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.
New York City.
MacDougal, between West 3rd and Minetta Lane.
On that block was Mamoun’s Falafel, arguably the best in the city. There was The Comedy Cellar, where one could hope to catch Louis CK. A hardcore sex shop often full of NYU students and weirdos. And a few coffee joints, tying the sex shop for numbers of NYU students and pervs.
Between all of that sat a book store called Pierce’s Paper. On a small sign outside the shop read: YOU CAN’T BEAT PIERCE PRICE.
It was a dingy cluster-fuck of brick and mortar retail but it had all the good stuff, the weird stuff. Original Phil Dick paperbacks. Signed editions of Harlan Ellison, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Doug Adams. Shit, even respectable names like Norman Mailer had paid a visit and left behind an autograph.
Problem was, the store didn’t carry ‘popular’ books. None of the high-octane crap found in Barnes & Noble or your classiest pharmacies.
Pierce’s Paper wasn’t a money maker.
Behind the register sat a kid in his mid-twenties. Vincent Pierce. He was painfully aware of how easily his name resembled that of the actor – if you squinted hard enough.
The similarity had never landed him a date, though. Not even with goth chicks.
He was lanky, nerdy and bookish. He wore outdated, hand-me-down plaid shirts which were all he could afford. His hair was shoulder length because spending money on a haircut seemed like a stupid waste – he just used scissors when it got too long. His black combat boots weren’t a statement. They were his dead father’s. The same went for his silver Zippo, which was his dead mother’s.
As for the shop itself, he had inherited it from his uncle.
He could have sold the store. Made a pretty penny. Gone back to school or moved out of this psychotic city. But that just seemed … wrong. Instinctively wrong. Like he’d be shitting on his family.
He couldn’t do that.
He sat on an old wooden chair behind the register smoking cigarettes, sipping Jameson, and reading a copy of one of H.L. Mencken’s treatises, On Religion, because he thought it might cheer him up.
Mencken was, if nothing else, hilarious.
Vincent wasn’t some morose dope. He was just agitated. Sick of the city. He was pissed off that his old man had gone to fight and die somewhere else. And pissed off that his mom had followed her husband with booze and painkillers out of depression.
Vincent was just sort of … annoyed with everything.
This did not help the store’s reputation for customer service.
A couple of kids stumbled in. Lily-white NYU pukes, a little younger than Vincent. Two A-holes, stinking of booze, having a grand old time on a trust-fund budget.
Vincent stabbed out a cigarette. He exhaled smoke through his nose. “Can I help you?”
The first kid, in baggy jeans and a black hoodie, mumbled something like, “Just browsing, man.” And the second kid, some hipster ass in too-tight jeans and an ironic sweater, giggled.
Vincent sighed and reminded himself to change the store hours. It was 2 a.m. He had to stop keeping the place open so late. Nobody bought anything at this time of night. They just wandered around, stupid and drunk. Or worse, they stole stuff.
Vincent wasn’t a fighter. He was tall, but scrawny. He felt no urge to get physical over merchandise. On the other hand, he didn’t have any particular desire to put up with other people’s shit, either.
When he heard chucklefucks Hoodie and Hipster titter before dropping a copy of The Naked And The Dead by Norman Mailer (not signed, but still a first edition) onto the floor, he stood. He turned. He lit another cigarette. He shouted. “Store’s closed. All browsing bitches must bail.”
It took Hoodie and Hipster a minute to register what he’d said. But then they realized he was talking about them.
Both stepped out of the short aisle and looked Vincent over. Yeah, Vincent was lanky and nerdy, but he was also a little over six-feet tall. And he looked perpetually pissed, with a scrunched face he maintained to keep people from talking to him. While the two chucklefucks probably could have taken him in a fight, they must have known that in a brawl, skinny guys will fight till they’re burger. Especially ones with a good reach like Vincent.
So Vincent puffed.
And the chucklefucks huffed.
“You throwin us out, man?” asked Hoodie.
Vincent said, “I’m throwin you out. Closing time.”
Hipster said, “Sign on the door says you ain’t closed yet.”
“That was before you started making a mess.”
“Fuck you man,” Hoodie said.
“I don’t do anal,” Vincent said.
Hipster lunged over the counter and punched Vincent in the temple, knocking Vincent to the side. He slammed up against a heavy bookcase that housed the shop’s daily deals. Old tomes and odd favorites tumbled down onto him. Hoodie grabbed one of his ankles and started dragging him out into the main aisle of the bookstore.
The NYU shits started calling him names. Most involved some variation on ‘faggot’ or ‘bitch,’ but at least one ‘nigger’ made its way to Vincent’s ears, which didn’t even make sense, considering he was white as fucking snow and so were they.
All those shitty years of high school came back. The taunting and the bullies. Getting tossed against lockers. Humiliated in the lunchroom. Sucker-punched. Pantsed.
He twisted his legs and freed himself from Hoodie’s grip. He jumped up and threw himself at Hoodie. They both tumbled to the ground, with Vincent on top.
Vincent shouted, “Fuck me? Fuck you.” He started punching. Wild blows. Nothing like skillful jabs or hooks, but you didn’t need to be skillful at this range. In a blink, the lower half of Hoodie’s face was a toothy, pulpy mess.
Hipster hit Vincent in the back of the head with something heavy. Maybe a lamp. Maybe a bookend. Who the fuck knew?
Vincent saw stars. Sparkles at the corners of his vision. He half-stood and wobbled out the door, onto MacDougal, holding his skull. His dad would have been pissed that he wasn’t winning the fight. And he wished the hard old bastard was around now to help him.
He coughed and hocked up a wet, hard bit of matter from the back of his throat. It hit the sidewalk like a peach pit. Then he turned and stood. He caught some of the blood spilling from his lips. Looked at it. Frowned. Spread his legs, waiting for either Hipster or Hoodie to come at him.
The two NYU pukes stepped out of the store. Hoodie looked pissed, holding his leaky jaw like some half-wit prize-fighter. And Hipster just looked like an asshole.
Vincent, groggy and shaky, shrugged with his palms turned up. “What can I say?”
Hipster pointed to Hoodie, “You have any idea how much dental work that’s gonna take? You have any idea how upset his parents are gonna b-”
They were there. And then they weren’t. They were replaced by a flash of yellow and white light. Like a comet or a meteor. But there was no explosion. Just a muffled thump. A screech of tires. Like the sound heard from coach when an airplane lands.
The flash died down. Behind it was a bright yellow cab. One of those wonderful curvy round ones that you saw in the seventies.
Below the cab were two black char marks.
Vincent let his hands drop to his sides. He gawked as the driver and the passenger popped their doors and climbed out. He looked around the streets, but there was nobody and –
What the fuck who else saw that come on, went a burst of words in Vincent’s head.
The guy in the back, a blue-skinned dude with too many arms, said, “Shit. Oh shit. I think we crashed into them. Oh man. Humans are, like, really susceptible to retrothruster plasma. We should remember that next time we hop around.” He patted the carbon smears on the ground. Said, “I’m really sorry guys.”
The guy from the driver’s seat looked penitent. “Yeah. That was not good.” He walked along the front of the cab and stopped next to the passenger. He made eye contact with Vincent and said in a slow voice, “We’re very, very sorry. I hope they weren’t your kin or your friends.”
The driver. He looked like a hard bastard. Had the same kind of grim face Vincent was familiar with. Military, like Vincent’s father.
Something furry and red on the dude’s shoulder chirped.
Vincent nodded to the furry thing. “Ah. Yeah. What?” Confused and unbelieving, he eyed the driver. “No, neither friends not kin. It’s fine. Wait, what? Who are you?”
The blue passenger nodded to Vincent and said, “I’m Sprosty.” He grinned. Then whispered, “We’re aliens.”
That’s when Vincent fell over.