Rabar looked with dismay at the graffiti that decorated the walls of the common room of the second sector of the Unggoy district. He could put up with the religious messages declaring the continued life of Jitji, but the Sixth Column sign—freshly painted with tomato sauce, no doubt representing Human blood—was too much for him to handle.
He jumped up onto the nearest table and waved to get attention before calling out, "Fellow Unggoy, please, heed my words! The Humans must not be disrespected in this manner!" He pointed, aghast, at the Sixth Column sign. "I know most of you are unhappy with the UEG—I am as well—but they are our hosts! We must not be so ungracious!"
"Who are you to speak?" asked a fellow covered in the colorful body paint of a dancer. Rabar thought the way its yellows framed the dancer's eyes made him look uncomfortably like a Kig-yar. "You act like a preacher, but you sound like a monkey."
Monkey… That was a slur that came about when Unggoy first started living among Humans. It referred to an Unggoy who assumed a submissive role in relation to Humans akin to the pages of Sangheili when Unggoy were under the rule of the Covenant. It referenced the diminutive Earth animal that bore a resemblance to Humans. The kind of Unggoy called monkeys were not true Unggoy, but instead wanted to be Humans themselves.
He ground his teeth. "I am no monkey! I am simply a warrior who knows better than to treat allies so disgracefully. It is an insult to Jitji and his council to treat the alliance they forged so lightly!"
Another fellow spoke up, "Jitji forged that alliance to free us from Sangheili rule. Now that we are out of their grasp, we haven't a need for the UEG."
"You want war?" he demanded. "More bloodshed, more suffering? I cannot imagine that would be what Jitji would want for us. In his broadcasts, he spoke of war to achieve freedom and to slay the Sangheili that would take it from us. Though we are mistreated as a result of this capitalistic society, we are not prisoners bound to Milk as under Sangheili and false prophet rule."
"Very well said!"
He turned to see a Jitjist cleric—wearing a dark green robe referencing the oh-so poor and helpless victimized Flood—giving him a deep bow. "Thank you," he said, nodding his head in respect.
The cleric leaped up to the table and joined him. "Indeed," he called out to the crowd, "our prophet Jitji saw the Humans as our friends and allies. It was not this Sixth Column which assisted our revolution, but the bold United Nations Space Command, and it is to them we are indebted. Whoever drew this symbol not only dishonors them; he dishonors Jitji himself!"
Now that this Unggoy of the cloth joined him, the people stood at attention. "That's right!" they agreed.
"Now let us restore honor to Jitji's name by together cleaning the wall of that horrid symbol," the cleric proclaimed. "But first, I wish to speak to you." He nodded at Rabar.
"Of course," he said, hopping off the table. He stepped off to the side, and the cleric joined him.
"I should formally introduce myself," the cleric said. "I am Master Dedet, of the Jitjist Council. We of the Council have been searching for passionate, well-spoken Unggoy to spread word of the prophet's wisdom. What is your name, fellow?"
"Rabar," he said, not liking the direction this headed.
"Rabar," Master Dedet said, "I would like you to join us and train to become a true preacher. Would you find that a worthy service?"
"Very worthy," he said. "However, I must decline, Master Dedet. I have a promising career as a farmer, and I have no patience for long sermons, I am afraid."
"Well, if you change your mind, I can be found in Sector Four," Master Dedet said, bowing his head. "Now, let us clean up that wall."
He nodded and went for cleaning supplies. He was grateful it was that easy to decline. As much as he appreciated some spirituality in his life, the Jitjists were proud of their devotion to the point of pretention, and he had no desire to spend most of his time among them. Moreover, he worried about what future Unggoy society had for it if religious authority was to be as present as in the false prophet regime.
He sighed. Unggoy social issues were so complicated. No wonder the Sangheili so failed to govern their free spirit; they never had to deal with anything like that in their homogenous society.
A lone Sangheili stood on a precipice. It was a cold night on the Sangheili homeworld of Sanghelios, and the moon Suban was visible hanging over his head. "My life has been wasted," he cried, groaning with sorrow. "I trained to be a warrior as was expected of me. My entire culture is based around fighting. I believed the false prophets when they said the Humans were evil, but now I know they are good. Those who called themselves prophets were lying all the time. Now I realize that I did evil when I thought I did good. I am sinful, and now I will throw myself from this cliff. Goodbye, cruel world."
"Wait, brother!" came a voice. "Do not throw away God's gift!"
He turned around to see another Sangheili coming up behind him. This one wore a necklace that bore a strange symbol, a pair of metal bars joined together perpendicularly with a vertical bar meeting at the center of the horizontal bar. The horizontal bar did not bisect the vertical one, however; it sat higher than the center. This symbol dominated the newcomer's appearance. "Who are you?"
"Just one of God's servants," the newcomer replied. "He sent me to make sure you did not commit the crime of suicide."
"I no longer believe in the gods, my friend," he said. "Those were just the lies of the false prophets. Believing in them made me sinful because it made me kill the Humans, who were innocent victims. I am evil, and I will now die for my sins."
"Do not misunderstand," the newcomer said. "I do not mean the false gods but the true God, creator of the universe and master of us all. You do not need to die for your sins because God already sent his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross at the hands of his children. He sacrificed his only son so that we may find salvation. If you, as I have done, accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you will experience true spiritual fulfillment."
"God gave up his only son to die for our sins?" he gasped. "What a good leader to care so much for his people!"
"God is merciful and just," the newcomer agreed. "He asks only that you believe in him and recognize that Jesus Christ shed his holy blood to free you from sin. Recognize that he is the Lord, your God, and you will be saved. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. He will forgive your transgressions and remember them no more."
"That is all he asks?" he repeated. "Well, of course I will! But what shall I do with my life? I spent my whole life training to be a warrior."
"You still can be, my brother," the newcomer said. "You can be a warrior for God. There is an enemy out there greater than you can imagine: the beast Satan. God himself is a warrior who fights against Satan, the spirit of evil, and you can too. Satan's influence is all around us, trying to drown our brothers in sin, to take them away from the mercies of God, and we must wear the armor of God and fight him."
"Satan? Such evil exists? Why, I…"
"I have seen enough," the Arbiter said, waving a hand through the hologram to halt its playback. He had been called to the office of the Sanghelios Minister of Information for comment on the video he just watched. The Human organization Nonhumanitarians United was offering aid to the Sangheili people, espousing a desire to help those who were impoverished as a result of the Covenant's flawed management, but they also wanted to broadcast their religious tract.
"Your thoughts, Arbiter?" Minister 'Konguree asked, clicking his mandibles together.
"It is dangerous," he said, musing. "The Humans seek to impose their religion upon us…"
"As we would have to them," 'Konguree said.
"No, the Covenant would," he corrected. "We are free Sangheili. What we would have done under the rule of the Covenant is irrelevant."
"And it is true that our spirituality has been irreparably damaged by the fall of the Covenant," 'Konguree continued. "This tract, though I find it somewhat… lacking in verisimilitude… It seeks to address that problem. While the mythology is strange, and I see no reason to believe that it reflects reality, I must admit that it makes me want to believe."
"Indeed," the Arbiter said flatly. He felt annoyed. After all the work he did to rescue his people from the lies of the Prophets, here was a fellow warrior ready to jump into submission to a false single god. "This tract could promote discontent among our people. This would anger the more radical reactionary segments of our population. They would attempt grievous harm upon these Human missionaries. That would harm the treaty."
"So you believe it should not be broadcasted?"
"Yes, I do."
Johnson landed nimbly upon the rooftop, his Flood-altered legs easily absorbing the shock.
Reynolds shuddered in his arms as he awoke. "Is it Christmas?" he cried.
Johnson dropped the rebel to the cracked concrete floor. "Hardly."
Reynolds scrambled to his feet. "Ta me de," he swore as he took in the sight of the collapsing building. "The Spartan?"
He waved at the building. "Somewhere in there."
Reynolds eyed the building. He cupped his hands over his mouth and bellowed, "Yoohoo! Randy, you alive?"
There was no response but the echoes of the thunderous crash.
"Maybe now you'll think twice before coming after me," he suggested, cracking his knuckles against the side of his face. "But, no, I suspect you won't."
Reynolds shrugged. "You blew up a Columners' outpost. Not many of those around, are there? You got lucky this time. Next time, they might gun you down from a Pelican. I practically had to bully Randy into trying to take you alive."
"Very nice of you," he said sarcastically.
"Well, that's how it is," Reynolds said. "This Flood thing needs to be taken care of. You're not the first this happened to, you know. There was another case on Halo. Man had control for a bit, but the monster in him became dominant. How long before your monster takes the wheel, Johnson?"
"I'm in complete control," he said, willing his voice to carry the conviction he lacked. The infestation stirred in back of his mind, as if it heard its name. It began to whisper silently in his ear, urging violent action.
"Sure," Reynolds said. "Now, y'are. What about in a month from now? A year? Ten? You're honestly sayin' you'll never lose control? That the urge to kill will never dominate your thoughts? You'll never start thinkin', 'Hey, I turned off the Ark, the universe owes me a killin' or two'?"
"No," he said, though he knew the rebel was right. The infestation made him want to kill Reynolds right now. He could so easily wrap his tentacle around the rebel's neck and snap it. He could suppress the monster for now, but Reynolds had a point. Someday… it might overcome him.
"And then there's the matter of the Flood," Reynolds continued as if he hadn't heard him. "One day you might start makin' spores, and then we'd have another crisis on our hands. I don't think the 'Mind can control them where it is, all digified. If it were me that were Floodified, I like to think I'd be decent enough to hop in a volcano or some such to prevent another outbreak. You just gonna stick your head in the ground and pretend you're not whatcha are? And here I thought Sergeant Major Avery Johnson was a loyal soldier sworn to defend Earth and all her colonies."
"So, what?" he asked. "You want me to come quietly so your scientists can poke at me like a lab rat?"
"Meh, I figure it's some such like that," he said with a shrug. "Never did ask, myself. Best case scenario, though, innit? You surrender to ONI, they'll just kill you. Probably make it hell too."
"And your scientists won't?" he asked skeptically.
"Trust me, if there's one thing Rainbows don't want, it's to be like ONI," Reynolds said, referencing the Rainbow Tribe of rebels. Rainbows were hippies with guns. They would kill you in the name of peace and harmony, and then sing Kumbaya afterward.
"Rainbows, huh?" He chuckled. He couldn't see the rebel wearing their seven colors seriously. "That your faction, Reynolds?"
"Hell no," the rebel said. "Objectivist, born and raised. Just working with the Rainbows 'cause they've got all the nice toys: ships, AIs, Morlock 'fore you crushed him…"
They together looked over at the pile of rubble. There was no sign of the faux Spartan, whatever his name was.
"The Rainbows are getting things done," Reynolds concluded. "Looks like we're gonna secede after all. The Lazarus—that's the Gravemind—Project really won them over at the UEG."
"It's a bad idea," he said. He meant the Gravemind, but it extended to the Insurrection. The UEG didn't negotiate with terrorists and it was a bad time to start.
"Maybe," Reynolds said. "On the other hand, maybe it's the start of something great. Galactic Peace, perhaps?"
"Sometimes war is justified," he said. Truth was, he agreed with some of the rebel rhetoric. Seceding from the UEG was best for a lot of the colonies.
It didn't justify terrorism, though. These rebels would detonate nukes in cities full of civilians just to make a point. Their war was not only to achieve independence but to justify the murder of innocents. For that reason, the rebels could not be allowed to have their goals met. Justice had to be done, and that meant locking them away like with any other criminals.
"Ain't that the truth," Reynolds agreed with a sigh, likely thinking the exact opposite.
A loud clatter came from the pile. Debris was thrown left and right as Randy crawled out of the mess. He was hurt, as evidenced by a limp in his left leg, but he still seemed as formidable as ever. He immediately began to prowl around, searching for Johnson.
"So, like I was saying," Reynolds continued quietly, "if you come with us, I guarantee decent treatment, my word as a soldier."
"But you'll force me if I don't agree," he said. "Not much of a choice, then, is it?"
"I'll do whatever it takes to stop an outbreak," Reynolds stated. "But we fought together long and hard at Mombasa, and it's impossible to not see ya as a good ally, and I will take care o' you, promise."
He took a deep breath. Let it out. He didn't want to serve the rebels at all, but he knew the extent of ONI's mercy. Rainbow mercy… had a definite potential to be gentler.
The infestation buzzed in his mind. It told him to kill Reynolds and run. He listened to it before when it told him to run. He ran from the Monitor; he ran from Reynolds; he ran from ONI; and he ran from the infestation itself. It was impossible to outrun, of course, being inside him, but the change in scenery tended to quiet it for a time as it adapted to the stimuli. It was a pressure on his thoughts, whispering without language what he would represent with the simple word kill.
Reynolds sucked in a breath.
Randy had caught sight of them. His golden visor reflected the gleam of the setting sun as he stared upward at their rooftop. The faux Spartan then jogged toward them with the speed of an Olympic athlete.
"So, whatcha thinkin', Johnson?" Reynolds asked as Randy neared.
The infestation was skeptical of his ability to kill Randy. It recognized the threat posed and urged him to run once more.
"I'm thinking…" He turned to face his sometimes-ally, and the infestation excitedly urged him to kill. He forced his gaze away, reducing the infestation's interference. He sighed. "I'm thinking I'm tired of running."