Don't know why I wrote this, don't know why I needed to get the conversation out of my head, and I certainly don't know why I thought a plotless vignette would be a good idea.

But, well, you knowhere it is. Sorry.

(Mass Effect is owned by BioWare, EA and...probably someone else. I don't know; it's been a while since I gone done one of these exclaimers)

Conversations for the Heck of it

"You talk to much..."

-Everyone in the Galaxy at one time or another

The problem with being docked at Arcturus Station was that, for security reasons, moving around was verboten. Emphasis on the snarling German. If you wanted off the ship—maybe to stretch your legs, maybe to take a piss, maybe because the engines hadn't been turned off properly and your ship was glowing a nasty shade of blue—you had to fill out this form or that form, wait in line for a DNA sample, pledge your first-born child to the Alliance Navy, etc etc: long story short, it was a pain in the ass not worth its weight in paperwork. Ergo, the crew of the SSV Normandy was expected to stay put while the remaining cooks and marines and navigational controllers eventually got aboard. Captain David Anderson suggested that people buddy up in order to starve off cabin fever—a totally legitimate and well-thought-out plan obviously concocted from the safety of his private suite, Lieutenant Kaidan Alenko thought, on account of the fact that Anderson wasn't stuck up in the cockpit. With the pilot. A.K.A Jeff "Joker" Monroe.

That was as fun a proposition as shaving a gorilla, if Kaidan could be so bold. Actually, the comparison worked the more and more Kaidan thought about it: past experience told him rather painfully that he'd feel just as stupid after shaving an angry gorilla as if he was talking to Joker, whether or not the pilot was in one of his "moods." There was a chip somewhere on that shoulder, and evidentially it had taken several expensive doctors to remove it.

Well, maybe they didn't have to talk; maybe they could just fiddle with the buttons on their respective control panels and ignore each other until the Normandy finally left. Kaidan had know Flight Lieutenant Munroe for years, served with him for a few less than that: the pilot would want to stick to ship diagnostics, plain and simple—no further distractions your honor—and therefore Kaidan would be able to enjoy the quiet of his gunnery seat and technically not countermand Captain Anderson's orders in the slightest. All he had to do was not engage in any conversations and everything would be fine. It was a good plan; a perfect plan.

Then, two hours and ten minutes later, Alenko could obscenely, painfully bored.

(Oh god, I need to talk to someone)

He looked over to his left, and Joker and his mass of blinking control panels.

(Oh god, I need talk to someone else)

Nobody else available to talk to, he reminded himself. Captains orders—everyone else was buddied up, and they'd be no less bored than he was. If anything, they might be incredibly cranky: for some reason no one could quite figure out, everyone seemed pretty much stationary in the Normandy, even Kaidan himself. If they were standing for over two hours in the same spot with the same conversation buddy, they might be a little bit snippy.

(Must be the Mass Effect-fields...or we're all mental. Scratch that: we're all mentalthe engineers were pretty damn clear that the drive core could go supernova whether the O-rings were replaced on time or not)

God, now he really needed to talk to someone. So Kaidan searched his brain for the nearest topic and decided, yeah, this was fine—he'd talk to Joker. He didn't hate the guy or anything: it was just that all their conversations tended to get thrown right back into his face, and after the fourth or fifth time where you had to eat your own words, it just got annoying. Kaidan wasn't the only one with that problem—everyone except Anderson ended up leaving conversations with Joker a whole lot angrier or a whole lot quieter, and the only reason Anderson got away unscathed was because Joker was pretty sure he'd be shot on sight...well there was that and all the medals and bravery and tactical acumen and such, but Kaidan suspected that Joker cared very little about those things. Hopefully the ships new XO could handle the pilot, otherwise this was going to be a rocky trip.

(Hmm, now there's an idea)

"Joker," Kaidan said, turning in his seat, "what do you know about our new XO? Commander Shepard?"

For a second, Kaidan wasn't sure Joker was paying attention—he was beeping and booping on the control panel just as quickly and intently as before. Just before Kaidan decided to repeat himself though, Joker turned around in his own seat and offered a reserved shrug.

"Well she can string a complete sentence together without biting her tongue," he said. "That's pretty good for a marine."

Kaidan blinked. "I thought you were going somewhere different with that."

"Why must you look down on me and my manners, Alenko?"

"Because I have to listen to you talk; talk and watch you leer." The pilot was still pushing buttons, Kaidan saw, but it looked like he had Joker's attention quite firmly. Good enough for a conversation, at least. "Also pot and kettle, Flight Lieutenant," he said. "I'm a marine too."

"'Muscles Are Required, Intelligence Not Expected'—y'know, Marine." Joker shrugged again—a little more animatedly this time, Kaidan noted, what with the wince and all. "Not my fault you ground-pounders left that little blind-spot in your name. Besides, I'm a pilot—I'm supposed to look down on you."

"You're supposed to have a posh British accent, too."

"Sorry for not being perfect, Alenko."

Kaidan felt himself smile. This was going OK—he hadn't felt the urge to strangle anyone yet. "I'll accept that apology if you actually answer my question."

A few more beeps and boops at the control panel and Joker finally reclined in his seat. "Fine," he said. Then there was a pause as the gears in his head churned. "Um…not much. Not really. Just the things you'd find on the extranet—y'know, graduated top of her class, saved a colony, achieved Nirvana, that sort of thing. Maybe a vid if you're lame enough to watch a three hour documentary."

"You finished High School, right?"

"I'm taking the whatever-part-of-the-Charter-deals-with-free-speech, thank you very much."

Kaidan chuckled. "And there's my answer."

"No, I don't know much about her," Joker said, a little indignantly. Kaidan couldn't help but feel a bit of pride that he'd gotten Joker mad, as opposed to the other way around. "Not in the way you're looking for, obviously."

And then Kaidan's face fell.

(Premature celebration, I'm guessing...)

"And in what way am I looking?" he asked.

"Like a kid in a candy shop," Joker said, smirking.

Kaidan shook his head. "I'm trying to figure out whether I need to pull out the whips for the marine contingent or if Shepard is planning on doing that herself. Between her and Anderson I have to pick some kind of command strategy that isn't totally redundant."

Joker stared at him for a good long second, before smirking wider and turning back to the control panel. "Uh-huh," he said. "And I actually eat the slop they serve in garrisons."

"You've never been in a garrison before."

"You're the smartest person on this ship, I tell you what."

Despite himself, Kaidan laughed. Not that he wasn't aware of the direction the conversation was taking (re-taking?), mind.

Joker, meanwhile, decided to speak up again in the midst of the silence.

"Y'know," he said, "women have been in command positions for centuries, right? Been pounding the stuffings out of people for even longer? You can just—like—ask her. The Alliance didn't pass some sort of political ordinance that says us grubby guy grunts can't talk to them, just to preserve their purity or whatever."

Kaidan raised an eyebrow. "This coming from the guy who made a sexist joke."

"You assumed I did," Joker said. "That's on you, buddy."

Kaidan thought back, realized that Joker was right, then double-checked his memory just to be sure. "…crap," he said eventually.

"Hey, where's your fedora?"

"I haven't even met her, and I already feel like apologizing to her."

Joker gave him a thumbs up. "You two'll get along great, I can tell."

"Yeah," Kaidan mumbled, "probably won't just be brain camp all over again." Then his eyes shot roof-wards in panic.

(Oh goddoes this conversation secretly have a point?)

Joker interrupted his thoughts before Kaidan could start panicking. "What was that?"

"I said I need a brain-pan—obviously I've got too much fluid up there."

Again, silence and a smirky stare. "Suuuuuuure you did," Joker said, rubbing it in. Then he paused and scratched at his beard. "Uh, for the record, I really didn't hear what you said, but I'm just assuming you're a lying piece of shit."

Kaidan couldn't deny it—lying was a sin, after all. 'Least, that's what the old folks would say. "Fair enough."

"I know what I'm good for," Joker said, swiping his hands across the control panel. Then a flashing button near the centre started going spastic, and Kaidan wondered briefly if Joker had accidentally activated the ship's self-destruct sequence. Then he remembered that it was the ship's intercom, and that it didn't have a self-destruct sequence, and that he really shouldn't have been excited at the prospect of vaporization but, whatever, that was a conversation for a different day with a different person. A person with a couch, preferably.

As Kaidan thought these things, Captain Anderson's voice boomed over the speakers.

"Joker, Alenko: I just got word from the station—we have a passenger that wants aboard."

"Got it sir," Joker said, pushing the button, "unlocking hatch." He turned to Kaidan and smirked even larger than before—large enough that Kaidan thought he might pull something. "Now's your chance to make a halfways decent impression, LT—just do the exact opposite of the past ten minutes and she'll probably only cap you in the knee."

Kaidan rose from his seat and started walking towards the airlock, trying to push his Brain Camp comment as far from his mind as possible. "With friends like you, who needs euthanasia clinics?"

"Ouch—I'mma write that one down." Kaidan could've sworn he saw a genuine smile there.

Whatever he saw or did not see was rendered irrelevant when Anderson's voice came across the PA system again.

"Status report."

"Uh, right," Joker said, fiddling with something, "door's unlocked, letting our guest in now."

"Good—send him down to the Com-room once he's settled."

Joker stopped fiddling. "Uh…wait—he sir?"

Kaidan didn't have time to continence what the Captain said, as the airlock opened with a hiss and in came the somewhat fresher air of the Arcturus Stations' main port. It wasn't Commander Shepard greeting him at the door—it was a turian; a turian who had more weapons on him than the entire Blue Suns group.

"Hello," he said. "I'm Nihlus—Citadel Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. I would like a place to store my weapons, if you please."

Wait, Special Tacitcs and Reconnaissance? Spectres? Spectres. A spectre was coming aboard their ship. A spectre like that coming aboard a ship like theirs from a station like Arcturus and they were just finding out now.

"…aw crap," Joker said from somewhere behind.

"Liiiiittle less worried about first impressions now, gotta admit," Kaidan mumbled under his breath.

And Nihlus? Well, Nihlus just stared.


Well...that's that. Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoyed it.

And hopefully random Seinfeldian conversations in space are a niche fanfic market...