Strangers in Moscow
Darkness had enveloped the streets of Moscow. Earlier, a thick permeating fog had arrived, and dimmed the night lights that dotted the city. As it was a little past midnight, most businesses outside of the nightspots had been closed. The fog had brought with it an eerie silence.
Barbara was walking through the streets of Moscow. In her arms was a fluffy she received over three decades ago. “Fwuffy am scawed,” Old Major croaked with a deep voice. He was very old for a fluffy, at about the age of thirty. This fact astounded many of the fluffy specialist vets who encountered him, as the known age limit of a fluffy was usually at the age of ten. However, a lifetime of good caretaking and research had kept the McBrega-issued fluffy alive through thick and thin. On top of that, Major was lucky enough to have received the gene therapy that fixed some of the flaws that had been placed within his system when he was manufactured in a bio-factory.
But despite all the maintenance, Major was not completely immune to the inevitable. Despite having a hip replacement a few years back, he was still moving slower than ever. Even with some of the artificial organs introduced to replace his older systems, there were other things that couldn’t be easily replace, like his immune system and his blood.
Barbara was trying to remember her way back home. As a travel writer, she had been all around the world, covering all kinds of events. Currently, she was renting out an apartment in her native Moscow. While she had a knowledge of the city, most of her familiarity with the city was as a child. Even though she had made an appearance in her home turf from time to time, a seemingly brief five years brought enough change in the city that a lot of places seem unrecognizable. Shops she once remembered no longer existed.
With a little determination, she rocked her arms a little, soothing the feelings of Major.
“Rest now, Major. We’ll find a way home.”
Barbara and Old Major had attended a press meeting that went late into the night. The event that was being covered was the unveiling of a new hospital that doubled as a specialized veterinary clinic. Due to the similarities in the mental physiology of fluffies and children, the facility was going to be part of attempt to provide comprehensive care for two seemingly different fields. The usual suspects were all there. Her father, Fyodor was there. Her boss was there. And even the President himself was there. Barbara was not too fond of the President, but she was required to interview him.
The President was a man who was fond of fluffies, and recognized the fluffy that she was holding.
“Ah, I see you are holding a Carpdime.”
“Yes sir,” acknowledged Barbara, as she explained, “I got Major here as a kid.”
“That’s interesting. The Carpdime breed wasn’t introduced into our homeland until 2000.”
“Oh no. I got Major here from the first McBrega outlet in Pushkin Square.”
That little fact caught the President’s interest.
“A McBrega, you say?”
“Yes, he is.”
Major didn’t say anything. His throat was feeling dry, and he wasn’t too interested in what was going on.
“I take it he was manufactured in a factory, and came pre-programmed?”
“That’s true, yes.”
“Isn’t that a little boring? I mean, they can’t learn a lot.”
Barbara had heard that many times. Knowing full well who she was talking to, she could only give the reply that she most comfortable with.
“I love him all the same.”
As this happened, a black fluffy was trotting quite quickly. He was a Dendy, of the AK breed, and he had quite the pep in his step. Within moments, he reached his target, and started tapping the shoulders of the President.
The president turned around, and saw his little Pasha looking up at him in glee.
“Ah, little Pasha. What is it?”
“Daddeh! Siwwy mistah wan hab tawkies wif ‘ou!”
Pasha pointed his hoof towards the far corner. Barbara could see that the man Pasha’s gaze was directed at a general in full military garb. Barbara recognized him as Valery, the head of the Army. While a close confidante of the President, his appearance at the opening of this hospital seemed rather suspicious.
“We’ll continue this interview another time,” said the President, as he picked up little Pasha. Though accepting of his master. He had a playful demeanour, as he looked left and right. Remarking at his curiosity, the President gave a rather off-handed response, “See how much more interesting our own Dendies are! You should get one, Miss.”
That comment left Barbara on a sour note. The mood was further ruined when Barbara had to listen to the speech the President made later on. At a seemingly innocuous affair, the President had to mention about the threats that Mother Russia was facing, and the efforts that his government was taking to keep their nation ahead of the competition.
Barbara recognized the place. She was not sure how she landed here. She speculated that in her attempt by the few landmarks that she could recognize without the use of a map or her smartphone, she had gravitated to a place from her childhood. For that place was Gorky Park, a park that she had attended regularly with her family. Barbara laughed a little at that fact. Her father had offered to drive her to the apartment, but she felt confident that she would find her way back. And even though she didn’t, finding herself back at this one park felt like a blessing.
Well, almost. At the gates of the park, Barbara could see a young mean lying on the ground. He was definitely young, but his face was unkempt. He had a thick beard for a man of his age, and his hair was uncut. His clothes were not washed, and covered in a grime, reflected by the stench. Huddling around him were three fluffies that Barbara recognized as belonging to the native QH breed. This sight was not unique to the park as Barbara encountered enough homeless people around the city, but his presence reminded him that even the most idyllic scene wasn’t really perfect.
Barbara walked in. She was going to go in for only a few minutes. Perhaps see the fountain, which had already been turned off. Take in some of that night air.
“Fwuff…. Fwuffy ‘memba dis pwace! Dis am da speshuw pawk!”
Barbara smiled. Despite his advanced age, Old Major still had a nostalgia for the special things.
“It don’t matter if you’re red or blue…”
Startled, both woman and fluffy turned around. Seated on a bench was a young man of her age, wearing a coat, a flannel shirt, and jeans.
“They print my message in the Saturday Sun
I had to tell them I ain’t second to none
And I told about equality and it’s true
Either you’re wrong or you’re right
But, if you’re thinkin’ about my baby
It don’t matter if you’re red or blue”
Barbara was not sure what possessed her to approach the bench. By right she should have felt concern. Perhaps dread, even. But there was also an element of curiosity at play. In addition, the voice that sang the song pulled it off quite well. And to top it off, the man’s face seemed familiar. Barbara was not sure if her eyes were deceiving her. And indeed, as she was within range, she was able to make a confirmation.
“You’re Mikhail!” gasped Barbara. “Mikhail Ivanovich!”
With a big smile, Mikhail affirmed his identity.
“Indeed I am.”
Barbara was a little amazed. Mikhail Ivanovich was a popular youtuber, both in his native Russia and worldwide. As a reviewer of various retro games on the McBrega Entertainment System, he specialized in many retro games that people would have played with their pet fluffies. In addition to that, Mikhail was famous for his familiarity with the Dendy subculture in Russia, and had devoted many episodes to curios such as the statue of Malchik, the travelling fluffies of the Moscow Metro and so on.
And yes, all that information could not explain one thing.
“What are you doing so late out here in the middle of the night?”
Mikhail smiled, as he stated, “I’m looking.”
Puzzled, Barbara asked, “Looking for what?”
“Daddeh am wookin’ fow a fwen!”
A childlike voice squeaked out of a fluffy that had been hiding under Mikhail’s coat. He was average sized for a fluffy, and was clearly a Dendy. Perhaps of the AK breed, but he didn’t resemble the average AK. He was a nice bright purple, but he lacked a mane. Smiling, the fluffy then said, “Hewwo, nice miss. Fwuffy an Mawteen. Nyu fwen?”
Barbara was a little shocked both by Mikhail’s earlier answer, and Martin’s casual nature.
“What kind of friend are you looking for?”
“Anyone,” Mikhail said nonchalantly.
That question puzzled Barbara a little. For a good quarter of a minute, she was starting to feel a little put off, and even considered making a hasty departure.
“Nice mistah! Nice mistah!”
Little squeaks came out of a small fluffy that was running towards Mihkail. The fluffy was of a small breed with a long body, much like the Foxhoarder and Squeakyfriend breed of fluffies. This stray went up to Mikhail, as he said, “Hewwo nice mistah! Hewwo Mawty!”
“Hey there little guy. How are you doing?”
“Nice mistah! Fwuffy hab a prezzie for Mikey!"
As he said that, the fluffy opened his mouth, and revealed a bottle cap. It was a shiny bottle cap, but it looked interesting. To any ordinary human it would be trash. But for fluffies that could be make a fun toy out of any mundane object, it was a token of endearment.
And with that, the little fluffy ran off. Starting to get a gist of the situation, Barbara asked, “So you just wait out in the middle of the night to talk to random fluffies?”
“I wait out to make a friend. It can be a fluffy, it can be a dog, it can even be a person, like you.”
Barbara was a little confused. Looking around, she wondered how this man could risk the darkness of the night to loiter alone in an area like this. With a rather solemn tone, she asked, “Isn’t it dangerous? I heard there is bad company around here.”
With a rather puzzled expression, Mikhail looked at Barbara.
“I really haven’t had any trouble.”
It was then that Mikhail noticed Old Major. He knew that Barbara was holding a fluffy but, and upon seeing it up close, he realized what type of fluffy it was.
“A Marty McBrega fluffy! And one of the Carpdime breed. Complete with bioport!!”
Barbara smiled a little, understanding Mikhail’s fascination.
“Yes, this is my McBrega. Got him almost three decades ago.”
Mikhail’s eyes widened, as he heard the age.
“He’s that old?!”
“Yes. I got Major here when I was a kid.”
Mikhail’s eyes were filled with wonder, his mouth a little agape. Extending his hand, he asked, “Can I touch him?”
Barbara nodded. As she brought the ageing fluffy, Mikhail extended his arm onto the McBrega product’s fluff. Major was a bit uneasy at first but, as Mikhail slowly ran his palm down his back gently, the elder fluffy calmed a little. Martin too was in awe as he noted, “Owd fwuffy!”
As Mikhail continued to stroke Major, he said, “I always wanted to get a Marty like this.”
“Yeah. I understand that the fluffies that were made to resemble Marty McBrega were more compatible with the games sold by McBrega.”
“Oh, I didn’t play much games with Major here. I was happy with just raising him as a pet.”
Hearing that, Mikhail smiled. “That’s good on you. Fluffies deserve care.”
As Mikhail continued to stroke Major, he spouted off a random question.
“So what are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”
“I was attending a rather long press briefing. I’m trying to find my back way to Podsolnukh Towers.”
Mikhail’s looked up, as he mentioned, “Oh, Podsolnukh is not too far from here.” Raising his hand away from Major, he pointed his index finger in the direction of a nearby condominium.
“It’s right there.”
Barbara, realizing a goof she had made while trying to find her way back, felt a little embarrassed.
“There! Oh god, and I’ve been walking for so long!”
Proceeding to carry Major back in her arms, Barbara slightly bowed her head in appreciation.
“Thank you very much Mikhail. I better get back home!”
“Oh, miss, is it alright if I walk you home?”
Barbara was a bit startled by that offer. But Mikhail seemed friendly enough that she couldn’t help but relent.
And for the next ten minutes, the two walked. They talked about their respective backgrounds. Barbara, as a graduated from an American university who had travelled across the globe, working for many different news outlets. Mikhail, a university dropout who spent most of his life in Chelyabinsk, then moved to Moscow with his mother and worked at a local daycare.
After a while, both parties found themselves in front of the condominium.
“Thank you for walking me home, Mr Ivanovich.”
“It’s my pleasure.”
And without any other word, Mikhail walked off into the fog with Martin. Barbara stood for a while, wondering a little about this chance encounter she had with this eccentric. But, she came to understand that, though eccentric, he was a little well-meaning.
Within just a few days, Barbara would meet Mikhail again. However, they met again in very different circumstances.
“Hello again, Barbara! Welcome to the Mir Daycare!”
Barbara had remembered the name of the daycare a few days ago. She was looking for a daycare that Major could attend while she was working at the Moscow office of her publication. There were other daycares, but the chance encounter with Mikhail had piqued her interesting in this daycare.
“Hello again, Mikhail!”
As part of the arrangement, Major was assigned to the same class as the one Mikhail managed with his companion, Martin. Old Major surveyed the crowd of fluffies that had gathered around him. One young fluffy, a Dendy by the name of Nadia was in awe of Major’s age.
“Teww us a stowwy, gwampa!”
The chance encounter had led Barbara to rewatch a lot of Mikhail’s old videos. Previously, she had watched them on and off, but the encounter had made he realize that there was a fascinating story to this eccentric man. And then, about one month after they first met, Mikhail released her favourite video by him.
“What’s up guys, it’s your boy, Mikhail!”
“And fwuffy am Mawteen!”
“And today, we’re going to talk about Sergei Leonov.”
Everybody knew who Sergei Leonov was. The first cosmonaut to do a spacewalk. The first cosmonaut to walk on the Moon. Countless documentaries had covered his life as a test pilot, and then as a cosmonaut, followed by his brief stint of fame as an entertainer after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Even more videos on youtube chronicled his life in amateurish ways. But here, Mikhail was talking about a different aspect of Sergei’s life.
“The Sergei I knew,” explained Mikhail, “was the host of the Новая реальность, or the New Reality TV show. And it was thanks to him that I developed my fascination for Dendies and the games one could play with them.
There was always one statement that Sergei said quite often. Its something I myself believed in, as I kept watching his show.”
And as he said this, a clip from the Soma-Ri episode played, as Sergei addressed the audience in vintage glory.
“Never give up. It may be frustrating, and you may have to try again, and again. But that’s the spirit! You get back up and try again. And you never give up.”