"We'll have to catch up later," said Pike. "Right now the Captain and I have to go over our plans, now that we can finally get under way again."
"That's okay, Admiral," said Piper.
Karissa stepped forward. "I can take Miss Piper under my wing," she volunteered.
Captain Evans nodded his approval. So while the two men headed off the hangar deck toward the briefing room, the two ladies headed off in another direction.
*A few hours later....*
"Thanks for the tour, Commander," said Jamie.
"My pleasure," answered Karissa with a small chuckle. "Thanks to you I got to see a few sections of the ship that I myself had forgotten about!"
Jamie smiled in return and followed the counselor through a set of over-sized doors into what turned out to be the *Ronin's* mess hall. The quiet murmur of voices and the clinking of dishes greeted their ears as Karissa negotiated a meandering path through the crowd to a small table near the large forward windows. The two ladies sat and began reading the menu screens built into the tabletop.
Karissa looked up after a few moments and noticed that Jamie had already decided. She asked, "I can never decide.... What are you having?"
"All there was to do on the flight here was eat and sleep, so I'm not really hungry," chuckled Jamie. "I'm sure I gained ten pounds! I'll just stick with a glass of Altair water."
"Sounds good to me," said Karissa, switching off her own menu. "I'll order."
Karissa tapped a few keys on the menu screen, and a second later two glasses of sparkling Altair water materialized on their tabletop. Jamie gave a little start at their unexpected appearance. Karissa noted her reaction, but it took her a moment to realize the reason.
"Sorry!" she laughed. "I guess I should have warned you." Jamie looked puzzled. "We've got all the latest toys here on the *Ronin*." Karissa indicated the tabletop with her finger. "Replicators built into the tables."
"Cool!" said Jamie. "I'm gonna have to get the Admiral to have one of these installed in his office once we get back to Earth."
Karissa laughed gently and subconsciously caressed her swollen belly.
"So if I'm not being too nosy, when is your baby due?" Jamie asked curiously.
"Well," Karissa replied, "My babies are due in a couple of months. In Earth's time, approximately sometime in October, toward the end of the month."
"Babies? You're having twins?" she asked with surprise in her eyes.
"Yes," Karissa replied simply. "And I can't wait!"
"Are you worried about being a Starfleet Officer and mother at the same time?" Jamie asked.
Karissa shrugged. "I wouldn't be normal if I didn't have any apprehension. But in this case, I can't wait to see my children!" Her smile was bright as she thought about the future.
"Not to be too presumptuous, but what does the father think about that?"
Karissa chuckled again. "Well, the fathers are just fine with that."
Piper looked confused. "Fathers?"
"Its a complicated story," Karissa replied. "But it ends with me in this position. One of the fathers is a friend, and the other I am madly in love with...."
"And who are the fathers?" Piper asked. "I mean..., If I'm not prying...."
"Not at all!" Karissa replied, her smile still bright. "In fact, if you don't hear it from me, I'm sure you'll hear it from someone around here. One of the fathers is Dr. Hancock and the other is Captain Evans...."
With the way she said his name Piper could tell the one Karissa was in love with.
"And they're happy about the babies?"
Karissa nodded. "Actually, yes.... Though it was a surprise to everyone. Me included! But its turned into a very happy one. Especially for me!"
Karissa smiled and picked up her glass. The first sip of the Altairian elixir went down ice cold and fizzy. Jamie followed suit. For a few minutes, the ladies just sat enjoying the bubbly drinks and staring contemplatively out the big windows. Karissa was the one to break the silence.
"So.... Nothing to do but eat and sleep, huh?" she said. "Lieutenant Benton not much of a conversationalist?"
"*That's* the understatement of the year!" was the emphatic reply. "Plus, he doesn't even really eat. He's got these little blue pills that supposedly cover all his nutritional requirements."
"Mm. Know anything about him?"
"Not really.... All I know is what was in my briefing -- that he's from a parallel universe where the Kelvans have conquered the universe or something, and that he came here to try and escape."
"Then coming *here* to the *Ronin* would be the *last* thing you'd expect someone like that to do," said Karissa thoughtfully."
"I think they offered him some kind of deal or something," answered Jamie after another sip of water.
*That sounds like something that needs checking into,* thought Karissa, but out loud she said, "Okay then, let's talk about someone you *do* know."
"Okay," said Jamie, glad to move the conversation away from Benton. "Who?"
"Admiral Pike, of course! You work very closely with him, don't you? What's he like? He's been on board for a while now, yet no one's gotten to know him."
Jamie chuckled to herself. "That about sums him up," she said, smiling. "The Admiral is a private man. He's usually reserved, and never lets any cracks show in his armor."
"He sounds almost unfeeling...," ventured Karissa.
"No, no! Not at all!" countered Jamie immediately. "He cares very deeply. I remember once on the *Knight*, during the Talosian thing, when things were really getting hopeless and there didn't seem to be anything left to do -- Bajor was destroyed, and Vulcan.... I took some reports to him in his cabin. He had it all dark in there, but I could've sworn I saw a tear in his eye.... He was worried for us all...." Jamie's defense of her boss drifted off, as the memories of those difficult times swept through her. Karissa watched patiently.
Shaking her head to dispel the ghost of her past, Jamie put up her customary smile again, but it was quickly replaced by a look of alarm. "Oh! I never told anyone that before. He'd kill me if he found out!"
"Don't worry," said Karissa. She lowered her head slightly and motioned for Jamie to come closer. When they were eye to eye, she said in a conspiratorial tone, "Your secret is safe with me. I'm a professional, after all!"
"Oh, good." Jamie literally breathed a sigh of relief. She sat up straight again, then downed the last of her Altair water.
Having observed this young woman throughout their conversation, a sudden insight struck Karissa now. "You really think very highly of him, don't you?" she asked.
Jamie seemed to hesitate for a split second, then smiled quickly as if trying to cover it over. "Well, of course I do!" she said, a little too brightly. She fumbled awkwardly with her empty glass, set it down, tried folding her hands on the table, then picked up the glass again. "He's the best commanding officer I've ever had, and I'm proud to have been assigned to be his assistant," she finished somewhat lamely.
Karissa smiled inwardly. She hadn't wanted to pry of course, but a few stray thoughts came through from Jamie. Or maybe it was the color that had arisen in Jamie's cheeks that tipped her off. Either way, it was a good guess that the young woman had strong feelings indeed about Jeff Pike. *Best keep that to myself...,* she thought.
Karissa put the squirming young woman at ease by patting her hand reassuringly. She finished her own glass, then said, "Well, we better be getting back to work."