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Linda's medical data winked on a display along with the entire Spartan roster: a long list of every Spartan's current operational status. Only a handful was left, almost every one of them listed as wounded in action or missing in action.
"No KIAs?" Dr. Halsey murmured. She touched SPARTAN-034's entry. "Sam is listed as missing in action. Why would that be? He died in 2525."
"ONI Section TwoDirective Nine-Three-Zero," Cortana replied. "When ONI went public with the Spartan-II program it was decided that reports of Spartan losses could cause a crippling loss of morale. Consequently, any Spartan casualties are listed as MIA or WIA, in order to maintain the illusion that Spartans do not die."
"Spartans never die?" she whispered. Dr. Halsey swiveled out of the contour chair and pushed themonitors out of her way with a sudden violence. "If only that were true."
—HALO: First Strike, page 249
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PROLOGUE
BETA COMPANY'S VICTORY AT PEGASI DELTA
1135 HOURS, JULY 3, 2545 (MILITARY CALENDAR) \
51 PEGASI-B SYSTEM, TARGET AREA APACHE, PLANET
PEGASI DELTA
The orbital pod impacted, and metal wrenched and sparked. Inside his cocoon of titanium,lead foil, and stealth ablative coating, SPARTAN-B292 watched black stars explode across his vision, he tasted blood in his mouth, and the last air compressed from his lungs.
Tom's training kicked in: he pulled the pod's twisted frame apart and blinked in the bright blue sunlight.
Something was wrong. 85 Pegasi-914A was supposed to be a faint yellow sun. This was electric blue—boiling plasmablue.
He jumped, rolling to one side as the blast washed over him. The outer layers of his Semi-Powered Infiltration armor boiled and peeled like a bad sunburn.
"Training," his instructor, Lieutenant Commander Ambrose, had said. "Your training must become part of your instinct. Drill until it becomes part of your bones." Tom reacted without thought; a lifetime of training took over.
He raised hisMA5K assault rifle and fired along the trajectory of the plasma bolt, making sure to sweep low.
His eyes cleared, and as he automatically reloaded his weapon, he finally saw the surface of Pegasi Delta. It could have been hell: red rocks; orange dust-filled sky; the scars of a dozen impact skids and craters around him; and thirty meters ahead, dark purple splashes of Jackal blood soaking into thesand.
Tom pulled out his Sidearm and warily moved to the fallen aliens. There were five with extensive wounds to their lower legs. He shot them each once in their odd angular vulturelike heads, then he knelt, relieved them of their plasma grenades, and stripped off their forearm force shields.
Although Tom wore a full suit of Semi-Powered Infiltration armor (colloquially called "SPI" armor bySection Three techno-philes), its hardened plates and photo-reactive panels could only take a few glancing shots before failing. The armor's camouflag-ing textures sputtered and stabilized, however; and once again blended into the rocky terrain.
Every SPARTAN-III had received extensive training in using the enemy's equipment, so Tom would improvise. He strapped one of the Jackal shields to hisforearm. It was excellent protection, as long as you remembered to crouch behind it and cover your legs, a tactic larger UNSC soldiers would have trouble accomplishing.
The display on his faceplate flickered to life, a transparent layer of ghostly green topology. One hundred kilometers overhead, the baseball-sized Stealth Tactical Aerial Reconnaissance Satellite, or STARS, had come online.
A singleblinking dot appeared that represented his position. Tom was five kilometers south of the primary target.
He scanned the horizon and saw the Covenant factory city in the distance, looming from the rocky surface like a castle of rust with giant smokestacks and blue plasma coils pulsing deep inside. Beyond the factory lay the lavender shoreline of a toxic sea.
Additional dots appeared on his...
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