“Let’s get away from here. You’ll have us killed.”
“I haven’t feared death for a good many years, Father Stone.”
“We’ve proved nothing. Those blue lights ran off at the first cry. It’s useless.”
“No.” Father Peregrine was suffused with a stubborn wonder. “Somehow, they saved us. That proves they have souls.”
“It proves only that theymight have saved us. Everything was confused. We might have escaped, ourselves.”
“They are not animals, Father Stone. Animals do not save lives, especially of strangers. There is mercy and compassion here. Perhaps, tomorrow, we may prove more.
“Prove what? How?” Father Stone was immensely tired now; the outrage to his mind and body showed on his stiff face. “Follow them in helicopters, reading chapter and verse? They’re not human. They haven’t eyes or ears or bodies like ours.”
“But I feel something about them,” replied Father Peregrine. “I know a great revelation is at hand. They saved us. Theythink . They had a choice; let us live or die. That proves free will!”
Father Stone set to work building a fire, glaring at the sticks in his hands, choking on the gray smoke. “I myself will open a convent for nursling geese, a monastery for sainted swine, and I shall build a miniature apse in a microscope so that paramecium can attend services and tell their beads with their flagella.”
“Oh, Father Stone.”
“I’m sorry.” Father Stone blinked redly across the fire. “But this is like blessing a crocodile before he chews you up. You’re risking the entire missionary expedition. We belong in First Town, washing liquor from men’s throats and perfume off their hands!”
“Can’t you recognize the human in the inhuman?”
“I’d much rather recognize the inhuman in the human.”
“But if I prove these things sin, know sin, know a moral life, have free will and intellect, Father Stone?”
“That will take much convincing.”
The night grew rapidly cold and they peered into the fire to find their wildest thoughts, while eating biscuits and berries, and soon they were bundled for sleep under the chiming stars. And just before turning over one last time Father Stone, who had been thinking for many minutes to find something to bother Father Peregrine about, stared into the soft pink charcoal bed and said, “No Adam and Eve on Mars. No original sin. Maybe the Martians live in a state of God’s grace. Then we can go back down to town and start work on the Earthmen.”
Father Peregrine reminded himself to say a little prayer for Father Stone, who got so mad and who was now being vindictive, God help him. “Yes, Father Stone, but the Martians killed some of our settlers. That’s sinful. There must have been an Original Sin and a Martian Adam and Eve. We’ll find them. Men are men, unfortunately, no matter what their shape, and inclined to sin.”
But Father Stone was pretending sleep.
Father Peregrine did not shut his eyes.
Of course they couldn’t let these Martians go to hell, could they? With a compromise to their consciences, could they go back to the new colonial towns, those towns so full of sinful gullets and women with scintilla eyes and white oyster bodies rollicking in beds with lonely laborers? Wasn’t that the place for the Fathers? Wasn’t this trek into the hills merely a personal whim? Was he really thinking of God’s Church, or was he quenching the thirst of a spongelike curiosity? Those blue round globes of St. Anthony’s fire—how they burned in his mind! What a challenge, to find the man behind the mask, the human behind the inhuman. Wouldn’t he be proud if he could say, even to his secret self, that he had converted a rolling huge pool table full of fiery spheres! What a sin of pride! Worth doing penance for! But then one did many prideful things out of Love, and he loved the Lord so much and was so happy at it that he wanted everyone else to be happy too.
The last thing he saw before sleep was the return of the blue fires, like a flight of burning angels silently singing him to his worried rest.
The blue round dreams were still there in the sky when Father Peregrine awoke in the early morning.