by Mary E. Lowd
Originally published in Theme of Absence, November 2016
Chirri watched the robot lumber back and forth outside her bakery window for several minutes, seeming undecided, before it came in. Once inside, the metal creature with its dome-shaped head and boxy limbs perused the displays of sugary confections, fancy layered cakes, and simple cookies. Chirri’s tufted triangular ears splayed in confusion at the sight. There were lots of robots on Crossroads Station, but none of them had ever frequented her bakery before. Robots don’t have much need for cake.
“Can I help you?” Chirri purred. “Are you here to deliver an order?”
With a strange chorus of squeaks, the robot turned away from the commitment ceremony cake it had been eying and approached Chirri at the counter. “Yes,” it said. “I would like to order one of those.” It pointed back at the six-tiered, pink-frosted cake covered in Hegulan flowers and dusted with Aldebaran sugar crystals.
Chirri had never sold a cake that large before.
“Can we — I mean, can I take that one?” The robot’s arm squeaked as it lowered from pointing at the cake. It must need oiling.
“Unfortunately, that cake is for display only,” Chirri admitted. She’d baked it with a mix of preservatives that meant it would be all but inedible but that had kept it beautiful for months. For a moment, she wondered whether it would really be wrong to sell an inedible cake to a robot that couldn’t eat it… Perhaps the robot only wanted to look at it? But her conscience got the better of her. “Tell me exactly how you want your cake, and I can make you one to order.”
The robot was surprisingly indecisive for a creature with a computer for a brain — first it wanted red frosting, then blue, and finally settled on green. It asked whether the cake could be made any bigger, and Chirri had to insist that she couldn’t make it more than eight tiers high without compromising its structural integrity. Finally, she asked where the robot would like the cake to be delivered, and the robot said, “Do you know the All Alien Cafe?”
“Of course,” Chirri said.
“Around the corner from there, two doors into the residential quarter.” The robot paid for the cake and left Chirri to her baking and musing.
Perhaps the robot was throwing a party. Perhaps the robot was in love with an organic life form and wanted to make a grand gesture. As Chirri mixed the batter, she let her curiosity run away with her, imagining all kinds of scenarios. Perhaps the cake was part of a scientific experiment. Perhaps performance art. As she decorated the cake, sprinkling on the Aldebaran sugar and carefully placing each Hegulan rosette, Chirri hoped that she’d see what the cake was for when she delivered it.
However, Chirri was disappointed the next day when she floated the cake on an anti-grav trolley to the robot’s door. The door slid partway opened, and amidst much squeaking, the robot’s domed head peaked out, but when the robot saw her, it only opened the door far enough to let the cake in before thanking Chirri and closing the door in her felinid face. Her triangular ears flattened in disappointment, and she turned to go, telling herself that some mysteries were never meant to be understood.
Then she remembered the cake-topper in her pocket. The robot had requested a custom cake-topper molded out of caramel and chocolate in the shape of swirling gas planet with rings. She’d meant to affix it to the top of the cake at the last moment, keeping it safe until then.
Chirri knocked again at the robot’s door. There was no answer, so she tried the control panel and the door slid open. In its excitement, the robot must have forgotten to lock the controls. Do robots get excited? Chirri realized that it didn’t matter, for this was not a robot. It was a mecha.
The dome-headed metal mecha had been abandoned just inside the door, and dozens of tiny purple-furred mouse-like aliens were streaming out of its boxy metal foot, rushing in great excitement toward the cake which had been moved to the middle of the room.
The room itself was filled with knee-high buildings, and skyscrapers the height of Chirri were all around the edges of the room. At first, the tiny purple-furred aliens were too busy to notice the gigantic feline alien who had intruded into their realm — they had a cake the size of a mansion! Families laid out picnics beside it, and couples danced to music played by a tiny rock band that had set up their instruments on the first tier as if it were a stage.
Chirri’s feline eyes grew wide at the mesmerizing sight. Finally she cleared her throat, and when hundreds of tiny eyes turned to her, she held out the chocolate and caramel planet. One of the mice wearing a tiny uniform squeaked and pointed at the top of the cake. Chirri couldn’t understand the mousie-alien’s tiny voice, but she placed the ringed planet on top of the cake and all the little aliens in the room broke out in applause. Chirri wondered if chocolate planet was a representation of their homeworld.
Then the uniformed mouse scowled and pointed at the door. Chirri bobbed her head and backed away. Before the door slid shut, she said to the room, “Please, come buy another cake from me any time.”