"It is the hybrid ferrywoman", the Excutatrix clarified as soft footsteps approached rapidly. "Said employee's spiked running shoes have been replaced with footwear more friendly to the decks, after complaints from the Admiral regarding damage to the centuries-old wood." Arnold looked at the girl's newly shod feet.
"Is that the Run glove five?" he asked, puzzled. "Just released, I presume?" Sharon tilted her head backward and ejaculated a fast staccato cackling as if under attack from invisible airborne bugbears.
"No, it is the Run glove eleven. The bull man got them for me", she proceeded without any interruption between her cackling and her spoken text.
"Eleven?! How can they be at eleven when the last version I remember was four… or was it three?" Arnold wondered.
The ferrywoman-turned-stewardess sat down and joined them for green tea. They watched the girl dip her mouth into her bowl and sip. "They are not at eleven yet! But for the bull man that is no objection. He uses a root or something."
"Oh, he likes carrots a whole lot?" Arnold joked. "Yes, I see how that would get you a shoe model from two decades into the future."
"It tallies, Verificator", Ina — the Excutatrix — interjected. "Aforementioned root concerns past doubt the square root of minus one, which, multiplied by the speed of light and by time, constitutes the degree of freedom called 'imaginary time'; the fourth spatial dimension of Minkowski space-time, not to be confused with actual time. The Veterinarius, or bull man as the Sharon girl intonates it, possesses the skill of freely traversing this dimension. Thus, acquisition of tomorrow's foot glove resides within the realm of plausibility. Incidentally, what are its specifications?"
"Run glove", Sharon corrected. "Not foot glove! Heel-to-toe offset zero millimetres, total stack height ten millimetres of which five millimetres shock absorption, mass a hundred grams, and a thin protective plate under the forefoot keeps rocks and tree roots from penetrating."
"So they managed to reduce its mass by half compared to early issues, while conceptually leaving everything more or less as it was. Never change a winning team, as one says. Was it hard to learn the light-footed style you need for such minimal shoes?" Arnold asked the girl.
"No, easy! I have always been light on my feet! Somehow it comes natural to me", the stewardess replied while adjusting her wings. Without warning she jumped up and ran several times up and down the dining hall, her feet striking the wooden floor with as good as no sound.
"Impressive", Arnold complimented the girl, who took her seat again.
The Excutatrix was more sceptical: "An exceptionally light foot placement as just demonstrated would be even more impressive when executed by one without the… air support that comes natural if one's upper half is parakeet." The hybrid hostess continued sipping at her tea while the Excutatrix spoke: "To obtain a soft, silent foot strike, lesser mortals such as the present speaker or the Verificator will need to make certain that the foot has a velocity of zero relative to the ground or floor, immediately preceding landing. Only then are impact and sound minimal. This implies that the foot must move backward relative to the body with the same speed that the body has relative to the ground in the forward direction. To monitor how successful one is at performing this feat, auditory feedback is utilized."
"In other words, you pull your foot backward just before it hits the ground and listen to the sound it makes. The less you hear, the closer you are to a ground speed of zero upon impact", Arnold reiterated.
"Aye, Verificator. Some call it 'grabbing the ground'. If mastered to perfection, the impact forces — or ground reaction forces, as scientists so thoroughly enjoy naming them — remain limited to a degree that one could even run literally barefoot without damaging the kinetic apparatus. In fact, practising barefooted is the best way of learning the technique. Being shod hinders sensing whether one is getting it right."
The parakeet girl looked up from her bowl. "What a funny word! Shod! I know a song that uses it. Shall I sing it? Shall I sing it?"
"Yes, go ahead. What kind of song is it?" Arnold inquired.
"Well, it must be a kind of old cobbler's song, going by its lines. It goes like this:" And she sang, "I shod the sheriff / But I did not shoe the deputy…"
Meanwhile the Excutatrix had put her yellow and blue hybrid bicycle aside under a porthole — she had the habit of remaining seated on the vehicle during meals — and began to take off her army boots and near-opaque green knee socks. Sharon, still singing, bent over with her head under the table and stared at the bare feet that stuck out of Ina's uniform trousers; they looked as fragile and translucent as porcelain. "You have puppet feet!" the girl interrupted her song. The Excutatrix stood up and commenced walking through the dining hall in the shape of a figure eight. After a lap, she changed to running with small steps, her elbows sticking out behind her back and her feet grabbing the wooden floor with little noise. "You run like a girl!" Sharon commented.
"But I am a girl!" Ina riposted.
"She runs more like a Kalahari Bushman", Arnold explained to the hybrid stewardess. "Upright posture, high st—"
"Bush-woman!" the Excutatrix disturbed his brief lecture on running style. "I heard that!"
The Verificator continued clarifying, "high step frequency, small steps, elbows remain behind the back, overall relaxation, forward lean from the feet, barely any sound — she could do better at that, incidentally — , knees never fully stretched but always bent, the forefoot strikes the ground first, apparent effort is low compared to actual speed. If you see a Bushman run next to a shod Westerner and both have the same velocity, the latter will appear to go faster and be doing a greater effort, or may even seem to be sprinting. Some say you need to be capable of a hunter-gatherer squat before even thinking of running this way."
Sharon followed the running Excutatrix with one eye, slowly moving her head. "A hunter… what squat?"
The Excutatrix came to a sudden standstill at their table and sank into a deep squat with her feet flat on the floor. "Like this. Hunter-gatherers do it all the time, supposedly. The trick is to keep your heels on the ground while sitting as deep as possible without falling backward." The girl tried it at once.
"I can do it! I can do it!" she exclaimed in excitement.
"Good!" Ina praised the cheering bird. "Even better would be to master it without flapping your wings; not to be a pedant or anything, mind." Meanwhile, Arnold had taken his shoes off and was attempting to squat, but falling backward each time. The Excutatrix pointed out, "Men tend to find this harder than women because of the, on average, more limited physical flexibility of the stronger sex. If you practise daily you will likely succeed within several weeks, I dare say." She began putting her socks and shoes back on.
Arnold gave up squatting for the moment. "Interesting how the Excutatrix suddenly speaks about said Excutatrix in the first person and addresses others in the second person while barefoot", he observed. "It reminds of Bettelheim in 'The empty fortress', relating the story of an autistic boy who only started using the first person to refer to himself after having learnt to defecate by his own decision. The act of purposely pushing out the faeces, thus turning something into non-self that was hitherto self, made him understand the difference between self and non-self, says the author. According to him, it is the becoming toilet-trained that develops the self."
"Freudo-Marxist claptrap! Whole generations have been indoctrinated in the ideological poison of early experience as the determinant of personality and behaviour; the cancer of social-environmental determinism", Ina stated. "The Excutator would make mincemeat of Bettelheim's theories."
Arnold looked up from lacing his shoes. "Speaking of the Excutator, is there any news on his quest for the impostor in the Giga Society?"
"Barely", said Ina. "Unless one considers it news that the impostor has two accomplices, following the Excutator's preliminary findings, which — the findings, not the accomplices — were communicated to the present speaker by Admiral Vanderdecken. One accomplice leaked the intended test solutions to the other, who subsequently passed them on to the actual impostor, who then employed them to obtain a dishonest perfect score extremely far above the same impostor's true level. Throughout this process, all three were fully aware of committing a serious offence, and were perpetrating the offence deliberately to satisfy the raving megalomania and narcissism of the impostor. The villains were also wittingly and willingly taking advantage of the Psychometitor's goodness, cheeringly stabbing the dagger of their treason into the good test creator's back." She changed feet to prevent her quotation from spanning paragraphs.
"The impostor went on to join the Giga Society, whose reputation greatly suffered from the fraud's retarded behaviour — such as the constant bragging about dishonestly obtained high I.Q. scores — and the poor quality of the crook's work. Meanwhile, the impostor was basking in the fame and fortune generated by his stolen association with the Psychometitor and the Giga Society, shaming them with his every fart."
"What a stinking pile of excrement that must be", Arnold uttered, his hands appearing to wring an invisible towel. "If I had him in my fingers, I—"
"Exercise constraint, Verificator", she urged him. "In the peaceful empire of Neuropa, more civilized methods are indicated to call evildoers to account. Think of the gentle and humane purification procedure that inevitably awaits all offenders in high-range mental testing."
Arnold's face cleared up. "Of course, the Excutatrix is correct; the purification procedure is much better. Let us keep it civilized indeed!"
"When the Excutator Van Dorn has collected sufficient proof against the criminals, aforementioned Excutator will signal as per the Imperator's instructions", Ina summarized what the Imperator had told them in the White room.
"By blowing his whistle to evoke the Veterinarius", Arnold remembered.
"Correct. The threefold Minotaur will then transport the offenders to the Field of eternal integrity for their purification; a delightful event to which the Excutatrix is looking forward with great anticipation. Van Dorn will be returned to the observation platform, where the Verificator and Excutatrix boarded the present ship."
"On a sea of urine", the Verificator added.
"The Verificator's urine", she specified his interjection. "The Excutator will carry a number of silver coins equal to the amount of test submissions exposed as fraudulent in the process of unmasking the cheats; the so-called root minus one neuros, enabling one to traverse the floors of the Imperator's castle, and therewith the fourth spatial dimension. Given that each test score proven invalid produces one such coin, it is expected there will be enough for the three — Van Dorn, Ina, and the Verificator — to go to ground level, also noting that four coins are still in possession of the Verificator." The last confirmed this and Ina went on, "From ground floor, the company can then proceed to the Excutatrix' purification site in the Field of eternal integrity, where justice will finally be served in this, as the Imperator called it, spectacularly felonious case of narcissistic megalomanic deceit."
"I recall the good Imperator's words, back there in the White room, the room full of mirrors", said Arnold. "He further spoke of a breathtakingly unscrupulous, profoundly dishonest heap of faeces, who thoroughly abused the Psychometitor's goodness for his blatant self-promotion as having some of the world's highest I.Q.'s, blind to the fact that his further behaviour betrayed an actual ability level extremely far below his fraudulent credentials."
"And then, the Imperator with Eugenitor admixture, as the proper description is, concluded with words so potent that the Excutatrix longs to recite them in good form:" She lowered her voice and boomed, "I shudder at the thought of the disgrace that will come over this empty vessel upon its inevitable exposure. Frankly, in his place I would kill myself on the spot; but it must be feared that ethically defective braggers like this possess no sense of death before dishonour. We will therefore need to kindly help him a bit in the right direction."
"The Imperator has spoken well. With Eugenitor admixture, as the Excutatrix rightly says. I too anticipate the coming purification of these sultans of test swindle; let it be a feast of righteousness, honesty, and truth."
"It will be a happening of love and peace", Ina assured him. "And the only true love is love of truth. And therewith of logic and justice, of ethics and righteousness; all of these concepts are equivalent, identical even."
"Logic and ethics are one, as Weininger said, and I am inclined to add grammar to that too. Mastery of grammar demands strict logic, and thus we see that those who use poor grammar not only have low reasoning ability and often miscomprehend good grammar, but also tend to go awry in their sense of justice, for instance by failing to understand and correctly apply the golden rule, and by not grasping the concept of reciprocity", Arnold argued.
"Careful Verificator; while grammar is indeed rooted in logic just as ethics is, many would call thee a black-and-white-thinker for making explicit a relation between grammar and ethics, even an indirect one, and they would do this in purposely faulty grammar so as to dishonestly demonstrate the untruth of the stated relation."
Arnold went on, "And now that the Excutatrix speaks of a happening of love and peace, that takes us back to our earlier conversation topic of running; distance runners tend to be peaceful individuals, nearly never aggressive. It appears that such personalities feel naturally attracted to endurance running, although one can not exclude the possibility that bipedal locomotion with a flight phase, in turn, has a pacifying influence on the runner too."
"That is a profoundly important observation, Verificator", said the uniformed woman. "If there ever is to be universal peace, it will come about by a change of the average personality of humankind toward that of the distance runner. Aggressive distance runners are virtually unseen, and this holds true even for runners from groups known to have elevated rates of aggression, violence, and crime, politically incorrect as the latter statement may be. Males are one such group. Worth noting is also that not all endurance sports display this correlation, suggesting that it is not just the doing of a sustained effort that makes peaceful; by way of example, notorious is the out-of-character aggression seen in hobby racing cyclists who get annoyed when slower riders in front of them on the bicycle path do not make room fast enough to their liking. Such behaviour shows that effort and adrenaline can make one more aggressive than one would be in state of rest. Still, in distance runners, the same effort and adrenaline do not seem to have that effect. It is unknown whether this is due to self-selection or a result of the activity, or both."
"Going by my own experience it can not be entirely self-selection, for I do notice becoming aggressive when riding fast on a bicycle even though I am otherwise peaceful; when running, this never happens. There must be something about the activity that plays a role too. And then there is the fact that professional racing cyclists are less or not inclined to this sort of traffic behaviour while training, probably because they do most of their rides at a lower level of effort than do hobby cyclists, who often try to go as fast as professionals and thus ride at a higher intensity as a result of their lower fitness level", Arnold speculated.
"The last fact is true but likely not relevant with regard to the question why distance runners are peaceful; in races, at higher levels of effort, one does see aggression in professional cyclists. Interesting in itself is that they do much training at relatively low intensities; they must be aware of the principle that frequent light training can make one incredibly strong and good at something through the sublime development of the neuromuscular aspect of movement it provides. This phenomenon is illustrated magnificently by the parable of the Chinese boy who became a Shaolin monk."
At this point, the Excutatrix was interrupted by Sharon, who had followed their talk with interest. "A parable? How does it go? How does it go?"