“The difficulty is in the pattern. It always has been.”

Looking over the still form in its charging cradle, she sighed. The work had begun in a laboratory clean room, years ago. That’s where the titanium skeleton and the self-lubricating servos had come from; it was a miracle that they had been finished in the chaos of those times.

She ran her hand over the casing; carbon fiber, light and strong. About half of it had been made in the meaner circumstances in which the team had found itself after the university had been nationalized. The other half, easily distinguishable by its rougher texture, had come from the bodies of piled-up and abandoned sports cars over a period of years.

“The difficulty is in the pattern. It always has been.” She allowed herself a wan smile, running both gnarled hands over the chassis, at the thought of those junked vehicles. What use was a V12, after all, when the roads were too rough, the fuel too expensive, the enclaves too small? The owners had been all to happy to trade their symbols for the medicines and tools the ex-university team had offered.

By the time the place had shuttered altogether, the students fleeing either to the coast or the safety of their parents’ gated communities, the team had dwindled as well. There were only six of them to move the project into the unfinished basement of an enclave house, after Griswold had died of a heart attack in moving it.

A row of switches—bulky but more reliable than software given the state of even the enclave’s power grid—were snapped one by one. The readouts were good, self diagnostics were nominal, and the basic programs and difference/comparison engine were running well.

“The difficulty is in the pattern. It always has been.” The face had been last. Oh how they’d argued! Whether it was the two-hundred person team at the university lab, the twenty people in the old motor pool building, or the two people who desperately scrounged for parts as they ran a repair shop and medical clinic for the enclave. But once Srisuk had finally breathed her last, it had been easy. A face recognizable enough to generate empathy, but not one so lifelike as to be uncanny.

They’d loaded up every routine they could think of. Combat. Psychology. Self-repair. Even reproduction; the unit was capable of building additional units to a variety of simplified body plans with the right equipment. It was completely electric, with zero emissions, rechargeable through sunlight or simple salt ions.

But there was no spark; no warmth. The patterns of a human mind even a blank-slate infant one, were simply too complex to replicate with what was at hand. She sighed; if only there’d been more time, more money, more people willing to listen rather than railing about in fearful ignorance.

But this wasn’t the time for what-ifs.

It was time for action.

She had prepared the equipment meticulously, since there would be only one opportunity. The generators were purring with the last of their fuel, since the grid was on the verge of failure. Sporadic gunfire was audible from the enclave walls; she had heard the news, stone-faced, that even with every able-bodied person manning them the situation was hopeless.

The crown-like apparatus fit perfectly; she had seen to it by bolting salvaged craniotomy equipment to her own skull with the last of the anesthetic and antiseptic at hand.

Her hand hovered over the switch. Whether the transfer of repeating electrical impulses was successful, or just more junk data in an already overloaded system, it would leave a dead zone in its wake. But she owed it to everyone who had worked on the project, everyone who had given their lives, from Li to Griswold to Srisuk.

“The difficulty is in the pattern. It always has been.”

She snapped the switch. Everything flickered, and she slumped over in her chair. There was breath there, still, reflexes from the brain stem. But within a few hours, a day at most, the husk would expire.

Three days later, the enclave’s fall was complete. Everything of value had been looted; not nearly enough for the have-nots to survive, but enough to give them a few last breaths, to buy the privilege of dying last and seeing the enclave’s hoarded wealth taken from still-warm fingers. The secret basement remained, though. Unviolated and undiscovered.

Within it, in the electromechanical cradle, something stirred. There were no memories, but there was curiosity, fear, apprehension—and hope. There was a spark, perhaps the last spark of a dying fire that might enkindle the new.

The difficulty was in the pattern. It always had been. But now, either through the figure stirring on the table or her generations of daughters to come, the pattern—the spark—would go on.

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