New York City: 1969
The manhole cover flew straight up, followed by a long, thick, ruddy tentacle. The tip lashed out and yanked Kay’s weapon from his hands hard enough to sting and flung it away.
“Any time, Dee!” Kay shouted over his shoulder, but Chycho, recently escaped from the Sculptor galaxy, had assumed his natural form, and Dee ran between parked cars to gain distance from the couch sized, armor plated convict.
“Hold your horses!” said Dee. The beams from his stunner had thinned to white threads and splashed uselessly against the armor. He was out of ammo. “I’m busy here.”
The tentacle whipped back and wrapped itself up Kay’s arm, elongating as it went, loosening Kay’s tie and popping the top buttons of his shirt with a few dexterous tugs, and then slithering down the gaping collar. It smelled like musk and dishwater. A second tentacle squeezed through the open manhole and insinuated itself up Kay’s trouser leg. The warm, silky feelers wrapped around his waist and lifted Kay off his feet. One tendril began making inroads on his underwear, and he was taken higher. Kay swallowed. The manhole cover slammed to the ground.
“Hold on! I’ve got him where I want him!” Dee stood defiant, his fists ready, as Chycho reared up over the car in an aggressive display stance, showing his thirty extendible stingers.
Kay craned his neck and saw a black man in a black suit race out of Marvin’s Music Mayhem, aiming a silver weapon at the main trunk of the tentacles. “Put the nice man down and slink your pervert ass back into the sewer, or I will shoot your junk off.”
A moist, pliant appendage drew circles on Kay’s chest, and another –
“Just shoot already!” Kay shouted, desperate.
The man sighted along his weapon and shot the creature where it emerged from the manhole. The blood-warm, soft, clinging tendrils holding Kay shriveled away and dropped him ten feet to the sidewalk. The rest of the alien squeezed back down the hole, leaving behind a lingering odor of cinnamon and gasoline.
The man reached down. “Hello, Kay. I’m from the future, and I’m here to save your life. You can thank me later.”
Kay clasped the offered hand and pulled himself up, using the movement give a quick pat of the man’s pockets for any other hardware, and then leverage the weapon from the man’s hand. “Thanks, Chief.”
“Whoa, hey, no, that’s not how this is supposed to work. There are assassins gunning for you, and you’re -- Kay. Kay!”
Kay turned to help Dee, but before he could bring the weapon to bear, two stingers shot out and pierced Dee in the shoulder and gut. He went down, hard. Kay squeezed the trigger, aiming for the head, but nothing happened. Jay pushed past Kay, sprinted across the street to hurl himself over the hood of the car at Chycho, who had overstretched and exposed his reproductive organs, and slam both feet on the alien’s genitals. Chycho dropped, his flexible stingers writhed inward, and he curled into a perfect two-foot orange sphere, moaning inside the armor.
Kay dropped to his knees next to Dee.
“I’m okay. Kay, really. I’m fine, but I won’t be moving until the paralytic wears off,” said Dee. He tried to reach out, but his arm flopped back, useless. “Set me up in the infirmary with a pretty nurse and I’ll be fine by tonight, so wipe that worried look off your face and call for a ride back to HQ.” He gave the black man a long, assessing look from the pavement. “That was a nice save, son. I’m sure Kay appreciated it very much, too, even if he won’t tell you so. Nice moves. Where’d you learn to use a gun like that?”
“Do you mean where’d I learn to handle a piece, or where’d I learn to handle this piece?” Jay held out his hand to Kay expectantly.
Kay ignored him and patted Dee’s good shoulder. He put the weapon in his jacket pocket, and then took out his communicator. “We need transport for one to the infirmary. You know,” he turned to the man, “that is a pretty piece of alien technology when it works. Where’d you get it, Kid?”
“Oh no you didn’t,” said the man, hands up and shaking his head. “No, no, and hell no. You do not get to call me kid. We’re the same age now; no, actually, I’m older than you.” He straightened his tie. “Kid.”
“I’ll call you whatever I want, Sport, and no, you’re not getting this back until you tell me where you got it.” Kay looked him up and down, from his neatly cropped hair to his shiny shoes and the black suit in between. Kay and Dee trained every field agent at MIB. The man wasn’t one of them, but the evidence so far told him he could be. “And that suit.”
“It’s the last suit I ever put on, Kay.” He stuck out hand. “Man, how many times do I have to introduce myself to you? I’m Jay, and I’m your partner.”
“From the future.” Kay didn’t take his hand, but he noticed the smooth fingertips.
“Yeah, that’s right.” Jay flicked a glance at Dee and back. “From your future.”
Kay considered the weapon. It had the look and feel of a Sorrosian laser, but it had emitted an energy pulse that injured, not disintegrated, the tentacle creature. “Really, Tiger. Can’t you think of anything better than time travel?” Kay circled Jay, looking carefully for clues but finding none. “Where are you from?”
“New York, and I resent the implication here.”
“Every alien is from New York at least once. You laying any odds, Dee? Is he an out-of-towner? Or did he plan a private party and decided to skip customs.”
“I’m not taking that bet. He’s local.”
“Saving it for the ponies? You’ll come to a bad end.”
Dee chuckled. He sounded good. He would be fine, but he wouldn’t be on active duty for a week at least. Kay reached out and poked Jay in one arm, the other arm, and chest in quick succession: the standard manual test in non-violent situations for human impersonation of an alien.
“Hey! Don’t you be poking me like I got prosthetics. I am not an alien.” Jay stepped back and tugged on his cuffs. “I’m from the future. How hard is it for you to believe me, anyway? You’re MIB; you’ve seen way weirder shit than a guy from the future.”
“Time travel was disproved eons ago by more than a hundred races,” said Dee. “The laws of physics won’t allow it.”
“What the hell does it matter when someone invents it. It’s time travel! And someone did, because here I am, and there you are, all, well, mostly unwrinkled and, and whoa, that hair. They let you guys out of HQ like that?”
A black van pulled onto the street, and a four-man team spilled out. Kay ordered two to keep an eye on Jay – “Don’t neurolize him; I want that honor” – and then threw his weight around to make sure they took good care of Dee.
“Kay,” said Dee, chiding. “I’ve taken a Serpens dragon bite and laughed it off.”
“You’re not laughing now.”
“You’re not listening. Hey,” he continued, “the kid. He believes what he’s saying.”
“And you know this how?”
“I’ve learned how to read your poker face. Everyone else is a breeze.” Dee tried to move but only managed to smear his hand across Jay’s jacket front. “The boy might be crazy, but then again, maybe he’s not. You’re better with a partner. Take him along.”
“Just like that?”
“I recall taking on a high school kid the first time we met. Just like that.” He looked tired. “You know this job. You can’t be stupid or weak, but suspicion don’t pay the bills, either, not between agents. Jay’s tough, and whether or not he’s crazy, he’s willing to watch your back.”
Kay patted the door behind Dee as the van pulled away. He kept one agent, Gee, and jutted his chin significantly at the wide-eyed faces in the music store window.
“Hey, Gee, you want to get the hippies while I take care of Slick here?”
“Hey!” Jay protested.
“Sure,” said Gee, reaching for his neurolizer and sunglasses. “What about any foot traffic?”
Kay looked around, saw no hue or cry, and shrugged. “It’s SoHo.”
“I’ll bring the car around. There should be room enough for Chycho in the back. Sport here can roll him along.”
Gee waved without looking back.
“I ain’t messing with that. You should have sent him with the transport unit,” said Jay.
No way he was going to endanger Dee further, but Kay didn’t like revealing his soft side. It felt like weakness. “Can’t you handle an overgrown basketball? I thought you said you’re MIB?”
“It ain’t exactly a Nicks game,” Jay muttered, but he pushed Chycho down the sidewalk. “You are not going to make me do all the work and then neurolize me.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Kay allowed a curl of a smile onto his face. “If you’re my partner from the future, then you know –“
“Yeah, yeah. Seven-seven-three slash I dash 1. I get it, but you’re not going to do it because you need me.” He nudged the Sculptorian convict with his knee to keep him rolling.
“To save me from assassination, yeah, I got that. You took out Romeo and his tentacles quick enough, so I guess your mission was successful.”
“Heathcliff? No one died of embarrassment from public sex with a squid. Yet. Not that I’d know about that personally.” Jay cleared his throat. “Saving your questionable virtue is not why you won’t neurolize me. I’ve got information. I’m a mystery. And you -- you’ve got to find out what I know about the future. You can’t do that if you wipe my memory.”
Kay stopped. Jay turned, Chycho rolling a little ahead, and Kay stared at him in the direct way that had earned his reputation as a hard ass. Bitterness from giving up Elizabeth to keep the world safe from aliens had fueled it at first. He’d perfected it from all the shit he’d seen in the past eight years. Last year alone had felt like a decade. “From my future, you said. Before. Not the future. If you’re for real, what happens to Dee?”
“You’ve got a terrible poker face, Princess. What happens to Dee?”
“Nothing. You two have a long -- and please, do not let this go to your head -- legendary career. You guys save the world a few times, and then he retires, after which you and I save the world a whole lot, too. Not that I didn’t pull off some memorable cases by myself, because I did.”
“People don’t retire from this job.” Kay continued walking along the sidewalk. Jay followed after starting the ball rolling again.
“How long has MIB been around, like, seven, eight years? Who the hell’s had time to retire yet?”
“No one who can remember it.” Dead or neurolized: Kay didn’t like being reminded.
“Tell them to enjoy the stars more often. Their careers might last longer that way,” said Jay, serious for the first time.
Kay spared him a glance. The man had his own thousand-yard stare, and the suit finally looked like it fit. “I’m serious, Kay. Two very nasty bad guys are gunning for you, and 1969 is when they want to take you out. I can’t let that happen.”
“Because we’re partners.”
“In the future, yeah.” Jay ducked his head, a boyish gesture. Hard to judge his age; he could be anywhere in his twenties or thirties, but there it was, a sweet streak under the attitude. “And to save the world. My world, in the future. You gotta listen to me, please, and make it easier on everyone. Especially me.”
“I don’t have to –“ Movement seen from the corner of his eye was Kay’s only warning before Chycho opened up from his protective sphere, rearing high to give his stingers room to strike, all of them aimed at Kay. A couple stings would put him on the ground. All thirty could be much worse. Kay tried to draw, but the weapon caught in his pocket.
“God damn, but you’re ugly,” said Jay as he stomped on three of the stingers hanging over the shell near the ground. He followed up with a sharp jab to the lesser thorax and a forceful twist of the right, dominant claw, flipping the Sculptorian upside down. Kay finally aimed Jay’s weapon, useless or not, at Chycho’s head, but he was already curled into a smaller ball, whimpering.
“That’s the second time you’ve kept me from bodily harm. Your mission done yet?”
“I’m saving you from other bad guys.” Jay shook out his bruised hand. “Consider any unrelated rescues a free bonus.”
“So who are these clowns? Where are they going to make their move? When’s the big day? 1969 still has nine months to go.”
“Well, that part isn’t quite, uh, determined.” Jay pulled at his collar. “Time travel still got a few kinks to work out. What day is it?”
Kay replied with a look.
“Yeah, um, there are case files that mention you until July, but nothing after.”
“Are you saying I’m stuck with you through July?”
“Hey, the circumstances of your death were hinky, man. The whole thing was badly documented, and your death was never supposed to happen in the first place, because you and me, we’re, we’re partners, and if I don’t stop them killing you now, it’ll never happen. Any of it. You and me, taking names and kicking alien ass when the world needs saving, and boy, it needs saving in the worst way right now. Uh, in 2011. You die now I never get the chance to put on the suit.” Jay leveled that intense, weary look at Kay again. “You ever imagine not doing this? Looking up at the stars and not knowing what they’re saying to you? Not knowing why?”
Kay felt his mouth twist. “I don’t have the time or luxury for what-if games, Junior.”
“Stop calling me Junior. I’m older than you now. I just aged better.”
“Okay, tell me this, Sport. How long have you been MIB?”
“Right now? Longer than you, old man.”
The moment stretched out, on the sidewalk in SoHo, and Kay believed him. “You got a plan?”
“Gonna watch your back.”
“Until July. That it?”
“We keep a look out for a butt-ugly biker and his bitch from hell. Take ‘em out before they take you out.”
Kay clapped Jay on the shoulder. “You know, I think I like you, Chief. You’re squirrelly, but you got heart. It’s entertaining. Let’s get this show on the road and high tail it to HQ.”
“No, ah, hey, I know it’s procedure,” Jay said, “and I respect that. I do. But I don’t want to screw up the time stream, so HQ is strictly off limits. Bad enough I’m out here on the street, but New York is just crazy enough to handle another blip on the weird shit-o-meter. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of unsolved cases in my time, records lost; hell SoHo has a rep to this day as the theme park of strange, starting with Andy Warhol and going downhill from there.”
“So he’ll get more than his fifteen minutes, huh?”
“Yeah, got, will get, will have gotten – Look, what I’m saying is that I need to be out here, throwing down my thing and watching your ass, not locked up at HQ while Zed decides I’m not crazy. Earth doesn’t have time for that shit.”
“According to you, it’s got forty years, Skip.”
Jay pressed his lips together and drew a breath. “Well, yeah, but we’ve got a couple unauthorized visitors to find before they find you, and frankly, I don’t plan on getting back to 2011 the long way, so let’s get down and get busy. I don’t know how long I can deal with the bellbottoms.” His gaze flicked up to Kay. “Or all the hair.”
Déjà vu shouldn’t happen before a significant event happened, but damned if there wasn’t something about Jay. Wisps of the future clinging to the man’s suit? Brain waves warping Kay’s psychic mojo? Sounded like bullshit, but Kay had seen far weirder things, and he felt right, walking with Jay.
They reached the car and Kay unlocked the driver’s door.
“This is your ride? Why am I not surprised.” Jay shook his head sadly at the Plymouth.
“Shut up and get in the car. We’ll get Gee, drop off the prisoner, and see just how good you are, Nostradamus. The back!” Kay glared as Jay reached for the passenger front door. “My partner rides shotgun.”
Jay looked around. “Partner, huh? That’d be, oh wait. There’s only me here.”
“Gee’s first name’s probably Bee, and you don’t strike me as a disco man.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Trust me.” Jay rolled the orange sphere into the back seat and shut the door. “Gee can keep an eye on the ball back there in case it gets cranky again.” He got into the front seat and looked at Kay expectantly.
Kay slid behind the wheel and started the car, revving it to make it roar a little, and drove around the corner in time to see a burst of white light flash out of the music store windows just before Gee walked out, pulling off his sunglasses.
Escaped convict, sexual assault by tentacles, crazed assassins and an unexpected partner from the future.
As far as missions went, it wasn’t a bad start.