623. Hanging a Shotgun on the Wall

They call it foreshadowing, or sometimes hanging a shotgun on the wall. That’s from the old mystery novel rule, “If you hang a shotgun on the wall in chapter one, you had better shoot somebody with it by chapter three.”

You want to let your reader know what is about to happen, but not too much, and you don’t want to bore him in the process. It really isn’t easy. The 648 word prolog-as-teaser at the bottom of this post took me three days to get just right, and that was after I was already 12,000 words into Dreamsinger.

Time will tell if it actually gets used. I needed to give my reader a small look at family life on Home Station and tease him about the mystery of the exiles, without making it look too ordinary or too outré.

=============

During the 115th year of the escape from Earth, Antrim was decanted. Four others had preceded him and three followed, all so close together that they shared a birthdae.

For a while, Antrim’s world was smelly, wet, loud, and untidy, full of strange hands and faces. Eight new babies and a rotating cadre of adults occupied Natal Intensive. Slowly the frequency of feedings and the incidence of fecal outflow slowed and soon only Ma and Da remained with the eight new children. Finally the spray hoses were removed, the floor drains were sealed, and the newbies were introduced to their first ferds.

There had once been a different name for them, but since the computer categorized them as Fecal Emission Retention Devices, they were now called ferds.

There also used to be a word for a group of young humans raised together by an adult male and female, but that word was out of fashion by 2242. Antrim and his seven sibs were Socialization Group number 1352.

Never mind that. They fought, hugged, smiled, frowned, screamed, sulked, and bonded with one another. They were a family, even though no one used the word.

Ma and Da actually had names, although the children didn’t learn them until much later, and they were unrelated to their kinder. They had high ma-pa-ternal indexes, and that was all that mattered.

For their first seven years, the children lived in their crèche and did not interact with the outer world. Da and Ma provided them with their education, aided by the central computer. It seemed normal to be a society of ten, since they had never known anything else.

They knew that at age eight they would join with three other socialization groups to become a schooling group. At age fourteen, they would begin to interact with the rest of Home Station.

Most of the adults on Home Station had never seen a child younger than fourteen, and did not want to. That also seemed normal. For now, eight children and two adults seemed just right.

Da taught history, mostly the history of their own small group of refugees, but also enough of Old Earth history to know why they had fled. Ma taught science and math.

When Antrim was six, they learned the planets. The computer provided a holograph in the center of the crèche with Sirius A in the center, Forge next out, then the broken cluster of planetoids called The Swarm, then Stormking, and finally Bifrost. Home Station was there, endlessly circling Stormking. Sirius B, various asteroid belts, and the other fourteen planets were missing from this first lesson.

Tril asked to see the surface of Stormking and the computer obliged. A three-D holograph filled the center of the room with a surging hellscape of rain and storm, but comp had made a mistake. This was not a censored version for an elementary lesson but a real-time display complete with struggling, nearly naked humans being battered by Stormking’s winds.

A sharp command from Ma cut it off and Mosh said, “Those were people. Why were there people on Stormking?” Ma refused to answer.

A few daes later, Antrim got Da aside and asked the same question. Da usually answered the questions Ma wouldn’t, but this time he was evasive. Antrim persisted, and Da finally said, “They are being punished.”

“For what? What did they do that got them into that much trouble?”

Da shook his head, and when it was evident that Antrim planned to persist, he said, “Stop asking. I’m not allowed to answer.”

“Why?”

“If I tell you, they will take me away from you.”

That put a stop even to Antrim’s curiosity. Then Da said, “If you still want to know when you are grown, come and ask me then.”

=============

One page later, Antrim is twenty years old and his question to Da has not yet been satisfactorily answered. It will guide his life and the novel Dreamsinger as he chooses to study the exiles by living among them.

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