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Issue number twelve




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Simulacra Ivan by Nathan Radke

There 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 genitalia.

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 romantics).

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. Bad luck.

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 closed doors.

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 around him.

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