“Iwill recognize sin,” said Father Stone bluntly, “even on Mars.”
“Oh, we priests pride ourselves on being litmus paper, changing color in sin’s presence,” retorted Father Peregrine, “but what if Martian chemistry is such we do not colorat all! If there are new senses on Mars, you must admit the possibility of unrecognizable sin.”
“If there is no malice aforethought, there is no sin or punishment for same—the Lord assures us that,” Father Stone replied.
“On Earth, yes. But perhaps a Martian sin might inform the subconscious of its evil, telepathically, leaving the conscious mind of man free to act, seemingly without malice! Whatthen?”
“Whatcould there be in the way of new sins?”
Father Peregrine leaned heavily forward. “Adamalone did not sin. Add Eve and you add temptation. Add a second man and you make adultery possible. With the addition of sex or people, you add sin. If men were armless they could not strangle with their hands. You would not have that particular sin of murder. Add arms, and you add the possibility of a new violence. Amoebas cannot sin because they reproduce by fission. They do not covet wives or murder each other. Add sex to amoebas, add arms and legs, and you would have murder and adultery. Add an arm or leg or person, or take away each, and you add or subtract possible evil. On Mars, what if there are five new senses, organs, invisible limbs we can’t conceive of—then mightn’t there be fivenew sins?”
Father Stone gasped. “I think you enjoy this sort of thing!”
“I keep my mind alive, Father; just alive, is all.”
“Your mind’s always juggling, isn’t it?—mirrors, torches, plates.”
“Yes. Because sometimes the Church seems like those posed circus tableaus where the curtain lifts and men, white, zinc-oxide, talcum-powder statues, freeze to represent abstract Beauty. Very wonderful. But I hope there will always be room for me to dart about among the statues, don’t you, Father Stone?”
Father Stone had moved away. “I think we’d better go to bed. In a few hours we’ll be jumping up to see yournew sins, Father Peregrine.”
The rocket stood ready for the firing.
The Fathers walked from their devotions in the chilly morning, many a fine priest from New York or Chicago or Los Angeles—the Church was sending its best—walking across town to the frosty field. Walking, Father Peregrine remembered the Bishop’s words:
“Father Peregrine, you will captain the missionaries, with Father Stone at your side. Having chosen you for this serious task, I find my reasons deplorably obscure, Father, but your pamphlet on planetary sin did not go unread. You are a flexible man. And Mars is like that uncleaned closet we have neglected for millenniums. Sin has collected there like bric-a-brac. Mars is twice Earth’s age and has had double the number of Saturday nights, liquor baths, and eye-poppings at women as naked as white seals. When we open that closet door, things will fall on us. We need a quick, flexible man—one whose mind can dodge. Anyone a little too dogmatic might break in two. I feel you’ll be resilient. Father, the job is yours.”
The Bishop and the Fathers knelt.
The blessing was said and the rocket given a little shower of holy water. Arising, the Bishop addressed them:
“I know you will go with God, to prepare the Martians for the reception of His Truth. I wish you all athoughtful journey.”
They filed past the Bishop, twenty men, robes whispering, to deliver their hands into his kind hands before passing into the cleansed projectile.
“I wonder,” said Father Peregrine, at the last moment, “if Mars is hell? Only waiting for our arrival before it bursts into brimstone and fire.”
“Lord, be with us,” said Father Stone.
The rocket moved.
Coming out of space was like coming out of the most beautiful cathedral they had ever seen. Touching Mars was like touching the ordinary pavement outside the church five minutes after havingreally known your love for God.
The Fathers stepped gingerly from the steaming rocket and knelt upon Martian sand while Father Peregrine gave thanks.
“Lord, we thank Thee for the journey through Thy rooms. And, Lord, we have reached a new land, so we must have new eyes. We shall hear new sounds and must needs have new ears. And there will he new sins, for which we ask the gift of better and firmer and purer hearts. Amen.”