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.
Zel had heard what Kahunakrat said and heeded it. He had been summoned to the dome. And here he was. Zel would listen but he wouldn’t take orders. He entered knowing it was a trap. But Zel wanted Kahunakrat in the dome, outside the Murderboner.
He was using himself as bait.
He stopped. He took stock of the situation. Cocked an eye and looked around. Combine warriors surrounded him. Bipedal, humanoid soldiers who looked like a galactic SWAT team. Zel labeled them TWAT in his head. They were armored and armed. They toted electrified batons – shocksticks. There were a hundred of them. Maybe two hundred. Hard to tell.
He’d been in tough spots before but this was a doozy.
Striding above them all was Kahunakrat. He sauntered over in his Tripod Walker. He spoke with a low growl into the PA system. “Shall the festivities begin, Zelly? Shall we get this party started?”
At this, the crowds of Combine supporters cheered in the stadium. They stood up. They hooted. Some had flags that read ‘Kill Him’ and ‘MassaKree’ and ‘Krush him KKK.’
Kahunakrat turned and bowed in the Tripod Walker.
Eva Angelina and Priscila Sol cupped their breasts in their hands and jiggled them for the Kommissar.
“Ladies,” KKK said. He winked. He turned to Zel. “The audience has earned a show, my boy.” He grinned. He had a mouth full of teeth like blades. “Oblige them.”
Zel nodded. He fished in his vest for one of the many cigarettes he’d stolen off Vincent. He pulled one out. It was broken. He laughed to himself. Flicked it away. And said, “All right.”
Sprosty popped into existence beside him. He shot Zel a look and then was gone again.
Zel suddenly felt better.
He said “Yeah. Let’s do this.”
At that, there was the howling of a mad wind as the Combine TWAT descended on him like a biblical plague.
Sprosty, invisible, ran behind the lines of Combine troops. Looking for belts with anti-personnel plasma grenades. It was Standard Combine ordinance. As the enemy rushed forward, he gingerly reached out and pulled the safety pins from a handful of bad guy explosives.
Then he ran.
The plasma grenades exploded. The back ranks of the soldiers were engulfed in azure liquid flame. Bodies and body parts were tossed into the air.
Sprosty couldn’t help himself. He turned visible. Just for a second. And gave Kahunakrat the finger.
KKK saw. He grumbled into the PA system.
He’d have to do something about that little blue prick.
Zel was a blur.
The first wave of TWAT soldiers came at him from all sides. He ducked wild baton swings. Spun on his heels. He gave one soldier an uppercut so hard that the enemy’s neck snapped. He grabbed the fallen solder’s shockstick, spun again, and rammed it through the eye socket of another. The TWAT trooper’s brains sizzled inside his head. It gave off a funky ozone scent that made Zel wrinkle his nose as he body slammed a third soldier and then kicked a fourth in the stomach so hard the bastard coughed out a jet of bile.
Zel slammed another in the throat and crushed his windpipe. He grabbed a grenade off the soldier’s belt, shoved it into his mouth, lifted him over his head, and threw him into the crowd. Zel threw himself in the other direction. A shower of Combine giblets followed.
Zel flicked open his knife. Combine blood fell in torrents.
He pirouetted over, between, and through them. Slashed his blade across throats, ducked as geysers of gore spurted but ended up covered anyway.
Sweating, panting, manic, Zel murdered. With a flurry of blows and psychotic strikes, he laid waste to the enemy before him. A hundred. Maybe two hundred. He plunged his thumbs into eyes, clawed tracheas, found veins and bathed in Combine blood. He slaughtered.
He flipped the last Combine soldier over his shoulders. Put him on the ground. He twisted the bastard’s arm so that the Combine fuck could really feel it. Then Zel stepped over his enemy, and as that enemy pleaded, Zel stomped his foot down and made an omelet out of his face.
Bones snapped. Zel shook off flaps of shattered skin from his boot.
Zel unleashed a scream, primal and Kong-like. His arms were stiff at his sides. His lungs were heaving as sweat and blood dripped from his brow. He took a breath. Said, “Fuck me. I need a smoke.”
Over it all, like a vaguely amused parent, KKK said, “There is the Zel I remember.” He walked over in the Murderboner. “Now, let’s see what you do with this.” Kahunakrat keyed his communication panel.
“Sire.” It was Funkinitch. He sounded harried. Panicked. “Sire, there’s a situation developing with the Planetender, I–”
“I don’t give a shit! Handle it!” KKK shouted. “I’ve waited too long for this moment. I can’t be distracted by anything else. Are we live?”
“On every channel, on every station, on every planet, Sire.”
“Send in the Slug Regiment.”
Mammoth and shapeless blobs burrowed out of the Moon dust and crawled toward Zel. They were the size of elephants. They had no eyes but their stalks operated like radar. They could sense Zel. Slime followed in their wake. So did a bad smell.
The slugs converged on Zel and beneath mounds of moving putrescence, he disappeared. Sank, if not drowned.
Kahunakrat said with a laugh, “Is that it? Over so soon? It can’t be this easy.”
Zel erupted from a stage-center pile of distended, oversized night crawlers like a volcano come to life after a long sleep. He sneered at the mucus and detritus that covered him. He had ripped the gelatinous invertebrates open, one by one. With fist and knife, he had bored a hole through the Slug Regiment. None were left alive.
The smell was worse when they were dead.
“Never send a mollusk when you need a shell, Kahunakrat. I didn’t even break a sweat. What else have you got?” challenged Zel.
KKK smiled. “Good boy. Good.” Then, “Funkinitch, get the Ass-Face Battalion in there.”
An Ass-Face trooper was a very unhappy trooper. At one end was a face. At the other end was an ass – with teeth, sharp and very large chompers. Adversaries didn’t know if they were coming or going. It was hard to sneak up behind the Ass-Face. Those who tried could easily be shat on first and then eaten. The Ass-Face, by the way, liked nothing more than to sever an enemy in half so that the needs of both ends could be satisfied simultaneously.
That was pretty much how Zel dealt with them, giving each a dose of their own what-for.
He cut them into halves, and fed one end to the other. Their nervous system kept them alive long enough to choke.
“You see what this creature is,” Kahunakrat bellowed as he spoke of Zel. “He dispatches life without remorse. He murders – mass murders. This is what Earth has taught him. Just eat and shit and shit and eat.” Kahunakrat made sure the cameras were on his face. Always a close-up, boys, he thought.
The team in post-production was manipulating his image. They were so good there wasn’t even a delay. They massaged the picture to adjust what the audience at home could see. And what they saw, Kahunakrat smiled to himself, was an impressive, well-appointed, well-spoken T-Rex.
“All right, Zel. You’ve had your fun. You put up a good fight. But you can’t win. What do you think, folks–” Kahunakrat stared into the camera “–should it end now?”
The instant vote was to keep fighting, ninety-eight percent to two percent. The peacenik two percent was annoying to KKK. He decided it was nothing more than a wrinkle. The tally the audience saw had been rigged in advance.
Off camera, he spoke to Fuckinitch. “Tell everyone to cheer for me. I’m not getting enough applause. And I need a thermal scan. I’m looking for a sneaky invisible prick.”
Sprosty watched Zel’s carnage in awe. There was a higher and higher body count. And thanks to invisible subterfuge, Sprosty played a part – personally bringing death to more than fifty Combine shitheads.
The rest . . . Zel knew how to handle business.
But what else could Sprosty do? How could he help Zel defeat Kahunakrat?
He thought he might be able to grab some of those Combine flags. Maybe tie up the Murderboner Tripod Walker legs like in that Hoth AT-AT attack scene in Empire Strikes Back. Trip up KKK’s death machine so that it fell all over itself. That wouldn’t be bad at all. Sort of fitting.
Sprosty smiled and ran toward the stands full of idjit Combine supporters.
He just needed to grab a few flags. Enough to make a line to snag KKK’s legs.
He pumped his legs.
And as he jumped up into the seats, he was – stopped.
What the hell? Sprosty thought.
He looked down and saw one of the Tripod Walker’s tendrils coiled around his waist.
KKK squeezed Sprosty and hefted him up in front of the cockpit window. He shook the blue, four limbed alien. Sprosty shrieked in pain and turned visible.
Sprosty shouted, “You fuck. You fucking fuck.”
Kahunakrat said, “This fucking fuck is fucking you.”
Kahunakrat stood over Zel and the flood of blood on the Colosseum floor. He looked down on an Everest of bodies.
And there was Zel, proud, a cigarette between his thin, bloodless lips.
Time to shake this cunt up, KKK thought. Time to hurt him deep inside.
“Oh Zelly?” KKK said. “I think I have something that belongs to you.” He shook a very limp, very scared Sprosty with a mechanical arm.
The crowd roared for blood.
Zel pointed a finger at Kahunakrat. “Put him down. Right fucking now. Or things will be done to you that you can’t possibly imagine.”
Kahunakrat laughed. “Are you threatening me?”
Sprosty looked to Zel. His face was a mask of pain. He struggled against the vice grip of KKK’s tendrils. But he knew he could not break free.
Sprosty locked eyes with Zel one more time.
Inside his Tripod Walker, Kahunakrat leered.
The tentacles squeezed Sprosty.
His bones snapped and Sprosty felt it. Internal organs ruptured. And Jesus Fucking Henry Christ, he felt his life ending. He screamed and squealed and beat his four fists against the tentacles wrapped around him.
Then he was still.
KKK shook Sprosty’s body like a rag doll. “All done now? Nothing to say? No witty bullshit?” He cackled as he shook Sprosty again.
Kahunakrat threw Sprosty’s broken body before Zel.
The Kommissar said, “Everything you care about . . . Like this blue piece of shit – and that blue ball of shit – I’ll destroy it. You were my best, Zel. You were mine. And you’ll be mine again. Fighting – or in a damned body bag.”
Zel took two of Sprosty’s limp hands in his own.
He heard a voice, though Zel may have imagined it. It said, “I didn’t realize how much doing the right thing was going to hurt.”
“It always hurts.” Zel said to the voice.
He walked toward Kahunakrat, heartbroken but angry. He said, “If we’re doing this, do it right.”
Kahunakrat said, “Right?”
“Face to face. I want your entrails for a party hat.”
“Ah!” KKK laughed. “Mano-a-mano? Very Hemingway.”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
KKK said, “All right. If we’re going to do this . . . “
He parked the Murderboner. The cockpit opened. KKK emerged like a lazy chick coming out of its shell. When he stepped out, walking on his own dinosaur feet, he was all that he was but no more. This time, for the first time, he gave no fucks about how anyone thought he looked.
Kahunakrat was out of his egg.
The crowds in the Colosseum gasped.
So did Zel.
“Holy dicks,” Zel said.
Kahunakrat was grinning through teeth that were more than blades. There was something wrong about them, Zel decided, but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly what.
“Wake up,” KKK said. “It’s time to die.”