Learning Curve 7

Roughly every ten minutes, another of my LEDs came on.

Purely by coincidence, each of Tavi’s phone calls also took roughly ten minutes.

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine, I promise. We have enough of everything for right now. I actually am an adult and I’ve been surviving on my own for a while now. Okay, I’m not going to turn it down if you drop more money in my account, since everything is a bit disrupted and Sky and I need to eat, but I really don’t need you to drop by with anything for us. Honestly, we’re okay.”

“Yes, Dad, I really do remember my lessons. I’m a little rusty and it’s tricky trying to apply them under pressure and with weird feelings inside, but I do remember. I’ll keep working on them. Really. I promise. No, Sky’s okay. Says that it’s been odd but interesting so far.”

“Yes, Luke, I’m very sure that I’m a morph witch like Dad. Sky and my goldfish are pretty sure too. Yeah, way beyond just superficial cosmetics, trust me. Sky was an anthro cat for a while. What? Yes, I know she’s a furry, she told me ages ago, when she asked me if she could buy one of my anthro fox sketches, like I’d take money from my sister-in-law, why? Okay, we can talk about that once I have some control, as long as you swear on your life to never ever give me mental images like that again ever.”

“Yes, Gran, morph witch like you and dad. No, not just cosmetic, deep structural changes and behavioural mods with them. Yes, I promise to use it responsibly. I’m not sixteen. I do understand making sure everything is safe, sane, and consensual on all sides, really. Yes, I know, there have been court cases involving witches even during neoarcane syndrome, and I’m being very careful not to let anyone else be affected or even see anything. The only inconvenience is two people missing from our jobs plus some extra grocery deliveries. Sky’s doing fine, he’s used to me and he’s pretty resilient and extremely determined.”

“Hi, Uncle Glen, missed you but checking in like I promised. So far so good. I changed Sky the first time, um, maybe ninety minutes after you left? And we’re into a second one now, as of about… Sky says ten and a half hours ago, so I think the first one must have been roughly twenty-four hours. We’re okay. I’m still pretty anxious, but Sky’s handling it better than I am even and we’re managing. Thanks for sorting out all the job stuff.”

“Ugh, Tim. He’s claiming he left some of his stuff here and he wants to come get it. There is nothing of his here.”

“Just don’t reply,” I told her. “You’ve told him before that he has nothing here. I helped you pack it all up.” And had insisted on being here when he was coming to get it. I’d met him at the outside door personally to shove the box into his arms and tell him, against his protestations otherwise, that Tavi had been absolutely sober and serious when she’d told him to get out of her life permanently. He’d never been physically violent towards her, but his increasingly possessive and controlling attitude had made me wary that he might try in response to a breakup. She’d spent the next few days at my place just in case, with the sympathetic neighbour from across the hall obligingly feeding her fish. Barry had banned him from the coffee shop, and had walked Tavi home personally one day when Tim had been lurking outside.

With any luck, if Tavi never responded to phone messages, text messages, email, chat messages—she’d blocked him on pretty much every app and routed his emails to the trash—and her friends made sure he couldn’t get near her alone, he’d eventually give up.

When all ten of my green LEDs had glowed back to life, the blue one turned green—although it went back to yellow when I pulled the USB cord out.

At least then I could stop worrying about tangling in it by accident and damaging the cord or myself.

While physically relaxing was virtually impossible for my inflexible body, it was still a comfortable sort of day together. We could have set my laptop up and played a game online together, but we decided against that. With silly retro cartoons on in the background, we wandered through Catan and Scrabble, continuing some of the good-natured arguments we’d been having intermittently for years. Rearranging letters into words felt weirdly easy, and I could remember words that I’d otherwise almost certainly have forgotten.

Tavi left to get her lunch, eating while we played a game of Carcassonne.

When we finished, she gathered up her dishes. “That was yummy. Thanks, I needed that. Could you give me a hand dragging my treadmill out so I can see the TV from it?”

“Sure, I’ll move it for you. Is that a good idea right now?”

“Physical exercise can help get witchy energy stabilized. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but a bit of time on it might actually help me get over this. Watching a movie or something would be distracting.”

“Sure. Maybe it would be best to pick an old favourite? One that we both know by heart?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Leave the dishes. Go get changed.”


I folded the treadmill, and dragged the thing out of its corner. I had to move the couch and end tables and rug around in order to unfold it and set it up, but that was easy.

Tavi came back in a sports bra and bike shorts and the running shoes she kept strictly indoors. “Thanks. That was quick.”

“I told you, you apparently believe that robots are inherently strong. Which movie?”


“Sure.” We’d watched it so often that we could probably recite the whole thing, but so what? Tavi loved the 80s and I was generally fine with that. Tavi had me fast-forward to the best parts. When we ran out of movie, she ran out of energy.

“I think I need a shower,” she said breathlessly. “And possibly a catnap.”

“Okay. Do what you need. You were awake really early, I’m not surprised.”

While she did, I amused myself with the Trivial Pursuit question cards. My memory seemed to work better: anything I might plausibly have come across at some point was there in my head, although the kinds of questions that I had no hope of knowing were still a mystery. I tried Scrabble by myself, and as I’d found earlier, it was relatively easy. I tried several games on my laptop, and found that they felt far too easy to really be interesting: my mind was working too quickly and clearly, without distracting irrelevant thoughts, and my reflexes were too fast.

I finally settled for reading, sitting on the couch. That was going very quickly, but at least I wasn’t about to run out or bore myself silly.

The red light reflected on the screen did confuse me briefly, as I tried to work out the source, but only for an instant before a message flashed across my mind.

Warning: charge critically low. Charge immediately.

Well, that wasn’t good.

I got up hastily from the couch, and picked up the USB cord. How was I going to get it plugged in, though?

I called Tavi’s name, multiple times, while I fumbled around trying to get everything lined up properly. Enhanced coordination was no help when my flexibility was so limited and I couldn’t see. The warning kept blinking in my mind, so my voice grew more and more urgent.

Then the world flickered, and Tavi was kneeling in front of me. “Sky?” she said worriedly.

“What happened?” Everything felt slow and heavy.

“You ran out of power. By the time I heard you and got out of bed and got out here, you’d just… stopped.” Her voice sounded a little too fast. “And the light at the front was blinking red. I was really scared. But if you’re awake now, then I guess it’ll be okay.”

“Oh. Bad design. Can’t see for myself. No alert until critical.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. You’re talking at about eighty percent of normal speed but you’re coherent, at least.”

So probably she wasn’t speaking quickly, I was just processing it sluggishly. “LEDs?”

“All off except the front one, and it’s solid red.”

Where was I? I was standing, sort of, propped against the corner of Tavi’s desk with my legs spread oh-so-modestly. With care, I straightened and sat on her chair, legs together.

“Just stay there,” Tavi said. “I bet you’ll be right back to normal in ten or twenty minutes.”

“Okay. I was just deciding that being a robot is boring. Too much is too easy and I can’t have any fun. Was not expecting this.”

“Sorry. I’ll try for less of that in a few hours, shall I? And no recharging. You’re right, that really is a terrible and impractical design.”

She stayed there with me until one of the green LEDs came on and the central LED turned blue. At that point, I felt completely normal. Well, whatever passed for normal in my current form. It was surprising how readily each form began to feel comfortable. That probably would not have been the case if it were simply done to me without consent, or I expected it to be forever, or I trusted Tavi less. For that matter, it would have been harder without the helpful motor controls and some instinctive behaviour—or whatever robots had instead of instincts, programs maybe?

“Go get supper,” I told Tavi. “Everything’s ready. You need to eat.”

“I’m worried about you!”

“I’m okay now, thanks to you. I won’t charge faster with you sitting here. You need to look after yourself properly. Get food, and then we’ll find something to do all evening.”

“You have a point.”

“Of course I do.”

Twenty-four hours came and went.

It was past midnight when Tavi stopped the current episode of a series we were binge-watching and said, “Um… as near as I can tell, you aren’t going to be a robot much longer.”

“Okay. Like I said, I can see uses—especially if you can adjust it so I can see my own power level and plug myself in—but it’s terrible for just hanging out.”

“I’ll try to think about things that’ll be better. This is really frustrating, not being able to control it. Dad has incredible finesse and he can get things exactly the way people want them.”

“I doubt he could when he was just awakening. He would have been out of control for a while too. Maybe less creatively, since he specializes in gender swaps and I don’t think I’ve heard anything about him turning people into cats and robots.”

“He has done occasional animal traits, but nothing extreme. I’m not sure whether it’s because he doesn’t want to or his particular skills don’t run that way. On the other hand, he’s in high demand for permanent changes but I’m not sure there’s much of a market for the kind of freakiness that I seem to have an inclination towards.”

“Short-term fantasy morphs? With the reversal included? Once you’ve got some practice and control you’re going to be swamped. If you want to go public, obviously.”

“Obviously. And I don’t know yet.”

“Right now, since you’re probably going to fall asleep right afterwards, we should move to the bedroom. I can carry you in this form but I might not have time before I start changing.”

Start changing? What am I sleeping through?”

“It takes a few minutes each time. It’s a really interesting experience. Especially not knowing what’s coming. C’mon, bedroom.”

“I’m going to drop by the bathroom and brush my teeth and stuff first. I’m pretty sure I have time. I’m trying to allow a bit more leeway this time.”

“Okay. I’ll be in your room.”

I sat on the edge of her bed and tried not to think too much about what might be coming. That actually wasn’t all that hard: I just started counting the birds in one of her fantasy posters, and then moved on to counting the flowers in another, and with my current ability to focus intensely, it kept everything else out.

It didn’t take her all that long to join me.

“I really wish I could stay awake afterwards,” she sighed. “Idunno, be moral support, maybe help. Maybe just see what the heck I’ve done this time.”

“It’s all going to take practice. Don’t worry about it. I’m adapting pretty fast so far, without any problems. Do your thing, get some sleep, and you can find out in the morning.”

“Right. I’m going to try before the pressure gets so high that it just happens. I’m still not going to have much control but that might help with figuring out what I’m doing.”

“Okay.” I stayed where I was. These changes took long enough that I’d have plenty of time to get back to the living room before anything major hit.

Tavi sat cross-legged and closed her eyes, slowing her breathing. I saw her deliberately tensing and relaxing muscles in progression.

“Okay. Less of the super-focus and the other cognitive effects. Softer, organic, no metal. Something fun, since this one’s been all work.”

That spasm was less violent this time, which was a relief: it was a disturbing thing to see. When everything went loose, she just collapsed onto her pillow. After a couple of deep breaths, she was even able to uncross her legs and make herself comfortable, without needing help.

I did tuck the fleece blanket from last time over her, though.

“Your hand is blue,” she mumbled.

She was right, it was.

“I’d better not be a Smurf, Tav. Get some sleep. Whatever it is, I can cope. Probably I’ll need to sleep too, so I’ll see you when we both wake up.”


I switched off the bedroom light, and mostly closed the door on my way back to the living room.

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