Sep 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 parts ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, and FIVE – then continue reading after the jump…)



[Previous Chapter / Next Chapter]

Suddenly Regina was on her knees on her chair, peering over Haggerty’s shoulder. “Oh wow, an Indran,” she whispered.

He followed her gaze to the lithe individual making her way into the cafe. The woman’s skin was the color of burnt sienna. Dark hair coiled down her back in long, wild ringlets. A simple shroud of white synthesilk neither hid nor revealed her sex. Pure East Indian descent — rare to see and unenhanced by plastiche — was obvious in half the woman’s face. Above the eye on the other side, sloping up her forehead and over her ear, a clear prosthetic window revealed a circuit mesh of blinking lights and fiber-optic neural implants inside the woman’s skull. Her presence visibly unsettled Haggerty.

“Do you know her?” Regina asked him.

“I’ve seen her here several times,” he said.

“You don’t seem too happy about that.”

“I’m not,” Haggerty said bluntly.

In fact, the woman repulsed him. The Indranet was perhaps the only product, if such a vast information and communication infrastructure could be called a product, for which the US relied on a foreign provider. Indrans were the latest advance of the Net, and nearly two-thirds of India’s population was indentured to the United States in this manner. Though the sheer number of Indrans made them a common sight elsewhere in the world, the immigration freeze made their presence within the States uncommon. Many Americans resented them; the popular consensus was that finding an alternate resource might very well determine the future of the current executive branch of the government. Haggerty agreed that having to outsource the Net was detrimental to American interests, but he knew that few citizens would be willing to offer up portions of their own brainspace and endure the surgical procedures this Indian woman had undergone in order to underbid India and source the Net themselves.

The idea that Regina was at odds with KV technology but fascinated by this woman’s proudly displayed self-mutilation saddened him. It seemed contradictory. Perhaps Regina was too young to understand the root of the cultural divide on the subject. Though he’d been a teenager himself at the time, Haggerty remembered the riots that ensued when the American Net had been judged so corrupt it was condemned by the United Nations. Even looking back at those days from an adult perspective in his current profession, he still couldn’t quite understand why Net system-separation anxiety had fueled such an epidemic of depression and caused so many violent suicides. Personally, he’d never had use for the Net.

“She’s a bit on the abrasive side,” Haggerty finally told Regina, attempting to downplay his disgust. “She thinks that being part of the Indranet has somehow exalted her. To hear her tell it — and I’ve heard her tell it more than once — she’s over a hundred but has never needed stem or telemor treatments because her elevated neural system is enough to sustain her.”

Regina eyed the woman thoughtfully. “And that’s abrasive because . . . ?”

“It’s not,” Haggerty admitted, sipping his coffee. “The abrasive part is that she believes that what she proudly calls her ‘enhancements’ gives her the ability to predict the future, and that this entitles her to let the other patrons know what they’re in for, whether or not they want to hear it. Only after she’s done haranguing them will she settle at a table and order herself a cup of coffee. But by then the damage has been done.”

“I want to hear my future!” Regina exclaimed, and waved the Indran over before Haggerty could interject. Having sternly admonished the woman on multiple occasions, he braced himself for unpleasantness.

But the Indran merely stepped to their booth and smiled. “What a beautiful couple,” she said in a soft, tektronically enhanced Indian voice.

As guilty as he felt about what had been done to her and millions of her countrymen in the name of his own countrymen’s convenience, Haggerty could not mask his revulsion. “We were just leaving,” he told her, hoping she’d move on to other game.

“So brash,” she said with a tsk, and turned to Regina. “He’s going to be very aggressive in bed, little one.”

Regina blushed, but seemed delighted by the Indran.

“She’s not going to have an opportunity to discover whether you’re right about that,” Haggerty said.

The Indran continued to stare intently at Regina. “You’ve got mothering all around you, little one,” she said gently. “Not too far off.”

“Really?” Regina beamed.

The Indran nodded, then turned to Haggerty, splaying her empty hands out, palms up.

Haggerty reached into his pocket and pulled out five credits. “This is to leave us alone,” he said.

She placed her palms together, refusing the offering, and stared into his eyes. He realized how dark hers were. Everything was the same shade of inky black; he couldn’t tell where the iris began and the pupil ended. She looked at him, unblinking, her brow furrowed in concentration, the organic and tektronic portions of her brain engaged in a chaotic dance he could not fathom.

“Misfortune coming toward you,” she said, saddening.

“Yeah?” he said.

She ignored his sarcastic tone, taking his hand and closing her eyes. Haggerty pulled his hand back. She regarded him gravely, her dark eyes boring into his, her tektronic array alive with flashing diodes. Haggerty felt uneasy.

“You have a difficult night coming,” she said. “Difficult, and more important than you realize, with more things ending than you plan, and more things beginning than you dare to dream. I see you inside a morgue, inside a hearse, and coming to rest inside of your family’s mausoleum,” she said.

Regina tensed. Haggerty attempted to wave the Indran away. But she wasn’t finished. She bent low to whisper in his ear.

“I see you pressing a button tonight and harming yourself, and I beg you to refrain.”

That caught Haggerty’s attention. Could the Indranet actually harbor some sort of intuitive supernatural transcendence after all?

He chastised himself. The Indran’s generalizations were tricks only the gullible would fall for. Given the prevalence of pressing, it was more than likely that she would be right at least some of the time. Though he had to admire her daring “tonight.”

“Thanks for the warning,” Haggerty said dismissively.

The Indran smiled. “Thanks and blessings on both of you,” she said, once more the colorful local eccentric, and moved on to the next booth.

Regina seemed upset.

“Come on,” Haggerty said. “You don’t believe in fortune-telling, do you?”

“No, but the Indranet’s gone quantum now and utilizes collective intuition. It can predict with an accuracy that tweaks me. And she’s a part of it.”

Haggerty had to admit that she’d tweaked him too. While he wasn’t an Indranet user like Regina, he knew enough about the evolution of technology to understand how rapidly it advanced. The neural transmitter that allowed him to link with Elsa was one of the most amazing pieces of technology he’d ever encountered, never mind that the science behind it had been evolving since the first thought-wave response computers were developed for paraplegics at the close of the twentieth century. But prophecy? Actually foretelling the future? That was tantamount to saying that God lived on the Indranet.

“I’ve spent a lot of time jacked in,” Regina continued. “I’ve watched the Net calibrate. It’s beautiful. But for her to tell you such awful things . . . It’s not right. What if it made you nervous and you did something crazy, and then something bad did happen to you?”

“I’m not nervous,” he said. “And the histrionic ramblings of an Indranet server aren’t about to make me so. Forget her. Now tell me, where do you live?”

“As if you’d come to the Westside slums to visit,” she said lightly. “I live with four other girls in a pairplex. We share bunk beds. Last one in gets the flowmat on the floor and a pushpillow. It’s paradise.”

Haggerty grinned at her candor.

“I bet you have a nice place,” she teased. “With a tremendous view of the city and a god-awful big viewscreen.”

“Guilty as charged,” he said affably. He glanced at the faux antique clock on the wall a few feet away. They’d been at the Java Joint a bit longer than he’d realized. “Perhaps it’s time I got back to it. I don’t think I have any more answers for you, Regina, but it’s been a pleasure.”

“The pleasure doesn’t have to be over now, does it?” she protested, managing to look adorable and wounded at the same time.

Haggerty scratched the back of his neck. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking to you. And you’ve given me some things to think about,” he said.

“It’s still early,” she coaxed, “and our conversation was just getting interesting. Can’t we move on, maybe go have some fun someplace?”

Haggerty glanced at the clock again, considering the pros and cons. He could spare Regina a bit more time and still carry out his plan at midnight. He wondered why she was so determined to keep him with her. She wasn’t sending out signals that she was interested in pairing. Or was she working up the nerve? No need to worry about that. Perhaps she hadn’t yet got the answers she was looking for. He doubted she would, even if he thought he had them to give her, which he didn’t. But there was no harm in indulging her a while longer.

“What do you have in mind?” he asked.

She brightened. “How about this. You’ve shown me one of your places, let me show you one of mine. There’s this new club I heard about, but I didn’t wanna crash it without a date.”


“I didn’t mean . . . ,” She was clearly embarrassed. “I just wanna scope out this place my girlfriends rave about. And it’ll give you a glimpse of my world.”

Haggerty hesitated. Then: “Why not?” he said, as much to himself as to Regina. “What have I got to lose?”

* * *

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


This installment's bonus material are the character sketches Eran Cantrell did of the main characters. I thought to add it when I reread the section above and the Indran woman was introduced. She's envisioned below along with Jason, Elsa and Regina. I love Eran's notes... George Clooney, Uma Thurman... I think she may have been responding to questions she asked me about how I saw the characters. One of my favorite things about being an author is working with artists. I describe things with words and they translate to images. I think it's a kind of magic and I'm so jealous of people who can draw and paint!