4 min read

New Immortals, by Lex Chamberlin

Shop window full of naked mannequins with their backs to the camera
Photo by Serhii Tyaglovsky / Unsplash

Content warnings

Apocalypse; Gender dysphoria.

The steel bodies are all beautiful, and I see myself in none of them.

“It’s getting down to the wire, you know,” my sister warns over the phone. “They’re going to run out of stock soon.”

“I know,” I groan. “They’re just—”

“My connections aren’t going to help after a certain point, Joy.”

I cringe. But it’s not worth it at this point. “I’ll look again.”

A huff, and then click. No goodbye.

I peel myself off the iron bench under the reddish glow of the sun, which still fights weakly through a dirty sky, and stare into the showroom from the sidewalk. The glass boxes are tall, each display lined with matte-black paper and lit up by dramatic spotlights. Accompanying digital placards rest on thin podiums with model names and specs. I sigh through my respirator and slump back in through the automatic doors, fingers tracing the edges of my phone in the pocket of my paint-stained hoodie.

“Welcome back, Ash,” a new voice intones.

I turn as I pull down my mask—another New Immortals droid body, not the one I talked to before. But he knows my name. Must be part of some hivemind for data I guess. Will that kind of thing make all of this worth it, once I’ve transferred over?

“Yeah, thanks,” I mutter.

I pace off down a row of inert units, and I hear his booted footsteps follow at a respectful distance. I realize that I’ve been through the catalogue so much that I recognized his frame. He’s an Adonis—one of the more extreme of the male options when it comes to ratios and muscle mass. Which is honestly strange, now that I think about it. He was supposed to be attractive, obviously. But no museum statue or old painting had ever depicted him like this.

With each model I pass, my eyes flick down to the names: mythical men, long-dead movie stars, sometimes just a profession. A similar tack down the female rows, though with a notably higher percentage of fictional characters. The droid body behind me shuffles closer—I must have crossed some dissatisfaction threshold, suggesting a need for assistance.

You would really think that, of all things, a droid body would come in some kind of ambiguous neutral. “Flat stick person,” “half of everything,” “amorphous horror” even. The reason for the omission isn’t a mystery, though—pictures and heroic bios for the company’s handful of executives are very easy to find. All one kind of person, one set of ideals. One perspective on beauty. And if flesh bodies were going out of style for good, according to them, the replacements for our biology might as well be exclusively perfect.

“Is there anything I can help you find, Ash?” the droid-man asks.

I turn to face him. Chiseled jaw, well over six feet, rippling muscles throughout an obnoxiously proportioned triangle of a torso under a tight black polo. There is no uncanny valley in his facial construction: His microexpressions are immaculate. His eyelids blink. His skin, while still metallic in appearance, even stretches when he moves.

I thumb at the phone in my pocket. My sister pulled some serious strings to get me in here, and all I have to do is choose. A body doesn’t have to dictate a gender—if that’s my only problem, maybe I should just pick one I think looks nice and be done with it, even if it doesn’t seem like me. Is that my only problem? Recent reprimands replay in my head, shrill and unforgiving as ever: “How are you still hung up on this ‘gender dysphoria’ thing when we’re looking at species annihilation? When you have an offer of immortality on the table? This is really not the time to be difficult, Joy. You know you’d never have this chance without me.”

The Adonis is still waiting.

I try a weak smile, but it doesn’t really work. I turn to the model beside me—“Lumberjack,” pure rugged power fantasy, with flannel, denim, and suspenders included. Behind him, “Marilyn,” though I’ve seen pictures of her namesake—this is just hyperbole. Next to her, “Lara Croft,” “Wonder Woman.” The display to my right, “The Terminator”—I guess at least that one’s got a joke to it. I glance at the salesman’s ID badge, where the company’s slogan gleams in gold: “Only the Best for Your Forever.”

My sister’s got an Aphrodite booked. I try to picture an indebted eternity in her orbit. Frankly, an eternity under any condition, watching everything that was alive die, come back, die again. And doing it all wearing some caricature born from a boardroom’s narrow vision of perfection… I take my fingers off my phone. I meet the robo-salesman’s beautiful silver eyes, thinking of rations and dark crowded bunkers and dying as myself. For some reason, my chest feels a little lighter at that.

“No,” I say. “I’m sorry—I don’t think you can.”

Lex Chamberlin

Lex Chamberlin (they/she) is a nonbinary and autistic writer of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. They hold a master’s degree in book publishing and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and they reside in the Pacific Northwest with their husband and quadrupedal heirs.