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.
It was sudden. It was everywhere. And all but a handful of people knew what it meant.
Every broadcast on Earth – from the weather girl on Channel 9 to the President’s address from the Rose Garden – went silent. Every satellite in orbit was stricken. Every conversation by phone was silenced. Machines ground to a halt. Motor vehicles and trains backed up. Planes were held in stasis. Computers winked off and the internet went dark. These events were not seen for the threat they were. Instead, Earthlings had the same universal reaction: What the Fuck?
People pressed buttons faster and harder. They shook their phones. They smacked their keyboards and their monitors.
Now, within astronomical spitting distance of that which he reviled, Kahunakrat sat at the master control panel of his command module. He enjoyed engineering What-the-Fuck Moments. And this one, he thought to himself, is going to be beaut.
“Attention, funky monkeys one step removed from dragging your knuckles on the ground. Attention! This is 1-800-Your Ass is Mine. Listen Up!”
Let me drink this in. Smell the fear as it grows. See the panic it sets off. I have been patient. Too long, patient. Wake up Earth. Time to die, he thought.
“Listen you, wascallay wascals.” He caught himself there. Didn’t that sound like a character in a Bugs Bunny cartoon? Did proximity to the source of the virus make it more contagious? He’d never been this close before, obviously. There was a strange vibe in the air.
Kahunakrat shook it off.
He bellowed to the planet, using globe-spanning speakers, “Pay attention, circle jerks. For a long time now, longer than anyone would’ve thought possible, you’ve been disseminating poison throughout the universe. This radio crap, television transmissions, movies – the garbage in your phone calls, the vileness of your music, the waste matter of the internet. Do any one of you realize the perfidy of the evening news? Are you aware of just how base political discourse has become? And those books,” seethed Kahunakrat, “they could blind an Ocularian!”
Well, he thought, he’d done that himself, but nevertheless.
“It’s one thing to inflict this on yourselves. Quite another to bring injury to the rest of us. To the rest of existence.”
KKK summoned the Planetender from behind the dark side of the Moon. The Ship’s silver, sleek needle-nose was now between him and the Earth. However, without satellites, or any other modern machinery, it was virtually impossible for anyone on the ground to take notice.
Kahunakrat continued: “There is a penalty for this aggression. You are dealing with a power greater than your puny minds can fathom. You are dealing with me. And my name – the name you need to remember – is Kahunakrat.
“I’m looking for someone. His name is Zel. He is my employee. He is an outlaw. I want him. If do not get him, each and every one of you, your planet – lock stock and barrel – will perish. Snap to it.
“By the way, thanks for all the fish. Those dolphins that beat it out of there, that finny exodus from your planet –
“We had sushi night.”
Chapter 37: The Band’s Last Waltz
The only thing they hadn’t quite expected was Kahunakrat’s theatrics.
They watched KKK’s chest-thumping speech on Zel’s datapad hologram.
Asimov said, “He is something of a gasbag, isn’t he?”
“You have no idea,” Zel said.
Zel and Vincent rushed through the bookstore. Zel threw on his vest and made sure his knife was within reach. Vincent didn’t have anything to gather and took a shot of Jameson instead. When Zel cocked an eye at him, Vincent said, “Gotta steady the nerves.”
Zel nodded. “The training will kick in. Just sorry we didn’t have time for a test run.”
Sprosty ran up and said, “You guys ready to do this?”
“We are,” Zel said. “But you’re not going anywhere. Neither is Dick or Heinlein or Asimov.”
The three legends turned. They had disappointment on their faces.
“We’re left behind while you go to fight?” Heinlein complained.
“No offense, but you guys couldn’t dodge a super-soaker, never mind a laser blast,” Zel said.
“Terrible movie,” Vincent said.
“That, unfortunately,” Asimov said, “is the only reasonable course of action.”
“But you’re robbing us of our only shot at space flight,” said Heinlein. “And that, for the three of us, is akin to treason.” Then he smiled. “You’re right, though. None of us are in any condition.”
“I’ve already seen what it’s like out there,” Dick said. “The magnitude of it, what feels like never-ending night and then an eruption of color. It instills reverence and loneliness.”
“When did you fly in space?” Asimov asked.
“The pink light showed me.”
“Someday, you’re going to have to give that up, Phil. But in the meantime–” Asimov looked to Zel and Vincent “–I think we can still help.”
Zel asked, “How?”
“We can distract that monster,” Asimov said. “If the Combine is as powerful as you say, there’s the possibility KKK can shoot you out of the sky.”
“But,” Heinlein joined in, “This Kahunakrat is an egotistical ass. If we keep him occupied, we keep the Combine tied up. Maybe they won’t notice.”
Dick smirked, “We may not fly into space but we get to meet alien life. That’s a pretty good runner-up, gentlemen.”
Zel tossed Dick his datapad. He said, “You can literally tell it what you want, and it will make it happen. In fact, tell it you want to hack into the Combine broadcast. Tell it you want to talk to Kahunakrat. It will hack in. Just wait until I’m out of the room.”
Zel slammed Zelda’s trunk shut. He had packed up the Bringy Backy. Made sure the cab was in perfect working order.
Vincent climbed into the driver’s seat. He ran his hands over the alien machine’s controls and steering wheel. He adjusted the seat so that it felt right.
Elvis hopped into his lap and cooed.
“This is the endgame buddy,” Vincent said as he patted the red furball.
“And Elvis is not going to be a part of it,” Zelda said.
Elvis’s hair stood on end. He hopped up on his tendrils. “What do you mean I’m not going to be a part of it? This is my fight too! Our world was destroyed. Our people.”
“Yes,” Zelda said. “That’s exactly why you aren’t going. Grandefudlia needs to survive. You need to survive. I may not.” Zelda paused. “I’m going into this. I don’t expect to come out.”
Elvis went limp with dismay. His tendrils went slack. He slumped against Vincent’s leg.
Vincent picked him up. “She’s right. If you survive, your people do.”
“I wanted to see Kahunakrat destroyed.”
Vincent winked. “You will.”
Elvis purred and then scampered out of the cab.
“Head to the basement,” Vincent said. “Down where I keep the stock. You’ll be all right there. Find a corner. An air duct. Anything reinforced.”
Vincent shouted to Zel, “You ready?”
Zel hopped into the passenger seat. “I’m looking forward to killing that motherfucker.”
“Bloodlust is good.”
Sprosty was there, out of nowhere, in the back seat. He’d turned himself invisible and had snuck into Zelda.
“You’re not going,” Zel said.
“Yes. I am,” Sprosty said.
“No, you’re not. You won’t survive.”
Sprosty leaned forward and slipped an arm over the front seat. He grabbed Zel’s shoulder. “There is no way you’re leaving without me. We started this together. We’re going to finish this together. I’ve been here since the very beginning. Chased, shot at, become a fugitive, and raised an army of the dead – and living. If I’m gonna die, then it’ll be by your side. Like it or not.”
Zel patted Sprosty’s hand. He inhaled once. Held the breath. Exhaled. “All right. Let’s do this.”
Dick spoke to the datapad and said, “I want to talk to KKK.” He arched his eyebrows at Heinlein and Asimov.
“Password,” the datapad squeaked.
Dick looked to Asimov and Heinlein. Both shrugged. Dick thought for a second. “Ah….” He cleared his throat and said, “Password: I Get The Joke.”
“How did you know that?” Heinlein asked.
Dick said, “That’s what this whole thing is, isn’t it? Some horrible joke without a punchline. Earth hangs in the balance. The universe has a knife at its throat. A knife held by a cosmic force, ready to conquer all. And five dead guys can turn the tide.”
“Nah, just kidding. Zel told me before he went to the roof.” Dick looked into the datapad. “Hack into the Combine broadcast. Bring it up on the holoscreen.”
Dick, Heinlein and Asimov stood back as Kahunakrat’s angry visage bloomed into life in the bookstore. The Combine overlord was still beating his breast, saying, “Your ugly babies will be put on spikes and paraded… “
He glared menacingly at the three writers. His tail was coiled like a snake about to strike.
“And who the fuck are you?” KKK growled.
Dick said, “We three gentlemen are inquiring minds.”
“I don’t have time for this.”
“You should make time, Kahunakrat,” Heinlein said. “We’ve pirated your broadcast. Earth isn’t watching just you anymore. You’re sharing the stage and spotlight with us.”
At this point in Earth history, this trio of literary faces was barely recognized by the rest of their species. Yes, while the books were read and dear to many hearts, their faces were more unfamiliar. They were, after all, long deceased.
So when the writers’ collective countenance appeared on the screen, on what tech gear still worked, it became Earth’s second What-the-Fuck moment.
There was an exception. On one patch of Earth, San Diego, they knew – because this was the very day that Comicon began its convention fest. And lo, there were many nerds who recognized Science Fiction’s aristocracy.
One attendee, dressed as a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, yanked his helmet off his head and yelled, “You gotta be shittin me!”
Kahunakrat, meanwhile, was screaming. Roaring. He felt invaded. “You pissant filth monkeys. I can’t wait to wipe the asshole of the universe with your gonads. I cannot wait.”
Dick grinned. “You’re going to have to wait, lizard freak. As my colleague pointed out, we stole your broadcast.” He did a little dance. Leaned over, pulled down his pants, and gave Kahunakrat a good look at his own crack. “Might I suggest you suck my farts?”
The world watched as Philip K. Dick, in one very odd moment, had succeeded in turning Kahunakrat into an object of ridicule. It was a day that went from What the fuck, to grim and desperate, and now had become again What-the-Fuck?
“Give em full frontal,” yelled the Stormtrooper in San Diego.
“I find his lack of pants . . . disturbing,” said another attendee dressed as Darth Vader.
KKK had become the first, and would be the only guest, on the spanking-new and global, if patchy, Asimov, Dick, and Heinlein Show.
Zel, Zelda, Vincent and Sprosty ripped through the Earth’s atmosphere. They headed to the Moon, landing on the dark side where the arena erected by Combine arena awaited.
Sprosty looked through the rear window. “Welp. We’re clear. I hope the guys back on Earth are having fun dicking with the Combine.”
“I’m sure it’s positively 4th street,” Zel said.
They spied the Combine capital ship, the Planetender. It was in orbit just a few degrees from the Moon. It was the size of South America, silver, and shaped like an arrow-headed needle.
“Holy dicks,” Vincent said. “It’s fucking enormous.”
Zel said, “It is roughly 4,600 miles long. Hard to imagine those dimensions until you really see it. Thankfully, they can’t see us with the cloaking and the jammers.”
“Good, but still . . . The damn size of it . . . .”
“And we’re going to gut it,” Zelda said.
“So,” Asimov said, “even though you have technological muscle the likes of which we – Earth – can’t possibly compete with . . . In terms of creativity, you’ve failed to think up anything more engaging than ‘I Love Lucy’ or ‘The Honeymooners?’ You know, I had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of my life.”
Interrupting his broadcast had put Kahunakrat somewhat off his game. And there was no one on the Murderboner to take it out on. He sputtered, “You have n–”
“You have no Lucy, do you?” Heinlein interrupted. “You don’t have one because you can’t make one. For an all-powerful conqueror, that’s pretty pathetic, Mr. Alien. In fact, it’s humiliating.”
“You’re going to pay,” Kahunakrat retorted.
Dick said, “One of these days, Kahunakrat. Bang! Zoom! Straight to the Moon!”
Kahunakrat started, “How dare y–”
Asimov broke in. “You know, I’m a creature of emotion as well. So, let me understand this. You want us gone because we’re more entertaining? The nub of this is showbiz?”
“We’re the ones who get people to listen, Isaac,” Heinlein said. “We get people to watch. We get people to read. The reason people read, watch and listen is because we’ve got something to say. Whereas you,” he looked at Kahunakrat, “just blow smoke up a young biddie’s skirt.”
“Pow! Right in the kisser!” Dick said.
Kahunakrat was having difficulty composing himself. He also couldn’t get a thought in edge-wise with these dammed wordsmiths. That pissed him off. Well, actually, most everything pissed him off. But this was getting to him. He pounded the communications console. Then he realized that he didn’t need to get a word in. He could just kill these insolent assholes.
He focused on the screen, nodding at his triumvirate adversary. He pretended to smile. Even flashed a grin.
Kahunakrat said, “Like I’m listening to you dipshits. Like, I’m going let this deception continue. Like, I didn’t want Zel to get to the far side of the Moon.”
Kahunakrat punched a series of buttons.
“Whatever notion of perdition you have, enjoy it, monkeys.”
This time, he smiled for real.
And waved goodbye.
Dick said, “Why is he waving?”
Heinlein sighed. “I think the jig is up.”
Asimov said, “Yes. I think you’re right. Phil and Robert, it’s been an honor.”
“We fought the good fight,” Heinlein said. “We die on our feet. Not on our knees.”
“We did our job, Robert. But we die all the same,” Asimov said.
“Well, not if the pink light has anything to say about I,” Dick said.
“Phil, for the last time,” Asimov said, “you’ll have to give up–”
The bookstore shook. Unseen, in a dark air duct, Elvis shivered. Asimov and Heinlein stood with the knowledge that they had met their fate. They braced.
Dick, though, stared straight up at the sky. He crossed his arms. He tapped his feet.
Pink light flooded Pierce’s Paper. A weird flood that enveloped all three writers. Asimov scratched his head. Heinlein was bemused.
The light illuminated all, but only one of them became transparent in its glare: Dick.
And then he was gone.
And then Elvis was gone.
And then another force made its entry, the Combine Evapobeam. It washed over the bookshop. It left inorganic material intact, but disintegrated living tissue. The weapon had been designed to maintain property values.
Asimov and Heinlein died without pain. Just two sudden poofs and they were dust.
Asimov’s last words were: “Phil, you’re a great annoyance to those of us who know everything – or think we do. You and your fucking pink light.”