Summary:"Specialist" begins with a spaceship getting caught in a dangerous photon storm when it is returning to the "Galactic Center" after transporting cargo to a far away planet. The ship's mechanical parts and systems communicate and cooperate with each other in order to get past the storm in the safest way possible. The different parts of the ship make up the crew, and each is highly specialized to achieve a specific job. Sheckley personifies the components of the vessel, and each has a personality that makes it interesting. Talker is the organism in charge of translating and communicating the ideas and directions of one part of the ship to another. He goes throughout the vessel and asks the different components, such as the Walls, Feeder, Engine, and Doctor, if they had been injured during the storm. The Walls have minor injuries, such as dents, but the only death is that of Pusher. This is a detrimental loss for the ship because without a Pusher, the ship can not be boosted to multiples of the speed of light, and will not be able to make it back to the Galactic Center during the lifetimes of most of the ship's members. There are also no galactic planets within reach.
Thinker, a globulous form that contemplates ideas for the ship's course, comes up with an option that the ship can keep moving forward and will hopefully come close to a primitive "Pusher planet," from which they can find a Pusher to propel their ship back to the galactic planets. The ship is on a search for weeks, and right when Engine is about to go out, they spot a planet of primitive Pushers. As Eye looks down at the planet from the ship, Thinker processes what the eye is seeing and states that the primitive Pushers are making a "mechanical civilization" (257) in which there are buildings, vehicles, and other structures all made from inanimate material. Feeder states his opinion that the Pushers would not be able to make anything substantial out of non-living material because "the metal doesn't know when its weakening," (257) and would not be able to advise when it needs fixing or replacement. The crew considers all of this a sign of extreme primitivity on the planet.
The ship lands, and locates an unaccompanied Pusher almost at once. Feeder, Talker, and Doctor leave the ship and try to get the frightened Pusher to join them on their expedition. The Pusher reacts in a nervous and spastic way at being approached by these alien creatures, and they resort to capturing it and placing it on the ship. This causes the Pusher to become even more frightened, and it runs around the ship, beating on walls and acting in a frantic manner. All of the ship members are confused at the Pusher's panic-stricken behavior, and Eye states an insightful idea about what he believes the trouble is. He states, "These Pushers have evolved a mechanical civilization....They developed the use of their fingers, like Doctor, to shape metal. They utilized their seeing organs, like myself. And probably countless other organs....These Pushers have become unspecialized!" (259) This Pusher could do everything except Push. Thinker explains that this planet is probably not primitive after all. It is probably quite old, and since it has not been made a part of the galactic Cooperation, the Pushers have been "robbed of their birthright. Their ability, their specialty was to Push, but there was nothing to Push. Naturally, they have developed a deviant culture" (259). Once Talker has thrust one of his communication filaments into the Pushers head, they begin to explain to it the problems that they are encountering, and how the Pusher could help them by using his specialized ability. The reader finds out that the Pusher is human, and his planet is earth. The human explains the concept of war as a reason for him needing to stay on earth, but the aliens offer him a way to end war forever. They tell him that being a part of the galactic Cooperation will help this Pusher planet find its place in the galaxy, and their mechanical civilization full of unnatural occupations and unspecialization will end because there will no longer be any need for it. Thinking that this all must be a dream, the earthman eventually accepts the job as the ship's Pusher. As they fly into space, he finds his Pusher organ through his realization of how his doubts and fears control him, and how humans have a special way of overcoming these preoccupations. The ship zooms off.
A more recent cover of Untouched by Human Hands, Sheckley's first and very celebrated collection of short stories. "Specialist" first appeared in this anthology.