Halo: First Strike
Halo: First Strike fills the gap between Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2, in addition to continuing the story of the Spartans and Dr. Halsey on Reach where Halo: The Fall of Reach left off. The story is continued directly in Halo 2 and the subsequent novel Halo: Ghosts of Onyx. First Strike also ties up several unresolved plot threads, including how Sergeant Johnson survived the attack of the Flood.
Original edition by Del Rey Books
Definitive edition by Tor
2019 Gallery Books reprint
Section 0: Reach
The prologue begins during the Fall of Reach and flashes back to Chapter 34 of Halo: The Fall of Reach, where Captain Jacob Keyes informs Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 about the unsecured NAV database. John makes Frederic-104 the leader of Red Team and orders him to take the other Spartan-IIs down to Reach to protect the generators powering the orbital MAC guns.
The narrative follows Red Team as they ride a Pelican down to the surface. After Seraph fighters hit their pilot with plasma fire, Red Team jumps from the disabled vehicle. Falling at terminal velocity, their impact with the ground kills four Spartans and leaves many more seriously injured. Most lose their weapons and ammunition; Fred and Kelly-087 improvise using rocks until they are able to loot Covenant weapons from a group of Jackals they kill. The Spartans group up with the remaining four Marines of Charlie Company. The Marines summarize how the battle went, explaining that they were the only ones who survived.
Vice Admiral Danforth Whitcomb contacts Fred and orders the Spartans to extract him and his staff, claiming to be the current officer in charge of the defense of Reach. Fred subdivides Red Team to complete the mission: Beta Team is to defend the generators, Gamma Team is to extract the Admiral, and Delta Team is to secure a fallback point at CASTLE Base. Fred then takes Kelly and Joshua-029 (comprising Alpha Team) on a mission to destroy a large Covenant encampment in the adjacent valley. Taking three Banshees, they deliver a Fury tactical nuke into a Covenant ship. During the assault, the Covenant shoots down Joshua's Banshee and he is presumed dead. Fred and Kelly complete the mission without further complications.
Despite the Spartans' efforts, the Covenant overruns the reactors on Reach and their fleet begins glassing the planet. Fred - refusing to sit around and die - comes up with a plan. He and Kelly take their captured Banshees, and together they fly away.
Section 1: Threshold
The narrative moves to the debris field of Installation 04, right after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Aboard the Longsword that Cortana and the Master Chief used to escape the ring's destruction, the pair converses. The Chief insists that Cortana repeat her scans of the debris field for any signs of life.
Cortana eventually detects a battle group of seven Covenant starships and a flagship. She also finds three cryo-chambers that the Pillar of Autumn jettisoned before its crash on Halo. While she moves the Longsword toward the cryotubes, she discovers a Pelican hiding nearby. As the Chief retrieves the cryotubes 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 exit the Pelican: Sergeant Johnson, ODST Corporal Locklear, Warrant Officer Shiela Polaski, and an ONI Lieutenant, Elias Haverson. The Master Chief - having seen a video of Johnson being infected - slams him into the bulkhead and aims Johnson's pistol squarely at his head, waiting for an explanation on how he survived. Johnson, through his own words, says that he must not have tasted good to the Flood. After confirming with Cortana that Johnson isn't infected, Master Chief releases him.
Together, the group uses the Longsword to board the flagship, called Ascendant Justice. They fight their way to the bridge, and along the way, plug Cortana into the vessel's computer. Cortana decompresses most of the vessel's decks, killing most of the crew. She then learns that they're running out of time, as this fleet is a prelude to a Covenant dignitary's arrival at Halo, along with their vessel and a massive escort. The group makes it to the bridge, only to confront a Spec Ops Elite wielding an Energy Sword, whom the Master Chief defeats with the help of Johnson and Locklear, sustaining a slight injury. The defeat of the Elite warrior allows the humans to gain complete control of the Covenant flagship.
In the confusion between the other vessels, the Ascendant Justice enters Slipspace. The group argues about where to go next, but ultimately, the Chief persuades them all to return to Reach; first, because the Cole Protocol forbids them from taking a Covenant vessel to Earth directly; second, because the Chief secretly wants to see what became of his fellow Spartans. Haverson sends Johnson, Locklear, and Polaski to the Longsword to retrieve its gear. When they reach the Longsword, Johnson contacts the Chief, informing him that one of the cryotubes contains a Spartan.
Meanwhile on Earth, at UNSC HIGHCOM Facility Bravo-6 in Sydney, Lieutenant Wagner briefs the UNSC Security Council on Reach's destruction and concludes that they cannot try to retake the planet, and instead, must prepare for the final defense of Earth. All Spartans and vessels are assumed destroyed, though they do know that the UNSC Pillar of Autumn escaped Reach. Colonel James Ackerson - who was supposedly reassigned due to Cortana's actions - 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 Admiral Hood. General 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 Base
The narrative returns to Reach where Kelly and Fred, after destroying the Covenant ship, crash-land their Banshees into a pair of Hunters, confusing one and disabling the other's gun. They steal a pair of Wraith tanks and blast their way into CASTLE Base under Menachite Mountain. There, they meet up with the surviving Spartans of Delta Team: the injured Isaac-039, Vinh-030, and Will-043, as well as Doctor Catherine Halsey, who treats their injuries. Dr. Halsey sends them to retrieve some new weapons: the BR55 Battle Rifle and the M6C magnum sidearm.
At the lab, Halsey discovers Colonel Ackerson's plans, which contain extensive lists on "Her Spartans", a star chart reference, and a third file labeled "KING UNDER THE MOUNTAIN". Before she can access these, however, a UNSC AI named Araqiel appears and attempts to stop her by threatening to kill her or the Spartans. She destroys it using a bypass code she herself had programmed, but causes some concern with her personal AI. The Covenant then invades the base, and the Spartans and 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 Halsey venture deep into the tunnels.
Inside, the Spartans receive armor upgrades and Fred discovers several symbols, which ultimately open a large tunnel, leading into an even larger room. In the room's center, they find a Forerunner crystal. While walking toward it, the Spartans and Halsey discover that it bends the space around them, and if brought into slipspace, would allow them to travel longer distances with the same amount of energy. They retrieve the crystal, but because of the radiation it is emitting, the Covenant is able to find them. The Covenant land forces inside the room using reversed gravity lifts, forcing the humans to retreat. Fred orders Isaac and Vinh to stay behind to form a rearguard action, but the two are overwhelmed and killed. The remaining Spartans and Dr. Halsey continue to flee through the tunnels. As the Covenant follows them, they meet a dead end.
Section 3: Rescue
Johnson, who discovered that one of the cryotubes contains Linda-058, reports that the others contain Marines that have died due to cryotube malfunction. Master Chief heads to the Longsword, where he strips pieces from the craft to reinforce a Covenant dropship they are going to use. As they enter the flagship's hangar, Master Chief and Johnson witness Polaski piloting the Covenant dropship as practice. As they enter Epsilon Eridani, the crew sees what happened to Reach after the Covenant glassed the planet. Cortana moves the flagship closer as they notice that the Covenant "missed" a spot. The small Covenant fleet in the system - consisting of a dozen cruisers, two assault carriers, and three Seraph squadrons - asks why a flagship is at Reach. The survivors hear a UNSC E-band transmission: a six-note tune, "Oly Oly Oxen Free". No one on the bridge recognizes it - except the Master Chief.
The narrative then flashes back to July 14, 2523, when the young Spartans played capture the flag against Tango Company. Despite Tango Company's use of live-fire rounds, the teenage Spartans capture the flag and win the "game". While hiding from Tango Company Marines searching for the flag, John uses the "Oly Oly Oxen Free" signal to inform his teammates that all is clear.
Back on Ascendant Justice, the human crew debates whether they should travel down to Reach in the reinforced Covenant dropship. Cortana searches for a spot that they can later use as an extraction site to pick up the crew. On the way down, cruisers surround the crew in their dropship, but ultimately let them pass. While Cortana continues to explore the flagship's systems, the Covenant AI aboard the ship temporarily gains control of the comms and alerts the local Covenant fleet to the ship's hijacking. Although Cortana is able to destroy the AI, her cover is blown, and she destroys a few enemy cruisers before fleeing into slipspace.
Meanwhile, the humans find a canyon with some movement in it. The Chief wanders out to see if there is a trap, and Haverson backs him up. At the bottom of the ramp, Chief receives a signal without a friend-or-foe tag (or IFF) indicating whom it belongs to, so he proceeds with caution. The Chief draws his pistol; only discover that it is Anton-044, who disabled his IFF tag so the Covenant wouldn't discover his location. Anton leads the Master Chief to the entrance of a cavern, where two Spartans - Grace-093 and Li-008 - operate chainguns bolted to the sides of boulders. Master Chief and Anton, followed by Grace, enter the cavern. Inside, Admiral Whitcomb stands at a foldout card table: Camp Independence.
Admiral Whitcomb questions why the Chief is here, instead of on the mission with Captain Keyes deep inside Covenant territory. The Chief recounts a long story about the events that happened on Halo. Partway through, Haverson and the others arrive. Haverson asks Whitcomb how he is alive, and the Admiral tells Haverson that while everyone was evacuating, he stayed behind to help work on a new bomb called the NOVA, which possesses enough explosive force to destroy a planet. Whitcomb armed the NOVAs with fail-safe tampering detonators and a countdown timer. Whitcomb had a team of Marines - Charlie Company - help arm the NOVAs, but they were wiped out. He then "asked" on coded COM to borrow a few Spartans, who armed the NOVAs and had since given the Covenant trouble with hit-and-run attacks. The rest of Red Team remains trapped underground in the tunnels beneath the CASTLE facility.
Using the Covenant dropship, the Chief's group goes to rescue the remaining Red Team members. They enter a huge cavern filled with Covenant forces: a few Elites, Jackals, and mostly Grunts clearing a cave-in. They land the dropship half a kilometer away from the Covenant forces. After managing to destroy the Covenant, three Spartans - Kelly, Fred, and Will - emerge from cover. Whitcomb asks if there are any more, and Fred replies that there is one: Dr. Halsey, holding a fist-sized crystal. As they are about to leave, they detect more forces and become surrounded by thousands of Covenant - Grunts, Jackals, Elites and several pairs of Hunters - on each of the gallery's twelve levels. A single Hunter pair fires their weapons at the humans; the rest of the Covenant opens fire a split second later.
Back in space, the Ascendant Justice emerges from slipspace in the system's Oort cloud to hide. Using the dissected Covenant AI, Cortana eavesdrops on the Covenant data streams, discovering that the Covenant is heading to Earth.
Section 4: Gambit
It is revealed that the Covenant forces weren't shooting at the group, but rather the Hunters, as they were under orders to take the crystal intact. Kelly takes two direct hits from the Hunters' plasma shots and is incapacitated. The Covenant then advances toward the group. Whitcomb signals for Polaski to pick them up and they leave just in time. However, while going up the gravity lift, the Covenant reverses it, pushing them back down. When Li opens the door to fire Jackhammer rockets up the shaft, the crystal changes shape and disables the gravity lift. Once they exit the cavern, the crystal returns to normal.
On the Ascendant Justice, Cortana uses Engineers to combine the Covenant ship with another - the UNSC Gettysburg - to use its additional reactor power for maneuvering. She microjumps into slipspace and emerges at the rendezvous point, in the middle of the Covenant fleet. Chief and the survivors enter the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice. However, when Cortana jumps back into slipspace, the crystal causes them to enter an anomalous slipspace field with unusual properties, and the Covenant fleet follows. The fleet opens fire, but the plasma behaves erratically: doing loops, curving, and teleporting, etc. During the fight, Elites that survived the purge of the Ascendant Justice blow a small hole through its hull. The Spartans and Polaski go out to repair it, but encounter the Elites. As they fight, erratic plasma kills Polaski, Li, and Anton, and severely wounds Kelly. Desperate to escape, Cortana attempts to re-enter normal space. She succeeds, stranding the Covenant in slipspace and destroying them via sudden decompression of the anomalous slipspace field created by the crystal.
Section 5: Massacre at Eridanus Secundus
Recovering on the Gettysburg, the Master Chief learns from Cortana that the Covenant has found Earth, and are preparing for a massive assault. Heading to the bridge, the Master Chief confers with Admiral Whitcomb and Lieutenant Haverson about their options. Their brief trip through the alternate dimension has placed them in the former Outer Colonies: long since destroyed by the Covenant, and with no nearby UNSC base to repair their ship. Additionally, the crystal emits an unknown radiation that will kill the crew in 72 hours. Learning that they are near the Eridanus system, John informs Whitcomb that a former Insurrectionist base may still be active.
On the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice, Dr. Halsey tells the Chief that Linda will live. She then talks to him about Sergeant Johnson and his survival against the Flood. She reveals that Johnson has Boren's Syndrome: the only known defense against the Flood. Halsey gives John two data crystals containing information about the Flood: the first contains Dr. Halsey's analysis and a possible inoculation, and the second contains the source file of her conclusion, which would kill Johnson. She tells him to decide which one he wants to give to Haverson. After he leaves, Halsey and Cortana discuss the crystal and find that it can warp space, gravity, and even time. When Halsey and the Spartans found the crystal, it transported the Chief and the survivors back in time. Halsey realizes that neither the Covenant nor ONI Section Three may control the crystal. She erases Cortana's memory of her discussion with the Master Chief and analysis of the crystal.
For repairs, the group head to the system's asteroid belt, home of the rebel base Eridanus Secundus. During not-too-friendly negotiations with Governor Jacob Jiles, a Covenant ship finds the group - due to the radiation the crystal emits upon exiting slipspace - and enters normal space. Despite malfunctioning plasma turrets, the crew of the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice engages. When Cortana informs them that the magnetic coils used to shape the plasma aren't working, the Chief suggests using the Gettysburg's MAC gun coils to shape it instead. During the fight, Halsey sedates Kelly and gives Locklear the crystal, ordering him to do whatever is necessary to ensure the Covenant does not retrieve it. She then steals an Insurrectionist stealth vessel and flees to the location she discovered from Ackerson's logs on Reach. Locklear, devastated by the loss of his love, Polaski, takes the crystal down to a small bay and plants C-7 to destroy it. He blows the crystal up, accidentally killing himself in the process.
Section 6: Operation: FIRST STRIKE
While the crew of the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice is able to retrieve a few shards of the crystal, they have things that are more important on mind: the Covenant invasion of Earth. Cortana reveals that they are gathering at a battle station called the Unyielding Hierophant. The Master Chief comes up with a plan: with help from a copy of Cortana's subroutines, he and the Spartans will go to the station in a modified dropship, infiltrate it, and blow up the reactors, delaying the launch of the fleet. Whitcomb agrees, but refuses to further risk Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice, as they need to warn Earth about the Covenant fleet.
John, Fred, Linda, Grace, and Will enter the station without incident, but are forced to detour through a temple complex. There, they encounter Brutes. The Master Chief grapples with one, barely making it out alive, and Grace is killed in the skirmish. After the fight, the Chief activates the fail-safe system in Grace's suit, killing many Covenant in the process. The four remaining Spartans make it to the reactors and rig them to explode. With ten minutes to escape, the Spartans commandeer three Banshees with the help of Linda's sniper fire. The Master Chief then rescues Linda from oncoming Covenant reinforcements.
After escaping the station, the Spartans steal a Spirit dropship and are surprised to receive the "Oly Oly Oxen Free" signal. Responding to the signal, the Spartans raise Admiral Whitcomb, who directs them to the other side of a nearby moon, explaining that he had taken Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice into the Oort cloud to do reconnaissance on the Covenant fleet, but realized from the size of it that even taking out the station and warning Earth would not be enough.
On the other side of the moon, the Spartans find the Gettysburg, but no sign of the Ascendant Justice. On board, they learn that the crew removed the Covenant ship's slipspace engine and installed it in the Gettysburg. Whitcomb and Haverson, who took the Covenant ship, crashed it into the central section of the Unyielding Hierophant. Faking the crystal's appearance with a holograph, they broadcast a message to the Covenant fleet in an attempt to lure them onto the Ascendant Justice. When the Unyielding Hierophant reactors detonate, the explosion destroys the Ascendant Justice alongside almost five hundred ships of the Covenant invasion force, leaving a dozen left. The five human survivors - John-117, Fred-104, Linda-058, Will-043, and Sergeant Avery J. Johnson - and Cortana proceed to a random location under the Cole Protocol, and then return to Earth to warn them about the impending Covenant invasion.
Section 7: Harbinger
On High Charity, Tartarus gives an orb containing shards of the Forerunner crystal to the High Prophet of Truth. The Prophet orders Tartarus to reward the Covenant that recovered the shards and then execute them silently, and punish the commander for losing the Ascendant Justice.
2010 bonus content
The Tor Books edition of First Strike features a new "Adjunct" section at the end, which includes several pieces of short fiction:
Cover art artwork