Dec 2011 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 / Next Chapter]

The trip to the Northside was relatively quick. Whereas accessing the whereabouts of private citizens without a warrant was illegal, having public transportation systems alert the police when a known fugitive entered was not. Elsa stood before Haggerty at the belt entrance, pressing her thumb to the turnstile reader like any ordinary citizen. She had no prints for it to read, but was capable of transmitting information to the scanners. The turnstile opened.

As with everything else in the Westside, the belt entrance was as busy during the middle of the night as most stations were during the day. But Westsiders minded their own business. No one looked closely at anyone else, and Haggerty felt fairly certain he and Elsa went unrecognized. Still, he kept the hood of his sweatshirt forward, covering his hair and casting his features in shadow, and was relieved that the crowds thinned as they left the environs of the Westside.

Still, it would take only one person with a comlink to make the connection and notify the police. Elsa had proved she would defend him, but she had her own limits.

You weren’t able to recharge tonight. How much longer will your power supply last? Haggerty linked as they belted north.

If I am not called upon to make unusual expenditures of energy, I believe I can remain at optimum function for another twenty hours.

Could you jack in to a station and recharge? Haggerty hoped against hope that she had some other extraordinary ability he didn’t know about. He didn’t know how long it would take them to prove his innocence. Maybe hours, maybe days. If Elsa shut down before she could upload the recordings, the reviews would be lost.

I’m sorry, Jason. My signature would be traceable.

We should have enough time before your need to recharge becomes critical. Let’s hope Traci gives us the answers we need.

The difference between the Westside slum they’d started from and the enclave in which DeAngelo resided was profound. DeAngelo’s compartment tower was a sleek monolith of black permaglass, its lobby clean and well-lit. There were doubtless security cameras, but this surveillance was not hooked in to law enforcement systems, though such measures were under review.

They tubed up to the ninetieth floor.

Polygraph and follow my lead, Haggerty linked, reaching for his BBI identiplate at Sasha DeAngelo’s compartment. Alert me immediately if he recognizes me or doubts my authority.

He knocked on the door. They heard footsteps approaching slowly.

“Yes?” came a voice from the other side.

“Police business, Mr. DeAngelo,” Haggerty said, flashing his identiplate at the peephole, knowing it couldn’t be seen clearly. “Please open the door. We have some questions for you.”

He hoped DeAngelo’s guilt at his own illegal activities would work in his favor.

The bolts unlocked and the door slowly opened, revealing a gaunt, weary-looking man in a white tuxedo. Strains of classical music played somewhere behind him.

“What is this about?” Sasha DeAngelo asked nervously.

Haggerty lifted his BBI plate again, but not long enough for the man to get a clear look at it. “I’m Detective Woyzeck, Precinct Four,” he said, slipping the plate back into his pocket, “working undercover with Detective Smith, here. I believe you can help us with our investigation of the Society of the Last Supper. May we come in?”

DeAngelo stepped backward into the compartment. Haggerty followed as if he’d been invited, with Elsa close on his heels. She closed the door behind them. When DeAngelo stopped, Haggerty pushed past him through the malachite simustone foyer and into the living room.

The rug on the floor was no doubt a very good replica of an eighteenth-century oriental, given how little wear it showed. The art deco mirror on the wall behind them was probably real. DeAngelo’s telemonitor was larger and clearly more expensive than Haggerty’s. Fortunately, it wasn’t turned to viewcast, but to display, the screen showing an operatic production selected from DeAngelo’s personal media library. Haggerty recognized Bellini’s Norma. No guarantee that the man hadn’t been watching a viewcast earlier, but Elsa would quickly confirm if he recognized him, and Haggerty had Corbin’s autostun in his pocket. For the moment, DeAngelo was too busy trying to cover his own illicit activity, whatever it was, to be overly suspicious of the supposed undercover detectives.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” DeAngelo said, shifting from foot to foot. His voice lacked conviction. “I don’t understand what you would want with me. I’m a Conscientious Citizen. I pay taxes.”

“You were given an invitation tonight to the Society of the Last Supper. You’re expected there at four. Is that not true, Mr. DeAngelo?”

“Please, you must understand,” the man said. “It’s a difficult decision.”

“Of course it is,” Haggerty said sympathetically, playing along.

“I thought I was sure,” DeAngelo said. “But then I thought maybe I should cancel the reservation.”

“But you didn’t,” Haggerty guessed.

DeAngelo looked distressed. “Please, detective, I’ve committed no crime.”

“But you were about to, weren’t you?” Haggerty baited.

The man began sobbing. He slumped against the wall for support.

“They promised me complete secrecy,” he choked. “They said no police even knew this place existed. Don’t I have enough to deal with?”

“Easy,” Haggerty said, wondering why DeAngelo was in such a state. Happy Sticks — whatever they might be — were illegal, but the penalty for the user would be a misdemeanor fine the man obviously could afford. Most people didn’t find the decision to dose at all difficult. “It’s clear that you don’t really want to do this, Mr. DeAngelo. If you’ll cooperate, we won’t pursue charges.”

“You can do that?” the man said.

“If you help us now, no one will ever find out you were involved.”

“What do you want from me?” DeAngelo asked, his relief palpable.

“Do you have the invitation?”

DeAngelo handed Haggerty an envelope from his breast pocket. “Take it,” he said. “It’s all arranged and prepaid. I don’t care if it’s nonrefundable. I promise not to do this again.”

“A good decision, Mr. DeAngelo. Now tell me, how did you learn about the club?”

“I found it on an Indranet holochatroom. They made me prove I was serious and could pay.”

“Do you know who runs it?”

“I didn’t care. They guaranteed they were safe from the police and it’s clear they lied.”

“They’re in for a surprise. We’re taking them down tonight. Seeing as you’ve realized your mistake, I’m going to let you off with a warning. But I need this invitation for internal evidence, and your I.D. for my private file. Get yourself new I.D. tomorrow.”

“Whatever you say, detective.” DeAngelo gave Haggerty his card.

“Now remove that tuxedo and let me take it. I don’t want you in any more trouble tonight.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Please have a seat while I change.”

He rushed off to remove the offending clothing.

Haggerty sat down on a superb imitation Louis XIV chair and studied the three-dimensional image of DeAngelo’s face on the I.D. card. He estimated that they were close enough.

Polygraph analysis, Elsa?

He doesn’t recognize you.

You need a parlor that abets identity theft.

That’s correct, Elsa. Preferably in the Vegas District. Someplace that won’t question my desire to turn myself into another CC for an hour or two.

Elsa processed for a moment.

I’ve got one not far from the coordinates Sharyn provided.

DeAngelo, now in a bathrobe, returned with a garment bag.

“Thank you for overlooking my foolishness, detective,” he said, thrusting the bag at Haggerty. “I’m sorry I ever got mixed up with these people. If I can be of any further assistance . . .”

The man was on the verge of hysterics.

“You’ve been a great help, Mr. DeAngelo. I can see that this has been very stressful for you. Go to bed now and get some sleep, and consider yourself under house arrest until I contact you tomorrow. This will soon be behind you.”

DeAngelo hurried to open the door for them.

“Thank you again, detective.”

“Good night, Mr. DeAngelo.”

Haggerty and Elsa moved quietly down the hall toward the tube.

He believed everything you said, Elsa assured him.

Good. Does DeAngelo have a car?

I’ll access the Department of Motor Vehicles. Confirmed. He owns a 2156 Jetstream Corvair.

Haggerty whistled. DeAngelo’s vehicle was well out of his own price range. He pressed the button marked Garage.

You mind driving, Elsa? We’re short on time and I think we had better stay clear of platform scanners from here on.

* * *

The small waiting room was mirrored floor to ceiling on all sides and illuminated with harsh fluorescent light, tricks of the trade designed to fill prospective customers with as much self-revulsion as possible, to keep them from changing their minds. A small mirror-framed plaque above a bench read: “The world will change for the better when people decide they are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the way the world is, and decide to change themselves.” The convoluted statement was attributed to Sidney Madwed, a twentieth-century American philosopher who probably never would have imagined it would one day be used for such a purpose as promoting plastiche.

A mirrored panel slid open. A cream-skinned brunette in an enclosed booth regarded Haggerty and Elsa with gold-flecked, half-awake eyes.

“How can I help you?” she said, stifling a yawn.

“I want some work done on my face,” Haggerty said.

She looked closer. Haggerty tensed, wondering if she’d recognize him from the newscast, and if it mattered if she did. He didn’t see any monitors, but that was no assurance. He’d wanted someplace that wasn’t too scrupulous about legalities, but he couldn’t be sure they’d found one. He moved his hand to the stunner concealed beneath his jacket.

“You’ve got a nice face,” she said. “I’d hate to change it.”

Haggerty relaxed his hand at his side. “I doubt your employer would enjoy hearing you say that,” he told her. “Besides, everyone can use a change once in a while.”

She shrugged. “It’s your face. You want temp or perm?”

“Depends on how long it takes.”

“Perm takes a few hours and I may need to do bonework, depending on the level of change. You’d be heavily sedated. Temp’s a synthaderm overlay I build and burn onto you. It’s much easier, just a topical painkiller. I recommend temp if recovery time’s a factor. It’s also easier to fix if you change your mind later.”

“Temp it is then,” Haggerty said.

“Good choice.” She winked at him and quoted the fee. “Payment is due up front.”

Haggerty extracted a roll of thin plastic notes from his pocket and passed several of the larger denominations across the counter. Giving Sharyn the means to get out of NewVada had taken almost everything he had on him, and as a fugitive his bank accounts would be flagged. He’d had Elsa short the circuits on an automated teller machine, causing it to spit out a thousand credits without debiting any account. By now Elsa’s ethics program must be in shambles, although she said nothing about it and never demurred from his increasing illicit requests.

“Keep the change as a rush charge and we won’t bother with a receipt,” he said. He’d rounded the fee up by a hundred credits.

The technician smiled. “Your friend will have to wait here,” she said.

Haggerty looked at Elsa, dismissing her grievance before she could voice it. A buzzer sounded him through the door. The technician led him to the procedure room, positioned him on a high-tech recliner, and powered it on.

“There are questions I’m required by law to ask you,” she said as the chair lowered to horizontal.

Haggerty wasn’t surprised. The parlor had at least to pretend to comply with statutes. The technician seated herself on a stool and brought down a lamp whose light stung Haggerty’s eyes.

“Are you involved in any criminal activities that would prevent me from legally altering your appearance?”

“No.” Haggerty scratched his neck.

“Have you undergone any plastiche procedures within the past year?”


She scooted back to power on a machine snaked with clear plastic tubing. Haggerty watched the tubes fill with a viscous, skin-colored fluid, followed a moment later by fluid of a different color meant to bring the mixture closer to his own skin shade. She fired on a twin set of burners and set her pallet above them.

“Are you currently using any medications, prescribed or otherwise?”

“Only celtrex.”

The technician ran a hand through his hair, the corners of her lips rising. “Is the blonde your wife or your girlfriend?” she asked playfully.

“Just a friend,” he said lightly, smiling back.

She tested the elasticity of the flesh beneath his eye with an instrument Haggerty could not identify.

“All right then. I assume you have something in mind?”

Haggerty fished DeAngelo’s I.D. card from his cargo pants pocket.

“I want to look just like him.”

The technician studied the holorep image. Whatever doubts Haggerty might have had about Elsa’s choosing this place evaporated. Any legitimate parlor would demand to see a signed waiver from DeAngelo.

“Bone structure’s close enough. Need to build the nose a bit, bloat your cheeks. Skin tone’ll have to be darkened a few shades. I’ll want to do a color wash on your hands and anything else you think will be exposed. You look much younger than this guy — and you’re a lot handsomer.” She flashed another smile. “Glad you’re only going temp.”

Haggerty grinned.

She produced a syringe from some shelf beyond Haggerty’s vision and tapped it off.

“This will make you doze a bit,” she explained, and plunged the needle into the side of his neck. “Just relax and enjoy the ride.”

* * *

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