It was on one of their visits to the Citadel, during a game of "Hot or Not," that EDI finally decided to get to the point. Or more precisely, that Joker prompted her to do so.
"Eww!" Joker's face scrunched up in disgust. "Aw man, now I'm never gonna be able to scrub that mental image from my brain. Thanks a lot, EDI."
EDI tilted her head at him. "I am merely curious."
"Yeah, you've said that before." Joker's expression shifted to suspicion. "But you never gave me a straight answer the last time I asked—what's your point, exactly?"
"To what are you referring, Jeff?" EDI asked, though she knew the answer. Or rather, she could predict the answer with 99.6% accuracy.
He rolled his eyes. "You know exactly what I'm talking about. This game you made up. You seem so interested in my preferences all of a sudden. Shouldn't you basically know that already, anyway?" Joker rubbed the back of his neck in a self-conscious gesture. "Given that you, uh, know my extranet history?"
EDI's silvery eyes blinked twice. She had predicted his answer correctly, as well as his follow-up question. An answer had already been prepared. "I am attempting to determine what types of females you find attractive, Jeff. It is well-known among humans that the types of females that a male usually observes or pursues are not necessarily their one preferred 'type.' I have ascertained this after many viewings of the twentieth-centuries documentaries known as 'soap operas.'" At his raised eyebrow, she added, "That was a joke."
"Oh boy," Joker muttered. "Look, I get that you're curious, but why now? Why me? You seem awfully pushy all of a sudden."
In response, EDI calmly folded her hands on the table and turned her gaze toward the people seated at the bar. The very natural gesture seemed at odds with her obviously synthetic appearance. (She had been practicing.) "I have analyzed your behavior toward me during these past few weeks. You described to Commander Shepard a physical attraction to this body." Her optical processors picked up Joker's slight flush, but she did not react. "This contradicts our conversation many months ago in which you stated that you felt nothing but platonic emotion toward me. In order to make sense of this discrepancy, and to increase my knowledge of humans in general, I devised this simple game. Do you understand?" She finally looked him in the eye.
Joker chuckled. It sounded a bit forced even to him. "Haha, wow, Mom, I didn't know you'd been watching me that closely. Guess I'd better pick up my room and work on that posture thing some more, huh?"
When EDI continued to stare at him unblinkingly, he looked away and shifted in his chair. She frowned. "Are you uncomfortable, Jeff?" Her internal clock told her that they had remained seated for nearly an hour. Too long, she thought, moving to stand up.
He waved at her to sit back down. "Nah, I'm fine. Really. Just, um. Not sure how to respond to that one."
She thought for a moment. "Perhaps this is a less ambiguous question: Do you find this body attractive, Jeff?"
"Well, yeah," he answered honestly. "I mean, you're basically the ideal woman right there, you know? Like a...a supermodel or something."
That was the response she had expected, given her previously-collected data. She filed the information away for later. But she wasn't finished. "Do you generally find holograms attractive?"
"Not really," he said. "What are you-"
EDI cut him off. "Did you find my virtual form in the previous Normandy attractive?"
"Uh, no, you were a glowing blue ball," he said, with the kind of exaggerated patience he usually reserved for small children. Or Shepard.
"But you find my current physical form pleasing," EDI repeated. It wasn't phrased as a question, but Joker answered anyway.
"Yeah, of course." He grinned. "What's not to like, right?" His hands traced imaginary womanly curves in the air. "Seriously. That was like, the best upgrade ever. Being on the bridge has never been so good." Joker's grin softened into a dreamy, faraway smile.
EDI's servos whirred. She had predicted this outcome correctly, with only a 3.4% margin of error, and yet something deep in her core processors said wrong-wrong-wrong. Logically, she knew that there was no reason for this internal disagreement. Nor the rush of confusingly useless data that came along with it. Perhaps one of her calculations was off, or one of her security protocols needed an update. It would be wise to check with Shepard when they returned to the Normandy. Inconsistencies could become liabilities in the heat of battle.
Her smooth, metallic features showed no sign of her distress. A momentary consensus reached, she merely nodded and, after Joker had finished his drink, followed him back to the ship.
Joker stole a glance at his android companion on the elevator up to the CIC. He was perfectly happy with openly staring at her most of the time, but this was an unusual situation. Usually EDI wouldn't shut up after they got home from a Citadel jaunt. What was up with this weird silence? Was she giving him the silent treatment for some reason? Her perfectly neutral profile offered no answers, and he mentally facepalmed. Right. Robot. No facial cues.
EDI was still thinking. The Normandy was docked safely, so she had time to devote to untangling her various conflicting processes. Still, she needed to talk to Shepard as soon as possible. When the elevator doors whooshed open, she turned. "Jeff, I need to talk to Commander Shepard. Will you be alright on the bridge by yourself for a while?"
He rolled his eyes. "I don't need a nursemaid, EDI, you know that. Go for it. I'll catch you later." His hand lifted in a wave as he stepped out of the elevator. EDI didn't move, letting the doors close. Her finger hovered over the the button that would take her to Shepard's quarters. Shepard had been under severe stress lately, however, so instead she pressed the button that would take her to the Engineering deck.
It was not as though she had to actually push the buttons, since she was still essentially the Normandy, but as she'd explained to Shepard, interacting with people and things in the way that the crew normally would was...pleasant. It made her feel as though she belonged.
She stepped out of the elevator when it stopped, her boots ringing a little on the grated floor. The two engineers from the original SR-2, Gabriella and Kenneth, stood at their stations. They were not speaking to each other, appearing to be absorbed in their work, but Kenneth was playing a card game on his console.
EDI cleared her throat to announce herself. Everyone jumped a little. "Oh, hello, EDI," said Adams, recovering more quickly than the other two. "Can I help you?" Ken slapped his keyboard a few times in a futile effort to hide his terrible poker hand.
"Hello, Engineer Adams," EDI said, then turned to Gabby. "May I speak to you for a moment, Engineer Daniels?"
"Oh, sure," Gabby said. "Let's go somewhere more private, though." She stuck her tongue out at Ken, who was waggling his eyebrows suggestively at her, and steered EDI out of the room by one arm. Ken's shout of "take pictures!" made Gabby roll her eyes.
When they were safely out of earshot down on the lower engineering deck, Gabby sat down on a crate and gestured for EDI to do the same. She did. "So what's up, EDI? Why'd you come all the way down here when you could've just talked to me through my console?" Gabby's tone wasn't unkind, just curious.
EDI was quiet for a moment. She was unsure of how to present her current dilemma in terms that the woman would understand. "Engineer Daniels, I have a question."
She smiled. "I gathered that much. And really, call me Gabby."
"Alright, Gabby," said EDI. "I find that I am..."-confused, hurt, upset-"unsure about a certain aspect of human behavior. Or more precisely, the reasoning behind that behavior."
EDI looked Gabby in the eye. "What do you feel is the meaning of the word 'attraction'?"
The engineer's eyebrows rose. "Uh, well, I guess it's a feeling of liking someone, for how they look or just how they...are," she finished lamely. "I mean, everybody's tastes are different, but a lot of people are attracted to stuff like a sense of humor, or a nice smile, or a kind spirit." Gabby winced inwardly when EDI didn't respond immediately. This was tougher to explain than she'd thought it would be.
A few of EDI's processes had fallen quiet at the realization that she had none of those things. "You mean that a person can be attracted to another's actions?" At Gabby's nod, EDI continued. "Can attraction exist merely for a physical form?"
Gabby chuckled. "Yeah, you can be attracted just to someone's body. Even if their personality isn't really ideal." She wrinkled her nose, thinking of one person in particular. Ugh, that man.
"Ah." EDI said quietly. She turned to stare at the bulkhead, processors working to assimilate this new data into her memory. Something unidentifiable still jangled.
The soft syllable made Gabby pause. "Wait, EDI...why are you asking me this?"
"Your interactions with others on the Normandy indicate that you are knowledgeable about relationships," the android replied, part of her mind still churning. "You are an observant person. Other members of the crew approach you for advice."
Gabby gave her a suspicious look. "That's not what I meant. Why are you asking me this, EDI? Is something bothering you?"
Bothering...? EDI turned to the other woman. "You could say that."
"Is this about Joker?" Gabby asked, a hint of a wry smile curling the corners of her mouth.
The woman really was perceptive, EDI thought. She blinked, intending to say not exclusively, but what came out was, "Yes."
Gabby put a comforting hand on EDI's shoulder. Her synthetic skin was softer than she'd expected, and warm. "Look," she said gently. "I know you guys have a great relationship. But Joker's a guy." EDI's blank stare prompted her to continue. She sighed. "What I mean is, you have to be direct with him. Blunt. Tell him exactly what you want, and how you want it. Otherwise he might miss it completely."
EDI pulled her brows into what she hoped was a convincing frown. "I am always honest with Jeff. And I believe that he is honest with me, at least when he is not expressing sarcasm." Which was nearly sixty-three percent of the time, her memory bank reminded her.
"Not just about routine things, EDI," Gabby said. "You gotta let him know if he hurts your feelings, too. Or if you want him to do something nice for you. He's not used to having to explain himself, I don't think."
"I will try," said EDI. "Thank you, Gabby, for the advice."
Gabby gave her shoulder a friendly squeeze and stood. "Hey, no problem. You let me know if you need anything else, okay? We girls gotta stick together." She tossed a cheerful grin and a wave over her shoulder as she climbed the stairs back to the main Engineering deck.
EDI sat motionless, allowing herself a rare moment of contemplative silence. She had a lot to think about.
So this is my first Mass Effect fanfic ever. As such, any feedback-positive or negative-is welcomed with open arms! Also, I may stray into NSFW territory (warranting a bump to an "M" rating) later, but that'll be a ways down the road. I'll post warnings before we get there. ;)
Thanks for reading.