"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 sat down on a chair and 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?"
The Excutatrix began: "It concerns a traditional story, legend, or myth, and one may hear different forms of it from different narrators. As always with parables, it is not the details that matter, but the principle being illuminated. It would be silly to imitate the narrative in detail and expect the same result, yet that is exactly what some martial art students do who are missing the point. It goes as follows:"
"A Chinese boy from a poor village travelled to the faraway Shaolin temple, whose monks were legendary for their mastery of the martial arts. The boy desired to become a Shaolin monk and learn the fabled kung fu fighting techniques. After arriving, he had to wait for weeks before finally being tested to assess his suitability. To his great delight, he was admitted to the monastery — a major achievement in itself — and would receive instruction."
"His first lesson was to take a wooden bucket to the river, fill it with water, and bring it back up to the temple, which was located on a mountain. On his first attempt he spilled so much water from the heavy bucket that he was sent back to the river to refill it. More careful, he arrived with almost all of the water still in. The instructor told him to put the bucket on a table and slap the water with his hand to splash it out of the bucket. After some time, his hand started hurting, but, persistent as the boy was, he went on until no water was left."
"Then, he was told to carry the bucket to the river again and repeat the whole process. And that is how it went for the rest of the day; the boy was disappointed because he had so looked forward to learning kung fu, and now all he got to do was fill a bucket with water and slap it out again with his hand. To his horror, the next day his instruction was to do exactly the same, and the day after that was the same again. Day after day, week after week, month after month, he did nothing but slap water out of a bucket with his hand. Less conscientious persons would have given up, but this boy carried on despite his frustration."
"Eventually, a whole year after his arrival, he was allowed to go home for a brief holiday. Everyone in the village had been eagerly awaiting his return and wanted to hear all about the monastery and what he had learnt, and to see him demonstrate his fighting skills and acrobatics. With growing desperation he underwent their hearty welcome and listened to their begging to show them the legendary art of Shaolin kung fu. Finally, the boy could not constrain himself any more and called out, 'But I have learnt nothing, absolutely nothing! All I did for the whole year was slap water out of a bucket!' and in anger and frustration he slammed his hand on the table. The heavy, solid stone table split in two as if struck by lightning, and as the villagers watched the perfectly separated halves fall apart they knew that everything they had always heard about the mythical Shaolin monks was true."
A silence fell after the Excutatrix had finished the parable. Then, Sharon began to cry as only parakeet girls can. "A most touching tale indeed", Arnold agreed a minute later when the hybrid stewardess calmed down again. "Although the principle it teaches has an East Asian ring to it, its applications are universal and certainly include running, to name one. In fact, the parable vaguely reminds me of a story I read long ago that describes not quite the same general idea but is nevertheless strikingly similar in effect."
"I want to hear the story! I want to hear the story!" the girl encouraged him to tell. Arnold complied.
"It concerns a short story published a long time ago in a kind of summer holiday book when I was in primary school. I read it multiple times over the years. A boy was going to compete in the yearly 1000 metres school race as a runner, and while practising for it on the beach was addressed by a stranger who assured him he would do much better if he ran and trained differently. The man offered to instruct the boy over the weeks that were left until the race, so that he would beat everyone and improve his personal best time. Naturally, the boy was sceptical at first, but the man succeeded in convincing him to have trust in the new training approach."
"During the month or so that followed, they met on the beach every day, and the stranger taught the young runner how to place his feet and hold his body and arms, how to run, and how to train. Often, the boy found it hard to believe that he could become faster using this strange new technique and training method, but the man had strong powers of persuasion and was able to direct his pupil's motivation and attention where he wanted them. Some days before the race, the mysterious coach let his runner do a timed one kilometre test run on the beach. To the latter's disappointment, he was not one second quicker than his personal record on the distance. 'I am not faster at all! I only wasted my time with you!' he screamed at the stranger, furious with disenchantment."
"The man calmly let him rage. 'Have a little more confidence', he spoke. 'Do everything as I taught you and you will win the race.' Then he walked away, leaving the runner behind on the beach."
"Race day came, and the boy ran as he had learnt over the past weeks, but with little hope. After crossing the finish line, he saw to his astonishment that he had not only left all others way behind and broken his old personal best by a large margin, but even set a new school record. Suddenly the stranger stood before him. 'Well done. You exceeded my expectations!'"
"Still gasping for breath, the boy was confused. 'But how can I be this fast now, when on the beach I was so slow?!'"
"The man shook his head. 'You have forgotten that there are two types of surface: slow courses, and fast ones. The beach is soft, and therefore slow. The school track is a fast course, hence the difference.' As the young victor realized his mistake in interpreting the beach test run, a school teacher stormed toward him and grabbed his shoulders by way of congratulation."
"'Boy, that was incredible! You nearly broke the Olympic record! And do you know who that man was you were just talking to?' The boy quickly looked around, but his mysterious trainer appeared to have vanished like a cloudlet of condensed steam in dry air. Only then it occurred to him that the man had never mentioned his name in all those weeks. The teacher continued, 'You really have no clue, do you? That was the great…'"
"Who was it? Who was it? Tell!" Sharon begged as Arnold hesitated to complete his sentence.
"Ah… as I suddenly recall, and to our misfortune, the name of the great and enigmatic running instructor was illegible or missing from the holiday book due to some species of misprint", he eventually confessed. The parakeet-stewardess furiously emitted a fast staccato chirping in all directions, while the Excutatrix was rolling over the floor of the good ship's dining hall with laughter.
"Brilliant, Verificator!" she said when able to speak again, hoisting herself back on her chair with tears flowing down her cheeks. "It is much better this way!" After briefly wiping her face, the Excutatrix added, "Yet another example that is somewhat reminiscent of the message contained in those stories is the case of the concert pianist who travelled from Europe to America by sea to give a concert there. Since no piano was present on the ship, he studied by reading the score of the music and mentally performing all the needed movements. The concert went flawlessly and turned out to be his best ever."
"I heard about that too, I believe it was a piano concerto he had never played or practised before", Arnold confirmed. "Whether exaggerated or not, these instances of unexpected good performance after atypical preparation emphasize the importance of the neuromuscular aspect of movement, of the proper form of the exercise, of getting the signals rapidly and smoothly through the motor nerves. Without it, nothing works. Once, my big toe was in a tight bandage for a few weeks after surgery, and when the bandage came off I could not move the toe at all; not because it was 'stiff', as people incorrectly say in such cases, but because I had forgotten how to use the motor pathways to control the toe. I simply could not find the right nerves to send signals to the pertinent muscles! It took weeks of daily practice to get it fully functional again."
"Malfunctioning motor nerves hinder movement and thus constitute a negative illustration of the role of the neuromuscular aspect", elaborated Ina. "Athletes who are prescribed psychiatric medication such as antidepressants or neuroleptics report becoming slower as a direct result. These substances interfere with the functioning of motor nerves, and suddenly, running feels like wading through syrup. Not that psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical industry are always keen to admit this effect though. Incidentally, has Verificator succeeded in fertilizing Bertha yet?"
"Yes. Admittedly, it was ever so slightly akward at first, but soon I got the hang of it as one says, and meanwhile Mrs Ten — Bertha for friends — is happily expecting a nice little Minotaur in some eight to nine months." Arnold refilled his glass with green tea. Sharon tilted her head and stared at him with one eye.
"Minotaur? Like the creepy bull man? Is that where they come from?" she wondered.
"Correct, ferrywoman", the Excutatrix confirmed. "The likes of the Veterinarius grow not on apple trees. Said hybrids are conceived by parents who are the relevant mammals."
"Mammals? How are the bull men conceived by mammals?" the girl twittered.
"It is done like they do on the Instructional Channel", Ina explained. The parakeet-stewardess momentarily lost herself in deep thought while Arnold cleared his throat.
"Remarkable creatures, those Veterinariuses. They undergo thorough training in various arts, crafts, sports, and sciences, even though not capable of speech, being bovine from the waist or so up. The latest development is their being schooled in prehistoric music, involving instruments like didgeridoo, flute without finger holes, and — how appropriate — bullroarer. Ideal for adding to the ambience of a purification procedure."
Sharon looked up, hearing Arnold speak. "Bullroarer? That sounds scary!"
"It will sound even more scary to the purified", said the Excutatrix. "The sonorous howling of the bullroarer represents the voices of the good and righteous, shouting out in dismay at the offender's scandalous misbehaviour. It will greatly add to any scallywag's experience of justice while undergoing the so kind and humane procedure."
Arnold was delighted. "As a Verificator, I applaud this addition to the rite of purification. Prehistoric instruments are perfect for that occasion; much better than, say, a string quartet, symphony orchestra, or brass band. They instantly set the fitting mood for this ultimate enforcement of righteousness and integrity."
"Good that the Verificator welcomes new elements in the procedure. Another novelty ordered by the Imperator is that Verificators will be required to run around barefooted during the purification process. Aforementioned Imperator believes that, with the accompanying prehistoric music, this will enhance the primeval sensation of goodness and justness for both the purified and the Verificator. Ergo, the latter had better start practising the hunter-gatherer squat to obtain sufficient flexibility for injury-free barefoot locomotion with a flight phase." She bent over to examine Arnold's feet. "Ina recommends to go without shoes and socks as oft as possible in order to be prepared."
"Prehistoric instruments and going barefoot will inevitably evoke a wholesome hunter-gatherer atmosphere; not to imply that being an actual hunter-gatherer is necessarily healthy, of course." Arnold took his shoes and socks off again. "But how long will it take before these feet are capable of running without shoes? How long to learn the technique, acquire the needed adaptation? And what to do with the small leg length difference? In shoes, one can correct it with an inlay to avoid the tilted pelvis, functional scoliosis, and myriad other so-called compensations of the kinetic apparatus. For yes, the body does correct a leg length discrepancy internally, as opponents of orthotics point out, but exactly those internal compensations are the cause of endlessly recurring injuries, of getting crooked and hunchbacked by the time one is middle-aged and the functional scoliosis has become structural, and eventually of arthrosis. The compensations are themselves the main problems, they are precisely what one wants to prevent."
"Correct. The body's internal compensations are not solutions but problems. In regular daily life, one can reduce or eliminate them with inlays or adapted shoes. When walking barefoot however, they return in full glory. Granted, gluing an inlay under the foot of the shortest leg will solve it, but then one is not properly barefoot any more. True barefoot walking with uneven legs is impossible without distorting the kinetic apparatus. Therefore, if a subject with a leg length discrepancy desires to go for a stroll, it is justifiable to wear shoes and artificially correct the difference to level the pelvis. But now, let the present company examine the case of bipedal locomotion with a flight phase." The Excutatrix took a sip of her tea.
"That means running", the parakeet girl whispered to Arnold.
Ina proceeded, "A key difference between running and walking is the circumstance that with the former one never stands on the heel with a straight leg, provided one's technique is up to standards. The knees remain bent at all times. This means that a possible leg length discrepancy need not result in a left-right pelvic tilt; the longest leg may simply bend a bit more in the knee, hip, and ankle to allow the pelvis to be level. In order to get this right instinctively, one needs to proprioceptively feel the position of the pelvis; one needs to know how it feels if the pelvis is level. One way to achieve this is to wear an inlay or adapted shoe in daily life, thus forcing the pelvis in a level position. One will then become accustomed to the feeling of a level pelvis and, while running, will instinctively try to maintain that level position through differential bending of the legs. On the other hand, if one uses no correction in daily life and thus always walks around with a laterally tilted pelvis, that tilt is what one becomes used to, and that is what one will instinctively maintain when running; that is, one will be running with a tilted pelvis then."
Arnold concluded, "Aha. So if I always wear a correction under the shortest leg in daily life and while walking, I will automatically keep my pelvis level when running barefoot too, just because I am used to it being level, and I will do that by instinctively bending the longest leg more than the shortest?"
"Affirmative. On a mildly interesting side note, this differential leg bending will result in one's feet hitting the ground in a slightly punctuated rhythm; rather than a symmetric tap tap tap tap tap, one will go tap… tap-tap… tap-tap… tap-tap…. Notice that this example constitutes a gross exaggeration, unless in the event of a truly deformed athlete. But one wonders if a patient with that amount of asymmetry would opt for running altogether."
"Nah, if it is that bad, one is better off swinging by a bell rope", thought Arnold.
"Like Quasimodo!" Sharon understood. "That was so romantic! And he always had to ring those heavy bells and go up the tower; in our times, he could have been in that nice program on the Instructional Channel where they give such people a makeover and show them to the public."
"Would you snog, marry, or avoid this hunchback?" Arnold murmured.
"No, that is another—", the girl began, but the Excutatrix interrupted:
"Concluding, the Verificator has some preparing to do in order to carry out said Verificator's barefooted task at the purification of the impostor and accomplices. Despair not, there is still time, at least until the Excutator returns with aforementioned felons."
Arnold got up from his chair for one more attempt at the hunter-gatherer squat. "How is the Admiral doing these days? He looked rather dilapidated at our dinner some weeks ago."
"A fractional improvement has occurred; Admiral Vanderdecken has taken up eating again for the first time since undergoing a partial purification, albeit with still dysfunctional intestines. Remember that the good Admiral's bodily functions will only be restored upon exposure of the impostor. The mere act of pushing food into the oral cavity, and its subsequent manual removal from the abdomen, provide the sailor with some temporary relief from the hard labour of commanding the ARRRHQ fleet. Mind, Vanderdecken is keeping it strictly vegan, and has now progressed to a diet of thirty bananas a day." At this point, the Excutatrix was disturbed by a loud bonk.
Sharon and Ina examined the Verificator, who had fallen over while trying to squat as deeply as possible with his feet flat on the floor. "Is he dead?" the stewardess asked.
The Excutatrix brought her ear over Arnold's face. "No, I even believe the patient is coming to. Fortunately, it seems Verificator's skull has broken the fall, hence the bonk." They heard Arnold groan and watched him open and close his eyes repeatedly. Then, the Verificator engaged his mouth and spoke. Ina and the parakeet girl froze for several moments before exchanging glances. "Quick, ferrywoman", the former ordered. "Fetch the ship's doctor!" Sharon ran off.
Hardly two minutes later, Hanna, the procreation expert, entered the dining hall. "Hello. I hear Arnold has fallen. What appears wrong with him?"
"A severe case of acute neurogenic foreign accent syndrome with co-morbid foreign vocabulary syndrome and loss of decorum", was Ina's preliminary diagnosis.
"Ah, one of those", Hanna nodded. "Always a surprise to hear which particular timbre the patient's tongue has acquired. Often, the altered prosody may give an ever so slight hint of some southern accent, but that impression rests entirely on apophenic delusions in the ear of the beholder. The subject is not truly speaking another—"
"G'day, mate! Have you got kangaroos loose in the top paddock or what? And who's the jilleroo in green overalls?" the patient expressed his discomfort.
"Hm, a touch of amnesia, have we?" Hanna reassured Arnold while examining his pupillary reflexes. "Come, try to sit up straight, I believe there is physically little wrong with you." She helped him up.
Arnold carefully rotated his head in various orientations. "What's the bird on the hot stilts doing here? Holy dooley! I feel a liquid laugh coming up…" Just in time, the three concerned females stepped back.
Hanna reacted calmly. "Looks like a sensible diet, basically. Try not to overdo it on the carrots though", she advised while bending over to look at the floor in front of Arnold. "You are not taking any supplements or medications, I presume?"
"No worries, I'm full natty! Thirty carrots a day, mate!" Arnold assured her.
"Excellent. When it comes to nutrition, exercise, and healthy living in general, men are sometimes quite a bit smarter than we self-satisfied women like to think", she praised him. "And I am allowed to say this for I am a woman myself!"
"Pig's arse! If you're a woman, why does it look like you've got a big hard roll of chokkies stuffed down the front of your daks?" Arnold stretched out his hand in a groping movement, the palm turned upward. "Come over to the gyno honey, let me grab you be the—"
"Verificator, behave!" the Excutatrix warned, but it was too late. Hanna ejaculated a brief succession of high-pitched squeaks and pulled a whistle from her white coat. Before its echoes had died away, the Veterinarius was there to gently grab Arnold by the armpits and ankles and drag him off to the sickbay.
"A mild neuroleptic will do", the doctor instructed the triple man-bull hybrids. "And apply a class A straitjacket before I see him on my evening rounds."
"G'day mate! Did you see how I got 'r by the mappa tassie?" they heard Arnold converse with the Veterinarius whilst being carried out of the dining hall.
The procreation expert turned to Ina. "Minor loss of decorum indeed", the former said, and offered Sharon and the Excutatrix a roll of chocolates, which she produced from her front trouser pocket. "He should be all right in a day or two. What exactly caused him to fall in the first place?"
"The Verificator was attempting to perform a hunter-gatherer squat to improve physical flexibility, as deemed required by some to be able to run barefooted without injury", Ina clarified. The expert burst into laughter.
"Ah, the barefoot craze is taking its toll again!" she continued with amusement. "Yes, it takes a whole lot of flexibility, not to mention strength, proprioception, and motor control, to run barefoot without hurting oneself badly. Not without reason do only one in a thousand or so of shod people manage to acquire sufficient skill and adaptation to run meaningful distances and velocities barefoot. The thing is, humans in moderate and colder areas have known shoes for several millennia at least, even tens of millennia if you look at the archaeological evidence. And those are the groups that Westerners and East Asians are descended from! We have been accustomed to shoes, have evolved in shoes, for hundreds of generations! Is it surprising that we develop stress fractures, tendon problems and whatnot, when taking them off and then trying to run at the unnatural pace that shoes allow us to entertain? The fabled persistence hunt of the barefoot hunter-gatherer takes no more than some ten to eleven kilometres per hour for several hours, yet our athletes go up to twice that speed for a similar duration thanks to shoes. If you remove those foot protectors and forget to halve the velocity, you will not be running for very long, unless into serious problems." She sat down and poured herself a glass of green tea, while the Veterinarius returned to clean up the floor after Arnold's technicolour yawn.
"The hunter-gatherer groups known to us that are or were capable of impressive feats of barefoot endurance running are peoples who evolved in hot climates, where there was no pressing need to invent shoes, such as parts of Africa, parts of America, and Australia. They remained barefoot-adapted during the thousands of years wherein current Caucasoids and Mongoloids were making shoes to survive without freezing their feet off in their respective colder environments. This difference in adaptation can not be simply undone by a transitional training period of weeks, months, or even years. That is not to say that going from shod to barefoot running is all disadvantageous or without chance of succeeding; on the plus side, it greatly reduces the load on the knees, hips, and lower back, for instance. If you want to keep running into old age despite degenerating knee cartilage, barefoot running is the way to go, and likely the only way. It is so hard on the lower legs, including feet and ankles, that it forces you to go so careful, light, easy, slow, that there is virtually no strain on the knees or higher up in the body. Compared to running in regular running shoes, you typically have to divide your distance by ten and halve your speed, initially. If you are lucky, you may advance from there on to greater distances and speeds without too much injury; but it goes wrong so often that I dare not recommend running barefoot to any shod runner at all. Even in the cases that I would call successful transitions, it often boils down to trading one type of injury for another, but injured one gets still. It is like choosing between, say, a painful knee and a metatarsal stress fracture. And when the time comes to commit oneself to a decision, the latter may ultimately be the rational choice, for at least a fracture has good chances of healing, while joint cartilage really never heals, and this difference in prospect is particularly felt in old age. Mind, I am not saying that running causes arthrosis, nor that barefoot running prevents it! But arthrosis, once one has it through whichever cause — and everyone who becomes old enough gets it — will normally cause one to quit running. The typical shod running style is not compatible with advanced arthrosis, and thus we see ever more runners exchange their favourite activity for walking, cycling, swimming or whatever as the years go by; those forms of movement put less strain on the joints, especially the knees, so they can still be done with bad knees. A style of running that is friendly to the joints would do the same for them, if they managed to learn it and to obtain the needed adaptation of the lower legs, which include feet and ankles."
The Excutatrix summarized, "So, barefooted running is so likely to result in its specific types of injuries that one dares not recommend it to anyone, yet for who desires to remain running into old age with deteriorating joints, that very same activity may be the best or only option?"
"Precisely", Hanna acknowledged, stuffing the remainder of the roll of chocolates back into her pocket. "And now I am off to do my evening rounds. Stewardess Sharon can tell you the visiting hours of the sickbay, might you wish to see Arnold." As she left the dining hall, they could just hear her subvocalize, "Foreign accent syndrome as a barefoot running injury; what will they think of next!"
"It is the jilleroo in green overalls", Ina announced herself when the Verificator heard her enter his small cabin in the sickbay. Having left her bicycle in the corridor, she was just in time to see a nurse unlace Arnold's straitjacket, and pushed her back against the wall to make room for the medical professional to withdraw. "Yes, those garments always become less than comfortable after a few hours", the Excutatrix remarked as the patient sighed in relief. Arnold stood up from his berth with difficulty and took two wooden steps, his arms hanging straight down from their respective shoulders, his upper body and face stiff and motionless. "Doctor Hanna has been lavish with the antipsychotics, is it not?" she said.
Arnold groaned. After seconds, laboriously formed words began exiting his mouth, one by one, and separated by unusually long intervals: "Yes. I… can… barely… move." He took the urinal, which the nurse had kindly provided him with, unzipped his trousers, and spent ten minutes trying in vain to fill the receptacle, scrutinized by the Excutatrix.
"The classic side effects of neuroleptics", she observed. "Is Verificator's bladder getting full yet?"
"Is long full… All the green tea… If not… in half an hour… nurse will have to…" Fatigue forced him to suspend his spoken communication, and he sat down on his bunk to rest in between words.
"Ah, the urinary catheter. That normally solves this problem, be it at the expense of some minor discomfort for the patient", Ina understood. Arnold emitted an undefined grunt and lay down. "Despair not", she spoke. "A better solution may be imminent." Pulling a screwdriver out of one of her uniform pockets, she climbed on to the mattress and, reaching over Arnold's legs, unscrewed and removed the twelve-screw porthole. "One would not want to flood the good ship, after all", she explained, and produced a box of pills that looked familiar to Arnold. "Given the… bountiful result of the previous administration of this gymnasium alpha blocker with new improved eugenic admixture for instantaneous unblocking, half the default dose should suffice this time." She divided a pill in two and put one half in the patient's mouth. "Verificator, swallow", she commanded, and put her hip flask against his lips. With effort, Arnold got the alpha blocker down. Ina stood clear of the berth and pushed to help him roll over to the porthole. "Now let it hang out", she subtly instructed the plagued barefoot runner-to-be. As before, the pill worked at once, and soon they heard a sound as if a wet monsoon was ravaging the hull. "Good full bladder indeed", commented the Excutatrix. "The nurse will be delighted to hear that this matter has been resolved the natural way."
During the quarter of an hour it took before Arnold's downpour ended, his visitor inspected the cabin and found a booklet titled 'Training schedule for beginning or injury-prone runners', which she was able to read through to the end by the time Arnold was done and rolled away from the porthole to lie on his back for a while. "A profound and brilliant work", she reviewed. "This approach to running breathes the spirit of the parable of the Chinese boy who became a Shaolin monk. And even though the author is depicted on the cover wearing shoes, it will work for barefoot flight-phased locomotion just as well. Moreover, explicit attention to running technique is avoided by prescribing short intervallic efforts with long recovery as the basis of one's training, which instinctively and involuntarily leads to an efficient style. No boring technical exercises, therefore. Revolutionary is also the insight that injury-prone runners — and are not all runners injury-prone at heart? — are, in practice, so hindered by injuries that, in training, they can or should really never exceed the level of beginners, so that all they need is a beginner's schedule."
"That is an insight I share." Arnold, still lying down, was now speaking with greater ease again. "Throughout my running career, I have been injured uninterruptedly. I was really always training at the level of a novice, either forced by an injury or coming back from one, and whenever I went beyond a basic beginner's scheme I got injured again. The logical conclusion is indeed not to abandon that basic scheme. Why did I never think of that myself? Who is this genius author? The procreation expert left the book there for me, incidentally. She advised to use it as a guide to start running barefoot."
"The author appears to be the Psychometitor", Ina said, holding up the work so that Arnold could see its cover. "Does the Verificator possess memories of the traumatic episode after falling backward in the dining hall?"
"Ah, I should have known! Whenever a work of brilliance emerges, the Psychometitor is not far away! To answer the question, I remember the past hours only vaguely. Was there something with talking Australian? All pretty innocent I suppose. The phrase 'mappa tassie' keeps coming to mind, has the Excutatrix any notion of its meaning?"
"Yes. It stands for 'map of Tasmania'; the large island south of Australia", she explicated.
"Good, that makes sense then. What a relief! For a moment I feared I might have said something inappropriate."
"No worries mate, it was all in the best possible taste." She kneeled on the mattress to screw the porthole in place again.
"Did I flood the Field of eternal integrity badly?" Arnold inquired.
Ina stuck her head through the opening and looked in all directions. "Not at all. It seems that the liquid has gone up rather than down; to the barely or not visible observation platform, not the Field below us. The ship is likely not in true spatial proximity to the Field, but merely offering a view on it as a result of the special four-dimensional structure of the platform, discussed earlier by the present occupants of this berth."
"Strange thing, a flying ship", thought Arnold. What was it called again? Aquatic Repository for the Rescue of Reproductive Human Quality?"
"ARRRHQ, indeed. A whole fleet of them, airborne over the observation platform on the eighth imaginary floor of the Imperator's castle." She screwed in silence for a minute or two while Arnold contemplated their situation.
"It is almost bizarre, this predicament we are in", he spoke after a while. "I have wondered a few times, when I had nothing else to do, if I will ever be able to go back to my old life, to the real world; to how it was before I received that fortieth score report from the Psychometitor, qualifying me for the grade of Perfector, which pulled me into the Field of eternal integrity. It seems so far away and long ago now, even though, according to that Apatosaurus in the rollercoaster — speaking of bizarre! — the Field is a mere thirty-one metres removed from what I consider 'reality'."
"Thirty-one metres in the fourth spatial dimension, therefore root minus one metres, or imaginary metres; not all that easy to cross. It takes a root minus one neuro to travel one such metre, as the Verificator and Excutatrix have learnt in the Imperator's castle", Ina expanded on his ruminations.
"So if we got our hands on thirty-one of those silver coins, would that get us back where we came from?" Arnold though out loud. "Actually, thirty-five would be required, assuming that we first need to return from the observation platform to the Field, which is eight imaginary metres, and taking into account that four root minus one neuros are left in that purse I got for blowing the whistle on the Excutator. It contained thirty coins then; one short of what I needed to go home? But I was not aware of that at the time."
"A root minus one neuro is created by exposing a test submission as fraudulent or otherwise invalid, thus enabling the Psychometitor's data to be cleaned up", the Excutatrix reminded. "Van Dorn must have been involved in thirty fraudulent scores, by inference. In the event that Excutator Van Dorn's quest for the impostor and accomplices reveals thirty-five invalid scores or more, enough silver coins will be available for a return to 'reality' as hypothesized by Verificator. The present company's experience in the castle has shown that two persons can travel together on one imaginary neuro; Ina may opt to accompany Arnold on the latter's journey back home, might this hypothesis be proven correct."
"And why is the distance thirty-one metres? Could there be a reason for this particular number? I have been asking myself that too." Arnold turned his head to the left and took the running booklet from his bedside table. "Only interval training", he observed, leafing through the schedule. "No endurance runs at all, save for the races themselves. Hm, what was there again with intervals and thirty-one?"