Early the following morning, I was awakened by my phone with a ping; a message has been received. Our devices had been patched into the systems aboard the Yelcho almost from the first moment it had rendezvoused with the Endeavour, and we had long since ceased to wonder about the mismatch between technologies hundreds of years apart.

It was an invitation to a meeting, from Waldo. This was a surprise; I had not received any formal invitation to events of any kind up until now. The words were evidently carefully chosen to make it clear that this was not a peremptory summons, but nevertheless I would be well advised to attend.

A couple of calls and a few messages of my own soon confirmed my suspicion: Waldo had sent invites to every one of the crew of the Endeavour. So, an All-Hands meeting, then. Not an unreasonable request, and certainly one with which the crew were familiar, but there must be something urgent, or at least very important, to talk about.

Within the hour, we were gathered into a meeting room which had not been there yesterday. This was not unusual: the public spaces on the Yelcho were subject to change without notice. Doors and walls and even floors which seemed solid and permanent could flow and mold themselves to new shapes in a matter of minutes, although normally these remodelling events took place when nobody was present.

The meeting chamber looked odd somehow and it took me several minutes before I realised just what the oddness was. Although it was not in any sense a copy, the space was subliminally similar to the conference room back aboard the Endeavour, although obviously it was quite a bit larger. A ruse, I suspected, to make us all slightly more comfortable with whatever news would be forthcoming.

Waldo was standing at the front of the room on a fair facsimile of the dais from the old conference room. There were three others from the Yelcho's crew. In one corner, trying unsuccessfully to be unobtrusive rested a bulky articulated collection of black and white boxes we had learned to call Register. Standing almost behind Waldo was a female-shaped cyborg known as Missy, her body perfectly formed in silver but, for all her alluring curves, she somehow gave the impression of androgynous sexlessness to men and women alike. Finally, the man called Rex with the velociraptor body which had caused so many of us moments of absolute terror from unexpected encounters in corridors stood next to Missy, motionless except for the occasional twitch of his tail.

A buzz of conversation filled the hall; my colleagues and crewmates had of course recognised the unusual nature of the summons and, inevitably, wild speculation and unfounded rumour. Humans just don't change, I thought cynically, tinged with amusement.

The scene on the dais was relayed by unobtrusive - indeed, invisible - cameras to insubstantial screens which hovered just over our heads. The screens were artfully placed; despite the thousands of people in the room, everybody had an excellent view.

Waldo stepped forward.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," he said formally.

The noise level dropped immediately.

"I'm sure you're all wondering why you've been invited," Waldo went on, speaking over those slightly embarrassed sounds of a few latecomers making their way in at the back of the hall, "This is important, and I will explain. But first I would like you to watch a recording."

The screens flickered, then showed a tall, dark-haired and rather swarthy man, once well-build but now looking desperately frail and unwell. The invalid was seated in what must have been some kind of high-tech wheelchair and was clutching a rather crumpled piece of paper in one hand.

"Hey, it's Tony!" somebody at the back of the room cried out, just as the gaunt figure on the screen said: "My name is Tony Ruggiero."

The recording paused, while the voice behind me went on: "We crewed together, on the Plantagenet. He was the chief scientific officer."

I craned my neck but I could not make out who was speaking, although his remarks were supported by murmurs of agreement throughout the room.

The recording restarted and the field of view on the screen widened. Waldo was standing there, looking just the same as he did right now in front of us. He looked sadly at Tony, who glanced up at him; Waldo nodded as if in confirmation and Tony turned back to face the camera.

"I'm here to give you a warning," he said in a voice which had probably once been firm and resolute, but was now desperately weakened by whatever terrible disease had afflicted him.

"Whoever you are, whatever ship or rock or iceball you set out on, if you are hearing what I'm saying then you will have been picked up by the Resettlement Union."

Everybody had heard this term before. I guess you would call it a charity: it was the organisation which had funded, or at least arranged, for the Yelcho to rescue us, as well as, it seemed, others in the same predicament.

The emaciated figure in the wheelchair sagged still further.

"I don't know," he muttered, "Perhaps I'm just talking to myself."

Waldo put his human hand on his shoulder.

"Go on, Tony," Waldo said kindly, "I'll make sure the message is delivered. And I'm certain there will be people to listen to it."

Apparently heartened by this, the invalid resumed what was obviously a prepared speech, reading with some difficulty from the crumpled sheet in his hand.

"If you've been rescued, then I'm sure your first reaction was one of relief, followed perhaps by a perfectly natural desire to go home, to return to your original planet."

This was entirely true. I and everybody else, I was sure, had accepted without question that we would all shortly be abandoning the Endeavour and returning on the Yelcho to Earth.

Tony's voice deepened, displaying perhaps some of the presence and authority he once had.

"I urge you to reconsider this decision," he said earnestly, "I believe you cannot live here."

Part 3 Part 5