“Intergalactic Language” — a short story by James E. Guin

July 20th, 2016

“Intergalactic Language,” a short story by James E. Guin, was a finalist in our recently concluded 42nd Short Fiction Contest.  It is published with the permission of the author.







Intergalactic Language

by James E. Guin


      I was playing my weekly gig at Café Reinhardt when Bella, one of the waitresses, whispered in my ear, “They want you out back.”

She had disturbed me from a zone. I had been through all of my arrangements and was improving on the chords to “Minor Swing.”

“They?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. Straight to the point, no small talk, Bella was my kind of gal. In the second it took to place my guitar on my guitar stand a million thoughts circled around in my mind. Did Chad, the drummer, want to borrow money again? Had the musician’s union caught on to the fact I wasn’t paying my dues? Another one of the agent Jimmy’s scams? Groupies? Oh yeah, jazz musicians haven’t had groupies under the age of forty-five since the 1940s.

I stood up, and as Bella was strolling to a table near the front door, she said, “Take your guitar.”

Ah, nothing complicated just someone wanting to test out my chops before a gig. People can be peculiar when it comes to inviting musicians into their home. They want to meet you, form a relationship, and get the feel for the atmosphere you create. They like to know what they are paying for. I placed my guitar in its case and walked through the kitchen.

I opened the back door to the cafe and a tour bus with the engine running was parked across the street. All these eco-friendly vehicles and so many are still running on fossil fuel. With a generic mountain scene painted on the side, it looked like something one of those old bluegrass bands would have toured in. I’ve seen vintage pictures on the Internet. The door opened and a man in a black Armani suite and shades — the whole nine yards — stepped down onto the street. His suit was too new, too nice, and too expensive for him to be a musician. He motioned for me to cross the street.

     This must be something big, I thought.

“Taking me on a tour?” I asked.

“Something like that,” he said.

As I was stepping onto the bus, he said, “After tonight, you will be the most famous musician in the galaxy.”

That was a lame yarn, man. Ever since the Nuages landed people were making space jokes. Nuages — they were from a planet in the Sagittarius Star Cloud, so that was what we called them.

Two suits waited at the top of the stairs. The one on the right motioned for me to follow him and the other one trailed behind. They were making me nervous. I didn’t have anything valuable and no one would go to all of that trouble for a 40,000 credits antique Gitane DG-310 that I got for at a pawnshop for 500 credits. The pawnshop owner had no clue. To me it was priceless, but to the rest of the world holo-screens and virtual sets are current treasures.

The hallway felt like it stretched to about the center of the bus. The suit in front knocked on the door. Someone on the inside opened it. He moved out of the way, motioned for me to step through, and what I saw next was unlike anything I had ever imagined. Two Nuages were levitating about half a meter off of the floor in the back of the room. I had read about them on the Internet, media streams were blowing up about them, and I had watched shows and documentaries on them. Everyone on Earth had. There were three different spacecraft that had landed on Earth passing by on an exploration of the Milky Way.

Like some of the videos I had seen, they sat crossed-legged on some flat, clear glass type of floating plane, but I couldn’t see any equipment that made it levitate. Their skin had a dark pinkish color to it. They had head-tentacles, but the rest of their body was like a female human body — a nice female specimen from our species.

Something was floating in the center of the room. I noticed it only because everything in the room reflected off it.

The one stage-right started humming a melody in major and minor thirds.

“Please sit,” the one stage-left said in perfect anchor-babe English.

She pointed at the floating plane in the center of the room. I laid my guitar case on the floor. Half expecting to fall on my buttocks, I sat on it like you would sit on a ledge or the high rise next to a sidewalk. After I felt I was in a firm sitting position, it adjusted to a comfortable height. An ideal comfortable height like it was reading my mind.

“This is —–,” the one stage-left said.

Trying to repeat the sounds in my mind, I squinted my eyes.

She sensed my confusion and said, “After much training some English speakers could reproduce and recall most of the sounds of my owner’s native language, and yes it is a tonal language.”

“My owner? Are you a slave?” I asked.

“I am equivalent to Artificial Intelligence on Earth,” she said.

As if rehearsed, the A. I. held her arm out and said, “My owner, —–, is female of the species from planet——which is in the Sagittarius Star Cloud near the center of our galaxy which you call the Milky Way. She has traveled 10,400 light years exploring and gathering data on life forms in this galaxy that we share. You have been recommended to us, and we would love to hear your music.”

     Recommended by whom? I thought as I took out my guitar and tuned it.

I have played for governors, the pope, various members of congress, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, and they’re the only ones who would have connections so high up.

What should I play for beings who have traveled 10, 400 light years across the Milky Way: “Nuages” (That would be ironic.), “Night and Day”, “All The Things You Are”, “St. Louis Blues”…Yeah, everyone in the galaxy should know “St. Louis Blues.”  It wasn’t as wild as Django’s, but I began an arrangement of “St. Louis Blues” that I had learned many years ago. I wasn’t nervous. I was freaking out, and I needed a comfort tune. It was straight and stiff, and I kept playing dead notes and making the strings scratch and buzz.

I stopped and all I could cough up was, “I’m sorry.”

The Nuage and the A. I. conversed in their musical language.

“Perhaps you are tired,” the A. I. said.

“No, this is too much for me. I’m just nervous,” I said.

The owner said something that covered at least two octaves.

“It might be helpful to perform music that is meaningful to you,” the A. I. translated.

I thought for a few minutes and then said, “I will improvise for you. That might calm my nerves.”

Faking it has always been my thing.

“In Earth music, what is improvise?” the A. I. asked.

Earthlings have asked me that many times.

“I will make up, create, invent, compose music on the spot.  Right now, I mean,” I said.

The owner said something, but this time the pitches were back to major and minor thirds.

“In our culture only those who are gifted can compose music,” the A. I. translated.

“Well, you could say the same about Earth,” I said and began to collect my thoughts so that I could redeem my prior performance.

After the mess I had just created, my right hand thumb brushing across the strings felt triumphant. So much power in such a small stroke — to most it would appear insignificant, but the precision of the manipulation of sound felt like a miniature universe contained in a sixteenth of a beat. The scale leading from the first chord to the second chord was only a scale, but it fit. An up stroke on the second chord sounded backwards, but would it sound backwards to the Nuages. Maybe their music sounds backwards to us. Their music and our music may be as different as Cecil Taylor and Django Reindhardt. But considering all of the jazz that’s exploded into existence since those two giants, how different are Cecil and Django?

I looked up and saw that she had her eyes closed, listening. The A. I. was staring at me, but her gaze gave me the sense she was listening and enjoying my music. The next three for four minutes were lost in the moment. Scales, chords, melody and accompaniment lost to space and time. All of the fears of this mystifying environment dissipated into music that emerged from an unidentifiable place in my subconscious.

I ended on “the one” and let it ring a full twelve beats. But would that even mean anything to her? Would she feel disjointed or strange?

As soon as I placed my right hand on the strings to finalize the scarcely audible sound to my human ears, she opened her eyes.

With more excitement in her voice than before, a series of pitches rose and fell, crescendo and decrescendo, she made music that was more beautiful than anything I had ever created.

“This music demonstrates a fundamental grasp of physics as well as evoking a wide spectrum of human emotions,” the A. I. translated.

“Thank you. Do you want me to play again so that you can record?” I asked.

“Everything that I see and hear is recorded. It will be viewed when we return,” the A. I. said.

That was an unfathomable thought: my music traveling across the galaxy.

“May I hear music from your planet or other planets where you have traveled?” I asked.

“As unfair as it may seem, we have decided not to share our findings with other species. We do not know what consequences that may convey,” the A. I. said.

She began her musical speech.

“We thank you for your gift and for your time,” the A. I. translated.

From the side, one of the suits appeared in my vision and motioned for me to stand up and leave. The next thing I knew I was rushing through the door and down the hallway. The two suits who had escorted me in were leading me out.

I looked at the original suit and said, “Most famous musician in the galaxy, huh.”

“There will be a sufficient amount of credits in your account for confidentiality and time,” he said.

“Thanks,” I said, not really understanding the full weight of that statement.

He turned around, stepped onto the bus, and a few seconds later they drove off. It was only then that I noticed I had gotten off on the opposite side of the street facing the café. We had driven around the city.

Dazed, I walked though the kitchen of Café Reinhardt and into the front. The place was empty except for a slick couple walking out the front door.  I started gathering my equipment.

“You disappear like that again and Django’s going to call Jean,” Bella said.

Django was the owner, and Jean was this Gypsy Jazz poser who couldn’t play his way out of a paper bag.

“Bella, look, tell Django I’m sorry. That was a huge gig. I don’t expect that type of opportunity to come along again in my lifetime,” I said.

“Well, I hope it was worth it. Django’s furious, but I told him if you go I go,” she said and started stacking chairs on top of the tables.

That Bella’s always looking out for me. My kind of gal.









James E. Guin’s fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion Online Science Fiction Magazine, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, MetroMoms: Metro Fiction, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and Alternate Hilarities Anthology Volume 1. He received an Honorable Mention in the 2nd Quarter of the 2014 L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and second place in Jenny Magazine Speculative Fiction Contest 008. For more about James E. Guin please visit  jameseguin.wordpress.com

Share this:

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Greetings from Portland!

Commentary and photographs concerning the protests taking place in the city in which I live.


Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. 14 poets contribute to the first volume of collected poetry.


photo by Russell duPont
The second volume of poetry reflecting this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season features the work of 23 poets

Short Fiction

photo FDR Presidential Library & Museum
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #54 — “A Failed Artist’s Paradise” by Nathaniel Neil Whelan


Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”


Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Publisher’s Notes

On taking a road trip during the time of COVID...


photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Dexter Gordon, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin are featured


A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .


Michiel Hendryckx / CC BY-SA
"Chet Baker's Grave" is a poem by Freddington


painting of Louis Armstrong by Vakseen
In Dig Wayne's "Iconolast," Louis Armstrong is responsible for saving the lives of every man, woman and child on the ball bearing line at the Radio Flyer wagon factory...


photo by John Vachon/Library of Congress
“Climate Change” — Ten poems in sequence by John Stupp

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”


NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.


Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"


Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #140

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Although he had success as a bandleader in the 1930’s, he is best known for being manager of Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse (where Thelonious Monk was the pianist) during the birth of bebop. Who was he?


photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.


photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...


photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session


photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”


The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive