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Bad Influence

2nd Lieutenant Jack "Frosty" McCauley

"You're paranoid, mate."

Jack 'Frosty' McCauley fixed his wingmate with a glare. "I'm not paranoid, I'm a realist. When the chips are down I'll be first fed to the sarlaac."

Kyle 'Junior' Reynolds shook his head, spilling a few drops of ale upon the bar top. "First off, you've mixed up your karking metaphors. Secondly, no kriffing idiot is going to leave you to die because you're not Mr. Popular. You're fine."

Jack took a glug of his whisky and immediately offered the glass to the bartender. Iggy, everyone's favourite tame assassin droid, refilled the glass wordlessly as Jack's datapad pinged to inform him that he had just spent another few credits at the bar. "You only think that because you're my wingmate and we bunk together. Everyone else just knows me as that guy who betrayed Red Squadron and upset Gremlin. I've seen it before, Junior; there comes a point where things get really rough and decisions get made and I'll be left in the shavit."

"Ah, no. You worry too much. I'll make sure nothing happens to you, you frakking nerf." A smile slowly spread onto Junior's lips. "Although, if you wanted, you could show people that you're no hutt slime. Do a good will campaign, y'know?"

"A what?"

Junior took the datapad out of Jack's pocket, opening up the access to the shipwide communication service. "Here. You trust me right?"

"No."

"That'll do." There was bing from Jack's datapad after Junior had spent a few moments with it. Jack looked at it suspiciously and as he read, his face dropped.

Message to all personnel:

I've decided I'm feeling thankful after my last bacta dunk so to celebrate drinks are on me for the next few hours! Come join the fun at the SSD.

~Frosty

Jack went to immediately delete the message but before he could Junior immediately wrapped him in a headlock. "Traitorous frelling idiot, get off me!"

A few of the other patrons of the bar looked on, ready to intercede before one by one they noticed the ping on their datapads and instead moved to the bar to order a drink. "See mate, you'll be popular in no time!" Junior said, his face beaming. One after another staff dribbled into the bar, some ruffling Frosty's hair as junior kept him in the headlock. "Easy as that, buddy."

Jack said nothing as Junior released him, choosing just to glare. Instead he took the new whisky Iggy had poured and tried not to think about the final bill.

--------------------------------

Major Myke 'Wolf' Krenn didn't even blink when the caf beans were placed in front of him, on his new desk. The packet was opened and the smell wafted over but he refused to look up.

"Premium stuff, this. Comes all the way from Adumar. The packet says the beans are washed and roasted by expert craftsmen, which in my experience means some poor droid, but I got to say they look real good." The hand darted into the bag and picked a bean out, crunching as it was placed into the hidden visitor’s mouth. "Mmmm. Man that's good stuff."

"No." Wolf said, in the sternest voice he could manage. It wasn't particularly stern, he wasn't a particularly stern man, but he imagined most majors were stern and he was determined to live up to the rank.

Jack McCauley sat in the seat opposite him, eating another caf bean. "I could get used to this boss. The little bits get stuck in my teeth but they taste pretty good really. You sure you don't want them? A friend gave them to me as a gift but I don't tend to drink the stuff much and I figured-"

"What do you want Flight Officer?" Yes, the direct approach would work. No nonsense, no nerfshavit. Direct and to the point.

"Me boss? Ah nothing really. A warm bed, a nice drink, safety and prosperity. The usual stuff really."

Wolf looked up at Frosty and locked eyes on him. The eyes stared back. How was he so good at this? It was infuriating. McCauley was never exactly insubordinate. He was never exactly disrespectful. But somehow, one way or another, he found a way to get under Wolf's skin. Syntax didn't seem to have this problem; he'd have to ask his senior officer how he dealt with the man. "You can't bribe me."

"First off, don't offer me a challenge like that boss. It's too tempting. Secondly, I already told you, it's not a bribe. Just didn't want them to go to waste is all." McCauley stood up, shrugging his shoulders. "I just figured you might want a little pick me up. Can't have been easy on you, ascending to Major in such a short period. Not saying it's undeserving boss, you've never done me wrong. But seems like a lot of pressure. Thought a little caf might do you some good."

Wolf watched the curly haired pain in the rear leave his office and disappear round the corner. He waited a moment after he'd gone, then another moment more and once more again. Finally his hand darted over to the caf bag and he brought it to his face, inhaling the bitter sweet scent. Immediately, as if he could somehow read his mind, McCauley reappeared around the corner.

"Oh, I forgot to mention boss, there was one thing…"

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Dark grey and neon green-blue. The X-Wings were lined up perfectly, not an inch out either side. Alrick 'Krayt' Durgan examined them with pride, a small smile creeping on to his face. Spectre Squadron was the youngest of the squadrons aboard the Vigilant but in its short life span had already had several successes. The way these X-Wings were painted and displayed were a great example of the professionalism and attention to detail that had led Spectre to victory. Seeing them made him happy. Plus, it couldn't be denied: These X-Wings looked cool as hell.

Two mechanics were going over them now, they're faces covered by rebreather masks so they did not inhale the paint toxins as they sprayed slowly and methodically. Krayt snapped them a sharp salute in respect to their work and one of them saluted back as he turned and left the hangar.

"Dank ferrik that was close," Junior said as he pulled his mask off. "Hurry it up Frosty!"

It'd take a few hours for the change to occur but they couldn't have timed it any better: As Krayt began his weekly formal inspection the first X-Wing started to change. Leaning around the corner of the hangar entrance, a motley crew of Rogue, Buccaneer and Corsair pilots laughed as the neon green-blue tints transformed to neon pink, much to the bemused joy of the assembled Spectre pilots as their OC was left to scratch his head.

"You're alright McCauley," a punch on the shoulder and a pat on the back and it was quickly clear that the joke was well appreciated by the other renegades. Junior just gave a shrug, "Yeah, alright, it was a good idea of yours. Everyone does like a joker."

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Ignoring him didn't work. It just made it worse. This time, Wolf decided he'd tackle him head on. So it was that as McCauley entered his office he looked him directly in the eye. "You told me that you needed to call your daughter for her birthday yesterday. You asked if we could swap inspection day with the spectre's specifically for that reason."

"Aye. So I did." McCauley plunked himself in the seat, a paper bag in hand. Wolf couldn't help but notice the bag was steaming slightly and it smelled amazing. "She thanks you for that. Very good of you to accommodate me."

"I know you were responsible for the pink spectre stunt." Keep him defensive, like he's a crack TIE pilot.

"Hell of an accusation there boss. Seems more like something Angel or Gremlin would do, you know, try and make the place feel a little less of a meat fest if-"

"Enough." Wolf cut him off with a wave, trying to hide his own smile. "No more special favours, alright?"

"Sure thing boss." McCauley placed the paper bag in front of him. "By the way, a friend of mine from the kitchen has got really into pastry making. Naboo croissant I think. He made way too many so I said my poor old major would love one, perfect with a fresh caf don't you think?"

Wolf picked up the bag and dropped it in the bin besides him. McCauley raised an eyebrow but said nothing as he stood and left the office. This time Wolf was sure he was victorious.

He felt his stomach grumble. He'd had to skip lunch because of the reports Syntax had sent him to go over; the paperwork was endless at the moment due to the amount of change in personnel. They were still trying to figure out wingmates properly.

The bin full of pastries called out to him. They were still in their paper bag, safely nestled upon a pile of screwed up flimsi sheets. Well, it was still a victory, even if he ate the pastry. McCauley had left, a line had been established, he was clearly the senior officer. Grabbing the bag he took a bite of pastry, an involuntary sound of satisfaction escaping his lips. It was on the second bite that McCauley reappeared, hand raised to ask a question. "There is one thing I needed to talk to you about…"

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The briefing room was full of pilots. Every squadron was present, the usual end of week debrief. They were mostly boring affairs, even if they had seen combat. Keeping any adrenaline fuelled fighter jocks attention during a presentation was a battle even the toughest of commanders struggled with.

Buccaneer’s OC stepped forward, Michael ‘Mighty’ Tolle. Rogue was finished with their report and now it was Buccaneer’s turn to give a thrilling update. “So, last week was fairly successful. As you can see-” He thumbed on the projector at the centre of the room, expecting some battle reports to display. Instead the holoprojector began to sing out loudly as a rowdy teen Zabrak girl danced on the projector screen.

Hey, Hey, I said Darlin’
If you wanna be dancin’
Then you better get callin’

Somewhere amongst the laughter of all the assembled pilots Gremlin and Angel squealed in delight, picking up the famous pop tune of their teenage years as they sang their hearts out and stood to dance together. Gremlin sang and danced with more passion than talent whilst Angel’s voice was incredible but her dancing was awful, several paces behind Gremlin’s. Mighty attempted to turn the holoprojector off, but instead it started to play out louder, causing even more laughter. Frosty and Junior gladly accepted a few high fives and gave each other a fist bump as the whole briefing room began to sing out with the chorus.

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Another pair of drinks was placed on Frosty and Junior’s table and they each took one, giving a high five to their fellow pilot as they departed. Junior sipped his slowly as Frosty threw his back, grinning wildly. “Pranks, my man. People love pranks.”

“Alright, alright. It was a good idea,” Junior shrugged a little at the drinks. “I think we might be out of ideas now. We’ve done the Spectres and Buccaneers.”

“Rogues!” Frosty shouted, slamming the table. A few Rogues at the bar turned to give him a look, he stuck his fingers up at them and they did so in return causing him to roar with laughter. “We haven’t got the kriffing Rogues yet. Take ‘em down a peg.”

Junior suddenly went very quiet, staring at his drink. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Frosty snapped his head around to look at his partner in crime. The younger man was still looking down at his beer, tracing the rim of the mug slowly. Somewhere deep inside his half functioning brain Frosty put two and two together. “Ah, right, your old man.”

“I’m not karking scared or anything,” Junior said, his face reddening. “It’s just-”

Frosty cut him off, shaking his head. “Don’t worry about it man. Family is complicated, there’s no need to explain.”

“Yeah.”

“Junior, fancy letting me have a word alone with Frosty?” Wolf had appeared by the table, steaming mug in hand. Junior gave a shrug and stood, disappearing into the crowd around the bar. Frosty grinned at his XO, showing him his empty glass. “Fancy getting me a drink? For morale of course.”

Wolf tried to narrow his eyes at Frosty. It didn’t work and eventually he cracked, force damn the man, and smiled. “Look. The briefing room was pretty funny. The X-Wing paint was honestly really good. But me and you both know it can go too far right?”

“I knew it!” Frosty smiled a predator’s smile. “You did all those favours just so you could see what would happen, didn't you?”

“As your senior officer I deny any such accusation," Wolf said, trying to avoid his gaze. "But I think that last one trick of yours is plenty."

"What? Why?! No one's getting hurt, you're clearly enjoying it. Everyone's loving it! It's in good spirits."

Wolf tried to stop grinning at the thought. "Right. Look. As your XO I'm just calling it here. You're getting to be a bad influence on Junior."

"I'm a bad influence on him?! That's ridiculous, he's as mad as a box of monkey lizards already. Why're you being such a spoilsport? Junior told me that you're a right laugh, always game for a joke. " A few more brain cells fired and Frosty laughed again, slapping the table. "Oh I get it now. You. Are. Jealous. You want to be the one doing practical jokes with me and now you’re stuck with being responsible.”

"With you? Not a chance." Wolf shrugged his shoulders, his smile sagging slightly. “I’m just saying be careful. Don’t take it too far. No more favours from me.”

Frosty winked at him, “Aye, I’ll be good as gold boss. Cross my heart, hope to die, all that good stuff.”

Wolf stood, shaking his head once again. “You’re so annoying. You know that right?”

“Am not! I’m lovable! A rogue!” Frosty cackled again, the drink having taken him fully. Wolf left him, a wry grin on his lips. McCauley was very annoying but he had to admit, he was alright.

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There were several kitchens aboard the Vigilant, each almost always in constant activity. Feeding the entire crew of such a large vessel was never ending work and with twenty four hour staffing and shift patterns somebody, somewhere aboard always needed feeding. The kitchen here, part of the mess hall that fed the pilots of Renegade Wing, was tight. But, amongst all the dishes and pans, there was currently only one person working hard.

Jado Daselli wasn’t a tall guy. He wasn’t particularly fit either. But he was passionate. He had passion for food, for helping people, for destroying the Empire. He admittedly wasn’t very good at destruction, as much as he had wanted to be. But, like anyone with the desire to help, he had found a place he could slot in. Even if that meant currently he had to prepare three different huge batch trays of food. With such differing diets from so many different species serving enough options that didn’t cause allergic reactions was a huge chore.

Jado sighed again. He was, he had to admit, a little tired. Even endless fountains of enthusiasm eventually run dry.

“Hey chef.”

Jado jumped out of his skin when he heard the voice right by his ear, he hadn’t heard anyone enter the room. He twirled on his feet and glared at the grinning face, an oven mitt on each hand. “That’s not funny Jack!”

Frosty shrugged, still smiling. “Oh, don’t say that. It was quite funny. You look kind of ridiculous holding those mitts.”

Glaring Jado threw the oven mitts to the countertop, “What do you want?”

“Wow. I came all the way down here to say thank you, for the croissant and the caf beans. They were very much appreciated. See how I could repay the favour and I get this kind of attitude?”

Jado’s face softened and he ruffled his hair slightly, his cheeks reddening. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”

Frosty shrugged and with comparative ease lifted himself onto the counter, his boots swinging in the galleyway. Jado turned back to his baking, feeling slightly nervous.“So…..have you thought of anything?”

“Hmmm?” Jado dreaded the question. Surely he’d just forget about it. The man was always calling in favours.

“Jado, buddy. You did me a favour, I owe you. Surely there’s something you want? I did say anything.”

He did say anything. “Um.” Jado gripped the counter harder, his heart racing. Be brave. Be karking brave. You’re on a force damned warship, you can be brave. “Would you maybe….um...perhaps we could….uh…”

McCauley appeared beside him, leaning over and picking up one of the hot snacks on the tray. He whispered in Jado’s ear, “I’m free right now.”

Jado shot him a look, his lips parched. He’s messing with me. He’s just playing. The guy gets off on messing with people. Jack’s hand was placed on top of Jado’s and McCauley winked at him, that annoying arrogant smile. “You just had to ask.”

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“We’ve got to go out on a high,” Junior demanded, slapping the table. Frosty pulled his head up from the sticky surface, his eyes bleary. “What?”

“One last prank. A big one. Get everybody.”

Frosty shook his head violently, feeling ill he put his head back on the table. “No. We’re done. I made friends. Too many. No more pranks.”

“Don’t be a karking, cowardly little slimeball!” Junior poked his compatriot. “One more! A legendary one! Let them all know about it.”

Frosty grunted into the table and Junior glared at him. Draining his drink he let the bad ideas wash over him. "I heard we've got some kind of parade drill tomorrow. Full dress uniform, the works. Best prank wins."

"Whins fwat," Frosty muttered into the table surface.

"Winner….uh….takes the others patrol duty for the next week."

"Junior?"

"Yeah?"

"We're karking wingmates you nerf herder. We're always on patrol together!"

Junior started laughing at Frosty's incredulous anger, wiping away tears from his eyes. "Haha, yeah, right. I dunno, I'll think of a prize. Deal?"

Without saying anything else Frosty took his hand and shook it, putting his face back down on the table.

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McCauley was really pleased with himself. He hung high in the hangar, working on the holo projector that ran a feed across the top of the large room. Down below hundreds of enlisted Republic service personnel stood to attention, their uniforms shiny and neat. Okay, maybe this one last prank was one too far, but it would be worth it to disturb such a show of rigidity and regime. He practically had to do it, just to remind everyone that they were still rebels at heart.

He double checked the data card he had inserted into the holoprojector. What the Galaxy Knows a B rate romantic film, that at its height wandered into adult entertainment, was ready to play. Carefully climbing along the gantry walkway and back to a maintenance ladder he crept down, reaching the hangar floor and scooting behind a fuel tank.

In his pocket his comm buzzed, he pulled it out and thumbed it on quietly, "What?"

"Is your prank ready?" Junior’s speech sounded slurred and hazy. The fool had clearly stayed too long at the bar, enjoying the free drinks everyone kept buying them. Frosty whispered back into the comm, "Primed to go."

Just then he heard the familiar whine of repulsorlifts and saw a shuttle come into the hangar bay, settling down on the deck just in front of where the uniformed personnel formed a corridor to greet the VIP. Internally Frosty groaned, this wasn't meant to happen. It was meant to be some dumb rehearsal. But there, striding off the shuttle, was Admiral Tolden. Frosty thumbed the comm on, desperately whispering into it, "Forget it Junior, bug out. No pranks, no pranks!"

It was too late.

He ran down the center line of the crowd, unsteady on his clearly drunken feet, the flag of the new Republic flapping behind him as a cape. In fact the flag of the New Republic was the only thing he wore, Junior having decided there was no more formal a uniform than your birthday suit. He came skidding to a halt in the parade when he realised he was face to face with Admiral Tolden. Unsure of what else to do Junior snapped off the sharpest salute of his life, just as the flag cape became untangled from his neck and dropped to the floor sadly.

Overhead the holoprojector kicked in, the cheesy flirty music playing as the main characters finally had their long awaited night of passion together. The sounds were deafeningly loud across the hangar. Frosty stared on in horror. "Dank ferrik."

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Frosty was hiding in the bar. Junior had been frog marched away but McCauley had managed to stay hidden during all the commotion. He knew Junior well enough to know he wouldn't rat him out.

One table over from him Shadow, Angel, Rogue, and Talon were quietly whispering. "Gremlin’s adventurous, but she's not stupid. She'd never pull a stunt like this. They said the data card in the holoreader had her name on it, but she swears she lost her copy of that film years ago!"

He felt his chest tighten, a deeply unfamiliar sensation. Frosty really really didn't want to do it but, for once in his miserable life, he knew he had to do the right thing.

---------------------------------------------

It didn't take much convincing in the end. Once he explained how he'd borrowed the film off her a lifetime ago and never bothered to return it the command staff quickly let Gremlin go. She didn't even look at him as she left the room and he felt his own guilt settle in place. Junior was likewise missing; he'd just left the office as Frosty arrived not responding to his sly thumbs up. The young man was clearly very red in the face and Frosty realised it was only about to get worse for Junior as he walked from the office of Syntax into the office of his father, Jalb.

This was outside of Frosty's control now. He stood in attention, Syntax and Wolf staring at him.

Syntax took an age before he spoke. "When you first arrived here you asked me to give you a chance."

"Yessir."

"In the past month you have proven an excellent combat pilot. You are, however, a totally different person outside of the cockpit."

"Yessir."

"You keep causing me paperwork, Flight Officer. Which means I keep having to give it to Major Krenn. That's not really fair is it?"

"Nosir."

"I realise now that putting you and Flight Officer Reynolds together was a mistake. Like fuel and an open flame. I think it is in everyone's best interest if we have you swap wingmate and bunkmate, don't you?"

Frosty's salute cracked slightly. "He's a good kid. We got carried away. It's not his fault."

Wolf chimed in, "He's an adult too Frosty. He knows just as well as you."

"Indeed." Syntax looked at a datapad for a second and then back at McCauley. "I'm transferring you to Corsair 9, with three flight. You'll be Major Krenn's wingmate, I'm sure he could teach you some things."

Wolf's face dropped at the exact same time Frosty started to smile. The major snapped towards Syntax, clearly not in on this change. "Sir! Surely there's someone else-" Syntax stood and went to one corner of the office, Wolf followed. "Wolf you've done a very good job as XO so far. But I've seen you struggle in a few areas. I think McCauley is exactly what you need. A good challenge and you might even learn a thing or two from him."

"But Syntax he's so...so…." Wolf gestured over at where Frosty still stood, out of earshot and at attention. "Annoying!"

Syntax placed a metal hand on Wolf's shoulder. "Indeed. Which is why I'm delegating him to you. You can figure out his punishment too, you're creative, I'm sure you'll figure out something."

Wolf gave a deep sigh as Syntax turned to Frosty and dismissed him. "So this is what being XO means huh?"

Syntax nodded in approval, "Sometimes you organics learn even quicker than I anticipate."

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Jado was tired. He had the graveyard shift again and the cafeteria was empty, the mess hall ghostly quiet considering the usual rude pilot patrons. Jado picked up a tray and went to place its contents in the bin when he spotted McCauley sat alone at a table. Perking up he tried not to skip as he headed over, "Jack!"

McCauley looked up at Jado and smiled weakly, "Hey you."

"Oh my goodness, are you okay? You look awful!"

"Wow, thanks pal. I'm just tired."

Jado sat down next to him and took a chocolate bar out of his pocket, Frosty gladly accepted it and immediately put his head on Jado's shoulder causing the young chef to blush. "He's kriffing good, I'll give him that."

Jado frowned in confusion, "Who?"

"Wolf," Frosty said, his mouth full. "I figured I'd get away easy. But he has me doing patrols with Silence and Dragon and they won't stop doing these awful puns. It drives me mad. He's got me working as his assistant too, there's so much paperwork, but if I try and ignore it he just makes more appear. It's never ending."

Jado nodded slowly, completely lost. "A-huh."

"I'll get him though. He's a softie at heart and won't last forever. I've seen him grin more than a Kowakian Monkey Lizard. Just got to find the right angle, no one bests me."

Jado felt Frosty lay down completely, placing his head on Jado's lap without any warning. Jado tried desperately to breathe and not get too excited. His voice broke, "Maybe you could...uh...get him a present."

"Hah! Bribery. The only thing that will work on him is…." Frosty sat bolt upright and squeezed Jado's face, planting a kiss on his lips. "You genius Jado! Come on, come to the kitchen. We need to make caf cake. Or pudding. Or ice cream. Or all three. Caf stuff."

"But….I've got duties to do!" Jado practically wailed.

Frosty placed a finger to his lips, "Trust me Jado, you're not going to get in trouble with me."