"Yes?" you say distractedly, placing your feet on a more comfortable support and glancing up.
Hex is balancing on the flat of a thick vertical pole, all but wringing her hands in worry. "Rose let you out?"
"It's the Solstice. You have to come back to the hide."
"What's the Solstice?"
"Come on!" She seemed near tears.
"All right, all right." You follow her the short way back to the hide you have now begun to think of as home. You face Hex squarely and ask her, "So what's the Solstice?"
"They're going to maximize the heat."
"But that's more than forty degrees!" Maybe fifty. Or a hundred. You don't know. The temperature usually hovers around fourteen in the maze, a little less in the hide because of the flash eating the heat. You've heard from Lilac, who used to have a room, that it's warmer in the "official" part of the school. But full heat in the maze? You can't even imagine it.
"Yes. It is. Someone is going to die. Perhaps several someones. Our flash will soak up quite a bit of it, but in the pipes, it would be stifling."
"How do you know it's coming?"
Rose says, "The pipes are heated first. They've been getting warmer since last sleep. And speaking of sleep, the solstice is a good time to do it. The lights are off, and sleep is a welcome escape from the world. Our flash has a different kind of juice than the outside lights, luckily, and we'll be fine."
Hex chips in again. "If you can. I've sometimes been up for sleeps waiting for the heat to fade."
Lilac says, "The last Solstice, I was taking my first set of classes, and in a room you don't get the heat. Fritter's new, so she hasn't seen one."
Fritter comes over, bent over against the annoying low ceiling of the hide. "I know I don't look it, but I'm only eleven," she says.
Remembering that Lilac had spoken of rooms for learners, you decide to bring it up. "When do I take classes?" you ask.
"Your second, sixth, and ninth cycles. And before you ask, a cycle is one cold Solstice and one hot Solstice. You'll go to the class platform the day after the next cold one."
You notice that the hide is warmer now, and poking your head out of the entrance, you see no quiver in the maze outside. It is eerily silent, and even the ever-present whirr of machinery has ceased. The air is still and hot, and you withdraw hastily, closing the door behind you. The hide is a small pocket of life suspended in an emotionless void. You know that it is small only because a larger abode could not be hidden, but now you wish to be in a larger space, whatever the cost.
Crawling through the tunnel into the sleeping-chamber, you collapse on the pile of stuffing and begin to cry. It is the first time you have been homesick in all the sleeps you have spent in this place. You wish for the synthfruit and the mushroom meat and your mother's hand on your brow. Feeling unbearably fevered, you huddle up to the flash. It takes some of your heat, but not enough.
Rose joins you. "I was like this too, my first time. We all are," she says soothingly. You don't feel like being soothed, however. "Shut up!" you say, only just remembering to keep your voice down. The predators would be unable to attack during the Solstice, but that didn't mean no one would check out an area that had been noisy in the unnatural stillness. You turn away to hide your tears.
Rose leaves. The heat grows worse. Sometime during the Solstice, you begin to worry the flash will overload. With a heroic effort of will, you move away from it, burying your head in the stuffing that serves for the hide's bed. Only two sleep at a time, as a rule, but it's big enough to fit four if necessary.
Time passes in the hide, hot and draggy and bright. Rose and Hex offer encouragement to Fritter, and Lilac tells Nail about her classes. You get the feeling Nail has heard the story far too many times, but it's Lilac's method of surviving the Solstice, and everyone endures the stories of late-night inspections and torturous exercise regimens, delivered in an increasingly high-pitched voice as the Solstice wears on.
Whole sleeps pass, and the air grows still warmer. The flash begins to make clicking noises, and Rose shuts it off. Heat lies on the hide, reflected from the walls back to your body. Finally, sleep comes to you.