Chapter one

The Earth was dying. The effects of pollution had at last taken their toll on a once beautiful world, darkening the sky, contaminating rain, rivers and seas with burning acid, laying waste to all life on the planet. Fires raged like a plague through forests and abandoned towns and cities alike. No animal or plant survived; the flames were the only things that could exist in the hostile world of ash, smoke and chemical choked air.

And yet, the cause of the decay had not yet departed; humans, with their ever-growing technology, had survived by building themselves a city within a dome; a dome safe from outside pollution; a dome into which oxygen, filtered from the toxic air, was pumped daily.

A short distance away from the dome a metallic monster lay sprawled on the dusty, barren ground. Its sides glinted in the scorching rays of the sun, which, due to the ever-expanding gap in the ozone layer, was slowly baking the planet. A lone human, dressed in protective clothing that made the sun's heat even more unbearable, stood in the monster's shadow and glared up at the blue letters painted on its side:

'The Atlantis'.

Ben Kingston sighed and made his way around the side of the ship to where the lowered gangplank waited for passengers to board. 'Atlantis', to his eyes, seemed cold, unwelcoming and a poor answer to the problems caused by humanity.

Humans, the ones responsible for earth's destruction, were abandoning her to her fate. Ben hesitated, not entirely sure if humans should be allowed to reach and destroy another planet, not sure if humans should be allowed to leave the planet they destroyed, not sure if he wanted to leave too. He wasn't leaving to be with family members who were leaving; he had no family, he wasn't even leaving because he wanted to survive.

He just wanted to leave the memories of his past behind.

Ben blinked to banish the tears that the visor of his suit prevented his hand from brushing away, then unhooked the radio receiver from his belt, switched it on, waited for the static to fade, and said:

"Everything's good to go; we're ready." He heard an exited babble, like a swarm of angry bees, in the background; most people, not sharing Ben's feelings about earth, were just glad to get away from the now inhospitable world.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad thing, Ben thought as he entered the ship and made his way towards the 'Guidance Deck', maybe, with humans gone, earth would have a chance to recover. At that moment he hated everything about his own species. He resented the fact that they were going to survive, resented the fact that he was going to survive; he resented the fact that he had survived two years ago when..

He shook his head angrily to banish the memories, then let the automatic doors slide shut behind him to banish the desolate world that, although he hadn't yet left, seemed as distant and alien to him as the moon.

It took the small, transport ship only a matter of minutes to take its first load of passengers and crew to the real 'Atlantis', which was floating freely in orbit around the earth. As soon as he could, Ben broke away from the chattering crowd of passengers and the crew members who were trying to direct them to the 'Lobby' - a room that had been set up for the passengers who were waiting to be taken to cryogenics, where they would be put into deep sleep for the majority of the trip, and headed towards his own quarters and the 'Guidance Deck'.

The Guidance Deck was a large, half-moon shaped room at the front of the ship, containing a complex network of computer units and monitors so designed that they could be operated by just one crewmember. Ben went straight to a terminal in the centre of the room, flipped it on and said:

"Computer, this is Pilot Ben Kingston, and my orders are that no one is to be let in here without my say so...is that clear."

The computer chimed, and then a female voice replied:

"Affirmative. Welcome to the Atlantis, Pilot Ben Kingston."

Ben snorted derisively, sat down in the chair next to the computer monitor, took off his gloves and helmet and said:

"I want to see a list and images of possibly inhabitable planets, as well as data about their atmosphere and any life already present."

The computer chimed again, then stated:

"There is currently no data available on possible inhabitable planets."

"What the bloody hell am I supposed to do then?" Ben snapped, "Where the heck am I supposed to steer this ship?"

"The Atlantis' systems are programmed to scan the area of space around the ship and alert the crew of any habitable planets it passes."

"Oh, I see," Ben said icily, "We're supposed to drift in space and hope that a planet jumps out at us, are we?" he drummed his fingers against the desktop, wincing at the sound of metal hitting plastic. "No, this is how we're going to do things. This ship has auto-piloted search units, am I right?"

"Affirmative."

"Then you're going to dispatch them, now, and I'm not taking this ship anywhere until I get data on a planet we can aim at.am I making myself clear?"

"Affirmative."

"Good." Ben looked out of the large 'windscreen' ahead of him and saw several small passenger ships, much like the one he had just vacated, moving in to dock the Atlantis. They were coming from different countries around the world, where a few humans had survived in domes similar to the one he had lived in for the last few years. Monitors around the room showed him people with exited faces, people with hopes and dreams, people who had everything to live for.

He envied them. Over the last few years he had become embittered to people who seemed to have the one thing he ached to have, but had been denied. Or rather, the one thing he had had, and had had snatched away from him.

He sighed, stood up and held his right hand out in front of him, flexing the metallic fingers. The whole of Ben's right arm was robotic, along with two fingers on his left hand, his right eye and, most disturbing of all, his heart.

He looked at his reflection in the windscreen and grimaced at the sight of the metal sheeting covering the right hand side of his face. The eye that wasn't robotic was green and somehow full of malice and terrible sadness at the same time. The skin that was visible was pale, as though Ben was already dead and what he was seeing was, in reality, no more than a reflection, no more than a shadow of the person he had been before the accident and his 'life saving' operation.

Life saving! Ha! He snorted; the surgery hadn't saved his life; it had destroyed it. Everywhere he went people stared at him with curiosity, pity and fear. He'd become a recluse, hiding away from other people and their opinions, hiding away from people who pretended to understand what was going through his mind. They were ignorant to his real thoughts and feelings.the only person who had understood him was dead, and it was his fault.

Ben angrily brushed away the tears that were trickling down his normal cheek and groped for the chain around his neck, which held the ring that would no longer stay on his metallic finger, the ring that, besides photographs and his memories, was all he had left of the one stability, the one good thing he had had in his life.

"Wish me luck, Rachael." He muttered. Then he pushed the ring and the chain back beneath the neck of his safety-suit, pulled the helmet back on, and left through the sliding doors to meet the Captain and discuss the running of the Space Ship he only half-heartedly wanted to run, and the future of the species he had no desire to save.