Sunday, September 11, 2011

All right, you lot, who wants to go for a run?” The professor’s face, peering around the doorpost at the little table where we were dining, was a study in jollity. After a breakfast like that I’d usually need to digest for a while, and I’ve never been one for athletics, but when I thought about it, I realised my stomach felt a lot lighter than it had any right to be, and I was looking forward to the wind in my hair, the sun on my face.

No such luck. When we left the ward, he led us across the big space in the front of the warehouse to where the torture boxes had been. In their place was a treadmill that looked big enough for a horse.

This is a horse-training treadmill. Human ones don’t go fast enough, if we’ve managed what we set out to do. Who wants to go first?”

James did, of course, while the professor slowly cranked up the speed dial on the little controller in his hand and lectured Alex and I about biomechanics.

There’s an upper limit, of course, to the speed the human body can go unaided, no matter what we do to the muscles. The Project worked it out some time ago. Quite an elegant experiment, really¸ and I’ve no doubt some civilian researcher will have the same idea soon enough. First you get people to run forwards on a treadmill, then backwards, then using only one leg. By comparing speeds and so on, it quickly becomes obvious that the amount of force put out running one-legged is greater than that even of sprinting at the fastest speeds possible, simply because the one leg must do the work of two in lifting and pushing. The limiting factor can’t be the amount of force used, then, but the time in which it can be applied. By using faster-firing muscle proteins, we can increase the speed of a human runner to the theoretical maximum of...” He checked the speed on the little digital display. “...there we are, sixty-five kilometres per hour. That’s forty miles per hour to you, Corporal.” Alex nodded mutely.

Within a few minutes, Alex and I were both put through our paces. It was a peculiar feeling; my legs didn’t swing much faster, but when they hit the ground it was like a rocket booster went off under the soles of my feet, shoving me forward not faster, but harder. It took me only ten seconds longer than James to reach a speed not even cars are allowed to travel at in built-up areas. Alex was the last of us to go on, and while she was picking up speed, the Professor told us what we’d be doing next. He seemed to expect some kind of response from us, so James and I both said “uh-huh, yeah, sure,” almost in unison, transfixed by the sight of Alex bouncing along at great speed. She noticed, and grabbed the water bottle on the front bar of the treadmill, sending us diving for cover.

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