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 was slapped awake.
Zel said, “Hey, book monkey, stop sleeping.” Then he kept slapping. “Monkey! Monkey monkey monkey.”
Vincent pushed Zel’s hand away. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Waking you up. My name is Zel.”
Vincent thought, Wait a minute. Am I really having this conversation? Did two weirdos fall out of the sky and french-fry the dudes who were beating me up?
“OK, Zel.” Vincent’s skull throbbed. “What time is it? How long was I out?” He was lying on the shitty, stained beige couch he kept against a far wall in the store. It’s what passed for a reading room here.
Sprosty said, “Well, time is a hilarious construct. Never constant. Always screws with you.”
“Can you just tell me what time it is?”
Sprosty closed the book he was reading and squinted at a digital clock over the register. “Uh, 3?”
“You were out for twenty minutes,” Zel said. “Almost enough time to cause serious brain damage.” He stood hunched over Vincent. “How are you feeling? You got a hell of a bump on the back of the head.”
Vincent felt for the inflamed wound on his skull. “I’m all right. Those two assholes you, uh, cooked – they were in here. Messing stuff up. They attacked me.”
Zel looked relieved. “I was worried. They weren’t good humans?”
“They definitely weren’t.”
“And this is your shop?” Sprosty asked. He was thumbing through a first edition of Philip Dick’s Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.
“Yeah, my uncle left it to me.”
“You’ve got a lot of great stuff,” Zel said. He pointed to himself. “I’m a Pulphead. Got a real craving for it. They’re such crazy stories.” He walked into the reference area. Picked up a Biology text. He started laughing. “Hahaha, Kin Selection. You humans are so goofy sometimes.”
“Thanks. Yeah, it’s OK. Too bad it doesn’t make any goddamn money.” Vincent sat up. The room swam in front of him. He looked at Sprosty and noticed, again, that the guy had too many arms. Also: He was totally fucking blue. The other one, Zel, looked pretty much like a human. “So, thanks and all for the help with the assholes, but who are you, exactly?”
Sprosty closed his Phil Dick book and grabbed another. “He’s Zel, I’m Sprosty. You must have gotten beat up worse than you thought. We told you that already.”
“No, I mean, like … Where do you come from. What are you doing here? Yeah, why are you here? That kind of thing,” Vincent said. He stood, still wobbly. He walked over to the door without looking outside and locked it. He checked through the window blinds to see if there were cops milling around. There were, of course. But nobody was talking to them.
He wondered how much worse the night could get.
“Told you that, too,” Sprosty said. “We’re aliens. Not from here. That kind of thing.” He waved all four of his arms. “I look like I’m a local?”
Zel said, “I’m going to be totally honest with you, OK? And please don’t faint again.”
Vincent nodded. He sipped from the bottle of Jameson and with shaking hands lit a cigarette. He was worried about what came next. And if his brain would explode. He was effectively broke, an eyelash away from being a full-blown alcoholic, and had had the shit kicked out of him. One more shock might mean a crash landing.
He took another sip. Then a drag from the cigarette. “Go ahead.”
Zel cleared his throat. “We are aliens. We are not from Earth. The flash you saw outside was us entering the atmosphere in my cab. We’re on the run from a media and war conglomerate called the Combine. They want to destroy all Earth culture because they hate competitors. They want to control the way we all think, smile, laugh, and fuck. And now they’re coming for Earth. To kill the competition at its source, you. We don’t want to see the planet destroyed. Don’t know how we can help yet, but whether you believe us or not, this place and what it creates is important. On a universal scale. What you do here is the only crack in the Combine’s monopoly on culture.”
Vincent tried to let it sink in. He wanted it to be true. Hell, so much of his childhood had been spent nose-deep in books about aliens and monsters; watching Joe Dante’s Explorers and hoping for it all to be a reality someday. But he didn’t believe a word of it. “Did you say cab? You’re a cabby?!”
“Yeah. I drive a cab,” Zel said.
“He drives an intergalactic cab,” Sprosty corrected. “It’s quite nice. Very fast. Comfy. And he ferries around interesting aliens like myself.”
“And you do what?” Vincent asked.
“I work, that is, I worked for the Combine. That’s how I found out the Combine wanted to kill all the cool Earth stuff. I bailed. Went on a mental health holiday – a bender.” He winked. “Hired Zelly boy here to show me some good shit before it was nuked. And … then it was nuked. We ran.”
Vincent rubbed his forehead. “Prove it.”
“Prove what?” Zel said, somewhat defensive.
“Prove that you’re aliens.”
Sprosty waved his four arms again, “Hello? You still not seeing this?”
Vincent walked to Sprosty. He started rubbing his hands all over the blue dude’s face, trying to wipe off any possible body paint. Then he grabbed Sprosty’s two lower hands. Shook them. Tried to yank them from Sprosty’s body. “Ow. Those are attached to me,” Sprosty said. Vincent ignored him and grabbed Sprosty’s upper hands. Tried yanking them again. “Dude,” Sprosty said. “Attached. I need those.”
Vincent rubbed his forehead. His eyes went wide. “Oh shit.”
“Again, not from here,” Sprosty said. He smiled.
Vincent was a blinking, stuttering mess. “Oh shit, oh shit.”
Zel walked over to them. He took Vincent’s hand and put it on the left side of his chest. Said, “This is my first heart beating.” He moved Vincent’s hand to the right side. “This is my second heart beating.”
Vincent looked into Zel’s eyes and noticed for the first time that the intergalactic taxi driver actually had two pupils. One at the center of his bright green irises and another just to the side of it.
Zel dropped Vincent’s hands. He plucked a small utility knife from a pocket in his vest. “And here’s what my hearts pump.” He used the knife to make a small cut along his thumb. Purple-blue blood dripped from it. “It’s that color because my blood has a copper-based oxygen binding molecule in it, as opposed to your iron-based hemoglobin.” He started sucking on his thumb until the flow died and the wound began to seal itself.
“Oh God. What the fuck. You’re serious. What are you guys?”
“Aliens,” Sprosty said, getting bored with the repetition.
“And we need your help,” Zel said.
Vincent kept drinking. His wobbliness increased dramatically. His hands shook. “M-me? My help? With what?”
“Saving the planet.”
Vincent put his head in his hands. “How? Jesus. I’m a gangly white broke kid who runs a shitty bookstore.”
“Because you know this culture. Better than we do. Judging from the shop, better than most others. You’re a culture merchant. You know these people. Their words. Their ideas.”
“I still don’t understand. I don’t understand what I can do or why any of that matters.”
“Listen,” Zel said. “Only five people can save the world.”
“But there’s a problem.”
Vincent stared at Zel like an idiot puppy. “Yeah?”
Vincent groaned. He drank a little more. He let out a weepy “Fuck.”
The red furball hopped onto Vincent’s shoulder. It gave the human big watery eyes. Pleading eyes. It wrapped a thin, red tendril around Vincent’s neck and started to nuzzle him. It mewled like a kitten.
“Christ and what is this thing?” Vincent yelped.
“Uh, we don’t quite know,” Zel said.
“I call him Bloodfart,” Sprosty said.
Vincent laughed. Let out a sob. Then fainted again.
The Red Furball jumped off in time to not go down with him.
Zel and Sprosty stood over Vincent’s immobile form. They poked him curiously.
“Jeez,” Sprosty said. “We’re not very good at this, are we?”
“Well, it’s our first day on the job,” Zel said.