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Look Away

Marissa Lingen is the author of over one hundred science fiction and fantasy stories. She lives in Minnesota with two large men and one small dog.
Some people you don't know are running away from an explosion.
You don't know them. Whatever people, any people. It's not important. No, all ages, all genders, it's just people, okay? And there's an explosion and they're running.
How do you feel? Would you like to look away now?
What if I told you it was only adults? Only able-bodied grown-ups are running from this explosion. No little kids, no old people, no one who uses mobility aids, just--people. Running.
You don't know them. You've never met. They probably live far away.
Okay, what if they knew the risks? What if this is a place where there are often explosions, and they just happen to be there for this one? It seems like you should let yourself look away from that.
I don't know what kind of places often have explosions. Bad places, I guess. You don't go anywhere like that yourself. You're too smart to go anywhere like that. So, I guess that would make these people not as smart as you.
Okay, at least a little smart, if they knew the risks. But they were willing to take them, right?
Let's start this again. A bunch of people you don't know have a terrible disease. It's really gross. It makes them miserable, but it also probably makes them smell. Lots of diarrhea.
No, I said it already, you don't know them. Probably they'd annoy you if you did know them, though. You're really glad your partner didn't ask these smelly annoying people over for supper. You'd have nothing in common and you'd spend the whole time wishing they'd just go away. And now they're sick, what do you care? I hope they don't give you anything. I hope you don't get sick too. Back away from them.
I don't think that one has the same eyes as your cousin, no. I don't think that at all. I mean, I barely know your cousin, but I don't see the resemblance. You can look away from that person. From all of them.
Fine, how about another. Look, I keep telling you, you don't know any of these people. You don't know them! They are nothing to you! Don't look at the one who has the same haircut as your best friend from college. I haven't even told you what they're--okay, fine, flooding is not subtle. You're not a genius for spotting that they're running away from flooding.
But they're stupid people, they shouldn't have been where there would be flooding. That's stupid. You don't have to care about stupid people. Their problems aren't your fault, and if they aren't your fault, they aren't your business.
The place that's flooding isn't anywhere you've been on vacation, in case that helps. The waterfront is full of inconvenient plants, and the locals--as you can see--have not picked up any picturesque habits. They don't smile and make you feel like your vacation is the most important thing in their world. They're not dressed in crisp uniforms or quaint native clothes. They're just not even trying.
Surely you can let yourself look away from people like that.
I'm only thinking of your mental health. It's for your sanity. I want what's best for you. How can it be best for you to bear witness to suffering from people you've never even heard of? I bet you don't know the capital of their country.
Okay, fair enough, I would indeed have to tell you what country it was. You got me on that one.
But think back to when you were a child. Wasn't it nice, that your parents shielded you from this? Wasn't it a relief? Wouldn't you like to go back to the way you slept on summer nights as a child, blissfully free of the knowledge of the horrors that unfolded far away from you?
Oh. Gosh, I'm really sorry to hear that.
I can see why that was a terrible thing to live through, but in our defense, nothing in our files would have told us that your childhood home burned in the wildfires. It's very rare for someone with those formative experiences to qualify for our experience in the first place. You've done very well. We're generally looking for very stable people.
Of course I wasn't implying anything.
Let's try another one. Let's see, we've had plague, explosions, flooding, what are we missing? Do you want to try wildfires, because of your past?
That's very rude. You could make this end any time if you just looked away and went on with things. It's not my fault. We can stay here as long as you like. Haha no, I don't mean like! I mean. We'll stay here as long as it takes. We can't have anyone on our ship distracted by what they might see of what they're leaving behind. We need your skills, but we can't have you looking back. There are old religious stories about the perils of looking back, eh?
No, you're not part of them. That's literally the point. That you are different from them. And we'll show it to you no matter what. We have patience. We have staff. And we never run out of atrocities.
Yes, I suppose it's still the same session if you come back after a break. No one has ever asked that before. We may have to adjust protocols. I can't believe you want more of this.
No, I suppose no one does want more of this. But I hardly see how that's my problem.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, May 4th, 2021


This is not obviously a pandemic story, except that maybe it is. So many forces are pushing us to look away from the suffering of others right now. It's not new to the pandemic, but wow is it ever acute with the pandemic. This is my science fictional response to those feelings.

- Marissa Kristine Lingen
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