The Forest:

- When the surface world was destroyed by toxic chemicals, the PEACE Project began. Their job? To restore the Earth's atmosphere. Decades later however, no progress has been made and humanity is nearing it's end. So they activated the ROOT Program, leaving humanity's greatest mind in the hands of their AI in the hopes the solution would be found.

'You have five minutes remaining.'

Isabelle sighed, looking up at the clock above her as it ticked past five minutes. Then she focused back on her ECHO device, a handheld monitor that was her connection to the Mainframe. It was currently displaying:

Question 21/21:

Which law relates solubility of solvents with pressure?

A) Hess' Law

B) Henry's Law

C) Charles' Law

D) Boyle's Law

Isabelle sighed again and scratched her head, frowning in thought. She knew the answer, of course she did. But it was just out of reach, on the edge of her thoughts but she wasn't quite able to grasp it. She glanced up at the clock, two minutes to go. Se glanced at the question again, biting her bottom lip. It definitely began with H, so was it Henry… or Hess?

'Thirty seconds left.'

Isabelle looked between the two, panic rising fast.

'Ten seconds.'

She hurriedly circled A then realised her mistake and scribbled quickly, circling B instead. A buzzer went off and she sighed, dropping the ECHO device on the table. It went blank a moment later. A few seconds later, the ECHO began beeping, twenty-one beeps to be exact as it processed Isabelle's exam. There was a long pause after the last beep and she let out a sigh of relief when the screen flashed green.

"Congratulations Isabelle, you've passed.' A woman materialised in front of him, smiling warmly. 'Would you like to have your cake now?'

"Sure thing Mum."

She disappeared as quickly as she'd appeared and the door hissed open, allowing Isabelle to exit the room. She followed a series of opening doors, all of which closed as soon as she stepped through, shutting with a soft hiss as the security locks engaged. When she reached the Kitchen she couldn't help but smile when she saw the cupcake sat on the table, one candle pushed into the treat.

Isabelle didn't get food like this often, if ever. Only on her birthday was she allowed cake and only after she'd finished and passed her exam. The woman reappeared as she picked up the cupcake and blew out the candle.

'What did you wish for?'

"If I told you, it wouldn't come true, would it?" She smiled and bit into the sweet treat, enjoying every second of it. But within moments it was gone and Isabelle sighed. "Why can't we have cake more often."

'Because it's not part of your daily food intake. And it wouldn't be special if you could have it every day.' She smiled, holding out a hand. Isabelle rolled her eyes and reached out to touch it. She couldn't of course, her hand went right through. She was just a hologram after all, a projected image so Isabelle didn't have to talk to thin air. 'Come with me, it's time for your examination.'

Every year on her birthday, Isabelle underwent both a physical test of his strength and agility, and an exam to test her mind, to make sure she had learnt all her assigned lessons from that year. If she passed – and Isabelle always did – she was rewarded with a cupcake. Then it was time for her examination, where Isabelle was heading now.

She entered the Medical Bay and lay down on the cool metallic table. Suspended above her was a large machine with several arms and appendages. Her mother could control this machine through the buildings software. She was, after all, in control of everything. The machine came to life and Isabelle held out an arm as a syringe came down, injecting her with a sedative. Within moments she was out cold.

Isabelle woke up to find herself still on the same metal table. Her head felt sore, as it always did after the examination and as she stood, it took a moment to regain her balance. The floor seemed further away, maybe by a few inches. But this was also normal and she knew within a few days, she would adjust to this new sensation.

"Mother?" She asked the empty air and she appeared instantly.

'Yes Isabelle?'

"How old am I now?"

'Seventeen. One more year of learning Isabelle, and you'll be ready to find the Solution.'

She nodded in reply, but didn't say anything. The Solution, her purpose.

Isabelle had been woken early from cryosleep to help solve the Earth's greatest issue, a virus which had been unleashed over a hundred years ago that had destroyed the environment and human civilisations. Those who had the planned for this type of catastrophe had built this place to find a solution, to destroy the virus. But the years went by and no progress was made.

Her mother had told her that a new plan had been developed, that everyone would be put into cryosleep except for the one they knew could solve this. That person was her. Everyone had left their lives and trust in her, to find the Solution. Once she turned eighteen, Isabelle would finish her education and begin working on finding the answer. She wasn't alone though, she had her Mother who was teaching her and would help her with her research when the time came.

She wasn't really her mother of course, just an artificial intelligence created to help raise and teach her, to help prepare her for his task. She was there so Isabelle didn't go crazy with loneliness, even if she wasn't a real person, Isabelle still thought of her has her mother. She had raised her after all.

Her name was Sylvia, a name she'd found in a child's book when he was learning to read. In this book, Sylvia was the protagonist's mother, a kind, caring woman who loved her children dearly. So she'd named her artificial mother Sylvia, because she cared and loved him just as the mother in the story had loved her children.

'Isabelle?' She blinked, coming back to her senses at her name. 'Don't forget your exercises. Remember…'

"A healthy body leads to a healthy mind." Isabelle recited and she unsteadily made her way out of the room. After walking for a few minutes, the nausea subsided and she was able to walk properly again.

In her room, Isabelle changed into her exercise clothes before heading to the large, open space adjacent to the building's airlock, which she liked to call the pavilion. Here, the area opened up to allow her plenty of room to exercise, and she knew the airlock was completely secure. Her predecessors had secured it before going into cryosleep and the only person who could now open it was her mother.

Isabelle sighed and began stretching.

Every day was the same, wake up and change, have breakfast then Sylvia would spend the rest of the morning teaching her, mostly Chemistry. After lunch she was given an hour to exercise before back to lessons. The only free time she had was an hour after dinner in which Isabelle mostly sat in front of the airlock, wondering what the world was like outside.

Sylvia had told her many times that the world was a toxic, desolate wasteland. That human's could no longer survive outside and she was never to set foot outside. If she was contaminated then Isabelle would die, there would be nothing she could do to save her. Because she'd grown up in this sterile, clean environment the toxins in the air would kill her instantly. So Isabelle sat and waited as each day went by, learning as much as she could in anticipation of the day she would begin working on the Solution.

Almost nine months later, her eighteenth birthday drawing ever nearer, everything went wrong.

Isabelle was woken up with a start when the alarms started blaring, her room flashing orange before plunging into darkness in time with the alarm system. She stumbled to the door and out into the hallway, thankful the lights were on. "Mum?!" She called, walking towards the pavilion slowly. She'd never heard this alarm before, but something about it made her blood run cold. She had just reached the doorway, getting a view of the airlock and to both her horror and delight, it was opening.

Before she could stop herself, Isabelle was running across the room. Inside she could see a person, and actual, living, breathing person!

'Isabelle stop!' A wall slammed down between her and the airlock, making her jump back in surprise. Her mother appeared then, a frown on her face. 'He's contaminated.'


'Go put your Hazmat Suit on. Then we'll deal with our guest.' Isabelle didn't hesitate, she ran to the Medical Bay and grabbed the Hazmat Suit, pulling it on eagerly and was back at the airlock within minutes. 'We'll take him to the Medical Bay, the Quarantine Room.' Sylvia instructed. "Be careful when touching him Isabelle, he's unconscious but most likely contagious.'

Isabelle nodded and held her breath as the wall was lifted up. Exhaling slowly, she entered the airlock. Inside there was indeed a man, he was face down and apparently unconscious. Sylvia could read his vital signs so Isabelle knew it was safe to approach him without being attacked. Slowly, she turned the man over, eagerly taking in the newcomer's face.

He was wearing a respirator mask, most likely for the toxins outside, the mask covered most of his face. But Isabelle had been preoccupied by his hair, it was black, almost obsidian in colour. Isabelle had seen movies and pictures of other people of course, but had never seen someone with such dark hair before, it seemed to pull in all the light around his head. Maybe it was a side effect of the toxins?

Giving herself a shake, Isabelle stooped down and put her arms under the mans. She managed to haul him up and began dragging him towards the Quarantine Room. It was slow work, the man was a lot heavier than Isabelle anticipated but after ten minutes they were there. He lay motionless on the pristine bed, his smudged and dirty skin looking even filthier against the clean sheets. The only indication he was alive was the steady rising and falling of his chest.

'Isabelle, bring over the apparatus so we can see how bad the damage is.'

She did, wheeling in the machine which would allow her mother to monitor the stranger's vitals and determine his condition. All she needed to do was insert a catheter into the man's arm. Once this was done, it took only minutes for his mother to assess him.

'There's a lot of damage. It seems he was caught in a chemical storm, there are several burns on his body. Isabelle, you'll need to help make the medicine to treat him. He should wake up in a few hours and he might become hostile. I don't want you in this room until we know he wont attack you.'

"Ok, ok." Isabelle let out a shaky breath, slowly inserting the needle into the man's vein. As soon as it was in, a steady flow of fluids began running into his arm. "Can I take this suit off now?" It was starting to get uncomfortable.

'Of course, let's go.'

She was more than glad to leave the room and peel off the Hazmat Suit. When she could finally breathe again, Isabelle dragged a chair over to the Quarantine Room and sat down next to the observation window to watch the newcomer sleep. Sylvia said he would wake up in a few hours and Isabelle wanted to be there when he did.

'Isabelle, the medicine?'

"Oh, right." She got up and under Sylvia's careful instructions created the medicine that would help heal the burns on the strangers body. It took a few hours, she had never made anything this complicated before and by the time she was finished, the man had woken up. Isabelle almost dropped the container when she saw him sitting up on the bed. "Um, hello?"

The man's head snapped up and he looked at her with bright blue eyes. Then he began looking around again, surveying his surroundings. "Where am I?" His voice was deeper than Isabelle expected, he must have been older then she originally thought too. Those blue eyes narrowed, in annoyance most likely. "Well?" He demanded.

Her mother had warned her about this, that the stranger could get violent. For once Isabelle was glad that she was so protective. "You're in The PEACE Facility, although that project has been abandoned for years. It's just me and my Mother now."

"PEACE?" He repeatedly blankly. "What does that mean?"

"Practice of Environmental Analysis to Change Earth. They tried to fix the Earth, it didn't work." Isabelle approached the glass and sat down in front of it. "What's your name?"

"What's yours?"

"You're suspicious of me?" Isabelle asked, her question answered when the man scoffed.

"Why wouldn't I be? I've just woken up in a cell in some sort of facility as you've put it. Why should I be suspicious?" The man approached the glass, standing opposite Isabelle. "Maybe you've captured me to do experiments on me."

Isabelle couldn't help it, she laughed. "You walked in, remember? Have you seen how old I am? Besides I'm trying to save the world, why would I want to kill you?"

The stranger considered this for a long time. "Gary. My name's Gary."

"I'm Isabelle."

"So Isabelle…" The man she now knew as Gary said her name slowly, testing it. Isabelle found it strange to hear it come from someone other than his mother, especially a man. "How exactly do you plan on saving the world? And why am I locked up?"

"You're locked up because you could be contagious, or dangerous." She pressed a hand to the glass, surprised when Gary mirrored her, the pane being the only barrier between their hands. "And you should rest, you got caught in a chemical storm." Isabelle indicated the burns across his arm. "I've got medicine for that."


Isabelle passed it through a slot in the door and the man began applying the ointment. She watched for a while before speaking again. "How did you get inside?"

"The locks on the door were rusting, a bit of force and they broke. You should probably get that fixed." His eyes widened, hands stilling as he fixed on something behind Isabelle. "What the hell is that?"

Isabelle turned, smiling when she saw Sylvia. She smiled back. 'I will fix it, we don't want any more… intrusions.' She looked at Gary. 'You should rest, those burns will heal in a few weeks and then you can leave. Isabelle, I'll need your help with the door. He should be fine in Quarantine.'

"Yes mother." She glanced back at Gary as she left the room. The man was still looking at Sylvia with a shocked expression. She disappeared a moment later when the door hissed open and Isabelle left.

Isabelle had to put her Hazmat suit back on as the door was behind the Quarantine Airlock. This was the closest she'd ever been to the outside, having never been beyond the Airlock before. Just as Gary had said, the door was rusted over. Sylvia set to work welding new parts as Isabelle held them in place. Within a few hours it was as secure as the day it had been originally locked.

She had intended to return to Gary, but the door to the Medical Bay wouldn't open. 'You need to sleep Isabelle. He will be there in the morning.'

Isabelle sighed, knowing nothing she would say could convince her otherwise. "Alright." She muttered, the door to her bedroom opening as she approached.

The next two weeks Isabelle spent almost entirely in Gary's company. At first the man would barely talk to her but eventually, with a lot of coaxing on Isabelle's part and promises he'd be let out of Quarantine if he reciprocated, Gary began to open up. Then finally one day, Sylvia told Isabelle it would be safe to let Gary out. She almost tripped as she ran towards the Medical Bay to deliver the good news.

Gary was lying on the bed, but awake as he turned his head when Isabelle entered the room. "It's a bit early for breakfast isn't it?" He asked, sitting up.

Isabelle didn't answer but smiled and opened the door before stepping back. "You're free to come out now."

He raised an eyebrow, but didn't move from the bed. "And you're sure I'm not contaminated or anything?"

"Yes, my mother has done all the tests. You're safe." Isabelle held out a hand and after a long pause, Gary stood and walked over to take it. Isabelle inhaled sharply when they touched, it was after all the first time she'd ever touched another living person. Gary's skin was warm, the hand firm in her own but after a moment it withdrew. A silence fell between them for a few minutes.

"So what now?"


Gary huffed, eyes narrowing slightly. "What now?" He repeated. "Am I leaving? Are you taking me to a different room or something?"

"No." Isabelle replied slowly as she tried to get her thoughts in order. She was still processing how close Gary was, the body heat coming off him was quite distracting. "Well I mean you have a room I can show you where, but you're also free to go anywhere you want now. Once you're fully healed you can leave. But those burns are still a problem." She pointed to the faint scarring on the man's arms.

Gary shrugged in reply, and Isabelle touched one of the burns carefully. He inhaled sharply but didn't pull away as Isabelle examined them carefully. They were almost healed, another week with the ointment and he'd be healthier then ever. Then she quickly let go before it became awkward like the handholding did.

Isabelle did indeed show him to his new room, across the hall from her own. After that was a quick tour of the facility, Isabelle had been instructed to tell Gary he wasn't allowed in the Labs but he had free access to everywhere else. Not that it matter since Sylvia was the only one who could open the doors. She however was leaving them alone, at least her physical form was.

Eventually they settled in the Kitchen for breakfast when Isabelle noticed something odd. The food Gary was eating was different from her own. Sylvia was in charge of their food so she'd never seen the man eating until now. He was eating some sort of light brown sludge made from grains by the look of it. Isabelle looked down at her own food, it was almost the same consistency but thinner and black, not the beige of Gary's.

Sylvia appeared at that moment. "Why do we eat different things?" She asked her.

Gary looked up to see Sylvia had appeared and frowned, his eyes going to Isabelle's food. 'Because Gary is from the outside, he needs different food to counter the poisons from outside.'

"Ok, ok." Isabelle shrugged and returned to eating but Gary was still frowning at her food.

"What are you eating Isabelle?"

Before she could answer, her Mother did for her. 'Isabelle has never been outside so she needs supplements she lacks from this. She does not need the protection you do because she has never been harmed by the toxins.'

Gary looked at her for a long moment and Isabelle was sure the man was about to say something else. But then he sighed, his frown disappearing. "If you say so." He finally said and continued eating as well.

Isabelle's studies for the next week were greatly disrupted as she was always distracted by the thought of Gary. After two days of this Sylvia allowed her to have the remainder of the week off, something she had never done before and she knew she would have to study hard to make up for this in time for her birthday which was just over two months away.

She had asked Gary if there were others like him, other humans outside but the man would never give him a straight answer. Most of the time he just ignored to question, along with most of Isabelle's other queries too. In fact Isabelle knew very little of the man's life outside, even though she ended up telling Gary everything about herself, including what her life work was to be.

He had scoffed at that. "How do you intend to save the world from here? It isn't possible. If there was a solution it would have been found years ago by those scientists of yours. Even they gave up."

"They didn't give up." Isabelle replied. "They entrusted the future to me. I can't fail them, or you."

Gary had no answer for that part.

Gary's three weeks came and went quickly. The burns on his body were now healed, leaving behind only light scarring which was barely visible. Whatever medicine the hologram and Isabelle had used, it was beyond anything he would have found out in the world that was for sure. He was also sure that Isabelle was the reason he hadn't been kicked out yet.

It was clear to see, at least to him anyway, that Isabelle was developing a crush on him. Most likely because she'd never met a human before him. It was also obvious that Isabelle had no way to hide this from Gary, which was how he knew the younger woman was smitten.

The thought wasn't that repelling when Gary considered it. Isabelle was attractive with her long blonde hair and big green eyes. Unfortunately she was a little naïve being sheltered in this facility for her whole life. If she ever had to go outside, it would be nearly impossible for her to adapt. Not that she'd ever be able to leave, the hologram she called her mother would never let her.

Gary didn't trust her. She was a machine capable of projecting a form, a form which would be receptive for a young child so she was his Mother. Where Isabelle was from, who her real parents were, Gary had no idea and Isabelle never spoke of them. The more time Gary spent in this place, the more he got the feeling Sylvia was hiding something. Whatever it was, Isabelle was a central part to some plot and it was definitely not to save the world as she thought.

One day, almost two months after he'd arrived at the facility, Gary saw his chance. Isabelle was in one of her lessons which would be going on for a few hours yet. During this time, Sylvia would be distracted teaching her which would mean she wasn't watching him.

The doors were sturdy, no visible handle to open them. But opening a panel on the nearby wall, Gary manipulated the wires until it opened with a soft hiss. Looking around to make sure Sylvia had not appeared, he entered the Labs. It was the once place Isabelle had told him was restricted and it also the one place that would have answers.

The walls inside were stencilled with a single word, ROOT. It seemed like a good enough place to start so he began looking for any connection to the word. It took far longer than he would have liked but eventually Gary found a folder which at least gave him the full acronym.

Robotic Optimisation Of Recollections.

"Robotic…" He murmured, quickly checking the folders contents. It contained detailed designs for some sort of android but not Sylvia, this was to be a fully functioning android, one which could age, could bleed, could for all intents and purposes be disguised as a human. "Isabelle…"

The food, the black sludge Isabelle always ate, she never had anything different. Even her drink was made of the stuff. Gary had always thought it was weird that she survived on it. But then again, maybe Isabelle wasn't as human as he'd always thought. How strong she was, how quick, how smart she was, it was beyond what most teenagers could do.

Isabelle… sweet, innocent, idealistic Isabelle… she wasn't human.

'You should not be in here.'

Gary jumped, the folder falling and its contents spilling across the floor. It was Sylvia of course, she had materialised soundlessly, a disapproving expression on her face.

'The labs are out-of-bounds. Why are you here?'

"You know why I'm here." Gary replied, a hard edge creeping into his voice. "I knew something was wrong with you. What are you doing with Isabelle?"

Surprisingly, her expression changed to one of pain. 'She can never know what she is, it would destroy her.'

"What are you going to do to her?" Gary hissed back angrily. If there was anything he could do to save Isabelle, he would do it. Isabelle believed she was human, she would suffer just the same as a real human would.

'When she turns Eighteen, Isabelle will begin working on the Solution. She will find a way to fix the Earth and once she does…' She stopped, seemingly upset if that was even possible. 'Isabelle will upload her consciousness to the Mainframe. The human's will be woken from cryosleep and the Earth will be saved.'

"You'll kill her." Gary said in disgust.

'Isabelle isn't alive.' She replied cooly, looked at him with a hard expression. 'Isabelle was built for this purpose and she will fulfil this purpose.'

"Isn't she your daughter, do you not feel anything for her?"

'Of course I do. Isabelle is my child and I am very proud of her and what she will achieve. That she was built for this great purpose. There can be no higher honour. And you will not mention any of this to Isabelle if you value your life. Her belief is greater than anyone's life.'

It was the day before her eighteenth birthday and Isabelle was filled with a nervous anticipation at the thought of finishing the final test and beginning to work on the Solution. Sylvia had given her the day off, telling her to relax in preparation for tomorrow. This of course meant she was going to spend the entire day with Gary, whom she found in the Kitchen that morning.

"So…" Isabelle started, pulling her own food towards him. "Any plans for today?"

"Oh you know, I was just going to wander about aimlessly like always." Gary replied with a smile. "What about you, more lessons?"

"I have the day off." Isabelle finished the food quickly and pushed her plate away. "Tomorrow's my birthday so I'm allowed to relax."

Gary frowned for a moment, but then it was replaced with a smile. "Well then, how about an early birthday present?" Isabelle only raised an eyebrow questioningly as they stood and Gary offered her a hand. "Come on."

She took the hand and followed Gary. It didn't take long to figure out where they were going. "It's broken you know." Isabelle informed him glumly outside the door to the Holo-Deck. The room was actually a giant machine, capable of creating any hologram they desired in almost perfect photo-realism. You could even touch the surroundings but much like Sylvia, you couldn't feel them. "My mother disabled it years ago, too much of a distraction apparently."

"Ah but in all my spare time I've managed to fix it." Gary replied as the door opened and he beckoned Isabelle in with a smile. "So tell me, where do you want to go?"

"The forest." Isabelle replied without hesitation. It was something she'd never spoken about aloud, her dreams about walking in a forest. It haunted her in a way, to know that one day she might be able to if she found the Solution. "With birds and squirrels and mice…" She stopped abruptly as their surroundings changed into the world from her dreams. "It's perfect." She whispered.

"Come and sit." Gary was on the floor, a picnic blanket spread out beneath him. Isabelle did sit, scooting close to the other man with a shy smile. He smiled back but said nothing as Isabelle lost herself in this new world again. Finally, he spoke again in a quiet voice as if not to disturb their surroundings, which of course, was impossible. "What do you want most in the world?"

"To save it." Isabelle replied instantly.

Gary rolled his eyes. "But what do you want. Something selfish."

She had to think about that for a moment, but then as she looked at Gary and smiled. "This." She replied. "To walk barefoot in a real forest, to hear real animals around me. To feel the wind and smell the trees." Leaning closer to the other, Isabelle felt her heart start racing. "That's been my dream for as long as I can remember. But what I really want, something really selfish that I have no right to ask for… it's you."

And like in all those books and movies, Isabelle closed the space between them and kissed Gary before he could respond. It was just as perfect and amazing as they said it would be too. Then she pulled back, embarrassed by her actions. She tried to stumble out an apology but the words never got to leave her mouth because Gary was kissing her again.

Gary's lips were so warm against her own, to the point Isabelle could feel a burning inside her because of it. It didn't lesson, the more they kissed, the worse the need became. Soon Isabelle found herself on her back, clothes being pulled off but she didn't mind, no she wanted this. It was more perfect then she could have imagined, if she wasn't in love with Gary before, she certainly was now and surely, Gary felt the same to be doing this with her.

"I love you." Isabelle said afterwards, curling up close to the other man. Gary didn't respond, his fingers just continued running through her hair. The longer the silence went on, the more embarrassed Isabelle began to feel.

Thankfully her mother appeared, seemingly unconcerned by their nakedness. 'Isabelle come, you must eat and rest for tomorrow. There is no time to waste.'

Isabelle didn't need telling twice. She quickly changed and followed her out of the room, eager to be away from Gary and she didn't look back.

Gary had watched Isabelle leave the Holo-Deck without a word, only sighing deeply when the door shut behind him. "I love you too." He said quietly, but only the computerised animals heard his reply.

Could Isabelle truly love him? She was created for one purpose, so why would her creators allow her to feel love, to function like this? Isabelle's body was just as human as his own it seemed. So what were the scientists really creating here with her?

He didn't see Isabelle after that. Where she had gone, Sylvia was keeping them separated, no doubt because of their earlier actions. This suspicion was confirmed when she came to see him the following morning.

'Follow me.' That was all she said before walking away, leaving Gary no choice but to follow. She took him to the Medical Bay where he found Isabelle lying unconscious on a gurney. 'Do not worry, Isabelle is fine. I am currently uploading the last of our data to her consciousness. I do this every year, increasing her intelligence bit by bit, to ensure she is no overwhelmed by information.'

"Why are you telling me this?" Gary asked, approaching the gurney and carefully taking one of Isabelle's hands in his own. It was as cold as ice.

'Because you need to understand why Isabelle is so important, and why I cannot afford for her to be distracted, especially by you.' He looked up sharply at that, but Sylvia's eyes were on Isabelle. 'That is why I have decided to remove her memories of you.'

There was a stunned silence following this statement. "You… you can't do that!" Gary finally stammered out.

'I can and I have done. You have no reason to remain here now so I think it is time you left. Return to whatever life you had before coming here and do not tell anyone of this place. I will protect Isabelle by any means necessary. If you do not leave, I will have no choice but to kill you.'

"How could you do that to her?" Gary asked in disgust, his grip on Isabelle's unresponsive hand tightening. "How could you make her forget? She would never forgive you."

Her gaze turned to him for the first time. 'She will not have to forgive me because you no longer exist.'

She was right of course, Isabelle wouldn't know any different once she woke up. So Gary had two choices, stay and die, or leave in the hopes of one day finding his way back to Isabelle. "Alright." He finally said, letting go of Isabelle's hand and stepping away. "I'll leave."

'I'm glad we could come to an understanding.'

Isabelle woke up following her examination and had to wait several minutes for the nausea to subside. For some reason it seemed worse then she could ever remember. She looked up as the door opened, heart sinking when she saw it was only her mother. "Where's Gary?" She asked.

'Gary is gone.' She replied, concern clear on her face as she looked at her. 'He just left about an hour ago. He wanted me to tell you he said… goodbye.'

"That's it… just goodbye?" Isabelle asked, a tear spilling over her cheek when she only nodded. She quickly wiped it away and sighed deeply. After a long pause once she'd gotten control of herself, Isabelle stood up. "Then I better get to work. The Solution won't find itself."

Isabelle throw herself into her work, keeping her mind and body busy so to not allow her thoughts to wonder to Gary. Occasionally however, the man slipped into her conscious thoughts and the pain that came with these thoughts was almost unbearable. Why had he done this? Why did he pretend to care and then leave, without even saying goodbye? Isabelle would never know. She would never see Gary again, no matter how much she wished she could.

Five years passed by and every day Isabelle worked tirelessly in the labs, only stopping to either rest or eat. There was nothing outside of her work, nothing that could pull her away from this important duty. Then finally the day came, her latest compound not only countered and destroyed the toxins, what was left afterwards would help speed up the Earth's healing process. It was more than she could have ever hoped for.

Sylvia appeared as she finished creating the final sample. 'Well done Isabelle, I am very proud of you.'

She smiled, carefully putting the sample tube in a sterile environment well out of harms way. "I'm glad it's done. Now we can fix things."

'Isabelle, there is something you need to know. Now that you have completed this work, you are ready to know the whole truth.' She lead her through the labs, through a door so carefully hidden Isabelle had never noticed it before. It lead into a room full of machinery, a chair sat at it's centre. 'This is the Mainframe.' Her mother explained, standing next to the chair as she approached.

"Why are we here?" She smiled sadly and Isabelle knew something was wrong. "Mother what happens now?"

'Now you must upload your consciousness to the Mainframe. We can then begin to synthesise your compound quickly and effectively. We can save the world. But only if you do this final task.'

"How can I upload my consciousness to a machine?" Isabelle was confused, more than confused, none of this made sense.

'Isabelle… you are not Human. You were created by the scientists because they had run out of time. You would not age, nor become ill. You could continue their work indefinitely until the Solution was found. But your mind is the key, it is needed to finish this great work you have created.'

Isabelle couldn't breathe, she started to hyperventilate, but then realised she didn't need to breathe because she wasn't human and then the laughter started. "So everything you've told me is a lie?" She asked once she'd finally calmed down enough to speak. "I've never had any choice, any free will. My whole life has been controlled and I have no say? I have no feelings, no dreams of my own?!"

'Of course you do.' Sylvia replied, reading out to her with hands she couldn't feel. 'Your thoughts, your feelings are your own. They always have been.'

"And Gary?" She asked, voice rising in despair. "Was he some sort of test?!"

'No, Gary was your choice.'

"So where is he?!" Isabelle yelled. Sylvia didn't answer and she left, going to only place Isabelle knew could make her feel something real.

The Holo-Deck still worked after Gary had fixed it and Isabelle loaded up the program with little effort. The forest came to life around her again and Isabelle crossed the room, sitting down on the picnic blanket next to Gary, as she had done over five years ago. She reached out to touch the recreated man, but her fingers passed through the man's cheek.

"Come back." She whispered in a broken voice. "Please, come back to me."

Gary didn't reply, he couldn't of course since he wasn't really there and the illusion shattered. Isabelle couldn't stay there and she left, finding herself back in her room a few minutes later. Why had her mother lied to her all this time? She looked down at her trembling hands. Was she really not human? Maybe that's why Gary left, because he found out and couldn't bear the thought of being with a human. The thought broke her heart, or whatever she had in place of a heart.

Sylvia didn't come to her that night. This was probably for the best because Isabelle wasn't ready to talk to her again. She wasn't ready to do anything, the thought of leaving her room was too difficult to manage. But that morning when she woke up, Isabelle had come to her decision. She would upload herself to the Mainframe, if only to end the pain that had become her existence.

There was only one thing to do first.

Isabelle stopped in the labs and set to work. It took a few hours but finally she finished her last and hopefully successful work. Then she stood up and walked through to the Mainframe, sitting in the chair. Sylvia appeared at her side, smiling softly as she picked up the needle.

'Do you want anything? One last wish?'

Isabelle paused, tears falling down her cheeks. "I want to see Gary, one last time."

Gary had spent the last five years returning the the PEACE Facility every day. He would stay outside the doors from dawn until dusk, sometimes yelling at Sylvia to let him in, sometimes just sitting quietly and waiting. So far, no luck. The doors remained firmly shut. He had given up the idea of brute force after the first week. The only was through the doors was if Sylvia opened them.

So when the doors swung open one day, Gary didn't even notice at first. When he looked up and saw the open Airlock he was sure he was hallucinating. But no, he could indeed enter the facility again. Running inside, he followed a series of opening doors which led him through the labs again.

So far he hadn't seen Isabelle but surely that was where he was heading now. And sure enough, through another door set in the far wall of the labs he found the blonde haired woman sat surrounded by machinery. Their eyes met and Isabelle's face showed all the disbelief he himself felt.

"Gary?" She asked, as if she didn't quite believe he was stood there.

"Isabelle." Closing the gap between them he pulled Isabelle out of the chair and held her tightly. After a moment Isabelle's arms wrapped around him too. "You remember me?"

"Of course." Isabelle pulled back, a frown appearing. "How could I forget you?" And then Gary realised that Sylvia had been bluffing. She had never intended to remove Isabelle's memories. "You came back, why?"

He looked into those beautiful brown eyes, which were so human that he found it hard to believe Isabelle really wasn't human herself. "I never got to tell you, I love you too." Isabelle's smile was so bright it was contagious and Gary felt himself smiling too. They kissed for a long time after that, but eventually Isabelle pulled away, biting her bottom lip as she glanced back at the chair. "What's wrong?"

"I… have to go now." She replied haltingly. "You're my last wish, I wanted to see you one last time."

So that was why Sylvia had let him in. "I don't understand, where are you going?"

Isabelle pulled out of his arms. "I'm not like you Gary. I'm not… human." Her face, that perfect face expressed so much pain. "I can't be with you. I have to upload my consciousness to the Mainframe. I'm going to save the world, for you."

"How long do we have?"

She shook his head. "No time." And she sat in the chair again. "You'll find someone else, real love, I know you will. I'm just a copy, nothing about me is original. My appearance, my voice, my body. None of it's mine."

"Isabelle…" Gary crouched down next to her and took her hands, refusing to let go when she pulled away. "You are your own person with your own thoughts, dreams and desires. You wanted to stand in a forest remember? No-one else gave you that dream. It's your own desire for me, no-one else could give you that. It's your own stupid nobility that's making you do this, nothing else."

Isabelle leaned forward suddenly and kissed him hard. "I love you."

With that she inserted a needle into her arm and went limp. "Isabelle?" Gary asked, shaking her but got no response. "Isabelle?!"

Sylvia finally appeared, smiling sadly at him. 'The transfer was a success. The data has been uploaded to the Mainframe, Isabelle is… gone.'

"And what did it cost you?" Gary asked bitterly, realising it was too late for Isabelle. He couldn't save her.

'My daughter.'

And then Sylvia too was gone, leaving him alone. He knew she wouldn't come back.

He pulled Isabelle from the chair, holding her tightly in his arms as he sat down on the floor. It didn't matter that he'd disconnected the body, her mind was already gone. They no longer needed her body. Isabelle, always the dreamer, always the believer, had died for her work. They were never meant to meet, Gary was never supposed to fall in love with her, but he had. The fact that Isabelle wasn't human meant less than nothing to him, Isabelle was his everything, human or not and now she was gone.

So what was left for him now?


Gary slowly placed Isabelle on the floor and stood up to leave. If he went outside without protective gear, it wouldn't take long for the world to kill him. That was his current plan. Halfway through the labs however, a monitor flickered to life and caught his attention. It was cycling through some data and then a prompt flashed across the screen.

Activate Project HYOU?

Yes / No

"HYOU?" Gary muttered, looking around for anything that might tell him what this was. Finally he found a letter, which was surprisingly addressed to him. Slowly he opened it.


I hope you find this letter, I hope I get to see you one more time before I finish this. Words can't describe what I feel for you. If this wasn't my life, if I didn't have to die for this cause, I would've chosen you. I would've escaped with you and found some corner of the Earth to live out our days on.

But I can't leave, and I can't delay the inevitable. My time is short and I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to explain this to you.

I love you.

So I've left you a gift, Hyou.

It's me, it's you, it's us. Something we could never have in reality but something I can create for you. A child that should never have existed, much like our love. Please look after them, the Project will only activate if you agree to it. If not, maybe someone in the future will look after our child, I'll never know.

My human form was based off another woman, this child is my – or rather her – DNA and yours. It's the best I could do with what I am. Hyou is their name. It means Panther. I remember you telling me once that it was your favourite animal.

I remember everything you told me. Every laugh, every kiss, every touch.

Please take care of our child, please take care of what I've left behind for you.

Always yours, Isabelle.

Gary stared at the letter for a long time after he'd finished reading. Then finally he looked up at the screen which was still awaiting an answer.

He had been alone his entire life. His parents had died of exposure when he was only seven and since then, Gary had learned not to trust anyone because they would kill you in a second if they thought you had anything of value, even a scrap of food. His parents, his faith in humanity, Isabelle... all gone. Was this really a world he could bring a child into?

Yes or No?

Gary chose.

Ten years had passed since Isabelle uploaded her consciousness to the Mainframe. Ten years since the world began to heal again. The air was breathable once more, the toxic storms and rains a thing of the past. The trees began to grow again around the PEACE Facility and animals began returning in numbers to the world.

The scientists returned too, one by one waking up from cryosleep. Soon civilians were woken too and then followed the children. The humans were making their return to the world once more. Out in the growing forest surrounding the facility, Gary watched his and Isabelle's child play. He was growing older now and questions were coming that he knew would be hard to answer, about Isabelle, about her absence and where she was now.

Isabelle, an android with more humanity in her than most humans could ever hope to learn. Isabelle, who had fallen in love with a human and created an impossible child who was now running through the trees, living her wish to be in the forests.

Gary sighed deeply, keeping a careful eye on their son, but a small smiled played across his lips. "You did it Isabelle. You got your wish."