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Out Of Character Alert / Literature

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  • Animorphs:
    • In The Capture, when Jake is infested by a Yeerk, Ax suspects him, because, after falling headfirst into the pool full of yeerks, he is zoning out, which is a telltale sign of a first-time Controller. The others are initially sceptical but are convinced when Ax tries to touch "Jake", causing him to scream "Get your hand off me, Andalite filth!"
    • This actually continues a bit more, when the others force him to hide in an abandoned cabin until his Yeerk starves to death, with Ax planning to morph Jake around his family. As "Jake" continues to object, the others note that the real Jake would certainly be annoyed with this whole situation, but by now would be trying to coach Ax in how to act like him, lest his family figure out the truth.
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    • That particular Yeerk seems to be a Bad Liar; he was also Tom's original Yeerk, but acted so unlike him that it only took Marco one conversation to figure out that he was Not Himself.
  • John Birmingham's Axis of Time: A temporally-displaced multinational fleet from 2021 and the US Pacific Fleet of 1941 have just engaged in battle by accident, and are trying to sort out the situation. One of the 1941 sailors volunteers to go over to the future fleet, and arranges a duress signal with his superiors by suggesting "My sainted mother taught me never to swear, so if anything is wrong, I could slip in a fucking profanity, sir."
  • In The Bet's On, Lizzie Bingman, the titular character is kidnapped because she witnessed a murder. While she's leaving with the murderer she manages to alert her friend because she mentions her sisters: Lizzie only had brothers.
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  • Detective Elijah Baley is informed that his wife Jessie is a member of a criminal organization in The Caves of Steel. He knows it is a lie because her name is given as Jezebel, a name she never uses.
  • In A Certain Magical Index crossover novella, an evil "shadow" of Kyousuke Shiroyama summons the White Queen to fight alongside him. The real Kyousuke hates her, and goes to great lengths to avoid her getting involved in his life.
  • Agatha Christie:
    • In the short story "The Adventure of the Sinister Stranger" uses a Homage to the now-obscure Oakwood Brothers stories by Valentine Williams. When Tommy announces he is going to "walk into a trap with my eyes open", Tuppence says that this is exactly what happens in the stories when Desmond Oakwood blunders into something and needs Francis to rescue him. Tommy subsequently signs a letter asking Tuppence to return to the agency "Francis", to signal that he's done precisely that.
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    • In The Secret Adversary, Tommy realises that a message sent to him from Tuppence is not actually from her, as it is signed "Twopence".
      • Even worse, only one Character hasn't seen her name spelled out so Tommy immediately figures out who the mastermind is (with the help of the other suspect he now knows is innocent)
    • Also used in the novel The Man in the Brown Suit. After Anne is lured into a trap by a note allegedly sent by Harry, she and Harry decide that in all future written communication, they will only refer to each other by pseudonyms. Later, Anne is kidnapped and forced to write Harry a note which will lead him into a trap. When she signs it with her real name instead of the agreed-upon pseudonym, Harry recognizes that the note is a fake and that Anne is in trouble.
    • This also shows up in "The Flock of Geryon," one of the twelve short stories in The Labours of Hercules. The "flock" of the title is a religious cult that has been connected to the deaths of three elderly ladies; Hercule Poirot teams up with Amy Carnaby, an easily flustered but brave middle-aged woman, to solve the crime. Mrs. Carnaby infiltrates the cult and later meets Poirot for tea; at the end of the meal, she abruptly stands up and announces that she is giving up on their plan, as she has become completely devoted to "the Master" and would do anything for him. Poirot immediately realizes that something is wrong, as Mrs. Carnaby openly stated her utter disdain for the cult at the beginning of the story. It turns out that she recognized that the cult's caretaker was secretly eavesdropping on their conversation from the next table, and she quickly improvised the speech to alert Poirot.
    • Another short story about a woman who realizes her husband is a serial murderer sees her using a phone to call a local friend for help. As her husband is sitting in the next room, she pretends to be calling in an order to the butcher's. She holds the conversation, but only presses down on the phone's receiver switch (which makes the other person unable to hear what she's saying) when relaying information about her situation (e.g. —press— "I need four pork chops"—release—"it's VERY IMPORTANT"—press—"we're having company tomorrow, so it's almost"—release—"a matter of LIFE AND DEATH..."). The woman's husband is slightly suspicious, but she allays his fear by claiming that she was just being melodramatic to get results.
  • In the Alistair Maclean spy novel The Dark Crusader (also known as The Black Shrike) the hero includes the nonsense word 'Bilex' in all communications with headquarters, to show that he is not sending under duress. When he is captured, the bad guys tell him that they have sent a message assuring HQ that all is well. At the end of the book he realises that either this message (minus the safety word) was never sent or it was ignored by his superior. Either way, it proved that the superior was actually in league with the bad guys.
  • Discworld: While Magrat is hiding from vampires in Carpe Jugulum, "Nanny Ogg" speaks to her through the keyhole... and Magrat asks her to tell a particular dirty joke. The voice hesitates and says that now isn't the time, which alerts Magrat that it's really one of the vampires — so when the vampire tries to come through as steam, it winds up in a jar full of lemons.
  • The Dresden Files: In Blood Rites, after the two of them are captured by the Big Bad, Lord Raith, Murphy calls Harry "Mister Dresden". Raith dismisses it without a second thought, but Harry immediately picks up on it as her intentionally playing up being helpless, as it went against both the nature of their friendship and her strong, assertive personality.
  • In Ender's Game, Ender gets a message that really was written by his sister Val, but he figures out that something is off about it because of how aggressively she inserts personal anecdotes and jokes into the letter in an apparent attempt to prove that it's really her. Ender correctly guesses that she would be much more subtle, so the military must have told her to write it.
  • Clark from Experimental Film is autistic and almost never makes eye contact, which is why his mother is alarmed when he looks right at her as he begs her not to go to the Lake of the North area.
  • The Famous Five:
    • Georgina "George" Kirrin in the first novel is ordered to send a note to two of the gang (another is with her) by some smugglers. She signs it "Georgina", which she would never call herself and gets highly offended when called that.
    • Again with another Enid Blyton story: in "Five Find Outers and Dog" Frederick Algernon "Fatty" Trottville is made to sign a letter by people holding him hostage. He is forced to sign as "Freddie" which makes Bets and them all suspicious.
  • In Fearless, there's a Story Arc where Gaia is being forced to humiliate Ed Fargo. He asks her "You're enjoying this aren't you?" and Gaia answers, "Yes, I like torturing you. Almost as much as I like Lox." In this case, she's doing it deliberately as a secret code (she'd told Ed earlier in the book that she hated Lox).
  • Several characters in Frederick Forsyth books use this when communicating from behind enemy lines. One trick is to always include a line of very slightly misquoted poetry — if a poem's quote is correct, it means he is operating under duress.
  • In Green Rider, a man hides a crucial message in a love letter. He's killed before he can deliver it, but the protagonist, Karigan, passes on the love letter to the messenger's girlfriend. When she gets the letter, she spots some inconsistent details (he misstates the color of her hair; he mentions a brother when he doesn't have one) and mentions it to Karigan, who realizes that the letter contains a coded message.
  • In Diane Duane and Peter Morwood's High Moon, the bad guys fake a message from the protagonists' superior officer to get them out of the way. They're briefly deceived, but then notice that it's signed in a nonstandard way, the routing makes no sense, and most importantly that this message from their cost-focused boss doesn't say a thing about the expensive reward they just authorized.
  • Honor Harrington: Towards the end of On Basilisk Station, Honor begins to suspect something fishy going on with a Havenite flagged freighter, the Sirius, that's been orbiting Basilisk since she got there. It's ostensibly waiting for parts for its Warshawski sails, but Honor's crew notice its impeller nodes are active, and have been the entire time, meaning it could quickly bring up its impellers and get under way, but would also increase wear on the nodes themselves, not something a freighter captain would normally do, but it is something a warship captain might do. Sirius turns out to be a Q-ship, a warship disguised as a freighter.
    • Done visually and deliberately in an short story concerning a Solarian tech forced by a Havenite State Security crew to assist them in pretending to by a Manticoran warship. As part of the deception, he programs the computer to alter the visuals transmitted by their communication system, so it appears they're wearing Manticoran uniforms and are on the bridge of a fully-staffed warship, with CGI "extras" in the background. When they encounter an Andermani warship, it appears the deception is working, only for the Anderman captain to spring a surprise attack that captures the State Sec ship and crew. Among the CGI "extras" was a digital Honor Harrington, wearing a junior officer's uniform. This tipped off the captain because not only did he happen to know Admiral Harrington personally, but Harrington was, at the time, believed by everyone to be dead.
  • Lieutenant Eve Dallas from the In Death series hates being affectionate with her husband in public, especially when she's working. She never uses pet names or overly flowery talk, so when she does, it's her way of telling her husband Roarke something's wrong. Used most recently in Obsession in Death:
    Eve: So you broke my clever code?
    Roarke: "Later, honey?" I should say.
  • In the Jack Reacher novel Tripwire, his girlfriend has been captured and been ordered to lure him into a trap. She calls him up and opens the conversation with "Hi, Jack". The point is that the main character is always called Reacher, by everyone including his mother when he was very young, and no one ever uses his first name. The coincidence of "Hi, Jack" and "hijack" only makes it more convincing that this is indeed a trap.
  • In Jennifer the Jerk Is Missing, there is an unusual variant of this. To find out if Jennifer-the-Jerk Smith made it to camp or was kidnapped before reaching it, the protagonist, Amy, calls the camp to see if Jennifer Smith arrived. She's told that yes, Jennifer Smith did indeed arrive, and she's a very pleasant and charming girl. Malcolm, the kid who suspected the kidnapping in the first place, immediately recognizes that Jennifer-the-Jerk Smith is neither pleasant nor charming, and therefore the girl that arrived couldn't have been her. (She wasn't.)
  • In the Joe Pickett novel In Plain Sight, Sheridan does this after she and her sister Lucy are kidnapped and she is forced to call her mother to say that she and Lucy are going to a friend's place after school. She does so by saying that Lucy can't talk because her mouth is full because she is eating her lunch early as she always does (Lucy refuses to eat and usually brings most of her lunch home with her) and that she is calling on her cell phone (Sheridan doesn't have a cell phone).
  • In the second Lady Grace mystery, Lady Sarah is abducted by a sea captain, and alerts Grace — or anyone — who can help with a message passed by a commoner that she sends her love to "Lady Jane, my dearest friend". The two young women hate each other with a passion, and so Grace and Masu are off to the rescue in a trice.
  • Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography features a long and poignant letter written by the Duchess R to Lemony Snicket. He immediately lambasts the numerous errors she would never have made. Or, errors she might have made as a coded signal that all was not well. Or, errors she might have made due to disruptions in her training which were caused by constant moving of the V.F.D. Headquarters.
  • In the Lionboy series, the main character knows his parents are in trouble because their letter to him is written the way an adult talks to a child, while his parents always talk to him like he was older. He and his parents use this in all their communications throughout the series.
  • In one Maximum Ride book, a clone of Max tries to take her place. The kids realize something is up when she offers to cook (as Max is a Lethal Chef and leaves the cooking to Iggy), and when she expresses surprise that Iggy would know his way around considering that he's blind. Of course, Angel can read minds, too, which the clone has no clue of, so she knew right away.
  • In a Nancy Drew book, a young woman on the phone with Nancy asks her to "tell Ned I'll see him at the big rally on Monday". There is no rally on Monday — the girl is trying to tell Nancy and Ned that she's in trouble. Unfortunately, Nancy doesn't realize this and thinks the girl is trying to say she's okay, and as such, doesn't relay the message to Ned...
  • One of these is part of what kicks off the plot in Reconstructing Amelia. The official report of the titular Amelia's death is that she was caught cheating on an English paper by submitting a plagiarized paper from the Internet, which spurned her into an impulsive suicide. Her mother Kate, however, never quite buys into this story, despite a lot of the evidence pointing that way, because Amelia would never cheat — especially not on an English paper. When she receives an anonymous text telling her Amelia didn't actually kill herself, she begins investigating her daughter's death. She's right — Amelia was actually pushed, and the so-called cheating was actually a Frame-Up. Kate finds her real paper and uses it to clear Amelia's name.
  • In the Tom Clancy/Larry Bond novel Red Storm Rising, Air Force weatherman Mike Edwards, stranded on occupied Iceland and radioing NATO everything he sees, is given a Duress Code. Played with in that he nearly says it by mistake. (If captured and made to phone in phony reports, he is supposed to preface the message with "Beagle Calling Doghouse, things are going great.)
  • In the Op Center novel Games of State, a character is forced to send a message back to their Mission Control as part of the villains' plan. As is explained later, he had a pre-existing arrangement where every message he sent would include either a smiley facenote  or a frownie facenote  depending on whether he was fine or under duress. In this case, it is treated as a characteristic bit of paranoia that had eventually paid off, rather than anything that an agent would normally do.
  • In the Rugrats novel Prince Chuckie, Tommy and the other Rugrats are able to determine that Chuckie has been swapped with a young prince who looks exactly like him when they realize that he's doing things that Chuckie would never do, as well as the fact that he's lacking the scars that Chuckie had received prior to the novel.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events presents a written variant in the third book. The trio's Grammar Nazi auntie leaves them what looked like a suicide note, but was filled with mistakes, leading them to deduce that it was written under duress and contained some hidden message. Which it did: the letters involved in the misspelled and malformed words spelled out where she was actually hiding.
  • In the science fiction novel Sewer, Gas & Electric, one of the main characters (a parody of Ayn Rand's heroes) is forced to play a twisted computer game against a robot double of himself, with his parents' lives at stake. When his ex-girlfriend charges in with a gun to rescue him, the fake jumped up and acted relieved, whereupon she gunned it down. The real one was so absorbed in the game that he didn't even notice any of this until several turns later, when he realized his opponent hadn't made any moves.
  • Shades of Magic: In A Darker Shade of Magic, a villain tries to get the drop on Kell by magically disguising herself as Lila, only for Kell to immediately stab her. He later tells Lila he knew it wasn't really her because the villain used the word "please".
  • Star Trek Novel Verse:
    • In Imzadi, a future Data trying to preserve the timeline by any means necessary (including killing Deanna Troi) disables present Data and impersonates him long enough to get Deanna away from everyone else. However, present day Riker eventually realizes that he can't be present Data because he used contractions when talking to her.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In Han Solo's Revenge when Han and Chewie were to make a smuggling drop, if during the meeting Han did not try and signal Chewie (who was overseeing the proceedings back in the cockpit of the Falcon) then something had gone wrong with the drop.
    • In one of the Wraith Squadron books, Face, undercover as a stormtrooper so as to steal TIE fighters for their pirate facade, has to speak the password to the supervisor (because the on-duty officer who knows the password can't say it or it would reveal something was wrong, and the one who was supposed to say it was killed during the break-in). He gets away with it thanks to his acting skills and the static disguising his voice... until he makes the mistake of referring (out of habit) to the TIE fighters as "eyeballs" (New Republic slang). He tries to salvage it by claiming it was a joke, to no avail.
  • Tell Me How You Really Feel: Sana generally dislikes swearing, and tells people not to. When she swears herself, it tips off her cheerleader squad mates she is very pissed off.
  • Time Machine Series: The Mystery of Atlantis: If you try and tell a suspicious Athens city guard that you are a Scyth, he will promptly quiz you on a piece of Scythian culture (since he is a Scyth himself.) You fail ("What does a Scyth warrior keep tied to his horse's bridle?" No, not flowers. The scalps of his enemies), at which point he decides you're a runaway slave.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: In Mirror Dance, Bel Thorne suspects that the "Admiral Naismith" who just boarded the ship is really Mark and not Miles, and confirms it by referring to Mark as Miles's clone in conversation. The real Miles always refers to Mark as his brother and corrects anyone who says otherwise, but Mark doesn't know this and lets it slide.
  • In Dorothy Eden's mystery novel Waiting for Willa, Grace travels from the U.S. to Sweden to help her cousin Willa when the latter sends a message signed with her given name, Wilhelmina. Not only does Willa hate her given name and usually refuse to use it, but also the signature is a danger signal she and Grace had worked out some time before. When the kidnapped Willa's captors make her send another message to Grace, assuring Grace that she's all right, Willa signs the second message "Wilhelmina" as well. This makes Grace even more suspicious.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In Gaunt's Ghosts, the resistance on Chaos-occupied Geron respond to the code phrase "Geron survives" with "Despite their efforts" normally, while under duress they say "Even though it dies."
  • In Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, the students' voices are stolen by evil substitute teacher Mr. Gorf; when lunch lady Miss Mush asks how the class is doing from outside the door, Mr. Gorf tries to trick her by using the voices of the students to say that everything is okay, even successfully improvising a lie about a field trip when he realizes he missed one of them. Miss Mush figures out something is wrong, though, when the voice of Kathy, the meanest student in the class says "Have a nice day!" This ends up being a parody, as not only does she figure out that something is wrong from this, she somehow figures out exactly what inconceivably bizarre trouble they're in (that a three-nostrilled man was sucking their voices into his nose) and how to save the day. Just from someone being out of character.
  • In World War Z the Chinese doctor who encountered one of the first victims of the zombie plague had a friend working in the government. This friend was an eternal pessimist; no matter the situation, he'd always assume it was going to get worse. When the doctor tells his friend about the victim over the phone the friend says, "Don't worry. Everything's going to be all right." That's when the doctor knew that things were really bad.
  • In Worm, one of these acts as a Wham Line in Chapter 14.8, when Bonesaw is pretending to be Tattletale in order to gain Skitter's trust.


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