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.
“The Atrox are coming,” said Diaz.
“So I’ve been told,” said Chase.
“Then you know the odds are against us. Your abilities can change that.”
“You don’t know that.”
“In any case, USF does not conscript. This is your choice.”
“Then the answer is no. I’m not a soldier.”
“We have soldiers, what we need is you.”
Chase regarded him. “Gifted variants are common enough, find another.”
“Not like you. Humanity needs you, Alex.”
“I don’t care.”
Chase couldn’t sleep.
It was his second night at the Shi Yang Academy, but he hadn’t slept since he left home. He kept his eyes closed and lay perfectly still in bed as a courtesy to his bunkmate and a desperate attempt to entreat dormancy. In fourteen seconds, the room’s lights would come on and his third day of boot camp would begin.
Would he be at his best?
But would he be the best?
The lights came on. Chase was dressed and on his way to the mess hall before any of the other cadets were out of bed. Most of them would assume his haste was born from fervor, but in truth it was his desire to be left alone. They weren’t his peers. They were the soldiers he would sacrifice in ten years’ time, if he had to.
After chasing his breakfast with two cups of black coffee, Chase left the mess hall just as the first of the cadets were beginning to arrive, many still muddled from their sleep. One of them grabbed his arm as he exited the mess. He recognized her as one of the cadets from his barrack, the name Stanley embroidered on her uniform.
“You should eat with us today,” she said.
“I’ve eaten,” said Chase, shrugging her arm off.
“Haven’t you heard?” A tall cadet with jagged features approached them, flanked on either side by two cadets maybe a few years older than Chase. “This is Alexander Chase. Be respectful, we’ll all be under his command in a few years,” he said, straddling the line between facetious and mocking.
The tactic was intended to diminish Chase. Make him doubt himself. But it was child’s play. Chase pushed past them, gauging their strength as they made contact, and letting them know that their physicality didn’t intimidate him. He could hear them laughing as he turned down a corridor, increasing his pace.
Shi Yang Academy was not the only USF training facility in the allied Citadels, but it was among the most renowned, known for its specialization in the training of variants. As such, the intensity of the training didn’t surprise Chase. Advanced mathematics, omnidirectional combat strategy, the anatomy of modern Cygni vessels. But it was the physical testing and hand-to-hand combat exercises when Chase felt the most eyes on him. As the tall cadet, whose name he later learned was Harlan, observed - Chase had a reputation at the academy. The cadets, the captains, the professors - they were all beginning to learn who he was, who he was supposed to be, and when they did, they would be waiting for him to crack.
Arriving at the athletics concourse, he was surprised to see another cadet already there, her hazel eyes locked to a tablet in her palms. She paid him no mind as he stretched and shadowboxed, preparing for his first sparring match of the morning.
The girl retrieved what appeared to be a mechanical puzzle cube from her bag, the hexagonal plates on its surface inscribed with integers. Chase watched curiously as she slid its pieces around, scrutinizing its patterns.
“Can I see?” he asked, surprised by his own candidness.
The girl was startled out of focus, then offered him the cube.
Chase studied it, moving its pieces experimentally, examining the hundreds of possible algorithms he could perform to align its integers correctly. To his surprise, none divined a solution. He handed the cube back to the girl, who returned it to her bag.
“I’m Alex,” said Chase.
The girl turned away, her purple hair breaking his line of sight. “I know.”
The cadets and instructors trailed in over the next ten minutes. His sparring partner was a lanky cadet named Rick, who offered his hand to Chase before the fight. Chase analyzed the gesture, and decided it was unwise to accept it, regardless of its sincerity. Rick shrugged and moved to the farside of the mat. Their cohort consisted of 186 cadets, of which twelve remained undefeated in hand-to-hand combat skirmishes, Rick and Chase among them.
“Begin,” called Captain Jarvela, the senior combat training officer.
The room immediately filled with the sounds of their scrimmages. All 186 cadets engaged each other in a flurry of strikes, dodges, and ripostes. Rick adopted a low stance and came at him aggressively, lunging out with a series of strikes which looked based in combat sambo. Chase conserved his energy, deflecting the attacks while keeping his hips primed to deliver a vicious kick as punishment should Rick overcommit.
Rick withdrew and changed to a medium stance, flat palms hovering in front of his head. Chase pursued him with a powerful stride forward, releasing a pair of kicks aimed at Rick’s chest. The first which came from his left leg was a ploy not meant to connect, but clear the way for his right leg when Rick parried it. It was a simple move that he had already used to knockout an opponent on the first day.
Rick let the first kick connect and caught the second, halting Chase’s foot centimeters away from his chest. He twisted, and Chase was forced into a backward stumble to avoid rolling his ankle. Rick pursued his advantage and delivered an openhanded blow to Chase’s left ear. Pain surged through his synapses.
Don’t panic. Adapt.
Getting hit wasn’t part of his fighting strategy, but it could be. He had milliseconds before his error would be apparent to onlookers. Chase channeled the momentum of his stumble into a sweeping kick. Rick jumped shallowly to avoid the attack and Chase closed the gap between them, launching himself off the ground and distributing a calculated series of blows to Rick’s internal organs.
Rick crumpled to the floor, eyes bulging and bloodshot.
The room slowly went silent, all eyes turning to face them. Between the armor in their uniforms and the nanites in their bodies, cadets didn’t have to pull their punches. Even if someone did get injured or knocked out, that would be little more than a bruised thumb for the USF medical division. But what Chase had done was brutal nonetheless.
Chase realized he was still standing over Rick, fists still raised and guarded. This wasn’t a good look. He relaxed his posture and extended a hand.
“Hey, uh, are you alright?” said Chase.
“Stay away,” croaked Rick, pushing himself away from Chase.
Chase froze. “I’m sorry. I’m… I’m…”
Jarvela waved some cadets over to help escort Rick to medical. Chase took the commotion as a chance to leave as discreetly as he could. No one tried to stop him. A few, including Harlan, were glaring at him. He thought he saw a sympathetic face, maybe the girl with the hazel eyes, but he dismissed the notion as wishful.
Chase thought he would be deposed or punished for his actions, but to his surprise none came, aside from Jarvela informing him that Rick was going to be fully recovered by tomorrow morning.
Harlan and his entourage approached him in the barracks that evening, their demeanor more severe than their morning mockery. Chase straightened his back, letting them surround him. Curious eyes from other cadets occasionally lingered before flickering away, wanting no part in the confrontation. Their witness account was his best defense against any of Harlan’s aggression, yet Chase couldn’t help but size up the three boys, wondering if he could beat them if he made the first move.
“So you’re our savior, are you?” said Harlan. “The one who’s going to protect us against this Atrox threat, if it even exists.”
Chase stared at him.
“You look like a killer with an ego to me,” said Harlan.
“Just a killer with a reputation,” said Chase.
“That guy you fought this morning, Rick, he’s a friend of mine. Medical says he might be out for a while with the beating you laid on him.”
Chase raised an eyebrow. “I heard he was going to be back tomorrow.”
“Is that what they told you?” said Harlan, smiling. “You are naive.”
“And you’re a bad liar,” said Chase.
Harlan glanced at the other boys standing behind Chase, calling them off.
“There’s only six of us who are undefeated now,” said Harlan. “Odds are good we’ll be facing each other tomorrow. Provided you don’t run away again, Savior.”
They left him, returning to their bunks. Chase glared around the room at loitering observers, his blue eyes ablaze with peaceful ire. He didn’t need their sympathy. And he certainly didn’t need their help.
From what he gathered from the whispers around the academy during the morning’s lectures and exercises, the other cadets had taken to calling him ‘Savior.’ Word spread fast, and Harlan had influence. Despite his resolve, Chase couldn’t help but picture Rick’s bulging eyes every time he heard it.
Skirmishing was the last item of the day, and Harlan and Chase had indeed been paired up. Overstimulated from sleep deprivation and hours of intense study, even Chase couldn’t parse if he was anxious or not for the fight. Part of him just wanted it to be over, regardless of outcome.
Everything was quiet on the athletics concourse as Harlan and Chase squared up.
“Eyes to your own opponent,” called Jarvela, quelling the herd of onlookers.
Harlan stared at Chase, a calm fury defining his jagged face. The prospect of throwing the fight had crossed Chase’s mind. The thought wasn’t entirely unappealing. Then he remembered what Diaz had told him, and he raised himself to the balls of his feet, coiled like a snake.
“Begin-” the last syllable was barely out of Jarvela’s mouth before the first blow in their fight had been struck. It would also be the last. The blow came with a deafening crack as fist met flesh, returning the attention of the concourse solely to them.
Chase stood panting where Harlan had been. Harlan lay on the ground four meters away, Chase’s attack having knocked him fully unconscious, badly breaking his nose, and sending him flying backward before skidding along the ground. The whole fight had taken less than half a second.
Chase shrugged. “You said begin.”
Variant speed, strength, and other abilities had been well-documented and studied since their emergence thirty-six years prior, but Chase was an outlier, projected to be the most gifted variant ever seen in the Citadels. Using the full capacity of his abilities on someone so young was excessive, but necessary. A message had to be sent. Yes, he was their Savior.
And he was done apologizing for it.
The rest of the evening was personal time, Chase’s cohort dispersing among their barracks, Shi Yang’s libraries or recreational offerings including the simulators and sports venues. They all gave him a wide berth as he aimlessly walked through the academy’s plazas. Even the Stanley girl who had invited him to eat with her and her friends a few nights earlier barely made eye contact with him. But that was okay. They weren’t his peers, he told himself.
A iridescent glint of color caught his eye as he passed a courtyard. Turning to face it, it belonged to the purple hair of the hazel-eyed girl, who was sitting against an oak tree, consulting a textbook while she fiddled with a small mechanical device.
“Can I join you?” said Chase.
She didn’t recoil this time, just tilted her head at him curiously, then nodded. For a while he just sat with her, not knowing what to say, wondering if she had agreed to his company out of fear.
“It was a mistake to hurt that boy,” she said.
Chase considered this. “He threatened me.”
“He’s a brother-in-arms.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Then you should be helping him,” she said.
Chase shrugged. “They don’t want my help. They know I’m not one of them.”
“An opinion you forced on them.”
“Maybe,” said Chase. “My dad used to say it’s better to be feared than loved.”
She turned away. Chase felt a lump in his gut form. He tapped her shoulder.
“Can I see that puzzle cube again?”
She retrieved it from her bag and handed it to him. Once again, the integers across the hexagonal plates refused to conform to a solution. He frowned. “I can’t solve it.”
The girl took the cube and after a few moves presented it back to him, the hexagonal plates now arranged to form a continuous rainbow effect, transitioning from blue to violet to red and back again. The integers remained scrambled, not organized in any particular order.
“The numbers don’t match,” protested Chase.
“They don’t have to,” she said. “The puzzle was the colors. The numbers were just leftovers from when I used the materials for a different puzzle.”
Chase felt cheated. “You could have told me.”
“You didn’t ask.”
Chase spotted Harlan exiting a hallway into the foyer adjacent the courtyard. His nose was bandaged, but he appeared to be remarkably healthy given the injury he had suffered just a few hours earlier. Harlan paused as they made eye contact. There was no more malice in Harlan’s eyes. He was beaten, humiliated. He shook his head and continued through the foyer, disappearing out of sight a moment later.
“You should apologize,” said the girl.
“I can’t,” said Chase. “I don’t know how.”
“Choosing fear over love is an antiquated idea written by an angry old man who died a half-millennia ago.”
“That’s most of human philosophy, really,” said Chase bitterly.
“Start with ‘sorry’,” she said.
Chase stood. “What’s your name?” he asked.
She shrunk a little. “Mila. Mila Marin.”
“Mila,” he said.
He nodded his thanks to her, then set off after Harlan.
“It’s okay if you fail,” said Diaz.
“It could mean the end of humanity,” said Chase.
“Failure is a part of humanity.”
“You can’t ask me to carry that.”
Diaz rested a hand on Chase’s shoulder. “I am only asking that you try.”
“There really is no one else?”
“If there is, they haven’t been born yet. We need you.”
Chase looked skyward.
“I need you,” said Diaz.