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.
Lee’s office was minimalist and clearly seldom used. The room shrunk around Chase as Lee’s words passed through him. Petrov, Lee’s right hand man and communications officer, stood on the far side of the room, examining data and footage from their recent battle at Macquarie Station on a wall display.
“Excuse me, sir?” said Chase.
“Effective immediately, you are now a Lieutenant Captain.”
“Why?” said Chase.
“Formally,” said Lee, mulling his words, “for inadequate command of your squadron.”
“You nearly got yourself killed,” said Petrov dryly, replaying Chase’s encounter with the reavers which had unexpectedly entered his squadron’s domain. “Halliday had to bail you out.”
“Your intel was faulty,” protested Chase. “You told me my domain was clear.”
“And did you verify this intel?”
Chase resisted a frown. They were changing the narrative of the battle to force the error on him.
“I did not,” he said through partially gritted teeth.
“Circumstances change quickly in battle,” said Petrov, his patient demeanor reminding Chase of his father. “It is not my or Commander Lee’s place to verify any intelligence’s bearing on reality, or to curate it.”
“And what am I being demoted for informally then, sir?”
“The same,” said Lee. “But also because you have a new assignment. One not suited to a Captain.”
Before Chase could inquire further, Petrov switched the feed he was examining to a map of the Eden Citadel.
“Eden Citadel has requested our assistance in a delicate matter,” Petrov explained. “You will be on the field team sent to assess and resolve the situation.”
Chase considered this. The Eden Citadel was one of the two major Citadels that had opted to remain independent after the USF’s creation in 2109, the other being the Nexus Citadel.
Chase stated the obvious. “The Eden Citadel isn’t allied with the USF.”
“We have a functioning diplomatic relationship,” said Lee. “Though our presence will have to be discrete.”
“Our?” said Chase.
“I will be the other agent on the ground team,” said Lee. “Our shuttle leaves in an hour.”
Chase folded his arms. “And the fleet?”
“Will remain at Macquarie Station under my command,” said Petrov. “Both as a deterrence against further encroachment and to assist the researchers in transporting their equipment, most of which survived the attack.”
“I take it the battle went well then?” said Chase.
“Quite,” said Petrov, returning his attention to the battle replay on the wall display.
“Gather your belongings, Lieutenant,” said Lee. “Dismissed.”
Their vessel was a modified SF-05E Eclipse fighter from what Chase could infer. All of its weapons had been removed except for plasma-based ordnance. Its contrails and heat emissions were suppressed by a custom-built engine that Mila would have loved to dissect, and a clandestine black Immutium alloy camouflaged its hull against the void of space.
Flying the custom Eclipse felt foreign to Chase, its signature disguising and other stealth systems presenting a myriad of new controls at its console. While its other controls and HUD were familiar to him, it was clearly a spy's vessel, not a soldier’s. It had occurred to Chase before he joined them that the Pathfinders were likely both in some measure, though which was dominant remained to be seen.
Lee sat behind him in the co-pilot’s seat, eyes closed, likely meditating. They hadn’t exchanged any non-logistical words since the Pathfinder Carrier had dropped them off near New Geneva, the capital planet of the Eden Citadel.
Chase’s jaw clenched as the violet planet came into view. Though Eden was known for its prosperity, peace, and general acceptance of outsiders; he couldn’t help but feel they were entering enemy territory. His training with the USF had taken him to many distant locales, including the major allied Citadels of Renai and Ascent. But this wasn’t training, and Eden wasn’t an ally.
Lee’s eyes opened as they descended through New Geneva’s atmosphere. Chase leveled their fighter out at 50km above the planet’s surface. Covert as their vessel was, they were still exposed to some types of detection, including the naked eye.
“Land at these coordinates,” said Lee, painting a mark on Chase’s HUD.
The mark was a landing bay in the coastal city of Avena. Chase raised an eyebrow. Landing a vessel in an urban area would be conspicuous.
“What’s our clearance, sir?” said Chase.
Lee smirked. “I’m our clearance.”
Descending through the clouds, Chase decelerated as they approached the city below. Modern cities like Avena were beautiful - clean, ergonomic, and largely self-sufficient. Skyscrapers and spires pierced the horizon, connected by an elevated network of roadways which ran through and adjacent to them. The entire city was iridescent, every reflection of its surface glistening like a morning frost.
Entering the airspace above the city, Chase was still expecting for city or Citadel officials to connect to their comms and demand their vessel designation, clearance, and business; but none came. Whether it was Lee or their contact on the ground who had secured their passage, permitting a USF spy vessel to move freely and unannounced through Avena was a feat only someone with connections in high places could facilitate.
Chase wove between the city’s buildings, the Eclipse painting a black shadow on the mirrored surfaces of Avena. The landing bay was on the eightieth floor of one of three closely interconnected towers. Their fighter landed soundlessly, the only vessel in the bay. A girl approached them as Chase and Lee disembarked.
“Charlemagne Lee and Alexander Chase?” said the girl. “Adele Rainer. Welcome to New Geneva.”
Rainer looked young, perhaps a few years younger than Chase, though it was hard to tell in the age of nanites. From her formal attire and presentation, Chase assumed she was a diplomat, though her serious demeanor and tightly bound blonde hair suggested she could be capable in combat should the need arise.
“Thank you. It’s a beautiful planet,” said Lee, his voice monotone.
“It is,” said Rainer brightly. “If you would,” she gestured for them to follow.
Leading them through the connected pathways of the three towers, they passed through a half-dozen biometric locks and security checkpoints. Arriving at the far tower which faced the ocean, she opened the door to a large, windowless conference room occupied by a grey-haired man in a dark suit who was gently dipping a tea bag into a mug. Chase felt a ping of recognition, but couldn’t place the man.
“Charles, it’s been too long,” said the man with a calculated smile.
“Arthur,” said Lee evenly.
The name clicked the man’s identity into place. He was Arthur Ducom, one of the Under-Secretaries of the Eden Citadel. From what Chase had read about him and seen in various newsfeeds, he was a fiercely intelligent man and one of the most revered political figures in the galaxy, known for shaping the policies which helped Eden emerge as one of the major Citadels after the AI War.
“Your comrade,” said Ducom, studying Chase. “The young variant I’ve heard whispers of, I assume. Chase, was it?”
Lee glanced at Chase out of the corner of his eye. Chase said nothing.
“Yes,” murmured Lee.
“Rainer, please secure the room,” said Ducom.
Lee and Chase sat across from Ducom as Rainer meticulously sealed the room, both against direct and digital intrusion. Ducom’s demeanor shifted. He put down his tea.
“We need your help with the Servetus Citadel,” he said.
“In what way?” said Lee.
“Their leader, Ruolan Trung, severed diplomatic ties four days ago.”
Servetus was a minor Citadel which had emerged from obscurity as a legitimate military entity over the past ten years. An abrupt discontinuation of communication with Eden, a Citadel they bordered closely with, had dire implications.
“And you want to reinstate them?” said Lee.
“No,” said Ducom. “I want Servetus destabilized.”
Chase’s eyes widened. Though it was not one of the major Citadels, Servetus’ members still numbered in the millions, spread across a half-dozen planets and space stations. Destabilizing them would mean destroying them, forcefully dividing them into smaller Citadels, or merging them with a larger Citadel. All of which would be challenging undertakings. Glancing at Rainer, Chase could tell she was unsettled by the information too. Lee’s face yielded nothing, seeming almost disinterested.
“A challenging task for such a small team,” said Lee.
“I’m sure you and the young variant are up to it,” said Ducom.
“Perhaps if we had a navy,” said Lee.
Ducom chuckled. “That would be too easy. I thought you were a Pathfinder, not a brute.”
“I can be both, depending on the day,” said Lee. “But the way I see it, the USF is your only ally against Servetus. Without a standing navy, Eden will fall without our intervention.”
“Agreed,” said Ducom. “But any USF intervention must be kept from the history books. Eden must remain neutral in this matter.”
“I don’t think you have a choice anymore,” said Lee. “You accept our help, you join the USF. You don’t, then good luck fighting Servetus without any teeth.”
Ducom looked to Chase, studied him, then returned his focus to Lee.
“We both know it is you that has no choice in the matter, Commander,” said Ducom. “Should Eden fall to Servetus, Nexus will be quick to take them under their wing to secure our newly vacated systems. The USF wouldn’t want that, would they?”
Lee was silent. His face steeled.
“Tell me, Chase,” said Ducom. “Is what I am proposing unreasonable?”
Chase turned to Lee, who nodded.
“Disrupting a Citadel with a team of two?” said Chase, considering the scenario. “A diplomatic approach would depend on their leader, Trung. Sabotage would be difficult, but with the right plan… there’s some historical precedent for it. And given time, there are more abstract approaches we could explore.”
Ducom waved a hand. “I didn’t ask for specifics, I asked if it was unreasonable.”
Lee and Chase exchanged glances. Two of the best variants in the galaxy against a well-armed Citadel of millions. The odds were impossible to calculate.
“No, sir,” said Chase. “It is possible.”
“Wonderful,” said Ducom. He signalled to Rainer to unseal the room. She obliged. “See to Servetus’ disruption and the USF will remain in Eden’s favor for as long as I have sway. How you accomplish this feat? I don’t care. Just see that it’s done. For all our sakes.”
Lee, who was normally inscrutable, released some frustration as he rigidly stood and shoved his chair into the table.
“And you’re not a team of two,” continued Ducom.
Lee stared at him.
“Rainer will escort you on your mission and provide any support you require,” said Ducom.
“We don’t need backup,” Lee said.
“Hm,” said Ducom. “All the same, she will accompany you.”
Lee’s jaw clenched briefly, then relaxed. He nodded at Rainer, who reciprocated the gesture. Her presence was likely intended to function as Ducom’s spy, but Chase felt he could trust Rainer regardless. They bowed their goodbyes, and began to exit. Ducom returned to his tea as they left.
“Godspeed,” called Ducom. “And don’t forget, Pathfinders, you are the final defense.”