Today’s sample is from MY NEW BOOK, FORCE OF HABIT — MUCH REJOICING!!1!
In this scene Bel Schuster, who has gone off-limits and gotten herself kidnapped by a criminal who thinks she’s a VIP he can trade for amnesty, has called her co-worker, Tetra Petrie. Tetra Petrie, a native of the planet Gilhoo, has trained herself to talk without using contractions because she observed that humans implicitly trust people who don’t use contractions. Quatro is her brother. Captain Joan Fazzaria is known as “Jinx” because bad luck trails her like magnetic mines after a starship. Harry Chestney is all about action. Wotan Hessaphess is all about free drinks. Donna Meichi is the communications officer. It’s that kind of book.
The connection ended.
Jinx raised Donna Meichi. “Any luck locating the call’s origin?”
“Negative, Captain. It came from Council City, but the call was too brief to get a bead on.”
“Thank you, Ven Meichi. We expect another such call. Stand by to boost sensor power and engage locus lock-on.”
Silence fell in Conference Room B15.
After a moment, Jinx prompted them. “Anyone?”
“Peanut butter,” said Hessaphess. “On her star charts.”
“On the contrary,” said Quatro. His recent foray into duplicity had whetted in him a hitherto unsuspected appetite for it. “She was sending us a somewhat heavyhanded message saying she’s in trouble.”
“We know she’s in trouble,” the Captain pointed out gently. “If we hadn’t known it already, her calling from offlimits would have given us a subtle clue, don’t you think? Not to mention the fairly straightforward text of her prepared statement and the presence of an apparent captor.”
Quatro’s face took on a pinched look, the corners of his mouth turned sharply down, which Tetra knew meant he had been touched on the raw.
“Captain,” she said, “I believe Quatro is correct. We are missing a subtlety which he has observed. Since it is obvious Ven Schuster is in trouble, why did she call our attention to an overlying peculiarity about the call?”
“Peanut butter,” Hessaphess muttered, and chuckled.
Quatro nodded. “She wanted us to look more closely at her prepared statement,” he said, his confidence restored. “Depend upon it, there’s a message hidden there.”
“Let’s all get out our decoder rings,” said Hessaphess.
Jinx simply turned to him, saying nothing, but drumming the tips of her bitten nails on the table.
“May I ask the computer to give us transcriptions?” Tetra’s finger rested on the print button.
“Excellent idea,” said Fazzaria.
“Captain,” said Chestney. “Request permission to call up a Security squad to transfer to Ven Schuster’s locus as soon as it’s determined. We could have her liberated and back aboard ship before the natives know she’s raised us.”
“Permission denied,” said Jinx. “Ven Chestney, you will oblige me by suppressing your desire to storm the fortress before we’ve established the existence of one.”
Harry ducked his head with the half-flattered chagrin of one certain everybody else secretly admired his impetuosity.
When each member of the Crisis Team had a copy of the contact transcript, Tetra said, “I believe Quatro is right. Ven Schuster wanted us to examine the prepared statement more closely. That is why she signed it as she did, and why she included the signature with a verbal transmission. ‘I.S.’ Her initials, of course, and ‘Rosettastone,’ to indicate a code. And that,” she said to the Captain with a dizzying rush of relief, “is why she called me, specifically. Because I am faculty sponsor of the Rosettastones, and would be the person most likely to recognize the indication.”
“She reckoned without me,” said Quatro.
“Thank you, Mr. Bond,” said Tetra, but Quatro was too engrossed in the problem to hear her.
“She wouldn’t have had time to come up with something elaborate,” said Dr. Frazni. “Especially if, as she says in the text, she was ‘knocked silly.’ I’m inclined to believe the words of the text are, on the surface, accurate. After all, her captor would know if they weren’t.”
“Good thinking,” said Jinx. “The word choice sounds a little stilted, though. ‘Now the wonderful exotic little vacation’s exploded.’ ‘Exploded’? ‘Identity nears nonexistence’?”
Tetra took a mechanical pencil from the pocket of her sweatpants and marked some of the message’s letters. “Well, I will be a monkey’s uncle,” she said. “You have hit upon the key, Captain.”
“She chose her words partly for their surface accuracy, but also for their initial letters.” Tetra read from her paper, “‘Ten twelve blocks from Inn.’ Ven Schuster has not only told us what happened to her, but her general location. She is within a ten-to-twelve-block radius from Jok’rel’s.” Jinx raised ComSpec Meichi again and told her how far too narrow her next scan.
“Shall I collect a squad now, Captain?” Chestney halfrose.
“When I want you to collect a squad,” said the Captain, “I’ll ask you to collect a squad. I want to know where Schuster is. I may not be able to use the information, but I want to have it. In the meantime, we need to clear and secure the Inn.”
“We’re bowing to the Stokk’s demands?”
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” said Jinx, “since he demands we do what we were about to do anyway.”
“In effect. Ven Petrie, prepare to transfer to Jok’rel’s. I’ll have Faline Mahoud cut a credit voucher for… How much do you estimate twelve hours of our custom would have been worth? Anyone?”
Quatro scratched figures on his transcript. “Twelve in the party…less one, because Hessaphess never spends his own money…times twelve hours…times what Tetra spent on Riga…less two hours and fifteen minutes…. Approximately 340 credit units, Captain.”
“Three hun–” She cocked an eye at Tetra.
“Moderate, Captain,” Tetra said. “My expenditure on Riga was, as ever, moderate.”
Jinx raised Commissariat Faline Mahoud. “Cut me a credit voucher payable to Jok’rel’s Traveler’s Rest Inn,” she said. “For 340…. Better make it an even 350 credit units. Send it to locus B15 for signature and dispersal.”
“And prepare the paymaster to deduct it, five credits per packet, from Wotan Hessaphess’ pay.”
FORCE OF HABIT is available for a mere $2.99 in many fine electronic formats at Smashwords and OmniLit. Your patronage is much appreciated. Don’t forget to enter the contest to win this or another of my eBooks, a MomGoth’s Sweet Little Baby Angels pin or your name in a short story.
WRITING PROMPT: Would your main character be good as solving a cryptogram? Why or why not?