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Unidentified Frailing Object

Copyright 1983 by Bruce Jaeger. All rights reserved.
Published December 1983 in MBOTMA’s "Inside Bluegrass"


Yrggg and Orflett, Musical Scouts from the planetary system Symphonaan, moored their space cruiser near the third planet from the star called "Sun."

"Not much to look at, is it?" remarked Yrggg, waving his antennae to add emphasis to his remark.

"Nope," agreed Orflett. "Of course, blue and green planets always have done something to my gizzard. Even after all these years in the Service, I just can't get used to them."

"Me either!" Yrggg turned off the viewscreen. "Give me the purple and maroon of the old home place any time!" He paused to look at his wristwatch, still kind of marveling at how they could make just a tattoo tell time like that.

"Look, Orflett, let's hurry up this last survey and go home. I haven't seen my youngest kid since he was just a bud."

"Suits me!" replied Orflett. "I've got someone waiting for me, too. Only nine feet tall, short fuzzy green hair, and a nose you can dial a telephone with!"

"Sounds like quite a dish! Okay, I'm taking us down!" Yrggg took the ship out of "park" and dropped down to atmospheric level. Setting the cruise control for 350,000 feet, he pulled out the Planetary Bluebook and began reading.

"Let's see. Sirius sector . . . Sun (Solar System) . . . ah! Planet #3! It's called ‘Earth.' Get this, Orflett! ‘Earth' means ‘dirt' in their language! I bet we're wasting our time looking for unique musical forms here!"

"Oh, l don't know, said Orflett. "Remember the planet Dogfood, in the Sicksack System? Who'd ever have thought that the latest galactic musical craze would come from there?"

Yrggg thought a moment. "You know, I guess you're right, although I never personally cared much for Symphonic Belching. But it sure caught on with the young ones!"

"Tell me about it. I have a younger brother that was as fine a crystal player as you ever heard. But he dropped it cold to become a Bass Burper. Just as we were leaving, he busted his goiter from practicing too hard!"

"Well, old pal, maybe we'll find something here on Earth that will replace all that." Yrggg picked a major metropolitan area at random, shifted the ship into Invisible, and landed on the outskirts of the city, just as night was approaching.

Working together, Yrggg and Orflett translated the ship's floater to look like one of the native ground cars, then donned their Cheater Helmets, a very practical device that made any human looking at them forget to notice that the pair of Music Scouts were over ten feet tall, and looked like a bad dream after a night of eating candied fish livers.

Yrggg drove towards town as dusk approached, stopping the floater at the first newspaper machine he saw. Orflett got out, jimmied the coin mechanism by flattening out a tentacle, and took a paper. They'd been hypno-trained back on Symphonaan to read and speak the major human languages, but the paper was still unreadable, until Orflett realized that not everyone reads from right-to-left from the bottom of the page, and spun the paper around. A section labeled "Music and Entertainment" grabbed their attention.

"Look, Yrggg!" said Orflett, "There's something called a 'Bluegrass' concert tonight!"

"I don't know what that is," said Yrggg, "But it sounds interesting. 'Bluegrass,' huh? Might be some kind of nature ritual. We can make it if we hurry!" He jerked the floater back onto the road, narrowly missing a motorcycle in the process.

"Would you look at that!" shouted Yrggg in amazement. "What a genius that human must be! Imagine maneuvering a machine like that through traffic, while constantly having to recalculate your gyroscopic forces to remain upright!"

"Well, just look at him!" Orflett added. "All the classic signs of superior intelligence! Low forehead . . . greasy, shaggy hair . . . facial blemishes ... If this is your average Earthman, someday they're going to make their mark on the Galaxy! You can bet on it!"

They drove on for another ten local minutes, exclaiming all the while over the many wonders and oddities of the strange planet. Finally, Yrggg announced that they were at the concert hall and stopped. They got out of the floater, and Yrggg programmed it to park itself ten feet in the air.

First making sure that their Cheater Helmet were functioning properly, the Scouts joiner the crowd of people making their way into the auditorium. The hall held about 4000 people tiny sized by Symphonaan standards, but still enough to raise quite a din, Yrggg considered, when they started blowing their noses it appreciation after each selection. Or whatever they did here on Earth. Yrggg and Orflett go front-row seats by minutely adjusting then Cheaters to broadcast a three-foot diameter feeling of Revulsion. They sat down, just as the curtain rose.

Yrggg could barely keep from laughing when he saw what the audience was doing Besides cheering, which was exceedingly rude they were pounding the flats of their forepaw together! But, "Each Race has Its Space," ha remembered, and he and Orflett imitated the humans.

Then the performers came on stage, and Yrggg nearly shed his skin. The instruments! All of them had strings, for gosh sake! First out was a man carrying a wooden box with a round hole near the middle, and six wire stretched across the hole and up a long stick The next performer's instrument had eight thin wires, and was smaller than the first. Instead of a round hole in the middle it had two badly-cut slots at the edges.

Next was something that Yrggg couldn't figure out at all. It looked like a skinnier version of the second instrument, but it only had four strings. And the performer also carried with him a long stick with hair on it. "Quaintly primitive." he whispered to Orflett.

Then came another big wooden box like the first instrument, only the stick holding the wire was squared off, instead of being rounded on the back. But even more distinctive was the shiny round frying pan that formed the center of the instrument. Also on the box were two smaller round holes, filled with bug screen.

Coming on stage behind that was a strange instrument that reminded Yrggg of a poorly constructed drum. At least it had a drum-head of some sort of material stretched over a hoop Again, there was a long stick holding the wires. One of the wires was shorter than the rest, and to make do someone had just pounded a knob into the side of the long stick to make the wire fit.

Last was a gigantic, monstrous affair, kind of a shipping crate with strings. It was nearly as tall as the human struggling to carry it, and that wasn't including the inevitable stick to hold the strings. They weren't wire on this one, but actually looked to be of some animal substance! Yrggg shuddered.

The performers didn't say a word, but walked up to the microphones that were mounted on chrome-plated poles at the edge of the stage. With a nod from the musician holding the drum-on-a-stick, the group launched into its first number. Yrggg and Orflett froze. What a blur of notes! The digital dexterity of these trained Humans was amazing! Too bad it was all such a mash of noise.

Then Yrggg noticed that his foot was tapping the floor every time the man pulled one of

the strings on the biggest instrument. And that the drum-on-a-stick was sending out rhythmic notes in a fashion that suddenly seemed right. The rest of the instruments complemented the leading one by playing in the gaps left by the big ones; the big one would go "boom," then the rest would go "chunk." The effect, noted Yrggg, was absolutely compelling. The human audience was pounding its feet and slamming its paws together in time with the Big One; Yrggg, grinning, pounded his foot and wiggled his ears in his own fashion.

Then the humans sang. Yrggg had heard harmonies sung before, but never, he thought, with this kind of precision and, well, drive. Orflett, overwhelmed, stood and screamed "Space! Is this Great!" Unfortunately, he said it in Symphonaanina, and it came out "Bloiujkrlubb! Sqwueet Fojburkur!" But the humans didn't notice.

Both Scouts were in a state of exhaustion when the concert was over, and kept up a

shameful silence all the way back to the ship. Imagine, thought Yrggg, two seasoned professionals getting worked up like that! "It was pretty good," he admitted out loud.

Orflett looked at him like he was just a bud "Pretty good? Yrggg, we'll make trillions! This is it!"

"Just kidding!" Yrggg checked the galactic date on his wrist. "Okay, we'll stay the summer and go to all those ‘festivals' they talked about We'll record everything we see, and when we get back we'll open up a chain of Bluegrass franchises from Tau Ceti to Tenson!"

"Right!" agreed Orflett excitedly. "I'll star rigging up a Cheater Unit for our cameras, so the humans won't notice . . ."

The two Music Scouts from Symphonaan planned long into the night . . .


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