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Title: Baker's Dozens

Author: Jim Harmon

Release Date: November 13, 2019 [EBook #60683]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII


Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at

Baker's Dozens


Catching him was no problem; they caught
him everywhere—and practically all at once!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Worlds of If Science Fiction, July 1959.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

"Mr. Street, you are the foremost xenologist on Earth," the director of Extraterrestrial Investigations said to the tall man.

"I know," Street said.

"What do you know about the infamous criminal, Baker, the so-called 'Robin Hood' who is actually a scarlet fiend?"


"Surely not how he died."

"Everything but that."

The director put his briefcase on his knees. "Mr. Street, my agency received numerous accounts of his death, or deaths, on various worlds. Can you tell me which, if any, of these stories is true by studying our intelligence reports?"

"Easily," Street said.

"We have had Baker under observation many times by our planted Orwells—our peepbugs—but you must understand that we need absolute proof on him since he has supporters even on Earth, and in waiting for that proof, we lost contact often at vital moments."

"I understand perfectly," Street assured him.


"Are there really space pirates?" Mrs. Fuljohn inquired of him, giggling furiously.

"Yes, Virginia, there really are space pirates," Baker assured her.

Mrs. Fuljohn lowered very long lashes over formidable eyes. "My first name is Christine. Will they come at us out of the void with all guns blasting?"

"I doubt it. They would want to rob the liner, not disintegrate it."

Baker excused himself and strolled toward the afterdeck of "A" class.

He had lied to the lady. (The hyper-Orwell focused directly on him picked up the tiny whisper of his subvocalizations.) He was a pirate, but there was one part of the cargo he did want to destroy, not steal—the first-grade readers for the Mission Houses for Alien Natives on Ignatz XI. Men called him a traitor to the human race, but he seethed at the corruptive propaganda being fed to the swinoid youngsters of the planet.

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home.... This little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none....

It was insidious, evil. It said in effect that races who shared a common ancestor with the pig had better trade with Earthmen on their terms—on any terms—if they hoped to go on being allowed to eat.

Double-dealing Earthmen with their devious schemes were daily robbing literal-minded extraterrestrials like the Ignatz swinoids blind. Sometimes it made him ashamed to be an Earthman. Let some call him a renegade! He was going to help these sentient beings.

He had a plan, even if he lacked the armed battle cruiser that the pirates had in the teletapes. There was a small corvet waiting for him on Ignatz XI. It lacked the restricted official light-drive of military and police craft, having only a civilian planetary-field booster, but if all went well, it would be sufficient for his escape.

Baker glanced at the dial of his watch—it showed no tell-tale color of listening devices within his area. (The detector had been sold to him by an ETI agent and, of course, it lied.) Confident, he stepped over the chain separating him from the stairs to "B" Deck.

Wurmong was waiting for him as planned.

"Si," the fat, swarthy man said, "my brother, my nephews, my cousins—we will bring our extra luggage to the cargo hold tonight."

"I'll predispose the guards. Come right into Hold 7. Understand?"

"Da," Wurmong assured him.

The man on watch collapsed soundlessly at a beam of nerve pressure on the neck, and Baker slipped inside, immediately beginning to eject the first-grade readers through the escape hatch by the gross.

The mercenary, Wurmong, and his army of family arrived with experienced stealth and began dumping the new books from their privileged luggage.

Baker replaced the contents of the opened crates with the variant readers. These volumes might be the tiny counterbalance needed to free a world of swinoids from domination by Earth. Who knew the full extent of the psychological effect of The Three Little Pigs on young, formative minds?

His work done, Baker sadly regarded the precious jewels and the negotiable bonds from the registered mail. There was no way around it. This had to look like a robbery. It was necessary that he take them. Quickly, he stuffed everything into his synthetic appendix....

Baker was allowed to disembark on Ignatz XI so that he might be traced to his alien fellow-conspirators.

The heavy-jowled biped who greeted him at the smoky tavern was joyous. "You have done the next best thing for us to enabling us to tell your busybody missionaries to go home. We look upon you as one of our own and are hungry for the sight of you. May you remain with us long."

"Too much work," Baker said, gagging over the native beer. "But I must ask you a favor. You implied you'd give me your right arm."

"Anything we have is yours. But would not a cadaver's limb suit you as well as mine?"

"I must escape from this world. You can give a private citizen like me something only a sovereign government can. I want the jump drive."

"Not that!"

"Yes! I've earned it, haven't I?"

The swinoid nodded wearily. "You have. The device will be put in your spacer. Use it only in deep space."

He was now in orbit. That was far enough out. Earth patrols could still pick him up easily. The ETI spy pickup observed him as he reached out and put a finger to the button of the device given him by the Swinoids, as Earth ships closed rapidly. He pressed the button.

In a crisping flash of flame, he lit with incredible speed.


"Naturally, we lost contact after the ship went up in flames. If that man was the true Baker, he was undoubtedly destroyed. Of course, we have a report from our spies on Klondike II of events running just about concurrently."

"If you'll allow one interruption," Street interjected. "As a competent xenological ethnologist, I can assure you that Baker was, at least, not completely destroyed by the fire. His somewhat roasted remains would have been appropriated by the swinoids."

"How so?"

"These people are as similar to pigs as we are to apes. When one of their own wishes to die, as they thought Baker did, in their typical alien literal-mindedness, they dispose of his body in a special way. Remember how they said they thought of Baker as one of their own and were hungry even for the sight of him?"


Baker had been walking for two weeks across the primitive surface of the mining planet, Klondike II, to reach the shack in the gray shadow of the granite mountain. It wasn't gold he was after but escape. Unlike others seeking it, he had headed away from the saloons. But the peepbug's lens of air had followed him.

Minutes later, he was knocking on the door. He had to have a means of transportation at least as good as government ships to do his work of helping the aliens, and make his escapes. At least as good, and preferably better.

The door was cracked by a kind-looking old man. "You got five seconds to get, before thirty thousand volts of electricity go through those floorboards you're standing on," the old man said kindly.

"Professor Gentle," Baker said hastily, "I have many friends. One of them has told me you have established a major breakthrough in electronics, that you have in fact invented a machine to transmit matter as radio and television transmit sound and sight."

"Some loose-lipped electronics jobber found that out, did he? Step right in."

"Do you suppose I might be teleported?" Baker asked tentatively.

"Of course you can, my boy. But first perhaps you'd like to take a look at some of the things I have teleported so far."

Baker looked at the animals—they were animals?—in the cages lining the laboratory. He had been hungry a minute before. Now he had trouble just swallowing.

"Like making the original adjustments on a video set," the old man explained. "Hard to get your focus, your horizontal and vertical interlineation just right. There's some distortion sometimes. Sort of—messy."

"On soul-searching consideration—" Baker began.

"Don't take another step toward that door. I've got the floor checkerboarded with electric grids where I can turn on the juice wherever you set your foot. Control's in my upper plate. Step in that coffin, boy. Just my little pet name for it; don't worry."

With some degree of reluctance, Baker stepped into the left of twin vertical boxes. The lid closed in his face and locked.

Before he could have time to begin worrying about his air supply, the cover sprang open, and he stepped out. "Test over?" There was an echo.

A man stood in front of the second coffin. Baker had entered the one on the left and he was still in front of the left box.

But he was also now in front of the cabinet on the right. He had been completely duplicated.

"That damned feedback again," Gentle grumbled.

In the first shock of this duplication and therefore seeming negation of his individual ego, Baker almost went mad.

"You did this to me!" said Baker and Baker to Gentle, each drawing a concealed weapon and shooting the old man in the heart.

"You two fellers drop your guns and stand still," the voice behind them said. "The professor was always saying I was the most simple-minded assistant he ever had, but I've got brains enough to pull this trigger on this old shotgun if you move."

(The ETI chief explained: "The rest is hearsay. Those miners spyproof their towns.")

The trial was short with Jeb, the assistant's, testimony, but the jury deliberation was unaccountably long on the primitive world where justice ran fast for a blind woman.

"We waited long enough," Jeb said to the other men in the saloon. "Let's break them out of the cellar and hang 'em."

The miners didn't let the jury set a precedent. They hoisted a few inside the bar and went out of Lone Splyg Hill and hoisted two more.

"What have you idiots done?" the sheriff yelled as they trooped back into Klondike City.

"Anticipated the verdict a mite," Jeb admitted.

"That's just it," the sheriff groaned. "It was ruled justifiable homicide. Temporary insanity. At the time of the crime, each of the defendants was beside himself!"


"Obviously," Street said, "this is no more than a folk legend."

"Are you sure?" the director of the ETI asked, fingering the report.

"It can't be anything else. Granted that all the other events were true, I would know Baker was still alive—only one, because neither could stand the threat of the other, to his ego. You see, the case would never have come to trial. It would have been immediately dismissed."


"My dear fellow, both Bakers could not have been put on trial for the same murder, as any student of law would know. This would have violated the basic protection of double jeopardy."


A fast spaceship to put him well ahead of the law, and a place to hide out until things simmered down, that was all Baker wanted and it was what he had. He was too hot for more. ("This is how we reconstruct it from our informant's version," the ETI chief said.)

For the hundredth time, he located Wister VI on the star map. It had been discovered by the Gordon-Poul expedition half a century before. Few people ever knew about it, and most of those had forgotten it. He would never have known about it himself if it hadn't been on the credentials of that bank official.

With those papers he was set to spend several profitable years in the Great National Bank. He would be an alien, but somehow aliens always seemed to have more money than natives on any given planet.

As blastdown time approached, he read the characteristics of Wister IV and found his greatest inconvenience would be the intense sunlight from the double suns, not bright enough to burn but brilliant enough to dazzle. He searched the ship for sunglasses, but all he could find were snow goggles—a visor of black plastic with twin slits to look through. He put them on, resolving never to steal an improperly equipped spaceship again....

"Howdy, pardner." The humanoid at the spaceport was bald and green. He wore a wide-brimmed hat, chaps, and a large gun. Nothing else at all. "Forgive my informal dress. Forgot my kerchief, boots and spurs this morning. Who might you be?"

Baker gave the title of his position at the bank, explaining it would be his job to help arrange for loans to the local ranchers.

"You'll find this a friendly place. Tumbleweed is an adult Western town—we know the banker ain't always the head of the gang of rustlers."

As the weeks passed, Baker learned to live with the aliens' strange obsession with the things and persons of the Old West. They were even more fanatic than terrestrial Frenchmen over the American Frontier. It was not exaggerating to say that they regarded the men in the old films they got from Earth as gods.

They had appropriated appropriate Western given and surnames, but while there were plenty of Wills and Davys, and Rogerses and Crocketts, it was always Will Crockett and Davy Rogers. Anything other than that would be sacrilege.

Baker's biggest problem was getting a good mixed martini. Everybody on Wister VI drank their rotgut straight. But by becoming friendly with the bartender, Gene Gibson, at the Golden Slipper, he managed to get his mixed drinks.

"Which do you think was faster on the draw, Matt Dillon or William S. Hart?" Tom asked Baker early one evening.

"I don't give a hoot, Gibson," Baker snarled, reaching for his martini.

Shocked faces along the bar turned toward him, and hands moved toward loaded guns.

"I meant pictures," Baker said hastily. "I wouldn't give one of my pictures of Hoot Gibson for two each of Ken Maynard and Tim McCoy."

"Everybody to his own taste," Gibson said agreeably.

Baker exhaled and gulped his drink. It had been a close one.

But as time wore on, the habits of the West-loving aliens grated more and more on Baker's soul. He was particularly irritated by the weekly ritual every male had of riding into the sunset. Since there were two sunsets in opposite directions, it was a long and involved and thoroughly annoying process.

Tom Wayne had kept Baker waiting an hour at the Golden Slipper to discuss his loan. Baker was exasperated and dry. Local custom regarded it as friendly to not begin your drinking before your companion arrived.

Gibson laid out the ingredients of the martini on the bar. "You going to wait any longer for Tom to finish riding into the sunset before I start mixing?"

Baker whirled angrily. "Nuts to Tom! Mix!"

Before the blasphemous words died on his lips, Baker saw death in the rising barrels of the vengeful six-shooters.


"I doubt this story very much," Street said to the director.

"The planet and its conditions have been verified," the director replied.

"Even better reason to doubt that Baker died there. He probably was worshipped as one of the gods."

"Why do you think that?" the director asked the xenologist.

"Think it out for yourself. Imagine the reception that would be given to a man who stepped out of a spaceship, wearing what would appear to be a black mask, and who told these people he was the loan arranger."


Baker jammed the accelerator of the groundcar down until his thumbnail turned white. The eye of the ETI peepbug observed the police car of the native authorities behind Baker's vehicle, closing fast.

This is how it happens, he subvocalized. A great career in interplanetary crime ends with an arrest by hick cops for selling dirty books. Why had he ever sunk so low? That was easy—it took a stake to do anything big and he had to get a pile by selling books, after that had happened to him on Wellington I.

The Decameron, Forever Amber, Pierre Louys, all the old classics like that still went over with some of the humanoid and biped races. (He had none of the newer stuff, only titles in the public domain—he couldn't force himself to fall to the level of a literary pirate.) But here on Lintz III he was slaying braces of fowl with a single stone. Lintzians were highly stimulated by intricate philosophy and mathematics. This allowed him to sell banned copies of Korzybski at outrageous prices, while at the same time introducing the native intellectuals to human semantics, a definite aid to the natives in throwing off the verbal domination by Earthmen.

The Humans First Lobby in the Galactic Legislature was willing to live with the difficulties caused by the absolute literal-mindedness of most extraterrestrials, so long as they could continue to make them believe in lifetime guarantees and unbreakable toys for inventive youngsters.

True, many a human traveler had lived to regret a chance remark to the effect he could eat a horse, and nobody likes to think of what happened to people who exclaimed a preference for being damned within range of obliging natives, but all in all, those were minor liabilities in the path of the infernal machine of progress. The ETI was working double-shifts to find human renegades who were teaching the semantic variations in words of human speech to aliens. On a world where philosophy and higher math were themselves proscribed because of the limiting factor of narcotic colloidal reaction, he also had to reckon with native cops.

He wasn't going to be able to outrun this squadcar. Baker let it pull alongside and dialed himself regretfully toward the embankment. Then as the police matched his maneuver, he switched on emergency power and sideswiped them with an ear-jarring crash. Thrown from the counterbalance of its gravitic suspension system, the squadcar sailed off as helplessly as a balloon....

"Ryshid!" Baker yelled on entering his quarters. "Get my smoking jacket! Isn't dinner prepared yet?"

The turbaned, green-skinned native did what might have been called a salaam if he had been a Moslem instead of a Hindu. "Everything is in readiness, Sahib."

Baker was sorry he had spoken so shortly, but somehow he always did. Ryshid understood. Baker was under a terrible strain, not knowing when the ETI might descend on him. There was also the matter of Malissa, his wife, whom he missed very much. But as a Hinduphile, a true convert, Ryshid was of a gentle and forgiving nature.

As Baker settled back in his easy chair, someone started smashing in the back door.

By the time the police of Lintz reached the living room, Baker was gone.

"Alas," the sergeant-major intoned, "if only the sinner had repented his purchase of the forbidden book before instead of after he finished reading it."

As soon as he lifted the curtain of his own modest dwelling in the native quarter, Ryshid knew there was someone in the darkness, waiting for him.

"I hope you don't mind, old boy," Baker said. "Didn't know where else to go to escape being hunted down."

"I am overjoyed to find you well, Sahib. How did you escape?"

Baker told him about his escape, but somehow his talk kept coming back to Malissa, his wife. "I tell you it would take Kathleen Windsor to describe her. She's—but I'm a bore, Ryshid."

Ryshid drew the gun with a graceful movement. "As you say, Sahib. I have read of our traditional life in India, and as a Hindu I know what I must do when I find my home has been invaded by a hunted boar."

Ryshid squeezed the trigger.


"The shot," the chief said to Street, "unfortunately destroyed our peepbug."

"You were taken there," Street replied. "There is only one way to describe verbally Baker's attitude toward his man, proving this was all an act. A good Hindu would never harm Baker. His wife is built like a cow."


Thorsen checked his gun inside his cummerbund. That was about the only place a man or woman had to hide a weapon in these times of relatively tight fashions on Earth. The gun was still there, safety off, as he firmly expected.

He settled back in his chair and glanced across the restaurant at Hastings, the traitor. An infamous outlaw such as Baker could count on few friends—one less than even he expected. The reward on the criminal had grown sizable. Not that Thorsen was going to get any of it. All he had to do was kill the poor devil on sight. It would be foolish to say that he didn't like killing; it was his job in the ETI, but sometimes he wearied of his work.

What did Baker look like?

It was a good question and it would give him something to think about while he waited. On the face of the existing evidence, it was obvious that Baker had somewhere discovered some means of superlative disguise. He could so change himself with stretching, shrinking, fattening, and slenderizing that if a man knew he wasn't Baker, he had to doubt everybody and anybody else.

Orders were to kill the first man who came up to Hastings at his table. He would have to shoot if it were his own father, or the director of the ETI, and there wasn't too much difference, he reflected.

He was seated where he could see both the entrance and the door to the men's room. Other agents were covering the back way. Baker would have to come from the tiered front.

Would Thorsen be able to kill Baker? If he got off the first shot, he would. Evening fashions were too tight for meteor shields. If he were wearing an electronic cuirass, he could tell it immediately by the twin spheres that gave that football-shoulder effect. Moreover, had anyone entered wearing such obvious armor, it would have been flashed to him. In that case, a hand bomb would have to be used, which would be unfortunate for Hastings, and possibly Thorsen.

Hastings wasn't showing his fear—he had been doped to hide that—but he was growing more alert. Baker must be coming!

Thorsen forced himself not to give things away by reaching for his weapon yet. He fastened his attention on the two doors into the cafe.

The shot blew most of Thorsen's lungs away, but the electronic wiring in his muscles kept the shock from killing him outright. He turned and managed to get off one shot before death started climbing up his arms from his fingers, and the weapon fell.

He should have kept in mind that no one had ever seen Baker and lived to tell it. Now he had seen Baker and he was not going to live either. But then Baker was dead even now, in spite of Thorsen's mistake.

Before he died, Thorsen took one last look at the figure with the long golden hair lying on the threshold of the ladies' room.


"This story is absolutely authentic," the director said. "Several ETI agents saw the whole thing. But somehow in the confusion somebody stole Baker's body."

"Really, Director!" Street said. "You don't actually believe Baker was a woman."

"Are you suggesting a disguise?"

"It had to be. Baker's body disappeared by getting up and walking away. The only way it could do that was for it to be armored. The only way Baker could get into that building was for his armor to be hidden. There was only one way he could hide the two spheres of electronic equipment necessary to project the cuirass field, and he couldn't do it if he really had been a woman."


The director leveled his gun at Street.

"I am at last convinced that there is only one way in which you could be so certain that Baker is not dead. You know he is alive, and you know it because you are Baker."

"You are correct," Street said. "I am the celebrated Robin Hood of space. It is too great an honor to deny."

"I will go into confinement for many years because of what I am about to do, but I must see the Galaxy rid of you."

The director fired the lethal charge at point-blank range and the tall man tumbled to the floor.

"I had to do it," the director said over the body. "It was well enough to frame you for Baker's crimes due to your suspicious knowledge of him, but I didn't know you were going to fail to protest, that you were going to go along with the lie. I couldn't stand another man living to take the honor for being Baker. There can be no living Baker but me."


The tall man rolled over on the floor and sat up. "Then you admit that you are Baker? No, never mind firing again. I am wearing meteor armor under my clothes. It's sufficient to stop a gun blast."

"You are a clever devil," the director snarled.

"A man has to be clever to be Baker."

"You are NOT Baker!" the director shrieked. "I am!"

"Are you?" the tall man said superciliously. "Think why you came here. You've been working too hard, Director. You received too many stories about Baker. You began envying him his freedom of movement. Soon you began thinking you were Baker. Your analyst sent you to me, to make you see through this legend of Baker. It was to my advantage to do so."

The director wavered. "If I'm not Baker, who is?"

"I told you," the tall man said, drawing a gun and shooting the director in the head. "I am."

He smiled down at the body. "You weren't wearing armor, were you?"

Street reversed the dial on his gun and shot the director a second time. Quickly, he stirred from his paralysis.

"Sorry I had to do that, Director," Street said, "but I could see you were about to strangle me with naked hands. The important thing was to fix the idea firmly in your mind that I was Baker. If you thought I was, you would have to realize that you couldn't be."

"I do," the director said miserably as he climbed to his feet and dusted off his breeches. "But if I'm not Baker and you're not Baker, who is Baker?"

"Director, just as telling your stories and hearing my answers to them cured you of believing you were Baker, the events of this story are designed to make someone remember the true identity of Baker—that very person who now believes in a different personality of his own."

"Who is this person who is really Baker?" the director asked.

"The person who is now reading this story," Street said.


"I'm afraid it won't do, Mr. Street," the editor of Man's True Space said across his desk. "It's fiction. There can be only one Baker and tens of thousands would read the story in my magazine."

"You are missing the point, Mr. Trent," Street said. "There is only one manuscript and it is in your hands. You are Baker."

"No," Trent said. "No."

"Yes," Street said relentlessly. "Just as the director realized that he was not Baker, you must realize you are."

Trent lay back in his swivel, gasping. "All right, all right, I admit it. I am Baker."

"But you aren't really, Mr. Trent," Street said calmly. "I know you thought at one time you were Baker and then repressed the idea. But I knew at some future time the delusion might return and you would begin claiming to be Baker once more. As you said, there can only be one Baker. I am Baker."

"You lie," Trent snarled. "I know the truth now. I am Baker, and there can only be one."

The editor jerked the gun up from his desk drawer. The shots crashed at the same instant. Trent ran the letter spindle through his chest as he fell across the desk. Street settled back into his chair comfortably, death in his lungs from the gas bullet that had exploded against his armor.


The director of Extraterrestrial Investigations opened the closet door and stepped into the office. "The fools," Baker said to himself.

He had no doubt that he was the true, the original Baker. He remembered clearly that he had stepped out of the left cabinet of Gentle's transmatter, the one which he had first entered. (He did remember that, didn't he? Yes! Doubting himself was the first stride down the road these two had taken.) His act to shock "Street" into realizing they were both Baker had been elaborate, but "Street" had gone schizoid.

He was no copy, but there were copies of Baker, dozens of them, all helping the downtrodden aliens from terrestrial exploitation and making fortunes for themselves. There were fat ones, thin ones, tall ones, short ones, all kinds of Bakers, thanks to the refinement of Gentle's distortion factors in matter-duplicating to an exact science, a desired result, not an accident like the duplication itself. Unfortunately, in a few, physical distortion meant mental disorientation. These no longer had to merely pretend to be other people than Baker.

It was too bad about them—and about all the other Bakers who had died. He really had died in all those ways on all those worlds in all those bodies, despite "Street's" clever excuses. Still it wasn't a bad life—helping the helpless and himself to all they could get.

Yes, Baker decided, dying was a good way to make a living.

End of the Project Gutenberg EBook of Baker's Dozens, by Jim Harmon


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