ralph jackson was a senior concentration consultant at a midlevel psychological consulting firm, and he took the 7:23 express into the city every day.
but he had not always been a senior concentration consultant who took the express into the city every day.
in his time he had seen and done things too terrible to be described.
one cool foggy morning ralph was waiting for the express and glancing at the headlines in the times - which he bought every morning to do the crossword puzzle - when he felt somebody’s eyes on him.
ralph turned and saw a stranger staring at him, a man of the same age and as nondescript as himself, though somewhat shorter and thinner. ralph thought he looked familiar.
the man noticed ralph’s gaze but continued staring at him, not with any hostility or curiosity but as one might stare into a shop window.
ralph’s years of seeing and doing things too terrible to be described had left him no blushing violet, and he put his times under his arm and approached the staring man with the sangfroid he had exhibited in times past when he was interrogating his fellow humans and being interrogated by them.
“do i know you?” ralph asked the man politely.
“of course. don’t you know me?”
“why don’t you refresh my memory?”
“glad to.” the man smiled wearily. “doctor madison. doctor carter madison. surely you remember?”
ralph looked around. there were three other commuters waiting for the train - two women and a man, all familiar to ralph by sight though he had never spoken to any of them.
ralph discreetly moved out of earshot of them, and the stranger followed.
“doctor carter madison,” ralph resumed the conversation. “i believe he fixed me up in jakarta back in the day.”
“he did indeed,” said the stranger. “but is that all you remember?”
“i would say,” ralph replied carefully, “that is all i remember that might be worth remembering.”
“you don’t remember the experiments he performed on you?”
“are you sure you are not confusing me with somebody else? and what was or is your connection with doctor madison?”
“i am not confusing anything, mister jackson. my connection with the good doctor is the same as yours. we - or i should say i - was the subject of his experiments.”
“i am afraid i don’t follow you, “ ralph smiled. “who was experimented on - you or i or both of us?”
“the doctor expanded your consciousness. don’t you remember?”
“you mean he gave me acid or some other drug? i am afraid i don’t remember. but then it was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”
ralph glanced down the track. the train was a couple of minutes late - but it often was.
“i don’t mean that at all, “ the stranger continued. “i mean that he expanded your consciousness into another body. a body he had specially constructed for the occasion - mine. so you see, we are one and the same - one person.”
“you mean we are identical twins - or clones or whatever?”
“nothing so simple. we are one - one person in two bodies. i am you and you are i.”
ralph turned and looked down the track again. “sounds too mystical for me. perhaps you and the doctor spent too much time in the mysterious orient, if you get my drift.”
“you think so?” for the first time the stranger seemed a bit annoyed by ralph’s indifferent attitude. “look here.” he took a penknife from his pocket. “as we are one, you can feel my pain. as i can feel yours.”
he stabbed the penknife into his palm, sharply, drawing blood. “did you feel that?” he asked ralph.
“a little bit,” ralph admitted. “a pretty good trick. but i have been to the mysterious east myself, and i have seen better.”
“have you now? well, since we have the same brain, how about if i describe the disgusting fantasies you were indulging in just before we began this conversation - where you encounter a group of - “
“that won’t be necessary,” ralph smiled. “i suppose i could read your fantasies too, eh?”
“if you care to. they are by no means blameless, though not completely depraved or unmanly.”
“here is the train,” ralph announced. “are you getting on it?”
“not today, mister jackson. but we will meet again, and resume this conversation.”
“au revour, then.”
what a bore, thought ralph, as he settled into his seat. he would have to contact doctor madison and tell him the fellow was loose, and he wondered what the most secure way to do it would be.
ralph was sure nothing would come of it, but they couldn’t be too careful.
nothing could be allowed to jeopardize ralph’s and doctor madison’s plans to conquer the universe.