In this excerpt, amphibious siblings from the planet Gilhoo are on their way to question a woman from the planet Llannonn who has been mistakenly transported to the spaceship in place of Bel, who is missing on the planet. Tetra never uses contractions, because she’s found that humans tend to believe everything said by people who don’t use contractions.
“But, Tetra,” said Quatro Petrie. “Don’t you think you should have cleared it with the Captain before you told me all this? Sensitive, highly classified information–”
Ordinarily, Tetra refrained from interrupting Quatro’s speeches, preferring to let him drone on while she employed the time with thoughts of her own. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and she interrupted him now.
“Do you know what the students call you, Quatro? What everyone calls you, since someone came up with it in the corridor one day?”
“I’m not interested in the feeble jests of the semiliterate.”
After a step or two, Quatro asked, “What do they call me?”
“Pete the Clam,” said Tetra. “Because of your reticence. It is legendary. The Captain would not object to my telling you something she does not want spread around. And your assistance is required, not to say essential. Now, just do as I instructed you, and then you can get back to your cross-sectioning.”
The Gilhoolies were in sick bay. Tetra had dragooned Quatro immediately after leaving Captain Fazzaria in Clubroom locus B15.
“Dragooned” was the appropriate word: Tetra had taken Quatro to sick bay by way of the commissary. There, she had picked up two yards of gold bric-a-brac and a tube of quick-dry glue. Behind the closed doors of Dr. Vlador Frazni’s office, she had cut the bric-a-brac into strips of various lengths and glued the lengths to Quatro’s clothing.
“Remember,” she said. “Very soft-spoken. Very gentle. Restrained.”
“Should I smile?”
Quatro had a smile, which he practiced in front of a mirror, and used in the classroom when pointing out pupils’ deficiencies and flaws. He labored under the delusion that it put the students at ease.
Tetra had seen this smile, and had seen young persons whom it had stricken. “By all means,” she said.
Now she led Quatro to the quarantine rooms. She gave Batista his lines and had him change places with Antonioni.
Inside Freldt’s quarantine room, Batista pretended to wipe a dew of fear from his brow.
“I pity you,” he said.
Freldt looked up from her discviewer. She put the show on pause and took the translation plug out of her ear. She needed a break just now: Bambi stood at the edge the Big Meadow for the first time and the tension was nearly unbearable.
“The Captain has some questions and she wants some answers for them,” Batista said.
“No response,” Freldt said. “Don’t ask.”
“I’m not asking. It isn’t my job to ask. Asking is somebody else’s job.”
The door opened, and Quatro came in dressed in khaki trousers, now with gold bric-a-brac down the outside seams, and a red turtleneck, now with gold trim around the neck and cuffs. He wore his favorite off-duty wig, one of short curls the color of weak apple-cinnamon tea. It set off the blue-green of his eyes, though he would have eaten worms before admitting such a thought ever occurred to him.
Batista shrank from him. “Quatro!”
“Leave the room,” said Quatro, very soft-spoken, very gentle, restrained.
“Your orders are to leave the room, Ven,” said Quatro.
“Now leave, before I take the trouble to remember your name.” Quatro was no actor, and he spoke without inflection. The effect was chilling.
“She isn’t to be left alone.”
“But she won’t be alone, will she? I’ll be here to keep her company. I’m sure we’ll find something to occupy our time.”
And he smiled.
Batista left the room.
“No response,” said Freldt, with considerably less emphasis than before. “Don’t ask.”
Quatro only looked at her.
Freldt felt cold sweat popping out in places no sweat of any temperature had ever popped before.
“The Captain thinks you don’t answer our questions because you don’t understand Allesesperanto,” Quatro said. “Do you understand Allesesperanto?”
“Of course I do.”
“Good. I hate it when I get impatient with someone, and lose my temper, and then find out they simply didn’t understand the question. Especially when it’s too late for me to apologize.”
He crossed the room to Freldt and took the discviewer control out of her hand. She gave it up to him, avoiding his touch and scrunching away from him into the corner of her bed. He pressed a button, and the viewscreen went dark.
“A sad show,” Quatro said. “They kill his Mother.”
WRITING PROMPT: An innocuous character has to intimidate someone.