About The Kulture Vultures
(and the Plot to Steal the Universe)
“Only five people can save the world. But there’s a problem. They’re dead.”
In the black of the cosmos, the Combine rules over entire planetary systems with an iron fist. Having harvested and destroyed the culture of billions upon billions to ensure that they, and only they, are the dominant form of entertainment in the universe, the Combine maintain a monopoly over hearts and minds everywhere with their terrible sitcoms.
Just so happens that the best pirated culture comes from Earth. The human monkeys might not be smart, but damn if they aren’t entertaining. Earth’s biggest fan, a lowly intergalactic cab driver named Zel, joins a few not-so-loyal companions in a race to prevent humanity’s extinction – by resurrecting Earth’s great pulp writers and scientists. The only ones with enough creative craziness to figure out how to stop the Combine.
Zel loved this place.
It had a little bit of everything. A little bit of everything the Combine didn’t want you to have.
The pirate bay was sunk deep into the side of a small asteroid. Its location was perfect for staying off the Combine’s radar. The outpost was a full-service market and dock built into a shell of alloys that shielded it from scanners.
Zel’s cab was made from the same stuff, some new synthetic that allowed him to avoid speeding tickets. He didn’t understand it but, hey, when you’re friendly with The Underground, all sorts of entertaining things come your way. ‘Suped up taxis were just one of them.
Zel said, “The fuck am I supposed to call you, now that we’re all buddy-buddy?”
His passenger, swaying a little, said, “Name’s Sprosty. This place is huge.”
A life-size, pornographic hologram sizzled to life next to Sprosty. The creature that appeared was constructed entirely out of breasts. Yes, breasts, which Zel had come to believe was the organizing point of an Earth religion. It even had sects: Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler and others. The slippery, sliding mound of multicolored mammary glands spoke. “Don’t let genetic modifications get in the way of fun.”
Sprosty’s jaw dropped. “I love it here.”
“Nah, that’s shit,” Zel said. “Probably carrying infections that don’t have a name yet. I’ll show you what’s really great about this place.” He grabbed Sprosty, and as best as he could given Sprosty’s blue wobbly legs, rushed the four-armed fare past freaky sex and unreliable drugs deeper into the bazaar.
They ran into THINGS. The Earth section. A place the size of a small city. It was lined with wall after wall of Earth merchandise. One section was dedicated to Christmas lights. The whole area blinked in its red and green bath. Another area thrummed with Don LaFontaine’s voice – it showed endless movie trailers. In another was a Halal cart plagued with strange looking customers who had never tasted New York street food. THINGS bulged with colors, smells and sights. And it was packed. Everyone came here. This was the real deal, the one sure place to see what was really new. Really different.
The monkeys always had something. They had an insatiable appetite to titillate and entertain themselves. It drove them to ever new heights. Drove them to do what hadn’t been done or even imagined.
In one corner of the market was rock & roll. Here, the King was still in the building; Elvis was hip-shaking his way through Hound Dog. There was a cat named Beethoven. And there was opera – Zel wondered why it always had to end in tragedy.
On a far wall, there were holograms known of movies, some in 3D; others were two-dimensional and only shades of black and white. While technologically substandard, the stories they told were superior to anything else around.
There were video cubes that played Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Which Zel loved. In quiet moments, he had been trying to master the art of being Minister of Silly Walks. For beings who were all ears, there was radio – that’s what they called it, though it was really the manipulation of electromagnetic waves. For creatures that fancied their optics, there were giant panoramas of beauty from Maxfield Parrish. Triptychs of horror from Hieronymus Bosch. More strangeness from Zdzislaw Beksinski and H.R. Giger.
None of this even scratched the surface of THINGS.
Then there was the section that Zel had the greatest affinity for: Human literature. The printed word. As far as Zel was concerned, writers were the true masters. Writers were people without whom Zel was sure every human’s life would have been destitute and miserable, bereft of nobility and imagination.
There was the peculiar uniqueness of someone named Crumb. In another, the very strange tales of William Burroughs.
There was the great Philip K. Dick. Who stood along other greats like Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke.
Titans, all. What lives they must have led! The whole planet must have celebrated them. Must have raised these men onto thrones.
“OK, what’s this?” Sprosty said, yanking him back to the matters at hand. He was poking at the spines of various paperback novels.
“This is Pulp. Pure awesomeness. Each one is an entire universe, past, present and future. Heroes sent into battle, females to be rescued, calamity to be averted.” Zel pulled one volume off the shelf, a copy of Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. “They have monkey sex. Violence. Comedy. Swearing. Giant monsters.”
Giant monsters and monkey sex piqued Sprosty’s interest.
“There’s more,” Zel said. “You want strange? You got it.” He spread his arms out toward the wall and took out another. “This is Stephen King.” He held up The Gunslinger. “Quite good. One of his books even ends with a bunch of kids having a gangbang.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“Nope. It’s after they fight a cosmic alien clown spider that was feeding on their fears. They beat it with the help of some, uh, ancient turtle consciousness … thing.”
“That makes no sense! The why of it eludes me.”
Zel shrugged. “Maybe because they could.”
“But that’s wrong. Clown spiders don’t feed on fears. They feed on small pseudopod appendages. Fears are not a viable source of nutrients. Pure nonsense.”
“I know! Isn’t it great? All of this stuff is just crazy. Humans just make it up. They make up shit like this all the time.”
Sprosty let his eyes wander over to the pornography section. “Words aren’t quite what I’m looking for.”
“OK, OK. But hang on a second. You need to think more about imagination. That’s where humans are at their best,” Zel said. He scanned the shelves, moving closer and closer to the ‘D’ section. “Ah.” He snatched up a weathered copy of A Scanner Darkly by Phil Dick.
Sprosky took it and started flipping through the pages. Then he was reading faster and faster.
Zel himself needed something new to read. He grabbed something that said Bloodcurdling Tales Of Horror And The Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft. That would do.
Sprosty tapped Zel on the shoulder. “More. I need more.”
The blue bastard had a hungry look in his eye.
“It’s brilliant. A man who doesn’t know who he is. Two people at once. Working against each other. Never sure what’s really going on — I want more of that. Get me more Phil Dick. I want as much in my brain meat as fast as possible.”
“Take it easy. There’s plenty of Phil and plenty of time. The guy was seriously prolific.”
“That’s, uh….” Sprosty tapped his feet. He wrapped his two lower arms around his waist. With one upper arm, he raked a hand through his thick blue hair. He bit the nails of his other hand. Like he was having a panic attack. “That’s not entirely accurate.”
“What’s not entirely accurate?” Zel asked.
“Time. Having plenty of it. Also, Earth. Having plenty of it.”
Zel cocked his head like a confused Cyrillian bog hound. At the same time, he thought he knew what Sprosty was going to say next, although he didn’t know why. “Go on.”
“I may not have been entirely forthcoming.” Sprosty switched his nail-biting hands. “I work for the Combine – in video. We make docus about Hyrule elves playing musical instruments. Mi-go larvae learning to fly. Public lobotomies. You know, cute stuff. It’s how I can afford to do – this. Why I have credits to burn.” He went to bite the nails on a third hand. “I also know things about the Combine and the word is some competitors are going to be eliminated.”
Zel was sure where this was going.
“We didn’t meet by accident,” Sprosty said. “The Combine knows about you. You’re a guy who’s spent time with the pirates. A Person of Interest, as they say. A person who knows how to get his hands on contraband. Your file is mostly blacked out. But that’s what you’d expect in a Special Ops file.” Sposksy sighed. “Look, the Combine thinks it’s finally figured out a way around the law. If not, they’re prepared to take the heat. That’s why I went on a bender. I wanted to see what they’re going to destroy. I figured fuck it. Might as well have a night of debauchery before the fun goes out of everything.”
“Earth,” Zel said. “The Combine is going to destroy it and the pirates.”
The fuckers, Zel thought. He was shocked. Then he got mad. “When?” he demanded as he shook Sprosty. He had to warn somebody! Goodbye Phil Dick? Not if he could stop it.
The sudden searing blast of a laser weapon sounded overhead, carving into the pirate asteroid.
It was the Combine.
“Sooner than I thought,” Sprosty said.