The Life Stopper Challenge
Karl the stormtrooper carefully balanced the board on which rested his hazelnut 12-grain bread as he made his way through a hypnotic corridor at Outpost 9 on the planet Placitas in the galaxy of Fresh.
When he arrived at the quarters of Commander Altiar, he nervously pressed the call button and waited.
“Yes, what is it?” came the voice of the commander from the other side of somewhere.
“It’s Karl, sir. The stormtrooper. I’ve come with the bread you requested.”
The door quickly slid open with a swoosh, and Karl stepped inside. The commander’s quarters were opulent compared to the simple, crowded barracks that the young stormtrooper was accustomed to. He looked around at the elaborate furnishings, the decorated walls, the large windows looking out upon the rutty, desert-like landscape of the planet Placitas and all the dots of light in the night sky that roared above it. The commander was out of uniform and was wearing a shiny robe of red and black that went down to his shins. His feet were bare, and it all struck Karl as very odd for he had never seen a commanding officer in a robe and with bare feet before. Those two worlds rarely mixed, if ever.
The commander took notice of the young stormtrooper’s obvious discomfort and chuckled. “You don’t believe that I’m always in uniform, do you Karl? I do take time to unwind and relax. I have to shower and change clothes like everyone else. Please, come in. You can set your bread down over here. I’ll grab a knife.”
Karl set the bread board down as ordered and waited. The commander returned with a large, silver bread knife with a glinting, gently serrated edge. He waved it around recklessly as he spoke. “I must tell you, Karl. I’ve really been looking forward to this. I know it may seem strange to you that I’m so excited about bread, but sometimes being a commander in the Evil Empire doesn’t allow a proper balance between work and a personal life. I’m afraid having hobbies and other interests outside my official duties are often frowned upon by the higher ups, so it’s nice to be able to indulge when one can… Now, let’ see what we have here.” The commander diligently looked the loaf over. “The color is good,” he said. He picked it up and rapped a knuckle against the bottom. A hollow sound would indicate to him that it had been baked long enough. “Seems done,” he said with a pleased smile.
Karl nervously looked on as the commander worked the knife into the center of the loaf with a precise sawing motion. Once cut through, the commander picked up one half and studied the interior. “Hmm, looks like you have a good dough structure, it’s not over or under proofed so the rise is nearly perfect.” He flipped the half loaf around to look at the underside again. “No soggy bottom here.” He poked at the inside with a finger and was happy with the spring back. He looked up at Karl and smiled. “That’s an excellent bake. You really nailed it. But let’s hope it tastes just as good as it looks.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
The commander kept his eyes on Karl as he tore a piece from the loaf and put it into his mouth. He chewed slowly. Then he closed his eyes and bowed his head like he was saying a prayer as he continued chewing and thinking deeply. That worried Karl. A sick nervousness began to rise in his guts, and he thought that at any moment the commander was going to spit the bread out of his mouth and order Karl to be executed. When the commander opened his eyes and looked at him, Karl feared the worst.
“That’s fantastic,” the commander said. “I love the flavor you’ve achieved. It holds in the mouth superbly. It’s got an amazing chew. Absolutely fantastic.”
Karl released a great sigh of relief. “Thank you, sir. Thank you so much.”
“I mean it. Well done. That’s an excellent loaf of bread. You should be proud of yourself,” and Commander Altiar reached out his hand to congratulate the stormtrooper with a firm grip and shake. “Congratulations, you blew my balls off as requested.”
“Wonderful. I’m glad my bread blew your balls off, sir. I was really worried you were going to hate it.”
Commander Altiar beamed at him. “Take some advice, Karl. Don’t ever reveal your doubts when you’re up against a challenge. It only robs you of confidence.” The commander slapped his hands together to clear away any breadcrumbs. “Now, I suppose you’re eager to get on with your life. As I am a man of my word, I’m relieving you of your duty to the Evil Empire. I of course will handle all the authoritative nuances that are bound to creep up. But I would be quick to say your goodbyes and leave this place and be off to France.”
Karl’s head drooped for a moment.
“Is there a problem, Karl?” the commander wanted to know. “I thought you would be ecstatic.”
“Of course, sir. I am, sir. It’s just that…”
“What is it?”
“Well, I’ve never been much of a traveler, and I don’t have too many connections… Anywhere. I’m not sure where to begin.”
“You begin at the beginning, Karl. I’m sure you’ll do what needs to be done to reach your destination,” the commander instructed. “I wish you the best of luck.” The commander proceeded to cut another slice of the bread. He raised it to his face and inhaled the aroma. “I think I’ll make some toast. Would you care for a slice, Karl?”
“No. That’s okay. I should probably just get back to the barracks and get my things together. Thanks for all of this, sir. I greatly appreciate it.”
The commander studied him for a moment and sensed the unfinished business that sat upon the air. “You act as if there is something else on your mind, Karl. What is it?”
“Yes. Go ahead. Just say it.”
“Would you come with me?”
The commander froze and only his eyes moved, and they moved all over Karl trying to decipher his deepest intentions. The young stormtrooper was suddenly worried that his request was far too bold and that he just destroyed his only chance of ever getting away from the Evil Empire and fulfilling his dream to just bake.
“Did you just ask your commanding officer to run away with you?” Commander Altiar said in a somewhat bitter tone.
Karl stammered. “Sir. Yes, I did, sir. It’s just that you have a far greater knowledge of space travel, and I was hoping you could perhaps act as a guide. I know you have your own ship. You must be a good pilot. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I just wanted to ask anyways. My apologies if I overstepped my bounds. I’ll be on my way. Thank you, sir.”
Karl turned and made his way toward the exit.
“Wait,” Commander Altiar said.
Karl turned and looked at him. “Sir?”
“I suddenly find myself at that familiar crossroad of regret, Karl. I don’t know if it’s just the high I’m feeling from this delectable bread, but something tells me that I should say ‘yes.’”
Karl stepped forward. “I’m only asking for passage. Once on Earth I won’t be a burden to you any longer. I swear it. But I would be eternally grateful for your help.”
“All right, Karl. That sounds fair enough to me. But I will only do this on one condition.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“That you bake me some more bread.”
Keep an eye out for Episode IV