You might want to begin here....
"Laws of Survival"
by Nancy Kress
This story was originally published in the December 2007 issue of Jim Baen's Universe, which, sadly, ceased publication with the April 2010 issue. "Laws of Survival" is approximately 12,400 words in length, and is the second longest story in the anthology.
I was considering two other stories as well, by Nancy Kress, but I chose this one for a number of reasons: among them, the first person point of view, the absent (but still ever-present) aliens, the unusual premise -- and most important, "Laws of Survival" is a damn good story. A couple pages into the story, Jill, the protagonist, wonders: Who knew why the aliens put their Domes by garbage dumps, by waste pits, by radioactive cities? Who knew why aliens did anything?
The author had a few words to share with readers about the story:
"Laws of Survival" is about coping with dogs. It's also about coping with aliens, but for most of the story the protagonist is coping with difficult dogs, courtesy of the aliens. I think the story is revenge against my toy poodle, a very difficult dog. Too bad she can't read. At any rate, Gardner Dozois liked the story well enough to include it in his Year's Best Science Fiction annual anthology. But, then, Gardner never met my poodle.
Oh, did I mention that this story is all about dogs? And aliens... Well, sort of. Jill encounters two different floating robotic computers, which she names "Blue" and "Green," respectively. What came to mind when I read this story was the space probe "Nomad" -- "Sterilize! Sterilize!" -- in the season 2 episode "The Changeling," from Star Trek: The Original Series. Anyhow, the robot computers need the dogs, and this is where Jill comes in. From the story:
Up until now, the Dome walls had never opened. Jill quickly learns that she can trade -- with the Dome -- any dogs that she finds for food. Until, one day, the Dome decides that it needs Jill as well, much to her surprise -- and opposition:I went out very early one morning to look for food. Before dawn was safest for a woman alone. The boy-gangs had gone to bed, tired of attacking each other. The trucks from the city hadn’t arrived yet. That meant the garbage was pretty picked over, but it also meant most of the refugee camp wasn’t out scavenging....
That morning was cool but fair, with a pearly haze that the sun would burn off later. I wore all my clothing, for warmth, and my boots. Yesterday’s garbage load, I’d heard somebody say, was huge, so I had hopes. I hiked to my favorite spot, where garbage spills almost to the Dome wall. Maybe I’d find bread, or even fruit that wasn’t too rotten.
Instead I found the puppy.
I hate it when grief seizes me. I hate it and it’s dangerous, a violation of one of Jill’s Laws of Survival. I can go for weeks, months without thinking of my life before the War. Without remembering or feeling. Then something will strike me.... I can’t afford joy, which always comes with an astronomical price tag. I can’t even afford the grief that comes from the memory of living things, which is why it is only the flower, the birdsong, the morning sunlight that starts it. My grief was not for that puppy. I still intended to eat it.
But I heard a noise behind me and turned. The Dome wall was opening.
"What to do now?" [Blue speaking]
"You tell me," I said.
"These dogs do not behave correctly."
"Not behave correctly?"
"What do you want them to do?"
"Do you want to see the presentation?"
We had been here before. On second thought, a "presentation" sounded more like acquiring information ("Notice everything") than like undertaking action ("Never volunteer"). So I sat cross-legged on the platform, which was easier on my uncushioned bones, breathed through my mouth instead of my nose, and said, "Why the hell not?"
Blue repeated, "Do you want to see the presentation?"
"Yes." A one-syllable answer.
The [holo] "presentation" ended.
"These dogs do not behave correctly," Blue said.
"These dogs? In the presentation?"
"These dogs here do not behave correctly."
"These dogs here." I pointed to the wet, stinking dogs in their cages. Some, fed now, had quieted. Others still snarled and barked, trying their hellish best to get out and kill me.
"These dogs here. Yes. What to do now?"
"You want these dogs to behave like the dogs in the presentation."
"These dogs here must behave correctly. Yes."
"Blue, who tells you what to do?"
"What to do now? These dogs do not behave correctly."
"Who wants these dogs to behave correctly?" I said, and found I was holding my breath.
Jill remains steadfast throughout the entire story, adhering to her own Laws of Survival as best she can; that is, until the very end, when she makes a bit of a change to Rule #5. And trust me, you'll be shocked to learn why "These dogs here must behave correctly."
[Continue to Story #20]