Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 12 appeared
in issue 266.
The Accident on Örgryte Block
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 day after the dinner party, Giro was hastening to the Crystal Palace Exchange to sell the stocks he had bought in all his new companies. On the hillside above Stigbergsliden he met a good friend, one of the leaders of the West-East-North Company. The two gentlemen were in a hurry and their bicycles nearly collided.
“Whoa! Where are you going?” Giro exclaimed.
“Down to Psycheon!” the West-East North Company man replied.
“At this time of day and night?”
“Yes, I must order a dozen small brain organs or brain musical boxes or whatever those cute objects are called.”
“There are small ones as well?”
“I’m wearing one right now,” the wholesaler informed him and raised his light hat of fine and soft steel wire, a hat of the kind that was frequently worn these days, and pointed at a small psychokinet on the top of his head.
“This is the latest invention, the most distinguished use of the brain organ in everyday use so far. Inside this small organ is a clockwork. I wind it up when I want to transport myself into a pleasurable mood.
“There are three different mood pieces in this instrument. And then I turn it upside down on my head and it will presently affect my brain without hindering me from performing my usual work. The parts of the brain not affected by the psychokinet can occupy themselves with anything.”
“I see,” the bank director said. “It was probably something like that in the past, when people tried to create a mood by smoking tobacco. That could also be done without hindering ordinary work.”
“Yes, but this is of course much more pleasant and has no injurious effect on your health. Furthermore, the psychokinet has the splendid quality that it doesn’t trouble other people, as tobacco is said to have done.
“Only he who keeps the thing on his head will experience its presence. The music and the scent-piano drag along involuntary participants into the enjoyment. The former is heard and the latter is smelled by all people in the neighborhood, whether they like it or not, but the psychokinet doesn’t trouble anyone...
“Now the first emotional mood has come to an end. It was quite agreeable and I enjoyed it all the way from the office and up to this moment. Now another piece is beginning to spread its effect, but it won’t prevent me from speaking to you or thinking of my business.
“However, it is a pity that this small psychokinet has only three pieces. One needs variety and I must therefore buy more boxes. For the time being, they’re sold only at Psycheon, but I’ll offer the psychist to keep his boxes on commission.”
“What if we float a box company?” Giro mentioned, in a friendly way obliging.
“A joint-stock company is already being floated,” the wholesale dealer made clear.
“And I’ve not known about it. How annoying!”
“The psychist himself has managed the matter. However, from now on, Aromasia Doftman-Ozodes will probably not attract much attention with her ododion.”
“Tomorrow she’ll be elected a member of parliament.”
“I doubt it. Most newspapers have declared themselves against her election, among others the big Stockholm paper Last Hour’s News which also has begun publishing a weekly edition called Next Week’s News. I’ve just gotten that edition, where it’s said that Miss Ozone’s election could not be a sure thing. The newspaper could not have caught that out of thin air.”
“Why care about the Stockholm papers? We manage by ourselves and Aromasia Doftman- Ozodes belongs to our society, since she studied at our high school and took her doctor’s degree here. The district of Majorna has urged that she be elected and we will ensure her election. I’ve floated it as a joint-stock company.
“Tonight, she’ll give her big concert in one of the assembly halls of the Örgryte block. And now farewell, my friend. The opening hour of the Exchange has already sounded.”
“For the first time in many years, I must miss the opening. I must settle the matter with the psychist.”
“The two businessmen went in different directions. The bank director was annoyed with himself for having neglected to float a company for the brain organs. Now he had to counteract them and their circulation.
“I’ll show them that the scent-organ is not at all an antiquated business,” he said, as he entered the Crystal Palace Exchange.
He walked about among his friends, talking about tunneling and food companies and air-swimming and the organization of the civil service departments with cheaper machinery, but he did not forget to work for the election of Aromasia, urging everyone to visit the big scent concert on the Örgryte block.
Giro was very influential at the Exchange, but there were also other mighty people of both sexes, and many of them were working for the election of Warm-Blasius, the renowned weather-manufacturer, who would be an honor to have as a representative in the parliament. All other competitors had long since withdrawn.
* * *
In the evening, another election meeting was to be held, but at the same time Aromasia was giving her big concert on the Örgryte block, far away from the scene of action in Majorna. She did not lack for onsmellers.
Many of them, who in the beautiful, warm evening made their pleasure-trips with the usual means of conveyance, descended to the odatorium after having extended their journey all the way to the border of the Earth’s terminator in order to take another look at the sun. It had disappeared from sight to those who stayed on the face of the Earth. Once again the travelers enjoyed the glowing play of colors of the evening sunset.
Before the concert began, the big hall was filled with a waiting crowd. Not one single seat was vacant. At the appointed time, Aromasia stepped forward. She was as usual received with an abundant rain of stocks. In particular, Giro showed himself captivated and generous at the sight of the artist.
She sat down by her ododion. If some uneasiness had been discerned in her face, when she entered the hall, she showed total ease as she sat by her instrument. She had perhaps feared that the many opponents of her election combined with those who had a craze for the brain organ would let her experience something unusual. She thought that she probably only was surrounded by friends.
After a few musing moments, inspiration seemed to come over her. She placed her hands at the keys and struck a scent-tone, followed by another one while already at the first tone her beautiful features contracted and at the second note she could not repress a strong sneeze.
What was the reason for her unusual eruption? Could the reason be the very subject, she intended to improvise this evening? After what she had explained to Aunt Vera, she had, herself, begun to believe that The Seasons was too old-fashioned a scent-subject and she regretted she had wasted time and labor on such a composition.
She had also told Apollonides about it at their meeting in Gothenburg, when he wished to present to her the words of another “scent sonata,” as he called it in his old-fashioned terminology.
“Nothing more that’s out-of-date!” she exclaimed and she did not want to hear more about the poet’s new work.
“Oh, she still loves Oxygen,” sighed the unhappy Apollonides.
This time, Aromasia wanted to smell at least some fantasy scents of a new, magnificent giant-odorate she lately had been thinking of. Something that would paint “the social question” in brave scent compositions and hint at its successful solution through the perfection of machines.
She had told Aunt Vera about it when they returned from the ball game at Rydberg’s square, and her old woman-friend liked her decision. “The social question” had certainly made considerable progress towards a solution in recent centuries, but it had nevertheless not yet been attained.
All who in any way contributed to that solution, be it in the sciences or through participation in the arts, would certainly serve mankind.
But Aromasia sneezed. It could not be part of the subject, for she had alone already rehearsed the piece. The reason had to be found in the two first scent tones. She tried a third one. Then she sneezed even more violently, and all those present sneezed with her. The scent that spread through the hall was so sharp that a true nose-cramp broke out.
Aromasia turned pale and felt awfully sick. Nonetheless, once more her hands dropped to the keys, but then it was as if all evil spirits were set free from the realm of gas. No human nose could stand something like this.
The public screamed, rampaged and crowded to get out. Helpless, Aromasia sank down by the side of her ododion. Nobody seemed to care about her or even notice her weakness. Everyone just thought of hers and his own nose and struggled to get out into the fresh air as fast as possible.
And the unbearable smell was not enough. A dull ominous, whining noise was heard in the hall. It was feared that the luminescent material oxygen, though it was above the glass roof, might come into contact with the gas that escaped from the ododion and produce a violent explosion that could destroy the whole building and kill all those present.
They had to save their lives and immediately get away from the dangerous place. “Quick, quick, away from here!” they screamed, howled.
But through the horrible crowding, two people tried to force their way into the hall. It was a young man and an older woman.
“Are you crazy,” people screamed at them and pushed them back. “The house will explode!”
“We must get inside!” Apollonides and old Vera exclaimed.
But the crowd carried them away. They had to follow the violent stream. It was a wild flight into the inner city. Just a few people could lay their hands on an air vehicle and rise into the air above the dangerous spot. Most fled on foot in thick groups.
The fleeing had not yet reached further than Rydberg’s square when a horrible bang was heard and the strong street-lighting of the city faded because of the overwhelming light that filled the air.
“What a misfortune!”
But people continued fleeing on all the way to the big Albumin Factory by the former Gammelport. There they stopped, turned around and regarded the firelight that showed the terrible fire. People stood staring at the light with a sense of pleasure, pleasure at being safe, and the brain organ could hardly create such a pleasing mood.
On the street Dicksongatan, Vera and Apollonides at last got out of the crowd. The poet succeeded in getting a vehicle, and high above the fleeing crowds he transported Aromasia’s old kinswoman back to the scene of the catastrophe. A furious fire was raging. The firemen were already in full swing, using their fire-choking engines and other rescue tools
“Take out the salamanders,” was heard.
The Östbergian rescue suit, which was said to have been made after a five hundred years old design, was put on several brave men, who went into the worst of the fire to see if anything could be saved. But they returned without having found anything. Everything inside the building had already been destroyed. Only the outer walls remained. The firemen soon extinguished the flames that licked these ruins.
“Aromasia is dead!” Apollonides lamented in a violent outburst of pain.
It seemed as if the sorrow of the old woman friend was speechless but inconsolable.
“How could all this possibly happen?” asked a superintendent at Öfveråsgatan and began tough interrogation of the officials of the assembly hall who had escaped the devastation.
Nobody could answer that question. They all found it incomprehensible.
“The scent piano is probably to blame,” one of them presumed.
But the scent piano had never before caused anything like this. They inquired where Aromasia had gotten her scent-batches manufactured and found that a very well known chemist had assisted her, but that chemist could not be found. The last time he had been seen was at noon the same day that the catastrophe happened. He had perhaps been killed at the same time as the artist. He had then been in the company of Miss Rosebud.
The miss referred to was cross-examined, but she could not give any information. She was in a quite bad state.
“It was horrible,” she repeatedly exclaimed. “Who could have thought of this?”
Her horror of the accident was apparently sincere, but it may have seemed a little bit over the top, considering that they knew how much she had hated Aromasia.
“Now we no longer have to fear that Aromasia will be elected,” Mrs. Sharpman-Fulmar confidentially whispered to Miss Rosebud.
“Now I’m totally indifferent when it comes to the election,” Miss Rosebud replied. “I would never have thought that our entertainment would end like this. The chemist assured me that he was sure that he would only make the scent piano suspect by giving Aromasia’s face a blue tinge she would wear for a couple of months from a well-calculated stream of gas. You were the one who told him to make the batch real strong.”
“You’re a milksop, my dear Rosebud.” That was all that Mrs. Sharpman-Fulmar said.
To be continued...