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.
They got to Carmel, California in seven minutes.
Elvis waited inside Zelda. They talked and shared information. He took to her like an orphan finding its mother.
Zel, Vincent and Sprosty marched toward the house where Robert A. Heinlein lived in the guise of their federal alter egos: Agents Whorfin, Lizardo and Bigboote. No bullshit and no worry about where to put the accent on Bigboote.
They didn’t know who owned the house after Heinlein’s wife, Ginny, died in 2003. They didn’t care, either. They needed Heinlein’s DNA and they needed it yesterday.
Zel knocked on the door. Waited a beat. Pounded on it. He waited another beat.
Still no answer.
Vincent said, “Nobody’s home, man.”
“Yeah, no car. Driveway’s empty,” Sprosty said.
“I saw,” Zel said. He exhaled once through his nose and kicked the door in.
“Holy shit,” Vincent said. “That necessary?”
They plowed through the house. Stripped it and dug for anything Heinlein might had left DNA on. Zel hoped some of Heinlein’s naval chevrons were still around. Given the man’s obsession with the military, it was a safe bet.
It didn’t pan out.
“OK. We’re going to the Naval Academy in Annapolis,” Zel said.
“How are we going to convince the Navy to let us poke around some antiquated uniforms and patches?” Vincent asked.
“Won’t need to. They’ll be on display. Military is proud of its own.”
“Smash and grab?”
“Smash and grab.”
Sprosty laughed. “This is gonna be bananas.”
In the six minutes it took to get to the Academy, Vincent got two text messages from Elsa. The first one said: Sorry about storming out the other day. The second one said What are you up to?
Vincent typed: Getting Heinleins dna at Naval Academy then part of Einsteins brain in Princeton. Will be back in town in couple hours. Want to get a drink?
She didn’t text back.
Heinlein’s uniform stood inside a beautiful wood-glass display case in the Visitors’ Center. A framed black and white photo of the former midshipman was lit from below by delicate yellow lights. The whole scene demanded some reverence.
Instead, Zel, who had every intention of kicking the damn thing in and stealing the threads, was looking to see if the coast was clear. He wanted to get in and out – with no one able to make an ID.
Vincent grabbed Zel’s arm. “Wait, dude. There’s gotta be a better way.”
“We don’t have time, human.”
“Hey, I know you’re Billy Badass all of the sudden but we can probably just pop the lock on the side. Then open the door. No smashing needed.”
“How am I supposed to do that?”
Vincent fished around in his pocket for a paperclip or something that could be used as a lockpick but came up empty. “You can’t just, like, MacGyver this bitch?”
“No, you ass, I can’t ‘MacGyver this bitch.’”
“What about your Dr. Who sonic-thingamajigger?”
“First, almost thirty percent of what you just said isn’t even words. Second, my ‘thingamajigger’ – as you so boneringly described it – is a highly advanced piece of technology. It is meant to interface with other highly advanced pieces of technology. This?” Zel gestured to the wood-glass enclosure that housed Heinlein’s clothing and DNA. “This is a piece of shit made by stupid primitive fucking monkeys who seem to think that highly-fucking-flammable materials are good for construction.”
Visitors in the hall started to stare. Mothers grabbed their kids’ ears. A few MPs turned and shot Zel a glare.
Zel knew they were there. He could deal with them.
Vincent said, “All right, man. Just … Shit, calm down.”
“Yeah, man, yeah,” Sprosty said, his arms up. “Be cool man. Tranquilo.”
Zel said, “Shut up.”
He smashed the glass. Shards plunged into his fist and forearm. He didn’t even wince. He grabbed Heinlein’s uniform. Clutched it to his chest. Sniffed it. Said, “His DNA is here. You two run. I’ll stop the guards.” He threw the clothes at Vincent.
Vincent and Sprosty ran.
Zel put his arms out in a Christ-like pose as five MPs jogged toward him with their batons out. He said, “Come at me bitches.”
The first MP swung high. Zel ducked and brought his left hand up. He grabbed the MP by the throat. Then squeezed the idiot’s neck so hard that his carotid arteries were pressure-blocked. The MP blacked out and Zel slammed him to the ground.
One down. Four left.
A second MP hit Zel in the right kidney with his baton. Zel pivoted and hammered his palms against the second MP’s temples. The second MP dropped, eyes rolling back.
“You’re pissing me off,” Zel said as he parried a third MP’s baton with a bloody forearm. He gave the guy a brutal punch to his solar plexus.
The two remaining MPs stopped five feet from him.
Zel straightened his tie. Said, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”
The two MPs came at him, left and right, at the same time.
The MP on the right got a good swing in and cracked Zel’s rib. The one on the left went for Zel’s kneecap, but Zel tucked his leg in and then brought it up and kicked and snapped the left MP’s jaw. MP Left went down screaming, trying to figure out why the bones in his face weren’t working.
Zel parried another baton swing from MP Right. He said, “You really don’t know who you’re fucking with.”
MP Right swung at Zel’s jaw.
Zel caught the baton and held it. He twisted it and pulled MP Right tight up against him. He kept twisting the baton until the MP’s wrist snapped and sent little fragments of bone into the MP’s tendons.
The MP shrieked.
Zel glowered at the man as he slid to the floor. “You five fucks get to live because I’m not as bad as the real bad guy. You remember my face. You tell your friends.” Zel turned and smiled into the security cameras the lined the halls. “Stay out of my way.”
Zel strode out of the visitors center like nothing had happened.
In the cab, he started to pull chunks of glass from his forearm. He chucked the shards out the window. They landed on the pavement outside with delicate plinks.
Vincent and Sprosty watched. Both felt sick.
Zel gave precisely zero fucks. He said, “Ready to go to Princeton?”
Sprosty said, “As long as you can be less of a dick.”
“No promises,” Zel said.
Zel parked Zelda outside the Princeton Medical Center. The building was white and tall and curved just so like a banana. He shut the cab down and cloaked it. If any asshole made the mistake of bumping into it, they would collide with the taxi’s force field, and –probably explode.
Elvis, again, stayed behind to commune with Zelda.
Vincent asked Zel, “We gonna ‘Supernatural’ this thing?”
Zel marched with such stern authority that only a fool would get in his way. He flashed his fake FBI badge at the receptionist. Said, “Agents Whorfin, Lizardo and Bigboote. We’re here to see what remains of Einstein’s brain.”
The woman at the desk cocked an eyebrow at him. “Excuse me?”
“We need to see Einstein’s brain. We know you have it. We don’t have much time.”
“Sir, that’s … Why are you here?”
“I told you.”
“I mean on what orders, sir.”
“Matters of national security. Need to know only. You don’t.”
“I’m going to need authorization. Something more than just flashing a badge.”
“You want to talk to talk to someone in DC? You want to annoy the shit out of the FBI director instead of doing your job?”
“There’s a protocol, sir. We can’t just let people run amok. As you might guess, we get our share of whackos who want to poke around a legend’s brain.”
Vincent jumped in, cutting off Zel’s indignant attitude, “I’m Agent Lizardo. We understand that, ma’am. We are not trying to be a hassle–”
“No ma’am,” added Sprosty.
“–And we want to be as cooperative as possible.” Vincent laughed a hearty fake laugh. “I’m sure you get a ton of loons wandering in here with crackpot theories about Einstein’s brain.”
The receptionist fixed her eyes on him.
“I can assure you that, as federal agents, we’re not loons. Hell, most of us don’t even have a sense of humor.” Vincent tried to smile and make it seem cute, but the receptionist kept her steely cold gaze. He said, “I am certain that Agent Whorfin can give you a number to contact our supervisor.” He shot Zel a look. “Then this can all be straightened out.” Vincent smiled.
Zel got the idea. He nodded. “Yes.” He cleared his throat. “Ma’am. Take this down. Two-zero-two, three-two-four…”
She nodded and scribbled the number. “Thank you.” She picked up the phone and started to dial.
Zel gave Vincent an almost imperceptible nod and walked toward the doors. “I’m going for a smoke, lady. Let me know when you’ve got your shit together.”
Once behind a pillar outside, Zel pulled out his datapad. He lit a cigarette and then punched into the hospital’s telephone network. He rerouted the calls from the front desk to his own hardware. When he saw the hospital’s number pop up, he answered, “Yes?! Who the hell is this?” asked Zel in a gruffly not-Zel voice.
“Ellie Calloway, with the Princeton Medical Center.”
“Congratulations, you have a job. What do you want from me?”
“Well, sir, I have three of your agents here requesting to see … uh … Einstein’s brain.”
“Yes. Agents Whorfin, Lizardo and Bigboote. What is your point, Miss Calloway?”
“Well, sir, we have nothing on the schedule about any federal visit.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Miss Calloway. I wasn’t aware that the Federal Bureau of Investigation needed your permission when it came to investigating matters of national security.”
Ellie Calloway said nothing.
Zel huffed into the phone. “Allow them to do their job or I will have you in handcuffs for obstruction of justice. We clear?”
“OK, this? This is pretty awesome,” Sprosty said.
They were being led through a maze of corridors underneath the medical center. Some grad student got stuck with the duty. The kid didn’t care, but Zel, Vincent and Sprosty were glad to have a guide.
The grad student stopped and pointed at an unmarked door. “There you go.”
Vincent said, “What?”
“Brain’s in there.”
“Dude, really? You guys didn’t really just shove the greatest mind in the world into some back corner down here.”
The grad student turned to Vincent. He puffed out a breath of air. “You ever see Raiders of the Lost Ark? The scene at the end where there’s a warehouse full of crazy shit?”
“Welcome to its real life counterpart. I have other work and studying to do. Just hit the intercom for the front desk if you get lost. I’m out.”
With that, the kid walked away.
Vincent and Sprosty looked at each other.
“You think they have alien bodies in there or something?” Sprosty asked.
“You are an alien,” Vincent said.
“Yeah … Yeah, I mean, like other ones.” Sprosty smiled. “Or ancient Earth relics. Artifacts from the Cult of Cthulhu… Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!”
Vincent and Sprosty laughed together.
Zel was less than impressed. “Shut up.”
He marched to the door and threw it open. “It’s just a fucking storeroom full of–” Zel stopped. “Son of a dick.”
The door opened into a massive warehouse-sized space lined with boxes and tubes. Refrigeration units were stacked against the walls that glowed blue. And enclosed cases that housed corpses that stood like museum displays, forever staring.
“Vincent, you got one weird planet here. It’s way closer to what I hoped it would be,” Sprosty said.
“L. Ron Hubbard and Ron Paul are still fucking crazy, though.”
Zel said, “Start looking.”
Vincent stared at the first, illuminated refrigeration unit. “Oh man. Dudes. They did save Hitler’s brain.”
Sprosty howled from a cryotube on another side of the warehouse. “Gotcha one better. Walt-Fucking-Disney! They kept him on ice!”
“Peas in a pod.”
“Well, tubes, but yeah.”
They found Samuel Colt’s infamous revolver – some said it killed demons. There was a grey, bug-eyed alien – very off-world except the hair which was identical to the musician Elvis’. In one area was the Porsche 550 Spyder that James Dean died in. They found a magnetized enclosure that held the bullet that killed JFK – and on the side was a warning that read: MAGIC. They found another box, locked in chains, with the label: CAUTION: ONLY TO BE USED AGAINST DISCO RESURGENCE AND/OR RICHARD NIXON’S RETURN.
“I’ll bet you a hundred dollars that’s where they keep Hunter Thompson’s consciousness,” Sprosty said to Vincent.
“That’s a bet I won’t take. You might be right.”
In the back of the warehouse, tucked into a dusty corner, they found a white light. More specifically, they found a slender copper case that shined with purity. The thing looked like some mad 1950s Sci-Fi prop. It was the size of a football, metal housing with wood in its frame and one thin sliver of glass through which a viewer could see floating bits of chunky pink matter.
Zel stood before the glow. Vincent and Sprosty flanked him.
“Einstein,” Zel said. He leaned over and picked up the copper device. It was freezing. Cold as liquid nitrogen. He ignored the pain and held it high.
“We’re done here, gentlemen.” And for the first time since his emergence as a second-life badass, Zel smiled. “It is time to resurrect some heroes.”
Sprosty said, “How, uh, how are we getting out? With that?”
Zel considered the idea for a moment. Then he said, “We run.”
Zel stormed across the Princeton parking lot like a linebacker.
By the time everyone was inside Zelda, the cops and the real feds had arrived and bullets panged off the cab’s force field.
Zel screamed. “Fucking swine! We’re saving your ass!”
He started the taxi and turned on the cloak.
They disappeared and flew high up above the maelstrom below.
“Man, those dudes are angry,” Sprosty said.
Vincent said, “Well, how angry are five resurrected dead guys gonna be?”