Oct 2011 07

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]

“Autodrive. Home. Park,” Haggerty called into his car’s relay terminal, then watched the vehicle maneuver itself off the field and slot the beltway onramp.

Corbin slid into the driver’s seat of the BBI vehicle and popped the doors for Haggerty and Elsa. “Where to?” she asked, looking back over her shoulder.

Haggerty mentally flipped through his options. Going to his place would put Regina at risk. While Corbin’s picture proved nothing — it was a public demonstration, and Regina and the girl who had pressed might never have met before — the junior agent would no doubt insist on having Regina taken in for questioning, if not arrested on who knew what charges. Headquarters was also out — too many noses and far too much pressure. Besides, there was no equipment there that could not be remotely accessed by Elsa from the vehicle. Until the kids were identified there were no obvious associates to consult except the band members, and those interviews would take hours to clear. They might as well retrieve the unit from Corbin’s case.

“Let’s check your supposed copycat while we upload,” he said.

Corbin engaged the engine and took the car out on manual.

Elsa ported the first unit and jacked into the small dashboard console. I assume we’re sharing all information with agent Corbin? she linked.

Haggerty remembered the plasticine keycard in his pocket. He wasn’t ready to reveal that tidbit, but under the circumstances, anything Elsa got off the boxes was fair game. We might as well, he linked back. The Dragon would breathe real fire if I didn’t cooperate after she gave Corbin the go-ahead.

Elsa acknowledged his order with a gaze, then said aloud. “Jason, as you retrieved it, I assume you know the name and serial number on the girl’s unit were rendered illegible.”

“What?” Corbin demanded.

“Yes,” Haggerty replied. “Do you know how it was done? Will it be possible to reconstruct them?”

“Uncertain. The numbers appear to have been first effaced with a metal file then exposed to corrosive acid. I don’t know if our lab techs will be able to retrieve anything.”

“How about the other two units?” he asked.

“Also illegible,” she said. “And the units appear to be unregistered. When I attempted to obtain the usual warrants, none of the devices was for a registered client. I had to use an older protocol to obtain the general warrants I sent you.”

“So we’re dealing with retrofit black market boxes?” Corbin interjected.

“It appears so,” Haggerty said.

“How is that possible?” Corbin said. “BBI security is supposed to be the best.”

“It is the best,” Haggerty said. “I have no idea how this level of tampering is possible.”

“Then good luck getting anything off the units,” Corbin said sourly, banking into the government-only lane and shifting to overdrive.

“I doubt whoever retrofit them got through all the safeguards,” Haggerty said. “The video on the arming mechanism can’t be disengaged or the unit won’t function, even if the printscan’s switched out.”

“Jason, this is most curious,” Elsa said. “The toxin residue on this unit is not polythinisine based.”

“It’s one of our units, but it’s not our drug?” Corbin said in disbelief.

“That is my analysis,” Elsa confirmed. “The administered toxins are not of the same base chemical compositions loaded into KV units.”

The situation was getting worse by the moment. Not only had someone stolen the units and figured out how to tamper with them, they’d synthesized a deadly new drug to fill them.

“Play the visual,” Haggerty told Elsa.

Elsa ported the visual into the dashboard console screen. The first image was an obtuse angle of roughhewn floor and red cloth, presumably curtains, the audio the raucous chanting of the crowd as Clone Jesus played their encore. Elsa adjusted the image ninety degrees and it was clear the unit was being held in the palm of the girl, waiting backstage to press. The music stopped, the crowd cheered, and the girl rushed out onto the stage. The visual then showed her arm with the box outstretched and button pressed without hesitation.

“There’s no prior recording?” Corbin demanded.

“Negative,” Elsa replied.

“Let’s see the next one,” Haggerty said.

Not surprisingly, Elsa informed them that the toxin residue in the second unit was the same poison that had been loaded into the first one. This scene was earlier, as denoted by the embedded timecode. “Dawn, it’s me,” the boy with the shock of blue hair said. Nude to the waist, with an oriental dragon skinpainting curving around his torso, he was smiling at himself with amusement in what appeared to be a bathroom mirror, holding the black box. “Someday you’ll probably see this,” he said, “and you’re gonna think I’m a grokless idiot, and wonder why I didn’t just call you and tell you what I had to say, why I’m doing it this way. But then you’d try to talk me out of it, and I don’t want that.”

“He looks drugged,” Haggerty said. “Maybe SkyWhip?”

Corbin agreed. “And that bathroom’s pretty chic. My guess, it’s a hotel.”

“It’s just . . . easier if I talk to the box, okay?” the boy continued. “I wanted to let you know that I love you, and I’m sorry that I haven’t called in so long. I love my life, but I have no regrets about what I’m doing. . . . Fuck it!”

The recording halted as the boy disarmed and the unit began prepping for the next installment.

Something seemed off, Haggerty thought. This was not the usual resignation found in most final recordings. It was hard to believe the kid would seriously contemplate pressing if he hadn’t been dosed on some drug. The second installment was a repeat performance of the blonde girl’s nonchalance, seen from the opposite side of the lead singer, ending as the boy slumped onstage, smiling dead into the box.

“Let’s see the third,” Haggerty said.

Once again, Elsa confirmed the presence of the unknown toxin. The timecode for this one was several days prior to the press.

“Hey, it says it’s recording!” exclaimed the third dead child, whose golden bronze skin hinted of at least one African-American grandparent. The boy was somewhat taller than average, his body lean but well-muscled, as though he had spent time in a gym. A faux diamond stud winked in his ear, and he’d shaved his head. Wide pupils in dark, almond-shaped eyes showed he was clearly elated, possibly dosed. Haggerty found something familiar about his features, as if he’d seen him before but couldn’t place where. Could the kid have been an actor in some forgettable viewcast or feature film?

“This could be something,” Corbin said. “He’s playing with it. And that’s definitely a hotel room. I see four, maybe five people on the couches behind him. There’s probable narcotic use in progress.”

“Elsa, take close-ups of all room occupants and magnify for identification,” Haggerty ordered.

Images filed down the side of the screen; Corbin identified several as band members.

“Turn that thing off,” came a male voice from across the room. “Ya wanna kill yourself?”

“Maybe,” the boy answered, laughing. His tone changed to mock viewcaster as he addressed the unit’s recording device. “I’m standing in this beautiful penthouse suite, partying my ass off with the enlightened, the infamous Clone Jesus. And I’d just like to say, put some hurt on New York, you lame-ass NewVada Bulls—”

“I said, turn the bloody thing off!”

The recording skipped ahead.

“This is about four hours later,” Elsa said.

The audio snapped in with pronounced moaning and the unit adjusted light for what appeared to be a darkened closet, revealing the boy, pants around his ankles, hands in the hair of a young brunette on her knees before him.

“Oh God, oh yeah!” the boy moaned as he climaxed.

That should have signaled the end of his encounter with the brunette, but rather than tapering off, the boy’s moans intensified. The young girl looked on appreciatively, not stopping her ministrations until the boy finally collapsed, several minutes later.

“Hey,” she said, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Where can I get some of that?”

The final installment was another repeat of the onstage press.

“End transmission,” Corbin told Elsa as the boy collapsed.

Elsa looked to Haggerty, who nodded without looking up.

“So,” Corbin summed up smugly, “All we know is that these kids were living the life and had no fear of pressing.”

Haggerty wasn’t sure he shared her assessment. Something about the recordings didn’t add up. He knew in his bones there was more than was obvious on first viewing. He was about to say as much when Corbin announced that she was preparing to slot, and Haggerty decided to wait.

She steered the car toward the garage system of a dilapidated twelve-story building and docked next to a waiting ambulance. “This part of the investigation is mine,” she reminded Haggerty, popping a cube of gum in her mouth and triggering the hatch.

“Stay and coordinate with Detective Woyzeck,” Haggerty instructed Elsa. “Tell him the boxes were unregistered and try to identify the people in that hotel room.”

“Affirmative, Jason,” she said.

He left her opening a comlink to the detective, as he followed Corbin into the garage.

* * *

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