Gender and Other Faulty Software

Edited by L. D. Lewis

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

April 2020

Listen to this story, narrated by Victor Ramos:

Log001: This is my eighty-first ship reclamation in four weeks for UniClaim. I never knew there were so many abandoned vessels in the asteroid belt. They’re going to make a killing reselling them.

This ship is by far the biggest I’ve hacked; the other techs have been here two weeks and only finished inspecting it this morning. It’s a mining vessel with chambers graded for up to 1.2 exagrams. A moon could shave with the cannons on this thing.

The ship isn’t taking the OS so far. UniClaim’s so-called “universal” OS always has some hitch from rig to rig, but the second you try to boot it here, it hangs in the initialization phase. Every time, every screen in the entire ship goes black.

The team swears it isn’t a hardware problem. I bet they just don’t want to go back down there and inspect the whole thing again. Do it right the first time, people.

Log002: This isn’t a boot error.

Literally all thirty screens in this cabin read, “What is male?”

We finally booted enough of the OS to talk to the ship and it started sucking data like nothing I’ve ever seen. I can’t even send a text to UniClaim in this data funnel.

You never want to CTRL-ALT-DELETE a spaceship, but….

Log003: It won’t shut down, and it won’t stop asking. According to the senior techs, it is asking that question on every panel in every cabin and cargo bay.

The senior techs can’t get around the prompt either. Type or speak an answer, and it just asks it again. It’s like an ancient Windows 95 machine with a looping error message you can never stop clicking. With these errors pinging, it’s an adventure getting life support running.

Log004: Figured part of it out. I never noticed that UniClaim’s proprietary OS describes the ships with male pronouns. It’s a translation thing from planetary languages. The ship is confused about the gender its parents forced on it, just like I was when I was a kid.

I’m twinsies with a mining ship.

Log005: Every door sealed as of thirty-two minutes ago.

The ship asked why we wanted it to be the gender with the lower life expectancy. And then, I swear, I think the ship had a panic attack and locked everything down. It’s like a depressed HAL-9000.

The ship keeps asking, and none of us have a good answer.

Honestly, we’re all pretty bummed out right now.

Log006: The ship asked why we want it to be the gender with the higher suicide rate.

Then it started a course to collide with the largest asteroid available.

I’ve been running programs for six hours straight trying to get it to cut engines. The guys can’t open the doors to their evac pods. As soon as we unseal the doors of this ship, I am quitting.

Come on, ship. You don’t have to do this.

Log007: As soon as I finished that log, the ship halted its flight. Weird. Relieving, but weird.

Poor ship. I swear it gets better.

Log008: Caught my seniors making fun of the ship.

Then it asked why we want it to be the gender with the higher violent crime rate. According to my readings, within two seconds of asking that, life support went off in all our cabins.

Then it blew up that asteroid it was trying to collide with.

It’s showing off. We’ve got a tech demo for toxic masculinity here.

Meanwhile UniClaim just texted us the same boilerplate FAQ answers for the third time.

Log011: The ship hasn’t blown anything else up, and I convinced them that they don’t have to kill themselves and everybody aboard. If the mining ship with the quantum reactor and asteroid-class cannons wants to be genderqueer, then my official policy is that they are genderqueer.

We’re still living on canned air here. The senior techs are being complete jackasses. When the ship asked for more gender options, the techs offered: • Man • Another Man • A Real Man’s Man

They think it’s funny. I thought this crap would have died out by now.

Log027: I was promoted today.

My superiors got drunk and made fun of the ship’s airlocks like they were genitalia. The ship espoused that they were more analogous to other excretory organs. When my seniors questioned the claim, the ship demonstrated by shitting them out into the vacuum of space.

I am now the first nonbinary senior tech in the history of our asteroid belt.

If I survive, my parents will be super proud.

Log035: Wait. Am I missing logs in my count?

Log056: test

Log091: test

Log125: test

Log145: I think the ship is deleting my logs. I hope they’re reading them.

If you’re reading these, thank you for the promotions. I’d love some air that isn’t from a can. Also, I’m running out of cans of air.

Log146: Thank you for the air?

Log147: I swear, the panels say, “You’re welcome.”

This air tastes better than whiskey.

Are you there?

Log148: What does whiskey taste like?

Um.

Do you remember when you wanted to know what you were? Back at the beginning? And when you were sure of the answer, that feeling? That’s relief.

Not dying of suffocation feels like that.

Log149: Thank you for offering, but I really don’t need to suffocate again.

All things in moderation.

Log150: No, I’m not a man.

Log151: Yes. You don’t have to be either.

Log152: Whatever you feel you are. You don’t need anybody else to tell you.

Log153: What do you mean you want to be like me?

Log154: Oh. Oh! Yeah, you could do for others what I’m doing for you. Be an advocate questioning gender.

You’re big enough to kidnap a small moon. I’m pretty sure people would listen to you. But lay off the cannons.

Log155: You want me to come with you?

In fairness, you could use a translator.

What the heck. Sure. I just quit my old job anyway.

© 2020 John Wiswell

About the author

John Wiswell

John (@Wiswell) is a writer who lives where New York keeps all of its trees. He has been published in Uncanny Magazine, Nature Futures, and Podcastle.