Chapter One: Routine











JUNE 6TH, 2157

A good routine was everything to a good soldier.

=The time is: Zero. Four. Thirty= The housekeeping computer politely informed the reclining figure on the bed. =Would you like to implement Protocol Gurung Alpha? Or do you wish to delay it?=

Lieutenant Colonel Ganju Gurung, former Commanding Officer of the First Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles (British Army) and current Chief of Staff for the 3rd Garrison Division (Systems Alliance Marine Corps), awoke feeling refreshed and renewed. He had, as usual, deliberately limited himself to just two pints of bitter at the Officer's Club on the previous evening. His days of drunkenly carousing with fellow officers over a good bottle of scotch were few and far between these last few years. A young man might indulge in such behaviour with impunity. An older one needed to watch his diet with a little more strictness. Not so much as to cut away drinking altogether, of course. A few drinks each evening was simply routine. And a good routine was everything to a good soldier.

"Implement the protocol, if you'd be so kind." Ganju was often the butt of many jokes for his consistent politeness, even to computers. Not that such banter disturbed him, indeed he frequently returned it in kind. But good manners were good manners, even to a machine.

Soft violin music floated out of the speakers, positioned strategically around the room so that he would never be without the comforting strains of the second movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony. The music

First in his morning routine came Ganju's bath. If there was one thing that Sandhurst Royal Military College had imparted to him, it was the value of a bath every morning. A shower was nice for when you were utterly filthy, or simply in a hurry, but a gentleman should always take the time to enjoy his wash. It was one of the many small things that an officer could do to ease the strain of leadership and strengthen his own morale, the comfort to be found in routine. And a good routine was everything to a good soldier.

For seven long, luxurious minutes, Ganju relaxed into the hot water, thoroughly soaping and scrubbing himself. Even in his indulgences there was purpose. Such was his manner and it was far too late in life to begin altering such behaviours. As soporific as the bath might be, his purpose was still to clean himself, so that was simply what he did.

Ganju had learned the hard way during the fight to retake Kabul from the resurgent People's Islamic Revolution. As a young Lance Corporal, he had been so focused on keeping his squad of riflemen alive and fighting, he had neglected a seemingly insignificant wound on his left leg. His foolishness had almost cost him his leg once the damn cut began to fester in the putrid fighting conditions. The rebuke the battalion surgeon had given him had been stinging enough to stick with him during all three of his combat tours as an NCO and both of his fighting deployments as an officer. He had never neglected his hygiene again. A basin of half clean water or some wet wipes would suffice, but a hot bath was just more enjoyable.

=The time allotted for bathing has expired=

The computer's simulated inflections were almost laughingly crude. It almost made Ganju long for the days when any officer would be granted a batman to take care of personal details. Now, the only one lucky enough to merit a 'personal assistant' was the General himself.

Rising from the water, he retrieved a towel and vigorously dried himself. Retrieving a toothbrush and an electric razor, he took care of the other aspects of his personal grooming. As a young soldier he had often rolled his eyes at the ridiculous adherence to grooming standards some by the books NCO's seemed to insist on. These long years later, a morning shave was yet another part of his routine. And a good routine was everything to a good soldier

"Computer, time check."

=The time is: Zero. Four. Forty=

First stage of morning routine dealt with in ten minutes. Just like every other morning. Ganju was not an obsessive compulsive, but he couldn't deny the basic satisfaction it gave him to simply have his life in order. Everything, at least in this room, was as set and stable as the laws of gravity.

Shanxi's day cycle was longer than the Earth standard. Some of the garrison troopers grumbled at having to tack an extra two hours onto everything, but Ganju liked the extra time. It meant an earlier sunrise and a later sunset. More time to get things done. But before any work or training could be done, there were important things that had to be dealt with first.

Removing a small box from the top of his desk, he placed it on the ground, then sat cross legged next to it. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and took himself away from his functional, practical, but tasteful room. He was again in hills of Nepal, sitting on the rock overlooking the valley in which his father's flocks were peacefully grazing.

His head bowed in prayer, the way his father and grandfather before him had instructed and which he had obeyed with faithful diligence since he was old enough to understand the words. Even in times when his faith had faltered he had still made time for his morning prayer. Even if it was just for the routine. Routine was everything to a good soldier.

Opening the lid of the box, Ganju reverently removed his long, curved knife from inside. The kukri was the long bladed knife used by every Gurkha. Ganju had hand forged his with tough Sheffield steel, and sharpening it every morning was his way of praying to Mahakali, the Goddess of War. There was no real need for it to be sharp, of course. He hadn't used it in combat in years, and even then there had only been rare opportunities to come within arm's reach of the enemy to take a swing at them. But it was still his routine.

And routine was everything to a good soldier.



0500 HOURS

"Good morning General," Corporal Henkshaw was careful to speak with a low voice. "I let you have an extra half hour, sir, so I suggest you hurry up and get ready for you morning run with Colonel Gurung, sir."

"Henkshaw?" A head entrenched in a pillow groaned as the brain inside it swam back to consciousness.


"Bugger off."

"Of course sir, after you're up and on your way for a nice seven kilometre jog with your Chief of Staff, sir." Henkshaw opened his Commanding Officer's clothing drawers and withdrew a sweatsuit and running shoes from inside. He had served with the General before, once during the Second Falklands War, and again during the riots in Lowell City on Mars. Henkshaw had heard a comms device ringing ten feet away, and shoved the man closest to him away from the predictable explosion of an IED. The act of selflessness had cost Henkshaw his legs, and earned him the eternal friendship of the General.

"I'm fifty one, Corporal, I'm excused from running." Brigadier General Joaquim Williams extricated himself from the tumble of blankets he had thrown himself on top of after a night of drinking with his senior officers. The captain of the Astral Skimmer had stopped by at the Officer's Club for a friendly drink, then been carried back to his transport shuttle on a stretcher. Williams hadn't stinted on the tequila, succeeding in drinking the Merchant Navy puke right under the table. The predictable hangover was now slamming into him like a battering ram in a breeching exercise.

"Your wife told me to make sure you didn't get slack and lazy, sir," Henkshaw's clipped Cockney tone was reproving, but still cheerful. "Until you lose your legs, you've really got no excuse, sir."

"I suppose not," Williams gazed up ruefully. "Alright, thank you Corporal, have my shower and my coffee waiting for me when I get back."

"Aye aye, sir," Henkshaw nodded politely in lieu of a salute, then excused himself. The General would want a hearty breakfast after his run, and the Corporal was an excellent cook. Such was the routine they had established. A good routine well followed was the best way to keep ahead in life that Henkshaw could think of.


"Good morning Colonel." Williams trotted down the steps of his official residence to where his Chief of Staff was waiting. "Sleep well?"

"As I always do, sir," Ganju grinned at the sight of the General's bloodshot eyes. "Might I humbly suggest you begin abstaining from alcohol, sir? You're not as young as you used to be."

"If it's not my wife, it's you lecturing me on my drinking and smoking." Williams growled through his throbbing headache. "Now let's get this over with."

According to the standard Earth calendar, today was a Sunday, which meant everyone got a day of light duties. The more enthusiastic troopers in the garrison would use that as an opportunity to catch up on some PT, already there were men running the jogging track around the runway.

"Colonel Pressly got himself into trouble again last night," Ganju deliberately slowed his pace to a brisk jog, just to make it fair on his superior. He was able to use the extra breath to make an abbreviated daily report. "General?"

"I heard." Joaquim Williams had been the fastest runner in every unit he had served in. Right up until the time he hit the forty five mark, he had still been able to outrun any man who dared challenge him. His promotion and assignment to Shanxi had taken away much of the time he used to dedicate to training, slowing him down somewhat. "Was it serious?"

"No, just a mild case of verbally abusing the waiter who advised him to call it a night. A few words about his mother, nothing too serious." Ganju sniffed. "I wish you'd listen to my reports and replace him, sir."

"Matthias may have issues with his personal life, but are they affecting his professional duties?"

"No," Ganju admitted. "But sir, his drinking is beginning to be noticed. It's affecting the behaviour of his officers, and having a detrimental effect on the morale of his…"

"I'll speak to him," Williams cut him off. "But I'm not going to put my best commander on the carpet over a few loose words."

"Yes, sir." There were times when the General's easy going nature clashed with Ganju's professionalism. Williams was far too soft to be a feared commander, and both men knew it. He had very little bark and less bite. But his style was effective enough for a colonial command, Gurung wouldn't deny that. Any other commander might have drilled his troops into the ground and then had the gall to act surprised when half of them discharged at the end of their first contract. Instead, Williams ran the garrison with a fair degree of lenience. It made Ganju's job harder, but it certainly kept morale up.

As Chief of Staff, Ganju was responsible for making sure all officers and men in the division were up to the standards expected of the. It was a huge undertaking, but one he could perform with speed, pride, and efficiency. A major downside was that sometimes he just couldn't do his job. True, Colonel Matthias Pressly was an exceptional field tactician, but he drank like a sailor permanently on leave.

Ganju picked up speed, Williams struggled to keep up. The Gurkha felt a twinge of shame at his momentary pettiness and dropped back. "By the way sir, Commander DiMisso informed me that the Astral Skimmer will be departing for its examination of the new, dormant relay, along with the rest of the science vessels. SSV Lepanto and SSV Leyte Gulf will be accompanying them as escorts."

"I wish them luck," Williams looked up at the early morning sky. The sun was beginning to shine on the horizon. "Activating a dormant relay would be a massive part of our colonial expansion. Who knows what new worlds it could open up?"

"I share your enthusiasm sir. Just as long as Grimes doesn't get something wrong and blow everything up."

"Grimes may be a bad captain, but he's a good scientist. What could he do wrong? Make it more dormant than it already is?"

"He could trigger something and blow us all up with his tinkering?" Ganju offered the alternative with a stoic shrug.

"Well if that was the case," Williams flashed Ganju a grin as he picked up speed. "We'd all be dead before we knew what was happening and you'd be able to tell Grimes off while we're all standing in line for the Pearly Gates."

"Well I suppose either way I come out on top in that arrangement." Ganju laughed as he matched pace with the General, their feet beating a steady rhythm on the pavement as they ran toward the sunrise.





The frigate bustled with activity as the last of the stores from the resupply shuttles were carefully stowed within the mess, the cargo hold and the central magazine. Well trained and well drilled, the crew had most of the stores tucked away within minutes.

Tony DiMisso's boots rang on the deck as he ascended the central stairwell from the cargo bay to the bridge of the Leyte Gulf. A typical frigate, the Leyte possessed only two decks and minimal crew quarters, but she was still his ship, his new command. The freshly minted Staff Commander was still savouring every second aboard her.

"Can you imagine it, sir?" Bright eyed and practically trembling with excitement, his communications officer Ensign Clarissa Hobbes was following him closely, her short legs easily keeping with his long strides in her eagerness. "A new relay opened. New worlds to explore, new star systems to chart."

"It's certainly something to write home about." Tony found himself smiling at her enthusiasm. "They've never tried this technique before. Normally it takes weeks, as much as two months. Captain Grimes thinks he can cut that down to days. Maybe even hours."

Hobbes was practically bouncing on her toes. "It's a revolution in technology. And we're going to be there to see it. Be part of history itself."

"We're the lucky ones, Ensign." DiMisso returned the salute of the bridge guards as he entered the ship's CIC. "They'll be writing about us for decades."

The CIC was bustling with activity when they entered. Hobbes quickly took her position at the communications console,

"All hands, this is Staff Commander DiMisso." The heavy frigate's CO stood on the bridge of his ship. "We have a very important mission assigned to us today. We are to escort the Astral Skimmer and her accompanying science vessels to Project OUTBOUND. Today, we begin investigating the possibility of actually activating a dormant Mass Relay."

Everyone, from the engineers to the Marines, perked up their ears at the news. It meant something different to each of them. To the Marines, it meant more worlds to find and explore. To the navigators, it meant untold wonders and challenges of deep space exploration. The engineers...well, they immediately started complaining about the extra workload.

"Now I've only got so many speeches to give every time we head out from port, so I'll keep this one brief.

Turning to his helmsman he gave him a nod. "Take us out to the lead of the flight."

"Formation, sir?"

"Routine. Keep our scanners focused on all likely hiding holes for pirates or scavengers." DiMisso settled into his command seat. "No need to go deliberately looking for trouble."


A/N: And so begins my new project. After the travesty that was the latest Mass Effect comic (I liked the Illusive Man's origins storyline, but they majorly screwed over the Shanxi storyline) I began to imagine what might have REALLY gone on in a protracted siege, those people who might have been involved, and the technology available. I'll follow up on this idea in the next few weeks, introduce more characters, both humans and turians, work out a good plotline, research some tech stuff and get back to you.

Updated 16 Aug 2016.