The swift click of boot heels across the grated floor of the Institute space station's command deck made the second-shift crew team rise to attention, either on their feet or in their seats. Their new commanding officer (appointed in the rapid vacuum left by the old officers, Sirk and Gan, who'd disappeared without a trace over a month ago) already had a reputation for having a firm and decisive hand. Despite his youth, he'd dispatched a number of fugitives and even rogue Imperium troops, leaving frighteningly efficient devastation in his wake; even the Hunters backed away from him, knowing what he'd done to an altered one of their own.

"Commander on the deck!" Vida announced in a crisp voice, and everyone snapped to.

"As you were," the commander told them as he strode toward the XO. He lowered his chin. "Report?"

"Quiet, tonight, sir," Vida replied as she relaxed her stance a little. This new CO had some scary legends attached to him, for sure...but he was kind of cute, too, and clever. She found she rather liked him. "The inmates seem to have taken to the new schedule."

"They're not inmates, Commander," he corrected her. "Our job here is to teach them, foster them into being proper substantives. The last thing the galaxy needs is a bunch of disillusioned and disgruntled servitors rising up against the Imperium."

"Right," Vida said with a shamed little nod. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

The commander spared her a smart smirk. "...Unless you're of the opinion that revolution is warranted?"

Vida blinked; there was that bold cleverness. "Sir?"

"That was a joke, Commander."

Vida felt a quick blush burn in her cheeks. "Oh. Of course, sir."

The man gave a short chuckle, then changed gears. "Those records I asked for, from the old command. Have you been able to secure them?"

Blinking again (it was hard for her to track how his brain worked...though that was, admittedly, part of the intrigue about him), Vida passed him a datapad. "Yes, sir. All the orders from Commander Sirk's term of duty. I managed to pull the communication records, as well."

"Good," the commander said, nodding briefly as he swiped through and scanned the scrolling data. "And, this has the originals, as well as any copies, yes? About the...cypher...project?" He looked up again, fixing her with a steady, piercing stare.

Vida nodded. "Yes, sir; all of it." She dropped her voice a little. "The...project...is confidential, though, sir." She shook her head, now. "It's not common knowledge among the station staff."

"That's as it should be," the commander answered, in a voice pitched equally low. That stare didn't waver. "We'll make certain it stays confidential. Won't we, Commander?"

Vida straightened her back and shoulders. "Yes, sir."

"Good," the commander said again. Then, moving his hand swiftly across the datapad, Vida watched him make three taps of his fingers against the screen. He moved too quickly for her to see it all, but she did catch the last command he gave the records: the red one, marked PURGE.

He looked up at her once more, this time with a little smile. "Well, that's that," he said.

Vida could only blink at him again. "...Sir?"

The commander laid the now-empty datapad upon an empty space between terminals and gave her a strange look, his head cocked to one side and his lips curled in a smile she found engaging.

"We're a team, Commander," he said. "I'd rather not stand on formality, if you don't mind." He struck out one hand toward her. "Can I call you Vida?"

She glanced at his open hand, then up at that fascinating smile, with all its secrets. Secrets she found she wouldn't mind learning.

She took his hand.

"Only if I can call you Ein."

"Done," the commander said, pumping her fingers with another smile. "Now, what do you say we talk about making some more changes around here?"

. . .

A-a-a-a-and, there's the end of my 2012 National Novel Writing Month story proper, "Anywhere But Here". Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the adventures of Lelie, Aral, and the rest.
Who was your favorite character? Your least favorite character? Why? Would you like to learn more about any of their back stories? Would you like to see a continuation? Let me know!