“The Beta Test,” by Leah Miller

Aug 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Mrs. Watkins checks her hat in the mirror. A mauve cap with glued-on feathers in a darker shade, and a veil that doesn’t clear the tip of her nose—perfect. It says grief, but not too much. She checks her invitation from HelloAgain. It’s her first outing since Jim’s death six weeks ago.

HelloAgain, Inc. has a catalog of deceased celebrities, but you can request a deceased of your choice (“deceased” is required) and have HelloAgain create an interactive figure from their digital footprint. They’ve spent months on body language and voice, run simulations and now it’s time for the beta test: they’ve invited real users, randomly-selected from what Product Development says is the expected demographic. Mrs. Watkins, a member of that demographic, finds their offices bright, casual and intimidating. Like all high tech things.


Spencer from Product Development and Jennifer from Systems watch the session from another room and use their phones to record their impressions as icons on a screen overlay. There’s a significant cost overrun so they’re looking for frills to eliminate. At least Spencer is.

Mrs. Watkins talks a lot, gesturing with her hands. Jim gives short responses, steps forward, steps back, maintains a wooden expression.

Jennifer sends a frowny-face to the screen. “They’re not using the full bandwidth,” she says. Spencer pushes his chair back, distancing himself. “You know what you people have given us?” he asks.

Jennifer wriggles uncomfortably to loosen her skirt which is struck to the chair seat. The skirt is a Christine Tran, recycled from bicycle tires. She’s making that kind of money now.

“A damned Fabergé egg,” Spencer says.

“We didn’t get any bug reports,” Jennifer objects. She doesn’t know the egg reference, but it sounds unfair.

“All that fancy functionality and no one uses it.”

There is, for example, an option for atmosphere—the exotic, the sentimental, fantasy worlds—but this client has not specified any. She and the Jim figure are interacting in a space that’s a blank oystershell white like the walls of a cheap rental.

“We tested it in-house with celebs—Elvis, Jolene somebody. Our people just ate up the AI stuff.”

“You obviously haven’t run the client profile.”

Why should she, Jennifer thinks. Clients aren’t in the product specification.

“Their average age is sixty. Most common request—deceased spouse.”

How totally, mind-bogglingly sweet Jennifer thinks. She hesitates because she suspects Management is blaming her for gold plating the software, but the new information suggests so many exciting possibilities. “Then how about…” She stops, confused by Spencer’s tight-lipped silence.

Spencer is staring at the screen. The Jim figure has frozen, hands raised, palms out. The client has terminated the session with seven minutes remaining.

Mrs. Watkins smiles, pulls on her gloves and leaves. Jim was such an SOB. So satisfying to have told him so.


Leah Miller is a poet, writer, and sometime software engineer. Her work has appeared in Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, Third Flatiron Anthologies, and Peeking Cat Literary (UK). She lives in New Mexico.

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