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.
“Insertion,” Heinlein said to the Band. “Someone pilots Zelda into the core of the Combine ship. That’s the only way to do it. Weapon for weapon they out-muscle us. But subterfuge, the hack’s unique talents, might allow us to sneak in.”
The thought going through everyone’s mind was: Will she let us? How alive is Zelda? Is she willing to be a sacrifice? More to the point – can she pull it off?
“Great balls of fire,” Sprosty said as he grabbed his head. “Is there a sex pun in there? Will there be more?”
Heinlein ignored him. “Who would have the blueprints to the Combine capital ship? Are there any schematics?”
“Zelda would have them. I’m certain,” Zel said. “And if she doesn’t, she can get them.”
“We need to hit the heart of it. The engine, or the generator . . . whatever powers it. I assume it isn’t nuclear. That would be too primitive.”
“Yes and no. They utilize nineteen cold fusion reactors to power the engine itself, which is a partially-sentient Alcubierre drive. At least based on the Alcubierre equation. It warps the fabric of space around it, creating a wave the ship rides along. A warp bubble. Sort of a sneaky way to get around the constrictions of your–” Zel eyeballed Einstein “–relativity theory. So limits on speed, shit like time dilation, the effects of inertia, don’t apply. We can go superluminal. Faster than light. Zelda has a similar engine, albeit much smaller.”
Zel tapped a few buttons on his datapad. Equations on high-level physics that looked like the Math Olympics.
Einstein and Heisenberg studied the floating formulae.
To Vincent, it was a mess of d’s and s’s and v’s and parentheses. But the name Alcubierre rang a bell. Not because he knew anygoddamnthing about high-level physics, but because he knew Star Trek. Trekkies had long touted the Alcubierre equation as a way to make the warp drive of the Enterprise a reality. Logical, spake Spock.
Vincent scratched his head and muttered, “Fucking nerds.”
Sprosty said, “If Zelda has a similar kind of engine or whatever, could she, like, talk to the Combine ship? Maybe convince it to explode itself?”
Heinlein said, “If the Combine is depending on this ship, then I suspect there are safety protocols to prevent such a thing. They would never allow a semi-sentient machine to decide on its own to blow everybody to kingdom come.”
“But he may have the right idea,” Zel said. “Zelda can interface with the engine. Hack into it. Talk to it.”
“Send the fuckers into a black hole,” Vincent said.
“Say that again,” Heinlein said.
“Well, we can’t destroy them,” Vincent said. “We know we can’t fight them on equal terms. But what if Zelda got inside the Combine ship and convinced the engine that it was time to warp – right into a black hole? Better, open up a black hole inside the fucking ship itself.”
Dick laughed. He put a flame to end of another Nat Sherman cigarette. “The Earth man has a good idea.”
“Excellent,” said Einstein.
Asimov looked to Zel. “If you can get your cab to convince that engine to fold space around itself, to create a gravitational well powerful enough to form a black hole, we just might have a chance.”
Vincent said, “Well that is what the Alcubierre drive does, right? It warps spacetime?”
“Yes,” Heisenberg said.
“But there is a limit,” said Einstein. “The hiccup in this plan is to make sure that whatever black hole we open doesn’t swallow the Earth and the rest of the solar system. Black holes are always hungry.”
“A black hole will eat mass-energy until it reaches equilibrium,” Heisenberg said.
“At which point it ceases to be.”
“So, what we need,” Asimov said, “is to calibrate the precise mass of the Combine capital ship and create a black hole that will only devour that mass.” He looked to Einstein and Heisenberg. “I believe that is your area, gentlemen.”
Einstein and Heisenberg smiled.
Einstein and Heisenberg poured over data on the Combine ship. They scribbled notes and numbers. Formulae. Barked at each other in German. Einstein smoked. Heisenberg listened to classical music on an iPod that Vincent had given him.
“They’re like an old married couple,” Zel said.
“They’ll get it,” Vincent said.
Vincent asked the question he had been dreading. “Who’s going to pilot Zelda?”
“I don’t know. I’m the only one who can, but I have to deal with Kahunakrat.”
“We’ve been talking about the Combine this entire time and, to be honest, KKK is the Combine. The manifestation of their goals and desires. He’s brutal and psychotic. He’s the most dangerous creature in the universe. He is the serpent’s head.”
“So you have your own suicide mission.”
“I don’t plan on dying.”
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
“Your focus still needs to be on destroying that warship, not worrying about me. I have to do this. It’s personal. And you don’t need me to save the Earth. You need Zelda.”
Vincent frowned. He didn’t like this at all. He didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye to a friend. He reached for the bottle of Jameson and took a pull. “All right.” He lit a cigarette. “We still need to figure out who’s going to pilot Zelda. And if it isn’t going to be you . . . Could you train someone?”
Zel took the whiskey. Said, “Train is probably the wrong word. Zelda could transfer the memories of having been trained to someone, though. Much like how she retrofitted me with my own memories.” Zel drank. He eyed Vincent.
He knew what the kid was thinking.
Vincent nodded and said, “I’ll be back later.”
Zel watched him leave the store, certain of where he was going.
Late evening. A stupid time to get coffee, sure, but Vincent checked the local java shops anyway. He wanted to find Elsa. He didn’t want to text her. Or call her and give her the opportunity to ignore him. He wanted to find her and talk to her.
He had to, just in case.
But it wasn’t working out. She wasn’t getting coffee.
He checked her store. Closed.
He wandered the streets for a little while, keeping his eyes sharp. Nothing.
He sulked over to their bar, The Thing, – chuckling at that thought it was theirs– but she wasn’t there either. There was a girl with Elsa’s hair and Hispanic looks, but it was not his crush.
He ordered a shot of Jameson and a pint of Guinness. He kept an eye on the door. Anxious, like a dog waiting for someone to come home. He hoped she would just walk inside.
After another shot and another pint, he sighed and pulled out his phone and texted Elsa: At The Thing. Join me for a drink? Might be going away for a while.
Vincent waited for another round. Watched some of the grotesque but amusing porn.
Vincent’s phone vibrated.
It was not Elsa.
Heisenberg stretched his neck. Einstein refilled his pipe with tobacco.
They were close to figuring it all out. Both of them could feel it. The math was right. The mass required. The energy output. How space would fold in on itself. What Zelda would need to do. Hell, even where that damned semi-sentient engine might be according to the map.
And better, how to do it safely.
As safe as detonating a black hole near the Earth could be, anyway.
They stared at the numbers. Heisenberg ran the calculations over and over again. Einstein put the formulae into motion in his head, running the digits as thought experiments.
After a moment, they smiled.
Their work was done.
There was only one unknown.
How the people, human and alien alike, would perform.
Heisenberg gathered their equations together. He ordered them. Wrote out instructions as Einstein looked over his shoulder. They made sure anyone could understand the math needed to bring about the Combine’s downfall.
They looked to one another and smiled once more. Old colleagues. Old scientists. Victims of time and the diseases that had killed them, they still fought through it all to give that pale blue dot a chance.
They stacked their papers and retired to the ragged couch of the bookstore.
They rested their heads. They closed their eyes.
Zel came downstairs from the roof, where Dick, Asimov and Sprosty had been talking with Zelda. He smelled the faint traces of Einstein’s tobacco. But he heard no scribbling of notes. No murmuring between the two great scientists everyone else had left alone so they could work.
He saw the stack of papers they had left for him. A stack neatly organized, with FOR EARTH scrawled at the top. And then he saw them. Laid back on the couch as though in a deep slumber. But he knew better.
Zel hung his head. He walked to them. He sat cross-legged before their forms.
He reached out and touched their knees.
“Thank you,” he said.
He called Vincent.
They all found it very difficult not to cry.
Asimov, Dick, Sprosty and Elvis held silent vigil as Zel and Vincent placed Heisenberg’s body inside Zelda’s trunk. She incinerated him. And then Einstein. The remains of each great man placed inside a small, silver cylinder.
Nobody spoke. There were no words to say.
Vincent and Zel had decided on the only proper burial.
With two immense flashes, Einstein and Heisenberg were shot up into the atmosphere. Intense, bright rockets. Shooting stars. Small satellites that would circle the planet until they burned into nothingness.
Vincent, distraught, angry, and filled with a horrible longing, said, “We have work to do.”