Learning Curve 6

I heard the bathroom door close, and then open a moment later, and Tavi called my name. Waking up at five in the morning was going to mess with her whole schedule, but it was plausible that she’d woken up and couldn’t doze off again. She’d been asleep, according to my internal clock, for something like ten hours, which was an improvement over the previous post-witching nap which I thought had been more like twelve.

“Kitchen,” I called back. “And brace yourself. You’re strange, y’know.”

“Oh no. What did I do?” She sounded intensely apprehensive, on her way to join me.

“Fortunately, your best friend is really good at adapting around that.”

“I… oh holy fucking crap, what did I do?”

“You tell me.” I let the water out of the sink, leaving the dishes from my most recent culinary efforts in the drying rack, and dried my hands. “Here, have a fresh blueberry muffin.”

She accepted it automatically, but her eyes were very wide and I was sure her brain wasn’t paying any attention to the muffin in her hand.

“Tavi. Snap out of it.” I filled the cordless kettle and turned it on.

“Right. Okay. I don’t know enough about cybernetics to create a real robot. I have to have at least some idea what I’m creating, even if I’m extrapolating and substituting. I know enough about feline anatomy and human anatomy that coming up with a cross between the two is plausible. But I can’t possibly know enough about robots to create one! And I’m not supposed to be able to do anything to or from organic living states!”

I got her insulated cup from the cupboard and the jar of Earl Grey tea, her favourite in the morning—she preferred to avoid coffee on her own time, after serving it all day at work. “I strongly suspect that what you created was your own general artistic impression of a robot. Because there are so many things about this form that make absolutely no sense that any actual scientist would just give up and walk out. The details in my head when I check on my own status are just gibberish. I even looked them up while I was researching recipes, and they mean absolutely nothing—the only references I can find are out of sci-fi, mostly older stuff.”

“Oh my god, Sky, I’m sorry!”

“Why? I’m okay. But I still think you’re strange. How did you get from uber-floofy catboy to fembot?”

“Fem… oh hell.” She buried her face in one hand. It was almost both, but she remembered the muffin at the last minute. “Wait, why does the kitchen smell so good?”

“Because I couldn’t sleep, so I made food and rearranged the kitchen to make room for it. Muffins, chocolate chip cookies, pasta salad for lunch, chili and baked potatoes for supper, meatballs and a few other things in the freezer and fridge that we can cook or reheat later. There were things I wanted to try but we didn’t have the right ingredients.”


“Also, Ben says he sends you good wishes and we should tell him if we need anything, otherwise he’ll wait ‘til I’m available again. I think he genuinely gets it.”

“Ben is the best either of us has found in forever. Keep him.”

“I plan to.”

She took a bite of the muffin. “Hey, this is really good.”

“You threw in some cognitive effects. I have a timer in my head, I can’t lose track of anything even when making multiple dishes at once, I’m very good at measurements and even conversions, and once I read a recipe I can keep it in my short-term memory without needing to look again. Up to three at once, as it turns out. Plus I apparently don’t get tired. Although possibly I’ll need to recharge eventually and seriously, a USB-C slot in between my bloody legs?”

“I think I’ll go jump off the balcony now.”

“It’s only the second floor. You’d almost certainly survive.” I reached for the kettle just as it clicked off, filled her cup with water over the tea bag, and set the kettle back in place, before I walked over to lay my silver hands on her shoulders. “Strange or not, I still love you. I’ll manage for however long it takes, and only you and I are ever going to know. It’s very, very weird, but sort of interesting in ways. Good lord, girl, there is absolutely nothing about your version of a robot that is even remotely scientifically plausible. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t much care for a realistic robot or cyborg body, so under the circumstances, I might actually be glad that you’re so bad at science and technology. What was going on in your head? And what was with how sudden that was?”

“Uh… I guess I don’t know how to judge levels yet. It sorta snuck up on me and I wasn’t ready. I was trying to concentrate on, um… less fluffy, and better ability to concentrate?”

Well, that was certainly proof that I was still very much myself and able to feel emotions normally: that struck me as just too funny. I started laughing, and fell back a couple of steps so I couldn’t hurt her while I was borderline hysterical. Breathing might not be currently an issue, but trying to formulate words was.

“It’s not funny! I feel terrible!”

It was no easier than ever to get that kind of mirth under control, even with my enhanced concentration.

“You shouldn’t,” I told her, around the laughter. “It wasn’t on purpose. You just… overshot. A lot.”

She set the muffin down and closed the distance between us for a hug. “Screw off. I feel bad anyway.”

Very carefully, I wrapped both arms around her in return. “Just no doing anything dramatic like jumping off the balcony. Then I’d have to call 911 and run downstairs to do first aid until they got here. You’re too nice a person to do that to the poor paramedics. And there’s no way I’d let you go to the hospital alone, and can you just imagine the two of us in the hospital?”

“Oh, god.” Unwillingly, she laughed. “It would turn into something out of a terrible movie. One with cringy writing and actors who all think they’re better than they are and enough editing cuts to make you queasy. Ben would come running of course and just… oh, dear god what a mess.”

“And you would never inflict such a thing on the innocent and hard-working hospital staff, right?”

“No, you’re right, I can’t do that. As long as you forgive me.”

“Don’t need to. Get a grip, Tav.” I let go. “We knew things could get weird and awkward and we were going to have to go easy on each other. It could have been a lot worse. You might have actually had a mental image of robots resembling 60s sci-fi TV, 90s music videos, or reality, instead of your own fantasy version.”

She snorted. “Yeah, yeah. Did you figure out what the pretty green lights are?”

“Power levels. Near as I can tell, ten LEDs plus one extra that I haven’t figured out yet.”

“That’s not ten. Only two.”

“Two? Uh-oh.” I looked down, but couldn’t quite see. “That doesn’t sound good.”

“Were you serious about the USB thing?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Can I apologize again?”

“No. But you can find me a USB-C cable and somewhere to plug it in.”

“I have a ten-foot one and a really good wall adapter in my bedroom. I’ll get them and bring them to the living room, and then come back for food.”

“What do you want? The rest of your muffin and a drink? Orange juice, while your tea does its thing?”

“Toss a couple of those cookies you mentioned onto the plate and that’ll be perfect.”

“Meet you in the living room.” I knew there was a tray on one of the upper shelves; I found it, and filled it with a small plate with the muffin and a trio of cookies, a glass of juice, her tea, and the sugar bowl, since she didn’t like milk in her tea. I took it to the living room.

Tavi beat me—she already had the adapter plugged into the surge protector bar for her computer, and a long cord plugged into that.

She looked at the other end and then looked at me. “Uh, do you want me to leave you alone?”

“Exactly the opposite. It’s a bitch plugging those things in a lot of the time anyway, but there is no way I can see what I’m doing and I’m not exactly flexible. I’m going to need help.”

“Oh. Okay. C’mere, then.”

I set the tray on the couch, circled around it, and leaned down, planting my hands on the back for support. “Not normally what I’m expecting in this position,” I joked, spreading my feet.

“Guess Ben’s keeping you in practice,” she giggled. “At that, anyway—this thing is pretty small. Okay, let’s see.” I heard her behind me. “Oh. Good lord, what was my subconscious thinking?”

I heard her take a breath in to say more. “Don’t apologize again for anything, just plug it in, would you?”


I felt her fingers, in a place that mapped very oddly in my brain, and then a small sense of pressure and penetration that wasn’t what I was used to, and then an extremely peculiar sensation.

“Sky? You okay?”

“Yes. I’m trying to think of any kind of comparison to describe that feeling, and I’m coming up completely blank.” I straightened, and made a mental note to be very careful of the cord dangling between my legs. “It’s not the location. It would probably feel just as strange if you’d put it in the back of my neck or something. Go ahead and eat. Do you suppose I can sit down if I keep my legs pressed together, or do I have to stay standing or kneel or something?”

“Um… press your legs together and lean forward again for a sec?” I obeyed. “Yeah, I think you’ll be fine that way, but try to remember it’s there.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

She moved around to the front of the couch. “The yellow light on your chest turned blue.”

“Maybe that means I’m charging.” I sat down gingerly on her computer chair, my knees together. Tavi had scolded me about the importance of that during episodes of dressing like a girl, but currently I wasn’t wearing any underwear to accidentally flash, or a skirt to allow that, and for that matter, I wasn’t sure that showing a USB port counted as naughty even on a robot that looked superficially like a girl.

“You really can’t describe it?”

“Um. You know the brain freeze you get when you drink a slushie too fast? You can feel the cold rushing upwards and taking over everything?”


“Sort of the opposite of that. It isn’t warm, but it’s sort of… something spreading, and it’s bigger than just the warmth you get from a hot drink on a cold day. It’s pretty interesting, really. This would have been handy in school, studying for exams.”

“You probably wouldn’t have needed to study, this form.”

“That’s true. I do have to point out that so far, both forms have had potential future uses. Can you remember and recreate them later?”

“Um… probably. But why would you want to?”

“February cold. Snuggling during movies.”

“I can’t say I’d object. But this one?”

“Getting a lot done fast. Honestly, if we’d had more ingredients and more freezer space, I’d still be making and freezing food without getting tired or losing concentration. Well, until needing to recharge. Also, very strong. You passed out on the floor, how do you think you got to bed? Useful, don’t you think?”

“True, and thank you, but worth it?”

“If I knew that you had the ability to reliably undo it any time you wanted?” I said. “Absolutely. I told you, neither is bad, just weird, and they get easier with a bit of time.” I grinned at her. “Don’t you dare tell me that it hasn’t crossed your mind that you could have a robot maid do your housework as a condition of getting changed back.”

“Sky! I wouldn’t do that!”

“Yes you would.” Taking advantage of each other in harmless playful ways had always been part of our friendship—we’d weathered and worked out the occasional misjudgement.

“Well… okay, maybe I would, but only if I knew totally for sure that you wouldn’t honestly be mad at me.”

“I’ll regret saying this, but I’d be lying to say that this is so bad that it’s going to be a hard limit forever after I’m out of it.”

“That’s… that’s a relief. And these really are very good muffins. Tell you what, I won’t make you be my robot maid any more often than I come to your place and make you be your own.”

“Seems fair enough.” Housework sucked. At least it would make it more interesting, and probably reduce my tendency to get distracted. “I honestly have no idea what to do for the rest of the day. I’d do the laundry but that means going out. We watched a movie yesterday, I’ve cooked everything there’s room and ingredients for. What on earth is there to do when cooped up in an apartment and unable to go outside where there are other people?”

“We’ll think of something,” Tavi said. “After I deal with the most recent round of messages on my phone, anyway. Sketches and more reference pics are on there somewhere. Board game? Jigsaw puzzle?”

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