Emma Cliffe

I walked in on an argument.

Well… maybe ‘argument’ was an understatement. After all, despite the late hour I had been able to hear the loud, furious voices of Caspian and Dr Chapman, head of artificial intelligence at our college, from the other end of the corridor.

I walked into the office, immediately stopped, and wondered if I should even be here. I was half-expecting a curt dismissal telling me that this was ‘a private conversation’ (although calling it a conversation was a bit of a far stretch). Dr Chapman had never been a patient professor, after all; I could remember many instances of him giving sharp reprimands to students that dared show up to a lecture visibly sleep deprived.

Should I take the hint and walk out?

I should. I knew I should.

Against my better judgment, I listened in.

They hadn’t noticed me yet.

“I should have been informed the moment you contacted the veterinary department. What you’ve done is irresponsible and unethical!” Dr Chapman was shouting at Caspian.

“Our contracts at the start of the year said that we could pursue our own projects. They didn’t say we had to keep you updated on every minute detail,” Caspian retorted. I could see his hands, bundled into white fists by his side.

“This is hardly a minute detail. It’s a living brain!”

“It’s my cat. I had the right to decide what I did with her”

“For the sake of sanity and reason, be quiet and listen to me!” Chapman slammed his hands down on his desk, breathing hard. When he spoke next, his voice was quieter and more composed, although the anger roiling beneath its surface remained palpable. “Ethics aside. It’s not even relevant to your subject.”

“That’s a complete lie and you know it. It’s a groundbreaking use of AI and I don’t understand why you have an issue with it.”

Chapman glowered at him. I could imagine the gears turning in his head, the thoughts ricocheting off of the walls of his mind. Finally, he replied, through gritted teeth, “I will take this… matter… up with the academic integrity board.”

“I’ve done nothing wrong.” Caspian unfolded his hands and crossed his arms over his chest. The look on his face radiated defiance.

“Any man with an inkling of morality, something you don’t appear to have, would disagree,” Chapman stated. He looked around as he spoke, as if to emphasize his point, and finally, finally, he looked towards the doorway and saw me.

Oh no.

“Uh, sorry, I didn’t mean to snoop…” I stumbled over my words beneath the weight of his stare. I couldn’t look him in the eye, too afraid of repercussions. It was no exaggeration to say that Chapman, and his infamous temper, scared the living hell out of me.

I had no idea how Caspian had the guts to defend himself against him.

“Apology accepted,” Chapman said. Then: “what do you want?”

Relief surged through every cell in my body.“Ah, nothing… I just had a question about your presentation today…”

Chapman narrowed his eyes, again, thinking. Meanwhile, I stood there, nervously awaiting his verdict. If I didn’t get help with this problem I’d been trying to work out, I knew that it would eat me up when I was trying to get to sleep. I wouldn’t be able to rest easy without knowing the answer.

Maybe I was a little obsessive. But it was true. I wasn’t someone who could let things go.

I never had been.

“Well, I’m more than happy to answer any questions, assuming they’re sensible ones.” Chapman said, although the look on his face suggested anything but happiness. “𑁋and perhaps, in return, you’d care to weigh in on our little dispute here?”


“Excellent. Do you want to tell her your perspective?” he said, jerking his head towards Caspian.

“Here we go again,” my fellow student said, and looked straight at me as he asked, “you remember that Ruby died last week?”

“Of course!” The bluntness of the question stunned me. Ruby had been Caspian’s cat𑁋a beautiful ginger trip hazard with a typically needy cat disposition. All the students loved her. We’d been devastated at the news, even though we’d all known she hadn’t been well recently.

“Well, when she first became ill I’d been delving into books on anatomical neuroscience𑁋the different parts where personalities and memories are stored and all that𑁋in order to help me work on human-mimicking AI. When Ruby got ill, I didn’t want to think about letting her go completely, so I went to the veterinary department and asked them if they would help me repurpose some machines that can detect electrical impulses in the brain to fit a cat. In the last few days of her life I must have taken thousands upon thousands of readings, and in the last week I’ve had AIs sifting through the data. Today it finally managed to compile them into a feed of images. Memories.”

“Ruby’s memories?”


“You should let dying things die. By trying to look at her memories, Caspian is refusing to accept that she’s gone,” Chapman interjected.

“What do you think?” Caspian asked me.

“I…. I don’t know.” I swallowed as the gazes of both men drilled beneath my skin. “I need more time to think about it.”

In truth, my mind was made up. Caspian’s invention sounded amazing, and for a moment I remembered all the pets that I had lost when I was younger. I wish I could have spent more time with them….

But I didn’t want to defy Chapman out loud.

“Fine,” Chapman sounded unhappy at my vague response. Unhappiness was better than what I might have gotten for being honest, though. “Caspian, you’re dismissed. Shut the door behind you. You, stay. Now, what was that question you wanted to ask me?”


When I finally left the room, Caspian was waiting outside. At first, I wondered if he wanted to talk to Chapman again. Then his eyes met mine, and I realized he’d actually been waiting for me to come out.

Waiting for me.

“Hi,” I said, forcing a smile. Even though I knew that Caspian and I had joined the facility𑁋an institution dedicated to finding new technological breakthroughs in the depths of Scotland𑁋at a similar time, we had never spoken much. In fact I’d probably talked to his cat more than I had to him. Sometimes I’d watch him during a boring lecture, paying half-attention, twirling his pen in the air whilst Ruby milled around his feet, but I’d never felt the need to get to know him better. He didn’t seem like a social person, spending more time with machines than with other people.

Unless… unless you counted Ruby as a person. He had loved that cat, taking her with him everywhere he went. I knew that was unusual for a cat owner, but Ruby had always basked in the attention, in the head-scratches and cooing students.

“You were lying when you said you didn’t know what to think about my machine,” he immediately accused me. “I saw your face when I was talking about it. You’re interested.”

“I mean, yes𑁋”

“Do you want to see it?” he asked.

My heart skipped a beat. I could see Ruby in my mind’s eyes, then, and I realized that I really missed the feline bundle of affection. “Of course.”

“Follow me,” he said, striding off. I hurried after him, pulse thumping with anticipation.


Caspian led me up the stairs, down a corridor lined with classrooms, and into one of the computer labs. There was a headset set up and wired to one of the computers, and I watched as Caspian booted it up, typing in his details, loading up a program before spinning around to face me. His eyes were as bright as burning embers, glowing with excitement as he said: “Come on, try the headset on!”

“It won’t, like, fry my brain?”

“It hasn’t fried mine yet,” he said.

I couldn’t say that that reassured me, but I decided to trust him. Ruby had, after all. That cat had utterly trusted him, burying herself in the hood of his jacket when he took it off in classes, squishing herself into the crook of his elbow when he was studying.

A faint smile ghosted my lips at those memories, as I positioned the headset over my eyes.

“This good?”

“Yeah. Just give me a sec…”

I had barely registered Caspian’s words when the darkness of my vision was transformed. A kaleidoscope of colors, which, after a few seconds, stabilized into swirls of gray and brick-red.

A gray sky, Gray concrete. Brick houses. They solidified around me. The floor was close below me𑁋the sky was far, far above. The world seemed strangely vivid and sharp𑁋I could see every crack in the concrete, every residue of the weeds which must have once sprung up from those cracks only to be removed by some obsessive resident of this street. Because it was a street, where I was. And I was Ruby.

I looked down and saw her𑁋my𑁋ginger paws. I was moving. One paw in front of the other. One paw. One paw. One paw.

My breathing intensified in awe at what I was seeing. I was seeing the memories of a cat. A dead cat.

Okay… that felt weird. Intrusive, even. I felt creeped out for a moment, like I was viewing something private. Something beyond the grave

I pushed those thoughts away, and drank in the sights all around me for a minute or two as Ruby walked down the street. The warm light from windows held promises of comfort. Multitudes of flowers, familiar in shape yet coloured in strange, unfamiliar tones, sprang up from untended gardens.

And yet… the sense of wrongness intensified until I couldn’t stand it any more.

“Can I take it off now?”

“Of course.” My vision returned to blackness, and I pulled the headset off.

“What do you think?” Caspian looked at me, eagerly.

“It’s… a lot.” I said, making no effort to hide how my voice shook, roiled up and down like ocean waves. “I need to think about it.”

“No problem. Let me know when you want to chat.”

Caspian seemed to want to say more, but I turned away before he had the chance.

I stumbled out of the room. Downstairs. Back to my room. My mind was a chaotic blur, and the struggle to rearrange my jumbled thoughts into something coherent felt impossible. I had just seen the memories of something dead. It felt like I had just seen a ghost. Like the opaque border between life and whatever was beyond that had been breached and that I was the one who had done it.

Sleep did not come easy that night.


I awoke in the middle of the night, in those early hours where all the world seemed uncertain of what state it exists in, uncertain of its place. Not me, though.

I knew, the moment that consciousness came to me, that I had to try Caspian’s machine again. My mind was still buzzing from the experience and the unexplainable feeling of being so close to something that had passed into oblivion. I couldn’t forget it. I felt like I had looked beyond some forbidden boundary.

I got changed and tiptoed back up to the computer lab. The air around me was heavy and silent𑁋a pin drop would have shattered it into a million tiny pieces.

I approached the computer and typed into the details that I had seen Caspian input; which I had committed to memory. I loaded up the program that I had seen him load up. The screen filled up with code, and boxes of oscillating waves that I couldn’t make sense of. I chose to focus on the single button at the bottom: “Start”.

I clicked it without hesitation, and thrust the headset back on.

As before, it took me a while to adjust to my new surroundings. I was in a lounge. There was a television which I thought was showing a music video, although this headset provided no sound, only imagery, so it was hard to say.

I was sitting on a lap, and as I looked up I saw Caspian’s face looking down at me. He looked young𑁋there was a softness in his jawline that I had never seen before, a wide-eyed look in his eyes full of love and adoration that I could never have imagined in him. His hand came down to stroke me, to flatten my ears and run through my thick ginger fur, and I could imagine Ruby purring. I could imagine the shared bliss of human and cat in that moment.

I realized that it was a shared bliss that was consigned to the past, now, now that Ruby was dead. I had traveled into the past to see this echo of what could never be. Again, that sense of wrongness swept through every cell in my body, flooding my lungs until I was choking on it. I was a creep for wanting to see these private moments. I was a psychopath for clinging to the memories of the dead. I saw what Chapman had meant.

I tore the headset off and shut the computer down, breathing hard. My lungs clawed hungrily for air.

What was I doing here?

I fled back to my bed like a thief, because I knew in my heart that this was wrong.


If I had thought that I could put Caspian’s machine out of my mind, then I was dead wrong.

The next day, during the morning briefing, I saw Caspian trying to catch my eye. I didn’t blame him given the strange state that I was in when I had left him last night, but I couldn’t look at him, knowing what I’d seen. I kept thinking of the love that had filled his face when he had stroked Ruby in her memories: how carefree and unconditional it had been. I half expected to see it when he looked at me. I half-thought that I was still Ruby.

I ignored my intrusive thoughts; I looked away from Caspian and forced myself to focus on what Chapman was saying at the front of the room.

Later, as I walked down the corridor to a study room to do some research, I looked down and felt confused when I saw my own feet. I had expected to see paws.

Later, as another professor was teaching us about how AI was being used in hospitals to diagnose patients, I found myself staring at the plant on her desk. The leaves were too green. The blue petals were too blue. In Ruby’s world, all the colors had been muted and soft, like a faded photograph; the bushes of fresh flowers she had padded past had imprinted a gentle, fuzzy sense of nostalgia upon me. The colors of this plant, though, seemed bright and intrusive and wrong.

I rubbed my face, angrily. Forget the plant𑁋what was wrong with me?

As I walked out of that classroom, I saw a ginger form disappearing behind the corner at the end of the corridor. My breathing quickened as I followed it without a second thought.

Up the stairs. Down the corridor.

Back to the computer lab.

What was I doing here?

What was wrong with me?

I swore at the ceiling. Why was I so obsessed with this stupid machine? Why was I so obsessed with this stupid cat? I had followed a ghost to this room. I had followed what I had known was only a figment of my imagination.

I saw red, and before I knew it, the headset was in my hands and I was lifting it into the air and I was throwing it down to the floor. It broke into two. That wasn’t enough. I wasn’t thinking at all as I picked up one of the pieces and threw it down again. Then I did the same to the other piece. Again and again, until the ground was covered in sharp metal fragments riddled with exposed wires.

Go away, ghost!

I knew that I had inflicted this upon myself by agreeing to Caspian’s request in the first place. By crossing a boundary that I should never have crossed. To view the memories of a dead animal… It felt… it felt like it wasn’t right, and it felt like it went against the final nature of death itself.

Go away, ghost!

I swore again as I stared at the strewn remnants of Caspian’s creation.

Stay dead. Leave me alone.



Emma Cliffe is an 18 years old Mathematics student from the UK, who has been dreaming up short stories for as long as she can remember. She has a love for all things sci-fi, fantasy and horror, and loves nothing more than to settle down after a hard day with a mug of hot chocolate to write. In her spare time, she enjoys a wide range of sports and video games.