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.
Kahunakrat stood directly in front of him.
It left Zel slack jawed. The impact was that of a claw hammer to the head.
Hard to believe. Even harder to look at. This wasn’t anything he remembered.
What did he remember about Kahunakrat?
Before him was a loudmouth, reptile sperm, a thimble, a dwarf, a munchkin T-Rex, four-feet nine-inches if he was lucky. KKK was a tyrant the size of a stunted cornstalk. How had this Frankenpussy swept away so much of the known universe?
“I know what you’re thinking, Zelly-burger,” Kahunakrat bellowed.”How did little ol’ me pull this off?” Kahunakrat took up the pose of Rodin’s Thinker. “Will. Determination. Strength. And because it’s right, Zelly-gravy. But also because I know how to win. This is the greatest show in the universe! My universe.”
On cue, the crowd was going fucking bananas.
“You said you wanted to do this right. Just me and you and a few thousand of my closest friends. But – no secrets. As you can see I have none. Not anymore,” Kahunakrat hissed.
Being this close set off a depth charge in Zel’s brain. Memories came flooding back. The full scope and extent of his training. He was .. . . He was bred not just to be a killer but a super killer. A thing capable of ending entire civilizations.
He had been engineered.
He was a test-tube guinea pig. No mother, no father. No family.
The wars he had fought. The corpses and the dead planets he had left behind. The governments he had brought down. The children he had left without family. The people he had made so lonely – like him
The burden weighed on him. He was being dragged down and at the wrong time. Part of him wanted to reject that ugly reality. Another part wanted to embrace it.
Zel struggled with the conflict.
Then he made a decision: If you were your own worst enemy, use it. There was something in front of him that was much worse than he ever was. And it was small. Kahunakrat wasn’t a behemoth. He was a bully raised up out of the mud of a dead planet. He was an adversary who had met his match. He had doomed the only other beings in the universe that Zel cared about.
Zel was a super-killer. Kahunakrat was going to be super-killed.
“By the way, Zelly-cookie,” Kahunakrat said. “I lied. Lied when I said I had no more secrets. I was saving the best for last.”
As he said, “Get a close-up, guys,” Kahunakrat switched on his teeth. They were moving. Mowing. Almost as if they a life of their own. KKK had installed a finely-honed, immaculately-white, bio-mechanical chainsaw into his jaw.
“These can chew through solid granite, my one-time amigo. Think what they will do with organic tissue. I’m going to grind you down to bone meal.”
Then, to Funkinitch, he said, “Make sure face time is my time.”
“Sire, we’ve lost contact with–”
“Shut the fuck up Funkinitch and man those goddamn cameras!”
Zel and Kahunakrat circled each other. They looked for an opening. The amphitheater went quiet. The ranks of the soldiers in the stands had been thinned by bloody subtraction. Kahunakrat could hear Zel’s breathing, Zel could hear the mechanical chugga chugga sound of Kahunakrat’s teeth.
KKK lunged toward Zel. He grazed Zel’s left shoulder with a claw but the stunted thunder lizard’s arm was too short to cause real damage. Then his tail came crashing from the right and caught Zel’s legs. He went down, clutching his knife, knowing that if Kahunakrat fell on him, Zel would cleave with the blade. Instead KKK just let him lie there in the dust.
KKK was holding back. What was he waiting for?
Zel tried to pull his head out of the moment and think of the larger picture. There was a pattern that he’d been watching but hadn’t been seeing. An unseen third-party was choreographing KKK’s movements.
It was why he went here and didn’t go there. He only wanted to show his best angle. Did he have a good side? The bastard was uglier than the twelfth child born of an Andoran noodle worm – no matter the angle, Zel thought.
Zel got on his feet. He made mental notes of where every camera was stationed.
There weren’t too many. He could anticipate KKK’s movements. Where he would or would not go.
“Zelly-deli,” Kahunakrat said and thrust a claw at Zel’s midsection.
Zel could parry that but those teeth looked dangerous. And the advantage Zel got from lower gravity was no edge. KKK was also lighter, stronger, more mobile and a greater threat.
Kahunakrat was silent. The fight was in the mind and the fist – strategy and power – but it was also in the lens. Playing to the audience was going to be a big part of it.
It was time for trash talk, Zel decided.
“I found your home planet once. If you can call that pustule of crap a home. A lifeless rock wandering in space. But not quite dead. We met somebody, one of yours. She was dying, braying. Speaking in pain. She said, ‘Curse my son, for he has killed me. Avenge me.’
“Then she spoke her son’s name. Three times before she expired.
“The name she said was Kahunakrat.
“Did you kill her, Kahunakrat? Did you murder your own mother?”
Zel didn’t quite know the truth of his jabs.
KKK guffawed. Was it surprise? Or counterfeit shock? At least for the cameras, Kahunakrat was outraged. He feigned disgust at the very notion that there was familial blood on his hands.
“You’re full of lies and bile, Zel. You’re afraid your life will end, and it will, but nothing you can say will postpone justice. You can’t delay what is right.”
“I might be saying anything, Kahunakrat. I might be saying the truth.” Zel knew that a wound was open.
This wasn’t what KKK had planned. His strategy had been simple. He had hoped to wear Zel down. Exhaust him with surrogate adversaries. Then, he was to take advantage when Zel was depleted and go in for the kill. On Galactic TV, of course.
But if Zel kept talking, saying those things, it might be a compromised victory.
Zel said, “What happened to your little buddy? Betelgeuse? He was always with you. Always. And always loyal. He did everything you asked. Even the sick porn shit.
“But he’s not here. Where is he Kahunakrat? Why isn’t he here? Did you kill him?”
Kahunakrat responded with indignation, “I am nobility, a god king and I will not abide–”
A black and white movie entered Zel’s head: Claude Raines in Casablanca. As a croupier handed Raines a stash of money, he said “I’m shocked. Shocked to find that gambling goes on here.”
Now keenly aware of where the cameras were, Zel winked. “Cut the crap, Kommissar. We all know you’re a bloodthirsty pigbeast. How many innocents have you butchered? Millions? Billions? Or is it worse?”
KKK tried to remain composed. He sought to appear dignified. Unfortunately, dignity was not familiar territory for a creature of threat and hellfire. Nonetheless, he said to Zel, “I have done what needed to be done. To bring order. The Combine is pure.”
“You’re a terrible actor, KKK. Worse than the shitfest sitcoms you put on the vidscreen. Worse than the books you steer people to read. Worse than the lies you force down throats and call news.”
At that, someone in the Colosseum laughed. Zel heard it loud and clear. And smiled.
Kahunakrat heard it as well. He was small in size but his anger knew no bounds.
From somewhere, Zel heard that voice again, the voice that made him think of Sprosty. The eternal clown.
“Stand up,” it said. “It’s showbiz. All the world’s a stage.”
Lenny Bruce came into his head. Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, Louis CK, and what were the seven dirty words George Carlin wanted him to say? What would keep KKK off balance?
Zel looked into a camera and said, “I mean, really. What you make people watch is so bad it makes a Salarian anal cavity odor free.“
There was laughter in the crowds, this time more than one.
Zel said, “Those are the guys you oughta be trying to kill. The guys who write that shit.”
Zel jumped in front of another camera. “It’s so bad that worms on Proteus are experimenting with evolution drugs . . . To grow hands . . . So they can gouge their own eyes out.”
This got the audience in the stadium going. They were turning.
Kahunakrat’s polling numbers, without the Planetender’s attention, were beginning to gyrate. Zel’s stats were going up. Kahunakrat was dipping, down to ninety percent. Then seventy percent. He bottomed out at seventeen percent.
That was enough for KKK. Time to end this. If he was being met with ridicule, they would be met with fear. But they would have to wait.
“Zel!” he screamed. “Zel!”
“Come and get it,” Zel smirked.
KKK swung his tail again but it was ill-timed and Zel was ready for it. He jumped, rolled, and came up behind Kahunakrat. From behind, he grabbed KKK by the neck. Rode him like a bucking bull. The T-Rex Ride! Just like Coney Island!
Kahunakrat didn’t like being an amusement park attraction. As he tried to shake off Zel, he heard, “Hey, buddy. Why didn’t the chicken cross the road?”
“More bullshit. I know what you’re doing, Zel. Every dog has his day but you’re not as pretty as me. And Beauty will kill the Beast, you stupid fuck.”
“Faye Wray sends her love, chump,” Zel said. “It’s 102 stories down.”
Zel grabbed a choke point on KKK’s throat. He forced the reptile’s head down. With his right hand, he pulled KKK’s buzzing lower jaw one way, and with his left, yanked the rest of his head the other.
Kahunakrat growled. Then, screamed.
“This is for Sprosty,” Zel said.
The bones inside KKK’s face snapped. His mandible came loose.
Zel kept tearing. Pulling.
The lower jaw broke free and skittered through moon dust, along with hunks of fleshy red. Cold blood streamed out. Geysers.
The Kommissar howled one moment and gurgled the next.
Use what you have, Zel reminded himself.
He slammed KKK’s head down into the reptile’s own body. He drove the buzzing upper jaw of chainsaws into Kahunakrat’s stomach. Fat and vulnerable internal organs were churned, chewed, rended and plowed.
Vanity and appetite was his Achilles’s heel.
Zel watched as KKK devoured himself.
It was a throaty, messy sound: Chugga chugga. Slurp. Splortch.
Like a blender grinding vegetables and cats. Slippery and gooey. There was the rank smell of a slaughter house. And it felt so right.
Gore splattered in every direction. Fountains of it. You’re down two quarts, Zel thought. Three…Four. Hey, how much you got in there? Like a dam bursting, there was a tsunami of body parts and thick ropes of tissue. The ground was rust red.
Long after KKK was dead, the teeth were alive
Zel said, “The chicken didn’t cross the road, Kahunakrat, because he didn’t want to.”
It was over.
Even on Galactic TV.
There was a cheer from the crowd.