Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
in this issue.
|Chapter 16: A Chase in the Air|
The same evening that Aromasia gave the unfortunate concert at the Örgryte block, Oxygen hastened from an election meeting in Majorna and steered his air-bike to the building where the concert was taking place. He was in a great hurry. His nerves were extremely strained.
This evening he wanted to find out what science could do to force a woman’s willpower. At least it would be a preliminary experiment, the outcome of which would show whether the new theories for the Will-subduer were worth developing in a practical way, something that Oxygen did not doubt at all.
Though he arrived at fairly late, he nevertheless succeeded in finding a seat near Aromasia, but she could not see him where she sat by her scent-organ. At the first scent-chord Oxygen allowed the stream of gas to act on the artist. He was surprised at the strange scents that were developed, but he was too preoccupied by the thought of the Will-subduer to care about anything else.
When the whole audience began sneezing, even Oxygen sneezed, but he was not made conscious of the danger until he saw Aromasia falling to the floor in a faint.
Only then did he abandon the stream of gas and rushed forward to the unconscious Aromasia. No one else seemed to notice her helpless condition; the audience thought only of saving themselves. Oxygen lifted up Aromasia, who did not show any signs of life.
Luckily, he had left his air-bike outside a window that was not a part of the normal entrances or exits. He carried Aromasia and lifted her into the air-bike and sat down behind her. The seat was very small but big enough to permit an experienced air-cycle rider to drive the vehicle.
Oxygen was hit by a horrible thought. Was Aromasia dead? No, her heart beat against his heart. The fresh air soon had its influence. She opened her eyes, grasped Oxygen’s arm and looked around in fright. They were already high up in the sky. Far below them a sharp glare could be seen: the flames that were consuming the assembly hall. The light from the street-lighting of Gothenburg only shimmered vaguely. A strong night wind was blowing. They sped through the air.
Aromasia recalled on the spur of the moment the occurrence at the concert. She felt severe pain over the unfortunate event. How could all this have happened? What was the reason? But then she looked at Oxygen, who held her tight with a powerful arm while they roared ahead on their airborne ride.
The night was starlit and fairly light, but there was no sign of living creatures, except the two of them. Only far away behind them a dark spot was discernible at about the same height in the air, probably another bike.
It was as if the ancient knights of the past on their steeds took away a noble lady of a castle or perhaps abducted a daughter from a hut. Aromasia recalled that she had read about such adventures in old books and she found the plight humiliating to a woman of today.
“Oxygen, why are we leaving Gothenburg?” she asked and grasped his arm even stronger.
“I’m taking you to a safe place,” he replied. “You must leave the spot where such a horrible accident has occurred.”
He described the immediate circumstances at the accident but he did not mention the stream of gas he had aimed at her.
“I want to go down to the ground,” Aromasia explained.
“Away! Further away!” Oxygen exclaimed. “Now we’ll see,” Aromasia fancied that she heard him saying, “if the Will-subduer can show what it can do.” She did not know what that could mean.
They went in a north-easterly direction, steering toward the district of Lake Vättern, and had they already reached the ancient city of Alingsås, when a voice through one of the common bike-receivers called out to them an urgent request to slow down.
Oxygen banked to see wherefrom the call came and discovered on some distance a cycle-rider, who hastened in the same direction. It was not enough light to recognize him, but Oxygen imagined that the voice belonged to Apollonides.
That discovery increased Oxygen’s efforts to travel rapidly. Aromasia had also recognized the voice of the poet, but she did not say anything. She felt humiliated to be carried away to an unknown goal in this way without being able to do anything. But what could she do? She was for the time being totally in Oxygen’s power.
Did she even want to escape from Oxygen? Had the Will-subduer had an effect? No! But she felt grateful to her rescuer and even warmer feelings manifested themselves. She had never stopped loving Oxygen, though her female pride revolted against his strange and, in her eyes, unworthy behavior.
The impressions of the frightful and inexplicable accident that just had happened mixed with these feelings. Aromasia realized that what had happened would do a great deal of harm to her art and be of a deplorable influence in several respects.
“How did the accident happen?” she asked herself. A suspicion arose in her mind that Oxygen had a hand in it to get her in his power, but she drove away that thought. On second thought, she could not believe that he could be guilty of such a mean act.
While the brain of Aromasia was thus occupied, she did not pay careful attention to the journey, though she most warmly wanted it to end soon. But her wish was not carried out for some time. Oxygen picked up speed with a feverish, soon furious intensity. It seemed as if he wanted at all costs to avoid being run down by the pursuing bike rider, who really was no one else but Apollonides.
When the scald had found that his search in the concert hall, together with old Vera, was fruitless and he had barely escaped being burned to death, he raised his loud-voiced lament outside the burning building. Then he imagined seeing a cycle with two human shapes rising out of the flames.
It immediately struck him that Oxygen might be taking the opportunity to carry away Aromasia, dead or alive. The prehistoric poet always had his head filled with very romanesque fancies, but this time his imagination carried him in the right direction.
“A cycle, a kingdom for a cycle!” Apollonides exclaimed and ran around the burning building in search of one. He knew his Shakespeare and quoted him frequently, but in the 24th century it had been more difficult that in the days of Richard III to pay for services with kingdoms, a commodity that not had been in the marketplace for a long time.
“Sir, you may use my cycle, which is of a new make with a new system. It has unparalleled speed,” declared a man who was just about to rise above the ground
“Benefactor, humanitarian, deliverer!” the scald exclaimed in his old-fangled language and accepted the offer of aid. He uttered a few consoling words to old Vera and was about to vault into the saddle.
“The price is fifty thousand francs,” explained the owner of the cycle.
“Fif... ty thousand!” Apollonides stammered and checked himself with a frightened expression.
“It’s to be sure more than a kingdom in our time, but you seem to be very keen on getting away from here, and the sum can’t be too high,” remarked the man who had offered the cycle.
Apollonides bowed his head and looked very unhappy. He was just on the point of abandon the journey, but then Vera stepped between, took out a paper, wrote a few words on it in great haste by the light of the burning house and left the written document to the owner of the cycle and uttered urgently:
“Look here, a money order on the Bank of Gullbärg. My name is well known.”
“Quick! Hurry on!” she called out at Apollonides. “Try to bring back Aromasia if she hasn’t been burned to death.”
The poet jumped onto the cycle, set the climbing mechanism going, rapidly waved goodbye and disappeared among the clouds.
He had acquired a vehicle of extraordinary speed. He soon saw Oxygen’s cycle far ahead and approached at such close quarters that he could call out to the rider.
When the rider swung, Apollonides noticed that the cycle still had two people. There was no doubt, he thought, that those two were the weather manufacturer and the beautiful Aromasia. With that certainty he increased his efforts to reach them.
But Oxygen still had a good lead. His cycle could all the same not, since it carried two people, be driven with the same speed as the pursuer’s. And the latter gained several meters on the vehicle in front every minute. Oxygen could not avoid noticing that. But it had to be forestalled. He wanted to bring Aromasia to a place where he could hide her from all others for a time. The Will-subduer had to do its work.
Should he rapidly turn around and enter into a fight with the importunate scald? To be sure, he thought of something like that for a few moments. Would he try to get rid of the insufferable jester for good?
No! He shuddered at a violent deed and furthermore, with Aromasia on his cycle he could not be fully sure of the outcome of a fight. He found it wiser to exert himself even more to get away from his pursuer.
And the wild chase continued across the district of Falköping. Lake Billingen was under their feet. Already, the eastern field of vision purpled and in the light of the red light of dawn the reflecting surface of Lake Vättern glittered. The ruins of old Karlsborg stood out in bold relief against the calm water.
“A beautiful sight!” Apollonides unintentionally exclaimed and similarly involuntarily, just driven by his old-fashioned feeling for the beauty of nature, he stayed for a moment to rejoice at the “the rose-fingered Eos” which seemed to wave its hand at him from the other side of Lake Vättern.
Even Aromasia was carried away from her thoughts by the beauty of the red light of dawn. It would have been wonderful, she thought, to float high up in the sky together with the man she loved and to rejoice at the beautiful morning and rush to meet the rising sun. But she had not begun the journey of her own free will, nor had her wishes been consulted about continuing the journey. That was the thought that disturbed her joy at the beautiful picture that gradually unrolled far below her, sometimes hiding itself in clouds, sometimes peeping out in a rose-red shimmer.
Apollonides pulled himself out of his poetic enthusiasm and once again directed his attention to his attempt to reach those he pursued. But now Oxygen had a lead once again and suddenly rose above a cloud that totally concealed him. His pursuer slowed his speed in irresolution. The first sun rays hit the cloud, gilded it to begin with, then pierced it. And Apollonides saw the most glorious sight, he thought, for he saw Aromasia surrounded by the rays of the morning sun high up in the sky, one of the goddesses of the past, a Maria with a blinding halo. And suddenly he was closer to her than he ever had been during this night and this morning.
“I hurl him into Lake Vättern!” Oxygen exclaimed in a fit of rage, forgetting his intention not to dare a fight with the pursuer.
They were now in the vicinity of the great lake. Clearer than before, they saw the water surface beginning to ripple more and more intensely. The wind was blowing from Östergötland. It became stronger, the more Oxygen rose, because he still tried to get up to higher strata of air. It was his hope that Apollonides would not dare pursue him but as this hope did not materialize, he firmly resolved to find a way to get rid of him forever.
He slowed down and descended closer to the water in the same direction where Apollonides was for the moment, however still far below him. A wild resolution shone out of his eyes.
“Oxygen!” Aromasia called out alarmed.
She seemed to suspect his intention.
But Oxygen did not listen to her warning. He steered down at the poet, who was surprised found Oxygen’s cycle above his head. Another moment and a collision would have been unavoidable. It was like an eagle swooping down upon its prey and cannot avoid his enemy. But at the last moment, Aromasia succeeded in giving the steering-screw a rapid turn and Oxygen’s cycle whistled by Apollonides at a wild speed downwards.
The motion of Aromasia’s hand had been so fast and powerful that Oxygen had not been able to forestall her. His surprise was so great that he forgot to regain possession of the handlebars, which Aromasia had released after her successful intervention. The cycle was on its own and continued rushing downwards at a terrible speed. Aromasia felt her head spinning.
The wind increased in force. Lake Vättern suddenly changed appearance. The surface looked dark and menacing, and the sea was running high. They heard the hissing of the billows and the foam splashed high in the air. Within a few moments the cycle would bore its way down into that foam and sink hopelessly into the depths.
But Oxygen’s strong hand once again grasped the handlebars, and with both his feet he worked powerfully at the climbing mechanism until the vehicle rose once again. The wind had turned northerly, and in the lower stratum of air, where they now were, Oxygen could not steer in the same direction as before in spite of all his efforts.
They drifted at a wild speed southward and soon were floating above the southernmost end of the lake, across the bay, where once the old city of Jönköping had fought the pushy Lake Vättern but had ultimately succumbed and sunk into the depths. Only the uppermost ridge of the Dunkehall had remained above the surface of the water.
Now they once more sailed above the mainland. By degrees they rose and saw the mountain Taberg. It looked like a cut-off boulder under them. They approached the proud Värnamo, one of the most distinguished cities in Scandinavia. Its extremely old fairs had since long overshadowed the fairs of Leipzig and the business meetings in Nizhni-Novgorod.
They did not know where Apollinides had gone. Oxygen felt satisfied that they had escaped him without him committing a deed he later would have bitterly regretted. The wrath he had felt, when Aromasia surprised him with a sudden turning of the steering-screw, was gone, and now he felt grateful to her for hindering him from destroying Apollinides, even though Oxygen would not hesitate to sacrifice him if he turned up again.
Neither Oxygen nor Aromasia had uttered a word since they had escaped the danger of plunging into Lake Vättern. Oxygen was too occupied with driving his vehicle for the time being, which seemed to have gotten out of gear during the many bankings, ascents and dives.
After succeeding in forestalling the threatened collision with Apollonides, Aromasia once more surrendered to her thoughts, and she seemed to be tolerably indifferent to the present moment.
Bu where were they going? Once more they saw a big city, bigger than even Värnamo.
“Where are we?” Aromasia asked.
“It seems to be Älmhult,” Oxygen replied. “The most distinguished city in southern Sweden.”
“But I want to get off in either Gothenburg or Stockholm,” Aromasia explained with certainty in her voice.
Oxygen assured that they were no longer masters in their vehicle. They had to be transported by the strong current of air. He could only prevent the cycle from crashing or climbing too high.
The situation was not the most agreeable, even though both Oxygen and Aromasia were experienced air travellers and had met with rather adventurous journeys more than once. At the end of the 24th century, such perfect air vehicles had not as yet been built as those that would be used in the next century. But people still traveled much more safely than they had on railroads, not to mention the very dangerous journeys on horseback.
The air current changed direction again and it looked as if they soon would drift out towards the Kattegat. Although it was only Öresund below them, it was with great difficulty they crossed over the water. The air was filled with different vehicles and freighters cruising between the coasts of Skåne and Sjaelland or steering towards the Baltic Sea and the German shores.
Great skill and strength were needed at all times in order not to collide with some of the many air-sailing vessels wildly running in different directions and touching each other. It was now much more difficult, since Oxygen’s cycle had been damaged by the efforts of the night chase and, as he just had explained, had to follow the air current.
But now this current transported the vehicle in a favorable way across the water, and after twelve hours of adventurous journey the travellers touched down in Copenhagen instead of Stockholm.
To be continued...