Jan 2012 06

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]

DeAngelo’s guest was seated at the table when Polly led him back, his mind hazy with pleasure. The dark-haired Asian girl smiled as he approached. Her right arm was missing and the right side of her face was a mass of red, blistered scar tissue. Her deformities would have been unsettling even in a culture familiar with disease and illness. To someone used to the bland perfection of plastiche-smoothed good looks and geno-immunized healthy bodies, seeing a human being so physically ruined was a nauseating experience — or would have been were Haggerty not in the grip of drug-induced euphoria. Instead he was fascinated. What would it feel like to touch that cruelly disfigured skin? Did her wounds retain the heat of the fire that had scarred her? Would those crimson ridges of hardened tissue burn his fingers?

Polly introduced the girl as Suniko. He offered her his hand.

“Welcome, my dear,” he said.

“It is a great honor to meet you, Mr. DeAngelo,” the girl said timidly.

Haggerty resumed his seat, relieved to discover that she did not know DeAngelo. “Would you like a glass of wine?” he asked her.

“Thank you,” she replied.

Haggerty studied her as she watched Polly fill her glass. Suniko’s damaged skin extended from the base of her neck downward, past the intricate straps of her gown. From the shape of her, it seemed likely her right breast had been removed.

“Most people turn their gaze away from me,” she said softly as his eyes returned to her face.

“I am not most people,” he said.

“No, you are a great and powerful man,” she said. “I could not believe it when they invited me to join you.”

“May I ask what happened to you?”

“I was caught in a chemical fire at the care center where my parents worked,” she told him. “I was twelve. They lost their jobs and could not afford to have my arm replaced.”

The longer she spoke, the lovelier she seemed to Haggerty. He realized she must have been striking once.

“That’s why I’m so thankful. I hope that you will find me pleasing. I have never paired with a man. But after tonight, I may have a chance for a new arm.”

Then Haggerty understood: DeAngelo had requested a deformed virgin to have sex with, a notion that, even drugged, Haggerty found appalling. What drove a man to be sexually aroused by a stranger with a deformity? The fact that Suniko’s sacrificing herself to DeAngelo might earn her the chance for reconstruction only muddied his feelings further.

“I’m glad I could help,” he said, placing his hand on hers.

A waiter in a kilt making the rounds stopped at the table with a cart holding canisters of every illicit drug Haggerty could think of except celtrex. Polly asked Suniko if she wanted to dose. Haggerty suggested SkyWhip, and was happy when she agreed; it would be best if she were drugged as well. Polly brought the inhaler to her mouth and popped for her. Suniko slumped in her chair, eyes glazed.

“One for you, Mr. DeAngelo?” Polly asked.

“No, thanks,” Haggerty replied. “Is Traci available yet?”

“She’s having cocktails with another guest in one of the private suites before she goes onstage. You and your guest are not scheduled for a suite until after your main course.”

“Can I reschedule?” he asked.

“I’ll go and see what can be arranged.”

A short time later, a young man strode to the table. With shock, Haggerty recognized the boy with the silk handkerchiefs from the Orphanage.

“Greetings, Mr. DeAngelo,” he said, offering his hand. “I’m Max. May I join you?” Without waiting for a response, he pulled a chair from another table and sat down. “I trust you’re enjoying my club.” His eyes pierced Haggerty.

The boy’s looks were extraordinary; he could easily have been a holostar. Haggerty was taken aback that someone so young could be the owner of this establishment. Maybe Max was another Tanner, only better at pulling off the illusion of youth — or with access to better plastiche. Haggerty had the unsettling feeling it wasn’t so.

“Everything’s wonderful,” he said.

“I pride myself on delivering whatever my guests request,” Max said, flicking his gaze at Suniko but otherwise ignoring her.

“Worth every credit,” Haggerty said, regarding the slumped girl, who refused to look at Max. “I congratulate you on the drug. It’s quite an accomplishment.”

“I’m pleased you like it.” Max’s smile seemed genuine. “I created it.”

“I’m impressed,” Haggerty said.

Max accepted the compliment as if it were his due. “I understand you’d like to change your scheduling, Mr. DeAngelo.”

“If possible,” Haggerty answered.

“I can make anything possible,” Max stated matter-of-factly. “I must admit, I thought you’d be in worse shape, given your condition. I’m impressed by your doctors. You’re one-forty-three, if I remember correctly?”

“I’ve been kicking around a long time,” Haggerty parried, sensing a trap. The drug kept him from panicking, but had not yet eradicated his ability to think. Best to say as little as possible.

“And a sports fan?”

Haggerty nodded noncommittally.

“I like football myself,” Max offered. “Funny you chose tonight to dine with us, what with the big game tomorrow.”

Was he being tested? Haggerty felt he had to respond. It was probably unwise to say football was not his sport of choice. “I assume you have a telemonitor with full access, should I find myself still in your company come game time?”

Max sat forward, his chair legs grating on the marble floor. “I pride myself on being able to meet the needs of any and all of my guests,” he said smoothly. Haggerty relaxed, sensing that the test was over. Brian hadn’t been called to forcibly eject him from the premises — or do whatever it was they did to gate crashers in this place — so he must have passed. “If you are still with us when the game is viewcast,” Max continued, “I promise you an unforgettable experience. I myself will be at the game in style.”

He signaled the orchestra.

“The floor show is about to begin again,” Max told Haggerty. “Have a nice rendezvous in your suite. I’m sure Suniko will see that you enjoy yourself.”

He gave the girl a meaningful glance. Suniko nodded, her eyes contracting slightly. Haggerty felt like he’d been slapped.

“I’ll leave you now. Perhaps I’ll join you for dessert. Be sure to dose again before you dine, Mr. DeAngelo.”

* * *

A line of young women entered from stage left, a line of young men from stage right. The boys wore 1930s finery complete with spats, top hats, and swallow-tailed coats; the girls were dressed in beaded satin gowns of the same era cut on the bias, their hair in period chignons. At center stage the lines reassembled into couples who waltzed in a circle and swept back into the wings — revealing Traci and her partner posed in a passionate embrace.

Traci was thinner than she’d been in the holophoto, too thin to be truly attractive. At first Haggerty wondered why the Last Supper Club, which prided itself on only serving the best, had hired her. Then she and her partner began dancing.

Traci wrapped herself around her partner with fluid grace. The young man supported her with skill, but it was Traci who turned a simple ballroom dance into an expression of intimate desire. Her beautifully executed arabesques, the quality of her leg extensions and pirouettes bespoke rigorous training she wouldn’t be able to use for decades, if ever. Centuries ago, a ballerina’s career was over by the time she reached forty, when her body could no longer sustain the demands of her art. But that was no longer the case. A prima ballerina could dance until she was past the century mark, her skill undiminished and her appearance still youthful. By the time today’s dance stars retired, decades hence, those who’d spent their lives denied opportunities while the grandes dames hogged the spotlight would be passed over in favor of younger talent. So it was not surprising that Traci poured all her energy and ability into this titillating dance in an illegal club with an adequate but uninspiring partner. It was as close as she was ever likely to come to a starring role.

Her partner released the closures of her gown and she spun away from him, left in a glittering skinsuit. The gown discarded, he pulled her back into his arms. Haggerty leaned forward, eager to see if Traci could sustain the atmosphere of sensuous grace when the pas de deux turned blatantly erotic.

Then Polly returned. “Your private suite is ready for you now, Mr. DeAngelo,” she said.

Haggerty could hardly tear his gaze from the stage. He nodded to Polly, reminding himself that lives were at stake, and rose from the table, taking Suniko’s single hand to help her stand. They followed Polly along an endless corridor, past ornate doors affixed with colorful carved representations of jungle palms, an antique Japanese pagoda, the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. Haggerty was amazed at the vastness of the restaurant grounds. Finally they stopped before a door with a carving of two whips crossed in an X, which Polly opened.

The hard stone floor inside was strewn with archaic torture devices: a bed of nails, a stock with spaces for a victim’s head and wrists, and instruments Haggerty did not recognize but had no doubt DeAngelo would. One wall held whips and chains and other objects whose purpose he couldn’t guess and didn’t want to. Suniko stood nervously observing a small metal cage.

Polly indicated a rope pull hanging inside the door. “Ring the bell and I’ll come and collect you,” she told Haggerty, and turned to leave.

“What about Traci?” he asked.

“She said she didn’t recognize your name.”

The clock was ticking down to morning and Haggerty needed to get out of there before dosing again. He’d only dosed twice and sensed that the drug was impairing his judgment. But he couldn’t leave without first speaking to Traci.

“I was told I could have anything or anyone I wanted,” he shouted.

“All right,” Polly said.

Haggerty could not tell if she was acquiescing to the club’s policy or merely trying to make him quiet. He scratched the back of his neck.

“If you must know, I’m an associate of Shintag Lake’s. Tell Traci I have a message regarding a common friend of theirs.”

Polly nodded.

“And before you go, give me another canister or two of Sky.”

Polly smiled. She handed him three additional canisters and left, closing the door behind her.

Haggerty turned his attention to Suniko. The poor girl was shaking.

“There’s not even a bed,” she said, her normally timid voice reduced to a near inaudible whisper. She gestured to the cage. “Do you want me to get in?”

“Don’t worry, Suniko,” Haggerty said gently. “I’m not going to use any of these things on you. Here, this will calm you down.”

He held a Sky canister to her quivering mouth and dispensed the contents. Within moments she was barely conscious. Haggerty guided her into a chair equipped with iron leg and wrist straps. He tucked the other canisters of Sky into his cummerbund for easy access, next to the white box — he didn’t want Suniko to overhear the conversation once Traci arrived.

Ten nerve-wracking minutes later the door opened and there was Traci, all ninety pounds of her. She’d taken her hair down; her long red curls seemed to bounce at her shoulders. She was dressed in a gown from a later era than the one she’d worn onstage. A bodice of boned green satin molded her breasts and cinched her waist; a skirt of a lighter green chiffon billowed from the waistline, supported beneath by stiff crinolines reminiscent of a costume from a classical ballet; he wondered if it was coincidence. If not, the choice was unfortunate in Traci’s current state. The color might have been good on her once, but her complexion was pallid now and the green made her look sickly. While the 1950s gown appeared to have been altered to fit her body, this clearly had been done when her figure was fuller. The scrap of green chiffon draped over her arms like a shawl couldn’t disguise how thin they’d become or camouflage her prominent collarbone. The vintage dress didn’t hang off her frame, but it was loose enough to suggest what it should have looked like when properly filled out.

She leaned back against the door to close it, one hand on her thin waist while the other toyed with the pendant at her breast.

“You told Polly you’re a friend of Lake’s?”

“We’ve met. But the message isn’t from him.”

“Whatever.” Traci glanced at the limp form of the girl in the chair, examining Suniko’s deformity and wrinkling her nose. “Are you planning a threeway? Because I have to say — she makes me uncomfortable. I mean, I will if you want . . .”

“I’m not here for that,” he said.

She stepped closer; Haggerty could smell she was recently perfumed. She fingered the rose on his shirt, looked down at his waist, and noted the white unit. She ran her tongue across her lips. “All right, I’ll play along.” She stepped away and walked around the room, staring at the cage and the bed of nails. “So what’s this message you have that isn’t from Shintag Lake?”

“I’m friends with Regina and Sharyn. I’m trying to find out the truth behind what happened to Teardrop and Sunset.”

Traci stared at him, her face a storm of suppressed emotion.

“You’re on H, right?”

“Happy Sticks?”

She nodded.


“Wish I was,” she said dreamily, rubbing her right thumb against her pendant. “Isn’t it fabulous? I don’t suppose you’d be willing to let me have a press?”

“Sharyn told me you dosed,” he said.

“Whatever. She’s a bagbite.”

Traci went to examine the wall of ancient instruments. Haggerty came up behind her.

“She also told me you brought home an unregistered black button unit. That’s a Federal offense.”

She stiffened. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. I’m outta here.”

Haggerty grabbed her roughly as she made to leave. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me how you got that stolen box,” he said. “I’ve been blamed for giving Teardrop and Sunset those units.”

“Bites to be you then,” she snarled, struggling to pull away.

“I’ll have you locked up for a long time,” he said.

She shrugged off his grip, then rubbed her arm where he’d held it. “Like that scares me,” she said. “I’m under the protection of — ”

“Max and the Triads,” he finished for her. “They’ll be happy to know you’re stealing from them. Employees aren’t allowed to dose on Happy Sticks. It gets in the way of their doing their jobs.”

Traci threw back her head and laughed hysterically. “Max won’t be happy with me if he finds out I’m dosing, but I think he’ll be even less happy if I answer your questions.”

“He’s not your main concern now, I am. And he’ll be safely tucked away in a cell soon as well.”

“I doubt it. He has the police in his pocket.”

“But not the Feds. And they’re involved now. So you’ll tell me what I want to know if you plan to come out of this without a jail stretch — or worse, an order for deportation and exile. Did Max supply those black boxes?”

“I’m not telling you anything,” she said tightly, crossing her thin arms over her breasts.

“He already admitted to me he invented Happy Sticks,” Haggerty said. “That’s enough to indict him. You can’t protect him now and he sure as hell won’t be in a position to protect you later.”

“He only told you because he knows you won’t have a chance to tell anyone else.”

“I plan to as soon as I leave here,” Haggerty said.

Again that unsettling, hysterical laugh. “The only way you’re leaving here is in a bag. Haven’t you worked it out yet?” She flicked her gaze at the unit on his belt. “You’re already dying.”


“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.”

* * *

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