Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 5 appeared
in issue 259.
|Chapter 6: An evening party|
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.
The guests amused themselves with games, which alternated with reading and short talks. The host or hostess prepared the “talks” beforehand: they were collected from different sources and kept in tins; the words were ground out using a simple mechanism, an improvement on the ancient phonograph.
“My friends, do you want to hear today’s discussions in parliament?” the hostess asked. “I’ve just received by air-pump a compressed extract of all the speeches. My special arranger in Gothenburg sent it to me this every evening.”
Whoever wanted to follow the day’s occurrences in other places kept a special editor — or what was called in the past “our correspondent” — at the most distinguished places around the world.
The party made their assent felt, and the hostess began grinding out the compressed extracts of the parliamentary speeches, which were heard in the speakers’ own voices. But the speeches were put together in a logical form they do not always have in parliament, especially when they were conveyed orally without the assistance of the speech mechanism, a new and extremely useful invention.
Those present, listened with marked attention to these “concentrated extracts” and commented on them, pronouncing their approval or dislike.
“Who’s the one with the hoarse voice? He sounds like a parrot who has caught a cold,” asked one of the guests.
“That’s a member of the Reversion Party,” another guest replied, “one who calls for the parliament once more to be divided into two houses, as it was in the past. He also demands that the speech mechanism be done away with.”
“What antiquated opinions!” many of the guests exclaimed. “The single-chamber system has since long demonstrated its good influence by reaching speedy decisions on the agenda items. In any case, that’s the most important thing.”
“Undoubtedly! The speech mechanism also contributes to that,” others declared. “Maybe the Reversion Party also wants to get rid of the new voting machines.”
“Yes, that’s the only thing missing to throw us back some hundred years to the days when parliamentary mechanics were in their infancy.”
“Hush! Now Wheylén is speaking, the great cheese-making director from Norrland, one of the finest representatives of the Progress Party, the man who invented the art of preparing cheese in the stomach of cows. That’s one of the most time-saving inventions.”
“That speech is not an extract,” the hostess, who went on grinding, explained. “It’s a complete rendering of the speaker’s words with breathings, coughs, blowing of the nose and all the other oratorical adornments.”
“Incomparable! No one talks like Wheylén.”
“Yes, Mrs. Mild-Rigidsell does,” someone reminded. “Won’t we hear her?”
“She has not performed in the chamber for many days,” the hostess informed. “She’s fully occupied in the standing committee of Supply. Furthermore, she never delivers long speeches, but she is doing the parliament so much more excellent service through her contributions when it comes to public finance.”
“Yes, she’s an excellent elected representative,” said Oxygen, who had up to now not taken part in the conversation but had his eyes fixed on the door of the parlor.
“A seat is vacant in the third district of Majorna,” one of the company said, “and if...”
“I’ll seek the election,” Oxygen interposed.
“You? Don’t you know that the candicacy has been offered to Miss Doftman-Ozodes? Do you really want to run as her competitor?”
“Why not? The atmospheric conditions are, as it seems, regulated for a longer period, and I feel like participating in parliamentary work.”
“But what will your wife to-be say about this?... Ah, here is Miss Ozodes.”
Aromasia entered and said how-do-you-do with her usual unaffected grace. The hostess and her guests surrounded her, thanking her for the previous evening’s concert. Some immediately took out bundles of papers and wanted to hand them over to the artist, but she declined such signs of appreciation outside the concert hall.
Oxygen was the only one who did not leave his place. He looked gloomy and anxiously rolled a paper between his fingers. Maybe it, too, was a bond or a stock certificate?
Aromasia walked over to him and wanted to grasp his hand, but Oxygen sat motionless, withdrew his hand and avoided her eyes.
When Aromasia asked whether something were the matter with him, he did not reply. When she sat down by his side and the rest of the party once more surrounded the hostess, who expressed her surprise that the latest News of the Hour had not yet been distributed, Oxygen suddenly burst out: “It was a superb odorate last night!”
There was a scornful expression in his words. Surprised, Aromasia looked at him, but it was as if she did not want to notice his bad mood. Kindly she turned to him and asked why he had not arranged for the pleasure trip to North America they had agreed upon.
“I’ll seek the election in Gothenburg,” Oxygen said without answering her question.
“You? Have you forgotten that they’ve offered me the candicacy?” Aromasia asked. She looked at him with surprise.
“Not at all!” Oxygen explained. “That’s why I want to seek the election — as your rival candidate.”
“That’s the reason?” Aromasia said slowly and with even greater surprise.
“Yes, I want to fight anyone who belongs to the Reversion Party.”
“Do I belong to that party?” the artist asked.
“About that I’m now more convinced,” the weather manufacturer assured. “Why would you otherwise let the public experience such an antiquated romantic composition as The Seasons?”
“Oh, only that,” was Aromasia’s reply, and she smiled her most beautiful smile. “So you didn’t share the common rapture yesterday?”
“Certainly not. Tell me honestly. Who persuaded you to do this childish composition. Yes, I’m asking: who?”
His words were violent and the expression hard. His eyes blazed. With difficulty, he seemed to suppress an even more vehement outburst.
Aromasia felt hurt. Her eyes were filled with tears. She cast a reproachful glance at Oxygen and wanted to leave him.
“You don’t answer me,” Oxygen continued. “But I don’t need your answer. I know the name of the one who has lead you into this folly, to this treachery to our party.”
“As an artist, I have the right to choose any topic I want,” Aromasia declared, “and I render no account to anyone.”
Proudly she got to her feet and joined the rest of the party. They had just begun the arithmetical games that were in fashion.
In wrath, Oxygen tore up the paper he had rolled between his fingers.
“Here is the latest News of the Hour!” the hostess exclaimed and hastened to the open window, through which the newspaper deliverer had thrown an enormous paper without stopping his bicycle. It was a newspaper of fifty closely printed sheets. Every one of the guests took one sheet each, lay down full length on one of the many couches and began to read.
Even Aromasia participated in the reading, but she could not pull herself enough together to understand what she read. Now and then her eyes flew across the edge of the newspaper and seemed to search for someone. Oxygen had already left.
“I’ve news for you,” someone called out. It was a quite breathless woman, who burst into the parlor and was accompanied by another woman, who in a similarly eager way shouted, “It’s rather remarkable news!”
The guests looked up from their newspaper sheets and looked at the newcomers. They were Mrs. Sharpman-Fulmar and Miss Rosebud, two inseparable women friends who were rarely seen in this company, but now in the middle of the night they had appeared in a great hurry.
“Warm-Blasius Oxygen will stand for the Parliament in Gothenburg,” the married woman called out.
“In the third district of Majorna,” the little miss added in a similar hurry.
“It’s already in the newspaper,” one member of the party remarked and handed over a sheet.
“Is it?” Mrs. Sharpman-Fulmar asked and looked somewhat displeased.
“Yes, but what’s not mentioned in the sheet,” Miss Rosebud said with a smile of confidence, “is that the candidate probably will get most of the votes.”
“Nobody can compete with him!” the lady assured. “Such a renowned weather manufacturer will take the Gothenburgers by storm. If any place depends on weather and wind, it’s the biggest merchant city of Scandinavia. It probably wants to keep in with a Warm-Blasius.”
“That surprises me not very little,” the hostess said. “I know that especially Majorna in Gothenburg, is not only a trading and banking center, but also a rich community. They want a parliamentarian with real financial insights. Furthermore, the rich tradesmen of Majorna are often rather art-loving people, and they would be honored to be represented by an artist, especially since artists nowadays are those who better than anyone else understand money.
“A person who brings together a high level of artistry with financial knowledge has now been offered the candicacy and that person is my young friend and kinswoman Aromasia Doftman-Ozodes.
“Oh, miss Ozodes cannot count on getting the most votes,” Miss Rosebud assured, “and furthermore she won’t fight Mr. Oxygen, her own... oh, sorry, I apologize, there’s our artist herself. I didn’t know that you were here, and I couldn’t think... not...”
“You don’t have to apologize,” Amorasia said as calmly as she could at the moment, “but I can assure you that I’m not going to give up the offered candicacy, no matter who my competitor may be. Majorna in Gothenburg has done me an honor.”
“Oh... ah...” was all Mrs Sharpman and Miss Rosebud could say. Amorasia’s calm and distinct explanation seemed to surprise them in a quite annoying way. They smiled awkwardly.
The guests looked at them with eyes that seemed to ask what the women actually wanted.
“Well, shall we compare impressions after reading the newspapers?” the hostess asked and turned her attention in another direction.
Everyone told what they had found in their sheet of the latest News of the Hour. Since it was the last edition of that day and no more newspaper would be published during the next five six hours, the interest in the news was quite vivid. Besides the question of the parliamentary election in Gothenburg, the war between China and North America was what most occupied their attention.
China, which not yet had been able to emancipate itself from old prejudices, had denied the North American republics the right to fly freely across its territory, and that had let to quite a serious complication. Many had thought that the great railway war between Russia and China, which had raged for many decades and ended about a hundred years earlier, would be the last war in the world. The war had arisen as a result of China’s stubborn refusal to open its borders to universal rail traffic, and it was thought that Great Britain, in spite of being a friend of that railway, had a finger in the pie and strengthened the resistance of the Chinese.
When war broke out, nevertheless, Great Britain retreated. Therefore the British Parliament voted its thanks to the Prime Minister, assuring that every Briton would always be prepared to defend justice and freedom anywhere in the world — as long as they did not have to use other means than big words.
The war ended with the total defeat of the Chinese. In the ensuing peace, China got involved in the universal railway net, which had its most important line on the Asiatic Pacific track. But communications underwent such a total change that Russia did not derive any advantage from the awful sacrifices it had made in the war.
Ever since then, several bigger and smaller wars had sprung up. The one between Monaco and Italy was the bloodiest except for the terrible socialist wars, which are, however, not counted among “ordinary” wars.
Monaco had amassed such huge wealth through its casino that it could procure for itself an army of mercenaries from all countries. The prince of Monaco attacked the big Italian republic in order to create a kingdom. However, the operation failed, and Monaco was defeated. The prince went with the mercenaries to the South Seas, where other casinos were created — and they plundered each other by turns.
For every new war, hopeful people said that it unconditionally had to be the last, and they advised against any expenses for defensive measures. But since human passions hardly could be mitigated, much less abolished, one war after another broke out.
The war that now threatened China and the North American republics created a great stir all over the world. The late edition of News of the Hour provided on-the-spot accounts from America as well as China, and since they contained totally opposite information from opposite directions, the party guests tried to draw out of them as much truth or as little untruth as possible under the circumstances. It was no easy task, and it kept the party going for some hours.
Aromasia tried to pay attention to the same things as the others but did not succeed. Her thoughts were turned in a completely different direction. What could have caused Oxygen to show this strange behavior? Why would he all of a sudden appear as her competitor for the seat? Was he seized by jealousy? What could have caused it?
She asked herself these and similar questions, while the other members of the party cudgeled their brains in trying to reconcile the contradictory news from China and America. Nobody seemed to arrive at any plausible conclusion.
The female coworkers of the hostess, two young girls who were also taking part in the festivities, served the guests some light refreshments: sugared water, fruits and jam, but no super-supper was seen as had been held in the past. The guests did not seem to think of such a thing. They were used to taking the main meal of the day late, and after that they did not consume anything else except possibly one or two small refreshments. People went to bed late but did not get up late because of that. They had grown accustomed to a few hours of sleep, and therefore work was more productive than in the past.
If Aromasia could not be totally spared her sorrowful thoughts, she wanted at least to be able to rest from them to some extent, so that she could more easily find light in the darkness that now clouded her mind. Therefore she went into the rooms where the hostess had her book collection, a rather plentiful array of books in different languages about many topics and from different times.
There were books from the 19th and 20th centuries. At random, Aromasia reached out her hand for a book and she hit upon one that actually was from one of those centuries. Accordingly, it was a very old book. The artist began reading. The language was undeveloped Swedish of the 19th century, but she understood it. The words were familiar, but the content of what she read nevertheless seemed strange.
“Sacrifice is a woman’s duty,” she read.
“Hm. That I’ve never learned,” Aromasia whispered. She continued reading. ”And it is in total self-sacrifice that the woman has her true strength. It was already from the beginning said that the woman should be obedient to the man. What the man wants, the woman too must want.”
“Could this be true?” Aromasia asked and for a long while she was thoughtful.
She read more in the book. Everything she read amounted to showing that the man is the ruler and the woman, submissive.
“This is something wholly new, and nevertheless it seems to be quiet old,” Aromasia said to herself. “I don’t understand it.”
“What is it that my little Aromasia doesn’t understand?” asked Aunt Vera, who just had entered.
Aromasia put the book back into the bookcase and turned to the old woman, but without answering her question. Since childhood, she was accustomed to revealing her thoughts to her friendly relative, but this time she did not feel inclined to do that. “Has the party broken up?” she asked. “Then I’ll go home, too.”
She said goodbye and did not want to enter into any more discussions, though it seemed as if the old lady willingly wanted to discuss the position as representative for Majorna.
That night, Aromasia walked home on foot. She felt as if she had touched the past and therefore she used a very old means of conveyance. The streets were illuminated as bright as day. Few walkers were seen, since most people used their air-vehicles, but the road was calm and safe. Besides, Aromasia did not know about fear. She reached her apartment without any adventure, set the hoisting device going and soon entered her bedroom.
“Sacrifice is a woman’s duty,” she repeated a couple of times before she fell asleep. “Maybe the old ones were right? Shall I give up the candicacy I’ve been offered in favor of Oxygen? I did not seek it. I got a letter about it today. They know me in society, where I’ve studied and taken my doctoral degree... I think that I can accomplish something... Is it right to give it up?... I love Oxygen... very... enormously... Why does he treat me like this?... Why?... Sacrifice is... Oh, I’m no longer happy.”
To be continued...