The solstice flies only lived for one, brief day in winter. Their razor-sharp pincers cut through the ice, and they burst into the gray sky like giant snowflakes falling in the wrong direction. We catch as many as we can in nets. We can’t catch all of them, which I guess is a good thing because then we wouldn’t have them the next year. The birds of the labyrinth cluster around the pools and lakes, waiting for the one day when the solstice flies emerge from the frozen water.
They aren’t very big, when you smash them up. Alive, they’re about as large as your palm. But, they’re thin and mostly made of chitin razors and paper-thin wings. You can catch dozens of them – hundreds of them – and smash them up into a paste and cook them into a kind of crunchy flatbread. It barely counted as a meal.
Still, in the wintertime, in the labyrinth, every little bit helped.
Lucius pointed at the birds flying above the solstice flies. “We should be after for the birds, mon ami,” he said. “They’re bigger. They’re meatier.”
I was wrapped in a brown, leather duster eight sizes too big for me. Lucius made me wear it because he said that women were the weaker sex. In the summertime, I’d hit him if he said that, and we’d probably be joking with each other. In the winter, I let him say anything he wanted if he gave me his jacket because I was freezing and his duster was still warm from his huge body and it was like swimming in heat.
I guess we were friends. His parents were gone, but mine weren’t. We lived in stone huts our tribes had built out of the walls. We had to replace the thatching every spring with long reeds we collected from the shallows of the lake. Sometimes, in winter, we got so cold that we chose houses by lots, and burned the thatching. The people who lived in those houses moved in with others until the weather broke.
We burned vines. We burned leaves. We burned feathers. We burned worn-out clothes. We burned everything we could.
Lucius didn’t seem to mind the cold. Why would he? One of grandfathers was a Neanderthal that had gotten separated from his tribe somewhere deep in the stones.
Two of his grandparents had come to the maze from France, fleeing an Armageddon that flung every Catthar heretic into the cold with golden crosses sewn into their clothes. On his jacket, he had sewn a golden cross on the back, pulled together from woven phoenix feathers and spare string.
He had a chivalric attitude about everything. He believed the world was flat. He thought I was insane to talk about my great-great-great-grandmother’s space-station. He told me that the flesh was the work of the devil, and the spirit was the true realm of the divine. He told me I was a weak little woman. He brought me little gifts, sometimes. He let me wear his jacket in the worst of the labyrinth winters. He let me sleep pressed into him for warmth. He told me I was beautiful, and strange.
I didn’t really care that he had that squat, malformed Neanderthal hiding in the edges of his face. I was in love with Lucius.
Julie Station is my name. My family came from space. I don’t know how they got stuck in this stone maze. My grandmother told me stories about rockets as large as continents floating through the stars, with people living inside of them.