Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 18, part 2
appear in this issue.
Chapter 18: Invisible Bodies
Part 1 of 2: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
The evening before the concert, Aromasia was invited to an evening party with one of the most distinguished handicraft practitioners in Copenhagen. In that company, Hydrogenius introduced a young woman who had discovered a new form of matter: diaphot, which made organic, solid bodies totally so transparent and colorless that they ultimately became completely invisible.
People had already heard about the new discovery but had not seen any experiment showing that it was useful. A few attempts would now be done to entertain the party and at the same time serve science. In these days, social amusement in Copenhagen as in most of the rest of the world consisted of scientific discoveries, such as chemical and mechanical experiments, mathematical calculations etc. And, as we have already seen, people enjoyed such social amusements while still remembering to keep up to date with the news of the day.
The woman who discovered diaphot presented a couple of rabbits to serve as guinea pigs. Even in the 24th century, the Society for the Protection of Rabbits had not been able to prevent the lives of small animals being sacrificed for science. Many hundred thousand francs were used every year by the Society to redeem rabbits from the cruelty of scientists, but there was never any lack of the animals when experiments were performed for the promotion of science. It was like that even this evening.
The first of the rabbit subjects was fed with diaphot, and the animal seemed to find the taste very good. Then the animal was rubbed with the same substance and was permitted to run about the room. It was caressed by the ladies and gentlemen present and seemed to be somewhat shy at such a big party, but it otherwise showed no signs of indisposition.
“As you can see,” the discoveress of diaphot said, “the treatment doesn’t exert any injurious influence on the state of the animal’s health.”
That much was admitted, but while the people waited to see the reported properties of the substance to develop, they found the wait to be long.
Suddenly the head of the rabbit had disappeared, or so it seemed. By straining the eyes, one could see a vague outline of the head, but it was very elusive and became less visible by the minute. The company expressed its surprise, and the surprise intensified as the other parts of the animal also became a blurred shape or rather a diaphanous, fog-like mass, where only the skeletal system was distinctly visible.
At last the only thing seen was a rabbit skeleton scampering about.
“That’s fine,” Hydrogenius explained, “but in order to make a body totally invisible, something more is needed. He who wants to be entirely incognito should perhaps not show himself as a skeleton.”
“Well,” put in the lady performing the demonstration, “I’ve not as yet exhausted my resources. Let’s try another rabbit.”
Rabbit subject number two as produced and treated to a new batch of diaphot, increased with a three-hundreths part of homorhachion. This had an even more wonderful effect. In a much shorter time than at the first experiment, the second rabbit’s body began to fade into invisibility.
The skeletal structure of this animal was also visible for a good while longer than the skin and muscles. But it disappeared as time went on, and after a couple of hours it was impossible to see the rabbit, even though one could feel it with hands and thereby know that the body was really there.
“This is splendid!” the party exclaimed in ecstasy.
“It’s quite a nice discovery,” Hydrogenius explained. “This finding could have considerable benefits and should not be seen as just a parlor trick.”
All those present agreed. Oxygen, who also was invited, had followed the experiment from beginning to end with the closest attention and the keenest interest.
Hydrogenius asked if someone wanted to come forward as another test subject. People looked at each other with hesitation. After some musing, Oxygen suggested that for the time being they might be satisfied with steeping a coat in diaphot, and he volunteered his own fine coat.
The suggestion was approved, but since they did not have enough of the new substance at the moment, not more than half the coat could get the proper treatment. The result was that Oxygen in a strange way appeared to be half-dressed, for one side of him was only covered by a shirt-sleeve and underclothes, while the other side was dressed as usual.
The outcome of the experiment raised much laughter with the party, but Oxygen seemed to be extremely pleased.
“When will the whole of my coat be seen again?” he asked.
“Not for eight or ten days,” was the answer.
The party roared with laughter.
“In other words, the power of this substance will last that long?” Oxygen said.
“Just about, but then the treatment can be repeated, and if you dare to submit to the same treatment used on the rabbits here, then the whole human body can become invisible for an equally long time.”
“Excellent!” Oxygen said to himself. “Now I can begin my experiments with the Will-Subduer without being seen. Now I will surely succeed.”
The whole rest of the evening he was in a splendid mood, and all those present agreed on that the Swedish weather-manufacturer were a most charming sociable person.
He did not, however, approach Amorasia. She often watched him closely, but there was a sad expression in her eyes. The artist left the party early in order to, as she said, think of the next day’s concert.
When Oxygen returned to his shelter at “Dennmark’s Savage,” he immediately went to the telephone office of the hotel, where he sent in his resignation as a member of parliament. He felt that he could not wait till the next morning.
Public officials and civil servants at the hotel looked at his strange dress with wondering eyes, but did not allow themselves to make any comments.
“He’s from the upper lands,” they whispered.
“A Swedish old-timer perhaps,” and that explanation seemed to be as good as any.
Oxygen regarded himself in the wall mirror and smiled with particular satisfaction at his half coat.
“Diaphot is a superb substance,” he said, “and it was excellent that the air current transported us to Copenhagen.”
The next day he got up early and dressed in another coat, but he found to his great satisfaction that yesterday’s coat still looked as half as before.
He allowed himself to be hoisted up to the roof of the hotel, where the finest vehicles always were available, took an air taxi. He wanted to pay an immediate visit to the laboratory where Miss Photorup manufactured her newly invented substance of transformation. But perhaps it would be too early in the morning, he thought. He had not yet heard the morning signal.
The morning signal in Copenhagen in the year 2378 was totally different from the ancient morning cries. When the sun reached a certain height and its rays hit the highest tower of the observatory on the hill where the castle of Fredriksberg had been situated in the past, an automatic mechanism was set in motion through a regressive photochemical influence. And this mechanism at once let loose all the tones of a giant orchestra.
Through all the houses of the big city the sound of enormous kettledrums and trumpet blasts resounded. It was only for this purpose that the otherwise forgotten music was used in Copenhagen.
Even when the sky was covered with clouds, the sun nevertheless worked behind the haze at the mechanism of the observatory, so that the morning signal was heard blaring and booming its exhortation to begin the day’s work with almost the same power as on sunny days.
Many began their day’s work before the morning sound, but the normal working hours were counted from the signal, and he who enjoyed full health and not left his bed at the sound of the orchestral trio could not count on the respect of other citizens.
Such a person was never elected a representative of the town or the Government. Of course, citizens could not always know when a certain individual left his bed, but it often became known, especially through the visiting functions that usually were performed in the mornings, just after the morning signal.
Oxygen slowly floated above the housetops. The movements were already quite lively. Copenhagen rubbed its eyes and as soon as the morning signal was over, the noise and the bustle increased at an almost troublesome speed,
“It’s almost as much movement here as in Gothenburg proper,” Oxygen said to one of his Copenhagener friends, whom he had met above the extremely old building that was supposed to have been the castle of Rosenborg in the past.
“You’re right,” the friend replied, “and our movement is in addition more esthetic, shows greater artistic culture and more of a sense of beauty.”
“Hm!” Oxygen uttered. ”You speak with somewhat old-fashioned conceptions... What news happens here in the city?”
“Well, actually a lot. To begin with we’ve the new substance, I think it’s called diaphot. It can make the whole world invisible.”
“So you know about that discovery?”
“Everyone in the city is talking about it, and the whole city has begun trying it out. Miss Photorup is the discoveress. She’s already famous and receives an enormous amount of invitations and earns an immense amount of money. Had we lived in the past, she would have had a dozen suitors. Her future is bright.”
Oxygen did not seem to be particularly pleased to hear that the knowledge of diaphot was already so widespread. He wanted to use the discovery before it was a matter of common knowledge. That thought heightened his wish to reach the laboratory of Miss Photorup. He waved goodbye to his friend, who went eastwards, while he himself kept on towards the block of Dragør at the former Amager.
When he traveled across the small square that in olden days had been called The King’s New Square, he was obstructed in his flight by a crowd of air-vehicles that had gathered at this spot. All the travelers looked down at the place, where they were occupied by digging a ground for a new building. The excavators had come across some subterranean vaults and the local archeologists were examining the old relics.
“It’s most certainly a remnant of the old National Theatre,” some archeologists had said.
“Impossible,” others had objected. “That theatre cannot have left any tracks. It was put on a starvation diet by leftists, and it died of consumption. It was about four or five hundred years ago. They had just built a palace for the national art of acting, but the actors had such poor incomes while all costs were rising higher and higher that they at last ate up the whole theatre, lock, stock and barrel. It didn’t save them from dying of famine, and then the great National Theatre was gone.”
“Well, what’s old will fall. The way must be cleared for the new machine theatres. The old art of acting was too silly. The grand machine theatres can offer something far better.”
“But what building would these vaults be remains of?”
“They probably belonged to an educational institution called à Porta. It had many divisions in old Copenhagen, but its principal center should have been close by the old National Theatre.”
“Yes, it’s said to have been an excellent establishment of higher education. It was a top-flight academy and had its meetings every night and even every day, where everything new in literature and the art of those days was thoroughly scrutinized, approved or rejected, awarded prizes or sentenced to death. There one also got to know effortlessly everything that had happened during the day and night and also what would happen the next day.”
“There are no institutions like that in Copenhagen any more.”
“Everything has changed. When the à-Porta institution disappeared, so did the fashion of finding the solution to the questions of the day and the doubts of the night in a glass of absinthe.”
“Absinthe! What’s that?”
“It was the eau de vie of the Copenhagian intelligentsia in the same way that an apéritif and a glass of Swedish arrack punsch were the active stimuli in Stockholm society.”
“What strange times have they...”
Oxygen did not feel any sympathy for the conversation between the archeologists. He made his way through the crowd flowing over the big, glowing business passage. In the place of the former Eastern Street, the mall had a crystal roof through the roof openings of which the beautiful people went up and down, while carrying on lively discussions and offering each other happy greetings.
Oxygen passed by Carlploug’s Street and the school of Christiansborg, named for the old royal palace, the foundation walls of which still served as the school building. He traveled across the manifold chemical factories and laboratories of the block of Christian’s Harbor and over the big machine theatres made all the more scenic by the adjoining factories. He arrived at the blocks of Amager and Dragør beyond the handicraft factories on the Baltic Sea and stopped at the laboratory of Miss Photorup.
“This is the first step on my road to happiness,” Oxygen said as he put his foot on the roof of the house. “To begin with, an opportunity to be invisible; then the use of the Will-Subduer, and I will scientifically obtain the undivided love of Aromasia.”
But it was a long time before he obtained an audience with Miss Photorup. There were a hundred ladies and gentlemen or so before him, and they all wanted to buy diaphot or place big orders for the product.
“It seems as if the whole world wants to get invisible,” Oxygen said, annoyed at not being the only one who would benefit from the wonderful discovery.
At last it was his turn.