Science fiction is often bad enough to predict the future: rather, it is a better barometer of the present. But from time to time, an author establishes a reputation for understanding what the future might hold. One such author is Canadian writer and futurist Karl Schroeder, whose new book The Million is out this summer.
In this future story, the Earth is populated and governed exclusively by super-rich individuals: a million of them, to be exact. Every 30 years they allow the rest of humanity to return to the planet for a single month, but the rest of the time they forbid the presence of strangers in their fabulous utopia. One of those intruders is Gavin Penn-de-Chaffee, an illegal child raised in secret. After his adoptive father is murdered, Gavin acquires the identity of a dead child, only to discover that his new identity has just joined the dreaded secret police force of The Million. To survive, he will have to infiltrate his ranks and stay focused on finding the people who destroyed his life.
The book hits stores on August 14, 2018, and you can read an excerpt here:
Gavin Penn-de-Chaffee hit his brother's shoulder. "And what will you do if you get dizzy?"
"Focus on one at a time," Bernard said through clenched teeth.
"What if someone moves to get you out of the package?"  "Signal Dad."
"What if you have the sudden urge to hit someone upside down?"
Gavin frowned and criticized his brother once more. "It's okay, you're ready." Leave them dead. "
" Do not say that if you do not mean it, "Bernie said, taking a deep breath, walking over to the large pair of carved blue powder doors and pointing to the bots on each side to open them. the entrance to the light and noise, and Gavin stepped back into the shadows.The doors closed, and Gavin's shoulders slumped.
Now, for the hard part.
He walked at full speed the dark sitting room, though he rarely came down here, knew exactly where each table and chair was, and when he opened the door at the other end, it was exactly the same view he had found through the ones Bernie had used. A vast ballroom in which Gavin entered was filled with men in tuxedos and women with all kinds of dresses, dresses and visual apparel, chatting, eating sandwiches from the trays of passing bots, raising glasses for this or that proposition, and, too often They leaned over to look at Bernie and murmured in passing. They could have been holographic projections of the royal ballroom, but they were not; like the rest of the Million, Gavin had grown up to think of digital simulation as something rude. Instead, this was a real double to the other room, and the "people" in it were fake: bots made to resemble the people who visited the Chaffee property.
The only difference was that there were floor-to-ceiling windows in that other room, while here, hidden in the heart of the main building, the walls were blank.
Gavin observed the imitation that imitated his brother long enough to be sure that he was not about to be spoiled by terror. The bot not only looked like Bernie, but imitated his expressions to the smallest detail, and repeated in his voice what he had said in the other room. Everything looked good so far: I had started a conversation with that girl in the lemon yellow dress. Seeing this, Gavin turned around and closed his eyes.
The conversations, the music, the tinkling of the glasses and the clicking of the skirts along the floor flooded him like a calming sea. A light laugh sang from his left, and he smiled; He started a dance and listened to the music that echoed on the walls and the screech of new shoes on the parquet floor. He tried to forget that this was Bernie's party and not his. He tried to imagine all these people gathering here to celebrate .
But no, that was too much. I had no idea how that moment would feel.
Tonight there were more people at the Chaffee estate than Gavin had seen in one place. On any given day, you can wander outside and contemplate a view of rolling hills and pastures that never changed. Buffalo came, sometimes wolves. Unless he owned a city, say, Paris or New York, this was all that the Millon normally saw. If he was bored, Gavin could summon the powers of his personal economy to build things of interest: palaces, flocks of autonomous planes, dungeons with fake dragons, mechs with which he and Bernie could fight. I could recreate some historic city in the meadows of central North America, fill it with fakes and live as the ancients did for a day or a week or until I lost interest. In that way, it had been a normal life.
He heard two women waving right behind him, and he imagined standing next to one of them, with his fingers around his arm. He could open his eyes and intertwine his arm in one of the fakes and pretend that he was actually in that other room, actually among those people.
. . . And that would be simply creepy, sad and wrong; spying on them in this way was already a mistake. He should be in his own rooms, in his wing of the house, huddled with a good book. The only reason he had done this was to watch Bernie fraternally. But he had to let it go sometime. Dejected, he walked to the door and raised his hand to dismiss the fakes.
Despite himself, he turned to look one last time. There were quite a few young people in the crowd. What would it be like to walk among them? To talk to them? Bernie's guests were intimidating, all beautiful or handsome, perfectly dressed and perfectly balanced. Like most of Millón's offspring, they were intensely focused, serious and cautious with their elders. They should be … the whole human civilization rested on his shoulders. Undoubtedly, each one was determined to become the best composer, pilot, scientist or philosopher of this generation. Everyone knew that if there were only one million people living all over the world, then that million had the responsibility to be equal to all those who had come before.
"Stop prowling around, Neal," snapped the voice of an older man. "This is a party, not one of your hunts."
The speaker was an older man, his face eclipsed by the head of a young man who turned away from Gavin. All Gavin could see of the couple was their disheveled shared hair and huge shoulders. Then the youngest looked around and mocked the crowd, and Gavin froze.
I knew that face.
Gavin was eleven or twelve years old. There was a party, not like this, much more relaxed and friendly, and some of the neighbors had been there. As always, my father had told Gavin to stay hidden, but he could not help but look out the door to see the guests with his own eyes. That's when one of the Makhav boys saw him.
It was just a meeting of the eyes, the words had not been exchanged, however, Gavin would always remember that face. It was the only time in his entire life that he had stared with someone outside of his own family.
Neal Makhav-of-Winter-Park had grown up, was actually a young man now. That would also make Gavin one, he supposed. Little good that he did to him.
Neal's fake turned away from the previous one and said: "You're one to talk, father, you're here to laugh at the gimp, like everyone else!"
"Do not use that language," he warned. Neal's father. "You met Bernie before the accident, he was a great kid."
Neal snorted derisively. "Yeah, but he zigzagged when he should have zagged in. Putting that iron bar on his head got his brain rattled, so what is it good for now? Somebody should get him out of his misery"
. You could pretend without consequences, but Gavin's father had always warned him never to. "You could get used to hitting them, and that would get you used to hitting people," he had said. Then Gavin kept his fists closed at his sides. It was a small consolation that Neal's father had stood in front of his son and was staring him in the face.
"Not even you think of triumphing in some kind of duel with Bernard Chaffee," he said. hiss. His eyes widened when Neal looked away. "You were thinking about it!"
"Come on, father, it's not like I did not leave injured animals before, and look at this place, six thousand square kilometers of land, and only the two of them to take care of that old Chaffee has no heir now, It's only a matter of time before admitting defeat, I should have done it before now, everybody says it. "
Neal's father crossed his arms and walked away. "The Chaffee lands are thriving, and Bernie is not an idiot, the injury did not affect his intellect, only his self-control." He shook his head. "I can not believe you consider that."
"Do not get me wrong, I would not have killed the guy, but this party is pathetic, it's a farce and it needs to be exposed, I mean, do you really think one of those girls will take it? … And anyway "-and here Neal looked everywhere except in his father's eyes-" I keep saying that Bernie had help directing the place. "
" Again? You swear you saw another boy here once and now you're convinced they're hiding a visitor on the property! That's ridiculous. "
" I know what I saw, "Neal said, and his fake turned his head and looked directly at Gavin.
The illusion was so surprising that for a second Gavin was sure that Neal could actually see him.
Oh, he did remember that night. After he and Neal Makhav looked each other in the eye, Neal had made a fuss, asking who the other boy in the house was, but at that moment Gavin had hidden and ordered his bots to do the same with any evidence of that there was a third person in the house. My father laughed and gave the meddling boy the chance to search the entire place, just to prove that there was no one there. Neal had done it, to the embarrassment of his father and uncle.
"It is not a proper profession for a Makhav," said Neal's father. "It's not an honorable use of the hunting skills I gave you."
Neal snorted scornfully. "I knew you would say something like that, but my mind is made."
"This is not the time or place for this," said his father. "We'll talk about that when we get home."
Neal Makhav walked several steps away from his father, then turned and sent him a distant look. "No, we will not, father, see, after we finish here, I will not go home." He walked away.
Before I could follow Neal, another man approached Neal's father. He was gray, though still powerfully built, and here, too, the family resemblance was clear. Gavin had seen pictures of Eli Makhav; The father made sure to meet all the important players in the region. Eli was the brother of the patriarch of the Makhav clan, and Dad said that it was actually Eli who ran the house, without children.
"What is it about?" Eli said, as the two men stared at Neal backing away.
"He will come in. This joining the auditors … it's just juvenile concern," Neal's father said.
"I'm not so sure about that, and what's he plotting now?" Neal was pushing one of the marble statues of the ballroom (also faithfully reproduced in the room where Gavin was) as if trying to make it fall from his pedestal.
Eli sighed and approached him. Gavin followed him; I just had to listen to this.
Eli stopped next to his nephew. Without looking at him, he said: "Break it and I'll open your head wide."
Neal looked surprised, then guilty, and then began to sneak away. Suddenly, Eli's hand closed over her wrist.
"That goes double for Bernard Chaffee," he said. Neal pulled away but could not even shake the older man's arm.
Eli released him, and Neal took a step back, growling as he rubbed his bruised wrist. Then, suddenly, he laughed.
"I do not have to do anything, old man," he said. "Look!"
Eli turned around, and Gavin turned around, and he managed to capture the moment Bernie's self-control failed.
He had clearly been trying to have a conversation with one of the girls, but others had gathered around him, perhaps reassured by his calmness. They were curious. Later, Gavin would forgive them, but now they squeezed together, trying to hear, and Gavin could see that everything was getting too much for Bernie. The unknown people, the babbling of voices and bodies in movement, the pressure of being at their best, the anxiety of meeting girls. . . Any of these could have pushed Bernard Chaffee to the limit, and now they were all present at once. Father reminded him to keep Bernie's exposure short to strangers, but the problem was that Bernie always seemed fine until that moment when he-
"No!" Bernie moved his drink and champagne sprayed the ones closest to him. "Get away, I can not, I do not want to, I …"
"Aw, no, Bern," said Gavin. He took two steps toward his brother, but this was not really Bernie, just a robotic actor who faithfully performed a drama to which Gavin was not invited.
He ran out of the laundry room and through the dark room, and put his hand on the door of the real ballroom. He could hear Bernie's terrified voice through the thick wood of the door.
It was not too late. He knew what to do, the words he had to say to get Bernie away and calm him down again. He knew how to do it. But he could not enter there.
If he did, everyone would know that Martin Chaffee was harboring an illegal visitor. That was not necessarily a capital crime, but the father had always acted as if Gavin's case were different. There was some terrible reason for him to remain hidden there, and that reason prevailed over all other considerations.
He released the knob but pressed his ear towards the door.
"All right, Bernard, son," the father was saying in a soothing tone. Did not he know it never worked? "Excuse me, everyone," he said in a stronger tone. "I'm afraid everything was too much for Bernard."
Do not talk about him as if he were not there! Gavin raised his fists, and although he would never really hit him, no, Bernie's father by the head, Gavin made the gesture here in the safety of darkness.
Bernard is not stupid, he's as smart as you! That's why he's so frustrated.
You can not think of a brain injury. Gavin had seen Bernie try, many times. He knew perfectly well how he should behave; it was simply that he literally did not have to do it in him.
Bernie was screaming now, and the guests were muttering. Gavin heard a fluttering sound and imagined Father trying to keep Bernie's threatening fists. He could not summon a bot to subdue his own son, that kind of thing simply was not done. He was going to be beaten.
Gavin opened the door.
Everything was exactly as I had imagined it. Bernie was bigger than Martin Chaffee, and had just received a revolving blow that had shaken my father. Some of the guests stayed in a semicircle, surprised by the scene, while others went to the door.
"Wait, wait," the father shouted behind them. "It's okay, he's just nervous."
"Can we help?" Two young people with big shoulders (more Makhavs, perhaps?) Took a step forward. They seemed eager to face Bernie, but Eli Makhav moved surprisingly fast, putting himself between them and Gavin's brother.
"This is a family affair," he said. "Rest well."
Gavin saw Neal Makhav. He was standing near one of the large glass doors that led outside, arms folded, a contemptuous smile on his face.
No one had seen Gavin yet, and when one face turned towards him, it was from his father. When he saw Gavin, his eyes widened and his face flickered through a whole series of emotions: fury, shame, resignation. Right there, in a second, Gavin read the last sixteen years of Martin Chaffee's life. Then, father lifted his chin in an unmistakable gesture: Come back!
Gavin entered the shaded room and closed the door. Through the curtained windows on the right, I could hear someone laughing in the front yard. It was not a pleasant laugh.
It took Bernie ten minutes to calm down enough for Dad to get him out of the room. At that time most of the guests had left. Gavin heard his brother and his father come, a storm of arguments and tremulous steps, and then the door burst open and Bernie staggered into the room. He was disheveled and covered with tears in the light of the ballroom.
Martin Chaffee collapsed against the door like a broken doll, his face empty of expression. Gavin went to him and said, "Go," pointing to the door. "Save what you can". The Makhavs were still there, along with other unconditional friends who knew Bernie from before the accident. They would help his father recover some of his shattered dignity.
Martin nodded wearily and left. Gavin turned to Bernie.
"It happened," Bernie said. He slammed his fists against his temples, not softly. "Again, again, again, it's always going to happen, I can not stop it."
This threatened to be a repetition of thousands of similar conversations. Gavin had tried so many ways to deflate Bernie's self-pity and none had worked. Suddenly, tired of trying, he laughed without humor and said: "And why should you?"
Bernie blinked at him. "What?"
"Well, it's your problem if you can not deal with yourself." He threw a hand to indicate the curtains and the gardens beyond, where the airplanes as light confections were taking off. "Do you really want to be friends with someone who can not accept you for what you are?"
Bernie seemed lost as to how to answer that. Finally, he went to sit in an upholstered leather chair under the portrait of one of his ancestors. Douglas Penn-de-Chaffee seemed to look disapprovingly at Bernie; Gavin was convinced that Bernie was aware of this effect and sat there specifically to cause it.
He looked at Gavin. "Then, why do we try?"
Gavin crossed his arms. "Because your true friends are somewhere, they have to be, but we're not going to find them if we do not look."
"Do you have to be?" Bernie growled contemptuously. "There are only a million people around the world, it took more than a billion before there could be a Picasso."
"You do not have to be great to like it, Bernie."
"Something is needed". Bernie was no longer looking at him, and Gavin, embarrassed, went to the window to remove the curtain. Sometimes, Bernie's intelligence scared even Gavin, and he knew Bernie all his life. Family needed, he thought to himself, but that was useless because the Chaffees were not like the Makhavs. There were almost a hundred Makhavs, wayward, fighting, mutually suspicious, even if they could be. But here, there was only Martin Chaffee and his children, one of whom should not exist, and one who did not want to.
Neither of them said anything for a long time. Everything they had said to each other hung in the air between them. One of the things that Bernie had said, and more than once was, "I should have died." Gavin's answer to that was always the same: "But then I would be alone." A thin argument, but sometimes it was all I had.
There was a courteous knock on the door and a bot opened it. "The last guests are gone, gentlemen," he said.
Gavin left the room, then looked back. Bernie had not moved. "Are you going to sit in the dark?" He asked.
"Yes," Bernie said. There was no anger or sullenness in the way he said it; his voice sounded almost like he was laughing. Gavin sighed and finally remembered the fakes in the other room. He practically ran back to the laundry room to fire them before the father or Bernie found them.
Back in the ballroom, the father was slumped in an armchair, stirring the red wine in a glass and pressing a cold cloth against his cheekbone. Martin was forming a bruise around Martin Penn-de-Chaffee's left eye. Two bots floated in the background, eager to provide assistance. He ignored them, but he glanced at Gavin as he leaned on the arm of a nearby velvet couch.
Neither spoke, and a few minutes later, Bernie left the room. He was also subdued, but he approached his father and said: "I've been thinking about it."
He let out a deep sigh. "I think it's time for Plan B."
His father closed his eyes, an expression of such pain that Gavin jumped from his pigeon. "What he said." What is Plan B? "
Father and Bernie looked at each other, then both turned to look at Gavin in silence, the expression on their faces almost identical, eloquent and Sorry, but Gavin did not know what it meant.
"Tell me," Gavin insisted.
"Not now," said the father, looking at Bernie. "We'll talk about that in the morning. We are all a little too much. . . ragged . right now. "
Gavin looked from one to another." But what- "
" In the morning. It's an order, "Martin said directly to Bernie, Bernie lowered his head and walked away.
" Go to bed, Gavin, "said his father, and Gavin moved from one foot to the other, wondering if he should press the problem. However, he was so tired and so many things had happened, finally, he nodded just like Bernie and went to his room, where images and bits of conversation from the night went round and round in his head for what seemed like hours , challenging the dream.