Felix and Naoise were fighting again. Not because they were angry or upset, but because they were brothers, and that is what brothers do.
“Naoise, stop!” Felix screamed, trying ineffectually to escape from underneath his older brother’s heavier body. Laughing mercilessly, Naoise raised his hand into the air, so his smaller opponent could clearly see the clawed shape he had made with his fingers and thumb. Ignoring Felix’s protests, he lowered his hand slowly and clamped it home just above Felix’s kneecap, his rigid fingers digging painfully into the tender flesh on each side of the boy’s thigh.
“Whale bite!” he howled in triumph, as his brother bucked in agony beneath him. Desperate to escape the dreaded whale bite, Felix flailed wildly, his paroxysms almost upsetting the kitchen table they were playing under.
“Alright, that is enough!” their mother complained, as she rescued her coffee mug from the quaking table. Grabbing her trusty wooden spoon, she delivered a few desultory swats to her rambunctious young, causing them to scamper giggling out from under the far side of their table fortress.
“It is too early for Momma to be dealing with naughty little boys,” she cautioned, still brandishing her spoon threateningly. “It’s a beautiful day today, why don’t you both go play outside and leave me in peace?”
“Outside, outside?” Naoise asked mischievously, while he helped Felix with the laces on his boots.
“Oh, you think that’s funny do you? You just try to go up top Mister, see how funny it is when your body freezes solid and your lungs fill up with poison gas. Just take your brother to the greenhouse, and try to stay out of trouble for once.”
“Yes Mom!” Naoise promised, as he and Felix scampered out through the kitchen door and into the bustling public tunnel beyond.
Dodging the heavy morning foot traffic, the two boys ran through the wide tunnels of their home city, the way warmed and well lit thanks to Iceland’s lifesaving abundance of easily harnessed geothermal energy. Escaping the familiar residential tunnels, the boys kept on until they reached the city’s closest agricultural district. Emerging from the tunnel mouth, the boys ran whooping into the vast greenhouse they had chosen for their games. Their favored greenhouse, like all of the farm-cathedrals in the city, was enormous. This one contained an apple orchard, with rows and rows of fruit-bearing trees spreading into the distance. The greenhouse was so tall that, unlike most of the rest of the city, it wasn’t fully buried. Its reinforced glass peak actually broke through the ice sheet high enough to allow natural light in to nourish the leafy crowns of the trees planted below.
“Tag!” Felix yelled, punching his brother on the arm before darting into the shadows between the closest trees. “You’re it!”
Nine years old to Naoise’s twelve and a half, Felix couldn’t over-power his taller, huskier brother, but he could out run him. Laughing with the boundless enthusiasm of youth, Felix led Naoise on a reckless chase through the early morning shadows of the orchard, ducking low hanging limbs and swerving in a random arc through the orderly rows of trees.
Risking a glance back over his shoulder, Felix saw Naoise burst into the same aisle he was running down, his brother’s head down and legs churning like miniature bipedal rhino. As Felix watched, he saw a small object sail down from a nearby tree and strike Naoise between the shoulder blades. Grunting at the discomfort, Naoise skidded to a halt and turned back to see what had struck him.
“Look,” Felix said, jogging back to point at the source of the attack, “it was an apple. That tree threw it at you.”
As Naoise looked skeptically at the tree his younger brother pointed to, the tree giggled.
“Ahh! Talking tree!” Felix yelled, excited to learn about this hitherto unknown ability.
“No, it wasn’t the tree.” Naoise said, “look, there’s somebody up there. Hey! What are you doing up there?”
Squinting through the leaves of the tree, his gaze drawn by another tinkling peel of laughter, Felix was a little disappointed to see that his brother was right. There was someone hidden up in the topmost canopy.
“Come down here!” Felix complained, “and stop throwing apples at us!”
Branches rustled and bent as the figure climbed swiftly down toward the two boys. When the figure finally resolved itself, the brothers were surprised to see that it was a girl, her bare feet streaked with mud, her shorts and t-shirt rumpled and stained from climbing. With the deft grace of a dancer, the girl walked out along a low hanging branch toward the two boys. Once she got close enough, she sat down on the limb and flopped backwards, keeping her place in the tree by hooking her legs around the branch at the knees. Dangling upside down like that, her face was now level with Naoise’s. Being a little shorter, Felix’s face was more even with the girl’s long dark hair, which he could see was snarled and knotted, and full of twigs.
The girl’s skin, where it was exposed on her bare legs and arms, and in a band across her belly where her shirt had drifted downwards as she hung upside down, was dark, much different than the boy’s pale white flesh. She looked to be about Naoise’s age, maybe twelve or thirteen, and even with the awkward spindly body of adolescence, she was very pretty, with wide green eyes and full lips.
“I didn’t throw apples at you.” She said to Felix, “Just at him.” She stared at Naoise for what, to Felix, seemed like an overly long time. Equally exasperating to the younger boy, who at nine years old, was still completely ignorant about the birds and the bees and girls hanging from trees, Naoise seemed content just to stare right back.
“Why were you up in that tree anyway?” Felix asked.
“I was trying to look outside. I thought if I climbed high enough, I could see the surface.”
“Why would you want to see the surface?” Felix asked, perplexed. “There’s nothing up there.”
“There’s nothing up there Now.” She said, “but there used to be. We used to all live up on the surface. People, animals, even the trees.” The girl grinned conspiratorially. “You guys want to know a secret? My dad is a scientist, and he says that its getting warmer again up there. He says in a few more years, we’ll probably be able to go back up there, for good!”
“Wow,” Felix said, impressed now, “do you really think so? You think we’ll really be able to leave the city someday?”
“I know it,” the girl promised, “that’s why I was trying to see what it was like! So that I’ll be ready when it’s time. The trees here are too short though. I couldn’t see anything from them except the sky.”
Releasing her grip on the branch with her legs, the girl flipped backwards, but instead of dropping immediately down to the ground, she drifted there slowly, like her body only grudgingly accepted the law of gravity.
“It was nice to meet you both, but I’ve got to go now.” She waved to the two boys before turning and scampering off.
“Where are you going?” Felix called after her.
“To find a greenhouse with taller trees!” came her laughing reply.
“Wait!” Naoise yelled, finally finding his voice, “What’s your name!?”
“It’s Deirdre!” her answer drifted back through the orchard to the ears of the two boys, both of whom were excited to have met her, albeit for very different reasons.