’re probably right,” Svoboda said. “There was no need to involve him in a routine business transaction. Max developed a competing drug, which he refused to abandon and refused to give to his employers. So he was terminated. It’s doubtful Antonio Stelwyn even knew about it.

“Young Max was the breadwinner in his family. His parents put everything they had into Max’s education, and as a result of his success they were living well above their means. Their savings quickly dried up, and they used my damned invention to end their lives — the same invention manufactured by Stelwyn’s company.”

There was the connection between Stelwyn and BBI. “Was there no insurance?” Haggerty asked.

“If there was, it can’t have been much,” Svoboda said. “Max came to me with nothing but the clothes on his back.”

“And Max blames Stelwyn,” Haggerty concluded.

“Very good, Mr. Haggerty.”

“Max became part of your colony?”

“I took him in and mentored him,” Svoboda acknowledged. “It seemed the perfect opportunity to save someone like myself from the mistakes I’d made.”

“And you failed miserably,” Haggerty pointed out harshly.

“I did not know the whole story at that point, Mr. Haggerty. Max presented himself to me as wanting to make a difference in the world. I realized too late that his goals were actually vengeance and personal gain. I provided him refuge until he could find the means to achieve them. Then he perverted my teachings against the system and used them for his own ends.

“The philosophy of the Indivisibles is that the system has gone against the natural order and our nation has divided itself. We have therapies to extend our lives indefinitely but not the resources to support the population our longer lifespans create. Our young have been relegated to second-class citizenship with no hope of meaningful employment or purpose to their lives. Black boxes provide a too-easy solution. I offer the young an alternative. I’m training them to be productive members of society.”

“Productive or destructive?”

“As part of the present system in America, you might well call it destructive, Mr. Haggerty. But I’m training them to be of service to the world and to the future, teaching them the technology that can transform society here and around the globe. Some of them will achieve positions in this country eventually, and promote the sanctity of life. Those who choose to refuse infertility can come here, as you’ve seen. Many go to the third world, to bring others the hope of transformation and ultimately reversing the devastation our predecessors wrought.”

“You send them into exile, to grow old, risk illness, and die?”

“It’s the only place where they are granted permission to be productive now, Mr. Haggerty. The only place they can find fulfillment and meaning. And it is their choice.”

“Meanwhile you remain here and continue your telemor treatments, living off the fruits of their labor?”

“My purpose is to help as many as I can, and for now that requires that I live as long as possible. That’s my penance for creating the black box. I used to believe that everyone should live forever if we could make it possible, and where has that gotten us? Regina told me that she explained to you the decline in mankind’s lifespan as recorded in the Bible. But telemor treatments do not naturally regenerate the body. Stop the treatments and the aging process reasserts itself. My goal is to make the world livable for everyone, so that ultimately the planet is no longer divided and all people are truly equal. That will probably take longer than I already have lived or am likely to survive, but that is my destiny now. And the first step is to change the system as it now exists.”

* * *

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
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
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Nine, Part One
Fiction Friday: The Killswitch Review – Chapter Nine, Part Two