“Out in the Dark”

Review: “Out in the Dark”, Linda Nagata, 2013.

This is Nagata’s second Zeke Choy story, and I liked it a lot better than “Nahiku West”.

This is good example of how the character of the policeman can be used to illustrate the conflicts between a society’s laws and justice, morality, and changing mores.

Choy is sent on an internal investigation to Sato Station. Its target is another member of the Commonwealth Police, Pana.

Three days earlier, two asteroid prospectors, Kiel Chaladur and his wife Shay Antigo, showed up there. As usual, both were scanned for illegal modifications to their bodies because, sometimes, asteroid prospectors get up to illegal things in the vast and lonely dark of space.

The scan for Kiel matched the one on file and showed a legal person. However, Shay’s records did not exist. Pana’s report accepted her claim that Kiel met Shay in space where she was born. That’s why she is not registered in Commonwealth records.

Choy finds this implausible and thinks Pana took a bribe.

What he actually finds is a violation of another Commonwealth law: nobody gets to have two bodies simultaneously with the same mind/personality.

Shay survived an accident in space. A ship was disabled and its crew managed to shelter in an asteroid for 32 years before Kiel discovered it.

The trouble is that Shay and her comrades were thought dead. Permission was granted for her “ghost”, an electronic recording of her personality and mind, to be put in another body, one with the name of Mika Brennan, Shay’s original name.

The second Mika also went into space and struck it rich on another prospecting mission and retired to Mars and has a family with children.

The trouble is, legally, she has to be executed under Commonwealth law. The original body of Mika, i.e. Shay, has legal precedence to survive. The law forbids any two bodies to have the same ghost.

Choy figures all this out and is confronted with a dilemma. There is a heartfelt confrontation between him and Shay and Kiel. We feel the pain of a strange situation, of the required death of a woman, Mika, who has done no wrong, just because of an understandable and justifiable assumption that Shay was dead. Shay feels sorrow not only for herself and those long years in isolation but for her other self, albeit one whose memories diverged from hers over 30 years ago, should have her good life taken away.

Ultimately, Choy decides to cover it up. He thinks the laws needs to be changed and files a false report.

As the story progresses, Choy gets new respect for Pana. Originally, thinking him a cop gone bad in a remote section of the Commonwealth, he realizes Pana didn’t take a bribe and came to the same moral conclusion he did and was smart enough, unlike Choy, not to investigate too deeply to confirm (and then have to report) a “crime” he suspects. This is a good example of a science fiction cop story involving the tension between the law and morality and shifting norms, and Nagata makes it memorable and emotional.

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