With St. Patrick’s Day only three weeks away, I had to revisit this story, which began as a 5-Minute Freewrite at Steemit in response to the prompt “token.” I had so much fun with it. Of course my son, part Irish, all Free Spirit and Zen wisdom, inspired this one.
“The Token Catholic”
source: a 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 Catholic? When Kevin’s Comet struck Palestine and obliterated the Holy Land, all the surviving Jews on Earth had been relocated to their own planet in another galaxy. Muslims colonized a new world of their own in a galaxy far, far from the Jews. Catholics had been falling by the wayside for a long time as the pagans of Old Rome regained popularity, but of course, we didn’t get a token pagan. Of all the fringe minorities who’d escaped FUTU, Fundamental Unifiying Theory of the Universe, we got the Catholic.
He was young and green,
with nothing but optimism and perpetual faith that all things work out for the better because God in his infinite wisdom is at the helm. No amount of reason would dislodge the lad from his invisible god–who was as dead as the Viking-ish gods we were on a mission to dethrone.
Leif O’Leary has Viking DNA,
Leandra told me. That was why he made the cut. It didn’t matter that he frolicked like a puppy when we reached the snowy beaches of Eisregen, where low gravity allowed us to run in slow motion and rise, rise, hover, and slowly touch down again the way humans had done in dreams during REM sleep for thousands of years. Leif O’Leary spent more time on the beach bouncing dreamily than he did watching the video footage of the natives.
He should have known better. That damned optimism and self-assurance and Catholic joy. We had ignorant savages to convert to reason or get out of the way
Two teams before us had gone to meet the Eisregenites. It is no easy task to enlighten an ignorant bunch who lived like Earth’s long-ago Vikings. Violent, superstitious, rapacious, greedy, they were straight out of an Old World history book. 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. Judaism and Islam had been almost eradicated in the Old World, but a small faction of Catholic mystics had never gone extinct. Most had colonized to their own planet, but like dormant seeds sprouting up in disturbed soil, new Catholics continued to pop up like weeds when you thought they were gone for good.
Earth was under reconstruction after being fritzed by a Coronal Mass Ejection, but space colonies like ours were trawling the galaxy for other habitable planets. Our ship, Mannschaft Rinderhund, was on its way to shake some gods loose from those distant cousins of ours on Eisregen. If they were acting like barbarians, let the token Catholic on our crew be the first to greet them.
You woudn’t see him training for battle,
Leif O’Leary. He couldn’t get his fill of bouncing around in low gravity. In the cold and snow. Leif 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.
We got him corralled, finally, with a lasso, literally–but he smiled all the while and winked at the ladies as we hauled him to HQ. The vid screens would show him what we were up against, trying to tame these quasi-Vikings.
The first wave of our colonists had been hacked with axes and speared when they came in peace. We’d all seen the old footage, but on-going surveillance showed the Eisregenites continuing to raid and loot and hack each other up.
“God rest their souls,” Leif O’Leary said. Later, Leandra said she’d heard him mumbling a Divine Mercy something or other. The point of it was that Catholics must pray for every soul, especially the most awful and unrepentent among us.
Oddly enough, Leif O’Leary didn’t protest at being first to go proselytize against the gods. Sure, we had uniforms make of spider silk genetically spiked with goat protein, and some high-tech radiomagnetic shielding, but Leif had to know nothing was foolproof. He would be outnumbered. And he would not likely be able to fire a pulsar to take down dozens of people at once. Well, someone had to go first. Might as well be the token Catholic. Just when the guy was kinda starting to grow on us, with his goofy, fun-loving disposition.
“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
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
“I feel kinda bad for him,” Leandra said as Leif O’Leary get into a pod and bravely whooshed off to the land of the barbarians. I kinda felt bad too.
But not bad enough to offer to take his place.
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.
I couldn’t help but replay in my head his face, his voice, and my words as I sent him to his certain death.
“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 enthusiastically. Did he know what we were suggesting? Two missions before us had been exterminated by these rude Eisweld louts.
“I’ve mastered their language,” Leif said. “I’ve crafted a hang glider as well. I had 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.
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.
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 occured 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 their 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 bottle of 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 seeeing 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 home world 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.
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