Jan 2012 13

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]

“It’s not sticks, like twigs,” Traci said. “It’s Styx like the river of death in the Underworld. Once you’re dosing, you’re dying. H is the most addictive drug ever invented. When the fix starts to wear off, you’ll do anything to get it back, including die — which is exactly what happens, because your seventh dose kills. You’re here to die, man, going out in style after one helluva last meal.”

Shock pumped adrenaline through Haggerty’s system, flushing the drugs and leaving him cold sober. He recalled DeAngelo’s indecision about coming, his complaint that he was already in enough pain, Max’s reference to the man’s doctors and his condition. This wasn’t simply an exclusive club offering customers exotic, illegal dishes and drugs. The Society of the Last Supper was an illegal suicide parlor, a snuff house.

Had NewVada’s elite grown so jaded that even in death they had to satisfy hidden desires, no matter how heinous? And how could the disappearance of such wealthy CCs go unnoticed by local law enforcement? Traci must be right. Police were on the take. Woyzeck might be one of them. Given the extravagance and expense of the operation, the club’s profit margin must be astronomical. No wonder Max had placed himself under the Triads’ protection. And of course they would take their cut.

How was all this connected to the triple press? Max couldn’t possibly want publicity. His success depended on keeping the club secret.

“Is the seventh dose a different drug, a higher concentrate?” he demanded.

“It’s the same. It builds up in your system.”

“And the seventh dose always kills.”

“It does if it comes within a week of your first dose. If you wait long enough between presses, it can’t build up enough in your system to be lethal. But it’s incredibly hard to go a week without seven. The craving is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.” She laughed hollowly. “I thought I could beat it. A couple of SoberUps and I wouldn’t have to worry. But I was wrong. The detox pills get enough of the shit out of my system that I can survive seven doses but it’s harder and harder to keep track of how often I’ve pressed. Or to care . . .” She shuddered.

“How long have you been on it?

“Two months . . . I think. How many times have you dosed so far?”

“Two,” he told her.

“I’d stick at six as long as you can,” she said. Her eyes wandered back to the unit; she wet her lips again. “I’m planning to hang at five this week, myself.”

“Listen, Traci,” Haggerty pleaded, “I need your help. It’s not just my neck on the line. Don’t you care that your friends are dead because of those boxes?”

“Of course I care, I loved Teardrop,” she said.

“Then help me stop the people who hurt her from hurting anyone else.”

“Why do you care?” Traci demanded. “What’s it to you if the box is from the street instead of a government issue killswitch? We’re all dying.”

“But you don’t have to be,” Haggerty said. “You have a choice.”

“Like Teardrop did?” Traci asked bitterly.

“Your choice doesn’t have to be hers.”

Traci broke down, weeping. “Why did she do it? She never took drugs the way I did,” she choked out. “She was studying art, planned on exhibiting soon as she was old enough to license a show.”

Haggerty took her in his arms. “I don’t know why she pressed,” he said honestly. “But I’m a button collector. That’s why I care about what’s happening here. I want to find out why Teardrop did it. How she did it.”

That seemed to get through to her. Traci lifted her head from his shoulder and stared at him. “A button collector?”

“Yes. And part of what I do is to make sure that no one gets tricked or coerced into pressing. If that’s what happened to Teardrop, it’s my job to stop it from happening to anyone else.”

“Okay,” she sniffled after a moment. “What do you want to know?”

“Have you ever seen Max with Lake, or with Clone Jesus?”

“Zephyr was here with Max during the day once, scoping the place. He invited me to a party.”

So the lead singer had been there. What did that mean? Too many questions, not enough information.

“The band got involved with Max and you got your friends involved with the band, and then they killed themselves while Zephyr stood by and watched,” he said. “But why? Now there are kids out there killing themselves.”

“Like Teardrop,” Traci whispered.

“Like Teardrop,” Haggerty agreed. “We need to stop it,” he said. “And we might be able to if you’ll testify that Max provided those units.”

Traci’s fear of Max was stronger than any guilt she might feel over her friend’s death. She backed toward the door, shaking her head in denial. “He’d kill me. And not with Happy Styx.”

“He can’t hurt you if I get you out of here.”

“There’s no getting out of here for you,” she cried. “No guests leave here alive. You leave in trash bins, for God’s sake.”

“There must be some way,” he said, maneuvering her against the door. “You must know this place inside out.”

“There’s no place safe out there. They’ll take me into a room like this, only the instruments won’t be toys.” She shuddered. “The people he works with —”

“I can guarantee your safety,” he said desperately, hoping he wasn’t lying. “I have powerful people on my side too. You know that Tyler Stelwyn died with Teardrop. His father’s the most powerful man in NewVada.”

“I don’t know how to get you out!” she cried, scraping her thumb raw with her middle finger.

“Think, Traci. There has to be a way for us to leave. You’ll be safe, protected, your system cleaned out!”

She shook her head desperately, biting down on her thumb like a child, her face wet with tears, too selfish and scared to help him escape. What was one oldster’s life to her? She would doom hundreds, perhaps thousands of kids to save herself. But if Traci embodied the hopelessness and lack of responsibility ascribed to her generation, Haggerty had to admit he embodied the despair and disenchantment of his own. And if she didn’t care, then why should he? He could dispatch himself tonight, right now, just by pressing the white unit multiple times. He’d planned to kill himself anyway and now he could do it ecstatically. He looked at the unit at his waist. Traci followed his gaze.

“Maybe you’re right,” he said tiredly, reaching for the unit. “We’re all dying, and we might as well enjoy the ride. Maybe that’s all Teardrop was doing.”

Traci’s head snapped up at the mention of her friend, but before she could speak, someone knocked on the door. “It is time for your next dose, Mr. DeAngelo,” came the voice of the hostess.

“Just a second,” Traci called.

She ripped Haggerty’s white box from his belt and pressed, gasping as the drug hit her system. She pointed to Suniko, who thankfully remained in a stupor.

“Quick! Bind her in the chair,” she hissed, forcing herself under control.

Haggerty snapped on one wristlet and both ankle straps. Was Traci’s press a noble act or merely the desperation for a fix? It didn’t matter. He’d make sure something good came of it. Her choice had renewed his own determination to see this through to the end.

Traci shoved the unit back into his hands and stripped off her gown and frothy crinolines. Her thin nude frame was silhouetted in the doorway as she opened the door to the hostess.

“He already dosed,” Traci said. “I watched him.”

“Show me your unit please, Mr. DeAngelo,” the hostess requested.

Haggerty held up the unit so she could see the number “3” on the readout, giving the hostess a dazed smile and swaying slightly on his feet, trying to mimic the effects of the drug just as Traci tried to mimic sobriety despite the fine trembling of her limbs.

But the hostess’s attention was fixed on him. The android nodded as he reclipped the unit to his waist. She observed the girl in the chair and the nude performer. “Sorry to disturb you, sir.”

Traci closed the door as she departed and fell back against it, her eyes glazed, her chest heaving in bursts.

“Down . . . through the orchestra pit . . . cremation room . . . a vent . . . into the sewers . . . go to your table first . . . pretend . . .”

“How fast can you meet me?”

She shook her head, spasmed. “I think . . . I miscounted.”

Haggerty welled with pain and shame. He took her in his arms. She shuddered.

“You’re . . . gonna stop . . . them . . . right?” she gasped. “For Teardrop?”

“For Teardrop, and for you,” he whispered. “I promise.”

“Who’da thought . . . anything I’d ever do . . . would make . . . a difference . . .” She began to convulse; the spasms lasted several minutes. Traci’s face was transfigured by joy. “It feels so. . . good,” she moaned. The breath went out of her.

Haggerty sobbed. “Thank you,” he said, lowering Traci’s body gently to the floor.

It took him several moments to compose himself. He looked at Suniko unconscious in the chair and prayed that the Triads would honor whatever promises Max had made her, then slipped out of the room and moved quickly down the corridor.

* * *

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