A/N: Just a fair warning, dear readers: this first chapter is long on exposition and short on dialogue and action. That'll come next chapter, but for now, I had to do some stage-setting.
Disclaimer: Kim Possible belongs to Disney, Halo belongs to Bungie Studios and Microsoft. Seriously.
Chapter 1 – Thespian
"I don't like this Catherine, I don't like this one little bit."
"You don't have to like it, Jacob. You know it has to be done."
"I know, I know... with the Neo-Fascist and Neo-Communist revolts spreading, we'll need as many candidates as we can get. It's just... dammit, Catherine, she's so small compared to the others, not to mention the fact that she's the daughter of two of the greatest scientific minds in history, and the granddaughter of one of the UNSC's legends."
"She has the markers, Jacob. Besides, you saw the security feed from that preschool, just the same as I did. You saw the moves she pulled on those kids, and that was on a high-gravity world, and when she was four. And if she can do that at four, then after we're finished, and if she survives...
"Then she could do anything."
"Alright. Just as soon as the flash-clone is ready, we'll bring her up to the ship. I still don't like it, though."
"I know. Will we have time to deliver her to Reach before the next stop?"
"No need. Eridanus II is on the way. I figure we can pick up the next subject there and then deliver them both..."
Commander Ron Stoppable strode through the corridors of his ship, the Halcyon-class cruiser Heart of Sword, and allowed a satisfied grin to cross his face. Not that a grin was anything new to him, as he still maintained and used the old goofy grin he'd worn during his childhood, but this grin, though, was different. It wasn't silly.
It was prideful.
His crew had pulled it off, bless their sorry asses, and the 'dress rehearsal' prior to the final reversion to slipspace had proved it. Of the five ships in Admiral Go's part of Operation THESPIAN, Sword had come out on top in effectiveness ratings against the simulated Covenant forces.
Simulated forces. Computerized facsimiles of the greatest threat mankind had ever known. They were based off of the latest intelligence, and operational experience, that the UNSC had on the Covenant... and even though they'd had a dedicated AI construct running their tactics, a computer program just could never compare to the real thing.
Sill, Ron knew that his crew, and Captain Director, deserved all the praise they could get (Commander Drew Lipsky, the chief engineer on the carrier Hephaestus, was still trying to figure out just exactly how they'd made their engines do what they did). The war with the Covenant had lasted for nearly thirty years (Ron himself was 41, and had been 14 when Harvest was glassed), and for a Halcyon cruiser to do that well, even in computer simulation...
Well, that was something.
He even reserved some of the pride he felt for himself. As XO of the Sword, his job was, essentially, to keep the ship running, to serve as a sounding board for his CO (now Captain Betty Director, a fellow survivor from Middleton Colony), and more, but mostly his job was to make sure that the crew of his ship were able to perform their duties above and beyond the call.
Their performance in the simulation had proved that, despite his past year spent with the ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Troopers), in his own words, "The Ron-man still had it".
But still, he reserved most of his pride for the crew. They'd performed exceptionally well, and unless the sitch at Thebes went all to hell and back, they would likely come out of it just as well as they had in simulation. He couldn't help but be proud of them.
After all, they were, almost, like the children he'd never had, and likely never would, not after what had happened to-
"Commander Stoppable," said a gruff voice that had walked up behind him and interrupted his reverie.
"Colonel Barkin," Ron replied formally, as the two men fell into step with each other. Steve Barkin had taught Ron and his friends throughout most of high school, and they had long maintained an adversarial, if grudgingly respectful and surprisingly affectionate, relationship.
Barkin was once an enlisted non-com in the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) Marines, but had been released under a medical discharge, and some shadowy but barely avoided 'conduct unbecoming' charges. Shortly after his discharge he'd taken up teaching, having determined that the price of his redemption would be to deal with unruly teenagers on his home colony, and teach them some discipline and character.
Which meant he made Ron's life heck for four years... though Ron came to appreciate what Barkin had tried to teach him five weeks into his first year at the UNSC Naval Academy.
"We've just entered slipspace, I take it?" Barkin continued.
"Yes sir. Three days till we hit Thebes, and then the fun begins."
"Three days," Barkin snorted, but there was an amused twinkle in his eyes. "A Marine's life isn't meant to be cooped up on one of these ships, Commander. We're meant to be on the ground, watering the flowers with Covenant blood."
"Can't argue with that, sir."
"No I guess you can't... Stoppable," Barkin said quietly.
Ron nodded. Barkin's use of his last name wasn't something that the much older (but still capable) Colonel would have ever dared to do in front of his Marines, on in front of any of the Navy crew... except for maybe Captain Director. Calling Ron by his last name, as he had back in when Ron was his student in high school, was his way of acknowledging the bond of respect and loss that existed between them.
It existed between all of those who had lost their homes and loved ones to the Covenant, but especially when they were fellow TriCos, those who had survived the destruction of the TriColony system simply by virtue of having not been there when it happened.
"In any case," Barkin continued, his tone lighter, "at least we'll have some decent food to eat. Best chow I've ever had on a Navy ship."
"You can thank Billy Caldwell for that one, sir," Ron said with a genuine grin.
"I see. And can I also thank Ship's Cook Caldwell for that... interesting spice combination in last night's sauce, Commander? I seem to remember only tasting that particular concoction one time before, and that sauce came from a particular student in my Home Ec class."
Ron turned red. He'd wound up running the school cafeteria after that...
"I, um, might be working with the cooks a bit, ah, after hours," Ron said with an abashed grin.
"And teaching others your tricks? Bad tactics, Stoppable," Barkin admonished.
They shared a chuckle, and then their shared path brought them to a fork in the corridor. Marine Land was one way, Navy Land the other, and so they both came to a brief stop.
"Getting some sack time, Commander?"
"Yes, sir. Had a long day, supervising the transfer of the SPARTAN from Admiral Go's flagship. Figured I could use some time to marinate."
Barkin snorted again. Unlike some of the survivors, Ron had never really stopped using his own version of Middleton Colony slang, even if he had mostly switched to standard human vernacular. Each world of the TriColony System had it's own variant, and Ron, consistent with his 'never be normal' outlook, had taken it upon himself to invent his own.
"Sure. Speaking of the SPARTAN..."
Ron waved a hand.
"She'll be ready, Colonel, don't you worry about that. They say these guys can do anything, SPARTAN-487 especially."
"You sure about that, Commander?" Barkin asked dubiously. "I don't really trust some of these 'modifications' they did in the program. Figured if anyone would agree with that, it would be you."
Ron raised his hands in warding gesture.
"Colonel, I never did buy into the ODSTs whole "We are God's Gift to warfare, and all the rest of you suck" thing. All I know is that the SPARTANs kill Covenant. That's good enough for me."
All I know is that the SPARTANs kill Covenant. That's good enough for me.
Ron shut the door to his quarters and leaned against it. He closed his eyes and let out an involuntary sigh and shudder as he tried to contemplate what had led the happy-go-lucky kid he'd once been to make that statement.
Briefly, he wondered what Rabbi Katz would have to say about it... but that didn't matter.
Because Rabbi Katz was dead. Just like his parents. Just like Monique, and Felix, and the Possibles...
But it hadn't started with them.
He figured it had all started when he was six, when his then-best-friend, Kim Possible, had suffered a freak brain injury, and then died of Metabolic Cascade Failure.
Their families, the Possibles and Stoppables, had come to the TriColony System in the year 2410, along with the first wave of colonists. In fact, Jon Stoppable and Mim Possible, the ancestors of Kim and Ron, were two of the first people to step off the colony ship... right behind Misters McCorkle and Schooley, the financers and planners of the expedition, and Mister Loter, the commander of the ship itself.
Oddly enough, their families weren't all that close; Jon and Mim had been, but a freak incident had broken apart that friendship, and the Possibles and Stoppables all went their separate ways.
Until Kim and Ron came along.
They had met at age four, while in preschool, when a group of bullies had started to pick on Kim. Ron, his child's sense of justice kicking in, had stepped in to try and get the bullies to quit.
Instead, they'd turned their attention to him. Kim's own sense of justice had kicked in at that point; she'd jumped high into the air (no small feat, on a world whose gravity was 1.27 times that of Earth's), and had delivered a world-class beating to the bullies.
Thusly was their friendship sealed.
Ron smirked at the memory, of how they'd awkwardly started up a game of kickball there on the playground. Then he shook his head, walked over to his locker, and withdrew one of the few items he'd managed to save from Middleton Colony.
It was a small holo-album. He pressed the control stud, and the first hologram sprang up. It was an image, three-dimensional and incredibly detailed, of a six years old girl, one with flaming red hair and bright, lively green eyes.
She'd been very shy, at first, and so had he, but after just a few hours they wound up practically inseparable. His friendship awoke something in her; they shy girl, within the space of three months, became the single most driven and lively preschooler anyone had ever seen.
They got into everything
Often they would cause trouble... and every now and then, they would get other kids out of trouble. They even rescued a few cats, or other pets, out of the native plant life that served for trees.
Of course, his role was often one of distracting the bullies, or other problems that might need distracting, while Kim (who had obtained a black belt in three different forms of martial arts by the time she was five), dealt with them in her own particular way.
They were best friends, he was her sidekick, and young Ron Stoppable was the happiest little boy in the galaxy.
Then she was dead.
Two weeks earlier she'd proclaimed that everyone within three-hundred light years would someday hear their names. She'd foreseen a bright future ahead, one with just the two of them, side by side, helping everyone who needed it.
Then one day he'd been sick. A Middleton-native cold bug had gotten through the Stoppable Fortress of Immunity, and had laid him out on a couch for a week. She would bring him his homework, since she was trying very hard to ward off what she saw as an approaching slacker attitude, but one day she never showed up.
They found her a short while later, collapsed along the side of the route from the school to Ron's house.
They never really determined what it was that had struck her down; it was as if she had simply forgotten how to use her own muscles, and all that her mother (the second-best brain surgeon in the galaxy; the first best was out of contact, which meant that he was on a special assignment for ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence)) could guess was some sort of indeterminate neurological trauma.
Not that it mattered. Her nervous system began to shred itself two days later, and Ron was by her side when Kim gave him a pained look and breathed her last.
He ran a finger across the holo and smiled wistfully. Thirty-five years did a lot to take the edge off of an old sting, but even so... he still felt it. God only knew why, given how long it had been, but he knew, somehow, that some sort of connection had been forged between them, and that it had been cut off well before it's time.
He smiled again and switched to the next holo... he knew he wasn't really marinating, not in looking at these pictures, not of Kim, or of her... but then again, he hadn't really marinated in twenty-nine years.
Not after what had happened to the dark-skinned beauty whose picture he was looking at.
He'd moped around for several days after Kim's death, nearly as despondent as her parents and brothers had been. Until three days after the funeral, when he had an epiphany.
Moping around was not what Kim would have wanted. Her name was lost, but he could see to it that he made own as best he could.
He vowed, right then and there, that would never, ever, slack off. That he would always do the very best he could.
It was a child's vow, a child's oath. Simple and bereft of fancy speeches or Shakespearian drama.
Just like a child's sense of justice.
He studied, he did his homework. He applied himself, and started taking karate lessons on his own right (Kim would simply drag him along to hers earlier). He did it all in Kim's name.
Then he reached third grade, and had another epiphany.
He was excelling, at everything he did. He liked excelling.
Then he began study and work all the harder, now for himself as much as for the memory of his dead friend.
Even so, he was never popular. He was still Ron, after all; silly, goofy, possessed of his own way of looking at things. He had odd tastes in food (ancient Tex-Mex), and in entertainment (the Galactic Wrestling Association, or GWA, as well as old-school baseball). Most knew him; few hung out with him. Most would laugh at his silly jokes and antics; few would ask how his day went.
He just took it all in stride and carried on.
"I am what I is," he would often say to people who decreed that he would be more popular if he would stop being so... weird.
Kim had accepted his weirdness, she'd even liked his weirdness, and he saw no reason why he should be friends with someone who didn't do likewise.
The hard part, of course, was in finding someone who did do likewise.
That search ended his freshman year.
He'd won, through a fairly ridiculous event involving an interplanetary businessman and a shopping mall (as well as the natural disorientation Middleton's higher gravity caused to off-worlders), a pair of tickets to a local GWA match (Pain King and Steel Toe both loved fighting on high-g worlds, as they felt it helped fuel their mystique). As was his wont, he advertised via posters and adds in the newspaper 'A Night With The Ron-man'. No one took him up on it.
Until Monique Robinson, the new girl on-planet, took a gamble and accepted the ticket. She was a big fan of the GWA herself, and decided that an evening with 'The Ron-man' would be worth a good show. Besides, he couldn't be as bad as Rockwaller made him out to be.
Sparks didn't exactly fly... but they would up as fast friends.
Their similar tastes in food (Tex-Mex, specifically the long-lasting Bueno Nacho), and their fanaticism with the GWA, gave them just enough common ground to build a foundation... and their found enough differences in each other to keep themselves interested.
It had all just sort of built from there, even with the undercurrent of tension caused by the fall of Harvest, and the newly-begun war with the Covenant.
They were quite a pair, and then became a trio when they were joined by Felix Renton, another off-worlder whose wheel-chair allowed him to cope with the higher gravity better than most. They formed a tight friendship, a full-fledged posse... even if there was always something stronger between Ron and Monique than there was between them and Felix.
Ron smiled again as he flipped through a few more pictures of Monique. Some were from school events, some were from random dates, some were from Prom... and then there were the ones that were most definitely for his eyes only. She'd sent them to him while he was away at the Academy, and he made absolutely sure that neither his roommate, nor the Academy staff, ever got wind of their existence.
Not that he would have been kicked out, as they weren't quite up to the soft-core level, but... it just wouldn't do for his fellow cadets to see his girlfriend at that... level of dress.
Or lack thereof.
Then he sighed, a longing, incredibly sad sound, as he realized that no one, not even him, would ever see her that way again.
Save in pictures.
Then he came to the shot of his graduating class.
High school came, and high school went... and along came the time when all good students began to think of their next step in life. Many went out and joined the Marines, or the Navy, to help in the fight against the Covenant. Felix and Monique intended to go to college, one to Upperton Colony, the other to Lowerton Colony.
As for Ron...
The magic of high gravity had worked it's way on him, as a combination of natural adaptation and and a fairly regimented planet-wide childhood nutrition and health program. He was a full six feet tall, short for a native-born Middleton'r, yet considerably tall for his family lineage. His strength and musculature was that of one who was used to living and moving in a 'high'-gravity environment.
That being said, a lot of people were looking at him due to his physical capabilities and accomplishments (expert to master rankings in karate, five forms of kung fu, coup de vitasse, and in fencing).
Especially the military.
He'd considered it for a long while, and quietly went through the proper channels and interviews... and by the time graduation rolled around, he announced to his family and friends that he had been accepted at the UNSC Naval Academy, and that his ranking in his class's tenth percentile had netted him a spot at the Academy's prestigious Annapolis campus.
'Why did I do that?' Ron thought to himself, not for the first time. With his grades he could have gotten into any college he wanted, and could have lived the happy and relatively stress-free life of a civilian... at least, until the Covenant reached Middleton.
But he knew why.
Every time he even considered dodging the fight, the vow and ambition of a five year-old girl would rush through his head.
That combined with the news of another battle here, another colony glassed there... and it just seemed the natural place for him to go. He was intelligent, motivated, and he was certainly strong enough.
But all in all, he knew the answer: it was what Kim would have done, and somehow he just couldn't seem to escape the shadow of his first friend... nor his own sense of justice.
"We had a long talk about that, didn't we?" he whispered to himself as he flipped back to a picture of Monique. "I'm still amazed that you accepted it, Mon. Shoot, I'm still amazed that you stayed with me when I was on Earth. A lot of guys there got Dear John'd, but you... you kept with me, babe.
"I loved you. But you knew that."
Life at the Academy had been hard, enough so that he wanted to quit so many times... but he always pulled through, somehow or another, and finally he graduated, this time well within the upper quarter of his class.
Even Barkin, himself only recently reactivated (this time as an officer), came to the ceremony.
After the pomp and circumstance was over, the newly minted ensigns (and 2nd Lieutenants) were mingling with family and friends... and right there in front of everybody, his family, her family, Felix, Steve Barkin, the Possibles (who had kept up with him, even after Kim's death), the rest of the graduates, several of the younger cadets, and a large portion of the UNSC officer corps, Ron Stoppable got down on one knee and presented Monique with a diamond ring.
Heaven only knows where he got it.
She said yes.
They set a date: just as soon as he came home after his first cruise, or about two years from that day. In the meantime Monique would stay on Middleton Colony, and start work.
Two weeks into his first cruise, the Covenant glassed Middleton, Upperton, and Lowerton. There were no survivors.
There weren't many pictures, after that, since while Ron Stoppable tried to be a friend to his fellow officers, and a father figure to his enlisted men... he was always a distant one. He'd help his junior officers, and laugh at their jokes... but he wouldn't join them on poker night. A similar distance was kept with the enlisted men, but that was due to the fraternization protocols more so than anything else.
But he knew, deep down, that the protocols were only an excuse. To do his job right, he'd have to care... but he never let himself care too much.
He stopped at a picture of himself and Monique, both of them smiling widely, with Mon holding up her engagement ring, it's diamond glittering in the morning light.
A bright future. So much promise.
Gone. Because the Covenant had decided, for some damned-by-God reason, that humanity needed to wiped from the face of the galaxy.
Which was why he didn't care what ONI had done to make the SPARTANs.
They killed Covenant. That was good enough for him.
With that thought in mind he shut down the holo-album, replaced in it his locker, stripped down, and went to sleep.
The UNSC wasn't exactly on the brink of defeat, but they certainly weren't winning the war, either. In the year 2552, High Command hatched a last-ditch, almost desperate plan. They would detail thirty of the SPARTANs, led by SPARTAN-117, to the task of capturing a Covenant High Prophet, who they wished to use to barter a truce.
Alongside this top secret operation came Operation THESPIAN.
The goal of THESPIAN was simple: the three SPARTANs that were not assigned to the abduction would instead be sent out to various Covenant planetary facilities, along with a sizable Marine and Naval accompaniment. They would attack the bases, and hopefully cause enough confusion and reaction amongst the Covenant High Council that the way to one of the High Prophets would be left open.
At the very least they could draw attention away from the Pillar of Autumn and the other ships that were gathering at Reach.
One of the three was SPARTAN-487. A female SPARTAN, she was shorter than most of her counterparts, only reaching a height of six feet. However, she was deceptively strong, especially with her custom MJOLNIR Mark V.2 armor, and was known to engage Elites in hand-to-hand combat with her fists and feet, in lieu of firearms.
Her target was a Covenant base on the planet known as Thebes.
Alongside her traveled a full Marine regiment, the 24th (nicknamed the Mad Dogs), under Colonel Barkin's command. They were spaced across two Halcyon-class cruisers, the Heart of Sword and Moonlit Lotus. Fighter escort and overall squadron command was provided by Admiral Sheila Go on the carrier Hephaestus, while fleet escort was provided by the destroyers Hazlet and Pender.
For her part, SPARTAN-487 waited out the three-day journey in cryosleep, her grassy eyes hidden behind a golden visor...
They had a traitor.
This traitor was one of the few humans who had not died upon a Covenant world-glassing. No, at this world, they had taken prisoners. Those who did not break were either killed or dispersed throughout their empire.
This one broke, and in that breaking, the traitor became convinced of the Glory of the Great Journey, and became dedicated to it's completion.
The traitor returned to human space, made up a story of what had happened, and managed to be reinserted into human society... and later joined the Navy. The traitor learned many things... about the SPARTANs, their mission, and about Operation THESPIAN.
The traitor did not, thankfully, learn the location of Earth. But what was known was enough for the traitor to cause plenty of damage, even if the homeworld was secure.
And now the traitor waited in the squadron, until the will of the High Prophets could be performed...
Three days later.
Ron was making his way back to the bridge when, once again, he ran into Steve Barkin. He'd seemed to be doing that a lot lately.
It was like high school all over again.
They would be dropping back to realspace shortly, and Ron needed to be on the bridge for the procedure. Barkin, he figured, was heading for the flight deck, where he would load his Marines aboard their Pelican landing craft and and give the Covenant a nice big "Hoo-ah", courtesy of the UNSC Marine Corps.
"Commander," Barkin said in greeting.
"Colonel. Big day today."
Whatever Colonel Barkin might have said in reply was preempted by the shudder that rolled through the decks of the Heart of Sword. Ron and Barkin both knew that shudder well, for it was the shake and groan of a ship reverting back to realspace.
That wasn't right. They weren't supposed to drop out for another two mi-
Then he felt another shudder rock the ship, and then another, and then another... and he knew all to well what was causing those.
'We're under attack.'
The ship shook yet again, harder this time, and Ron and Barkin were thrown against the walls. They traded a look, confirming each other reading of the sitch, and then set off in opposite directions: Ron towards the bridge, and Barkin towards the flight deck.
"Stoppable!" Barkin called out after a moment. Ron turned back to look at him.
"Watch your ass, son," the older man said grimly. Ron just nodded... but then he grinned.
"You do the same, Mr. B. Give 'em hell."
"For the TriCos," Barkin said softly, and then he took off back towards the flight deck.
"For the TriCos," Ron whispered in reply, and then he turned back towards the bridge, as the ship shook again.
He started running.
END CHAPTER ONE