Oxygen and Aromasia
by Claës Lundin
translated by Bertil Falk
Table of Contents
Chapter 23: The Wonderful Chest
part 1 of 3
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.
When Aromasia fled from him, Oxygen stayed in the sapphire cave. In a strange way his strength failed him, he thought. The shining precious stones on the walls danced before his eyes. He had the impression that the ceiling was lowering above him and that the bottom of the cave opened up and that he was falling deeper and deeper into the interior of the earth.
The happiness of his life was gone. Aromasia would never more return. He was left alone, deserted by all joyful hopes. He had even lost his faith in science. The Will-subduer had turned out to be an empty fancy. He could no longer belong among the living.
How should he put an end to his life?
His strength returned. The ceiling of the cave was back in its former place. The precious stones gleamed in their usual way, the strong light was reflected from the walls. He stood on the floor of the cave, a a floor that had not opened under him.
Had everything been an optical illusion? Had he dreamt perhaps? Had Aromasia not visited him and said the cruel words? Did he still have some hope? Could the Will-subduer still serve him as he wanted?
No! Unfortunately, he now remembered the whole conversation clearly. Aromasia had appeared in the sapphire cave and once more disappeared. She would never come back. She had never belonged to him.
Consequently he had no more reason to live. Would he let the tunnel collapse over him? Means to do that were not difficult to find.
Then he heard footsteps and human voices in the narrow pathway. He was not alone in the tunnel. If he let the cave collapse, he would bury other people as well.
The steps were urgent, the voices loud. They came to tell the chief engineer that a serious accident threatened the tunnel. At a couple of spots, the tremendous pressure of the earth’s crust was on the verge of breaking through the walls of the tunnel. The many pipes used to inject liquid oxygen into the tunnel and thus contribute to the digging were not enough, but the workers did not dare use more of them.
“They’re sufficient, more than sufficient,” Oxygen replied but immediately rushed to inspect the situation.
He had immediately given up the thought of his own sorrows and was once more the skillful and energetic engineer who made a point of scrupulously and speedily completing the work that had been entrusted to him.
The accident that his co-workers said threatened the tunnel had to be counteracted without delay and removed.
“The pipes are not sufficient,” the other engineers explained, “and nevertheless we don’t dare release more oxygen. We must work with the outmost care, otherwise a fatal collapse may occur.”
“We must go forward!” Oxygen exclaimed. “Moreover, the pressure is not as strong as you think. We have pipelines that have not yet been used. Let’s open a few of them.”
“What are you saying?” one of the collaborators exclaimed with fright. “That would mean certain death. We would immediately be blown to the surface of the sea.”
“Cowardice and engineering don’t mix,” Oxygen declared and put his hand on the tap of the biggest of the as yet unused pipes.
“What are you going to do?” the colleagues screamed and fell upon him. “Are you bent on murder and suicide?”
That was not at all Oxygen’s intention. He had forgotten his thoughts of shortening his life and was driven only by a desire to show with a fast operation the superiority and reliability of his calculations.
With a strong hand he held the tap and defended himself with the other hand. “Take care!” he called out. “We must act quickly now!”
Involuntarily, the collaborators retreated. Oxygen’s superiority was so strong that they did not dare stand against him, even though they were convinced he would destroy them.
He was however the same man who just a minute ago not had been unable to affect the decision of a woman either through his own personality or through his Will-subduer invention, even though the woman really loved him.
None of the colleagues now dared hinder Oxygen, and nevertheless none of them doubted that opening the tap would result in their being crushed to bits within a few moments under the sea.
But they were mistaken. Oxygen’s calculations were reliable, and his boldness was crowned with success. The other engineers had to admit his superiority and gave in to all his arrangements. The continued work in the tunnel was made secure from all dangers, and Oxygen seemed to have regained his acumen and his ability to use his knowledge in guiding the difficult work. He also seemed to have regained his thirst for activity and showed only impatience at not being able to penetrate more rapidly into the interior of earth.
His thoughts of suicide were completely gone. “I’m not some ancient man, you know!” he exclaimed. “Such thoughts can be thought when a physical weakness is at hand, but when strength returns, the weak thoughts take to flight. They befit only poor creatures like Apollonides, people who never have known what strength is. That’s the advantage of our time: you don’t have to succumb to your passions.”
Nevertheless, immediately after his last meeting with Aromasia, there were many moments when he felt very unhappy. But then he set about to work with even greater zest.
“Warm-Blasius is an exceptionally good man,” his collaborators said between themselves. “As a tunnel-digger he’s the foremost of the profession in all of Scandinavia.”
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