The USF 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.
Dozens of commendations. Hundreds, even. Admiral Diaz had to have the largest collection in humanity’s history, awarded to him for decades of service, acts of valor, leadership across numerous conflicts, and so much more. And yet, not a single plaque, emblem, or medal graced the walls of his office or the surface of his desk.
Chase sat taller in his chair, pressing his hands against his thighs. It had been a year since he’d last sat in Diaz’s office. A year since they’d exchanged words. Now, Chase sat across from the Fleet Admiral’s empty chair, awaiting his arrival so he could spell out Chase’s doom.
It was difficult to tell what the reavers would have done if Chase had backed off. They could have attacked the USF Cruiser. They could have taken Chase himself down, and then what? His actions had been about survival. Winning to survive. Chase hoped Diaz could see it that way.
Footsteps approached the door, and it swung open so gently it hardly made a sound.
Diaz moved into the room, his head nearly brushing the 7 foot door frame. His shadow fell over Chase, his broad shoulders eclipsing the cadet entirely as he waved him to remain seated. Bright eyes flashed behind grey-framed glasses--glasses Diaz did not need, but wore all the same. The Fleet Admiral moved past Chase and sat in his desk, each movement a careful calculation. He laced his fingers in front of him, and leaned forward.
“Alexander,” said Diaz softly. “You’ve been busy.”
“Yes, sir,” said Chase.
“You’re nearing your final year at this Academy.”
Diaz nodded, and placed his hands flat against the desk. “You brought us a talented cadet,” he said. “Saori, was it?”
“Tanaka, sir,” clarified Chase.
“Saori Tanaka. I had the opportunity to observe her flight test some months ago,” said Diaz. “She is talented. Reckless,” he mused, “but talented.”
“It was good of Anderson to admit her.”
Chase held Diaz’s gaze in the silence that followed. It was like the Admiral was waiting for something. Waiting for Chase, perhaps. “It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, sir,” said Chase carefully.
“Yes,” said Diaz. “Well, as we decided,” he smiled, “you’ve been busy.”
That had to be the lie of the century. Diaz made it seem like Chase had been avoiding him, when certainly it had been the other way around. Chase knew the protocol for discharge. He knew it didn’t happen often; but when it did, a cadet would sit in Diaz’s office for as long as was needed. But Chase wouldn’t be discharged. He could learn to be better in the way they needed him to be. He wasn’t beyond help, he wasn’t above a stern reminder to listen to command, or to hold his head a little higher. He was the best they had. He knew his worth.
“I would appreciate it if you spoke your thoughts aloud,” said Diaz.
“I-” Chase paused for a moment, “I am thinking about my irrational fear of being discharged.”
“Why is it irrational?”
“Because I know I’m the best cadet the Academy has ever seen.”
“Why are you the best?”
“My ability is unmatched,” he said truthfully. “Every kind of test across the board communicates what I am capable of.”
“What about your skirmish with Nexus? Did you feel your ability was unmatched? Be honest, not modest, Cadet.”
“It was, sir.”
Diaz nodded, his eyes falling to his hands. “Now I’ll be honest,” he said. “What makes you the best is not your ability. It’s good, yes. Great, even.” He clasped his hands before him. “But what makes you exceptional are the choices you make.”
Chase remembered the feeling as the last reaver went still. Victory.
“In your skirmish with Nexus, I won’t pretend to know if what you chose was correct. But it was the choice I needed.”
Chase stopped breathing.
“You could become a great Pathfinder, cadet. But you have outgrown this Academy in its capacity to push you there. Do you understand?”
“Are you aware of the Commander, Charlemagne Lee?”
Was he aware of him? Lee was the Pathfinders. The division was named after Lee and his unit from the days of the AI War. The man was a legend. A living, breathing legend.
“Yes, sir,” said Chase, finally taking a breath.
“In three weeks time, Commander Lee is due back on Mars. His arrival coincides with graduation. At that point, you’ll be under his command.”
Mentored by Charlemagne Lee. Chase felt a tightness in his chest, like he could have leapt from his chair and through the ceiling. But he remained still. “Thank you, sir,” he said. What else could he say? “I’ll learn all I can from Commander Lee.”
Diaz’s expression hardened, his eyes growing dark. “Learn to be better than him,” he said. Chase would do whatever it took. “I’ve spoken with your instructors,” said the admiral, standing from his desk. He motioned for Chase to do the same, though Chase was reluctant to do so. He was being pushed out. “As you’ll be graduating a year early, you’ll be working with them independently to finish as much necessary study as you can until Lee arrives.”
“Understood, sir,” said Chase, moving through the door as Diaz opened it for him.
“Remember, Cadet Chase,” Diaz did not follow him, “this training is not just for you,” he began to close the door, “It’s for us all.”
“Sir, I-” the door clicked shut, the sound did not linger, and that was the end. Diaz was gone. Again. Chase didn’t know how he had expected the conversation to go, just that it should have been different. Longer, perhaps. But none of that changed the fact that he would learn to become a Pathfinder from the great Charlemagne Lee. A Pathfinder like he’d always wanted. This training is not just for you. Chase stopped in the empty hallway, his hands in his pockets, and leaned against the wall. It’s for us all. What did he mean? Did it matter? No. Nothing else mattered now. Not anymore. There were three weeks between him and the rest of his life. Would the time pass quickly? He hoped that it would.
Tanaka sat cross legged on a stool in an empty engineering lab. She remained fully occupied with her balance while watching Mila weld small pieces of metal together in the shape of a three dimensional hexagon. Sparks cracked and buzzed, an orange spritz of molten snow leaping out from Mila’s welder. In her first year at the academy, she had painted the tool’s handle pink to mark it as her own. Mila lifted her safety mask, pushing stray hairs off of her face.
“How has flying been lately?”
Tanaka thought for a moment, turning one of Mila’s old puzzle cubes in her hand. “Did Anderson fight in the AI War?”
Mila nodded, taking a drink of water.
“I’ve been wondering about his opinion of saplings.”
“Is he hard on you?”
“He’s hard on everyone,” said Tanaka. “But I believe he’s hardest on me.”
“Maybe he’s trying to push you,” offered Mila. “He sees something in you and he’s trying to push you to be something great.”
Tanaka uncrossed her legs and sat normally on the stool. “I’d rather be respected than dragged to greatness.”
Mila looked away.
“Do you disagree with me?”
Mila shrugged. “I haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion.” Her eyes shifted around the room until they landed on her newest puzzle cube. “Do you think he’ll like it?” She turned the cooled pieces of metal over in her hands.
“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” said Tanaka, and slouched forward; it was a bad habit she’d picked up during her classes out of sheer boredom.
“I know it’s been a while since we’ve seen Chase,” she said, “but I know he has a good reason for it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Fine,” said Mila. “I believe he has a good reason.”
“Okay. But it’s been twenty days since he was called to meet with Diaz. He could have been discharged.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say.”
“I’m inferencing based on what we know,” said Tanaka. “That’s all.”
Mila said nothing, her eyes on the floor. She took a breath. “I think-” her eyes widened as she spotted a blonde mop of hair pass by the laboratory window. “Chase!” Mila turned to Tanaka. “Please go get him,” she said. “You’re faster than me, he just walked by.”
“Fine,” said Tanaka, hopped off her stool, and ran from the room. A moment later she returned, Chase standing tall by her side, a bag of training gear slung over his shoulder. He looked tired.
“Sorry it’s been a while,” he began. Tanaka returned to her seat on the stool.
“Don’t look at me,” she said. “Mila’s the one who’s been missing you.”
Mila swallowed. “Where have you been, Chase? I understand it can get busy around here, but in nearly three weeks we haven’t even seen you.”
“I know,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I wanted to tell you sooner, but I’ve been occupied. I’m finishing up lessons for my final year.”
Mila tilted her head. “Your final year?”
Tanaka narrowed her eyes. “You’ve been recruited,” she guessed. “They’re going to make you a Pathfinder.”
Chase grinned. “That’s right,” he said. “Diaz told me after the Nexus skirmish.”
“Chase that’s wonderful-”
Tanaka hopped off the stool. “They’re accelerating your graduation before you can start Pathfinder training? What does your new class schedule look like?”
“No,” said Chase. “It’s true they’re bumping my graduation to this year instead of next. But after that I’m leaving. I’ll be mentored by the commander of the Pathfinders, Charlemagne Lee.”
“You’re leaving?” Mila crossed her arms. “But graduation is tomorrow.” Realization arched her brow. “You were going to leave without telling us.”
“But I did tell you,” he said, “just now.”
“Chase you know that’s ridicul-”
“I’ve been busy,” said Chase. “I told you.”
“Can I come with you?” Tanaka interjected. “I could be a Pathfinder. I could finish my classes-”
“That isn’t how it works,” said Chase sharply.
“I’m not far behind you,” continued Tanaka calmly. “I’m learning what you’ve learned-”
“It’s about more than just going through the motions.”
“I wasn’t talking about our classes.”
“So are you.”
“Sure,” said Chase, “But I had my Interceptor three weeks into my first year of training. Where’s yours, Tanaka?”
“Chase-” said Mila.
“It’s fine,” said Tanaka, taking a breath. “I’m busy too. See you around.” She headed for the door.
“Tanaka, you don’t understand,” called Chase.
The door slammed shut, leaving Chase and Mila in silence. “She’ll be alright.” Mila fiddled with the puzzle cube behind her back. “Here’s another puzzle, hot off the press,” she said, handing it to him. “For the road tomorrow.”
Chase took it. “It’ll all be alright,” he assured out loud, turning the cube over in his hands. It’ll be alright.
The next day, Tanaka stood outside the training hangar alone. Everyone else was out celebrating their graduation. Cheering, or singing, or the unruly mash of both cheering and singing could be heard down nearly every hallway. On this day, senior cadets did not walk, they floated on the promise of becoming something more. On her way to the hangar, Tanaka had passed Chase’s old unit. She recognized the one named Rick. He looked as somber as she felt. They weren’t taking part in celebrations, but had probably attended the ceremony in support of their fellow cadets. Maybe even just in support of Chase. The unit would be moving into their final year; they’d celebrate the end of their training then. Of course, they’d be missing a member, but in a year’s time they might not care their golden boy had abandoned them a little early.
The scoreboard outside the hangar beamed down, electric blue letters listing the names of cadets and their various training times. Tanaka looked at her name, floating there in second place, the numbers beside it jumbling together until they lost every meaning except one: they weren’t good enough. Not when the name above hers was about to set off to go somewhere and become something. Anything. What would her mother say? Tanaka had no idea. They never talked about friends. They had each other. That had been enough, at one point in time.
Mila had asked Tanaka if she’d said her goodbyes to Chase. She had, in her opinion. See you around was as good as any other words of parting. In his final week at the Academy, Chase had been busy, but so had she.
Tanaka entered the hangar and moved past rows of training vessels in varying states of assembly. The hulking door at the end was open for the sunset, illuminating the fighters in a golden haze. Tanaka moved closer to the open sky, to the very last Interceptor in the line. Her Interceptor. Saori Tanaka’s. The one she’d fought for, the one she’d finally earned.
Mila had pulled some strings, claiming she’d be working on the vessel in her spare time and would need access to it. It still couldn’t fly without express permission, but the cockpit could be opened. Tanaka hoisted herself up the side and slid into the piloting seat, running her hands over the controls.
You don’t understand, had been his last words. Tanaka turned her eyes skyward, leaning back against her seat. It was almost time now. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted it. A ship streaking past, working its way to the outer atmosphere. It had the markings of a Pathfinder’s vessel, proud and doused in the white coloring of the United Sol Federation. It soared higher and higher, pushing through clouds, its tail fading behind until it was all but blotted out by the sun, disappearing entirely.
She pulled a pen from her pocket and placed its retracted tip just above her left knee. He’d be far away now, Mars a red marble in his rear window. But it didn’t matter. Not anymore. She applied pressure to the pen, the veins in her hand leaping out against her skin. Into the bones of her Interceptor, she began to carve a name.