"Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."
―2 Corinthians 11:14
"Good work, Rabar," the Human named George Brankovič said loudly and slowly. "You do very well for Grunt."
The Unggoy shrugged, a little annoyed at being spoken to as if he were new to the language. He knew both English and the English-Russian dialect spoken by Loonies—inhabitants of Earth's single satellite Luna—fluently. After all, all Covenant warriors knew passable English, and he and his fellows lived here on Luna since the Great War met its end months ago. After Jitji released Unggoy from the Milk, all intellectual capabilities of his kind returned to their full strength. "I thank you, Sir," he said politely, his voice muffled by the mask. He nodded his head.
Rabar had no idea how his Human supervisor could know Unggoy were ill-suited to growing hydroponic wheat. The Covenant trusted all its farming tasks to Sangheili, true, but that was less because of their ability to grow crops and more because of their ability to manage the livestock. Rabar had seen images of the livestock Humans kept: weak animals grown only so their meat could be harvested as if another crop. They were laughable compared to the great beasts the Covenant kept to hone the hunting skills of their Sangheili and Jiralhanae warriors. The main cause of Human death from butchering livestock was through the transmission of some interspecies disease.
When the United Earth Government—whose reach extended well beyond Earth to all Human colonies—placed him in the task of assisting Lunar agriculture, it took some time to acclimate to his new duties. After a few weeks went by, however, he and his fellows soon reached the performance level of the Human workers. A duty was a duty, no matter how alien the technology involved.
George Brankovič slipped his chatter out of his pocket and pressed a button. A two-tone chime sounded, and the device attached to Rabar's wrist flashed as its face depicted the Unggoy's credit number increasing by thirty. That was something else that took some getting used to: credits.
Humans were capitalistic like the Kig-yar and used monetary units called credits, or informally as credaroos, as a way of giving laborers individual power. With credits, he could trade for anything he wanted because everyone else would want his credits to trade as well, so everyone would end up satisfied. At least, that was how the Humans framed it. To Rabar, it seemed one more way of the higher castes abusing the lower castes. Under the Covenant, if he did not perform his duties, his superiors would take away his eating privileges. Under the Humans' benevolent protection, it was much the same, except they would frame it as his fault for failing to exercise his capitalistic power. The Covenant may have been a horrible fascist empire, but they at least were honest about the way they considered some people better than others.
"I thank you, Sir," he repeated, nodding his head. "I will see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, later, Grunty," George Brankovič said, giving a friendly wave.
Wondering how George Brankovič might like to be casually referred to by a derogatory name the Covenant bestowed upon Humanity, Rabar walked over to the exit to wait for his fellows to finish their duties. Though he was eager to return to the Unggoy district, Unggoy were supposed to move in groups whenever possible to reduce risk of attack from xenophobic Humans. He tapped his foot impatiently as he gazed at the time/temperature display on his wrist computer. Why did Unggoy have to be so slow?
He shook his head to rid it of the unfavorable notion. No, that was an unfair stereotype imposed by others onto his race. Unggoy were deliberate, and they had to be in a world ruled by people who considered them lesser.
He sighed. Humans; Covenant; was there any practical difference?
Finally, his fellows finished up, and they together made their way through the tunnels to safer chambers. He was eager to remove the clunky cylindrical gas tanks the Humans made him wear in place of the Covenant-made tank that conformed to his body and held nearly an hour's more methane. The Office of Naval Intelligence insisted that the Covenant garb would make most Humans perceive Unggoy as a threat and continue to be distrustful. Whether or not that was true, it still was annoying.
They passed through the local Human gathering area, filled with soft chairs he presumed were comfortable for Humans. Some Humans were sitting there, eating, talking, or looking at the holotank in the corner of the room. He looked at the holotank, catching glimpse of a news broadcast in the hologram before his eyes registered the Unggoy custodians scrubbing the tank.
He gritted his teeth as he saw the vandalism. Blood-blue letters were painted around the tank, repeating over and over: Jitji Lives!
It was the current slogan of the Unggoy religious movement Jitjism. While he respected it in how it taught the prophet's teachings to those who hadn't the honor of being in the prophet's inner circle, he had some reservations regarding the fanatical devotion of some of the Jitjists taking them as far as vandalism to make their message known.
Nudging a fellow named Wepwe, he gestured at the holotank. "Is it not disgraceful to see what some fellows think of our hosts?"
Wepwe shook his head. "It is just teaching the truth," he whispered. "I would not do that. I would get caught. Those are brave Unggoy that did that."
Rabar pulled back, disappointed that his fellow did not share his viewpoint. He continued eying the text.
Suddenly, the broadcast flickered. A discussion between two female Humans was interrupted, and the image was replaced with a drawing of a legless reptilian creature with its maw open and ready to clamp down on a feathered avian creature used as the symbol of the UNSC.
"Do not trust the ONI bitches," whined a high-pitched electronically distorted voice. "Their purpose is to deceive and disorient, to make the free peoples of the Milky Way puppets for their fascist agenda. We are the Sixth Column. All who oppose the oppressive government, display our symbol." The reptile transformed into an overhead view of an arrangement of columns, five in rigid positions suitable for supporting a roof, while a sixth sat awkwardly off to the side.
Everything then flickered out as the original broadcast slid back into view. "We're all just cells in the body," the rightmost Human continued, unaware of any disruption. "It's our obligation to care for our host. At this rate, we'll end up killing Mother Earth…"
The Unggoy stopped to stare. The Humans stared as well. They all wondered what in the universe that was.
"What in the universe was that?" Admiral Hood demanded of his fellow Security Committee members.
"Whatever it was, it interrupted every UNSC communication I can see," the ONI Section Zero AI Melissa said, her golden avatar appearing on the holotank in the center of the room. It depicted her holding a black-striped hand up to her brow as if to shade her eyes as she searched. "It might have originated from within ONI. I'm running a scan to see if I can track down its source."
"URF?" he asked. Those rebel sons-of-bitches had been restricted to Kenya while the diplomatic meetings were underway, but that only pertained to the invasion fleet. It had been rumored for some time that the URF had placed spies in as deeply as ONI Section Three.
"A rather foolish move if so," Vice Admiral Whitcomb suggested. "They would doom all their chances of seceding peacefully."
"Unless they think it's already doomed," he said. The efforts to make a truce with the Gravemind forced the many factions to come together as one to deal with the common enemy the Flood represented. The end of the war came suddenly and caused everyone to let out a great sigh of relief. Maintaining peace was not so simple, however, and many now held their breath anxiously, waiting for a sign that they were free to inhale. "I wouldn't blame them."
"They would have motive, but I can't say for certain," she said. "My probes keep getting rerouted, always leading me elsewhere in the network recursively. The software in the ONI network must have been reprogrammed so subtly it escaped our notice. Each edit would look meaningless on its own, but together it would function in the manner we witnessed. Whoever did this, they were planning for quite a while."
"Or it was planned and executed by a smart AI in under a week," he countered. "We know the Rainbows have at least one AI powerful enough to accomplish something of this magnitude. It's Rampant."
"Sir, Kurzweil was present at Voi during the transmission," she said. "Not that it proves anything. Smart AIs have been able to create copies of their primary data structures for months, not to mention the size of Rampant AIs. A single one could quickly spread throughout a whole planet's networks."
"Or it could have been Lazarus," Major General Strauss said quietly.
There was a collective pause. The very concept of Lazarus unnerved most Earthlings. It was a modern ghost story, a specter of evil that came from the greatest monster the Earth had ever known. And yet, Lazarus herself had never shown any sign of hostility since coming into being as an AI. She seemed content with simply compiling data in her isolated network.
"Summon 343 Guilty Spark," he told Melissa.
"One moment." She cocked her head, her eyes looking away as if paying attention to an earpiece.
A few seconds later, the Monitor teleported into the room with a golden shimmer. "Yes, Admiral?"
"I presume you registered that rebellious transmission that cut through our communications?" he asked.
"Indeed," the Monitor said. "If you wish, I can give your scientists the technology to protect your radio waves by sending Slipstream bundles…"
"That would be excellent, Monitor, but it will have to wait," he interrupted. "I'd like you to personally inspect the Lazarus system and make sure that there's no way she could access any other network."
The Monitor floated closer to him in what he interpreted as a quizzical expression. "Of course. Containment of the Lazarus construct is a priority. Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"That will be all for now," he said, raising his hand in a dismissal.
The Monitor teleported away to do its work.