“Update” By C. A. Brown (Short Story)

The first thing that tipped Sally off to the fact that the date wasn’t going well were Tom’s bookshelves. The books were the wrong way round. Two uniform rows of beige pages stared out, blending in perfectly with the magnolia wall behind them. She thought about leaning in and taking a closer look, but decided against it. Instead, she said: ‘It’s so good to find someone with books these days.’

Tom laughed and reached for a slender electronic device, the plastic a slightly brighter shade of magnolia than the walls: ‘Oh, those. They came with the flat. I rent books electronically with this.’

‘Ah, cool.’ Sally tried to smile. ‘I’m probably kind of old-fashioned. I don’t know, I always worry that those things might crash or run out of battery or become obsolete.’

Tom’s voice was confident, like someone from an advert: ‘Ah, but that’s all part of the premium plan. You see, I rent the device too. So, it gets updated every year or so with the latest model. Plus, all of my books are kept in the cloud too.’

‘But, what if the wi-fi goes out? Or the cloud servers crash? Or what if…’ Sally stopped. ‘Oh god, I sound like one of those doomsday preppers.’

Tom looked puzzled. A second later, he raised his voice: ‘Bub, what are doomsday preppers?’

On top of the beige bookshelves, a small white sphere glowed blue. An electronic voice said: ‘Doomsday preppers. People who believe that the collapse of civilisation is imminent. Common preparations include a “bug-out bag” of essential supplies and detailed emergency plans. Those who fear a zombie apocalypse often also stockpile weapons too. In jurisdictions, like this one, where firearms are restricted by law 86% of forum posts suggest that a shovel is the best defensive tool. Do you want to learn more?

Tom shook his head. Sally grinned: ‘Oh god, it’s like the computer from Star Trek.’

‘I’ll queue a few episodes up to stream later. I’ve always meant to watch it.’

‘You’ve never seen Star Trek? Don’t worry, your first time is always the best. Anyway, I got you this.’ Sally fumbled through her bag and pulled out a small wrapped parcel. She handed it to Tom. Wrapping paper rustled quietly in the silent room. Tom stared at the little box of chocolates.

A second later, he smiled and said: ‘I got you something too.’ Tom reached for his phone. It was the latest model. After tapping it a couple of times, he held the screen up. It read: ‘Immersive cinema. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Admit two.

‘Oh, wow! Thanks.’

Tom nodded: ‘I prefer experiences, you know. You should see some of the selfies from the last screening of it. People look like they’re enjoying themselves.’

‘I’m sure they are. Hey, do you want to get dinner?’ Sally was about to suggest a restaurant when she stopped and said: ‘I’m sure you’ve got an app for it. Crowd-sourced takeaways or something like that.’

Tom shook his head: ‘No. I was thinking something more local. In fact, I was thinking of preparing it myself.’

Sally smiled: ‘Awesome. And I thought that I was old-school. What did you have in mind?’

As final words went, they wouldn’t go down in history. Whilst Tom chomped and guzzled merrily, the last thoughts to go through the gnawed remnants of Sally’s brain were that zombie movies had lied to her. That was, she thought, the problem with all of them being inspired by one movie from the sixties. They were stuck in the past. Stuck in the days when hollow, soulless beings stood out amongst the crowd. But, of course, everything gets updates these days.

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