The Chronicles are the official lore of Infinite Fleet, documenting the important historical events and character journeys dating up to the start of the main game.
Trung's two guards were on them now, firm but forceful.
"Hold still, hands visible. No sudden movements. Just nice and slow." The taller of the two moved a hand to his belt as he began to reach for Chase, deeming him the biggest threat. The other shifted toward Rainer.
Trung's face was dour at best. Arms folded across her chest, she watched, clearly unconcerned.
Chase stepped backward as the tall guard advanced, his eyes meeting that unconcerned face. "Hold on, I thought we had an agreement!"
The guard continued his advance, his blank helmeted face betraying nothing. Chase hesitated. He knew he could fight this man; even ten armed marines probably would not be able to stop him from walking straight back to the Eclipse if he chose to. But, if he started down that path, any chance of negotiation would immediately be gone. He allowed the guard to take his wrists.
Chase’s words were abruptly cut off as the guard pushed him forward against the glass partition, face distorted, arm brought back in a hold that he knew without question he could break with a shrug, but he gritted his teeth.
Rainer came less quietly. As the shorter guard advanced, her hands flashed up in a palm strike to the front of his helmet, followed by a leg sweep that sent the guard crashing to the floor. Two more guards came through the door, leveling coilguns, and Rainer put her hands up as the fallen guard picked himself up sullenly, and delivered Rainer a punch to the stomach that doubled her over before turning her and slamming her against the glass as well.
Trung watched the commotion with growing disgust. "What agreement could we possibly have with spies?" Chase began to protest and Trung cut him off. "Don't bother with denials. One of you brought a squirt-band transmitter to our private conversation. That is less than hospitable. Charles, I would have expected better of someone of your reputation."
"So would I." Lee, still stood unconcerned at the back of the room. He put on a mocking face of fatherly disappointment. "It certainly was no part of my own plan. But, you know how kids are these days."
"I'm sure I do."
Gritted teeth and a hissed "take them to the brig" accompanied her exit from the far side of the room. A second door slid open behind Lee, followed by the entrance of several more marine guardsmen, all with stun weapons extended.
Lee gave the guardsmen a look that mimicked Trung's in depth of disgust, fetched up a deep sigh and shrugged. The lead guard made a slight gesture to the two who’d put up resistance, then sketched a little bow, as if passing a plate to Lee, who nodded before moving toward the pair. The new marines fanned across the rear wall, weapons pointed.
"Well? Do you want to be dragged out of this room or walk like adults?" At the rasp of Lee's voice Chase and Rainer relaxed, and their captors loosened their holds. "Get over here, Chase. You, too, Rainer. Guards, there will be no more trouble from these two. Lead the way."
The two young officers had the good grace to look chagrined. Chase raised his hands, palms forward as his opponent gave him a shove over toward Lee, and Rainer followed suit.
The lead marine stepped out of the line, and gestured at the two who had started in the conference room.
The guard shook his head. "Secure these prisoners. Cuffs. They'll sit in the brig until Trung figures out what to do with them."
"Hopefully that won't take long. We didn't actually get lunch."
Chase cringed at Lee's insouciant tone. "Really? Lunch? That’s your concern right now?"
The snort Lee gave in response made harsh counterpoint with the click of the manacles and the hum of the cuff rudely strapped onto his ankle. "Chase, you've already put us in a bad position. A nice meal would be the least Servetus could do to make it up to me."
Rainer bristled. "Make it up to you?"
The lead guard just shook his head. "Let's go. Out the door, one by one. Nothing funny. Hands where I can see them."
The security brig of the base was small. Chase, Lee, and Rainer had time to consider the decor as they were tucked away, each in their own bar-fronted cell, side by side. There were only a few more cells on the short hall, none currently occupied. As they marched through the doors, an EMP field came online with a subdued hum. Chase felt no different but when the guard shoved him through the door, he stumbled, his reactions slowed.
Chase was the first to gingerly lick his fingers and then touch the bars. Nothing for a heartbeat then zap, a quick, sharp warning from the system. He rubbed his fingers together at the bite, then frowned.
"Their buzzing thing is still working. My fingers are still red; no healing."
Lee, lying flat on his back in the shallow bunk, mused at the ceiling. "Military-grade EMP brig countermeasures are the usual fare. As long as they’re running our nannies are damped. Given the way this one feels I’d say we’re going without little helpers for a couple of days, minimum, every time we get put in here.”
"So try not to do anything that would require my skin to patch a hole is what you're saying?" Rainer was leaning as close to the bars as she dared.
"Among other things. Ever see a fight between someone enhanced and someone without nanites? It’s like kicking puppies." Lee rubbed at his nose irritably, which had started to drip.
Chase paced the narrow cell, which took all of two steps either way, fists clenched, shoulders tight. He felt like he had to breathe faster to keep oxygenated. "The USF would never treat Servetus diplomats like this! This is unheard of!"
Lee looked at the ceiling of the cell, thinking of times others had been in cells at his command. He thought about a bustling, busy city and the ship that detonated within it, about the billions killed and lost in the AI War. He thought about his place in history. He thought about the toll.
His tone was steady and measured, "Chase, the USF has done many things. If this is the worst thing that happens to us on this little trip, I'll consider it among the best possible outcomes."
Rainer sighed. "You were right, Chase. Right to try and get Trung on-board by appealing to her honor, right to put up a fight for decency." She looked aside, away from the two down the hall from her, "Though not about Eden needing their leadership. Eden doesn't need their kind in charge."
Lee knocked lightly on the back-wall of the cell for attention.
"Before you two chums go spilling state secrets, I'll remind you that you are locked in a jail held by a hostile force which is more than capable of continuous surveillance." He threw a casual wave at the tiny camera in the corner of the cell and perhaps it even shifted focus in acknowledgment. "Try not to spill too many beans."
He sat up with a grunt, rubbing at his lower back.
"Rainer, I’m surprised at you. I've worked with Eden before. I've worked with Arthur Ducom before. I’ve never seen anyone in his organization sloppy enough to fire a squirt communication during a secret meeting. Most Edenite children learn subtlety and manipulation before they learn to walk; I take it you missed that lesson?"
Rainer bristled, swinging around and almost - but not quite - grabbing the bars.
"It was Arthur’s order. He commanded me specifically to stream the meeting back in real time.”
“And you never paused to think he was setting you up?”
“I take orders."
Chase stopped pacing and leaned his weight against the wall. "Eden has always been a pacifist society. Before the AI War they were devoted naturalists, avoiding technological modifications to their bodies. When the Omega AI took over people’s brains, fewer of them were affected. When the fighting escalated, they declared neutrality and attempted to stay out of the conflict."
Lee injected, "And how did that turn out for them?"
Chase hesitated. "Eventually, Nexus and the AI slaughtered their way across the fighting citadel space and no longer needed to devote so much to that front. So they came for New Eden."
A nudge from Lee. "And?"
"And without a military force or defense line, the Omega AI murdered and enslaved billions of Edenites, forcing the Nexus chip on them to make them into its own soldiers. Until a local rebellion began standing up in significant numbers."
Lee let the moment linger in the air for a breath. "So, afterwards, Eden swore to uphold the tenets of pacifism in the face of a violent, aggressive universe, forever and ever amen. Because that was the most obvious response."
Chase sensed the trap but Rainer dove in headfirst.
"Right and wrong don’t change, even if they are inconvenient. Violence is still violence. Death is still permanent, and horrifying. If other Citadels followed Eden, war would be unnecessary. It would simply never happen. The Citadel provides us all a vision of a better way of life, one where all of humanity lives together in harmony. We provide hope. Even if --" She trailed off.
Lee smiled slightly to himself, "if?"
"Even if it means persuasion is our military."
Rainer seemed pained to say something so simple.
Chase turned toward her, brow furrowed. "What?"
Lee shook his head slightly. "They don't have ships of war, Chase. They have diplomats. Spies. You heard Trung when we came in: ‘Even a diplomat can be an assassin.’"
Chase almost looked chastised. "I thought she was being figurative."
"She was being very, very literal, Chase. Think about our orders. What were we sent out to do?"
Chase frowned, thinking about surveillance, but Rainer answered morosely. "Destabilize Servetus. You were sent to make lives difficult for Severtus citizens, to make support for the planets and stations under the Servetus banner switch, willingly, to Eden as protector and guardian."
"Our influence." The words came out of Rainer as if dragged. "That is how everything in Eden is managed. No stand-up fights, no head-on confrontations. Always the subtle path of the right word in the right ear." Her knuckles whitened under the force of her clenched fists. "Our leaders are influence peddlers, and we are taught that it's good because that's how it's always been. Positions in Directorates go to the best connected. Even at the level of the Triumvirate"
Chase wished he could put a supportive hand on her shoulder but instead just put his hand on the adjoining wall as he spoke. "But you're a good peacekeeper. Ducom is your commanding officer and you stand for him, no matter what. Even if you have questions."
"I have many questions!" Rainer burst out before calming. "So many questions. I am not a very good Edenite, Lee might say. I did not learn to manipulate before I learned to walk. Some would say that's a failing in me. Some say Arthur Ducom trusts me because he knows I am a terrible liar."
She shook her head and leaned away from the bars, stepping back as if from exposure.
"Eden stands for peace. That I believe; that is what everyone I know believes. We want peace. We want freedom. Eden just has very - circuitous routes to achieve it. To be Edenite is to know misdirection, to live misdirection, but all curved lines converge to a single point in Eden. Peace."
"I've known Arthur since the early days,“ Lee said. “We've been friends, of a sort. He doesn't have many and they're always 'of a sort,' which is likely how he rose to a point of the Triumvirate. The political echelons of Eden are dark halls. But he does want peace. From all I have seen, that much, at least, I believe is true."
Lee flicked another look at the surveillance before going further. So far, his gambit was playing out. He didn’t know if Rainer’s doubts were real or theater; based on what he knew of the younger woman, he suspected that she was being genuine, but it didn’t matter. The expression of doubt in Ducom’s leadership would have gotten attention. Someone would be watching, with interest. If he played this moment properly…
Lee made his decision and changed direction, "Chase, do you think it's odd that we're in a Servetus Citadel covert station literally within the New Geneva system itself?"
The other man pulled away from the wall, thinking.
"Not really. There are thousands of Citadels that are completely surrounded by other Citadels. Planets and stations switch back and forth between politics all the time."
Rainer faced the wall dividing her from Lee's cell, "Servetus split from Eden after the AI War. They… disapproved of our approach."
"Servetus Citadel is effectively completely surrounded by Eden for light years in any direction. It’s easy to long-jump out but to get into Servetus space, you always have to come through at least two Eden-controlled systems. Why, then, is Servetus being so aggressive, when they are opposed by such an obviously greater economic and political force?"
Chase put on his puzzle-face as if working out Mila's latest cube. "Maybe they want to grow their fleet? The Eden dockyards are significant - but largely civilian. They could be retooled but that would take time and resources."
Rainer said, "Those ships would be useless without sufficient excellium. Servetus controls no excellium mines; they trade for all they have. It’s enough to fit a modest fleet for long warp, but they can’t afford the damage to their crystals that comes with short warp. This limits the military operations they can stage, until they are better supplied. The shipyard at New Geneva carries a large supply. A large, undefended supply."
Lee nodded, as if a proud teacher before a class. "All true. Servetus is much smaller, but they possess a military force which Eden refuses to produce. Being excellium-poor, this force is limited in their mobility and operational tempo, a problem that needs solving if they are to carry their ambition any further."
Chase narrowed his eyes. “That’s means and motive. What about opportunity? They split off from Eden decades ago. Why now?”
Elbows on his knees, sitting on the bunk, Lee continued, "Simple. Nexus is courting them. A swift coup d'etat and Servetus becomes one of the most powerful Citadels in the galaxy. Allied with Nexus, they can challenge the USF itself. All they need is for us to sit still until they are ready to make their move."
“If they seize Eden, the USF will certainly not sit still. It would mean war.”
"Oh, they know. Nexus is counting on it. They want this war." Lee sounded more tired than Chase had ever heard him. "They'll get more war than they ever wanted. Trouble is, they took a step too far with us. You and I, Chase, will be missed and the USF will come knocking. If they haven’t claimed New Geneva by then… Well, we have many, many more guns than Eden does. They can’t kill us because that gives the USF a pretext for war. And they can’t release us because they know we know their plans, which would give the USF a pretext for war. And they can’t hold us for long because our absence will cause an investigation which will, in turn, give the USF a pretext for war."
Rainer managed a wan smile. "So, instead of helping us, or even betraying us, you’ve started a war. What reaction do you expect when Ducom finds you’ve sent a fleet to his doorstep? He's not exactly the most understanding when it comes to failure."
"Failure? Ha!" Lee pushes himself up. "We were sent to destabilize Servetus. They're about to pick a fight with a superior foe with the support of an unproven ally! Does that seem stable?"
He dropped a grin in the direction of the nearest camera. "I consider this a huge win."