Mark Makkfein and the Find

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Guardians of the Hidden Agency

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«Равнодушие — это паралич души, преждевременная смерть».

А. П. Чехов

Chapter 1. «It.»

One day, I found a star. I was just walking home after the lecture, and I almost got my foot on some shiny thing.

I was afraid to take it with my hands, and I really didn’t want to get burned if it was hot. What if it was a cold star? It would also be very unpleasant.

I’ve never, ever held a star in my life, so I don’t know what their temperature is.

As I approached the shiny thing with my palms, I felt neither heat nor cold. Curiosity got the better of my fears, so I wanted to pick it up and study it at home.

I never would have guessed that this could be lying on the road… Taking a handkerchief and putting it on this ball-shaped miracle, I picked it up, put it in my pocket and went home.

You’re going to tell me I’m a weirdo. What’s a star in your pocket?

That’s my beautiful humor. I know perfectly well that I’m not a star. But this thing seemed curious. Since I was a kid, I’ve been making up my own fairy tales to escape this cold, dark reality… What is my reality? It’s very ordinary, it’s so ordinary, it makes me want to howl.

I live in the apartment of a two-story brick house in the center of a small Russian city. I used to live with my grandmother in this apartment, then I inherited it.

As soon as I reached 18, my grandmother passed away, leaving me alone in the whole world, I have no family, and no real friends.

It’s not that I’m not friends because I have a very strong personality, it’s just that I have some strange abilities, but I have that later…

The feeling of uselessness and loneliness has come to me today with somehow tripled strength than usual. As always, I used to walk down the streets in the evenings, getting an appetite. A walk is also very helpful for insomnia. Lately, I’ve lost my appetite and my insomnia.

But if the appetite never showed up, the walk didn’t come for nothing, I found this. What’s happening right now in my jacket pocket is freezing and heating my right side at the same time. It’s a strange sensation.

I’m afraid it’s the last time I’ve had a lecture today because I have no money left to continue my studies.

I used to moonlight as a salesman and a security guard at night. But I got fired because I was always tired, I couldn’t sleep.

You have to go to work to get some money, but you don’t have the time and energy to study, which is what this money is for. A vicious circle.

I don’t know how to handle money. I could spend two days’ salary not knowing how much I spent. I think I went to a cafe a couple times. I bought food at the store for a week…

«Life went downhill», — I thought, stepping on the autumn prospectus. Thought about it until I saw the strange shine of my find. Now all I could think of was coming home and looking at this shiny ball…

Maybe the fairy tale will come true. Or maybe I’m just in the middle of a madness…

— Hello, Ma-a-ars! — there was a squeaky voice behind my back, belonging to Christina Polyakova, my neighbor.

She goes to the same university as I… studied. She’s attractive, but I can’t stand her at first sight. Stupid pretty face. And nothing more. Stupid, with bright makeup eyes, red lips on a powdered background never said anything clever, I have not heard.

Bleached, yellow hair (no personality) — not hair, but straw. For some reason tries to look older. But why? Even old ladies don’t wear that layer of powder and lipstick.

But maybe I shouldn’t say such a bad thing about her. I’m in such a bad mood today. A nice girl should be for all normal people.

I felt the heat and the cold in my right side. There was a sparkling ball in my right pocket. There was a feeling of cold and heat at the same time, and then with a triple force. Never felt that way — heat and cold at once. What if it’s dangerous? However, no, it was a sign of fate to go more away from Christine. I don’t want to look back like I didn’t hear her call, so I’m moving on, two steps from home. No, there’s that squeaky voice again.

— Mars! Hi! Are you deaf?

— Hi, — I had to stop. — How many times have I told you I’m not Mars, but Mark!

Well, now she’s gonna ask me to fix the faucet again, carry the heavy bags, help her grandmother whitewash the ceiling, walk the dog… He’s using me, like he always does. I don’t understand why she always wants something from me.

— Mars… uh… mark, do you have any organic chemistry literature?

— Are you crazy? — I’ve run out of patience, she’s the one I’ve always wanted to be rude to. — Where did my chemistry textbooks come from? I’m learning foreign languages. I don’t do chemical gibberish!

— Mark, why are you being so rude when I’m trying to talk to you? «Cause…

— Why are you calling me Mars?! — You probably expect me to call you Venus? Never!

And why does she make me so angry?

— What a fantasy — Christina laughed. — You have manic-depressive syndrome!

— For now, I said, so I don’t have to be rude again, I don’t like her jokes. I don’t care about her diagnoses. He studies psychology and attributes new «syndromes» to me every time.

With my back turned, I walked towards my own concrete porch. And Christina’s voice is still in my ears, laughing. What’s she doing with me today?

— Your jacket is all white in the back! Ha-ha-ha! Well, as always, you’re a confused weirdo in your repertoire! Or rather, a schizoid personality! Ha-ha-ha! Look, it’s all white! Oh, I can’t! Ha-ha-ha!

— It’s funny, I believed it, she brought me to the point of boiling with her stupid ridicule. So I forgot everything. I took off my jacket and started shaking it and cleaning it. But most of all I wanted to erase my identity from Christine’s stupid head!

— Oh what is it? — She screamed (not a jacket, but a silly Polyakova).

Christina was looking at a sparkling ball rolling over a muddy, wet asphalt. Oh, hell, my find fell out of my jacket pocket. Now I can’t keep it a secret. Christina is the last person I want to share this secret with. And this lunatic’s already bent over to a sparkling ball and reaching for it with her hand.

— Don’t touch!!! — I screamed.

But the pest ignored my warning and touched the star. I rushed to her, she’s about to lose her fingers…

— Ooh, what is that? — Just saying stupid Polyakova, holding «it» in her palm.

— Give it back, why did you take it? I don’t know if «it» can be taken with my bare hands, if it’s dangerous… I wanted to take away her star. But Christina held her in her fist and pulled her hand behind her back, and I tried to grab her fingers, and I caught her hand, and…

All of a sudden, I can see everything floating around… (Don’t think of it as passion). I felt my legs falling off the ground and we were sharply thrown up. I looked down, and I saw the tops of the trees of the nearby small park being far down, and we were moving faster and faster.

Already thinking that I had gone mad, I decided to close my eyes, expecting that if I opened them again, everything would be the same. But, feeling that speed was only increasing, I opened my eyes and I saw stars and dark blue. Sky above my head and under my feet, everywhere I looked.

The closest stars were moving faster and faster. And we were all going at the speed of light. Actually, we were on a «it» flight that I found today — so small and shiny.

With all my strength, holding Christine’s hand in which she held my find, I saw her closed eyes.

I wondered if she was conscious or just decided not to look fear in the eye. In order not to get lost from each other, I had to hold both of Christine’s hands.

But what distracted me was that one of the stars was getting bigger. I swallowed, and I realized that it’s not the star that’s increasing, it’s the distance that’s decreasing.

It was very similar to the planet Earth, our birthplace, but different in color, everything was painted purple, green, pink with a golden light of some sort.

Where are we? Where are we going, like we’re on a rocket?! It’s over. We’re going to collapse. We’re going to crash in full swing, and there’ll be nothing left of us.

I felt like a rag doll. Christina’s hand slipped out of mine, but a moment later I felt her hands around my body. She held me.

Well done, Christina, now we won’t get lost. I had to follow her example and hug a hitchhiker — I had to save her. «Now we won’t get lost» — and that was the last thought at the time. I passed out…

Chapter 2. «Stranger»

— Mark! Mark! Wake up! Wake up!

Christina’s voice again. What does she need? She’ll be talking about her organic chemistry or manic depression! What’s on her mind? Where am I?

— What do you want from me again? — I shouted.

— You’re crazy! We’re in the middle of nowhere, and he’s resting!

It brought me back to a cruel reality. I remembered we had to crash into some planet. When I opened my eyelids, I saw the most ordinary sky — the blue, with the white fluffy clouds. «I just had a bad dream», — I thought, looking at the clear sky. Only the sun (or it is not the sun) shined softer, muffled light. My eyes would hurt if I looked at the normal sun… so it’s not the sun. I could look at that pretty, shimmering ball with no sunglasses.

After I finally got my back off the ground, I started looking like a crazy person who woke up, but was still delirious. I was sitting on the sands of a golden pink shade, behind me was the sound of waves of the sea. Christina, with her usual grin on her face, looked at me, sitting two feet away.

Beside her stood a tall man, on whom I unwittingly delayed a surprised look, which was not very polite. And to be surprised was what. There was something «different» in it that was unfamiliar to anyone from planet Earth. «Different» was dressed in something shiny, like that ill-fated thing that began this strange story with the flight.

It was some kind of strange matter, remotely like silk tissue. It sparkles even with that kind of muffled light. How would she shine under the burning sun? That robe was to a stranger’s toes. His face is covered with something white like powder, his lips are covered with bright orange, his eyes with emerald eyeliner, his eyebrows were blue, his eggplant hair fell to the waist. His hair wasn’t human at all, it was too thick, a millimeter in diameter. He had a brighter makeup than Christina, and she seemed to fade.

He was different from Earth people, or I would have mistaken him for one of the singers, there are some on our planet. But the main difference was that he had large (larger than Christina’s) eyes like a doll, which is not the case with ordinary Earth man. Eyes like ice, a cold shade of blue.

— Enjoy the day and the daylight! — Suddenly the Wonder Man said. I got on my feet, and he was a little taller than me.

— What? — I don’t understand him.

Christina came to the rescue.

— «Enjoy the day» — it means in our «Good day», — she explained, — «Enjoy the morning» — «Good morning», «Enjoy the evening» — «Good evening» also «Enjoy the night».

— Yeah, I’m glad. And you already studied all that while I was unconscious, — I said.

— I was also greeted, so I started asking questions, — and Christina smiled at me like I was flirting with her.

— Also we on the planet Mertsella say «Smile Sunrise», «Smile Sun», «Smile Sunset» and «Smile Stars», — a man with purple hair spoke. We thank them for their daily escort.

— Meet, — Christina said, — this is Darbaron Bruno.

— Nice to meet you, Mark Makkfein.

— You’re probably both very hungry after your trip, — Darbaron spoke. — Come and have dinner at my house.

— Actually, I wasn’t planning on going to space. Where are we? — I said. — How did we get here?

— Have you forgotten? Don’t you remember? — Darbaron smiled mysteriously all of a sudden.

— Bruno promised to tell us everything, once again smiled Christina with her bright-lipped, like Bruno. And that comparison made me feel bad, like a delusional dream. Did I go crazy? We went after Bruno. How can Christina be so carefree? How can she smile in this situation? Well, we’re not dying, anyway. And we didn’t fall into the hands of a monster. We are invited to a meal by a kind man. Oh, if it wasn’t for his battle coloring, I might not be so nervous.

— To be honest, I also have a lot of questions to ask you — Bruno said, stepping ahead. — You have no idea how incredibly lucky you are. I’m no ordinary citizen. — Bruno proudly raised his chin too sharp. — I’m an employee of the Secret Agency. I can put in a good word for you. The Chief Officer of the Agency can help you.

— We’re from planet Earth, — I said, proudly, that I have nothing better to brag about, to be honest.

— I learned that a long time ago, having spoken to the charming Christina Polyakova, — he calmly answered.

— We, Earthlings, need only be called by a first name. Without a last name, Christina said. And even a shorter name. Call me Krista. And you, Mars, it concerns. No more «Polyakova-Polyakova».

— Then call me Darb.

Christina laughed.

— No, let’s call you Bruno!

The strange man’s face reflected a moment of embarrassment, but at the same moment he again took on a majestic look, throwing up his long chin.

— Let’s go to my house for breakfast, he said. — There we will talk more. Confusion and haste in such matters are extremely dangerous.

On my trembling legs, I followed this bright couple, looking around. We were walking past a building that I thought was strange.

The color and texture of the walls from afar resembled the snowbank, which shines in the sun, so beautiful only in the christening frosts, about which Pushkin himself also mentioned: «Frost and sun, the day is wonderful…». Only the «snowbank» sparkled a little differently, since the sun was not here, something else was shining.

The building was as impressive as a white giant, a white iceberg… There were lots of windows with colorful curtains that somehow were outside the building, not inside. The shape of the building resembled a snowball, with approximately three floors. It was impossible to say exactly because the windows were not arranged in rows, but randomly, like holes in cheese of different size. Round, oval, stretched horizontally, vertically, diagonally, some were in the shape of a month.

— Oh yes! — That’s all I could say.

— This is my home, — Bruno proudly said. — This is where my family lives.

— No corners, surprised Christine. — Like a big white marshmallow.

When we got closer, I touched the wall… it was soft! So the comparison with the marshmallows was better. «It’s all a dream» — I thought to myself. I used to have these dreams when I was a kid, where I used to wander around fairy tale places. I had a feeling I’d been here before.

Flowers grew near the «marshmallow» house. Such wonderful flowers I have never seen, even in a dream. My surprise was not only caused by the unusual glow of the transparent petals, but by the fact that when I was away from them, about five feet away, they were closed, but as soon as I got close to them, they opened up. I was even more surprised by the flowers up close. By opening up their shiny petals, they were literally radiating light that could be compared to the moon. But that’s not all, the flowers were starting to make a slightly subtle melodic sound.

— This is the Flower of the Moon. Or just a lunocvet, said Bruno because of my back. — My wife adores them. She says they take the nightmares out at night, and the broth of the fallen leaves makes the hair shine. At night, they open up, and they exude radiant pollen, and they illuminate the whole yard. You’ll see for yourself at night. My wife Leland got tired of insomnia and decided to plant these flowers, and she’s been sleeping like a baby ever since.

I can’t describe all the wonderful things we saw when we came in. Like kids on rides, Christina and I opened our mouths with surprise. We walked along the winding corridors of the house. However, some things were quite familiar: carpets, tables, rocking chairs. Everywhere you could see different pillows of different sizes, they were used instead of chairs. There were no sharp corners, all the furniture was round. The pillows in the various shapes on which they were sitting were covered with material reminiscent of white satin, making them look like the house outside.

Bruno brought us to the dining room. In the dining room around the huge white round table, there were the same huge pillows, only the already gentle blue shade and the beige. Conveniently arranged on pillows, Christina and I began to look at the spacious dining room. On the rounded windows (or rather behind them, because the curtains were outside) there were clear curtains, like wings of a dragonfly. There was a big, soft blue carpet on the floor with an intricate white pattern, like frost on the windows in the morning. The walls are covered with matter, but no longer satin, but suede into a blue strip. The dining room was more like a bedroom, but it’s only by our Earth standards.

Christina and I didn’t even notice Bruno leaving the dining room. When he came back, he told us that all the children of this house would be eating here soon. Twenty of them. So we’d better move to his office, or we won’t be able to talk about anything serious.

Once again, we walked through all these wonderful corridors with fluffy carpets of blue, yellow, pink. There was also a rounded, beige-shaped table in the study. The whole room was kept in light sand tones. I sat in one of the big chairs, Christina — on the contrary… she looked strange. When did she change her appearance?! Bruno noticed my astonishment, followed my gaze and smiled. Christina couldn’t help but notice my not-so-adequate surprise.

— Is something wrong with me? — She asked.

Christina’s hair acquired its natural color, a light wheat shade, and became very lush, long, as if they had never known all the abuses of perhydrol to which their owner subjected them.

The vulgar makeup in acid tones disappeared, and the face became quite nice, even you could consider it beautiful. But Christina herself froze in horror when she pulled a mirror from her purse.

— Nothing surprising, Bruno said. — Nothing to be surprised. It happens to everyone, especially the women who are on the planet Mertsella. Yeah, all the artificial paint in the hair and makeup was gone. Good thing the clothes didn’t dissolve, so was that. Mertsella likes to take a man in his original form, like nature made him. There’s paint on Mertsella if you need to fix it.

— What a horror, give more of those colors! — Christina screamed in a panic.

— And not a horror, I said. — That’s better. Why, did you have lenses? Your eyes became grey.

— Are you kidding me! — Is it better? — Squinting, asking Christina, — You just want to mock! Bruno, he thinks I’m ugly!

— You’re like children, — Bruno sighs.

— I didn’t say anything like that at all, — I did. — Quite the opposite! Without a huge layer of makeup, it’s better.

— And you, Bruno! Why are you wearing makeup?! — threw an angry look at poor Bruno Christina.

— It’s not makeup, it’s what we do when we go out and take a few magical maneuvers — coloring ourselves with clays of different shades, but it has nothing to do with women. The women are getting prettier since the first day on Mertsella, so they don’t have to do such nonsense as coloring their face if they don’t have to do some magical thing.

Christina was devastated, how she’ll live without her lipstick and powder. Bruno sat at the table on the sofa, and we decided to start our conversation.

Chapter 3. «Planned surprise»

— Get to the point, said Bruno.

We were brought a large cup of drink, which here beautifully called «Farbinosto», but it was very similar to coffee.

— So, — said Bruno. — You’re on this planet for a reason, but you, Mark…

— What, my visit was scheduled? I thought it was a wild accident, — I interrupted Bruno.

— Yes, Mark, it was a planned surprise, Bruno smiled, but my plan almost failed, you didn’t want to take the satellite with your hands. And the only way to fly with it is to take it with your bare hands, not with a handkerchief.

— I was very afraid of burning or passing out my fingers, I said. — I’m not a fool to take things with my bare hands, especially since this balloon has a very strange shine like a star.

— So I helped you! — Christina said it cheerfully.

— Well, yes, grabbing things with your bare hands, and other people’s things, and when not asked for — big help — I sarcastically noticed. Christina got offended and turned her back. I continued. — And why would you want me?

— You’re right for us, Bruno said. — Don’t worry, you’re not the great-grandson of the great wizards. It’s just that sometimes I go out on Earth streets and look at new faces. This time I had the goal of taking the new Guardian for the Hidden Agency. I really liked your face, Mark. I can tell by the face of the right person. You’re real, alive. I’m not going to tell you that you don’t have to take those words literally and what they mean. Ever since I found you, you’ve been assigned to be a conscript, but the amazing coincidence is that you’ve already been listed in the Mertsella Agency database as an asset to our planet. The conscripted people are the chosen people to live on Mertsella, who come from different planets.

The meaning of his words did not quite reach my mind. I did not understand what was expected of me. Bruno continued:

— Besides, you fit the bill on every level: young, smart, orphaned, not yet married… And besides, you really don’t need all of these characteristics, just because I chose you… I have, as it were, this kind of facial recognition, which is the kind of gift I’ve had since I was a kid, which is why I work for the Chief Hidden Mertsella Agency, which is what we took you into.

— Bruno, I, too, have some strange abilities like yours. I can read from the face, I said, when I saw Christine come out to wash her hands. — It’s my too-innate insight. I can see what a man is hiding, whose manner he is copying, who he really is and who he wants to be. I don’t know how, but when I see a man, his facial expressions, his gestures, all of a sudden I know all about him. It’s like a movie in front of my eyes, it’s like a scene in this man’s life. At first I thought it was just my imagination, but then my «imagination» became 100% likely to coincide with the actual facts. Sometimes I stay away from the person I know about. But more often I get shunned. A lot of people don’t like things to be clear about them, and when their secret thoughts are known to outsiders. Besides, I don’t know how to hide anything, so I make it clear to the person that I know everything about him. I’ve been called a sociopath many times, and I don’t notice when I’m hurting people. It’s not on purpose, it’s on the contrary. I want everyone to be good, I want to be peaceful with everyone, I don’t even want to see the most secret thing about a person, it comes automatically. But it is worth saying something wrong — and I am on the list of enemies. Seeing the hidden life of people, I know nothing about human relations. The same goes for my personal life. It doesn’t sound like anything, but suddenly you realize it’s not your person, or that you’re being silently hated. It’s my cross, and I’ve come to terms with that — being an eternally guilty villain in the eyes of others. So I have never really close friends.

Bruno smiled and responded.

The Agency needs you. Finally, your talent will be appreciated.

— And what does the Agency do? — asked Christine back in her office.

— Helping people is the most important thing the Hidden Agency does. Mark, are you ready to be our Employee? Christina, are you okay with being Mark’s partner?

— I agree! — Christina screamed.

— Wait, I said. — I don’t understand. What are my duties?

Bruno replied:

— You and Christina will be investigating undercover crimes and doing covert missions. Yeah, I forgot to clarify. Your assignments will be related to the planet Earth, because you are its native. There will be fewer missions on Mertsella, although this may not be necessary, accidents here occur once every hundred years, metaphorically speaking, and that is minor.

— More than a hundred years, I think I’ll never live, I said. Bruno was serious and added:

— All you have to say is «yes» or «no». There will be no further explanation. If any of you refuse, we will immediately send you to the same place where you took this satellite into your hands. What happened to you will not be remembered. You will not remember the shiny ball you found or the presence here. Other information is classified. When you become an employee, the assignments will come directly to you. I’m going to help you complete the first few secret assignments to support your endeavors, and I think you’ll manage quickly on your own. You and Christina will have to learn the wisdom of interplanetary politics.

— I don’t know, Bruno, — I was confused.

— You have to answer now, — Bruno said.

I would stay here forever, on this Mertsella, in this lovely house, but I wondered if I could do things I can’t even imagine.

— You’re a bore, Christina said. — Are you hesitating? Your gray life is over now. Now you’re going to have adventures and fantasy. Isn’t that an argument you need to make?

— You have time to think until tomorrow morning. When the sun rises, I will be ready to hear your answer, said Bruno, and then added. — You need to remember your motives.

«Remember your motives» are strange words. But I took them with the utmost understanding at the time, as if I had long wanted to remember what motives I had to start working for the Hidden Agency.

— Well, I’ll try, — I said to Bruno, feeling like he wants to sleep… Stop! What do you mean I feel him sleepy? I was amazed, I suddenly realized that I could feel what Bruno feels now.

— What’s the matter with me, Bruno? I suddenly feel like you’re sleepy.

— Really? — Bruno didn’t seem terribly surprised, which hit me even more.

I turned to Christina, hoping to find an understanding in her eyes, maybe she had the same. But I suddenly felt like she was starving. She’s so dizzy. She’s been malnourished, worried about her figure.

— Why starve? Sometimes you can eat something? — I asked her. And she was very surprised and emotional.

— Why would you think that? Why do you care? — Christina resented me.

I felt like I was crazy.

— So you don’t know what’s happening to me?

— You’re just rude, that’s what’s going on with you, implying that I’m fat, you…

— Stop! — interrupted by Bruno, — I’ll try to explain to you now, Mark… uh… So to speak, your talents began to manifest, which have slept for many years, since you learned to speak, you have forgotten them. It’s on Mertsella that all the magical talents bloom wild, though some don’t. However, you’ve been very talented since you’ve been here since the first few hours, and that’s what opened up. I thought tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, your… Anyway, congratulations, Mark! Expect a new awakening every day! Christina, you too.

Smiling at Christina Bruno, then adding.

— Well, it’s time for dinner and sleep. If you don’t mind, dinner will be brought to your bedroom. You see, having dinner with my family is not something for the faint of heart, and you’ve had enough of that today. Go rest and watch motivational dreams.

Then they took me to the bedroom.

Again pillows of different shapes and sizes, gentle colors, round windows… But there was also something new: huge «marshmallow» bed, all in lace. I thought I might enjoy this interior. I also thought I’d spend a sleepless night here in a puzzle of motives. In the round open window came a gentle melody of lunar flowers, lilac-yellowish streams of light. I lay down on a lace «marshmallow» and… fell asleep.

Chapter 4. «Dream»

…The forged doors were opened, and I walked into the gate, heading towards a building that looked like a giant white plaster cube. The porch was green and tall, and when I got closer, I saw that it was covered in moss.


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