The Inventive Patissiere knows that baking is the most important thing. It's not that everyone should be baking. She has the sense that there are other tasks people do which she doesn't find interesting but probably need to be done, like fighting the other side on Skaia. But if there wasn't any baking -
Baking is the most important thing. Someone has to bake, so when the Inventive Patissiere walks downstairs to her shop she does it with all the reverence and attention her heart can hold.
She has always been a baker. She knows every recipe, not simply the list of instructions, which she can recite more easily than she can speak, but what it's like to make them, the heaviness of pouring flour and the way dough gives against the softer carapace of her palms.
When the Inventive Patissiere opens the cabinet above the pristine counter, she sees rows and rows of flour lined up neatly, each full and sealed. She takes the first one down. She fills the shiny measuring cup and pours it into the equally shiny bowl. They're both made of soft metal, the sort that seem to pick up nicks and scratches just by being held, but both are perfectly smooth.
Hours pass. She sets out all the things she's made in the storefront, and other citizens with other jobs come to buy them. Their conversations are simple. They ask what she has, and she tells them what, and how much. Then they pick one and hand her the money, and she hands them the pastry, and they leave. She isn't sure what else she could say to them, and apparently they feel the same. The money goes into the the chest by the wall. She drops the coins in, hearing the thump thump of them hitting the wooden bottom. As time passes the sound becomes clink-thump sometimes, then most of the time, and finally just clink as metal hits metal.
By the time she closes she's sold most of the day's baking. There are no nights on Derse and no one closes at the same time, any more than they sleep at the same time. A steady flow of people is always moving through the purple streets, and she joins them now.
She can't see Skaia, but she can see the Veil and, if she squints, small things that must be transports taking off from the larger asteroids. It's impossible to make out the color at the distance, just movement, but she hopes they're purple. Winning the war is important.
The Inventive Patissiere can picture the transports in her mind. Their shape isn't that complex. She wonders if she could make cakes in their shape.
Days pass. The Inventive Patissiere's equipment picks up scratches. She's running low on blue coloring and she gets a request form from the drawer in the corner. She colors most things purple, but she's found blue can be used by itself as well. So far she's only used it as a frosting highlight, but she wants to try layering cake colors in stripes, purple and blue, in the same way their uniforms alternate black and white, and that will take more blue. She fills out her designation smoothly but pauses for thought when she reaches the item section. She adds in a request for two bottles of yellow.
The Inventive Patissiere takes this in stride. Every time she looks at the Veil she sees ships heading inward toward where Skaia must be, and although she holds a patriotic surety that Black is superior to White in all ways and are winning, still, with every breath she knows people have died, and some of them had the same dark carapaces as her. The body looks like bodies look like, limbs at odd angles and oozing red where it cracked in a way that reminds her of a broken yolk.
What bothers her is the replacement. The replacement calls herself the Skilled Filer, one of the many cogs in the glorious bureaucracy of Derse. The Inventive Patissiere likes the bureaucracy a great deal. It's theirs, for one thing, and so must be the best way of doing things, and she has no complaints with the steady stream of deliveries for each requisition form. She's started talking to the bureaucrats who come into her shop, just short exchanges about their jobs, which she's realizing are, though not as important as baking, are more important than most things, because without them she and the rest of the bakers would run out of ingredients.
The dead one never went to her shop, but the Skilled Filer shows up to try one of the jelly-filled cakes made to look like battlefield transports, and that's when the Inventive Patissiere finds out the Skilled Filer's name, that she's a replacement for the one who died, and that she was born on the Veil like they all were.
But the Skilled Filer talks about the Veil. She describes seeing rows upon rows of tubes when she stepped from her own, and that Prospitians and Dersites are side by side there in various stages. She says no one speaks inside the lab. There's just the sounds of the machinery and of movement, as newborn carapaces dress and file into the right ship. She didn't speak until she landed on Derse and went to her job for the first time. And she says it was weird, being there, knowing what she was supposed to do but not being in the right place for it.
The Inventive Patissiere doesn't know any of this. She knows her shop, and by now she knows her planet, and she knows that everyone comes from the Veil. But she thought the Veil factories were divvied up between them, just as transports come in one color or another, and she'd never thought anything about the rest of what she just heard. She thinks about it now as the Skilled Filer bites into the yellow cake, revealing the red jelly inside, but then her customer lets out a surprised laugh and compliments her cleverness, and they move to the familiar topic of how Derse is going to win and how they hope the Prospitians will all be dead soon.
The Skilled Filer comes back the next day. She says she hopes the war will end soon. Apparently the archagent is more interested in the fighting than paperwork, so he's annoyed when people deliver new forms, which is terribly unfair. The sooner the war ends, the sooner he'll get back to his job.
The Inventive Patissiere agrees. "I wonder how long it will be," she says.
"I heard the whole war will take a long time, hundreds of days." The Skilled Filer explains she heard that from the archagent, who may have heard it from the Black Queen herself. It sounds right, so the Inventive Patissiere nods. The war will take a long time, and hundreds of days is a long time. Then the Skilled Filer says, "How long has it been since it began?"
"It began..." the Inventive Patissiere says, and the Skilled Filer leans forward with interest, but she only means that she never really thought of 'began' before. The war had a beginning, everything has a beginning, but for her whole life there has been the war. The King has always been on Skaia, the transports have always been there as glowing specks in the sky, falling away in an endless stream to reinforce the troops. "I don't know," she admits. "It's always been like this."
One day the Inventive Patissiere comes down to see a small girl hovering above the open chest of money, dressed in the royal purple of the moon.
The princess of Derse looks up. "Hi!" the girl says, floating over.
"Hello, Princess," the Inventive Patissiere says. "What can I do for you?"
"Can I have a cake?"
"I haven't made any yet," the Inventive Patissiere tells her. "But if you would like to wait, you can have whatever you like."
The princess opens her mouth gleefully, showing rows of teeth almost as sharp as the Inventive Patissiere's. "Yay!" She claps her hands and does a somersault in the air.
At first she simply watches the Inventive Patissiere work, but before long she's offering to help. What she does isn't particularly helpful - she isn't able to follow any directions more complex than to fetch or pour without getting distracted - but the Inventive Patissiere isn't particularly good at giving directions either, so she doesn't notice. She has never had an apprentice. Everyone has a job and knows how to do it. And while baking is the most important job of all save for that of the royalty themselves, other jobs need to be done so other people have to do other things. It's novel to be telling someone else things.
"This is a really weird dream," the girl says as they knead dough. "I was in a room, and then I looked outside and I was so high up! And I was scared I would fall so I thought I wanted to be down on the ground again, so I tried to be down here. And then I was, only I can float! But it's still scary to look down, and everything is bridges and cliffs here. Why do you build so high?"
The Inventive Patissiere has never thought of this at all, but the answer is easy. "So everything fits. There are a lot of people and things to get done, and not a lot of Derse." The girl is confused, so she explains, "This planet. Derse."
"It's scary," the girl says. "That's why I came down here. Aren't you scared of falling? Or do you all float down here like me?"
"People fall but it only causes a small delay. There are replacements lined up for all basic work classes." The Inventive Patissiere considers. "There is the mess though."
"Oh," says the girl. For some reason, she seems bothered.
The Inventive Patissiere tries to reassure her. "It doesn't happen very often. I've only seen it happen once."
"Isn't it sad or scary?"
The Inventive Patissiere wasn't sure how to answer for a moment. "I've never known anyone it happened to," she says. She thinks of the Skilled Filer a moment. It's an uncomfortable thought. "There isn't any point in getting upset," she says. "What's important is to work hard so Derse will win."
"I saw someone who looked like you," the girl says. "Or maybe that was just a dream I had before this."
"Awake princesses of Derse will always dream of Derse," the Inventive Patissiere says.
The girl laughs. "That's the silliest kind of dream, where you dream that you've been dreaming before. But I've never dreamed of this place. I met the other person where it was all black and wet, and he jumped in the water to chase me. I don't think I could float in the air then, or maybe I forgot. But it definitely was wet and it wasn't all purple."
"That must have been a dream before you woke up," the Inventive Patissiere says. "We can't swim."
"Do you have a place like that here somewhere else? With pools of water? I didn't see anything."
The Inventive Patissiere shakes her head. "No. There wouldn't be any space."
"How do you know you can't swim then?"
"You ask silly questions," the Inventive Patissiere says. "Everyone knows what they're supposed to know."
The girl looks confused. But the Inventive Patissiere is pulling out another row of pastry, and she forgets about it. She at the cooling racks. "What are we making?" the princess asks.
"Cakes that look like transports." This is easier ground and the Inventive Patissiere gestures excitedly. "They're Prospit transports. You fill them with jam and when you break them open -" She demonstrates with one of the cooled first batch. " - see? Like when they crash into the ground."
When the Inventive Patissiere shows people this they usually smile or laugh. But the expression on the princess' alien face is upset. "Why would you make something like that? People falling and - how could you make something about that, it's awful! I don't want them to crash!"
It's the Inventive Patissiere's turn to be shocked. "They're Prospitians! If the ships land the soldiers will delay Derse winning the war."
"You - you're, you're at w-w-w-" The princess' voice is a tight squeak of incredulous horror. She's jumping about now, almost vibrating in the air, and then she darts down and is almost hugging the ground. "Why would you start a, a-"
The Inventive Patissiere isn't sure what to do. After a moment she sits down next to the princess and touches a clawed hand. "It isn't anything to be upset about."
"It's awful!" she wails. "Don't you know anything? Don't you know what will happen? It's the worst thing in the world!"
The Inventive Patissiere feels an odd sort of offense. The worst thing in the world is what Prospit is trying to do. She starts to say this, but the girl starts talking again.
"They're - they come from the veil? When does it start, when are they going to start?"
"They've been fighting for..." The Inventive Patissiere reaches for how long.
The Derse princess curls into a tight ball, her hands over her face. "I don't like this dream. I want to wake up."
"But it's okay," the Inventive Patissiere tries to explain. "We win in the end."
The girl squeaks and vanishes.