Nov 2011 25

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]

Elsa led them through the underground and up onto the street, into the oppressive heat. The infocrawl on a nearby building read two o’clock. Their civilian clothing didn’t cool as well as BBI grays, and sweat gathered instantly between Haggerty’s shoulder blades and down his spine. Corbin wasn’t doing much better; he didn’t envy her the wig.

The Westside was almost as busy in the predawn hours as Vegas had been earlier that evening. Few CCs lived here. The Westside had long functioned as a kind of holding cell for immigrants awaiting Provisional Citizenship, but few of them got far along that path anymore and their population was dwindling. Sanctions had been tightening for years, until it was almost impossible to gain legal entry to the country. Even CCs who ventured beyond its borders weren’t guaranteed permission to return. Increasingly, NewVada’s least desirable neighborhood had become home to disaffected JCs too restless to continue living with their parents and too young to be hired for anything but part-time, low-level work. They crowded three and four to compartments meant for no more than dual occupancy, pooling meager resources to scrape by.

The Westside was also home to another, unsavory element, as Haggerty had pointed out to Regina: betting boards, shoot-up galleries, sex parlors, and individuals that preyed upon the less fortunate in quasi-legal or outright illegal ways. A group of such undesirables observed them as they passed the recessed alcove where they were sharing a bottle. The rough young men with painted faces unleashed catcalls and sexual gestures at the two beautiful CC women, giving Haggerty dark, calculating looks.

Corbin and Haggerty quickened their pace.

Elsa led them past gaily lit ten-credit stores thronged with immigrants, some of whom clearly had availed themselves of the relatively inexpensive plastiche parlors. But without geno-immunization and telemor, there was only so much plastiche could do. For Westsiders, flesh was not always flawless and unmarked by the passage of time or disease. A woman emerged from a storefront, purchases dangling from a bag carried awkwardly in her left hand, her withered right arm held close to her side. A few blocks farther, they encountered an old man, back bent, pock-marked, nearly bald, walking unsteadily toward them. The old man glanced up at Haggerty as they came abreast of each other, and Haggerty intuited that the old man must be truly as old as Haggerty himself. To be confronted by the reality of his actual age unmediated by technology was unsettling.

“Oldster got a good look at you,” Corbin said, turning to watch the man shuffle away. “We should hurry, in case he sounds the alarm.”

“Not that kind of neighborhood,” Haggerty said.

He pointed out the broken surveillance cams. In this district, Big Brother turned a blind eye. Only marginally reassured, Corbin kept skittishly glancing around.

The buildings surrounding them were older, decrepit, and barely habitable if they weren’t already abandoned or condemned. A billboard for BBI towered above the street, depicting an elderly woman — her true age, like that of the old man they’d just encountered, was apparent — happily displaying her unit above the slogan They care enough to let me make my own decision. Haggerty found it deeply disturbing. In this place, who needed a KV unit? The Westside immigrants were already dying of the old evils that had beset the industrialized world before the stem had been cracked, evils that continued to plague the rest of the planet. As for the JCs . . . Cherub’s taunt sounded in his mind: What’s the difference if someone doesn’t bother with the formalities?

“This is the building,” Elsa said, stopping before a courtyard alcove strewn with stinking refuse baking in the heat.

The building’s façade had fallen into such disrepair that the seams and dried adhesive were visible in the simulacrum slate designed to look like brickwork. The upper floors were dark. Corbin grimaced and plunged after Elsa through the refuse to the entrance. Haggerty followed slowly, holding his breath and peering into the shadows to make sure they weren’t walking into an ambush. He felt the need for a celtrex, but it would have to wait.

They made it to the entrance without incident, then down a narrow hallway only marginally less filthy than the alcove outside. Both of the building’s tubes were inoperable; they had to walk five flights up damaged stairways. Elsa looked at each door carefully; a third of the way down the corridor she stopped.

“That one,” she said.

“Do we knock or just break and enter?” Corbin asked dryly.

“We knock,” Haggerty said.

Corbin pounded on the door. “Open up!” she shouted. “Police business.”

No response — and no one stirred from the other compartments. Haggerty knocked. More silence.

“Try the card, Elsa.”

Elsa inserted the plasticine keycard in the locking mechanism. The bolt slid back with a snick. Haggerty gently pushed the door open and stepped into the dark, windowless pairplex.

“Lights on,” Corbin called, to no effect.

Haggerty reached his hand inside of the door frame and flicked a switch, and the lights came on.

“These old buildings are still on manual,” he explained to Corbin.

Immediately visible in the tiny room were bunk beds, a flowmat, a sink full of dishes, and multiple darkglow posters of Clone Jesus aiming their instruments at the viewer. Climate control was nonfunctional. A small makeshift desk housed an ancient desktop computer plugged into an electric socket. Beside it lay an old-style spiral bound notebook filled with scribbled diagrams and technical jargon Haggerty could not fathom. Then a holographic photo frame on the desk caught his attention. He lifted it for a better look — and felt like he’d taken a body blow.

The holograph showed five young people — four girls and a boy — in front of a small cottage somewhere in the desert, sunlight glinting off a power grid in the distance. There was Teardrop, her platinum hair skinpainted with streaks of black, and beside her stood Regina, looking no older than she did now, laughing at the camera. Behind them, one arm thrown casually around each girl, was the blue-haired boy who had pressed, grinning. The thin girl Regina had talked to at the Orphanage reclined on a flowmat at their feet like a vamp from a bygone film era, long red curls draping her narrow face and blisterbrands on both arms. Hovering beside Regina, dressed in a black skinsuit, her hair skinpainted purple, fuchsia, and magenta, was a girl Haggerty did not recognize.

“Looks like we’re in the right place,” Corbin said, inspecting the holograph over his shoulder.

Haggerty was forced to admit that Regina was involved with Teardrop and the boy. How and why had yet to be determined.

“Your girlfriend —” Corbin continued.

Elsa broke in. “Jason, I’m picking up erratic breathing.”

The agents turned their attention to the bathroom door, which stood ajar. Corbin lunged forward, slamming the door open.

Collapsed on the bathroom floor was the last girl in the picture, wearing only a simple camipant underskin. Her hair was dark now. She moaned softly, her back arching and her hips twisting, her fingers clutching the bathroom rug as paroxysms gripped her body.

“Looks like she’s on some kind of euphoric,” Haggerty said.

“Most likely one that produces sexual stimuli,” Elsa elaborated.

Corbin stared in disgust. “Is there something we can do to bring her down?”

“Check the cabinet over the sink,” said Haggerty. “See if there’s any SoberUp or Qwik-D-Tox.”

Corbin stepped over the writhing girl to open the cabinet. None of the commercial preparations for counteracting the effects of alcohol and most recreational drugs were on hand.

“We’ll just have to wait until she comes out of it,” Haggerty said. “Elsa, watch the girl while agent Corbin and I look around.”

Five kids in one small space produced a lot of clutter. Haggerty scrounged through unlaundered girls’ clothing, papers and leaflets, empty bottles of alcohol and spent poppers, and bags of makeup. Cabinet shelves held personal care products. A box of SoberUp gave him brief hope they’d be able to get the girl back to normal quickly, but it was empty.

“We’ve got an illegal black box,” Corbin called, extracting it from the kitchen cabinet. “The tabs are sealed but the name and serial numbers have been scraped.”

She handed the unit to Haggerty. He wondered if it was his. There was no way of telling unless he activated it, and reviewing an undischarged box was a Federal offense that Elsa would not override without authorization.

“Jason, the girl is reviving,” Elsa informed them from the bathroom.

“It’s about time,” Corbin muttered, moving straight to the girl. “What’s your name?” she demanded, pulling her up by the shoulders.

“Sharyn,” the girl said, staring emptily at Corbin, apparently too high to be alarmed. She giggled. “What’s yours?”

“I’ll ask the questions,” Corbin said, roughly moving the girl to the flowmat. “You’re in serious trouble, Sharyn.”

“I’m already past trouble,” the girl said, sobering for a moment, a look of despair replacing the drug-induced euphoria.

“Who gave you this?” Haggerty said, indicating the black box and then pocketing it.

Sharyn laughed abruptly. “It must be Traci’s. She must’ve nicked it from someone at work.”

Haggerty grabbed the holograph and indicated the thin, dramatically posed girl with copper curls and blisterbranded arms. “Is this Traci?”

“That’s her all right,” Sharyn said.

“And where exactly does she work?” Haggerty asked.

“It’s a secret.” Sharyn placed a thin finger to her lips and shook her head — then burst into hysterical laughter and doubled up on the floor, clutching her stomach.

“What are you dosing?” Corbin demanded.

She was laughing so hard they could barely make out her words.

“Happy Sticks?” Haggerty said.

“That’s right,” she giggled, which started another laughing fit.

Haggerty looked to Corbin, who shrugged.

“Elsa?” he inquired.

“I have nothing on it in my data banks.”

Haggerty leaned over Sharyn. “Who are the other people in this holograph?”

The girl glanced at the picture again. “That’s me,” she said, her finger hovering over her own image. “God, I look like shit. That’s Traci, Teardrop, Regina, and Sunset.”

“The boy’s name is Sunset?” Haggerty said. “Do you know his surname? Do you know Teardrop’s?”

“Do you know they’re both dead?” Corbin added coldly.

“What?” Sharyn stared at the other woman in horror.

“You heard me. They’re both dead. And if you don’t help us you’re going to spend the rest of your life in a cell — if you’re lucky. Otherwise, you’ll get shipped off to exile. No more drugs. Just disease, poverty, and early old age.”

The girl retreated on the flowmat, terrified, until her back hit the wall.

“Take it easy,” Haggerty told Corbin.

“What was Teardrop’s real name?” Corbin persisted. “Who was she with the last time you saw her?”

“I thought that was her real name,” Sharyn whimpered. “It’s the only one she ever used. She hasn’t been home in over a week. She went with Sunset to meet people who worked with Clone Jesus. Last I heard she was making it with Cherub.”

“The bass player?” Corbin demanded.

“They got the total hook-up.”

“And where are Regina and Traci now?” Corbin asked.

Sharyn shook her head.

“Tell us or we’re turning you over to the police!”

Tears flowed down Sharyn’s cheeks. “I don’t know where anybody is! Traci should be at work. She won’t be home until morning. Regina went looking for her brother.”

“Who’s her brother?” Haggerty snapped.

“Sunset’s her brother,” Sharyn answered desperately. “But —”

Haggerty winced, recalling Regina’s shrieks that woke him into this nightmare. She had watched her brother commit suicide and been unable to tell him. He didn’t know anyone who actually had a true brother or sister — birth applications had been so tightly controlled for the past century — and couldn’t imagine the bond that must exist between them. But he was familiar with grief, and he couldn’t help aching for her.

“We need you to tell us where Traci works,” he told Sharyn.

“I don’t know,” Sharyn insisted.

“Polygraph analysis indicates she’s lying,” Elsa said plainly.

Haggerty turned stern. “You work with her?”

Sharyn’s face contorted. “I’m just a delivery girl.”

“Delivery girl for whom?” Haggerty demanded.

Sharyn shook her head rapidly, alarm escalating to fear. “Are Teardrop and Sunset really dead?”

“Yes,” Haggerty told her softly. “And we’re trying to keep more people from dying. But to do that, we need to find Traci and whoever gave her the box.”

“I’m dead if I tell you where we work,” she whispered. “And if you go there then Traci’s dead too.”

Haggerty took her gently by the shoulders. “I promise we’ll get you into protective custody and arrest everyone involved,” he said. “We’ll go there with a squad of police and Federal agents and get Traci out before anything bad can happen to her. Just tell me where you work and the place will be out of business come morning.”

Corbin was pacing with agitation. The girl watched her with mounting anxiety.

Confident that he could get Sharyn to answer if Corbin would leave them alone, Haggerty stood and motioned Corbin to step away with him, to tell her.

Corbin shrugged him aside. “All right, that’s it!” she shouted, advancing on the girl and slapping her hard across the face.

Sharyn curled herself into a ball and wailed. Haggerty moved to her side.

“Why the hell did you do that?” he snarled at Corbin.

“She’s lucky I don’t kick the shit out of her.”

Corbin extracted the com from her hip pocket and flipped it open. She clipped her earpiece and began pressing in a call code.

“What are you doing?” Haggerty barked, his hackles rising. “They’ll trace us!”

“That’s what I want,” Corbin said. “Let Woyzeck get it out of her. Once she tells him that Traci gave her the box we’re in the clear.”

Could it be that simple? Under normal circumstances, letting the police handle the investigation now was the right thing to do. But these were hardly normal circumstances. Corbin could establish that Regina had been the one to accost Haggerty. The holo established Regina’s connection to the triple press. Sharyn could confirm that Traci had supplied the box and Woyzeck would find out who was really behind this. But Haggerty wondered if Sharyn truly held the answers, and he still didn’t know if he could trust Corbin.

He knelt beside the sobbing girl as Corbin’s call went through.

“Detective Woyzeck,” Corbin said into her earset, “this is Nia Corbin. I’m with Haggerty on the Westside. We found a witness that can clear us of any criminal charges regarding those stolen units.” There was a pause, then, “Yes, his assistant is with us. Yes, she has the recordings uploaded.” Another, shorter pause. “Understood.”

Corbin switched off and raised her autostun.

“What the hell are you doing?” Haggerty shouted, angrily getting to his feet. “She’s in no condition to make a run for it.”

Sharyn covered her face, her sobs graduating to keening moans.

Corbin smiled tightly. “Sorry, Haggerty,” she said.

As Haggerty realized the drawn weapon wasn’t for Sharyn, the room went black.

Corbin fired. The shot went wide in the dark. Sharyn screamed.

Then nothing.

* * *

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