THE SIEGE OF SHANXI

Chapter One: Prologue

I don't own Bioware

SENIOR OFFICER QUARTERS

GARRISON BASE 'ECHO'

TWENTY KILOMETRES FROM OUTREACH CITY

ALLIANCE COLONY SHANXI

JUNE 6TH, 2157

=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 Executive Officer of the 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. The pleasant, often cathartic, experience of getting astoundingly drunk was outweighed by the value of beginning the morning in good spirits.

"Implement the protocol, if you'd be so kind." Ganju was often the butt of many jokes for his consistent politeness, even to computers. As he neatly folded back his thermal blanket and slipped his feet over the side of the bed into his slippers, he reminded himself that those who mocked him had no idea what good manners were.

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.

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.

For seven long, luxurious minutes, Ganju relaxed into the hot water, thoroughly soaping and scrubbing himself. The importance of personal hygiene in the life of a soldier could never be underestimated. After seventy two hours without the most basic cleansing, the human body started to decay. The loss of skin cells, hair follicles, the build up of bacteria around the crotch, armpits, behind the ears and between the toes, all would lead to sickness. Ask any man what the most deadly weapon in the American Civil War had been, and he would tell you: The wash cloth. Savvy commanders had encouraged cleanliness among the troops, and consequently, when the time came to do battle, the soldiers were not dead from dysentery, skin rot or pneumonia.

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.

"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.

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.

"Shishka, Mahakali. Gods who shelter me, nourish me, and give me strength. I ask for nothing more than health for life and courage for death. Grant me these things, and be ever present in my hour of need. Without you, there can be no victory."

Though he had been ribbed for his good manners, no man had ever mocked Ganju for his personal beliefs. He spent twenty minutes every morning completely focused on his prayer and meditation. Hinduism helped him to appreciate the spiritual things in everyday life. It added perspective to his role in the wider scheme of things.

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.

All was right with his world.

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GARRISON COMMANDER'S QUARTERS

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.

"Yessir?"

"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 boots 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. Just another ordinary day.

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"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."

"I wasn't passing up a chance to beat Captain Grimes at his own game," 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," 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, he..."

"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. Instead, he was a beloved one. True, he demanded, and received, high standards of training and discipline. But as long as uniforms were squared away, bunks were made, PT performed to above satisfactory standards, and proper respect paid to officers, then anything else went. Drugs were a big 'NO', but alcohol was always available after duty hours were finished. Garrison life was boring, the troops needed entertainment.

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?"

"Or land in someone else's backyard and start an intergalactic war?" Ganju joked. "Wouldn't that be something?"

"No thanks," General Williams breathed slightly easier as his feet fell into the usual rhythm against the ground. "I would be perfectly content to not once have to do the job they pay me for."

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SSV LEYTE GULF

TALEVERA-CLASS FRIGATE

IN ORBIT OVER SHANXI

"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.

"I'm not going to waste your time with a fancy speech," DiMisso continued. "But suffice it to say, this will be an adventure that none of us will forget soon."

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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.