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 slid into the shadow on Luna. They saw the massive Combine Colosseum – a titanic structure so named after the famed Roman Colosseum – carved into the surface of the Moon itself. It was enclosed inside a blue-tinted dome. Dimples of spotlights flashed across its vastness as though it was a red carpet, Hollywood premier.
There was a huge banner.
It said: THE SOL CRUSHER
“Jesus, this is the title match. And I’m betting you’re the underdog,” Vincent said. “You sure you want to do this?”
Zel said, “It’s not up for discussion.”
“I mean do you have to do it alone.”
“I won’t be alone. Sprosty’s coming with me. You and Zelda have something just as important to do. You need to take out the Planetender. This attack has to be a simultaneous, brutal blitzkrieg.”
Sprosty said, “It’s gonna be Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. Dempsey and Firpo. Ali and motherfuckin Frazier.”
“It’s going to be something,” Zel said. “It’s going to be something.”
Zelda entered the membranous dome that shrouded the Colosseum. They parked a distance from the shiny new stadium.
“Oxygen-rich, breathable atmosphere,” Zelda said. “For what it’s worth, the Combine did a good job.”
Vincent turned to Zel, “You ready?”
“I was born ready.” He smirked and held out his hand. Vincent clasped it and they shook hands. “One favor.”
“Gimme a smoke. Actually, gimme a few.”
Vincent gave Zel some Nat Shermans and lit one for himself.
Zel rubbed his hands along Zelda’s dashboard. “And a sudden plunge in the sullen swell. Ten fathoms deep on the road to hell.”
“See you, cowboy,” Zelda said.
Zel got out of the cab.
Sprosty reached two blue hands over the front seat and took Vincent’s. He said, “If I don’t make it back, remember, I was the cute one.”
“Shit. You can’t stop, can you?”
“Let me clue you in, monkey. I’ve traveled farther and seen more than your little brain can even imagine. If you forget how to laugh – no matter what insanity confronts you in life –that is when you’re fucked.”
Vincent and Sprosty locked eyes.
It was brief. It was uncharacteristic. It was solemn and it was serious.
Then Sprosty farted.
Vincent laughed and Sprosty giggled. Sprosty said, “There you go, monkey. We can do low-brow and we can do high-brow.” He slapped Vincent’s shoulders and got out.
Zel slapped the top of the cab. “Get on, little doggies.”
Zelda’s engine roared. The taxi streaked off, headed for another destiny in the bowels of the Planetender.
Sprosty kicked the Moon dust under his feet. It reacted like sand, chuffing up around his shoes. “That’s some funky soil.”
Zel took a drag from his cigarette and walked toward the Colosseum. “It’s called lunar regolith, you goober. Nothing was ever alive here. By definition, it can’t be soil. Soil is organic. This is just . . . dirty nothingness.”
Sprosty caught up to Zel. “Despite what I told Vincent, I guess I need to be serious now.”
“You guess right.”
“No more screwing around.”
“Fun will not be had.”
“We are fucked.”
They walked. Kicked up tufts of white dust. Above that floated a trail of cigarette smoke.
Sprosty looked back at their footprints and muttered, “Dead men’s tracks.”
When they passed through the Colosseum gates, a great horn blared, deep and brassy. Something that would herald the Vikings going into battle. Like the sound of a coming storm.
“I don’t like that,” Sprosty said. “I don’t like that one bit.”
Zel flicked his cigarette away. It sped away in a shower of sparks.
At the same moment, a splash of flame appeared over their heads. Then there was a shape. They mistook it for a large featherless bird until Zel realized the wings were stabilizers.
“Run or we’ll be a burnt weenie sandwich,” Zel hollered. He wondered where on this lunar dust bowl there might be cover, but he didn’t see any.
He could feel the heat of the engines, but the craft didn’t get any closer.
“Curious,” Zel said as he studied the ship more carefully. Stenciled in blood-red letters on its side was the word MURDERBONER. “That’s him. That’s Kahunakrat. I’ve never seen that ship. But my gut is bouncing like a frog on a hot plate. Only that lizard-fuck could make it dance like that.”
“Beyond haircut by fire, what is he doing?” asked Sprosty. Beads of sweat – be it fear or engine thrust – rolled off his lip.
“I don’t know.” Zel stepped away from Sprosty. He put more and more distance between himself and his only ally. A desperate idea took shape in his head.
Now this is fun, Kahunakrat thought. I could shave off their heads. Turn them into marshmallow magma. I could toast them almost to the point of death – that would be delicious. No, wait. They shouldn’t be food just yet. I’d have to stretch it out. Stretch them out – like on a rack. Make them suffer. Make them beg. Bring them down to my level. The sound of them pleading for mercy, petitioning for their lives, it would be my own Ninth Symphony! Ecstasy.
And it would take place in his Colosseum. Detailed to be the mirror image of the Flavian Amphitheater, where Roman emperors swam in blood. Where they reveled in it. Kahunakrat grinned. Yes. It impressed him. And he wanted the same fucking thing on Luna. But his Combine Colosseum would out do the Romans in every regard.
KKK knew his Tripod Walker was well suited to the task at hand. It was an instrument of war worth more than most other toys under the tree. It could be put to any killing purpose he could imagine. And Kahunakrat could imagine a lot. It walked. It flew. It was virtually indestructible. And it had a very nice stash of porn.
Kahunakrat watched Zel and Sprosty watching him. Looking down was so much better than looking up. He knew that himself. He remembered the way he was looked down on when he first arrived at the Combine. People didn’t take him seriously. They laughed. Made him an object of scorn. It took many bodies, many planets, before he finally found respect. He got everything he wanted through blood and anger. Almost everything.
Below him was the big one. The last one.
It was funny to see Zel after all this time. His beast of burden. His workhorse. His assassin – and oh, he was such a good killer. Never a tear, never any mercy. Zel was a machine. Took orders just like his Murderboner Tripod Walker. No questions. He just did it. A perfect specimen, unquestioning and cruel. Savage, like an animal.
Just like me!
That was why they got along so well. Used to get along, at least.
Zel fucked up. Forgot who he was. Now he was a threat. Unpredictable. Powerful. A worthy adversary. He betrayed me, Kahunakrat thought. That was the ultimate crime. Hail Mary’s said from one end of the universe to the other wouldn’t be penance enough. No, there couldn’t be absolution. Space Pope Pius the Fuck couldn’t absolve Zel.
Kahunakrat would have to work hard at designing anoth–
But what were they doing? Why was Zel running off?
Who or what was that other creature – the one partially dissolving?
Kahunakrat wanted a show. Not just a show, he wanted an epic. A spectacle. Cecil B. DeMille on steroids.
He keyed his communications panel. “Funkinitch, are you there?”
“Sire, at the ready,” his fleet commander barked like a cadet.
“Is the stage ready, the Colosseum? The cameras? Do we have a hand-picked announcer? Is the network primed? Are my porn stars pole dancing in chocolate? How many planets are dialed in?”
Funkinitch turned away to consult with his subordinates.
“Forty-two thousand. Approximately,” he replied.
“Is that all?” Kahunakrat snapped.
“That, mein Kommissar, is all but a few dozen of every inhabited planet within our domain. There are also several others systems online that can’t get a signal because of solar flares. It is the biggest audience for any event. Ever.”
“Yippie Ki Yay,” said Kahunakrat. “Green light the grid. Curtain up. We got a show to put on.”
“What are you doing?!” Sprosty yelled.
Zel had run at least a kilometer from his position. And he’d done it remarkably fast. Sprosty felt deserted – until he saw what the ship overhead was doing. It was following Zel. Like a mother bird watching over its chick. Zel was saving Sprosty. Drawing Kahunakrat away.
But what about the band? What had happened to the band? Were Vincent and Zelda in the fight? Were they dead? Did they still have a fighting chance? Or was this the last song?
Zel shouted. He raised his voice upward but not in prayer.
“Hey, Kahunakrat. Kocksucker! Come and get it. I know what you want. Come and get me! It’s what you’ve been waiting for.”
The Murderboner bobbled along. It kept position over Zel. It followed him like a shark stalking prey.
“Are you afraid? No guts, no glory, you reptilian sucksack,” Zel shouted.
Zel felt exhaustion creeping up on him. Luna’s reduced gravity let him take bounding leaps, and Zel had muscle to spare, but to keep Sprosty safe he may have moved too fast. Even for him. This wasn’t about Sprosty, of course. This was about Earth, Zelda, Vincent. It was about everything, the fate of all that is and all that will be. Zel threw the dice on one last gamble.
KKK spoke. “Zelly-boy! Oh, Zelly-boy. I can hear you! And your prayers will be answered because, like Sam and Dave say, I’m coming. Yeah, baby, I’m coming.” Kahunakrat had switched on the external PA. At the right time, in the right place, it was a great way to scare the locals – alert them to how wonderfully close they were to death. That’s showbiz. So was this.
The cameras are rolling. The whole universe is watching! Showtime!
Kahunakrat landed the Murderboner at the center of the Colosseum.
Combine stormtroopers and staffers filed into the arena. They took their places in the stands. They cheered and waved flags. A handful blew on vuvuzelas – the most annoying celebratory instrument in the universe.
The Murderboner changed shape. It morphed into an egg, dark as coal. It looked very much like the egg from which KKK had been born. Three metal tentacles grew from its sides. At the end of each tentacle was a three-toed pad. And at the center of each pad, the lens for a DestructoBeam.
The Murderboner Tripod Walker reared up on shining, snake-like legs. Kahunakrat waved from the cockpit. He was met with cheers and hoots from his army. Eva Angelina and Priscila Sol humped glistening poles on an enormous stage near the stands.
KKK smiled and bowed.
Then he targeted the few idiot soldiers who had brought vuvuzelas to the event. He exploded them into clouds of blood with the DestructoBeam.
“I fucking hate those things,” he muttered. Then, to Funkinitch, “Release the horde.”
Side gates along the Colosseum opened. Behind each titanic door stood a detachment of Combine troops, ready for combat, poised to overrun the Colosseum grounds. They ran, screaming, toward Zel.
Kahunakrat thought, This is going to be fucking great.
Zel thought, This is going to be fucking insane.
Sprosty thought, I think I just peed a little.