Halo: First Strike

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Halo: First Strike
First Strike.jpg
Definitive Edition


Eric Nylund


Del Rey Books
Tor Books (2010 edition)

Publication date:

December 2, 2003 (original)
December 21, 2010 (2010 edition)

Media type:

Print (Paperback)


352 pages


0345467817, 978-0345467812


Halo: First Strike is a Halo novel authored by Eric Nylund. It was published in December 2003,[1] after being written in a period of sixteen weeks.[2]

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.

The novel, along with The Fall of Reach and The Flood, was reissued in 2010 by Tor Books, with the new version including some content updates.[3]

Official summaries[edit]

Original edition by Del Rey Books[edit]

The Human-Covenant war rages on as the alien juggernaut sweeps inexorably towards its final goal: Destruction of all human life!

Halo has been destroyed, and the threat it posed to sentient life, neutralized. But victory has come at a terrible cost for the UNSC. Thousands of valiant soldiers fell in the battle to prevent the alien construct from falling into the enemy's clutches. Now, everything depends on the Spartan known as the "Master Chief." Yet even with the aid of the artificial intelligence known as Cortana, the Master Chief will be hard-pressed to rescue survivors and evade the Covenant ships patrolling the remains of Halo in debris-strewn space. Ahead lies a dangerous voyage home, through a gauntlet of Covenant forces. For the sake of all, the Master Chief and his war-torn squad must not only survive, but take the fight to the enemy with a decisive first strike.

Definitive edition by Tor[edit]

Rounding out Tor’s series of reissues of the original three Halo novels, this newly edited and revised edition of First Strike is a must-have for all Halo fans. Featuring author Eric Nylund at the helm, this tale bridges the events that take place in the game Halo: Combat Evolved (as novelized in The Flood) and its blockbuster follow-up, Halo 2.

After destroying the first Halo, Master Chief and Cortana attempt to voyage back home among a myriad of deadly Covenant attacks. With a battle weary squad, that includes the last of the Spartan-II survivors and the program’s creator, Dr. Catherine Halsey, First Strike delivers an action-packed space opera told against the backdrop of one of the richest and most complex Science Fiction franchises of our time.

2019 Gallery Books reprint[edit]

The New York Times bestselling aftermath of Halo: Combat Evolved featuring the Master Chief—part of the expanded universe based on the award-winning video game series!

2552. The theocratic military alliance known as the Covenant is showing no mercy as it continues to assault every human world it encounters, but in the way lies humanity’s greatest champion, the super-soldier Spartan John-117—the Master Chief. Together with his AI companion Cortana and the last remaining Spartans, the galaxy-spanning fight rages on two fronts following the destruction of the human military stronghold Reach by Covenant forces and the mysterious artificial ringworld known as “Halo” at the hands of the Master Chief.

One faction—a squad of Spartans lead by Blue Team’s Fred-104 and Kelly-087—is trapped on the glassed surface of Reach, the only planet they’ve ever known as home. And beneath this ruined world, Dr. Catherine Halsey has discovered an ancient secret...one that could alter the course of the war. Meanwhile, the Master Chief and Cortana lead a second group toward a gathering of Covenant warships, as the United Nations Space Command’s worst nightmare has finally come true: the Covenant has discovered the location of Earth and is forming a massive fleet to utterly destroy it, as well as all who oppose the indomitable will of the Prophet...

Plot synopsis[edit]

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Section 0: Reach[edit]

The prologue begins before the Fall of Reach flashing back to Chapter 34 in Halo: The Fall of Reach where Captain Keyes informed Master Chief Petty Officer 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 forced to jump from the vehicle after the pilot gets hit by plasma fire from Seraph fighters. The impact at terminal velocity 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 Jackals 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. During the assault, Joshua's Banshee is shot down and he is presumed dead. Fred and Kelly complete the mission without complications.

Despite their efforts, however, the Covenant manage to overrun the reactors on Reach and the Covenant fleet begins glassing Reach. 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: Threshold[edit]

The narrative then moves to the debris field of Installation 04, right after the events of Halo: Combat Evolved. Aboard the Longsword, Cortana and the Master Chief used to escape the destruction, Cortana and the Chief converse, with the Chief insisting that Cortana repeat her scans of the debris for any signs of life.

Cortana detects a battle group of seven Covenant starships and a flagship. She also finds three cryo-chambers that were jettisoned from the Pillar of Autumn prior to its crash on Halo. While she moves the Longsword towards the cryopods, she discovers a Pelican hiding nearby. As the Chief retrieves the cryo tubes 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,[4] and an ONI Lieutenant, Elias Haverson. The Master Chief, 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 he must not have tasted good to the Flood. After confirming with Cortana that he isn't infected Master Chief 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, and their vessel has 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, escaping Halo's remains. 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 Pelican to get the gear left there. When they are at the Pelican, Johnson contacts the Chief informing him that there is a Spartan in one of the cryotubes.

Meanwhile, back at Earth, UNSC HIGHCOM 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 UNSC Pillar of Autumn escaped destruction. Also revealed here is that Colonel James Ackerson, who was supposedly reassigned after the events of 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 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[edit]

The narrative then 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 then 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 Spartans, including Isaac-039 , Vinh-030 and Will-043. They meet up with Doctor Halsey, who treats their injuries, and sends them to retrieve some new weapons - the BR55 Battle Rifle and the M6C magnum sidearm.

At the lab, Dr. Halsey discovers Colonel Ackerson's plans, which were 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 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 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 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: Rescue[edit]

Meanwhile, out in space, Master Chief and Cortana, along with the last survivors of Installation 04 including Sergeant Johnson, find out that one of the cryotubes that Master Chief found contains Linda-058. The others had contained Marines, but they had died due to cryotube malfunction. While in the Longsword the Master Chief strips off some pieces from the craft, to reinforce a Covenant dropship they are going to use. As they walk into the hangar of the Ascendant Justice, Master Chief and Sgt. Johnson witness Polaski practicing how to drive a Covenant dropship. 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: a six-note tune, "Oly Oly Oxen Free". No one on the bridge recognizes it - except the Master Chief. The section then returns to July 14, 2523 as a memory reviews the time 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, John 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 comms 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. The Chief 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 the Chief proceeded with caution. The Chief 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 the Master Chief 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. Master Chief 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 the Chief was there, instead of the mission with Captain Keyes deep in Covenant territory. The Chief 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, 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. The Chief'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 the Master Chief 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 that the Covenant forces were heading to Earth.

Section 4: Gambit[edit]

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 microjumps into Slipspace, and jumps out right in the middle of the Covenant fleet, at the rendezvous point. The Chief's men get into 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 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 revert 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 Secundus[edit]

Recovering on the Gettysburg, the Master Chief learns from Cortana that the Covenant have 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, which have long since been destroyed by the Covenant, meaning there is no nearby UNSC base to repair their ship. Additionally, the crystal emits an unknown radiation in slipspace which will kill the crew in 72 hours. Learning that they are near the Eridanus system, John informs Admiral Whitcomb that of a former Insurrectionist base that may still be active.

In the Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice, Halsey tells the Chief that Linda will live. She then talks to him about Johnson and his survival against the Flood. She reveals that Johnson has Boren's Syndrome, 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 kill Sergeant Johnson. She tells him to decide whether 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 her group had found the crystal, the Chief and his group were transported back in time. Halsey realizes that the crystal cannot be allowed be controlled by either the Covenant or ONI Section Three, and erases Cortana's memory of the discussion with the Master Chief and the analysis of the crystal.

For repairs, the group head to the Eridanus Secundus asteroid belt, home of a rebel resistance. 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 Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice decide to engage it. When Cortana informs them that the magnetic coils used to shape the plasma aren't working, the Chief comes up with the idea to use the magnetic coils of the Gettysburg's MAC gun to shape it. During the fight, 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. Locklear, devastated by the loss of his love, Polaski, takes the crystal down to a small bay and sets it up with C-7. He blows the crystal up, accidentally killing himself in the process.

Section 6: Operation: FIRST STRIKE[edit]

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 Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice 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. The Master Chief comes up with a daring plan to blow up the station and delay the launch of 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. Whitcomb agrees, but refuses to risk Gettysburg-Ascendant Justice further due to a need to get a warning to Earth of the threat from the Covenant fleet.

The Spartans make it to the station without incident, but are forced to take a detour through a temple complex. There, they encounter Brutes. The Master Chief grapples with a Brute, and barely makes it out alive. However, Grace is killed in the skirmish. After the fight, the Chief activates the failsafe system of Grace's suit, 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. 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 and realized from the size of it that even taking out the station and warning Earth would not 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 had taken the Slipspace engine of the Ascendant Justice and installed it on the Gettysburg, while Whitcomb and Haverson have taken the Covenant ship, which they soon crash into the central section of the Unyielding Hierophant. They broadcast a message to the Covenant fleet that if they want the crystal (which they fake with a holograph, as the crystal was destroyed earlier by Locklear) all they have to do is come and get them from the Ascendant Justice. When the Unyielding Hierophant's reactors detonate, the explosion destroys the Ascendant Justice along with some five hundred ships of the Covenant invasion force, leaving about a dozen ships. The five human survivors of the operation, John-117, Frederic-104, Linda-058, William-043, Sergeant Avery J. Johnson, and Cortana proceed to a random location under Cole Protocol and then return to Earth to warn them about the impending Covenant invasion.

Section 7: Harbinger[edit]

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 commander responsible for losing the Ascendant Justice.

Spoilers end here.







2010 bonus content[edit]

The Tor Books edition of First Strike features a new "Adjunct" section at the end, which includes several pieces of short fiction:


  • The original cover of the book had a graphic error on the Master Chief'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, it is stated that twenty-seven Spartans were carried to the surface of Reach aboard Bravo 001; however in Halo: The Fall of Reach it is stated that "two dozen Spartans" were present at Reach, in addition to the Master Chief, with three other Spartans (later revealed to be Gray Team) "engaged on fields of combat too distant to be easily recalled". Therefore, the Pelican that Fred-104 takes to the surface should only have twenty-two Spartans, (including Fred) since John-117 takes two Spartans with him in a separate Pelican for the mission to Gamma Station. Several recent sources have definitively stated that twenty-two Spartans were assigned to Red Team, with the three-member Blue Team dispatched to Gamma Station and Gray Team behind enemy lines and thus out of contact.[5][6][7][8][9]
  • In the original printing, the Longsword that John and the other survivors of the Battle of Installation 04 used to board Ascendant Justice is consistently referred to as a Pelican. This is corrected in the revised edition.
  • One of the Spartans on the cover of the 2010 edition seems to be wearing Mark IV armor, though no Spartans in Operation: FIRST STRIKE were equipped with Mark IV armor anymore. It is possible that this Spartan is simply wearing elements of the Mark IV with his/her Mark V armor.
  • In the 2010 version, Brutes are no longer described as a never-before-seen Covenant species.
  • In the 2010 adjunct section, Fred-104 is incorrectly referred to as a lieutenant during his psychological evaluation, which takes place during the early stages of the Battle for Earth. He actually held the rank of senior chief petty officer at this time and was not promoted to lieutenant, junior grade until the Onyx Conflict.