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Halo: First Strike is a sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved authored by Eric Nylund and taking place before the events of Halo 2. It was published in December 2003, after being written in a period of sixteen weeks.
Halo: First Strike clarifies a few plot questions that might have been raised by Halo fans, including exactly what happened to the SPARTANs on Reach and also how Avery Johnson survived the attack of the Flood. This book is written by Eric Nylund, who also wrote Halo: The Fall of Reach, and is part of the official Halo canon. This has led to certain inconsistencies in Halo 2. It also explains how the Covenant were late for their attack on Earth.
DATE: August 30, 2552 – September 13, 2552 (Date revised due to an anomalous Slipspace bubble.)
- Main article: Reach
The prologue begins before the Fall of Reach flashing back to Chapter 34 in Halo: The Fall of Reach where Captain Keyes informed John-117 of the matter of the unsecured NAV database. Frederic-104 is made the leader of Red Team and ordered to take the other Spartan-IIs down to Reach to protect the generators powering the orbital MAC guns.
The narrative then follows Red Team as they ride a Pelican down to the surface, but they are then forced to make a supersonic hard landing to the ground after the pilot gets hit by plasma fire from Seraph Fighters. The impact kills four of the Spartans and leaves many more seriously injured. Most lose their weapons and ammunition, Fred-104 and Kelly-087 improvise using rocks until they are able to police Covenant weapons from a group of Kig-Yar they kill. The Spartans then group up with the remaining four Marines in Charlie Company. The marines summarize how the battle has gone, saying that they were the only ones who survived the battle to that point.
Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb contacts Fred and orders him and the Spartans to extract him and his staff claiming that he was the current officer in charge of the defense of Reach. Fred takes Kelly and Joshua-029 on a mission to destroy a large Covenant camp in a valley near the bunker Charlie Company once occupied. Taking three Banshees, they deliver a Fury Tactical-Nuke into a Covenant ship. Joshua's Banshee slipped under enemy fire described as large needler rounds and is presumed dead. Fred and Kelly complete the mission without complications.
Despite their efforts, however, the Covenant manage to overrun the reactors on Reach. The Covenant Starships begin glassing Reach, even though they glassed only the poles. Fred, however, refusing to sit around and die comes up with a plan. He and Kelly take their captured Banshees, and together they fly away from the scene.
Section 1: ThresholdEdit
The narrative then moves to the debris field of Installation 04, right after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Aboard the Longsword Cortana and John-117 used to escape the destruction, Cortana and John converse, with John insisting that Cortana repeat her scans of the debris for any signs of life.
A battle group of seven Covenant Starships enters the system, along with a Covenant flagship. Cortana finds three cryopods that were jettisoned from the UNSC Pillar of Autumn prior to its crash on Halo. While she moves the Longsword towards the cryopods, she finds a Pelican that landed on a nearby asteroid. As John retrieves the cryopods and returns to the Longsword, the Pelican takes off and attacks the lead Covenant Starship, diverting attention away from the Longsword. The two small ships link up, and several survivors jump out of the Pelican, namely Sergeant Johnson, ODST Corporal Locklear, Warrant Officer Shiela Polaski, and an ONI Lieutenant Haverson. John-117, having seen a video of Johnson getting infected, slams him into the bulkhead and aims Johnson's pistol squarely at Johnson's head, waiting for an explanation on how he could have survived. Johnson through his own words says that they "passed him up because he didn't taste too good". After confirming with Cortana that he isn't infected he releases Johnson.
Together the group manages to board the flagship, called Ascendant Justice. They fight their way to the bridge and along the way they plug Cortana into the vessel's computer and she effectively kills most of the combat crew by decompressing most of the decks of the vessel. However, she learns that they're running out of time, as the fleet is a prelude to a Covenant dignitary's arrival at Halo. The group makes it to the bridge only to confront a Spec Ops Elite wielding an Energy Sword, whom John-117 manages to force off the ship via a readied escape pod with the help of Johnson and Locklear, sustaining a slight injury. The humans to gain complete control of the Covenant flagship, and in the confusion between the other vessels, the Ascendant Justice enters Slipspace, escaping Halo's remains. The group argues about where to go next, but ultimately John persuades them all to return to Reach; first, because the Cole Protocol forbids them from taking a Covenant vessel to Earth directly; second, because John secretly wants to see what became of his fellow SPARTAN-IIs. Haverson sends Johnson, Locklear, and Polaski to the Pelican to get the gear left there. When they are at the Pelican, Johnson contacts John informing him that there is a Spartan in one of the cryotubes.
Meanwhile, back at Earth, UNSC High Command Facility Bravo-6 in Sydney, Lieutenant Wagner briefs the UNSC Security Council on the destruction of Reach and concludes that they cannot try to retake the planet and must prepare for the final defense of Earth. All Spartans and vessels are assumed destroyed, though they do know that the Pillar of Autumn escaped destruction. Also revealed here is that Colonel James Ackerson, who was supposedly reassigned after the events of Halo: The Fall of Reach due to the actions of Cortana, has escaped reassignment and is serving on the Security Council. Ackerson appears almost gleeful that Reach has fallen, but crosses a line when he denounces the Spartans as "freaks", earning a firm rebuke from Fleet Admiral Terrence Hood. Major General Nicolas Strauss considers sending a recon unit to check for survivors, but Ackerson insists that any such mission would not only be suicidal, but pointless, as the Covenant would have left none.
Section 2: Defense of Castle BaseEdit
The narrative then returns to Reach where Kelly and Fred, after destroying the Covenant camp, are flying their captured Banshees towards the fallback position at Castle Base. The Covenant fleet in orbit ceases their orbital plasma bombardment, which confuses Fred because it goes against the normal Covenant bombardment doctrine, which has Covenant vessels glass a captured world with continuous criss-crossing plasma fire. After suffering malfunctions in their Banshees, both Spartans crash-land into a pair of Hunters, killing one and disabling the other's fuel-rod cannon. Kelly and Fred happen upon the main Covenant ground camp, which is working to uncover Menachite Mountain and Castle Base. This further worries Fred, causing him to wonder why the Covenant would expend so much manpower to attack Delta Team, but then realizes that they are after something more. Fred and Kelly then steal a pair of Wraith tanks, and blast their way into Castle Base, destroying the digging equipment and much of the Covenant ground armor. There they meet up with the surviving Spartans of Delta Team, including Isaac-039, Vinh-030 and Will-043, all injured. They meet up with Doctor Halsey, who had remained behind to be the fail-safe option to destroy Castle Base should the Covenant get inside. She treats their injuries, and sends them to retrieve some new weapons and Mjolnir Armor replacement upgrades from a secure locker, including the BR55 Service Rifle and the M6C magnum sidearm.
At the lab, Dr. Halsey discovers an anomaly in Kelly's medical records, which leads her to find Colonel Ackerson's personal AI, Araquiel, who was stealing information from Halsey's SPARTAN-II program files. She destroys it using a bypass code she herself had programmed, and gains access to Colonel Ackerson's personal black-ops files, which includes extenisve profles on all her SPARTAN-II's. These were part of a larger file marked "S-III" and hinted towards another secret Spartan program run by Ackerson, which is later explored in Halo: Ghosts of Onyx. In an another file labeled "KING UNDER THE MOUNTAIN", Halsey discovered that the old titanium mines under Castle may contain an ancient Forerunner artifact, one that the Covenant were currently searching for. The Covenant then invaded the base, and the Spartans and Doctor Halsey escape to the old titanium mines beneath Castle Base, right before its destruction, which blocks their only exit. Having no other alternatives, the Spartans and Dr Halsey venture deep into the tunnels.
In the tunnels, the Spartans receive armor upgrades and Fred discovers several symbols which, upon fred touching one with his bare, bleeding finger, ultimately opens a huge tunnel that leads into an even larger room. In the center of the room, they find a crystal. The Spartans and Halsey find that if they walk straight towards it, it will bend the space around them and, if brought to Slipspace, would allow them to travel further using the same amount of energy used in the same vessel. They retrieve the crystal, but the Covenant finds them due to emission of radiation from the crystal. The Covenant land forces inside the giant room using reversed gravity lifts, forcing the humans to retreat. Fred orders Isaac and Vinh to stay behind to form a rearguard action, but they were overwhelmed and presumed killed. The remaining Spartans and Dr. Halsey continue to flee through the tunnels, but as the Covenant follow them, they run into a dead end.
Section 3: RescueEdit
Meanwhile, in Slipspace, John-117 is assisting Sergeant Johnson and Polaski in stripping the Longsword of useful gear. It is revealed that the Spartan in the cryo tube is Linda-058, who was mortally wounded during the mission on Gamma Station. Although she is declared clinically dead, John-117 rushed her to a cryo-pod in the hopes that she could be revived. During the ride in Slipspace, Polaski had perfected piloting a Covenant dropship in Ascendant Justice's empty hanger bay. As they enter Epsilon Eridani, they see what has happened to Reach after the Covenant glassed the planet. They move the flagship closer as they notice that, during the glassing of Reach the Covenant "missed" a spot. The small fleet - consisting of a dozen cruisers, two assault carriers, and three squadrons of Seraphs - ask why a flagship is at Reach. While on the ship, the survivors hear a UNSC E-band transmission (the E-band transmission is 6 notes "Oly Oly Oxen Free"). No one on the bridge recognizes it - except John-117. The story flashes back returns to July 14, 2523 as a memory reviews a training mission when the Spartans played capture the flag against Tango Company. The teenage Spartans win the "game" - despite Tango Company's usage of live-fire rounds - and capture the flag. While hiding from Tango Company Marines searching for the flag, the Spartans make their way to their extraction point. When a Pelican controlled by Tango Company Marines, John shows himself to draw their attention and lures them into a trap set by the other Spartans. John then uses the "Oly Oly Oxen Free" signal to tell his teammates that all is clear.
Back on Ascendant Justice, the human crew debate whether they should go down to Reach in the reinforced Covenant dropship. Cortana looks around to see a spot which can be an extraction site to pick up the people going down to Reach. On the way down, cruisers start to surround them in their dropship, but ultimately let them pass. While Cortana continues to explore the flagship's systems, the Covenant AI aboard the ship manages to temporarily gain control of the coms and alerts the Covenant Fleet to the ship's hijacking. Although Cortana is able to destroy the AI, her cover is blown, and she destroys a few of the enemy cruisers before she flees into slipspace. The humans find a canyon with some movement in it. John wanders out alone to see if there is a trap. Haverson backs him up. At the bottom of the ramp Chief senses a single signal. There was no friend-or-foe tag indicating who it belonged to, so John proceeded with caution. John draws his pistol only to lower it discovering that it is Anton-044 who had disabled his FoF tag so the Covenant wouldn't discover his location. He leads John-117 to the entrance of a cavern, where two Spartans, Grace-093 and Li-008 were, both operating chainguns that were bolted to the sides of two boulders. John-117 and Anton, followed by Grace, enters the cavern. Inside, Admiral Whitcomb was standing at foldout card table, which was the headquarters for Camp Independence.
Admiral Whitcomb asks why John was there, instead of the mission with Captain Keyes deep in Covenant territory. John told him about the events that happened on Halo, and while he was telling the story, Haverson and the others from the dropship arrived. Haverson asks Whitcomb how he is alive, and the Admiral tells Haverson that while everyone was evacuating, he stayed behind because the UNSC was working on a new bomb called the NOVA Bomb, which possesses enough explosive force to destroy a planet. Whitcomb armed the NOVAs with failsafe tampering detonators and a countdown timer. Whitcomb had a team of Marines, Charlie Company, to help arm the NOVAs, but they were wiped out, but he then saw Red Team on coded COM and "asked" to borrow a few Spartans, who armed the NOVAs and since had given the Covenant trouble with hit-and-run exercises.
The rest of the Red Team is still trapped underground in the tunnels beneath the mountain in the CASTLE facility. John's group uses the Covenant dropship to rescue the remaining Red Team. They enter a huge cavern filled with Covenant forces - a few Elites, Jackals, and mostly Grunts that are clearing a cave-in. They land the dropship a half a kilometer away from the Covenant forces. They manage to destroy the Covenant forces and three Spartans, Kelly, Fred, and Will, emerged from cover. Whitcomb asks if that was everyone and Fred replies that there was one more. That person turns out to be Dr. Halsey who was holding the fist-sized crystal. They are about to leave when they detected Covenant forces and are surrounded by thousands of Covenant forces on each of the twelve levels of the gallery, and crowding the balconies were Grunts, Jackals, Elites and several pairs of Hunters. They all prepare to open fire on them, when a Hunter pair roar with rage and fire their weapons at John-117 and his team; the rest of the Covenant forces open fire a split second later.
Back in space, the Ascendant Justice emerges from Slipspace into a frozen Oort cloud to hide from the Covenant forces because they know that the Ascendant Justice wasn't one of theirs. Cortana eavesdrops on the data streams of the Covenant, using the dissected Covenant AI to help. Cortana discovers through decoding the Coventant transmissions that the location of Earth was now known to the Covenant, and they were preparing a massive attack.
Section 4: GambitEdit
As it turns out, the Covenant forces weren't shooting at the group, but rather the Hunters as they were under orders to take the crystal intact. However, Kelly is incapacitated from taking two direct hits from the Hunters' plasma shots. The Covenant then advance toward the group. Whitcomb signals for Polaski to pick them up and they get whisked out in the nick of time. However, while going up the grav lift, the Covenant begin to use it to push them back down. When Li-008 opens the door to fire Jackhammer rockets up the shaft, Dr. Halsey's crystal changes shape and completely disables the Grav Lift. Once they exit the tunnel, the crystal returns to normal.
In the Ascendant Justice, Cortana uses Engineers to combine the Covenant ship with another ship - the UNSC Gettysburg, needing two reactors for her maneuver. She jumps into Slipspace, and jumps out right in the middle of the Covenant fleet, at the rendezvous point. John's men get into the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice (G.A.J.). However, when Cortana jumps back into Slipspace, they don't go into normal Slipspace, and they drag the Covenant fleet with them. The fleet opens fire, but the plasma behaves erratically - doing loops, curving, teleporting, etc. During the fight, Elites that had survived the purge of the Ascendant Justice blow a small hole in its hull. The Spartans and Polaski go out to repair it, but run into the Elites. They fight, but Polaski, Li, and Anton are killed and Kelly is severely wounded. Desperate to escape, Cortana attempts to jump back into normal space. She succeeds, leaving the Covenant stranded in Slipspace, destroyed by sudden decompression of the extended slipspace field created by the crystal.
Section 5: Massacre at Eridanus secundusEdit
- Main article: Eridanus secundus
In the G.A.J., John-117 wakes up after being unconscious since the Slipspace battle. Cortana updated him on the current situation, which includes informing him of the Covenant discovering Earth's location. After disscusing tactical options with both Admiral Whitcomb and Haverson, John-117 goes to speak with Dr. Halsey. She talks to him about Johnson and his survival against the Flood. She reveals that Johnson has Boren's Syndrome, which affects the subjects nervous system, making it incompatible with the Flood, and therefore the only known defense against the Flood. Dr. Halsey gives John two data crystals containing information about the Flood, the first one is about Dr. Halsey's analysis and possible inoculation, and the second containing the source file of her conclusion, which would doom Sergeant Johnson as ONI would dissect him to attempt to replicate his condition. She tells him to decide whether he wants to give to Haverson. When John asks why she wants him to make this choice, Dr Halsey says that she is trying to teach him one last lesson, in which to save every person he can, no matter the cost. After he leaves, Halsey and Cortana discuss the crystal and find that it can warp space, gravity, and even time. When her group had found the crystal, John and his group were transported back in time.
For repairs, the group head to the Eridanus secundus asteroid belt, home of a rebel resistance. As they exit Slipspace, Dr. Halsey announces that Linda will survive and make a full recovery. During not-too-friendly negotiations with Governor Jacob Jiles, a Covenant ship drops out of Slipspace and finds them because of the radiation the crystal emits upon exiting from Slipspace. Despite malfunctioning plasma turrets, the crew of the G.A.J. decide to engage it. When Cortana informs them that the magnetic coils used to shape the plasma aren't working, John comes up with the idea to use the magnetic coils of the Gettysburg's MAC gun to shape it. The ploy works, creating a super-charged plasma torpedo that obliterates the Covenant ship, but also further damages the G.A.J, destroying the super-charged plasma turret. Governor Jiles now agrees to help repair G.A.J before the imminent arrival of more Covenant ships. During the repairs, the remaining Spartans, Johnson, and Locklear disscuss an attempt to stall the Covenant's impending attack on Earth. Johnson points out that the mobile command-and-control battle station, the Unyeilding Hierophant could be destroyed and possibly stall the Covenant assault. At this time, Halsey sedates Kelly and takes her away to the location she had recorded from Ackerson's logs on Reach. Before she leaves she gives Locklear the crystal and orders him to do whatever is necessary to ensure the Covenant do not retrieve the crystal. After Dr. Halsey leaves, a Covenant fleet arrives and both the survivoirs and the rebels are outnumbered. Repairs are sufficient enough for the G.A.J. to flee into Slipspace. Locklear, devastated by the loss of Polaski, takes the crystal down to a small bay and sets it up with C-7. He blows the crystal up, preventing the Covenant from tracking it through Slipspace, but inadvertantly killing himself in the process.
Section 6: Operation: FIRST STRIKEEdit
- Main article: Operation: FIRST STRIKE
- “Don't look like any 'uneven elephant' to me - more like two squids kissing. Whatever it is, damned glad its going to blow up. Nice job - almost as good as if we sent in the marines.”— Sergeant Johnson
While the crew of the G.A.J. are able to retrieve a few shards of the crystal, they have more important things on mind: the Covenant invasion of Earth. Cortana reveals that they are gathering at a battle station called the Unyielding Hierophant. John-117 comes up with a daring plan to blow up the station and put a sizable dent in the fleet: he and the Spartans will go to the station in a modified dropship, infiltrate the station, and blow up the reactors, with help from a copy of Cortana's subroutines.
The Spartans make it to the station without incident, but are forced to take a detour through a temple complex. There, they encounter Jiralhanae for the first time. John grapples with a Brute, and barely makes it out alive. Grace-093 is killed by Brute Shots. After the fight with the Brutes, John activates Graces suit's failsafe system, killing many Covenant in the process. They still manage to make it to the reactors, which they successfully rig to explode. The Spartans only have ten minutes to escape, so they commandeer three banshees with the help of Linda's sniper fire. John-117 then rescues Linda from oncoming Covenant reinforcements. With the rest of the remaining Spartans, they exit the station and head towards the backside of an unknown moon, but only see the Gettysburg when they made it back to the G.A.J.. The crew had taken the Ascendant Justice's Slipspace engine and installed it on the Gettysburg, while Whitcomb and Haverson have taken the Covenant ship. They broadcast a message to the Covenant fleet that if they want the crystal (which they fake with a hologram, as the crystal was destroyed earlier by Locklear) all they have to do is come and get them from the Ascendant Justice - which Admiral Whitcomb and Lieutenant Haverson crash into the central section of the Unyielding Hierophant. When the Unyielding Hierophant explodes due to the reactor exploding, it destroys the Ascendant Justice along with some five hundred ships of the Covenant invasion force leaving about a dozen ships to attack Earth. The five human survivors of the operation, John-117, Fred-104, Linda-058, William-043, Sergeant Avery J. Johnson, and Cortana proceeded to a random location under Cole Protocol and then return to Earth to warn them about the impending Covenant invasion.
Section 7: HarbingerEdit
In the epilogue, on High Charity, Tartarus gives an orb containing shards of the Forerunner crystal to the High Prophet of Truth. The Prophet gives Tartarus orders to reward the survivors, then execute them quietly, and punish the incompetent one who lost the Ascendant Justice; "make sure his fate matches the magnitude of his failure ."
- The original cover of the book had a graphic error on John-117's head. The top part of his head was a little to the right of the bottom part, causing a split in his head. This was corrected in later versions.
- At the beginning of the novel, there is a line that says in Fred-104's Pelican "twenty-seven Spartans braced themselves", however in Halo: The Fall of Reach it is stated on page 240 that there were "two dozen Spartans" and John-117, with three other Spartans "engaged on fields of combat too distant to be easily recalled" therefore the Pelican that Fred-104 takes to the surface should only have 21 Spartans since John-117 takes two Spartans with him in a separate Pelican for the space op. Eric Trautmann has implied that the discrepancy is being considered part of continuity and a potential future story hook.
- In Halo: The Flood, it is stated that 15 marines per Pelican is "pushing the limit". However, in the novel, it is carrying twenty-seven Spartans with apparent ease. This is most likely due to the Spartans "fixing the pelican". They removed the normal seats and pelican drop equipment.
- In the novel, an ODST wears a normal Marine uniform instead of their regular space suit, this however could be the standard for ODSTs when not performing orbital insertions, since it would be easier to fight in. It is also mentioned in Halo: The Flood, that ODSTs accompany John-117 on his mission to the Truth and Reconciliation, yet there are no Marines in space suits, so they must be wearing Marine uniforms. ODST suits are most likely circumstantial, as known ODSTs like Marcus Stacker and Reynolds are often seen in standard armour in Halo 2 and Halo 3.
- After the Unyielding Hierophant exploded, there were only a dozen Covenant ships left, give or take. According to the Halo Encyclopedia, the 12 ships that survived the station's explosion are the ships the Prophet of Regret brought with him to Earth. However, a history entry in Halo Waypoint establishes these ships to be a part of the fleet secretly summoned to the station by the Prophet of Truth and later used to reinforce Regret's forces on Earth during the events of Halo 3: ODST and after.
- The Sangheili that John-117 fought in Ascendant Justice was initially presumed to be Thel 'Vadam, until it was realized that it was a Spec Ops Elite, and not a Supreme Commander. It should also be noted that the 'Vadamee's own Flagship was called the Seeker of Truth, not the Ascendant Justice, and thus it is impossible for the two to be the same character.
- The Longsword that John-117 and the other Halo survivors used to board Ascendant Justice is after that point regularly, and erroneously, referred to as a Pelican. This error is corrected in the 2010 version of the novel.
- The 2010 cover shows two Spartans on the cover, one incorrectly wearing Mark IV armor. No Spartans in First Strike were equipped with Mark IV armor anymore. This may be an unfinished piece similar to the first cover of The Cole Protocol. It is likely to be an arbitrary, aesthetic image that has no effect on the actual story, just like the re-issued cover of Halo: The Flood does not match its story and the game that it documents. Though it may also be a variation of the Mark V as Frank O'Connor stated that the "Halo Wars" Mark IV is a variation of the basic model. The variation was then carried over to the Mark V, similar to how several variations of the Mark V made it to the Mark VI.
- The 2010 cover also shows a Spartan wielding a Plasma Repeater, which was never used in the original story. This is simply part of the reissued cover's aesthetic design, which is focused on portraying thematic elements and a nod towards Halo: Reach, rather than portraying actual events, items, and characters in a specific, canon instance.
- On page 323, the book incorrectly states that Ghosts can fly. This could be a mistake or a misunderstanding by the reader of its levitation.
- When John-117 activates Grace's failsafe systems, it resembles the nuclear bomb used by Predators in the Predator and AVP franchises when they have failed or a clan member is killed in action.
- On the original cover, it shows 2 Caucasian marines in BDU, and a Spartan, But in the book there are 2 marines, Corporal Locklear and Sergeant Johnson, but Johnson is African-American so there are no more than 1 marines that are Caucasian in the book.
- After discovering an anomaly in Kelly's Medical records that leads her to Colonel Ackerson, Dr. Halsey begins to review Ackerson's files and singles out Two files "S-III" and "KING OF THE MOUNTAIN". The file s-III hinting at Ackerson's Spartan III program it is to assume that Dr. Halsey had no recognition of the Spartans-III's, in which the Halo: Reach game she clearly comes into contact with when giving the package to Noble Six.
- There are a few errors in the novel:
- There is an error on page 287 of "The Definitive Edition". The sentence goes: "... the Covenant military orders were disseminated with startling efficiently..." when it should be "efficiency".
- There is an error on page 405 of "The Definitive Edition". Sanctum of the Hierarchs is misspelled "Sanctum of the Heirarchs."
- This book, along with Halo: The Fall of Reach and Halo: The Flood, were collected in the Halo Box Set, while the reprint editions were collected in the Halo Boxed Set II.