"Champion Six Three, do you read?"
You did. But you were no longer interested in responding to anything that they had to say.
"Champion Six Three, confirm receipt."
You knew your former compatriots. They were thinking, We have all these shiny radio-homing torpedoes we haven't gotten to use, and we hope you're stupid as well as traitorous.
"Champion Six Three, we're assuming your outbound comms are damaged. We'll be watching Sector Six for engine and weapon flares. Signal with whatever you can, standard protocols."
If you're not going to oblige the torpedoes, at least give the gunnery crews something to shoot at. They've got nothing but time and tungsten.
"Champion Six Three, return to base or to any coordinated forces base by any means. All local units have been forwarded your Armour's description, ident, and last known vector."
You cannot run anywhere that your engines will take you.
"—a shame about Six Three. Six Eight didn't come back either, but we found him, still in his Armour. Closed casket job, tragically. But Six Three? Unless we find her or her body, it'll be years until the Officium Legionum re-authorizes a soldier's salary or a pension for her family. Sole support, yes. I'd heard her little brother showed some talent as a painter, was on his way to art sch— what do you mean, it's still on? Turn it—"
A last ruse, and a fairly transparent one. End yourself or let us end you, for your family's sake. I'm sorry, Marius. You'll have to scrounge for paints. But at least you'll never know what I did out here.
You turned your receiver off. Another hour of unpowered coasting flight, and either you'd miss that remote isola, and you'd pray to the ancients for forgiveness, open your cockpit, and take off your helmet, or you'd catch the edge of its gravity field and land carefully, and then you'd do… something. Truth be told, you hadn't thought through this far.
Six Eight — Garsus — had a family too. Hadn't stopped him from mowing down the crowd of other families at that temple with his plasma blade. You'd screamed at him over the local tactical channel to stop, that there was no objective here that justified butchery. He'd laughed and said that butchery of rabble was its own objective, and headed for the next building.
You'd interposed your own Armour, your own blade out. Plasma blade clashes at field power were decided in one or two strikes: the containment systems played hell with each other, and extended swordplay made blades crumple, or twist out of your hand. But you'd spent enough time sparring with better than him back at the Eighteenth Argent Citadel that you didn't need more than two strikes. His blade wrenched out of his gauntlet on his first parry, and with no guard, your second thrust went right through the cockpit. The butcher didn't get a dying word in.
You'd opened your own cockpit, armed the autonomous defense system, and dismounted to see what the townsfolk had died for. You stepped over corpses in the temple entrance, keeping an eye out for survivors, but there were none. Inside, a richly decorated altar, surprisingly ornate for an isola community. A golden disc with an embedded crystal lozenge took pride of place, resting in a niche lined with embroidered red velvet. Your suit flagged it as potentially swarm-active, not currently hazardous.
So you picked it up. These people had died to keep it from… well… you. And your kind. The least you could do is not leave their relic for the rest of Champion Wing to find next to their bodies.
You snapped awake.
Your receiver was definitely still off.
"Who is this?" you demanded of empty space.
"Champion, you're going to miss your landing." The voice was soft, lush, with a hint of pity.
You checked the trajectory plot, the close-range gravimetric sensors and terminal guidance radar. You were indeed going to miss, and your Armour's thrusters were too depleted, its Core too taxed from the last fight and your departure, to correct your path, even at the cost of a very hard landing. So that's that, then.
"You first. You're in my domain, Champion."
"I am Aurelia Tertia Metella, knight, Champion Wing of the Eighteenth Argent, daughter of Martinus Metellus, knight, honorably fallen." Words spoken so many times that you couldn't stop yourself, though half lies now, you supposed.
"Very well. I am—" a burst of interwoven chimes, a noise you hadn't a prayer of repeating. "Some call me She Who Weaves Together, or simply Weaver. And to answer your next question, you're carrying one of my eyes."
"Are you an ancient?"
A gentle laugh. "I've been around a while. Longer than you. Tell me, Champion. You slew one of your own to take this eye from its resting place. Why?"
"Garsus was a monster. So many died, so fast, with no chance. I thought… a gesture. Nothing more. I should have stopped him faster."
"You should have. But had that thread slipped further down the weft, you would not be here. Tell me, do you wish to atone?"
"Nothing I could do would be atonement. I wished to flee."
"But if you could?"
"If I could stop one more Garsus, I would consider my life better spent than up to now."
"You chose your destination well, when you fled. The isola you would have landed on is a place of my people as well, of a more martial bent. They could use you."
"Would that I could join them. But I've failed. I will drift forever."
A series of beeps. You watched the thruster readouts turn from flashing red to healthy green. Somewhere behind you, the Core thrummed with newfound power.
"Oh, Champion," the voice said, "you're not dead yet. Have a little faith."