I can’t say

“You don’t have to go.”

That’s what they told me. They might have meant it, but it’s hard to tell for sure. I did go, so I never found out if they were being honest. They were wrong, anyway. I did have to go. I needed to leave.

It’s hard not knowing where you’re going. Jarring, really. My mind is restless but my mind is tired. I’m anxious and bored, curious without questions, and looking for signs of life in a room full of sleeping cats.

Not my best work.

I hear one of them coming up behind me. They sound panicked. I didn’t expect them to care when I left. I just wanted to leave. I turned to look over my shoulder. The man coming up behind me was hunched over, body draped by a loosely buttoned white coat that extended to his knees. His face was covered in two parts by the wide single-lensed goggles over his eyes that gave him a certain cyclopean appearance, and the¬†breathing apparatus connected by a long hose to his back, adding the very distinct sound of oxygen chambers cycling to his already recognizable visage.

It was the Doctor, and though I’d not met him before, I certainly knew who he was. He ran my program, and since everyone on the station knew my program, they all knew the Doctor as well. He extended a hand toward me, palm thickly gloves in rubber, with a telling sheen along the cuffs that ran right up against his sleeves, which I now noticed were spattered with faint drops of red. Needless to say, he hadn’t thought me important enough to clean up before coming to stop me.

For a moment, I thought he meant to shake my hand, and I almost considered returning the gesture despite the number of things that I might be coming in contact with on his hands. I wanted to be rid of this place, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appear polite. No need to cut ties when they’re just as happy remaining connected. His fingers curled, though, and I couldn’t be sure if the faint creaking sound was from the rubber of the gloves or from the man’s fingers. I’m still not sure, but he didn’t appear to be in the fittest physical condition. Only one finger remained extended, and he pointed silently at my neck.

I reached my own hand along my neck as I turned to face him. My fingers grazed along protruding tab that I knew he was gesturing towards. He hadn’t come for me, of course, just for the station’s property. I’d hoped to keep it, but the Doctor was known for his stinginess, and he’d come to inspect me himself. Make sure I wasn’t stealing his secrets. I slid a finger beneath the tab and pulled the inch-long triangular insert from the side of my neck. I slid the cover of the port shut, extending the simple looking shape outward.

The Doctor snatched it from my hand, offering only a sharp and brief nod to me as he turned on his heel, carrying what would have been my only reminder of this place away with him. Without the freshening device filtering my intake any longer, I felt the dampness of the air in the station for the first time since the day I’d arrived. It was stale, and there was a foul taste lingering on every breath. I knew the work we did here, but it was easier to forget when you weren’t breathing it in every second. The pristine white walls of the station began to blue and lost their luster, fading in radiance to a dull gray. I’d always wondered if there was something else slipped into the filtration, and if there wasn’t, then I guess the illusion was all being dispelled at once.

I turned back around, heading to the shuttle again. I took quiet steps, so I could hear clearly, in case someone else was going to see me off. Nobody did, though. The shuttle bay wasn’t far. As I continued my walk I looked out the portholes into space. The planet that our station orbited was dead, and it looked like it even from here, miles above the surface. It was a sickly brown color, and though there were supposed some living being still inhabiting the surface, I’d never been there myself.

I reached the gate just as the shuttle doors opened. There was a single passenger, who carried a small bag as he stepped out of the shuttle and into the station. Our eyes met for just a moment, along with a polite nod. He was nearly my height, and given our matching brown hair and grey eyes, it wouldn’t have been unusual to take a second look at my apparent doppelganger. I didn’t, though, and I’m confidant he didn’t either. Instead, as I stepped into the shuttle, we exchanged a few¬†brief words.

“My replacement, I imagine.”

He nodded. “I expect so.”

I gestured between the two of us, noting our similarities. “You certainly look up to the task.”

He smiled, which was a rare thing to see indeed after years on the station. “I was assured that our genetics were essential. I was surprised an opportunity arose for me here. It’s always been so closed off.”

I shrugged. “Everyone need a change of scenery, I imagine. I hope you find pleasure in your work.”

He lifted the small bag he brought into the station, curious. “Nothing to take with you from your time here?”

I shook my head. “Everything you have belongs to them now. You’ll see.”

He glanced to his bag for a moment, and I saw a flicker of worry cross his face before he returned his attention to me. “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know.”

And I didn’t. I had given it a lot of thought, about where I could go, who might want someone like me, with all the things I’ve done, and all the secrets I’ve learned on the station. I thought it made me unique, but here was a man who’d come to replace me. We weren’t the same person, but I hadn’t even left before they found someone to take my place. All I could do was shake my head at the man, and give him an honest answer.

“Anywhere but home.”