The Unexpected Meeting
When things had quieted down and most of the other stormtroopers were settling into the barracks for the night, Karl retrieved his secret cookbook from its hiding place and snuck off to the communal kitchen to bake bread.
He rummaged through the cabinets to gather bowls and utensils and pans and all the ingredients he needed to make a hazelnut 12-grain bread. He joyfully busied himself in the quiet of the kitchen and he thought to himself how much better it was to be baking bread than blasting shit.
While he gave the dough time to rise, he sat down at one of the tables and retrieved his personal communication device. He searched for information on Paris and all the different patisseries there. He got lost in the pictures and the descriptions and he studied maps and he tried to remember the names of streets and the different arrondissements, or districts.
He fell so deep into a delightful trance of study and inspiration, that Karl the stormtrooper didn’t realize someone else had come into the communal kitchen. Suddenly there was someone menacing standing above him and looking down.
“What are you doing in here?” the intimidating figure asked with a hint of evil in his voice.
Karl suddenly shot up from his chair and stood at attention. “Commander Altiar. Sir. My apologies, I didn’t notice you had come in.”
Commander Altiar was dressed in a stiff gray uniform, and he wore black gloves and shiny black boots and his hair, the color of the planet Tatooine, was perfectly combed and lightly oiled against his head to ensure not a single strand would fall out of place. He slowly walked around the young stormtrooper and looked him up and down judgmentally. “I asked you what you are doing in here? It’s past curfew. Why aren’t you in your bunk?”
“Sir, I’m sorry sir. I’m baking bread and I’m afraid I lost track of time.”
Commander Altiar stood toe-to-toe with Karl and scowled menacingly into his eyes. “Did you say you’re baking bread?”
“That’s correct sir. Bread.”
Commander Altiar nodded as if he was overly suspicious of the young stormtrooper’s story. He walked around the kitchen looking over all the things Karl had laid out on the counter. The commander ran a black leather finger through a scattering of flour. He studied it intently for a moment, and then asked, “What kind of bread are you making?”
Karl cleared his throat. “Sir. Hazelnut 12-grain bread.”
Commander Altiar returned to where Karl was standing and got in his face again. “And what exactly do you plan on doing with this hazelnut 12-grain bread?”
“I plan on eating it, sir,” Karl nervously answered.
“You know,” the commander began, and he looked at the number tattooed on Karl’s neck like a black ink branding, “No. 14788. I’m also quite fond of bread.”
“You are, sir?”
“You seem surprised by that, No. 14788.”
“I didn’t realize commanders enjoyed bread, sir.”
Commander Altiar chuckled softly and looked young Karl the stormtrooper in the eyes again with great sincerity. He even smiled a bit. “Have you ever been to Mamiche on the Rue Condorcet?”
“It’s a wonderful little shop in Paris, France. On Earth. They have the best damn bread in the universe. Have you ever been there?”
Karl felt a tingling sensation rise within him. He couldn’t believe what the commander was asking him. “No, sir. But I would love to. It’s one of the biggest dreams in my life.”
The commander moved his head back in attempt to further survey what the young stormtrooper exactly meant by that. “Are you not satisfied as a soldier in the Evil Empire, No. 14788?”
“Permission to speak freely, sir.” Karl announced.
The commander took a seat at the table, folded his hands as if about to pray and looked up at Karl. “By all means, No. 14788. I’d love to hear what you have to say.”
“Yes. I’m not a complete tyrant lacking passion for things in life. Go on. Speak to me about it.”
Karl sat down at the table with him. “I don’t believe I’m cut out for a life as a stormtrooper, sir. It’s just not me,” he began. “What I really want to do is bake bread and make pastries. I’ve done a lot of research and I know the city of Paris, on Earth, is the best place to be if I were to truly make my dreams come to fruition. I guess what I’m saying is, if I had an opportunity to not be a stormtrooper and I could travel to Earth to learn about making bread and pastries, just like they do on the Great Intergalactic Baking Show… I believe I would be very happy.”
The commander nodded his head silently for a moment. “And what if I told you, No. 14788…”
“You can call me Karl, sir.”
“All right then, Karl. What if I told you I could turn your dream into a reality.”
“Sir!? What? How? Why?”
“Calm down, soldier. I can see your passion is genuine, but I want you to prove it to me.”
“Absolutely, sir. How?”
The commander nodded toward the area of the kitchen where the ovens were. “I want you to bake me the best damn hazelnut 12-grain bread you ever made in your life. I want you to bring it to my quarters for me to taste it. I want you to utterly overwhelm me with your understanding of rise, flavor, and structure. I want a perfect bake, Karl. I want you to blow my balls off with this loaf of bread… And if you do, I will excuse you from your duty to the Evil Empire and allow you to leave this place, forever. What you do after that is entirely up to you.”
“Sir? I, I can’t believe it. Are you serious? You would do that for me?”
The commander got up from the table and adjusted his gloves for a moment. “I know that you and the other men talk shit about me behind my back, Karl. I’m not an ignorant man. I know you all consider me to be this growling, unfeeling brute of a commanding officer, and that’s fine. I expect that in my position, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a soul or a heart underneath it all.”
“I was a young stormtrooper once, just like you. And I had dreams as well, other dreams, dreams that didn’t include…” And he looked around the room at something invisible. “Didn’t include being on the side of evil. I, like yourself, Karl, had a passion for baking. I wanted to follow your exact dream. But I didn’t. I didn’t take the risk, Karl. And now I’m just an ill-fitted officer hated by the men serving beneath him. I regret that every single day. I don’t want that to happen to you, Karl. I don’t want you to have this same sickness of regret. It’s what a good leader should do for a soldier with real spirit, Karl. So, what I’m saying is, don’t disappoint me with a bad bake… And no soggy bottom. Carry on, soldier.”
Karl clicked himself to respectable attention and watched as Commander Altiar walked out of the communal kitchen with a swoosh. Karl felt himself all over to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. “I can’t believe this,” he whispered to himself. And then he smiled, and his guts roared with a feeling of ecstasy, and he jumped up and down like an excited child and cried out loudly, “Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m going to be a baker! I’m going to be a real baker!”
And then reality suddenly hit him, and he remembered what the commander had said: “I want you to bake me the best damn hazelnut 12-grain bread you ever made in your life… I want you to blow my balls off with this loaf of bread.”
Karl suddenly sunk down in his own self-doubt. “But what if it’s not the best damn hazelnut 12-grain bread I ever made in my life? What if I don’t blow his balls off? What if I just mess it up? I’ll be resigned to a life of just blasting shit.” He sighed. But then he brightened with determination, he slapped himself in the face, pulled himself together, he reiterated his dream in his head and heart. “Come on, Karl! You can do this!” he encouraged himself. “You’re a good baker, you’re an excellent baker, and you’re going to go far… Farther than you have ever been in your whole damn life.”
Keep an eye out for Episode III. You may read the previous part of this story here: The Misty-Eyed Stormtrooper (Episode I)