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.
Vincent stared over Zelda’s dash, through the cab’s front window. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel. His brain was still coming to terms with the vast size of the Combine Planetender. And the massive guns along its sides. And the shitload of Combine interceptors that had just launched from it.
Zelda was cloaked. Which meant the Combine fighter ships, and the Combine frigate, shouldn’t know he and his Grandefudlian cohort were inbound. However, getting Zel’s training meant getting some of Zel – and at least a dollop of Zel’s bloodlust. That, combined with Vincent’s own frustrations, gave way to an urge to break cover and blow up some of these goddamn interloping assholes.
“Music,” Vincent said.
Zelda said, “You’re going to launch an assault, aren’t you?”
“Not maybe, I know. We’re plugged into each other. Gods, you’re so much like Zel.” She sighed. “You’re the boss, Earth monkey.” Then Zelda’s tone changed. “And I wouldn’t mind helping to cast these bastards into the shit, myself.” Then, back to her old self, she said, “What would you like to listen to?”
Vincent wondered what his inner ear and adrenaline gland wanted. Something heavy, conducive to fighting. And killing.
“Machine Head,” Vincent said, calmly. “Clenching The Fists Of Dissent.”
“You got it,” Zelda said.
“And play it loud. Really, really fucking loud.”
Vincent lit a cigarette and gripped the wheel as Robb Flynn screamed and heavy metal guitars wailed over thumping double-bass drums.
Zelda got a particular, almost sexual thrill from opening her weapon ports. Her front grill slid down. Four rapid-fire railgun barrels emerged. Two arms unfolded from her undercarriage, each one touting a dozen high-yield nuclear missiles. An auto-targeting plasma cannon slid up from the taxi’s hood.
Zelda no longer looked like a yellow checkered cab. She was completely transformed. She was a Valkyrie, a bird of prey. And she would decide who lived and died.
“Flaunt it if you got it,” Zelda said.
“Baby, you’re hardcore,” Vincent said.
On the radio, Machine Head roared.
The Planetender deployed its legion of interceptors, as per standard operating procedure. The interceptors themselves looked like large metal insects. Dragonflies, to be precise. They had bulbous cockpits, a slender frame, four wide wings, and weaponry attached to their underside that gave the impression of being legs.
Six hundred fighters took up defensive positions around the frigate. This was what they did every time a planet was going to be cracked. It was a show meant to freak out any soon-to-be-dead species from launching an assault on the ship itself. Nobody had dared it in all the Combine’s years of conquest. After all, The Planetender was so big there didn’t seem to be much point. The interceptors underscored that message.
As such, Captain Miglybug – a fat thirty-armed Colalien with seven eyes – yawned at the task. It was boring. Launch the fighters. Take position. Wait until the Planetender’s big guns shattered whatever world. Blah, blah. Whatever.
He dug into his sack of squirming negaworms and grabbed a fistful. He shoved them into his food hole as Earth rotated below.
“Well,” Miglybug said out loud, “it is a nice shade of blue.”
He burped once.
And then burst.
He never saw the radar blip that was Zelda. Never saw the magnetized railgun round that ripped through his ship like a javelin through kleenex.
One by one, something was picking off the interceptors. Rumor spread ship to ship. Undetectable? Impossible! Nobody had ever heard of something like this before. But there it was – a ghost!
The rest of the Combine interceptor fleet panicked.
Vincent grinned as he steered Zelda through the debris field of Miglybug’s remains, as well as what was left of quite few others. He watched as the multitude of Combine fighters lost it and started to shoot wildly. They were hitting each other. If this kept up, the Combine fleet would take itself down.
Vincent drove with expert skill, but also like a madman.
He ducked lasers and dodged missiles.
He said, “Cloak and de-cloak at random. I want them to know I’m here, but I don’t want them to know where I am at a given moment. I want to make the Combine shit its pants as much as possible.”
Zelda said, “You are a bit of a sadist.”
“They deserve it.”
Vincent juked the cab out of the way of a Combine DestructoBeam. He launched one of Zelda’s nukes at a cluster of ten Combine ships. Soundlessly, they became a floating mountain of scrap metal. As he eluded more lines of fire, he shouted, “Target the Planetender’s main cannons, fire one nuke per gun. Let’s see if we can take them out of commission.”
Vincent felt the vibration under the cab from the missiles shooting off. He watched as three distant globe-destroying weapons burst apart like dropped ceramics.
“That’s beautiful,” Vincent said.
Then, he took his eyes off the battle.
The cab rocked, sputtered, and an alarm sounded. Zelda had taken a direct hit from a DestructoBeam.
Zelda said, “Shield down to sixty percent. Give me time to recharge. And don’t let that happen again. Or things will get … difficult.”
Zelda and Vincent danced with the Combine Dragonflies. It was a ballet of death and destruction. They spun over and under enemy ships. Slid between lines of laser fire. They barrel-rolled to one side, dodging a damaged out-of-control interceptor. Then dive-bombed another group of Dragonflies below.
It was chaos, but gorgeous.
Vincent thumbed the triggers for the front railguns and turned a dozen more Combine ships into debris. He said, “Let’s see if we can get these pricks to follow us. Decloak. It’s time to make a run at the Planetender. We need to crack the hull and get into the ventilation system. We can follow the vent tunnels all the way to the engine core. That’s our goal.”
A holographic map popped up at the upper right corner of the front windshield.
Vincent brought Zelda around and faced the Combine capital ship head-on.
He slammed his foot to the floor and accelerated toward doom and glory.
His entire field of view was filled with streaks of green laser, missiles and Combine interceptors making a beeline toward him. The auto-turret on Zelda’s hood took care of any threat the fighters could throw at him, leaving Vincent to focus on driving and dodging.
Zelda let loose with a torrent of high-yield missiles. They impacted along the Planetender’s side, tearing out chunks just big enough for her to fit through. Gas and debris erupted from the new scars, shooting plumes of oxygen and the soon-to-be corpses of unlucky Combine forces to asphyxiate and freeze in the black vacuum of space.
Vincent checked the rearview mirror.
A mass of interceptors were trailing him.
Good, Vincent thought. Let’s see you follow me now.
He guided Zelda through the blackened fissure that would lead them into the ventilation system. Behind him, an almost endless series of explosions as the wide-winged Dragonflies collided with the Planetender. They couldn’t navigate the hole.
Vincent chuckled. That’s what she said.
He unleashed hell with the railguns and chopped down obstacles in his way.
“Just a little farther,” Zelda crooned.
The auto-cannon swiveled on the hood and blew apart more obstructions.
Vincent looked around at what they were tearing through. Offices, it looked like. He saw the absolute shock on the faces of drone workers. There was also, on Vincent’s part, some degree of shock at the creatures he was looking at. Something that looked like a stick with too many goddamn eyes spilling a mug of purple liquid. A little dinosaur cowering behind a desk.
“A little farther,” Zelda said. She paused. The railguns and auto-cannon blared. Then she screamed, “Turn right. NOW!”
Vincent spun the wheel. Hard.
They blew into a dark tunnel just wide enough for the cab.
Zelda turned on her high-beams.
“Just follow this down,” She said.
Vincent furrowed his brow and drove.