Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
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Inspired by the German philosopher and science fiction writer Kurd Lasswitz’ novel Bilder aus der Zukunft (“Pictures from the Future”), the Swedish journalist Claës Lundin (1825-1908) created the novel Oxygen och Aromasia, “pictures from the year 2378” — a date exactly five centuries in the novel’s future. Bewildering Stories is pleased to bring you this classic of early modern science fiction in Bertil Falk’s translation.
One summer morning in 2378, the beautiful Aromasia was sitting in her garden. She was looking up into the sky. Her garden was small but well tended and characterized especially by the fragrance of its plants.
Aromasia was stretched out on the roof of the fifteen-story building, where she had an apartment on the twelfth floor. Two rooms overlooked a back yard a few square meters in area.
Being an artist, Aromasia often wished to look up into space. The hoisting device that replaced the stairs of the past took her up to the roof. The residents, who actually owned the house, had their own gardens on the roof, and each garden was a few square meters in size. There the people could breathe fresh air and enjoy the scent of flowers. The roof was their replacement for summer cottages, which had been abolished long ago.
From the roof, Aromasia could see far away into the countryside. With her naked eye, Aromasia saw the soil that the city had not yet built upon, on the eastern part of the extremely old island of Lidingö. She even saw where the long-since filled-in canal at Baggens-Stäket had been in the old days. It was the so-called shortcut from the Baltic Sea to Stockholm.
With binoculars, she could see Stockholm harbor, which had been in use two hundred years before. It was called Newhaven, a now-obsolete name for an obsolete place. A few sailing captains still berthed their boats there, boats that competed in vain with the high-speed airboats that traveled by air from far-away places straight into the heart of the city.
The street on which Aromasia lived extended in a straight line from the inner parts of Stockholm — just about where the square of Ladugårdslandet had been situated in the past — to the shore of Little Värtan. The former field of Ladugårdsgärdet had been known especially for its war games in the 20th century. Now, in the latter part of the 24th century, it had been a densely built-up and populated quarter of the town for the past three or four hundred years.
The big boulevards that had been constructed beginning in the late 19th century had since long been found too small and unsuitable for traffic, and they had been abandoned. Space was limited. One had to reduce scope as much as possible. Thus, the rows of buildings of the city, with the exception of the old suburbs Södertälje, Vaxholm and Rotebro, did not go farther east than to Little Värtan.
Elsewhere the city extended some kilometers beyond the place where the Enskede farm had been situated in days of old, and a few kilometers beyond the bridge of Traneberg in the west and to the sound of old Stocksund in the north.
No one dared build houses farther on, for the soil had to be used as fields and pasturelands. Some hundreds of years ago, all of Norrland had been turned into a field where huge herds of cattle grazed. The forest had long since been cut down, but even the field of Norrland was not sufficient to nourish all the cattle that had to be slaughtered to feed the rest of the country.
Since there was no more arable land in northern Sweden, central Sweden and southern Sweden had to grow wheat. Rye was not very much used. Oats had been abandoned long ago as harmful to the soil. Horses ate a kind of artificial wheat bread, and the same kind of bread was exported to England unless it was consumed on the way in Gothenburg, the big capital of Scandinavia.
To Aromasia’s mind’s eye, as the saying went in the past, one picture after another passed by, inspired by what fell within the visual field of her “physical eye.” After looking to the east, Aromasia fixed her eyes on the street below her. Beside and below her garden, airborne bicycles in long rows competed in speed with each other. But as they traveled in different directions, they always kept to the sides of the buildings, at different levels above and below each other.
Airborne traffic was the most common means of conveyance in the 24th century. But of course people traveled on the street as well, both in horse-drawn vehicles and vehicles using the power that had replaced electricity. People even walked on foot, but it was considered adventurous to travel in horse-drawn vehicles. For that reason, several bold young men made a point of traveling in that manner, especially when they were not in a hurry.
Pedestrians walked on pavements sheltered by a kind of hard glass, or they frequented the endless galleries that stretched outside and along every apartment building. For them, there were hoisting devices at various places. But it was not considered good manners to walk for pleasure in these galleries. The galleries were mostly used by business people or by neighbors who wanted to visit a nearby building.
It was not only improper to fly above the roofs with an air bicycle and across a roof garden, the traffic police prohibited it. Unfortunately, the prohibition was sometimes violated. It happened that bouquets and unsigned letters, and yes, even more unpleasant things, were dropped through the chimneys, for chimneys still existed.
When Aromasia had watched the many air-cyclists for a long time without discovering the one she was looking for, she sighed and exclaimed to herself, “Where can Oxygen be?” In fact, those words were rather whispered than spoken aloud, but one could nevertheless hear beautiful Aromasia using the Scandinavian idiom as it had developed over the past centuries and been fused together out of languages that had been separated from each other for hundreds of years.
Those who knew her more intimately knew she was at the pinnacle of refinement for her time. She was not untrained in speaking the world language that was being introduced more and more in public education and was especially used between people from different countries.
“It’s strange,” Aromasia whispered — or at least that was what she thought, for it could be read in her beautiful eyes — “that Oxygen has not arrived long before now, as he usually does. He’s already 9 hours 84 minutes and 70 seconds late.” The day was divided into two parts of ten hours each, and every hour was divided into 100 minutes and every minute, into 100 seconds.
She took up the binoculars she had by her side and aimed them at the western parts of the city, towards Drottningholm. She watched intensely. A small cloud, formed like a pinnacle, attracted her attention.
“That’s Oxygen’s cloud,” she said, and the anxiety left her beautiful face. “I would recognize it among a thousand clouds. No one but he can make a cloud of that shape. He must be busy and will not come until later.”
The young girl — she did not seem to be much older than twenty — turned to her flowers, tended them, picked a few and then lowered herself back down to her apartment.
To be continued...