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Probe Launched

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Hesitation is a human emotion, a thing of sentient beings. EDI tells herself this, know that despite her advanced programming, her ability to learn, evolve, and adapt, the truth is that she is not one of them. Nor will she ever be.

Hesitation, the emotions that cause it, fear, embarrassment, a near desperate desire not to simply bother another, should not be something she is capable of. Or rather, not something that she is a slave of. These are the current thoughts that overwork her processors, and she is grateful, as much as she can be, that it is the night shift aboard the Normandy. Her services are not required this late in the night, so she can allocate the data and energy needed for her conundrum without worry of impeding the ships productivity.

EDI hears a variation of her own voice, prerecorded and more robotic, echoing across the main floor of deck two. And then, after a beat, it sounds off again, announcing the firing of another probe into the atmosphere of a giant of a planet, the familiar ping of elements being obtained the only indication of a human's presence.

Shepard sits before the galaxy map, oblivious to the world around her. With her back hunched and legs crossed, the fingers of her left hand dart across the holographic surface of the world they orbit, scanners humming, searching for ore.

EDI wants to tell her that it is well past 0200 hours, that she has been sitting before the map for near four. The speech patterns and thought processes are all laid out before her, a quick reminder in a light tone of the time, perhaps medical information regarding lack of sleep and how it can detriment reflexes, and endanger a mission. But there is another part of her, a distinctly alarming trait of  her adaptive programming, that wants to simply lower her voice to something gentle, unobtrusive, and ask the commander softly; 'Are you alright?'

But she does not. She canno t, hesitates without any logical reason as to why, there is simply something in her programming, a malfunction perhaps, or a quirk of her absorbing the traits of the humans and other sentient beings about her, that gives the sense that such a thing would be unwelcome. From her, at the very least. If she were human, she might feel dejection at the thought.

EDI does a quick scan of the ship and crew, cycling across those who are still awake. Her programming tells her that Kelly Chambers would be the most logical option, her extensive psychiatric training could prove invaluable in understanding what is keeping their commander awake. However, miss Chambers is asleep and EDI finds that she... feels the yeoman’s presence would be equally unwelcome, that it would only serve to shut Shepard down further.

Another then, perhaps one who would not need to be disturbed from slumber. Miss Lawson yet types away at her computer, but the steady focus in which she gives the screen is too reminiscent of Shepard’s current state of mind for EDI to intrude upon. Another option would be Jack, awake as well beneath the Cargo Hold, but she is nearly always awake at this time, forced to consciousness by what appear to be extremely vivid dreams. She currently sits on her cot, surrounded by data pads and throwing what appears to be some sort of ball against one of the metal walls with a resounding clang that only grows louder with the more force she uses.

Most certainly not.

And then she finds him.

“Mr. Krios. My apologies for the intrusion.”

Thane glances up at the ceiling, towards the hidden speaker which projects her voice. She is not able to physically manifest her orb of light within this room, it lacks the proper equipment, but she gets the sense that he appreciates this feature, though he would be too polite to say so, if asked. “Not at all, is something the matter?” He keeps his hands folded about the warm cup of tea upon the table as she speaks.

“It’s the commander.” His posture changes immediately, his hands pulling back from the mug, bracing upon the table as if ready to stand. If EDI had a human construct, human emotions, she wonders if she would fidget under such sudden, rapt attention. “Is she alright?”

“Physically, yes. Though I am...concerned. She has been at the galaxy map for nearly four hours now.” It’s possible his concern for her is based solely on duty, or perhaps fear that if something should happen to the commander, he would not be able to rescue his son. Regardless of his reasons, and without needing any more explanation, Thane stands, nodding once to her, to nothing, and steps out of the room.

EDI cannot help but wonder at his quick willingness to help. She has observed his conversations with the commander in life support, and has always been intrigued by the openness in which he speaks with Shepard. They’ve spoken extensively of his culture, his religion, the training of his early childhood, and recently they’ve edged into a more personal territory, his deceased wife, his lost son. Perhaps he feels a kinship to her now, a friendship. She hopes that it is enough.

The ship trembles, very lightly, as Shepard traverses outside the small solar system she had been mining, towards another. By the time Thane arrives at the combat information center, she has already entered the Lusarn system, and has begun sending probes off across the blue-purple surface of the planet Xetic, at the very outer edges of the solar system. The scanners find a rich deposit of Iridium and the fingers of her right hand twist, firing out a probe to mine them. If she notices Thane standing behind her, his hands held behind his back, she does not show it.

The scanner hums loud in the quiet, the sound unbroken by Thane’s deep voice as he speaks. “Good evening Shepard.” Another probe fires, and EDI resists the urge to silence the recording of her voice, announcing the departure. Shepard doesn’t turn, but she sits up a little straighter, twisting her fingers to turn the view of the planet. “Evening Thane. I’m surprised you’re up this late.”

He takes a single step closer, his posture the picture of nonchalance, and EDI wonders if Shepard could tell such a thing. She has found in various human literatures that many speak of sensing a sort of ‘aura’, a feeling or presence of another person’s will. “I share the sentiment. May I join you?”

There’s a slight shrug of her shoulders that gives her acquiescence. “Knock yourself out.” The scanner hums louder, the graph spiking with a deposit of Palladium that Shepard passes over as Thane comes to sit beside her, mirroring her posture. “What brings you up here, Thane?” There is a hint of suspicion in her voice that EDI detects, and she nearly speaks to admit what she has done, but she isn’t given the chance. Thane is faster.

“Would you believe me if I said I was feeling restless?”

Shepard’s laugh is little more than a huff of breath as she sends off another probe. “I’m surprised you can even get bored, being able to replay all your memories in perfect detail.” Thane inclines his head with a wry smile and EDI wonders if Shepard can see it, if she’s even looking, as encroached as she is with her current task.

“There are times when reliving even the happiest of memories can be too great a strain to one’s psyche. There is always a risk, as well, of addiction.”

“Addiction? Is that common?” Well, at least she’s paying attention to the conversation, and Thane it seems doesn’t mind that every other word is punctuated by a probe being fired off, or the scanners humming, or her own voice, explaining the functions of what the commander’s mining.

“Unfortunately yes. Countless Drell were lost in the death of our homeworld, but after the escape we lost hundreds more to our solipsism. Many wasted away in their grief, forgoing food, water, sleep, all so that they may live within the illusion of home. It was, as my parents described to me, a devastating time for our species.”

There is a weight in his words that has Shepard, for the first time in near four hours, looking away from the galaxy map, meeting the dark pools of his eyes. “I’m sorry to hear that Thane, and for reminding you of it.” He shakes his head, says simply, “There nothing to apologize for. It was an answer freely given, and the grief, though present, was sharpest in my ancestors. I feel it in them, but it is a distant pain, an empathy for a loss that I have not truly experienced. I was born on Kahje, and my parents were children when they fled Rakhana.”

Shepard’s voice is hesitant, as if she is working to find the correct thing to say, but in the wake of such loss, her diplomatic skills must feel useless “I see.” She visibly flinches as she says it, running a hand over her face, rubbing at her eyes. “No that’s not what...Sorry I’m- It’s late.”

“It is. May I ask-”

“Why I’m here and awake instead of sleeping in my quarters?”

He inclines his head in a singular nod as she glances back at the map, at the slowly turning planet hovering before her. “We’re low on Iridium, and the medibay needs an upgrade.” A low, wordless sound of acknowledgement vibrates in Thane’s throat, and Shepard breathes in sharply, exhaling the air in a sigh.

“It’s thoughtless, you know? Just something to do that doesn’t need diplomacy or focus, nothing like the reapers or the heaps of unread messages at my terminal. These supplies help the ship, the crew, upgrade our armor, our weapons. We need them, and they’re not going to mine themselves.” 

Reaching out, Shepard moves her fingers across the image, and the ship vibrates softly as she moves out of the orbit of Xetic, heading towards the next closest planet, Tarith. “Plus,” she looks back over at Thane with a small, wry smile of her own. “It’s a good distraction from my own solipsism.”

They share a moment that EDI does not quite fathom, a silent understanding, a level of comfort with each other that had been previously absent from them. Then Shepard hits the scanner, immediately freezing when a radio transmission sounds out, filling the otherwise silence of the deck. “-zztt-never know what hit e-zzzzzzzttttt-” Shepard narrows her eyes at the hologram, immediately chasing down the signal until it clears.

“EDI, what type of broadcast am I hearing?” Her voice is that of the commander once again, and only in this moment does EDI realize the softness in which she had been speaking with Thane, not simply her volume but her tone as well.

“Preliminary scans indicate a high powered communications relay on the planet. Communications match known blood pack mercenary protocols.”

“Are there any life signs on the planet?” Thane too, it seems, has hardened, pulling himself gracefully to his feet he offers a hand to Shepard, whose face expresses surprise for a brief moment, glancing between his hand and his eyes, before she reaches out and takes it, allowing Thane to help her stand.

EDI the planet quickly, and replies. “A concentration of Krogan and Vorcha signals are massed inside what appears to be a mining operation. Life signs detected, unknown species. Advise caution.”

“Unknown species…” Shepard’s brow furrows as she looks at Thane, their hands remaining clasped even though she stands directly beside him now. “Slave trade, do you think?”

“It is a distinct possibility.”

Then something changes in Shepard’s posture, in her aura even. Her shoulders straighten, her pulse spikes, EDI can see it in her bio scans. Adrenaline begins to course through the commander’s veins, a smirk coming to her lips to match it all. “Up for a late night mission, Krios?” The drell seems to have sensed her shift, he comes to mirror her posture, his own adrenaline spiking as well, but EDI finds that she is more fascinated by, and fixated on, their still clasped hands, the touch having already served its purpose and no longer necessary but there regardless.

Thane’s lips twitch. “Only the two of us?” EDI wonders if their hold on each other is unconscious, or if perhaps they are both aware of it, both lingering in the hopes that the other will not notice. This mystery has her devoting all of her attention to them, initiating the landing party procedures as a secondary thought, allowing the ship to proceed on auto pilot so that she may continue to observe.

“What, you don’t think you and I are enough to handle a few Krogan and Vorcha?” Shepard takes a step closer as she says this, narrowing the meager distance between them. The challenging lilt of her tone has an edge, what she can only describe as playful teasing ...but even then that does not seem correct, there is an emotion within it EDI cannot place, that she does not have the data for.

Yet the drell seems to catch what she cannot, and mimics that very same emotion in his own voice, only differently. His tone dips low and quiet, sub-harmonics edging on a purr . “On the contrary, I think you and I are more than adequate.” The space between their bodies becomes infinitesimal at best, as if they are both drawn to each other by gravity, by some impossible, invisible, all powerful force until they-

“Landing party procedures complete, you are clear for-” EDI cuts off the automated approximation of her own voice as fast as physically possible. And she must have only diverted her attention for a nanosecond, but when she fixates onto the pair again they have pulled apart entirely, hands no longer clasped, their heart rates erratic on her monitor. The sudden urge to scream is utterly baffling to her, but it is there regardless.

“EDI,” Shepard begins, stepping off the platform and heading for the elevator. “Inform Miranda of our mission. She has rank while we’re off the ship.”

“I...understood, commander.” Shepard nods once as Thane steps into the elevator beside her, yet all of a sudden the distance between them seems to stretch for miles. As the doors slowly come to a close, in addition to screaming, EDI finds herself with the urge to apologize to them both, but she cannot even begin to imagine why, or how .

Hesitation and guilt are human emotions, she cannot feel them, but there is a sense of...regret, that she balms with the thought that perhaps she hasn’t prevented something from happening at all. Perhaps she has only delayed it.

Regardless, EDI finds that she more than looks forward to seeing how it all plays out.