A discreet virtual alarm flashed, alerting me to the passage of time and the end of my study period. I had been immersed in my simulations for quite long enough. It was time to make myself ready to undertake a second duty, one which - I hoped - I would find no less pleasurable. I was to get myself pregnant.

The denizens of the Endurance had been selected to carry as wide a selection of genes as possible, the selection itself constrained by the individuals available. To a man and woman, we were individually young and healthy as well as being one of the few survivors of the punishing war of attrition with the Consolidationalists. And now, here we were, travelling faster than any member of the human race had ever managed before, and still accelerating.

At these near-light speeds, it was difficult to sense what was in space around us - near or far - with any kind of instruments. The light from the stars, including the one we were aiming for, was blue-shifted to high-energy X-rays. Fortunately, the inertial field had the desirable side-effect of deflecting a large fraction of the radiation, leaving the ice to soak up the rest. This was another reason why it was a good idea to have millions of tonnes of ice around us all to act as shielding from the radiation which leaked through the inertia containment which enclosed the entire asteroid - as it must do, of course, otherwise the entire ice-ball would disintegrate under the forces of acceleration.

So we were effectively cut off from the rest of the universe and would remain so until we had decelerated to a velocity which would allow optical and radio frequency telescopes to function normally. In the meantime, we were navigating by dead-reckoning; our turn-about in a few weeks time must be extremely precise so that the vector of our direction of travel was not changed. Any resulting error - and there was bound to be some - could be corrected later, even though a large miscalculation could put months, even years on both the perceived and real journey time before we rendezvoused with the Tau Ceti star.

After some initial nervousness and a great deal of very careful assessment of the risks to foetuses, the consensus of the medical teams was that it was safe to become with child. Then the navigation team suggested we were still within acceptable bounds of precision and that the probability of a long delay in our arrival was unlikely. And so the directive - not an order, exactly, but a very strong encouragement to support the long-term objectives of our mission - was to become a parent.

Given the size of the gene pool, there was a limited selection of the male crew with whom I should conceive a child - although of course I could enjoy recreational sex with whomever I chose. So, I had planned an event which would have in olden times been called a First Date although, with only a little over two thousand people on board and a very active programme of social integration, there was really nobody who was a complete stranger to anyone else.

I shrugged off the lightweight VR glasses and stretched out on the couch, unknotting the tension in my shoulders. I was back in the real world, still in my private cabin: a single room with a tiny bathroom attached. The computing and simulation resources of the Endurance could be accessed from anywhere aboard; I usually preferred the privacy of my own space rather than one of the shared workspaces that dotted the accommodation and engineering sections of the ship.

Time to take a break. I showered, dressed with rather more care than usual and applied a little makeup, then made my way out to the most discreet of the dining areas the Endurance could offer.

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