here should not have been any footfalls. Or, there should have been. But
only one set, and only when they were being produced by the feet of Ivan
Kudashov. So, to be completely accurate it should be stated that there
should have been no other footfalls.
But accuracy wasn't what had propelled Ivan hundreds of thousands of miles
from the nation where countless generations of Kudashovs lay contentedly (or
discontentedly? It was difficult to say. However, in the interests of
accuracy, it can firmly be stated that they, or their remains, were in fact
lying) in their cold earth tombs. It was actually inaccuracy that had done
that, to be specific it had been a very inaccurate report that claimed the
Americans and the Chinese were separately and secretly attempting to send a
manned craft to Jupiter's moons. Not to be outdone, the Russian government
had immediately devoted vast resources to their own secret separate
attempt. The Russian craft (with Cosmonaut Kudashov aboard) launched
earliest, which would have been a tremendous advantage in the race to
Jupiter, had there been any other nations' crafts to race against. It is
very difficult, the Russian government learned, to declare yourself the
winner in a race that no one else has entered, or even knows about.
Ivan didn't know about any of that, anyway. It didn't seem important
enough to tell him, or perhaps he wasn't important enough to be told. But
there should not have been any other footfalls.
And if there shouldn't have been any other footfalls, there certainly
shouldn't have been any other feet. And yet, there they were. A left foot
and a right foot. Caucasian. Well-groomed. Size 11. Walking around his
living compartment, with complete disregard for reason, or logic, or the
need to have legs. Where the ankle should have started, the skin simply and
smoothly covered over, as if a foot was never meant for anything greater
than to simply be five toes, a heel, and the flesh in between.
Kudashov stared unhappily at the feet. There had been a brief but sharp
moment of terror, when he had thought that they were perhaps his feet and
that they had gotten away from him during the night as he slept, or while he
had been sitting down. However, his feet were still firmly attached to his
legs and gave no indication of wanting to pursue notions of sovereignty.
His relief was short-lived. His "escaping feet" theory, while ridiculous,
was all he had. And now, the evidence against it was conclusive, and there
was no ad hoc hypothesis he could think of to save it. He was forced to
come up with an alternate explanation.
And while he was doing this, the feet walked away. They didn't pull
themselves along by their toes, or roll, or vibrate. They lifted themselves
up one at a time, and took perfectly reasonably-sized steps.
"I've gone insane," said Ivan calmly, but sadly, as he vocalized his
brand-new working theory. But wasn't it said that insane people don't
realize they are insane? Ivan could clearly separate the insane part of his
mind--the part that had conjured up a pair of disembodied feet--from the
sane part--the part that realized that the other part of his mind was
insane. It seemed that the best course of action would be to ignore the
feet, thereby triumphing the sane over the insane. Although he had a tremendous urge to cook and eat them, an urge which no doubt had originated in the insane part of his mind.
All day long, Ivan managed to avoid the physical manifestation of his
madness. This was no small feat, as these were not small feet. The
spacecraft was not designed to be large enough to accommodate socially
awkward situations. He turned in early, determined to beat his
hallucinations like a twenty-four-hour flu.
The next day. . . actually, there are no days in space. In fact, since
time is intuitively measured by relative movements, and since there is
nothing to measure motion against while in deep space, time becomes a very
tenuous concept when you are all alone in a small cylinder of metal in
between planets. The view outside the window doesn't change. The readings
inside the ship don't change. Ivan hadn't changed. In fact, the best
indication that time had in fact continued to pass around Ivan was that the
feet had now sprouted legs.
The legs were fairly muscular, reasonably hairy, male legs. There were no
scars, tattoos, or discolourations. Halfway up the thigh, they rounded off
into stumps. It was as if there had been a terrible tractor accident, and
incompetent surgeons had saved the wrong parts--keeping the lower limbs,
and disposing of the torso, arms, and head. The two legs were not attached
to each other in any literal sense of the phrase, but they walked around the
ship in perfect unison. Left, right, left, right. . . etc.
What is a man to do when confronted by something as impossible and
grotesque as the apparition that was walking around in front of Ivan? As
any reasonable person would, he came to the inescapable conclusion that he
was going to have to give one of the legs a quick poke with his finger, to
see if it occupied tactile, as well as aural and visual dimensions. The leg
(the left one, which happened to be closer to Ivan) felt as normal as any
other leg Ivan had poked with his finger during his exciting and eventful
life. Having re-assured himself of its physical veracity, Ivan hauled off
and gave the leg a good slap.
While watching the legs walk around the ship had been disconcerting, that
sight was nothing compared with the newly panic-stricken legs running
frantically to and fro in the small quarters. It was so alarming that Ivan
resolved never to slap the legs again. But his little experiment did indicate that some kind of nervous system was operating in the limbs--albeit without the luxury of a brain.
At this point, the reader may be thinking that the only problem faced by
Cosmonaut Kudashov was the sudden and strange, but hardly threatening,
appearance of animated body parts. "Who cares," the reader may think. "I'm
faced with animated body parts every day. Sure, the ones I have to deal
with are complete bodies, with heads and clothes and jobs and credit ratings
and political ideologies. But if anything, that makes the apparitions I
deal with far more terrifying. There are plenty of days when I would be
happy to live in a world full of panicky legs." For those dilemma-starved
readers, it should be noted that the day before the feet first appeared,
Ivan's computer told him that, due to either human error or a computer
malfunction (the computer was leaning towards human error, the humans back
in Moscow were pointing accusatory fingers at the computer), his ship was
going to enter Jupiter's atmosphere and burn into cinders. Now that's good
peril! However, for those readers who crave romantic instead of hazardous
situations, they will simply have to wait until Ivan's ship guest grows
Which happened very shortly, as it turned out. Ivan stared at what was
starting to look like the lower half of a live version of Michelangelo's
David in dismay. He was slightly relieved to discover that he had not been
in space long enough to find half of a naked man arousing (apologies to the
It had been a voyage full of many unpleasant revelations already, and the
rude surprise parade had still more floats in it. Ivan had been warned by
the mission control director that there were many problems he might face in
space. But no one had said, "There's a possibility that you may need to
share your toilet facilities with a naked half-man."
"What excretes without eating?" moaned Ivan. A good and fair question.
Another good question was: how did the half-man use the very complicated
space vacuum toilet without hands? Ivan's scientific curiosity battled his
sense of proper washroom etiquette, and the battle lasted so long that the
half-man turned into a 75% man with arms, making the internal debate
academic at best.
The torso was well proportioned, with not even a hint of a protruding gut.
"Not an American, obviously," thought Ivan.
At this point, it should be fairly obvious that Ivan's space companion will
soon be sprouting a brand new head, and that this head will have a face on
it. But what will the face reveal? Will it put a face to Ivan's madness?
"It will look exactly like Ivan," thinks one reader smugly, "how obvious."
"It will look like Ivan's father, the day he left for the store to buy a
newspaper and never came back," thinks another reader, thinking back to the
time her father did just that and shedding maybe a single tear. "It will
look like Lenin," thinks another politically-minded reader who is reading
too much significance into Ivan's Russian heritage.
But all three readers are wrong (ha!). The head does eventually appear,
but the face is rather nondescript. There is something vaguely familiar
about the nose, but that is it.
While Ivan sat and screamed at the top of his lungs at the navigation
computer, the naked man stood by quietly, like every stranger you've ever
stood in front of on the bus. Attempts at communication had been a complete
failure, with the indifference of the naked man then only matched by the
indifference of the navigation computer now. The two least successful
conversations Ivan had ever had, and they both happened in the same day.
Eventually, Ivan slumped in his chair. It was very clear that there was
nothing that could be done with the fuel he had left. It is said that some
men are destined for greatness. This is not true; there is no such thing
as destiny. Despite this, it could very well be said that Ivan was destined
to burn to ash in the atmosphere of Jupiter, proving that the trajectory of
a spacecraft is more predictable than the greater trajectory of fate. There
was nothing to be done. And in the absence of the crisis of alternatives,
Ivan found his attention once again drifting to his guest.
If you have spent much time in the company of a naked person, or if you
have been naked in the company of a dressed person, you already know that
there is a certain inelegance about it. Inevitably, one realizes that one
of you looks ridiculous, but it isn't always obvious which one of you it is. It must be a terrible strain on doctors, who are faced with this situation
every day; this could explain all of the self-medicating that goes on behind
Since the naked man was showing no signs of embarrassment or discomfort,
Ivan began to feel some on his behalf. Finally, one morning (there is no
morning in space) Ivan didn't bother getting dressed.
The naked man, however, did get dressed. When Ivan came into the control
room, a fully-dressed naked man was sitting in the seat, howling
incomprehensibly at the navigation computer, and pounding his fist against
the console. This made Ivan terribly happy; it would seem that he now had a
co-worker. As long as one of them was screaming at the computer, Ivan could
relax and look out the window.
He walked silently over to the view port. Silently, because he was no
longer in contact with the deck of the ship. His ankles floated a few
inches above it, while his feet had disappeared entirely.
Ivan sat cross-legged (actually, easier to do without feet) on the floor,
and gazed out at the majesty of the universe. He didn't feel sad or angry
about his fate. What good would it do? What good would anything do? What
good had anything ever done? Ivan was just happy that he had briefly gotten
to be a small, absurd part of whatever it was that existence was. While the
clothed man screamed and railed, naked Ivan was completely at peace for the
first time in his life.
When the ship burned up in the outer edge of Jupiter's atmosphere,
Cosmonaut Kudashov was only a floating head, still looking out the window.
The ship incinerated almost immediately, and there was no pain to be had, so
there is no need to worry about him any longer. I'm not so confident about
the rest of us, though.
Nathan Radke lives in Kingston, Canada, with his wife, cats, and fish. He
teaches philosophy and politics at various nearby institutes of higher
learning. In 2004, he published an article in Philosophy Now arguing that
Charles Schulz's cartoon strip "Peanuts" is actually a powerful existential
text. He is constantly pointing out simulations and simulacra to those
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