Jan 2012 20

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]

Haggerty peered from behind one of the curtains at the left wing of the stage. The orchestra pit was shut. How was he going to get down there? Footsteps approached; his heart pounded in his chest. Any of the android servers could overpower him and Brian could crush him with one blow.

Someone was on the other side of the curtain, mere inches from him. He saw a long fall of sable hair. He reached out and grabbed her, locking his arm around her throat and dragging her behind the curtain. The holostar from the first floor show choked as she struggled to break his hold.

“You’re hurting—”

“Quiet or I’ll crack you neck!” he hissed. “Tell me how to open the orchestra pit.”

“There’s a lever . . . on the other side of the stage.”

The only route was directly across the stage, in full view of the dining hall.

“Follow my lead or I’ll kill you,” he whispered.

He spun her to face him and put his mouth against hers, forcing her body to his, and backed her onto the stage; with luck they’d think the holostar was fulfilling a guest’s request. She used her dramatic training well to counterfeit passion, wantonly gyrating and running her hands through his hair, their mouths fused tightly as they progressed to the right wing and out of view.

“Where’s the lever?” he demanded, spinning her back into a chokehold.

“There,” she gasped, indicating a handle attached to a system of pulleys.

The guests would probably believe the next floor show was starting once he pulled it but management would realize something was wrong. He needed to know who was out there. He risked a peek through the curtains. The man with the beard was not at his table; the remaining tables were occupied by diners wearing white roses. Haggerty scanned farther back. Bile rose to his throat as he saw Corbin enter the hall with Max.

It made sense. A BBI agent with access to the mausoleum and an endless supply of discharged units tied to an illegal nightclub run by the Triads. Corbin had fought to get charge of the triple press review. If she’d succeeded, she would have judged the presses clean despite the use of black market boxes. The recordings somehow proved her culpable; hence the need to secure and erase them. Corbin had caught things Haggerty missed, things that would blow the lid off whatever was going on between herself, Max, Clone Jesus, and God knew who else — Woyzeck or whomever had been on the other end of her com call and freed her. Was Consuela involved? Haggerty was on the verge of fitting it all together.

If his death warrant weren’t sealed before, surely it was sealed now. Max had figured out he wasn’t the real DeAngelo and left it alone because he expected the impostor would end up in the crematorium anyway, along with all the other guests. Corbin’s presence meant Max now knew that Sharyn had revealed the existence of the Last Supper Club and it was Haggerty pretending to be DeAngelo. Max had to find Haggerty and eliminate him quickly.

The holostar seized on Haggerty’s distraction a moment too late, not quite getting the air into her lungs to scream for help before Haggerty covered her mouth with his palm.

“Don’t try my patience,” he growled. He pulled the second canister of Sky from his cummerbund and held it up before her. “Open your mouth,” he said.

She tried to struggle. He yanked her arm behind her back and double-dosed her as her mouth spread in agony. She went slack in his arms.

He set her down behind the curtains and looked out again. Brian was with Max and Corbin, nodding incessantly; his mammoth figure dwarfed them.

Haggerty was wasting precious time. Any moment he could be discovered. He pulled the lever.

He gauged the orchestra platform’s slow descent, observing the counterbalance of the pulley system. When the pit was open halfway, he jerked the lever back to reverse the process. The gears groaned loudly. Haggerty dove for the opening, praying he’d make it in time.

“That’s him!” Max shouted.

Brian charged forward like an enraged bull; the dark-haired woman shrieked as he overturned her table in his rush to the stage. The other guests looked about with mounting confusion.

Haggerty hit the rising platform and rolled towards the edge and under, barely clearing the gap, then hung from the edge by both hands preparing to release. The ape gripped one of his hands. Instinctively Haggerty pulled the other hand away from Brian’s reach and twisted his body hard. The lip of the closing platform scraped painfully against the back of his trapped hand. Haggerty wrenched himself free as the platform reknit with the stage, dropping several feet as Brian bellowed above him, his fury or pain muffled by Haggerty’s abrupt landing. Something wet dripped onto the shoulder of his tux; Haggerty saw three enormous bloody fingers on the floor. Sounds of screaming, stomping feet, and Max’s shouting penetrated the stage above him. He guessed he had under a minute to find what he needed.

He hurried from room to room, past a man in a sooty apron who shouted, “Hey, no guests down here!” Haggerty grabbed him in a chokehold and slammed him against a wall.

“Tell me where the incinerator is or I’ll crush your fucking throat!”

The terrified man pointed to a room at the end of the carpeted corridor. Haggerty released him and ran for it, past an empty hospital gurney and a rack of oversized pots and pans. He slammed open the door and rushed in. The roar of the burners was deafening; the smell of burnt flesh nearly overpowered him. It had to be over a hundred fifty degrees there. Within seconds Haggerty’s tuxedo was glued to his skin by sweat.

A second gurney stood near the incinerator, its occupant thankfully shrouded. Haggerty shoved it in front of the door as a barricade. An arm slipped from beneath the shroud and dangled limply, the signet ring on the hand identifying the owner as the man who’d ordered Thanksgiving dinner. Forcing back his gorge, Haggerty searched the walls frantically for the vent and panicked briefly when he could not locate it. He got down on the floor and saw an opening under the incinerator. The heat from the burners seared him even at that distance. There was no way he could survive under the burners. He had to find a means to put them out.

He stood up. Beside the incinerator was a cast iron control wheel. Haggerty spat on it; his saliva evaoprated with a sizzle. He tore off the tuxedo jacket, wrapped it around his hands, and gripped the wheel. It refused to turn. Heat scorched him through the material.

Pounding and kicking hammered at the door. Haggerty yanked the wheel with all his might. Finally it gave way, cutting off the gas and extinguishing the flames. The Thanksgiving guest’s body fell from the gurney as the door began to open. Haggerty dropped to the floor. He could still see waves of radiating heat. The door burst inward.

Haggerty covered his face with the jacket and rolled under the incinerator. Instantly his eyes went dry and started to ache. He breathed in fire, certain his lungs would explode, and dropped downward head first through the vent.

* * *

He plunged into a pool of foul water. Resurfacing in darkness, he took a breath of blessedly cool air and spat out a mouthful of sewage. Dripping wet, Haggerty pushed the rusted grate from a drainage hatch and pulled himself up to street level, immediately thankful for the warm night air. He checked to see that the white unit was still clipped to his waist, then made his way to the factory where he’d instructed Elsa to wait for him.

“Get us the hell out of here,” he told her, climbing into the Corvair. “Head for the beltwheel at Carson.”

Elsa entered the slotway, speeding them in the opposite direction from the Last Supper Club. “Are you all right, Jason?” she asked.

“No, I’m not. How long was I gone?”

“Approximately eighty-seven minutes.”

There might still be time to save some of the guests, though Haggerty wondered if he should intervene. Duty indicated that he must, as they were attempting to perform illegal acts of suicide.

“Jason, how did you get all wet?” Elsa asked.

“I’ll explain later,” he said. He retrieved his com from beneath his seat.

“You know they’ll triangulate on us if you make a call,” Elsa reminded him.

“It’s necessary,” he told her.

He punched in the code for the Dragon’s extension at BBI and listened to the line patch, click, and connect.

Silence. “I’m sure everyone’s listening,” he said. “I need to speak to whoever’s in charge.”

“This is Federal agent Keenan, Mr. Haggerty,” a voice said after a pause. “You’re in a great deal of trouble.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” Haggerty said. “Since you’re tracking me I’ll be brief—”

“I must warn you, Mr. Haggerty, that everything you say is being recorded and may be used against you in a court of law.”

“Then I’ll start by saying I’m not responsible for any of this.”

“Come in and we’ll talk about it,” Keenan offered.

“Not until I have enough evidence to prove my innocence,” Haggerty said. “There are forces working diligently inside BBI and the police to ensure that I take the blame. I know for certain agent Corbin is an accessory to the triple press.”

“That’s funny,” Keenan responded. “Corbin said the same thing about you when she gave me a glass from your compartment with fingerprints of someone in league with the dead JC girl.”

“I’m not saying I didn’t know her, agent Keenan. I’m just telling you that I’m not responsible for any wrongdoing. I’m trying my best to stop more JC suicides.”

“Why should I believe you?” Keenan said.

“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Haggerty admitted as Elsa slotted them onto the Carson Street beltwheel. “But you might convince yourself if you get over to the Society of the Last Supper right now and arrest everyone you can. Corner of Sinatra and Main, mural on the wall at the entrance.”

“And what exactly will I find at this church?”

“It’s no church,” Hagerty barked. “It’s a snuff house. If you hurry you’ll find the real perpetrators there, including agent Corbin, along with evidence of conspiracy to promulgate illegal suicide. If you wait, you’ll find nothing.”

Haggerty cut the call, pulled off the earset, and hurled the com out the passenger window.

“Where are we headed, Jason?” Elsa queried.

Haggerty wasn’t sure. His thoughts were on the contents of the white unit clipped to his belt, on Regina’s friend Traci’s insistence on dosing, on her final exhalation in his arms.

“What did you learn from Regina’s notebook?” Haggerty asked. “Anything that will help us track her down?”

“I received quite an education,” Elsa replied. “Regarding an antiquated technology called Personal Electricity.”

“Which is?”

“Personal electricity, or PE, is an advanced form of utility allocation that was abandoned in the mid-twenty-first century,” she explained. “Basically it was a way of taking existing power supply stations, simple outlets like you have in your compartment, and allocating electricity based on the unique signature of your registered appliances, billing you accordingly regardless of where you plugged them in. It was abandoned when the first fusion plants began operation and appliance makers decided that free electricity would spur product consumption.”

“And Regina was using this how?” he asked, yawning.

“I have difficulty believing this was the work of a Junior Citizen,” Elsa said. “It’s quite revolutionary. But from what I’ve read so far it appears that our computer systems are vulnerable through their electrical lines.”

“That seems ridiculous,” Haggerty said, as he dug a filthy fingernail against the tingling pad of his thumb. “Data doesn’t stream through a power supply.”

“She seems to disagree,” Elsa replied. “And I did note her work station had no form of cellular modem. It was merely plugged in to a wall.”

“I think you’re telling me,” Haggerty said groggily, “and pardon me for being inept, that our computer systems can be cracked by some sort of program running piggyback on the electricity we plug into.”

“Yes,” Elsa acknowledged, “Put simply. PE is the penetration protocol, but the actual data allocation appears to be made using echo technology. It’s quite elegant and extremely ingenious.”

“And this helps us find Regina how, exactly?”

“I’m not sure it does, Jason,” she answered. “But I am exploring several options. Shall I make this my primary concern?”

No, Haggerty thought. While he did harbor an immediate, perhaps unwarranted emotional drive to find Regina, to talk to her, to be with her — her whereabouts seemed only of secondary concern to the case. He needed someplace he could rest and review the recordings everyone so desperately wanted erased, with full projection. Someplace not likely to be staked out, where they would not be disturbed.

It occurred to him that only one place fit the bill, and he chuckled when he realized that he had only the crazy Indran woman, from the Java Joint, to thank for supplying it.

* * *

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