The water is cold on my feet; wet sand squeezes between my toes as I claw into the gently descending slope of it; blue and green ocean sprawls into infinity in front of me as our World’s golden sun blankets me with its warmth. Foamy waves lap against my legs as I walk into them. Fiona sunbathes naked on a blonde towel on the beach behind me. I dive into a wave. Ocean streams past me as it hurls mountains of water towards the earth at my rear. The way Jet looked at me during our bike ride when I told him Fiona was with me that day, he looked at me like I was full of shit; like he knew something I didn’t. I swim out further and further, under the tall waves as they come, at an angle to fight the current that drags me south. Once far enough out I watch in calm waters as foam-tipped waves crash against the shore, where the curves of Fiona’s tanning body lay graceful and inviting. Jet knew I was full of shit.

I sit my trunks on the bare sand next to Fiona as she lies on her stomach on her towel with her head turned my way. I rub my fingertips up her legs and up her back, to her neck, and back down; feel the soft skin of her twenty-five year old body on my twenty-seven year old fingertips. We load into our younger selves when we go to the beach.

“Your tan is coming in great darling.”

Thanks dear. How’s the water feel?”

“As great as ever.” Jet knows something I don’t. “Darling, there’s something I want to talk to you about.”

Fiona rustles up lazily from her nap, sits upright, and takes off her sunglasses. “What is it dear?”

“Sometimes you act... differently,” I look into her eyes as they study me. “Every now and again I see a side of you I’ve never seen before.”

"I'm not sure what you mean," she looks at me confused.

I think of her in the plane and during our last anniversary and keep prodding. "I guess I'm not exactly sure what I mean either..." I gather the hunches floating inside my mind and try to put them together so they resemble something coherent. “But I know what I feel, and sometimes it feels like you're not you."

“That's because sometimes I'm not.”


FIona stares at me for a moment, then her face becomes as expressionless as a porcelain doll.

“On behalf of Interspace, the developers of AfterLife, I apologize, but Fiona Harding is not here right now. She is away from this World."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm not Fiona Harding. I'm an artificial intelligence generated from her personality. Fiona Harding is away from this World right now; may I take a message?” she stares at me blankly as she speaks.

“Away from this World?” I look into those hazel eyes that were Fiona’s just a second ago but now they belong to something else. “I don’t understand...”

“In Version 17.10, Interspace introduced a new feature to AfterLife,” says an artificial voice no longer mimicking Fiona’s tone, pitch, or mannerisms. “Since version 17.10 users may replicate their digital avatars in their home World while visiting others.”

“Do you mean to say Fiona is in another World right now?”

Yes she is,” the drone sits rigidly on the beach towel; it doesn’t blink and its mouth moves up and down like a puppet. “It appears you were unaware of this new feature. Interspace publishes notes whenever a new version is released."

It turns its body and holds its watch toward me so I can see the display.

“These notes are viewable in your watch under ​Settings​, About, Version, Changelog,” it taps through all the buttons so that the most recent changelog appears on the display for Version 18.04.

“We encourage all users to read the releases notes to stay up-to-date on new features and performance enhancements added to AfterLife. Away from World was ​the​ most requested feature by our users since the release of AfterLife.”

I sit numb as I process what the drone is saying.

“Interspace takes great pride in implementing features suggested by our users,” it brings its watch up again. “To request a feature go to ​Settings, About, Feedback,–"

“Where’s Fiona?” I realize I don’t know where my wife is.

"Interspace is committed to developing a universe that users want to explore for an eternity, and we thank you for–"

“I don’t give a shit about Interspace or your watch or requesting new features,” I yell. “How do I find out where my fucking ​wife​ is?”

“Fiona Harding is away from this World right now. May I take a message?” it replies.

“That’s it? You’re just going to shut off, you ​fucking drone?” I wave my hands at the program pretending to be my wife.

“Fiona Harding is away from this World right now. May I take a message?”

I stare blankly at the naked drone in front of me: a beautiful, empty husk of a woman. I put my thumb in its mouth, like I do to Fiona when we fuck; this thing doesn’t suck or close its lips around my appendage like she does, just stares at me with those uncanny valley eyes. One by one, I stuff my other four fingers in till they are all inside. I wiggle them around the walls of its mouth and watch the unchanging expression remain on its face. It doesn’t move, only stares at me and wheezes. My knuckles scrape against its teeth as I shove my entire fist in, and I relish the pain. I look into the drone’s dead eyes; they see right through me, through my bullshit; they taunt me, call me a dumb ass for loving, living with, and fucking a computer for god knows how long. I take my hand out of its mouth.

“How did the water feel darling?” it says as the expression Fiona would wear while she’d say such a thing loads onto the contours of its computer-generated face.

“I’m going to go see Jet for a while.”

I stand up, wipe the sand from my knees and the saliva from my hand. I pull up my watch to access the loading room.

“Oh...” it sounds surprised about me suddenly leaving, a little sad even. “Um, okay dear, do you have an idea when you’ll be back?”

“I don’t know.” I wonder why I am bothering speaking to a drone. “A while.” Human nature, I guess.

“Okay dear, if I’m not here when you’re back I will be at home waiting for you,” it looks just like Fiona again, down to the way she looks at me when I leave, as if I might never come back. “Have a wonderful time.”

Our golden beach that stretches from horizon to horizon along a vast blue ocean disappears, and I am in the white loading room, thinking how to find my wife.

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