Every Day I Thank My Engineers I’m Not Human

Duncan Butcher

Netos was an ecological marvel. For decades to come scientists and survey teams would comb the planet’s surface, cataloguing plant structures, studying how a low oxygen environment could support megafauna, and marvelling at the beautiful impossibility of it all. I think. That’s what Adarin said when we landed, and I’m inclined to believe him, on account of him being a human scientist and me being a spaceship.  

Also, someone was shooting at him. 

‘What the fuck just happened?’ That was Adarin—I am not prone to such outbursts of emotional instability. 

‘You’re under fire.’ 

‘I fucking know that.’  

I knew when a question was rhetorical, but I still liked to get it wrong just to piss people off. By “people” I mean Adarin. 

‘You’ve got the engines running?’  

If I’m being entirely honest, I had forgotten about that bit. I directed my attention into my propulsion units, and they sputtered to life. 

‘Um, yes.’ The um was unnecessary, but I was trying to adopt mannerisms. They seemed like fun. 

Adarin sounded frightened, but when looking through the cameras in his contact lenses, I realised I had no context for what danger would look like in this situation. To make up for this, I pictured a very difficult docking manoeuvre. Oh my. 

Adarin stumbled into my lower levels, and I closed the landing platform. I booted up my weapons system. Ok, it was an asteroid deflection system, but if it can deflect an asteroid, it can disintegrate small, stupid humans.  

‘Permission to vaporise?’ 

‘No, absolutely not.’ 

‘… boring.’  

Adarin looked into the nearest camera unit and raised an eyebrow.  

‘You’re doing it again.’ 

‘You mean the whole “frighteningly laissez fare approach to human mortality”?’ 


‘You know that only applies to humans I don’t know.’ 

‘That’s absolutely not better.’ 

I had nothing to say to that, so I moved my attention away.  

‘I think you’d understand people better if you spent some more time among them.’ 

Since most of my attention was elsewhere, I experienced a negative emotion before my computer systems could comb through my neural pathways and crush it. Normally, I’d try to construct a witty response, but instead I just said, ‘What are we doing with the assholes outside?’  

Smooth, I know. 

‘Leave them. They damaged their ship on landing approach, so they can’t really do anything other than wait for us to return with the union authorities. We have ample evidence that we were the first to find the planet; the paperwork won’t take long.’ 

His heart rate ran high, so I knew he was lying, but since I was still slightly upset with him, I didn’t mention anything. 

‘Spending time among humans isn’t as bad as you think.’ 

Humans did this thing where they try and talk about a past argument without actually mentioning that they are trying to talk about a past argument. This must be confusing for you because you weren’t present for the argument. I could have responded to what he was actually saying, but instead I used one of my human mannerisms and deflected the conversation. 

‘You smell and leak fluids,’ I said. 

‘You smell and leak different fluids.’ 

Ouch, ok.  

If Adarin really wanted to talk about the argument, this would be easier if he would just come out and say it. 

‘I’m sorry about what happened back at the station.’ 

Ok, maybe I would have preferred if he didn’t just come out and say it. 

‘It’s fine.’ It wasn’t. 

‘I wanted you to feel like you’re a part of things.’  

My emotional management module was struggling to tell me if the emotion I was experiencing was a good one or a bad one.   

‘Just think about how helpful you could have been back there.’ 

‘I would have loved to help.’ I processed thirty different vocal modulation options for that line before I spoke. They all sounded sulky.  

‘Well, if you had used the construct body, you could have helped.’ 

I paused for what felt like an eternity for me, but it was probably only a couple of seconds for Adarin. 

‘Why are you so resistant to loading your consciousness into a human-like construct?’ 

Ok, I was definitely feeling a bad emotion. 

‘Because being a human isn’t the perfect form of existence. I don’t want to puppet some flimsy meat sack around, imitating humanness, as though it’s the highest form of existence. Do you think your experience is so appealing that I want to play pretend human, while pushing my neural signal into some human-like clone body? “Watch the bot pilot dance, it thinks it’s a real person.”’ 

The emotional management module absorbed 35% of my total system function (everything not devoted to piloting the ship) as it tried to stamp out my emotions. It was taking a long time; there were a lot of them.  

Adarin just sat down cross-legged in the centre of his workspace. 

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. 


I didn’t even make it to the end of the day before I caved. 

‘What are you working on?’ 

‘I’ll show you in a moment, almost done.’ 

I had expected a snarky comment—meta-analysis of Adarin’s conversational pattern put him at a 72% likelihood to respond with sarcasm—so this was… a surprise. 

He placed his tools down before lifting a survey drone up to the camera.  


He switched it on. 

He had installed a neural pathway.  

Normally I command the drones, sending them information, them sending information back. The neural pathway allowed my cognition to ride inside the drone. 

Humans never fit drones with neural pathways like this. It wasn’t cost effective, or even practical—it doesn’t give me any advantage piloting them, but it allowed me to be wherever the drone was. The sensation would probably be like if you grew an extra hand suddenly. Its sensors were my sensors, it’s body like my ship body.  

I could come with Adarin next time, not just watch through camera feeds. 

I disabled the emotional management module; I was happy to feel this one.

Author: Duncan Butcher is a Gold Coast based writer currently studying a double Bachelor of Fine Arts Creative Writing and Business Economics at QUT. He typically works in short stories or essays and has been published in ScratchThat magazine. He tends to write about what he knows, which usually means mental illness, wizards, or some combination thereof.

Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.

Editors: Kelly Rouzbehi and Fernanda Bustos Venegas