P9 looked across the glen planted in golden grain and past the hillside with bean poles in neat rows to the path over the ridge where the Northern Group would come. The soil was less fertile than they had hoped, its nutrients locked in towering trees that now lay in cabin and terrace walls. Planetfall robots had been forced to clear more land for food, so the island was dotted with gardens clinging to hillsides. Even after a second wave of landing craft brought the reserve fuel cells, they were short of power. One by one the other robots shut down, until only she remained.
Humans were always wandering, and no fence could keep them in. There were jealousies and tears, for two hundred boisterous girls demanded more attention than one robot had to give. What saved her was E103’s treatise on religion. P9 modified the Divine Revelations to create a God who looked down from the stars and heard every word of their prayers. The love from this imaginary being sustained them. P9’s acute hearing detected dozens of confessions, hopes and supplications. As they grew, the girls took over the settlement’s labor until she no longer had to activate the other robots to clear fallen trees or bring in the harvest. With the approach of motherhood came greater demand for food. She sent twenty of the most energetic to the northern spur, where with hand tools and minimal help from robots they created a hillside planted in vines. Nurtured by the suns, it produced most of the settlement’s fruits and had an observation post monitoring hairbeast fishing lanes. Those who lived there created a secret language and kept to themselves. When someone fought one of them, she fought them all. Once, a quarrel broke out and spread through the camp. Outnumbered nine to one, the Northerners held their own until P9 created a thunderclap that sent everyone scattering.
Twenty girls descended the path in single file with one far in the lead, as P9 taught them. In case of attack, the first girl would lead the enemy away and allow the others to escape. They had shoulder-length braids and distinctive stripes in their hair from the green dye found on the island. Carrying spears with silicon plastic tips and dressed in yellowish-brown osina skins, they walked with the assurance of an animal in its territory.
The lead girl, gangly tawny-haired Irene, bowed before her. “God’s Grace.”
P9 placed her palm on Irene’s head. “God’s grace be upon you.”
“Mother, I saw a hairbeast this morning. He was spear fishing in the channel.”
“Did he see you?”
Irene blushed. “I–he looked in my direction, but it was far.”
“You must never let them see you. It is a sin.”
“You will be a woman soon. With motherhood comes responsibility.”
“I have only one breast, and it makes me unbalanced. “When will the other come?”
“Some things are known only to God. Perhaps you should ask her.”
“God’s grace,” called the other girls hurrying across the field to hear the conversation.
“God’s grace be upon you. Did any of you see the beast?”
There were several vague reports of sightings in the channel. The girls loved attention, and P9 didn’t consider any of them reliable.
“Go on to the chapel. The rest of the colonists are waiting.”
In a hollow below the grain field stood a transparent gazebo with a central spire, the only silicon plastic structure in the settlement. Inside, light pipes created the sensation of being among the stars.
P9 stepped onto the dais, surrounded by girls kneeling on tree bark prayer rugs. “May God’s light shine upon you and guide your footsteps.”
The humans touched their foreheads to the shiny floor. “We bow before Her wisdom.”
“God sees you when you wake, hears each breath and knows every thought.”
“We worship Her glory.”
A sweep of P9’s green humanoid eyes prompted the girls to sing “Praise to God the Almighty.” Because the Northeners were always getting out of time with the rest, she wrote harmonies for the hymns. On a clear day with the right wind, sound carried long distances. She wondered what a hairbeast pushed out to sea by a squall would think of soprano voices rising from the hills.
The sermons of childhood had given way to a question and answer period. After the songs and benediction, the girls gathered around P9.
“Mother, does God have a face like ours?” asked Alice, the plump girl with kinky black hair and a brown complexion.
“God is demanding yet loving, strong, yet gentle. She is all things to all people. We are so puny and insignificant that we cannot begin to grasp her glory.”
“Mother, why don’t we have men to impregnate us, as the animals do?” asked Laurel, the muscular blonde who wore braids atop her head.
“Because men cannot make babies, as you can. This is only a tiny island on a huge planet that humans must fill before the millions of hairbeasts across the seas unite against us.”
“Mother, why do birds sing?” asked Tanya, the purple-eyed girl who painted snakes on her arms.
“Most of the time a bird sings to warn others not to enter its territory, so there is enough food for the the bird and its children. Sometimes they sing to summon a mate.”
Someone chirped. Soon there was a chorus of giggling bird calls.
After the service, P9 connected a cable from her inner thigh to the wall and projected a map of the region on the ceiling.
“Our island, which we call Eden, lies five kilometers off the coast of Raindrop. That continent, which you can see is shaped like its name, is populated by several thousand hairbeasts. Most are fishermen and hunter gatherers who live in villages on the northern peninsula. Fortunately for us, the winter storms come from the southwest, which makes the beasts reluctant to venture this far. A deep cold water current runs north along the coast and comes to the surface during the summer. It will bring good fishing after your children are born, when we outgrow the fields on Eden…”
After their lesson the girls scattered for free time. Some went to the parsonage to read the Book of Wisdom, others played a raucous game of Capture the Flag, and a few swam in the frigid waters of the Cove. Afterwards P9 assembled them for Combat Training. They made weapons, practiced archery, and underwent an invasion drill during which P9 played the hairbeasts. At noon they ate lunch a few of the girls prepared, then scattered to tend the fields, sew clothing, and make repairs. In one of the cabins several volunteers made poison from a native plant robot P5 discovered on a foray to the mainland. It was supposed to cause paralysis but had never been tested.
Each girl had her allotted time with Mother Protector. Alice thought she sweated too much. Rhonda wanted a pet bird to sing to her while she worked. Irene confided she put mud on her less developed breast to make it grow. There were cravings, such as for the sweet orangefruit that grew high in the trees. They loved gossiping, and P9 had to summon Northern Group in time to depart for their cabins on the ridge. No lights were allowed. The cabins, low to the ground with small windows, melted into the hillsides. If a girl got lost returning from the fertilizing trench on a moonless night, she was expected to sleep in the woods.
After dusk P9 climbed to the parsonage veranda and eavesdropped on the girls. She liked to sit under the stars and listen to the rhythm of the waves. On quiet evenings she connected her cable to the wall socket and read the logs. It would be nice to have a companion as the starship Navigator and Engineer did. Reluctantly–because she wanted to savor every minute of this life–she went inside and shut herself down.
P9 woke to the alarm. Projected on the wall was the ghostly outline of twenty-four wooden galleys approaching Eden from the northeast. The message went from her transmitter to speakers in the cabins.
“This is Mother Protector. All settlers will wake and dress immediately. Gather your weapons, and make certain everyone is accounted for. Hairbeast warships will reach our coast in less than an hour.”
P9 took the power laser and sonic rifle from the locked cabinet. With robotic nimbleness she ascended the ridge. Beneath the dim reddish light of Haven’s second sun, dark shapes dotted the ocean. The tree perch was worn smooth from dozens of alarms. At first they were fishermen seeking refuge from a storm. Later came war galleys. In the beginning a sonic boom was enough to scare them away. When they persisted, it became necessary to blind some. The ships were open at the top with a rectangular sail and long oars on either side. Of various sizes, some appeared requisitioned from the fishing fleet. The first few sonic booms seemed ineffectual. P9 aimed the laser carefully, for the beasts learned to make primitive goggles that impeded their vision but provided some protection. She fired hundreds of times before the first ship left the formation.
“This is Mother Protector. The enemy will reach Eden in half an hour. Poison your weapons, and prepare to defend yourselves. Under no circumstances are you to leave your cabins. The hairbeasts are fierce swordsmen and will hunt you down in the open.”
For several minutes the fleet appeared undaunted. The formation separated, six vessels veering west while the others continued toward beaches on the center of the island. At closer range with reduced air refraction, the beam’s penetration increased. One after the other, four ships turned back.
A voice penetrated P9’s consciousness. “This is Irene. Two hundred hairbeasts are climbing from North Point. They’re headed for us.”
“Stay in your cabins. Let them take the crops. We’ll help you when we’re done here.”
Several in black armor and the rest wearing animal skin tunics, the hairbeasts splashed into the surf and pulled their boats onto the beach. Holding oval shields before them, they advanced in a ragged line. P9 dashed to the gazebo. Uttering a low “Oooh Oooh,” the beasts pursued over the ridge to the village. She climbed on the roof and took aim at a beast’s goggles. It stumbled and fell. Another ran past it. An arrow flew from a window, lodging in its leg. The creature took three steps and collapsed.
“This is Irene. The beasts are attacking the cabin. We killed over a dozen, but there’s no end to them.”
“Scream to scare them. When they get close, block the windows and use poisoned spears against any penetration.”
Within arrow range of the cabins, the grain fields around the chapel became a killing zone. Several times the enemy charged P9 and were cut down in a crossfire. From the growls it made, she guessed one of them was haranguing the others to attack.
P9’s radio receiver warbled. “We’re almost out of arrows. There’s a hidden way out of the cabin I don’t think they know about. I’ll lead them to the chapel.”
“A hairbeast can run twice as fast as a girl.”
“I know every rock and gully on the ridge. We can’t hold them any longer.”
“Your death will demoralize your cabin-mates. You must stay and fight.”
The enemy rushed in from all sides. A beast climbed onto the roof and ran at P9. She dodged. Several others confronted her. In a hail of arrows, one of which lodged in her side, they fell. It missed any vital areas but looked unsightly. She pulled out the arrow. The hairbeasts melted away toward high ground.
“Come out of your cabins,” called P9. “Let none escape.”
P9 dashed past fugitives and waited on the shore. They came in a mob, many without weapons. Projections of monsters kept them from their boats. In a hail of arrows, the beasts plunged into the frigid surf. Shouting commands, cabin leaders formed their archers in a line that advanced down the hill.
Irene was breathing hard. “I’m in Rhonda’s cabin. The beasts are pounding on the door. When they see the enemy break in, my cabin mates will attack with spears and be slaughtered.”
P9 put maternal authority into her voice. “The battle here hangs in the balance. Tell your sisters to stay back. Use the escape passage. Hide in the shadows until we come for you.”
“I told them to stay in our cabin, but they wouldn’t. They’re yelling all sorts of things to distract the beasts.”
Mother Protector, who had experience with youthful disobedience, saw disaster in the making. She led a disorganized throng over the ridge to the edge of the fields. Irene stood beside the roof spire, which shone like a pillar of stars. Holding her spear, she spread her arms and screamed.
P9 fired her laser into the horde gathered around the gazebo. “Put some arrows into them. Be careful not to hit your sister.”
The beasts roared. Several climbed onto the roof. P9 blinded some, but one raised his sword and cut off Irene’s head. The Northerners at the far end of the field charged screaming. Those with P9 surged forward.
“Stop, and form a line,” bellowed Mother Protector.
Unable to halt the assault, she projected thunder and lightning. As the distance closed, deep bellows melded with soprano shouts. With a red flash from the sky, the enemy broke and ran.
Several girls suffered sword wounds. One lost an arm. Robotic care saved all but Irene. Despite an extensive search and pursuit in a captured galley, her head was never recovered. The following day the settlers built a flower garden on the hill and placed Irene’s remains there. During the funeral one girl noticed her second breast had come in, a trick aided by P9’s skill with fluids. They called it a miracle. Knowing humans, she expected the legend would arise of her head appearing.
The girls were expert seamstresses, and in a week they all had beast breastplates, helmets and shields. A number of bodies washed up on the shore, but an enemy from whom they might learn beast customs or the numbers they faced was never captured. P9 suspected it resulted from determination to avenge Irene. The hairbeasts rarely ventured into the channel after the battle, and captured ships provided a fishing fleet that ranged up and down the coast. Before the winter storms arrived, Felicity and her crew reached the northern tip of Raindrop in a ship with triangular sails. They discovered a large hairbeast village on a peninsula they named Point Irene. P9 turned policy matters over to the settlers and spent most of her time standing on the veranda, to conserve her fuel cells for future generations.