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.
In the passenger area of the Pathfinder troopcarrier, Chase and Lee sat little more than a few meters apart. Lee was dressed in USF formalwear, though the girth of the material suggested it was lined with body armor. Short dark hair fell around his face, casting shadows on his equally dark eyes. Lee reviewed mission briefings and dossiers from a tablet, his gaze flickering from word to word at a speed unknown even to most variants. Chase meditated, trying to alleviate the pressure Lee’s presence cast on the room.
Despite their notoriety, the Pathfinders had always been one of the most enigmatic companies in the United Sol Federation. A special forces unit originated during the AI War, it was widely believed their mandate was intelligence acquisition and covert operations against non-human threats, though this was an estimation at best. The only constant known truth about the Pathfinders was their leader, the man sitting in front of him: Charlemagne Lee. A living legend in his own right, despite his best efforts to live privately.
“Valen speaks highly of you,” said Lee abruptly.
The use of Admiral Diaz’ first name unsettled Chase.
“Yes, sir,” said Chase.
Lee smirked. “Alex Chase, born on Mars to a civilian family,” he read from his tablet, “reached convergence during infancy, variant abilities in the ninety-ninth percentile by age eight, enlisted with the USF at fifteen. So USF records state anyway.”
“The records are accurate, sir,” said Chase.
“You can relax the formalities,” said Lee. “You’re not at Shi Yang anymore.”
“What should I call you?”
“Lee preferably. Anything but Charlemagne, really.”
Chase considered this. “I’d prefer to keep the formalities for now, sir.”
“I see,” said Lee. “Tell me Chase, do you believe there’s merit to your reputation?”
This line of questioning felt like a trap, something designed to probe for flaws, arrogance, or ego.
“I don’t know how to answer, sir,” said Chase.
“I never knew how to answer it either,” said Lee. “I sometimes wish I placed stock in how others saw me, but I can’t bring myself to see it’s relevance.”
Records showed that Lee was a refugee who enlisted in the newly founded USF during the AI War, and his subsequent role in Omega’s eventual defeat as the head of the Pathfinders. Even so, it was all minute compared to Lee’s discovery in 2119, when he became the first human to ever encounter alien life.
Allegedly, anyway. When he testified before the USF Council and other Citadel tribunals, many assumed he was mad. Not without warrant either. Lee had been missing for two years at the time of his return. Sent on a deep space survey mission by Diaz and returning nearly dead in a damaged vessel without his fleet, he claimed to have been ravaged by an “Atrox armada.” His words. The circumstances were against him, though Lee remained composed through each tribunal’s scrutiny.
Despite Lee’s resolve, many still doubted the Atrox’s existence. Chase wasn’t surprised, it was the easier option. The Nexus Citadel went as far as to orchestrate a smear campaign against Lee, casting him as a pawn of USF propaganda designed to elicit terror in the unallied Citadels. The USF supported Lee through all of it, and reinstated him as a Fleet Commander with a newly commissioned Pathfinder fleet at his request upon the tribunals’ conclusion. All of this was to say Chase knew that reputation mattered a great deal for people like them, and Lee’s dismissal seemed permissively naive.
“You have permission to ask questions,” said Lee.
Chase paused. His expression must have yielded his concerns.
“What were they like?” he finally asked.
Lee sighed. Clearly this line of questioning had passed the point of familiarity a long time ago. Yet it was the only question Chase wanted answered.
“Invincible,” said Lee. “And despite what Nexus would have you believe, I am not being hyperbolic.”
Chase considered pursuing the subject further, but determined it would be a fruitless venture. Lee had spoken his piece on the Atrox hundreds of times already. There was nothing more he had to say.
“What’s our current mission, sir?” asked Chase, realizing he didn’t actually know where the troopcarrier was taking them.
“Macquarie Station,” said Lee.
“One of ours?”
“Not officially, but yes. The nature of their research is… sensitive.”
“Where do we come in?”
“Reavers heading toward the station were detected by a survey team. Macquarie’s only real defense is that it’s hidden, but somehow their location was discovered. They need our support while they prepare to evacuate.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to help. Who’s administering the attack?” asked Chase.
“We don’t know.”
Chase frowned. “What if they’re from Nexus? What if we start a war?”
“Then we start a war,” said Lee sharply. “Leave morality to me. We don’t need two bad decisions being made. Just the one. Mine. Understand?”
“The USF doesn’t act on partial intel,” insisted Chase.
“If that were true, we’d never act at all,” said Lee.
Before Chase could protest, his vision stretched as the troopcarrier dropped out of Godspeed. Glancing outside, dozens of unmarked vessels flanked a Centurion in the process of dispensing fighters from its hangar. Chase’s pulse quickened. It was the most advanced fleet he had ever seen. The fleet of the Pathfinders.
Behind the fleet was Macquarie Station, a massive spire of columned metal encircled by a network of appendages gently spiraling around it. The size of the station diminished even the Pathfinder Centurion by comparison, making the concept of trying to keep such a large construction hidden seem nonsensical.
Lee unclipped his harness and moved toward the door to the cockpit. In the doorframe, he turned back to Chase.
“You wear your ideals well,” he said. “I can see why Valen likes you.”
The Centurion’s designation was the USF Tenjin, though unlike normal USF vessels, the name was not engraved or painted anywhere on its hull. It was a special forces design, an incognito facade masking a procession of state of the art weaponry. As they docked in the Tenjin’s hangar, Chase noted the relatively minimal crew present aboard, perhaps a third or as half as many as he was used to seeing on a Centurion. They were all likely hand picked by Lee or his Lieutenant Commander, among the best in their field, and vetted for their discretion.
A large, muscular man greeted them as Chase and Lee exited the troopcarrier, a pair of wiry, ovular glasses resting on his face.
“Alexei, this is our new provisional Captain, Alexander Chase,” said Lee.
The man offered his hand to Chase.
“Lieutenant Commander Alexei Petrov,” he said. “Welcome aboard.”
Lieutenant Commanders occupied a variety of roles in a fleet. Judging from Petrov’s familiar disposition with Lee, Chase assumed he was the Tenjin’s communication officer, the person who would relay orders from the Fleet Commander to the squadrons. Chase shook his hand.
“Captain Chase,” replied Chase, his new title feeling odd on his tongue.
“Report,” said Lee.
“Reavers ETA is one hour,” said Petrov. “Our fleet is mobilizing to a defensive position around Macquarie.”
“Escort Chase to the fighters,” said Lee. “He’ll be leading Halliday’s squadron today.”
“Understood,” said Petrov.
Lee turned to Chase. “Good hunting, Captain.”
After changing into a flight suit, Chase boarded the new fighter which had been assigned to him, an SF-02R Interceptor not unlike the SF-02 models he had flown back on Mars. Exiting the hangar into empty space, he felt the power of its thrusters tense with every contact he made with the throttle. This is what he had been training for.
Painting a crescent line with his fighter’s contrail as he peeled away from the Tenjin, Chase charted a course toward the rendezvous point with his squadron. There were six of them in total, four in SF-02R Interceptors including Chase, and two in the larger, wingless SF-04 Mitigator fighters. He connected to their comms.
“This is Captain Chase,” he said. “Introductions will have to wait. Reavers are inbound, assume echelon formation parallel to their projected Godspeed entry point.”
Chase exhaled. These pilots were older than he was, with years of combat experience to their name. He quelled his disconfidence as he awaited their reply.
“Roger,” said one of the pilots.
“Wilco, sir,” said another.
The other three sent nonverbal affirmations to his feed, and the six of them took formation, lining up quickly and effortlessly, the four Interceptors flanked by the Mitigators.
The mission briefing suggested the reavers outnumbered them, but were likely lower tech vessels piloted by less experienced pilots. Even so, mission briefings could be wrong, and mistakes could be made, even by the Pathfinders.
“Incoming,” buzzed Petrov over comms.
Chase’s HUD lit up with enemy vessel signatures as dozens of enemy fighters and destroyers dropped out of Godspeed a few kilometers in front of them. The Pathfinder fleet was arrayed between the reavers and Macquarie Station. A few milliseconds passed before Chase took action.
“Halliday, Wells, Santos, on me,” he called to his squad, reading their names from their vessel’s callsign. He hit the throttle on his own Interceptor. “Winters, Tran, take the lead and provide covering fire until we engage,” he said to the Mitigator pilots.
The six fighters accelerated forward. Chase was jerked against his seat by the sudden burst of speed. Any disorientation the enemy had from dropping out of Godspeed was his advantage. Chase’s regard for who this enemy might be and what consequences their destruction might bring abandoned him. There was nothing holding him back now.
The black canvas of space became dotted with lights and smoke as the two fleets opened fire on one another. Hundreds of ballistic missiles trailing tails of white painted his vision; neon plasma beams illuminated the battlefield for fractions of a second before being pacified by a Centurion’s automated shielding.
“Targets are painted, captains,” said Petrov. “Chase, you’re on amber.”
As his HUD categorized the enemy vessels according to Petrov’s mark, he sharply adjusted the incline of his fighter to meet the reavers marked in amber. His squadron followed, Winters and Tran overtaking him from below in their Mitigators.
The rest of the Pathfinder fleet surged forward around him, squadrons of fighters moving to engage their marks. Slowly the crimson, cobalt, and silver marks began disappearing from his HUD as the Pathfinders engaged the enemy. Chase focused as his squadron approached the firing range of the amber targets.
“Engaging in four, three, two, one,” said Tran.
The Mitigators unleashed a salvo of missiles locking onto the enemy reavers, which in turn began to disperse. Most of the missiles were shot down by coilgun countermeasures, exploding into white and blue halos of fire and energy. The amber fighters were not nearly as advanced as the SF-02R Interceptors, but still capable of evading the Mitigators’ missiles that penetrated their defenses.
“Sixteen marks in amber, Captain,” said Petrov, relaying orders from Lee. “No other reavers in your domain. Proceed at your discretion.”
“Disperse and engage at will,” ordered Chase. “Prioritize the attacking fighters, we’ll get the support vessels after.”
His squadron all sent affirmative messages to his feed, then peeled off in different directions in pursuit of their marks. Not even a minute into the battle and already debris from damaged vessels populated the battlefield, light glinting off the battered wings and broken cockpits from the nearby plasma fire.
Chase hastened after two enemy reavers pulling upward to avoid the Mitigator salvo. He pulled in range of the closer one and discharged a pair of missiles. At this range there was little time for them to react, but just to be sure he also fired the plasma beam attached to his fighter’s underside. All of his attacks connected, and the reaver exploded.
The second reaver adjusted course and attempted to flank him, firing a salvo of missiles that triggered a barrage of warning alerts in Chase’s cockpit. Chase shot down the nearest missile, and under the cover of its ensuing blast flipped his Interceptor and darted through the dissipating burst before the reaver could react. Having regained the initiative, he positioned himself behind the enemy reaver and charged after it.
A plasma blast from the Tenjin tore between them, the reaver used the opportunity to peel upwards. Chase twisted his fighter, tightly drifting around the plasma and maintained this pursuit. The Tenjin’s blast connected with an enemy destroyer, dispersing fast-moving debris through the domain. The reaver cut a neat path through it all, aiming to regroup with the cobalt reavers above them. Their contrails painted harsh strokes as they navigated the battlefield’s growing wreckages at top speed.
Muted grunting noises grew louder in Chase’s throat as the strain of the engagement began to weigh on him, his HUD clocking the g-forces of acceleration as ninety and rising. Straining to stay conscious, he pushed his nanites to their limit, quickening his heartbeat, tightening his arteries, increasing the blood flow to his brain.
Four reavers approached from above and below him, all colored in non-amber marks. Chase tightened his grip on the stick.
“Come on, come on,” muttered Chase between grunts.
“You alright, Cap?” asked Halliday.
“Four reavers on me,” said Chase. “Crimson and silver marks.”
“Orders, sir?” she asked.
He just needed to take out the first reaver and then he could turn on the others. Chase expelled all other thoughts and focused on lining up his target. His HUD indicated he had almost reached a lockon, but the reaver was proving elusive. Sweat dripped from his brow and rolled down his face. The new reavers adjusted their course to cut him off. Chase had seconds before they would be locked on, even with his Interceptor’s speed. That was okay. He could dodge their salvo if he had to. A few more seconds and he could get a lock-
The reaver he was pursuing exploded in front of him. Chase winced. Another Interceptor, Halliday’s, suddenly burst through the explosion in a barrel roll. Even through his adrenaline, Chase had to admire the pilot’s smooth flight pattern.
“I got you, Cap,” said Halliday cheerfully.
“Appreciated, Lieutenant,” said Chase, exhaling deeply.
Evading the four pursuing reavers was easy with his full attention devoted to them. The SF-02R Interceptor was remarkably nimble despite its larger arsenal of weaponry. With Halliday supporting him, he eviscerated the non-amber fighters with a barrage of coordinated plasma fire.
No more rogue reavers entered their domain, and Chase’s squadron was able to swiftly dispatch the remaining amber vessels.
“Domain supremacy over amber,” said Chase to the Tenjin bridge.
The battle was largely won at this point. All that remained was for the last of the enemy forces to retreat to a warp-capable vessel and evacuate. Chase hoped they were going to order him after pursuing stragglers, but he doubted it given this was a defense mission; opening pursuit or abandoning his domain might leave a gap the enemy could exploit to land an attack on the station.
“Return to the Tenjin, Captain,” said Petrov. “Take your squad to debrief, then Commander Lee has asked to see you.”
“Acknowledged. Chase over and out,” said Chase, mind already racing with the possibilities of what Lee wanted with him.
“We going home, Captain?” said Tran.
“Affirmative,” said Chase.
“Hey,” said Halliday. “Nice flying today, rookie.”
“Captain,” Chase corrected.
“Captain Rookie,” Halliday replied.
Chase allowed himself a small smile.