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Dangerous Love

By Bulldog
Contributions from Silence, Angel, Wolf, Jalb, and Frosty

CRS Vigilant Pilotís Mess

Captain Andy "Bulldog" Clark wandered into the regular pilotís mess absentmindedly as he continued to follow his nose from three decks down. Something had piqued his interest, and while nobody would mistake him for a tracker, he was very good at identifying foods and bourbons by scents wafting through the air.

"Officer on deck!"

A clamor of chairs screeching against the deck and boots as the pilots in attendance all hurriedly rose to their feet and snapped to attention with a salute. Some had bits of food sticking out of their mouths as they didnít dare chew until the order to resume eating was given.

FO Jack "Frosty" McCauley had a fork sticking out of his mouth as he stood at attention, flanked by FO Kyle "Junior" Reynolds and 1st Lt. Kyle "Gnoizic" Mandal who both likewise had something in their mouths that they were waiting for permission to resume chewing.

Bulldog snorted and chuckled quietly to himself. "As you were, please," he said after he regained his composure. He looked around as the various pilots all settled back into their seats and resumed eating, but they all stole glances at the executive officer of Buccaneer Squadron as he meandered around the room. He zeroed in on Frosty, moving more quickly as he finally had a destination.

Frosty noticed Bulldog approaching, so he ran a hand through his hair to slick it back as the Buccaneer got close. "Whatís going on, Captain?"

"Oh, just happened to be passing by and something smelled really, really good. Decided to poke my head in to investigate and possibly taste-test."

Gnoizic chuckled as he continued to wolf down whatever the mystery meal was. Junior likewise was shoveling his dinner away. Frosty, however, seemed to be eating something different.

"A salad, Frosty?" Bulldog asked in disbelief.

"Manís watching his figure, Captain," 1st Lieutenant Sigurd "Battledog" Stormhand chimed in from another table over while he shoveled in another bite of food.

Frosty shrugged in response as he took another bite of his leafy mix. "I had a heavy lunch, so I am trying to be responsible with my caloric intake for dinner."

Bulldog barked out a laugh. "Bullpucky, Flight Officer. Youíre eating like a king with your black market contacts on the ship, arenít you?"

Frosty shook his head smoothly as he turned back toward his salad. "Why, Captain, I have no idea what you are talking about," he replied in a tone that relayed the opposite meaning of his words.

Bulldog laid a hand lightly on Frostyís shoulder as he leaned in close. "Then Iím sure you wonít miss a certain bottle of bourbon I need to replace because mine was stolen. Thankfully a replacement was discovered in your quarters."

Frosty tensed slightly, but otherwise held the facade of ignorance. "Of course, Captain, you are welcome to that bottle."

"I expected nothing lessÖ" Bulldog patted Frosty on the shoulder roughly as he stood up, but the smell heíd been tracking once again wafted into his nose. He looked at Gnoizicís plate once again and examined it more closely. It appeared to be some sort of noodle with a meat and gravy combination not unlike a stroganoff heíd eaten as a child on Rendilli. Even the smell was familiar. "Howís the food, Deuce?"

Gnoizic grunted his approval as he shoveled another bite into his mouth greedily. Junior likewise nodded enthusiastically as he lifted his tray to his mouth and tilted it toward his mouth.

Bulldog looked around the room and saw everybody else was similarly wolfing down their food like a bunch of animals. "Huh, I guess Iíll have to grab a tray to sample it."

"Surely they feed you all better in the officerís mess, Cap?" Frosty asked, looking up from his salad once again.

Bulldog looked at the back of Frostyís head and made a face. "Youíd certainly know how wrong that is with your contacts all over the ship, wouldnít you?"

Frosty merely chuckled as he continued to pick at his salad. After a few moments, Bulldog slid into an open space on the opposite side of the table and started inhaling the food that everybody else was demolishing a second helping of. "Looks like Jado outdid himself this time, huh?" He mumbled quietly to himself, feeling a twinge of guilt at the memory of the kitchen staffer that heíd been blowing off recently.

***

Later that evening...
CRS Vigilant Sick Bay

Bulldog duck-walked his way into sick bay, sweat slicking his forehead and raining down from his armpits and lower back. He couldnít move any faster because he had to keep his buttocks clenched to avoid an unfortunate evacuation of his bowels of the liquid variety. "Cutter, I think Iím-" he froze, finally recognizing the chaotic state of the sick bay. "...sick."

"Take a number, Captain," a reception droid replied sarcastically.

Every bed was occupied by pilots in varying stages of sickness. Some were vomiting or had vomited so much that they were merely dry-heaving at this point. Others were currently voiding their bowels violently into bedpans or other receptacles that were available because the freshers were all already occupied. Gnoizic lay pitifully on his side, just completely unloading his dinner into a bedpan in a projectile spray of vomit.

"Holy shavit," Bulldog whistled, but stopped suddenly as the slightest clenching of his diaphragm almost opened himself up to an accidental torrent of diarrhea in his pants. "I need a bathroom, stat!"

The droid merely waved its hand around. "I repeat, take a number."

Bulldog was almost ready to just give up and let it go, but he spotted a small trash bin near the receptionistís desk. "Well, this is happening," he mumbled as he quickly undid his belt buckle and shuffled awkwardly toward the desk. If the FX-series droidís ocular receptors could widen, he figured theyíd be the widest theyíd ever been in a moment. He dropped his pants and awkwardly sat himself snugly on the cold metallic rim of the squat trash can. The moment his cheeks made contact, he unclenched his muscles and let the torrent of liquid out of his backside go. Relief immediately flooded through him as he let everything loose, only interrupted by momentary sharp pangs of abdominal pain as his muscles contracted.

"This is highly irregular behavior, Captain," the droid said, shocked.

"I had to improvise," Bulldog grunted as he felt more convulsions wracking his abdomen.

"We need a doctor!" a voice shouted from the hallway. A few seconds later, 1st Lt. John "Knight" Vorwald and Major Myke "Wolf" Krenn barged in, lugging a vomiting BattleDog between the two of them. A trail of vomit and other foul-looking fluids followed along in their wake as they carried the miserable-looking pilot to the first portable gurney they saw since all the beds were occupied.

An Aqualish nurse rushed over and started taking BattleDogís vitals as Knight and Wolf backed away. Knight continued to look upon his squadmate with genuine worry on his face, but Wolf seemed to be taking in the entire room with a keen eye. As he continued to scan the room, his eyes widened with surprise as he found Bulldog still sitting on the trash can heíd commandeered.

"Having a bad night, Captain?" Wolf asked as he ambled over.

"Iíd suggest staying back, Major," Bulldog replied, unleashing another stream of hot liquid into the quickly-filling trash container. He retched as the smell began to overwhelm him.

Wolf pinched his nose as he took a step back. "Did this start recently?"

Bulldog snorted sarcastically. "No, Iíve been sitting on this trash can for days."

Wolf turned to a nearby nurse. "This is looking endemic. We should look for something spoiled in the food supply or--"

"Actually, Major," Cutter replied as the droid ambled over. "Early scans have indicated a very specific strain of campylobacter that isnít commonly found in food, and is even more rare in cases of accidental food contamination."

Wolf eyed the 2-1B series droid with a calm but keen eye. "Are you inferring that this was an intentional act of poisoning?"

"I am not qualified to make that assessment, Major," Cutter replied.

"But thatís the most likely cause in your estimation?" Bulldog asked, still unable to rise to his feet due to fear that he had more liquid in his intestines that would come screaming out the moment he wasnít on the can.

"Affirmative, Captain."

"Who would do this, though?"

"I, uhÖ. Think Iíll leave it for you to investigate," Wolf said nasally as he continued to pinch his nose shut.

"Iíll-hurk-do it-HURK!" BattleDog grunted through convulsions.

Wolf shook his head and looked down toward Bulldog. "No, it should probably be somebody outside of Corsair since most of the victims were our pilots. And besides, this whole thing stinks. Definitely something right up your alley, Captain."

"Har har," Bulldog grumbled to himself as Wolf beat a hasty retreat out of the medical room.

Bulldog attempted to rise, but immediately sat back down as another flood of foul squirts began to shoot out from his backside.

***

Two days later...
CRS Vigilant Mess Hall

"So youíre saying there is no possible way this could have come into the kitchen like this from the shipment?" Bulldog asked, his fingers tapping away notes on his datapad.

The massive Houk in charge of the pilotís mess shook his head from side to side. "Absolutely not, Captain. Everything is scanned and disinfected on delivery."

Bulldog nodded, then waved his hand around the sterile kitchen. "Iím sure I know the answer to this question already, but thereís no way it could have been some sort of contamination issue due to a mess?"

The Houk rose up and clearly took offense to the question. "I run a clean kitchen, Captain. Quite frankly, I donít appreciate you accusing me of getting a squadronís worth of pilots sick because weíre slacking on cleaning up our workspace. Now, if youíll excuse me, Iíve got to go prep for the next shift."

Bulldog watched as the head of the kitchen stalked off, but ultimately dismissed him as a suspect. It was true that the kitchen was clearly well looked after, as even now with his unannounced visit things looked immaculate. Heíd eaten food from far worse looking facilities without a second thought.

Heíd already interviewed the other cooking staff and any other member of the crew that had access to the kitchen on the day of the incident, but nobody had tripped any of his internal lie detectors. After wasting all afternoon on this task, he was no closer to the truth than when heíd started.

Looking back at the last individual on his list, he smiled kindly. "Jado Daselli, yes?"

The short human nodded and reciprocated with a smile of his own. "That would be me, Captain."

"Iíve heard good things about your work," Bulldog complimented. "Those croissants of yours are a highly sought after item."

Jado blushed bashfully as he broke eye contact. "I, uh, hope Iím not in trouble for my extra-hours cooking experiments?"

Bulldog put his hands out in a conciliatory gesture. "No no, not at all. I was just complimenting your craft," he said with a chuckle.

"Ah, ok," Jado replied, relief clearly evident on his expressive face. "So, what do you want to know?"

"Well, standard boilerplate stuff," Bulldog sighed as he looked at his notes, bored and instantly put at ease by the genuine nature of the youthful chef. "You know, did you see anybody that shouldnít have been here on that day? Anything out of the ordinary? Did anything smell off during food prep or cooking? That sort of thing," he said, sighing loudly as he finished rattling off his questions.

Jado shook his head. "Unfortunately, Captain, I didnít notice anything amiss that day with either the food or personnel that were in the kitchen. The only difference that day from usual shifts was you poking your head into the mess."

A wan grin spread across Bulldogís face. "That stroganoff smelled just like my mom used to make it back home on Rendilli."

Jado smiled. "And?"

"Tasted better than she ever made it."

Jado beamed, showing genuine pride. He laughed. "Good enough to possibly get poisoned again while eating?"

Bulldog chuckled heartily, nodding affirmatively. "Yeah man, I think I would chance it again, actually."

"Well, in that case let me whip up a new batch for you," Jado said as he rose to his feet and started grabbing pots and pans.

Bulldog rose to his feet as well, nodding in appreciation. "Try to make sure thereís no bacteria this time, chef."

"No promises, Cap!" Jado replied as another laugh bubbled to the surface while he focused on recreating the popular dish.

***

CRS Vigilant SSD

"I guess, Lieutenant Vikeron, my question to you is simple," Bulldog said before pausing to take a sip of his bourbon. Whichever batch and brand this was, Iggy managed to knock it out of the park with the selection. The hint of dried cherries and bite of sweet cooking spices in the opening smoothed out in a nice oaky finish. He closed his eyes as he savored the complex flavors at play on his taste buds.

"Why wasnít I at the mess during the time of the incident," 2nd Lieutenant Rosk "Silence" Vikeron ventured, apparently tired of waiting for Bulldog to finish his sip of alcohol.

"Bingo," Bulldog said as he made a Ďcount ití gesture by pointing a finger down briefly. He brought his glass to his nose and inhaled deeply, noting the rich, buttery caramel toffee odor mixed with some sort of fruit and nut that he couldnít place. He closed his eyes again as he just enjoyed the nose of his drink.

Silence smiled politely, waited, and then cleared her throat. "I was busy with paperwork. I stayed in my quarters, ate a ration bar, and listened to Doc and Jobber bickering over upgrades Iím never going to give either of them!"

Bulldogís eyes snapped open. "Ah, yes, the doctor and hitman amalgamation. How is that rather rude droid of yours?"

"Rude? Excuse you, meatbag!" The floating R2 head popped up from behind the bar.

"Same as when he pulled you out of that building on Kijimi, Captain," Silence replied coldly, but she rolled her eyes to soften the underlying implication.

Bulldog shivered at the cold tone of the reply as well as the memory of that moment in time 5 weeks prior. He hurriedly took another sip of his drink so the warmth of it sliding down his throat could push the feeling away.

Silence turned her gaze pointedly down the bar, where Iggy was serving another pilot and hadnít noticed the intrusion. "Get out of there, Jobber. I told you he doesnít have the good stuff back there."

Regaining his composure, Bulldog smiled once again. "Excellent. Well, if you could just provide the paperwork you were working on, I think thatíll settle the matter and clear your name here."

Silence looked uncomfortable with the request. "Uh . . ."

"Listen," Bulldog said as he leaned forward. "Iíve got two suspects left on the list. Everybody else Iíve interviewed from that day that werenít in attendance have rock-solid alibis. Itís either you, or itís Frosty. I honestly was just going through the motions here because I was pretty positive he was the culprit, but right now youíre not looking too clean in this. Give me something, anything to get you off my radar."

Silence was quiet for a moment, her face screwed up in thought as she appeared to mentally debate her next course of action. After a moment and a glance around the bar, she sighed. "It wasnít anything wing-related. I was just helping a friend from my NRI days."

"That Feldspar kid?"

"No."

As Bulldog opened his mouth again, she shook her head and put up a hand to cut him off. "Itís no one you can use as an alibi. Forget about the paperwork. Iíve got a witness who was here with me the whole night."

A lightbulb clicked on visibly in Bulldogís mind. Ah, so thatís the source of her discomfort! "Wouldnít normally pry your private affairs, but Iím afraid Iím going to need a name."

"What?" She blinked and suddenly made a face. "Not like that! I meant Doc Jobber."

"Oh. Ohhh." That made more sense, given heíd never see her making passes at anyone in the SSD, unlike Frosty and others. Still he thought heíd caught her sneaking discrete glances at Dragon a time or two. "Of course."

"Captain, look," Silence continued, handing him her datapad. "Here are the root access codes for Doc Jobber. You can utilize these to gain complete access to his memory banks to see their visual recording of the timeframe in question."

"That sounds like a violation of privacy," Docís female voice admonished them.

"Whereís your court order? Whereís your warrant?" Jobber pushed into Bulldogís personal space belligerently.

Silence grabbed the droid and shoved it under her arm. "Just be quick about it."

Bulldog nodded, and then utilized the root access sheíd provided to review the recording of the time in question, noting nothing out of the ordinary. Silence was indeed in her room the entire time, working on some files on her datapads as they were spread out on her desk and bunk. True to her word, she had eaten a ration bar and drank copious amounts of caf while she worked. A couple of times the POV of the camera got in really close and she had to swat the droid away, which was a little jarring to watch in first person.

"Well," he started, taking his last sip of alcohol from the glass before continuing, "Iím no closer to an answer than when I started. This sucks."

As Silence let go, Jobber pulled away to hover sullenly over the bar. "Ha! Your face sucks! Just try to deny it!"

Ignoring the droid completely, a sympathetic look flashed across Silenceís face. She clearly had encountered the feeling of hopelessness in an investigation before. "Well, I could, uhÖ help?"

Bulldog shook his head from side to side. "Nah, judging from this video, it looks like youíve got your hands full with your extracurricular work."

Silence nodded, but was silently elated that she wasnít once again pulled into another direction for some side work. It seemed like everybody on the ship needed her time and help with something, and she was starting to feel stretched too thin.

"I still donít even have a motive," Bulldog grumbled as he stared at his empty glass. "Frostyís my only remaining suspect, and I have no idea on a motive or even if he had any help pulling this prank."

A thought struck Silence as she moved to get up. "You know, Captain, I thought nothing of it at first, but Frosty has been an on-again-off-again item with one of the kitchen staff for the past few weeks."

Bulldogís ears perked up. "Oh? Which one?"

Silence racked her brain to pull the bit of useful information she needed, but she had so many hanging trails in her mind that she couldnít quite navigate around enough to get an exact answer. "Well, human male, and heís short. Thatís all that I got right now, Captain."

Bulldog shot to his feet. "I see. I think I know exactly who it is."

"Very good, sir," Silence said as she rose to her feet. "If youíd like, I can come interview the suspects with you? My past skills would probably come in handy for your investigation."

"Actually, yeah," Bulldog nodded, tapping away at his datapad furiously before swiping something with a flourish. "I just sent you an ingredients list. Can you run a trace on these to see if they might have been tampered with before they reached the Vig?"

"Thatís . . . not exactly what my area of expertise is, Captain. Are you sure you donít need me to come with you to interview any suspects?"

"You know, actually you can look into any possible motives from anybody not on the ship at the time. Perhaps a pilot on a sortie, or one of our transport pilots."

Silenceís response was deadpan. "Thatís . . . a lot of people, Captain."

Bulldog was already halfway out the door by the time he replied. "Best get to work then, eh?"

Silence stared daggers in his wake.

"Want me to break his knees? Could make it look like an accident." Jobberís male voice asked with way too much enthusiasm.

"No! Jobber!" Silence's outage turned to sarcasm. "If he ends up in medical, then I have to do all the work."

Doc butted in. "With all the violence Jobber threatens, you really should give me proper appendages. I could provide medical assistance--"

"No. If I give you limbs, he gets limbs, remember?"

"Come on, just a sprained ankle?" Jobber was bargaining now. "A little limp never hurt anyone--"

"No!"

Lingering outside the doorway, Bulldog stopped to wonder if maybe he'd been looking in the wrong places for a suspect all along. Hadn't Silence once said Jobber was a repurposed assassin droid?

"But--"

"No buts." Silence's tone shifted slyly. "Besides, how are you going to break anyone's ankles when Doc's tracing ingredients and you're processing a few hundred pages of personnel records?"

Jobber made a rude noise.

Bulldog shook his head to clear the thought from his mind. Silence never let the droid out of her sight. Anyway, he already knew who it was.

He strode off with conviction.

***

CRS Vigilant Hallways

Bulldog was on a mission, and wasnít paying much attention to his surroundings as he charged through the crowded halls to get to his next destination. Beings of all species and sexes were cluttering the pathways, it being a shift change and therefore a high-traffic time.

"Look out!" A woman shouted from nearby.

Bulldog felt a hand grip his bicep and pull him back, stopping him from being flattened by a falling crate sliding off of a grav-sled. The hefty payload came tumbling to a stop millimeters from his toes. "Holy scrogging shavit!"

"You ok, Captain?"

Bulldog patted himself down, checking to make sure he wasnít harmed despite not being struck by any of the falling materials. "Yeah, yeah I think Iím good," he said as he turned to face his savior, frowning when he didnít see anybody, and then looked down. "Thank you, Ell Tee."

1st Lt. Jeni "Angel" Courtner smiled politely and bowed her head. All around her, beings rushed forward to right the fallen crate and clear the hallway of the obstruction.

"So, uh, how did you know that was going to happen?" Bulldog asked, completely perplexed as to how the diminutive Spectre pilot seemingly knew it was going to happen and managed the strength to stop him in his tracks easily with one arm.

Angel paused, unsure exactly how to answer. "I think I just saw it begin to slip, Captain. You seemed prettyÖ distracted."

Bulldog pursed his lips. While he was sure he wasnít paying attention, the speed with which the crate had toppled meant that only somebody with superhuman visual acuity and reaction time could have stopped him from being injured. He shook his head once as he mentally bandied about different explanations, but ultimately came up with nothing.

Angel sensed the conversation was over. "Well, hope nothing else happens to you on your way to your destination," she said cheerfully as she began walking off.

"Hey, wait!" Bulldog said as he snapped out of his mental debate.

Angel paused and turned around to face him again with an expectant look on her face.

"I, uh, could use somebody with yourÖ intuitionÖ to join me on an interview," Bulldog said, voicing his request delicately enough in the crowded area. It would do no good for those in the area to hear about the investigation and crank the ship-wide rumor mill. Within a day the story would be that there was a conspiracy to overflow the sewage system orchestrated by the Mon Cal crew if it ran around unchecked.

"Do I have to?"

"Consider it an order, Lieutenant."

Angel sighed in hopeless reservation. "Very well."

***

CRS Vigilant Pilotís Quarters

"Iíve got to be honest, Frosty," Bulldog said as he stood against the wall of the small quarters. "Iíve looked at this thing from every possible angle I can think of and all roads seem to be leading back to you."

Frostyís inscruitible expression hadnít changed since the interrogation had started, and still didnít change now that Bulldog had come out and indicated that he was the main suspect. "I canít imagine how that would have happened, Captain."

"Well, Iíve interviewed everybody that had access to that kitchen on the day of the incident. Everybody else has come back clean as a whistle."

Nearby, Angelís eyes widened. She hadnít apparently heard that the incident a few days ago had been suspected to be intentional sabotage until this moment, and she didnít realize that Frosty was the suspect in question. She recovered herself quickly though and regained her mask of intent impassivity.

"I guess that would be the first time somebody slipped a lie past a superior officer," Frosty replied sarcastically without looking away from the same spot on the wall heíd been staring at the entire interview.

An involuntary chuckle escaped Bulldogís mouth at the veracity of Frostyís remark. Angel likewise tittered slightly before stifling it. "Yeah, yeah," he replied with a yawn.

Just then, Lt. Col. Chris "Jalb_k" Reynolds came strolling through the door. He nodded toward Bulldog and Angel in turn. "Captain, Lieutenant."

Angel snapped to attention and saluted. Bulldog nodded back and saluted lazily. "Whatís up, Ell Tee Cee?"

Jalb returned the salutes and looked at Frosty with a look of mild disgust mixed with intense scrutiny. "I was informed by Major Krenn that Flight Officer McCauley was confined to quarters. He didnít tell me youíd be here, but I figured I should come and investigate for myself to see what put my pilots into the med bay."

"Well, Sir, Iím in the middle of the investigation, and Frosty is a person of interest," Bulldog replied matter-of-factly.

Jalb nodded sagely, the look of disgust growing more pronounced. "Well, Captain, consider your investigation a top priority. Any personnel or resources you need to get to the bottom of this, just ask and theyíre yours." He looked down at the stone-faced pilot, who hadnít seemed to react to his arrival. "Whatís the matter, Flog?" Jalb asked, using the non-comís derogatory term for Flight Officer, derived from the FLGOFF abbreviation. " Broken legs too? Unable to stand to attention today?

Frosty finally broke his gaze away from the wall and looked directly into Jalbís eyes as he gauged what he could get away with. Judging that he didnít have much leeway for disrespect, he rose to his feet slowly and stood at attention while he held the Rogue OCís eyes.

"Excellent," Jalb said as he strolled around behind Frosty then, with a smirk, put his mouth near Frostyís ear and proceeded to tell him, in a chatty conversational tone, that Frosty was held in little regard and he was looking forward to drumming him out of the Wing. To the confined pilot it would look like a hard-ass commander, but the smirk let the others know that he was just playing the part for theatrics.

Bulldog was taken aback by the gusto with which Jalb had interjected himself into the proceedings. He attempted to regain control of the situation diplomatically. "I appreciate the offer, Ell Tee Cee, but I think Iíve got this under control."

A knock at the door interrupted Jalbís reply, drawing all eyes to the new arrival. At the door was the chef, Jado Daselli, holding a tray of food with clenched hands.

"I, uh, was ordered to bring the confined crew memberís meal to him," Jado said nervously, clearly surprised to see others in the room. A hint of disappointment washed across his face.

"Thank you, chef," Bulldog responded, motioning for Jado to set the food down on a desk. "Iím sure the Flight Officer appreciates your personal touch on his meals."

Jado blushed a deep shade of red and Frosty flinched as well as their eyes met briefly. Angel seemed to flinch as well as if she were pinched by an invisible hand.

"Thatíll be all, Petty Officer," Jalb said as he stepped between Jado and Frosty. "You may leave now."

Jado stared daggers at the back of Jalbís head, and stuck his tongue out mockingly before realizing Bulldog and Angel were staring at him. He shrugged apologetically and then hurriedly exited the room.

"Well, letís see what the confined pilot is being fed through room service, shall we?" Jalb asked as he stepped closer to the desk and lifted the lid of the serving tray. Steam fled in all directions as the seal of the lid to the tray was broken. "My my, a nice nerf-steak burger and some fried curly taters. This is way better than what they served in the officerís mess today."

Bulldogís jaw hung open at the audacity of Jalbís feigned hard-ass officer act. He began to voice his concerns over the new arrival seeming to overstep the bounds of his authority, but caught himself and decided to see how far Jalb was willing to go to act out the role. He shrugged. "Couldíve been anything under that sealed lid. Prudent decision to search for contraband or other materials that could be hidden in food."

"Well, you never know," Jalb agreed, staring at the food. He picked up the burger with one hand and lifted it up to examine it closer. He held the sandwich up between him and Frosty. "Letís go in for a closer examination, shall we?" He brought the burger to his mouth and took a large bite, chewing thoughtfully as he visibly savored the flavors and ingredients. "Huh, this is extremely good. Iím officially jealous. Canít quite identify the seasoning, but man alive is that good!"

"Thatís enough, Boss," Bulldog said, finally recovering himself enough to call an end to the charade. "Iíd say the suspect has had enough disruption to his solitude for one day."

Jalb put the burger back on the plate and shrugged, grabbing up a fry to test it as well. "Mmmm, delicious. I detect a hint of salted truffle seasoning..." He crunched on it while he exited the room. "As you were, Flight Officer," he called as he walked down the hall.

"I havenít eaten all day," Angel whispered as she likewise grabbed a fry of her own as she stepped out of the room, crunching away and groaning in excessive ecstasy to act as ridiculous as Jalb had acted throughout the last few minutes. She reappeared instantly and grabbed a few more of the fries, and with a smirk, disappeared once again.

Frosty finally relaxed and sat back on his bunk, his face devoid of any emotion.

"Well, that was certainly interesting," Bulldog said, breaking the uncomfortable silence. He rummaged through his cargo pockets until he found the ration bar he was looking for. "Here, itís actually one of the better ration bars. Jogan fruit and veilu nuts. If you close your eyes, itís like a Corellian fruitcake." He tossed it to Frosty, who deftly caught it.

"Thanks Cap," Frosty said with a small nod.

Bulldog nodded in return and exited the room, closing the door. He looked at the guard posted on the outside. "He is not to be disturbed at all without my permission. You get any guff, you ping me and Iíll come handle it."

"Understood, Captain," the marine nodded.

Nearby, Jalb and Angel were giggling and gushing about the food theyíd taken from Frosty and eaten. As Bulldog approached, they both looked his way. "Whatís your gut telling you, ĎDog?" Jalb asked. "How was my bad cop routine? Too heavy?" he added hurriedly.

Bulldog sighed and gave a noncommittal shrug. "I donít think he did it, but heís also slippery enough to cover his tracks so I really donít have much confidence in my assessment."

"I think your first thought is correct based on what I saw," Angel replied to Bulldog, and then looked to Jalb. "And I donít know that it was all that heavy, Sir. Iíve seen far worse from bad cop interrogations. The food bit was unexpected but inspired, however."

Jalb smiled at the compliment and nodded. "Well, keep me apprised of the situation. I want whoever did this to be found and punished," he said as he walked off toward the executive offices. "Damn good food," he muttered as he walked.

Angel looked at Bulldog expectantly for any more requests, but seeing none she nodded and walked off as well to resume the tasks sheíd been pulled away from. She began crunching more of the fries she had pilfered as she sauntered off.

Bulldog walked down the hall, no closer to the truth than when heíd started the investigation. He couldnít quite figure out what he was missing, but he had no proof tying anything to Frosty. The only thing he felt like heíd confirmed was the bit of intel from Silence that Jado and Frosty were possibly still an item.

He ran his hands through his thinning hair as he walked, deciding it was time to grab a drink or four.

***

Later that night...
CRS Vigilant Medbay

Bulldog skidded to a stop the moment he crossed the threshold of the entryway into the medical bay. "Where is he?" he asked the reception droid frantically.

"To whom are you referring, Captain Clark?" The FX droid replied flatly.

Bulldog scanned the room, seeing it completely devoid of any occupants aside from the one bed at the far end of the room. Exasperated, he waved at that part of the room. "Lieutenant Colonel Reynolds, obviously!"

"Looks like youíve spotted him on your own Iíd say," the droid replied.

Rage swelled within Bulldog briefly as he almost lost control of his body. He raised a hand in preparation to slap the droid, but caught himself at the last moment as his rational brain caught up to his reflexes and screamed at him to stop before he broke his hand backhanding the metallic chassis of a droid. "As always, thank you for your helpful input," he bit out slowly, pulling his hand back to his side.

"Youíre very welcome, Captain. Also, for your information, the attached refreshers are not occupied currently if you feel the urge to void your bowels."

Bulldog twitched as if heíd been slapped across the face, and once again felt an inescapable urge to do some serious harm to this droid. If heíd had his RSKF-44 on his person, he most certainly would have done so. Lacking a reliable weapon close at hand, though, he was once again able to regain control of himself before he did anything rash. He spun on his heel and started walking quickly toward the cot that held a prone, writhing Jalb.

"Captain," Cutter said in greeting as Bulldog neared the scene.

"Whatís the situation, Cutter?"

The 2-1B model medical droid inclined its head to regard the Buccaneer carefully before responding. "Same as you were a few days prior, Iím afraid. Only far more severe as the dosage of bacteria was far more concentrated than before."

Bulldog felt a jolt of worry. "Is he going to make it?"

Cutter waved its arm dismissively. "Yes, Captain. Just going to have far more severe symptoms than you and the others experienced due to the dosage." As if on cue, Jalb groaned as he began vomiting violently into a sterile receptacle. The moment he was done vomiting, he rolled clumsily out of bed and speed-walked with clenched cheeks toward the refresher, letting out a loud sigh of relief that was quickly followed by the exceedingly loud chorus of violently voiding bowels.

Just then, Angel barreled into the room with her hand clamped over her mouth and her eyes bulging out of their sockets. She reached the reception desk and bent over the trash can, unloading an impressive amount of vomit into the recently cleaned receptacle. "Lieutenant Courtner, are you ill?" the reception FX droid asked obliviously.

"How does that much fluid come out of somebody so small?" Bulldog mused as he regarded the scene around his favorite trash can.

"Sheís a camel, obviously," Jalb shouted from within the enclosed refresher, chuckling at his own joke before groaning as more sounds of explosive flatulence emanated from the restroom.

Bulldog stepped closer and patted Angel on the shoulders. "You good, Ell Tee?"

Angel stood up and nodded weakly, wiping away the last vestiges of vomit from her chin with a tissue from the dispenser on the desk. She swallowed gingerly and grimaced at the taste in her mouth as she did so. "Yeah," she replied. "That came out of nowhere."

Bulldog nodded. "Well, you managed to make it here before you lost your lunch, so thatís good."

"Yeah- HURK!" Angel convulsed suddenly, vomiting all over Bulldogís chest, tracking all the way down to his shoes. "Sor-hurk-eeeeeee!"

Bulldog recoiled, but the damage had been done. He looked down at his now soiled uniform, doing his best to ignore the smell of somebody elseís vomit surrounding him closely. He stepped away and left Angel to her trashcan and did his best to pat himself dry with medical towels as he looked back toward Cutter.

"Do we know what the source of the infection was?" Bulldog asked loudly to be heard above the cacophony of refresher noises, feeling like he already knew the answer but wanted confirmation. The smell of Angelís vomit on his clothes was starting to rankle his olfactory senses.

Cutterís eyes dimmed momentarily as the droid accessed the database remotely. "90% likelihood that it was on that food we found half-digested in his stomach on the medscan."

"Can you do any better than 90%?"

"Iím going to slap that man into a tug so fast his ancestors willÖ" Jalb grunted from inside the fresher, as more loud noises interrupted him.

"Maybe in a few hours after we remove it and run some targeted labs, Captain."

Bulldog shook his head and turned to jog away. "You do that, but 90% is good enough for me," he called over his shoulder as he left the room. He picked up the pace as he got out of the more crowded thoroughfares of the ship and was able to speed through the less crowded hallways. All beings gave him a wide berth when they saw the state of his uniform, and those with their backs to him instinctively shied away when they smelled him coming.

He waved off the surprised guard as he approached Frostyís room, slamming his palm on the locking mechanism to open the door as soon as he reached it. "On your feet!"

Frosty looked up from his bed, clearly having just been awoken from a nap. "Wha?"

Bulldog gripped Frosty by his shoulders with both hands and hauled the pilot to his feet. "How did you do it?!" He screamed directly into the bewildered pilotís face.

Frostyís eyes widened as he recoiled as best he could. "Do what?" He finally smelled Bulldog, and wrinkled his nose in disgust. "What happened to you?"

Bulldog shoved Frosty away, sending the pilot fumbling back onto his bed. He stepped closer and slammed his hand onto the prone pilotís chest and pushed up and down in a confusing attempt to shake some sense into the prisoner. "You KNOW!"

With the springs still squeaking in protest, the marine guard poked his head in. "Everything, ah, ok in here?"

"GET OUT!" Both Frosty and Bulldog shouted simultaneously, causing both men to look at each other and stop. The guard closed the door quickly, leaving them alone again as the squeaking of the springs slowly died down.

Bulldog released his grip on Frosty and backed away, running his hand across his forehead to wipe away the fresh sweat that formed. "Kark it all, man. How did you manage to poison Jalb and Angel?"

Frostyís eyes widened as he finally found out what caused this outburst. He bounced to his feet quickly and pointed at the meal tray urgently. "It wasnít me!"

Bulldog followed Frostyís outstretched finger cautiously, keeping one eye on Frosty to avoid being surprised by a cornered suspect. His eyes fell on the burger, only one bite missing. He picked it up and examined it more closely. "You didnít eat any of it?"

Frosty snorted. "Would you take a bite after him?"

Bulldog chuckled and nodded once. "Well, probably. But Iím fat."

Both men laughed as they thought about it. Frosty was the first to speak after the laughter petered out. "I didnít touch it after you all left. I ate that ration bar of yours instead. Definitely not all that great."

"Well, yeah, nobody likes fruit cake," Bulldog replied with a smirk. His smile vanished as his brain finally made a connection. "Jado must be the one doing all of this!"

Frosty put his hands up in front of himself. "Wait a minute now. Jado isnít the sort to intentionally make somebody sick."

Bulldog sucked his teeth audibly. "I donít know, man. So far heís the only one I can pin at the scene of a crime both times that wasnít completely tied down."

Frosty wasnít convinced. "I still donít think heís capable of doing something like this."

"Too bad, Flight. Iím going to shake him up a bit to see what happens."

"Take it easy on him!" Frosty shouted as Bulldog pounded down the hallway toward his next destination.

***

CRS Vigilant Lower Decks

"Open up, Petty Officer Daselli!" Bulldog shouted as he banged on the door loudly. Heíd only detoured slightly just to change his clothes and throw away the dried-vomit stained fatigues Angel had created for him in medbay.

After a few moments, Jado opened the door while rubbing his reddened eyes. Clearly heíd been in the middle of a deep sleep, with his hair matted in odd patterns from his pillow. A catchy tune filled with poppy string riffs and whiny lyrics about lost love drifted out into the hallway. "Wha? What is it, Captain?"

Bulldog nodded over his shoulders toward the two MPs with him. "Me and these fine gentlemen have a warrant to search your quarters."

The moment Bulldog finished the line, one of the MPs stepped forward. "Sir, if youíll please step outside into the hallway and stand here while we conduct a search?"

Jadoís eyes widened, but he otherwise didnít resist being led out into the hallway. "What is this about?"

"Sir, please remain silent while the search is underway," the guard warned sternly.

"IÖ I have a right to know why though," Jado protested meekly.

The naval troopers left the room shortly thereafter, giving Bulldog a curt shake of their heads as they passed by. "Nothing but a bit of break-up poetry and experimental recipes on his datapad, Captain. No contraband or suspicious materials."

Bulldog sighed. "Thanks gentlemen. Please go back to Flight Officer McCauley and keep him isolated until I get back."

"Jack?" Jado squeaked hopefully, his eyes perking up.

Bulldog motioned for Jado to go back into his room, and then followed the chef in and closed the door behind them. "Look, Jado, I am really sorry for this surprise search. The food you brought to Frostyís room this afternoon ended up being laced with the same poison that caused the ruckus in the mess hall a few days ago. I hope you understand why I had to rush in here the way we did?"

Jado sat on the edge of his bunk, dumbfounded. "Poison? I donít understand? I made that meal myself."

Bulldog nodded sagely. "Right, so you can understand my leap in logic here, which apparently is a dead end and Iím back to square one. Iím really sorry here, Petty Officer," he added as he rose to his feet. Jado didnít look up, staring off into a wall. The music crescendoed again as the singerís voice rose in pitch, almost into a guttural scream as the finale of the song played out.

Not getting a response, Bulldog took the hint that it was time to leave. "Look, uh, is there anything you want me to say to Frosty for you?"

Jado twitched visibly, but otherwise didnít reply. The next song in the playlist began, another pop-emo anthem of loverís remorse. Bulldog took the hint, stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind him.

"Damn, heís got it bad," he mumbled to himself as he stood there for a moment. That pitiful wretch was a lovelorn man, but he still wasnít ringing any alarm bells. Bulldog banged his head gently against the wall as frustration mounted. "Who the kark is the poisoner?!"

***

CRS Vigilant Hallway

Bulldog had made it about twenty feet down the hall at the sluggish pace heíd been shuffling when his commlink chirped an alert. Shaking himself from his depression at the dead end his investigation was at, he pulled the comlink from his pocket and keyed it on. "Clark."

"Captain, itís Vikeron," Silenceís voice replied.

Bulldogís heart jumped. "What is it, Si? Got a new lead on those supplies or other suspects?"

"No, not quite. A lot ofÖ comm traffic has been brought to my attention. That chef has been getting a ton of untraceable traffic, including some more at this very instant."

Bulldog halted in his tracks. "Untraceable? How is that possible?"

The shrug was evident in Silenceís response. "Unsure with what I have currently. Would need to set up specialized equipment in the area to attempt a backtrace."

"No need. Iím pretty sure this makes him our guy," Bulldog replied as he began trotting back down the hall.

"Captain, I have to say that this doesnít mean the chef is guil-"

Silenceís voice was cut off as the commlink was jammed back into Bulldogís pocket. He burst back into the room, catching a very shocked Jado sitting at a desk with a comlink in hand, speaking in hushed tones.

"What?" Jado squeaked, completely startled.

Bulldog leveled an accusatory finger at the chef. "Iíve got you now, man. Iíve got you by the balls."

Jadoís eyes widened in confusion and fear. He recoiled slightly as he dropped the comlink on the desk.

"Didnít think Iíd catch your untraceable comms with your currently incarcerated accomplice, did you?" Bulldog growled, laughing with elation in a manic fashion as the feeling of triumph overwhelmed him. "The two of you planned this out in some sort of sick game of 3D Dejarik! That last attempt to appear to poison him while hoping somebody else would eat the food was a master-level move, Iíll give you two that."

Jado shook his head. "Captain, I have no idea-" He made an attempt to reach for the discarded comlink on his desk.

Bulldog gripped Jado by the scruff of his neck. "Quiet! Iím taking you to the kitchen so you can point out your stash. If I have to force you to tear that place down to the bulkheads, Iíll do it, Petty Officer! Letís go!"

"My comlink is still on!"

"Leave it!"

As Bulldog forcefully yanked the frightened chef out of his room, he pulled out his comlink again. "Security, please have the detail guarding Flight Officer McCauley pull that sorry excuse for a pilot out of his room and drag him to the main galley, on the double!"

***

CRS Vigilant Kitchen

The door to the kitchen slid open and two guards stepped inside, flanking Frosty. Bulldog smiled, a look of his triumph on his face, as Jado and Frosty locked eyes. He began to puff out his chest, happy that he'd finally solved this mystery. "It took me a while," he said to the assembled room, as he paced the floor. "But I got you two little love birds all figured out."

"Oh no Detective Bulldog is here," Frosty sniggered, but Bulldog rounded on him like a shot.

Bulldog grinned, "You think you're smart, Frost, but you ain't that smart."

Jado was aghast at the situation, his face flicking between fear and contempt at Frosty. Bulldog chose him as his first target. "For a while I believed it was the work of everyone's favourite chef, Jado Daselli. An attempt to get revenge on your jilted lover, McCauley."

"I would never!" Jado protested, his cheeks shining a ruby red in rage and embarrassment. "Even if I wanted to hurt Jack that much, I wouldn't hurt the other Renegades!"

"Hmmm," Bulldog stepped away, circling the floor. "Yes, you're not a bad actor at all Jado. But after a while I suspected a different culprit. Flight Officer McCauley. It is kind of suspect that you were the only one not getting sick, don't you think McCauley?"

Frosty shook his head, "You might think me stupid Bulldog, but I'm not that dumb. Harming my own squadmates? The people who keep me alive? Besides, you saw what happened in my room. How could I have possibly poisoned my own food before it even arrived?"

Bulldog laughed with glee, nodding happily. "Exactly! How could youÖ.unless," he pointed at both Frosty and Jado accusingly, "you were in on this together!"

They both exploded with anger at the same time.

"Him?! No chance that arrogant scumbag-"

"-naive idiot! He's such a good boy he'd run away crying if I even suggested-"

"-why don't you ask his girlfriend from supplies! Or the man he's being hanging out with from the tech crew! Or the third deck security chief who I found him wrapped around-"

"-can't even begin to think like an adult and maybe I don't need to be all just belonging to him, he can flirt with other people too that's fine-"

"-he probably poisoned people with all the STDs he's got, that man-schutta-"

"-never agreed that we were exclusive! You've got to have those conversations, not just decide it without telling your partner! I'm not that kind of guy, I've always had a lot of fun with a lot of people-"

Bulldog took a step back, wincing as his head began to throb with the early rumblings of a migraine. This was embarrassing to witness. In a single moment he'd gone from triumphant detective, the great solver of mysteries, to host of one of those trashy talk shows he saw on the holonet where couples screamed at each other whilst the crowd chanted Ďfightí. He took a breath and was prepared to interrupt when a third figure burst into the kitchen.

She was a short woman, slightly round with incredibly curly hair that looked like it had been electrified. Her face was dashed with freckles which stood out even more now that she was red faced and also shouting. "Let him go! He's innocent! I did it!"

Frosty and Jado looked at the new figure, speaking in unison. "Tyfa'Nee?!"

The young woman looked at Bulldog and recognition finally dawned. She worked in the kitchen too and had slipped past his attention during questioning as she had seemed thoroughly unremarkable. She looked at him imploringly, "Please Captain, he didn't know. I did it all myself. I wanted his nasty ex out of the picture. I love him!"

Frosty nodded slowly, "I'm sorry Tyfa'Nee, I never realised you felt that way about me. Of course I-"

"Not you, you idiot! I was trying to poison you, especially after you hurt him!" She snapped, her voice suddenly sharp. She turned her tawny eyes on Jado, who wilted under her gaze. "Jado, I love you."

Bulldog struggled to suppress a laugh as Jado started to splutter. "Tyfa'Nee, I like you but not like that! I'm... gay, Tyfa'Nee! I like men!"

She shook her head desperately, "You've just never met the right woman, Jado. I can be everything you need, I can be tough and handsome and in the bedroom I can wear a strap-"

"That's enough!" Bulldog shouted, his head aching. He wanted to forget the whole thing and just go grab a drink. "How did you poison everybody?"

The obsessed lover pointed toward a spice rack. "The black spice jar with the completely opaque sides. Mixed in with the exceedingly rare Kamino Sea Salt combined with Batuu Truffle are the dried spores of a relatively harmless bacteria that I was told caused mild food poisoning."

Jadoís eyes widened. "So I WAS poisoning people when I used this in my latest recipes?!" He fell back slightly to rest his back against a nearby counter as he seemed to feel the full weight of guilt.

Bulldog pinched the bridge of his nose as he motioned for one of the guards to grab the spice container. "Tyfa'Nee I think it's best you go with security. They might go easy on your crime of...passion...but what you did was still kind of serious. Somebody could have been killed."

"Please!" the woman guffawed derisively. Her gaze softened as it fell upon Jado once again. "It was a harmless prank."

Bulldogís eyes flared with rage, matched by his nostrils. Those that knew him and his mannerisms knew that he was one centimeter away from smashing somebodyís face in. "Itís true. Iíve seen people die from a harmless prank as mixing a laxative in with their caf. And if you have any hope for leniency, youíll clamp your mouth shut and go."

The security officers took Tyfa'Nee away who was still confessing her love to Jado as she was dragged away. Frosty, Bulldog and Jado stood in the kitchen awkwardly as the room finally became silent. Bulldog opened his mouth to speak first, but his face was a roiling mask of confusion. Each time he looked to begin, his voice caught. His hands also looked like they were prepared to make a point, but eventually his right hand came to his chin as he finally thought through all of his possible options. After another moment, he just shook his head and walked toward the door in complete befuddlement.

Frosty turned to leave with him but hesitated at the doorway. He turned towards Jado and spoke quietly, "Can we talk?"

Jado nodded quietly and Frosty stepped towards him. Bulldog paid them no heed, shutting the kitchen door behind him as he walked away.

Bulldog poked his head back through the door. "Flog?"

Frosty looked expectantly in Bulldogís direction.

"Youíre writing the report on this one," Bulldog said, before disappearing once more. "On my desk by 0600. So wrap up whatever this is ASAP!" he shouted through the closing door.

Frosty once again looked at Jado, who reciprocated the gesture. The two men stared deeply into each otherís eyes for what seemed like an eternity. They both seemed to lean in simultaneously, but once again the sound of the door opening interrupted the two men.

"What now, Captain?!" Jado snapped, shocking Frosty with the ferocity in the tone of the generally meek chefís voice.

"Uh, I was just looking to make myself a late night snack," a voice that didnít belong to Bulldog replied.

Frosty finally broke off the pregnant staredown between him and Jado to see a very confused Captain Roy "Lock" Callahan standing in the doorway in a clear state of confusion.

"GET OUT!" Jado snapped.

"I... uhÖ ok."

The EndÖ Thankfully...