Learning Curve 5

The silver kept climbing. It smoothed everything in its path: my fluffy orange fur simply melted into nothing, and my skin lacked any trace of texture or pores or hairs, like it had been coated in a thin layer of liquid metal.

I got up, switched off the TV, and checked that the apartment door was locked before going in Tavi’s bedroom, turning off the living room light on my way. I wanted her able to sleep without interruption, while whatever was happening happened.

At least I already had no clothes on, although that had actually not crossed my mind at all through the day and all the cuddling.

My balance felt different. I reached behind me, and found that my big fluffy tail was shrinking and rapidly disappearing. I bid it a sad farewell, thinking of Tavi wrapping herself in it while we were watching the movie.

The cheap full-length mirror on Tavi’s bedroom wall confirmed that the silver was diligently covering every millimetre of skin, removing every hair and blemish. Body hair was only mildly strange; my head being bald felt stranger, but it looked especially peculiar when my eyebrows vanished—heartbeats before my eyelashes did as well. I winced when it flowed across my eyes, but it didn’t actually interfere with my vision. If anything, it grew sharper, as my feline eyes turned to something more human, but something looked wrong.

All that silver sort of… contracted inwards, making my skin feel tight and thick and less flexible, but it kept going. I watched in the mirror as my body became more slender. My legs shifted back to normal with only a minimal amount of stretching and contracting, and minimal sensation with it. When I tried to move, my skin felt strange; touching my arm with my other hand revealed that there was no yield at all, no softness or warmth, just what appeared to be actual chrome-bright metal. I tapped on it with nails that looked like copper; I could feel the sensation on both sides, but the only sound was a dull thunking.

I couldn’t see anything like joints or any accommodation for them to flex, yet I could move without any trouble; that seemed inconsistent with looking like a robot.

What the hell had Tavi turned me into?

All of a sudden, I could see data in my head. Lightweight metal endoskeleton, conductive gel, skin of a metallic polymer with… actually, the rest of that description, I was pretty sure, was just sci-fi technobabble. Between that and some poking and prodding at myself, I concluded that it added up to a single continuous outer covering of metal that was pliable at joints but rigid between them, which made absolutely no sense. Still having sensory input from touch, even if it felt somewhat dulled, was about equally logical.

On the other hand, when I imagined looking at my hand and seeing it all as separate pieces with visible joints plus having no sense of touch, I decided to be happy with what I had.

Honestly, I was so caught up with trying to figure out the fundamentals of my current existence that it took me until then to notice another change: small but definite breasts, narrower waist, nothing visible between my legs.

“Oh, for the love of… of everything,” I said out loud, in exasperation. “Tavi, you turned me into a female robot.”

My voice sounded strange, I was sure of it. But then, I wasn’t… actually… breathing? Other than to talk, at least. I didn’t think there was some kind of synthesizer, so I must have some equivalent of a larynx, even if it was presumably altered like the rest of me.

In the mirror, I mostly just looked like a woman, more slim than my normal build and with different proportions than I was used to… but dipped in chrome-bright silver from shaved head to copper-nailed toes and fingers. My whole torso was rigid, my waist unable to bend or twist and my entire spine fused from between my shoulderblades all the way down, which definitely changed the way I stood; joints bent only in very mechanical ways, restricting the options for how I could stand, since I couldn’t shift my weight to one side. My arms did move fairly freely, at least, and I could find no loss of dexterity in my hands.

Around my neck was a collar of LEDs that must be just under my skin; I counted ten green ones in total, symmetrically arranged, and an eleventh one was yellow, centred at the front like a necklace pendant.

What were those for?

I saw data in my head again, and rolled my cobalt-blue eyes. It was a power indicator, apparently. With any luck, that wouldn’t be relevant at any point, because right now, I could believe absolutely anything about how I’d have to recharge.

Now what was I supposed to do? Tavi was asleep, and would be for a while. I wasn’t sure I even could sleep at the moment; I was feeling wide awake, extremely alert and clear-headed.

Thoughtfully, I looked down at my silver arms. I was around my normal height, and if this whole form had come out of Tavi’s perception of a robot, that could mean that I was a lot stronger than I would be in my own shape. Just as an experiment, I hooked one hand under the end of her bed and lifted. I knew that frame was heavy as hell, since I’d helped her move multiple times, but it rose with minimal effort on my part.

That was convenient.

I went back to the living room and crouched beside Tavi.

I’d been told over and over at work about lifting with my legs, not my back. That was rather a given at the moment, considering that my spine wouldn’t bend. I slid my arms under her legs and her shoulders, and scooped her up carefully with the fleece blanket still around her.

As I straightened, she mumbled something incoherent, her body trying to tense up with whatever strength she still had.

“Just Sky,” I told her. “You’re okay.”

The reply was even less distinct, but she relaxed.

I settled her gently on her bed. She was wearing only light shorts and a tanktop, not completely unlike what she wore to bed sometimes, and it was warm enough that she wasn’t going to need blankets, so I figured that the fleece blanket would be sufficient. At least she was on her bed, not on the living room floor.


“Sleep. I’m here.” I brushed her hair back, careful of the strength and hardness of my hands, and tucked the blanket around her. Cuddling with her was absolutely out of the question: there was nothing soft or fluffy or warm about my current body.

Well, if I wasn’t tired at all, I might as well do something useful.

Water, I discovered, wasn’t a problem, so I washed the dishes. I’d been a cat for something like twenty-four hours and Tavi had said that it would take longer each time, so it was unlikely I was going to be joining her for meals the next day, but I could think ahead for her sake. Something to help her mood and morale.

While I was investigating the kitchen’s contents, my phone rang in the living room.

I hastened to retrieve it and silence it, and only then checked who it was.

I couldn’t answer it and have a normal conversation. How was he supposed to believe that I was me?

He left a message, though.

“Heya, sexy, it’s Ben. We were talking about getting together for supper tonight. Since I haven’t heard from you in a couple of days, I’m assuming that’s not happening. That’s a shame, it’s been a few days and I was looking forward to showing you how much I’ve missed you. Everything okay? I stopped to get coffee on the way to work this morning and didn’t see Tavi, so I asked, and her boss said she was off sick. If you’re wrapped up with looking after her, that’s totally understandable. Just let me know what’s going on when you get a chance, okay? Don’t leave me wondering whether I messed up an awesome new relationship by saying or doing something stupid. But seriously, if there’s anything I can do, just let me know. You know that, right? Love you!”

What to tell him?

Ben was a nurse, and wandered around the city and its outskirts doing home care visits for seniors and post-surgical patients and others who needed the extra help. He was also, at least to my rather biased eyes, gorgeous, funny, sympathetic, smart, and all-around too good for me, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me from trying.

I could just send a quick message that yes, Tavi was sick and needed me, but that would probably unravel when I was also not at work.

I discovered that I had a text message from my manager, confirming that Glen had spoken to him and that I could use my vacation days with no advance warning. So much for being able to go away with Ben for a few days.

How much could I tell Ben? Well, Tavi knew he was important to me, and wouldn’t be mad—Ben did know how to keep things to himself. If it turned out that he didn’t like witches, well, that would be the end of the whole relationship, but better to know now.

«Sorry for disappearing and not answering. Tavi’s got neoarcane syndrome, very late. Can’t leave her alone.»

The reply appeared immediately. «And you can’t just call me? She asleep?»

«Yes, but mostly because I don’t currently sound like me. She’s a morph witch. She was going to starve herself to keep power levels low. Her GP uncle and I talked her out of it. But she’s gotta have a way to work it off. You would not recognize me right now.»

«Holy crap. Are you okay?»

«Fine. It’s just weird. Love you, but right now, Tavi needs me and that’s gonna take all I’ve got.»

There was a slightly longer pause, before, «Okay. Obviously that gets priority. Drop me a quick msg now and then when you can, okay? And tell me if there is absolutely anything I can do. Tavi’s great and I’m pretty sure I’m madly in love with you.»

That was followed by, «Trying to remember this is serious and not get madly curious. :-P»

«Tavi. Art. Ref pics. Lemme think about sharing those later.»

«Deal. No pressure. Tell Tavi I sent her good wishes, eh?»

«I will.»

I wanted to bloody marry that man.

I went back to investigating the kitchen, speculating about possibilities. Among other things, I found the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

So I mixed up a batch of those and cooked them while absently organizing the kitchen shelves into a more efficient configuration. I discovered, when I always knew the instant before the timer went off, that I didn’t even need it, I could just tell myself that I needed to know when it was time to take the most recent sheet of cookies out.

There was everything I’d need to make a fairly simple chili, too, and Tavi had a slow cooker so I could just make it and leave it on the counter to simmer until she’d want it tomorrow.

Weirdly, I kept finding that I could estimate volumes with very improbable precision, even of things I’d never paid much attention to before, like how much chili seasoning Tavi liked in hers.

Because Tavi was still asleep, I made meatballs to freeze for quick meals later, and while those cooked, sharing the oven with baked potatoes to go with the chili, I threw together a pasta-and-vegetable salad she could have for lunch tomorrow, with enough left for at least one more day, possibly two.

I wasn’t actually sure why I was feeling so much of a desire to do all this, but it was a practical thing I could do that would make life easier for us later, so I couldn’t think of a sensible reason not to do it. With the fridge and freezer rearranged, I’d managed to make a bit more space, and most things could be reheated later.

Just because I could, I did a bit of searching on her computer. I could absorb written text extremely quickly, as it turned out, which made the whole search simpler.

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