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Oxygen and Aromasia

by Claës Lundin

translated by Bertil Falk

Table of Contents
Chapter 21, part 1; part 2
Chapter 22, part 1
appear in this issue.
Chapter 22: The Sapphire Cave

part 2 of 2

The small group met at the time fixed, started their vehicles and floated soon through some light clouds shimmering with gold across the many islands and skerries of Lake Saltsjön, in the direction of Sandhamn. It was a gay journey, the participators of which were in the most excellent mood.

“Shall we go down to Oak Island?” asked someone in the group.

“No, Sandhamn,” someone else proposed.

“I think that we should go all the way to Greenskerry,” said a third.

“Yes, that’s my opinion, too. That’s where they have the entrance to the big tunnel that is being dug from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.”

“That’s true, an extraordinary enterprise, from what I’ve heard.”

“Let’s go to Greenskerry!”

They went there.

“Why did they chose this spot for the entrance?” one of the group asked.

“It has become apparent that the conditions here are more favorable than anywhere else,” was the answer. “The intention is probably to make an entrance even on the mainland, according what’s told in the very city of Erstavik.”

Erstavik was called a city, but in actual fact it was just one of the smaller suburbs of Stockholm.

“And where will the tunnel lead?”

“To Port Jackson, on New Holland.”

“A decent project and of much greater importance than the tunnel from the Pater Noster skerries.”

“We’ve surpassed the Gothenburgians.”

“But who’s running the work? An excellent engineer is needed.”

“It’s Warm-Blasius.”

“The weather-manufacturer?”

“The same.”

“He has abandoned the air, then?”

“Yes, in order to lower himself into the depths of the earth. He’s a highly skilled engineer.”

Aromasia not known beforehand that it was Oxygen who was in charge of the work on the new tunnel. She had a good mind to leave the group and take the shortest route to Gothenburg, but Aunt Vera gave her an encouraging glance, which seemed to say “No weakness now!”

Whether it was this stimulation or some other reason, perhaps in accordance with Aromasia’s old feelings for Oxygen, feelings that now ought to be abandoned, defeated, obliterated, but all of a sudden she did not feel like leaving Greenskerry. Now she wanted to visit the tunnel and see the remarkable works — and perhaps also see the one who was supervising them.

However, Aromasia was not wavering or weak. She knew what she wanted, and she had the strength to assert her will. But she had what in the past was called a heart, and that heart still felt attracted to the object for the strong love of her youth. But she was firmly resolved never to be united with that object. As yet she did not know what would happen to her under the floor of the Baltic Sea.

The group asked for permission to visit the tunnel and this request was readily granted, since it was time for one of the work breaks, when the machines were inspected and greased, and work had ceased for the time being. The visitors were supplied with enough oxygen and taken down in one of the big vehicles that were used by the engineers in their incessant travelling between the sea surface and the already completed part of the tunnel.

It did not take long until they reached a fairly extensive place, illuminated by a great many sea-suns of a new and improved design.

“This light is even more beautiful than what they have in the Gardens of Okeanos,” Aunt Vera remarked.

“The Gardens of Okeanos are nothing compared to this place,” claimed one of the engineers. “The intention is to make it an amusement park that will surpass Gothenburg’s. But the main task is, of course, to create a fully reliable and comfortable central station for the many tunnels that we hope will converge here some time in the future.”

The place was originally formed of big bubble-shaped caves that were found in the bauxite layer they had come across some kilometers under the sea bed.

The group spread out and walked about in the big halls and on the spacious streets and squares that had been erected in a span of time that in the past would have been inadequate to erect even the smallest building above ground.

“As if by magic!” an ancient person would have said.

“The work is being done at top speed,” Aunt Vera said, and many agreed.

* * *

Aromasia walked alone in a side entrance and admired the splendor. She had not seen Oxygen and had not wanted to ask for him.

Did she really want to see him?

“No,” she said to herself. “I had better avoid him. I’m strong and confident, but all the same, I don’t want to see him.”

Why then did she walk to this secluded part of the construction? Perhaps, she wanted to be alone with her thoughts. Once again she was not as happy as she had been at begin of the air journey.

Suddenly, she stood in front of the entrance of an even narrower road, one that seemed to emerge from the cliff. It looked very tempting, Aromasia thought. She squeezed herself into the tight wall. The suns of the central station threw only a dim light into the passageway, but at the other end Aromasia seemed to see a stronger light.

She walked with quick steps farther on. The road made a turn, and unexpectedly she was in a hall so dazzlingly beautiful that the imaginative powers of the fairy tales of the past could not match it. The sun illuminating the room cast its rays upon the walls, whose mighty, foot-thick blue and red crystals reflected the light.

Thanks to some conditions peculiar to the place itself, the aluminum oxide had crystallized into the most gorgeous sapphires and rubies. They had been formed in such a clear and regular way that they had no need of being cut.

It was beautiful, overwhelmingly beautiful, but the value was not as much as it would have been in the past, when precious stones had a totally forced price. Since the 21st century, they were valued only according to their hardness, since they were useful only for technical purposes.

But the sight of the strong light from an artificial sun was so — to use an old-fashioned word — bewitching that Aromasia had to close her eyes at first, and, when she opened them again, was struck with amazement.

She had never seen anything like it, never even thought of anything like it. What extraordinary being could possibly live in this wonderful splendor? In her astonishment, she had not noticed that the hall really seemed to be inhabited.

A man sat at one of the glimmering walls in front of a table made of clams, starfish, oysters and other marine animals. On it were blueprints, models, small machines etc scattered about or standing lined up in a certain order.

The man was leaning over his work. His eyes stared at a small machine close to him on the table top. His wrinkled forehead rested in one of his hands. The other hand drew figures on a paper.

It was perhaps the wizard himself, the owner of this palace, the ruler of all these flashing treasures?

He looked up, found that he was not alone, and stared at Aromasia. He seemed as amazed as she was and exclaimed to himself, “Could the Will-subduer really have performed its mission!?”

“Oxygen!” Aromasia exclaimed and stopped just as she was about to take a step farther into the blazing hall.

It seemed as if they were similarly taken unawares. But Oxygen recovered first, jumped to his feet and rushed with open arms towards Aromasia as if convinced that she would immediately throw herself into his arms.

“Thus you came at last,” he exclaimed. “I’ve succeeded in forcing you to come.”

But then he checked himself and came to a halt, his arms still open. Aromasia did not rush into his arms. She stood still and regarded him with an expression that Oxygen was unable to interpret.

“I didn’t know you were here,” she said with a voice that seemed to tremble somewhat.

“But you’ve traveled all the way to Greenskerry?” Oxygen resumed and approached her again.

“I’ve come with some friends to see the remarkable work,” Aromasia assured, and the phrase of her words was again calm and firm.

“I thank you for that, my beloved Aromasia,” Oxygen called out. “You’ve sought out my private workroom. How did you find it? I would think that not many engineers and foremen have such a bright room.”

He grasped her hand, which she placed in his somewhat hesitantly, but it nevertheless stayed there.

“I’ve not come here voluntarily,” Aromasia assured. “That is, I had no idea where your room was located.”

“Not voluntarily! No, I know... It’s however more than strange... on such a long distance! Or did I succeed already that day when I made the first attempt?”

“What are you talking about?”

She withdrew her hand from his. He stared now on the sapphires and the rubies, now on his beloved. It seemed to him that the lustre of the precious stones faded compared to her features shimmering with beauty.

“Oh, Aromasia, I was near you a few days ago.”

“At Aunt Vera’s place, yes.”

“No, later! You didn’t see me. I was invisible to you.”

“You almost frighten me, Oxygen!”

“Can a woman in our time possibly be frightened? But I must confess everything to you. I cannot go on like this. You must know what you have not suspected. You must... no...”

He stammered and looked embarrassed, something Aromasia never before had seen in him, but she continued to look at him searchingly in silence.

“You know the effects of diaphot!” he resumed more calmly.

“Yes, I do.”

“I got a full batch from Copenhagen. The discovery of this wonderful substance had already been completed. One can quickly make oneself invisible and just as easily cancel the effect and again appear in visible form.”

“That’s very remarkable. Have you tried it?”

“Indeed I have. I came to you invisible.”

“Oxygen!” Aromasia exclaimed violently, and a strong blush colored her cheeks.

“Don’t get angry!” It was out of the purest love and also for the sake of science.”

“For science? What do you mean?”

Oxygen remained silent, but he could not avoid the impression of Aromasia’s eyes, which all the time were fixed on him, pulled at him, and seemed to charm him, subdue his willpower, and dominate his acts and his thoughts.

“Oh, Aromasia, I think you’re the one who has found the real Will-subduer,” said Oxygen. He inclined his head before the young girl who stood before him totally defenseless. In the distant room, deep under the sea she was still his mistress. It was not he, as he had thought, who would forever rule over her will.

“You’re not sincere, Oxygen,” Aromasia said with mild dignity and he bowed his head even deeper. ”You’ve tried to force me to love you with other means than love. I don’t know what you’ve done and I don’t care, either. Our ways part here for the rest of our lives.”

“Aromasia!” Oxygen exclaimed with a cry of despair that re-echoed from the innermost part of the cave. “You must not leave me... Apollonides can’t come between us any more. He’s dead...”

“What? Is Apollonides dead?”

“Didn’t you know it?”

“No! Oh, the poor, faithful friend!”

Aromasias’ eyes were filled with tears and with a profoundly mournful voice she asked, “Are you telling the truth, Oxygen?”

“Nothing but the truth,” he said and looked at her with burning eyes, more searching than before. “You loved him!” he added and the old jealousy blazed up again.

“No! I’ve never loved anyone else, only the one who always distrusted me,” Aromasia exclaimed firmly. And with eyes dimmed by tears she looked into Oxygen’s eyes. “I’ve never loved anyone else, only the one who has always distrusted me and my human dignity; who selfishly put himself first and trusted other means than love in order to subdue me instead of respecting me; to rule over me instead of walking by my side with fresh and altruistic confidence. Today’s women won’t stand for that. You should know, Oxygen, that’s not true love. Therefore I bid you an irrevocable farewell.”

She turned to the exit and made to leave the cave, but Oxygen hastened after her. He grasped her hand once more, prayed, begged, humbled himself, promised to love her the way she wanted, said that he had his eyes opened to the real love, assured that his behavior would change completely.

He was warm, tender, serious, sincere. Ultimately, he was wild with despair. Of no use!

“It’s too late,” Aromasia explained with words almost strained by deep emotion. “I do suffer as much as you do, but I must not be weak. A promise made in a moment of rapture and despair will soon be broken.”

She could not say more because of the tears. At last she tore herself away from his firm arms.

From the narrow entrance Aunt Vera was calling Aromasia’s name. Soon Aromasia was violently sobbing in the arms of her old, tender and faithful friend.

“You’ve met Oxygen again?” Vera whispered.

“For the last time!” Aromasia replied.

They caught up with the rest of the group, who could not praise highly enough what they had seen in this wonderful tunnel. But they complained a lot about their misfortune in not meeting Warm-Blasius, the excellent manager of this extraordinary work. Vera and Aromasia did not tell them where they could meet him, and Aromasia was the only one to see the cave of sapphires.

That cave had engraved itself deeply into her memory. She would see that cave, she thought, every day for many years to come, but she never regretted what she had said there or that she had broken away from the wonderful splendor of the cave. And still, she never forgot her love for Oxygen.

To be continued...

Story by Claës Lundin
Translation copyright © 2007 by Bertil Falk

Proceed to Challenge 271...

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