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.
Kommissar Kahunakrat prowled his dim Headquarters.
He didn’t need a lot of light. He had big, fat hubcap eyes to deal with the darkness. He looked at the one part of the room that was well lit: The Map Wall. The Map of Everything in the Known Universe (made by The As Best We Know It Corporation, owned by Kahunakrat, of course).
He clenched his serrated, conical teeth in a gesture of displeasure.
“This will never do.”
When Kahunakrat was unhappy, it tended to put everyone else at headquarters on edge. Kahunakrat employees could wind up Kahunakrat meals. He was pretty much a cousin of the T-Rex, the Earth thunder lizard. Difference was, he had a viciously intelligent reptilian brain.
“THIS WILL NEVER DO!” Kahunakrat bellowed. “There are too many planets, too many star systems, too much of everything that is not mine. It must all be mine.” He snorted. “What unbowed species should we start with today?”
The question was largely rhetorical. No one at headquarters was going to volunteer an answer because it was always a mistake to try to anticipate that lizard mind. Mistakes could be very unpleasant.
Kahunakrat kept one eye on the Map of Everything and, with his right claw, punched the intercom for his secretary, Wyoh. “Snack time. And if you tell me there isn’t fresh meat, I will eat you and then find your children and eat them. Make it happen before I lose my patience.”
Wyoh’s delicate, dainty stem bowed. She was, in fact, a sentient flower. “Yes, sir. I will find food for you.” The white petals around her smiling stamen shuddered.
Kahunakrat enjoyed her fear. “Be fast.”
Her hologram dissolved.
Kahunakrat laughed. He had no intention of eating her or her shitty children. Plant-based life was of no interest to his carnivorous taste buds. He had no appetite for the salad bar. Better to convert them into energy, weeds for fuel.
Kahunakrat was alone in his control room. People were only able to enter by invitation – or command. But Kahunakrat’s every word and action, each step and breath, was broadcast to every nook and cranny of headquarters.
His oversized jaw was sore. Maybe something was caught in his teeth from his last meal. He wiggled his small arms toward his head ineffectually.
Kahunakrat roared. “Betelgeuse! You rotten, scaly turd. I need your help!”
From an overhead duct emerged a bony, green being named Betelgeuse. His job was whatever Kahunakrat said it was. Sometimes, it was to pick parasites from lesions in the Kommissar’s mottled skin. Other times, it was dental-related, like now. He only stayed in the vents to cool down because Kahunakrat’s cold-bloodedness kept the headquarters at a blistering 120 degrees.
“Yessir, right here, sir,” said the scaly little his-girl-Friday.
Kahunakrat’s head throbbed. That was the problem. Earth Speak was even getting into his cranial case. His Girl Friday was an Earth movie, what they called a screwball comedy. This infection was spreading.
I am Number One. I am the Boss of the Bosses, thought KKK as Betelgeuse dropped onto his shoulders and began to scratch and rub. “Hard day, sir?”
“Terrible, Betelgeuse. The creatures that I have to deal with. The stupidity. It’s as though they don’t understand at all what we’re trying to do. And this Earth thing, it’s getting worse.”
“I understand, sir. Let me help.” He tried massaging more furiously.
“We’re going to trying something new,” Kahunakrat said. “We’ve developed a new chemical. We dust a planet. It allows the populace to believe whatever they want to believe regardless of physical law or scientific fact. Once they’re ready, we tell them what to believe. We plant the idea.” He chuckled. “Then, they’re ours. Ours, ours, ours. We own their fucking asses.”
Kahunakrat got so excited that he attempted to bring his short-armed claw hands together in applause. It looked a bit silly.
“They don’t get it, Betelgeuse. They just don’t. I am the Combine. I’m the only thing that stands between us – and,” he searched around for an appropriate adversary and said – “Cary Grant.”
“The whole ordeal is a travesty, sir. Might I suggest that you simply … eat the unworthy?”
“Ugh. No. I can’t eat them all. So much intelligent life across the system is flora-based. I’m a carnivore, damn it. I need meat. We’ll burn the vegetables. I can’t eat them. Gives me gas.”
Kahunakrat reached for one of the remotes. He wanted to see what was going on outside. When the Real-Def hologram came on, it was showing The MANIMAL SHOW. MANIMAL used to be a cash cow for the Combine, but lately, it had been slumping badly in the ratings. Much like the show it had replaced: THE BATTLE OF THE PSYCHOTIC BABIES.
The premise was quite simple. It revolved around how beings were like their pets and vice versa. The relationship becomes a symbiotic. And MANIMAL involved finding willing contestants who had pets and who didn’t mind a little body work. Actually, it was pretty severe body work. Both owner and pet underwent extensive genetic engineering. At the end of it all, they were blended into one being: the owner and what he owned. Today’s show featured a putz from Epsilon who had an Alderan bat. His rival was a Polarian with a Rigelean swamp snake.
There it was again, Kahunakrat thought, Putz. That word. The virus, this time, the Yiddish Vaudeville Virus.
After going under the knife for hours upon hours – each operation was its own episode – today was the big finale and the audience voted on which new specimen was the most engaging. So the guy from Epsilon now had leathery wings. He was actually fluttering in the air over the stage but his body mass kept him from gaining altitude. Next to him was a really large serpentine creature with trademark Polarian whiskers. Kahunakrat was rooting for the snake, natch. Just as the Announcer was about to put the contest to a vote, Anaconda-thing ate Batman. Then the screen went dark.
Kahunakrat was stunned. Shocked. Disappointed. Enraged.
He roared. He howled with such tenacity that Betelgeuse was thrown from his head.
The little gremlin landed with a hurt thud in a dusty, dirty corner.
Kahunakrat screamed, “What was that? What was that? Watching a snake-thing devour a bat-thing isn’t entertaining. It’s nothing more than eating. It’s biology. There wasn’t time for people to vote. If they can’t vote, they’re not happy. If they’re not happy, I’m not happy. We never got the chance to enjoy what weeks of expensive genetic engineering wrought. That was stupid.” Kahunakrat paused to wonder what the bat-thing tasted like. “The Combine is smart. I am smart.” He was back to being pissed.
Betelgeuse collected himself. “Yes. I saw it sir. Terribly upsetting.”
“I can’t run the fucking Combine like this.” Tail wagging to and fro, Kahunakrat waddled to his communications panel and punched it with tiny arms. He rang up the Combine Rapid Assault Wing. “I want everyone who works on that show dead. Now. Send in what you need. No survivors. Don’t make me say it twice. I want it filmed. Yes, broadcast it. Maybe we can still salvage some ratings out of this disaster.”
Kahunakrat threw his head back so Betelgeuse could climb back on and started rubbing the Kommissar’s skull.
“You see how difficult this is?” Kahunakrat said. “It’s a thankless job, killing idiots. But it has to be done. I am certain the family of that Alderan bat-thing is going to sue us. I hate lawyers but it’s the Combine that matters and I am the Combine.”
There were new images on the holodisplay. A silver orb with a glowing billboard was center screen. Its pink and blue plasma billboard read STUDIO 48: PROUD HOME OF THE MANIMAL SHOW! Shiny saucer-shaped ships surrounded it, a Combine assault squad. As they whirred, they started to glow, warming up photon beams.
The holodisplay went red for a second. Then Studio 48 was no more. The metal peeled away in ragged fragments, exposing everyone inside to the airless death of space itself. Corpses floated from decks. Producers, secretaries, directors and actors – all were now nothing more than debris to be avoided in navigation lanes.
The completeness of it all satisfied Kahunakrat. “Gone,” he tittered. “Just like those pirates will be,” he snorted.
“Sir, you mean…?”
“We’re just about ready to destroy the pirates’ biggest outpost.” Kahunakrat tried again to clap his hands together, but couldn’t quite get his arms to reach.
Betelgeuse clapped for him. “Well done, sir, well done.”
“Thank you. Keep rubbing. Yes. It took us more than a decade. We finally infiltrated the pirates with a highly-trained operative. He was in so deep that even he didn’t know he was working for us. All we had to do was let him be a pirate – and he thought he was – then pick him up and raid his brain. We extracted everything we needed. We let him live, by the way. And people say I have no mercy! That asteroid – what some call the Pulp Planet – it’s not there anymore. Or it shouldn’t be. Earth is next. That blue ball will be nothing but cosmic flotsam and jetsam.”
Betelgeuse clapped again. “Well played sir!”
“Shut up. Keep rubbing – and find me a kitten. I am starving.”