Type Story
Date 1951
Tags science fiction, religion, missionaries

The Fire Balloons

Missionaries, including Father Peregrine, go to Mars, hoping to minister to the Martians, to save them, perhaps, from sins never imagined on Earth. When they arrive, Father Peregrine asks the colonists to tell them about the Martians:

We'd like to know about the Martians. For only if we know about them can we plan our church intelligently. Are they ten feet tall? We will build large doors. Are their skins blue or red or green? We must know when we put human figures in stained glass so we may use the right skin color. Are they heavy? We will build sturdy seats for them.

They are told not to bother. There are two kinds of Martians: one nearly extinct, and the other inhuman--blue globes of light, which may or may not be intelligent at all.

Father Peregrine is not deterred. On the chance that the spheres are intelligent, he goes into the hills of Mars to minister to the spheres. He seems to make no impression on them, but when an avalanche occurs, the spheres save him. Sure that the spheres must be intelligent, must value life, he steps off a cliff, and they rescue him; he fires a gun at his head and they dissolve the bullet into dust. This is proof enough for the other priests, so they go to build a church in the hills, to minister to balls of blue fire.

Father Peregrine insists that the symbols of the church must suit the Martians, and proposes that a glass globe filled with blue light be constructed to stand as symbol for Christ, as the man on the cross does for humans. His comrades are shocked by this, but Father Peregrine is adamant:

Christ will fill any vessel that is offered. Bodies or globes, he is there, and each will worship the same thing in a different guise. What is more, we must believe in this globe we give the Martians. We must believe in a shape which is meaningless to us as to form. The spheroid will be Christ. And we must remember that we ourselves, and the shape of our Earth Christ would be meaningless, ridiculous, a squander of material to these Martians.

Eventually, when the priests attempt to give Sunday services, the globes speak to them:

"We are the Old Ones," the voice said, and it entered him like a blue gaseous flare and burned in the chambers of his head. "We are the old Martians, who left our marble cities and went into the hills, forsaking the material life we had lived. So very long ago we became these things that we now are. Once we were men, with bodies and legs and arms such as yours. The legend has it that one of us, a good man, discovered a way to free man's soul and intellect, to free him of bodily ills and melancholies, of deaths and transfigurations, of ill humors and senilities, and so we took on the look of lightning and blue fire and have lived in the winds and skies and hills forever after that, neither prideful nor arrogant, neither rich nor poor, passionate nor cold. We have lived apart from those we left behind, those other men of this world, and how we came to be has been forgotten, the process lost; but we shall never die, nor do harm. We have put away the sins of the body and live in God's grace. We covet no other property; we have no property. We do not steal, nor kill, nor lust, nor hate. We live in happiness. We cannot reproduce; we do not eat or drink or make war. All the sensualities and childishnesses and sins of the body were stripped away when our bodies were put aside. We have left sin behind, Father Peregrine, and it is burned like the leaves in the autumn wicker, and it is gone like the soiled snow of an evil winter, and it is gone like the sexual flowers of a red-and-yellow spring, and it is gone like the panting nights of hottest summer, and our season is temperate and our clime is rich in thought."

So the missionaries go down to the city to minister to the humans, who still need them.

Name Role
Ray Bradbury Author


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