Tokenism is the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to be inclusive to members of minority groups, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of racial or sexual equality within a workforce. Tokenism – Wikipedia
“The Token Irishman” by Carol Kean photo collage by Miles Kean
Our crew was diverse,
highly skilled, trained to face every kind of adversity except one: how did we get stuck with the token Irishman?
He was young and green, with nothing but optimism and perpetual faith that all things work out for the better. Our ship, Mannschaft Rinderhund, was on its way to shake some gods loose from the surprisingly human inhabitants of planet Eisweld. What did Leif O’Leary know of ignorant savages who had to get enlightened or get out of our way? He was no warrior, but the Eiswelders were. Barbarians! They lived like Earth’s long-ago Vikings and worshipped the same nonexistent gods with human sacrifices. Violent, superstitious, rapacious, greedy, they had killed the first two teams who’d landed on Eisweld.
DNA tests showed them to be kin to Iceland natives, supporting the theory that UFOs really had scouted Earth thousands of years before, collecting humans to populate new worlds. Maybe we’d find the gods of Egypt still being worshipped in some desert world lightyears away. Maybe the last of the Neanderthals had been spirited away by UFOs to a planet of their own, stocked with a Noah’s Ark of mastodons and giant sloths.
Leif O’Leary had Viking DNA, Leandra told me. Some long-ago Irish woman must have met a Norseman on his way to Iceland and passed off his progeny as a local’s. The Hun gene had been found in Germans; stranger things had happened.
Irish or Viking, and more than a little bit Catholic, Leif O’Leary was on our team. He frolicked like a puppy when we reached the snowy beaches of Eisweld, where low gravity allowed us to sprint in slow motion–rise, hover, and slowly touch down again the way humans had done in during dream-sleep for thousands of years.
It was too cold for us to really enjoy the novelty of low gravity, but Leif O’Leary seemed to have antifreeze in his veins. Like those larvae that could survive a polar vortex. Specialized sugars, proteins, and alcohols kept the larva’s internal fluids from freezing, and Leif had acquired some version of that. Too much beer and sweetness in his blood, maybe. He partied like an Irish Catholic but got his work done every day in a fraction of the time it took everyone else no matter what the task, and wherever we put the guy, he carried with him that damned optimism and self-assurance and the sheer joy of a zealot who’d found Jesus.
We all wanted to kill him.
Leif O’Leary spent more time on the snowy beach bouncing dreamily than he did watching live footage of the natives, transmitted to us from drones disguised as falcons. When they weren’t making a blood sacrifice of goats or the occasional white rooster, they would go on raiding parties. In Old English, “viking” was a verb. Dudes like Leif might say let’s go viking this weekend and they’d go “vike,” or so I remembered hearing it. Linguistics was never my strong point.
While we watched in secret from afar as these bloody-thirsty Eiswelders looted and hacked each other to bits, Leif bounced on snowy beaches. He talked in his sleep, too. Antique prayers: “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.” On all the worlds. The point of it was that Catholics must pray for every soul, even–or especially–the most awful and unrepentant among us.
He prayed in his sleep, he worked like a demon, then played on the beach. We got him corralled, finally, but he smiled all the while and winked at the ladies as we hauled him to HQ.
“We have a new job for you,” I said.
“At your service, Cap’n,” he replied.
“Leif, we think you’d be best suited to approach these Eiswelders.”
“Yes!” he said far too ethusiastically. Did he know what we were suggesting? Two missions before us had been exterminated by these rude Eisweld louts.
“I’ve mastered their language,” he said. “I’ve built a hang glider. I have a dream of dressing all in black and drifting down from the sky like a raven. In this vision the Eiswelders think I’m a god and lay down their axes. I deliver the good news that they are no longer to kill goats, roosters, and God forbid, humans, because Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice and…”
My ears filled with static and I tuned him out until he got to the part where he said he was ready to go.
Leif O’Leary was either too stupid or too brave to flinch in the face of danger. Sure, we had uniforms make of spider silk genetically spiked with goat protein, and some high-tech electromagnetic shielding, but Leif had to know nothing was foolproof. He would be outnumbered. And he was too gentle and compassionate to fire a pulsar to take down dozens of people at once.
Someone had to go first. Might as well be the token Catholic.
“I feel kinda bad for him,” Leandra said as Leif O’Leary get into the pod, made his sign of the cross at us, and bravely whooshed off into the land of the barbarians.
I kinda felt bad too.
But not bad enough to offer to take his place.
TO BE CONTINUED
The pod shot off from the space station. *
We watched from the safety of the vid room as Leif O’Leary sailed over icy waters and snowy fields. The land turned greener and more hilly as scattered settlements came into view.
The pod ejected him. The black wings of his hang glider unfolded and Leif O’Leary soared above the clouds. Maybe scouting out a village, more likely just enjoying the view. Knowing Leif, he’d forget why he was even there. Let him enjoy it. He might not have much longer in the land of the living.
Leif O’Leary was either too stupid or too brave to flinch in the face of danger.
Leandra started mouthing prayers –stuff like “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”–stuff only a lip reader who kept sneaking glances at her would notice. She was our token librarian, the kind who pulled their hair into a tight bun and peered through thick eyeglasses in the old world, but Leandra was too cute and perky to fit that ancient stereotype.
Leif wore a body camera that gave us a view of everything he saw from the air above Eisweld. Other vid screens showed us views from hidden surveillance cameras, compliments of the brave souls who’d come here before us.
A crowd of Eiswelders formed as a dark figure in the sky started growing larger and larger. Leif drifted into view, smiling that beatific smile of his. Bows and arrows were aimed at him but the locals were holding off until they could see what sort of creature was falling from their sky.
Leif’s voice was amplified as he spoke, and subtitles showed up on our vid screens, conveniently translated for us.
“Be not afraid,” he thundered. “I come in peace.”
He also came with a bottle of red wine and a loaf of bread.
Not a bottle actually but one of those plastic bags with a built-in pour spout, the kind that come in boxed wine. Leif launched into missionary speak–the Bood of the Lamb, the bread and wine, the end of blood sacrifices to appease the gods, yada, yada. It took about a million years, but the barbarians traded glances and started nodding.
At some point it occurred to me that Leif might be toppling their gods only to replace them with his own. Leif was not just a token Irish Catholic. He was truly Catholic. It took me a while to process this: he actually believed in Transubstantiation, the miracle of the loaves and fishes, the Resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
And he truly did not give a shit if these people killed him. That might have been his saving grace. If Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic, so was Leif O’Leary.
The ritual sacrifice of a rooster took a new twist with Leif telling everyone God wanted this bird to be cooked and eaten, not burnt to a cinder for some sketchy gods who, let’s be honest, were not really coming through for these people. There were frowns and skeptically crossed arms. Even so, Leif presided over the head chopping. After the spurt of blood and the headless running of the rooster, he presided over the fire and the rotating of the spit. He carved the succulent roast bird and distributed it to the large crowd. I don’t know how he pulled it off, but the rooster carcass, the bread, and the wine never ran out.
I never did figure out how he smuggled that wine on board our ship.
The party lasted for three days. The pod had returned and we decided to launch it again to retrieve Leif from his revelry. Leandra begged to be the chosen one this time. Considering how she had taken up praying for Leif’s safety, I figured she wasn’t as smart as I’d thought. If she wanted to risk her neck on behalf of that addled Irishman, I wouldn’t try to talk her out of it.
The pod returned without her.
Another million years seemed to pass. We took shifts going to sleep, watching vid screens, waiting for Leif or Leandra to send us progress reports.
All we’d get was a thumbs-up emoji or smiley faces.
Then the vid screens started going fuzzy and making weird bloopy noises. The cameras started showing what could have been memes that began in the 21st Century on old Earth. Old songs like “We are the champions of the world” sometimes played, and “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” and “Go back.” Then we started seeing maps and charts pointing us to other planets we should check out–while the familiar white and blue world of Eisweld had a big, old-fashioned red X through it.
I’d had enough of this nonsense. I girded my loins, so to speak, and got into the pod.
It was dead.
Next, the cameras, the audio, everything except the launch button was fritzed, and no matter what course we charted, the ship would point in only one direction: up, up, and away from Eisweld.
Was that goofy Irishman really smart enough to reprogram all our sophisticated electronics using whatever fit in his pockets? He was here for his calm and charisma, his talent for charming anything from a snake to an ax-wielding Eiswelder. Also, and this was just my own logical deduction, the token Irishman surely was here to serve as cannon fodder. In old-world military lingo, the least valued men would be sent to the front to absorb the first blasts of war.
More than ever, I wanted to kill him. Leif was right, this planet wasn’t big enough for the both of us, but the universe is a very large place.
Space colonies like ours had been trawling the galaxy for other habitable planets ever since a comet named Kevin, for the amateur astronomer who saw it coming, had hit Palestine in 2095 and obliterated the Holy Land. It was about time. Science would replace irrational beliefs and outmoded rituals. After Kevin’s Comet, most of the world’s Christians were relocated to their own planet in another galaxy. Jews colonized a new world of their own in a galaxy far, far from the new homeworld of the Muslims. Christianity, Judaism and Islam had been almost eradicated in the Old World, but that dodo known as Catholicism just wouldn’t go extinct. Like dormant seeds sprouting up in disturbed soil, another Catholic mystic would pop up. Science couldn’t explain it. Diversity was an accident of birth. Religion, unlike ethnicity, was a choice. Belief in nonexistent gods was not genetic.
Of all the fringe minorities who’d escaped cultural homogenization, we got the Catholic.
And he got the planet we were targeting.
He also got Leandra.
I pushed the button to nuke the place as we departed, but the little bastard had deactivated that too.
Eisweld. Who needed it? The place was too cold anyway.
* selfie by Miles Kean “it’s just my reflection in the subway window at night”
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