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Colonial Dentistry 

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It was called an Andromeda-class ship, but the name was symbolic more than anything. The only colonies we had were still within range of our own familiar star, but I think it was meant to reinforce that there would be others, and perhaps they would go beyond what was even conceivable when we launched.

Our first stop was, naturally, Luna. It was the first extraterrestrial community, though it was closer to an Antarctic research outpost than the Martian or asteroid-bound communities. Even the newer space stations felt more hospitable. But being older and fussier than the rest, Luna needed more care. The trip was eventful for the mechanics and technicians, who didn’t stop working the whole three days we were there. I did a few cleanings, which the colonists seemed to indulge in mostly for the novelty. The food they have out there doesn’t contain much sugar, and the strange things that space does to bones (including teeth) were beyond what I could fix in a few days.

Honestly I was little more than a passenger at this point. Unlike the mechanics, I would not be coming home. The idea was for me to pick the community (most likely Martian) that suited me best and needed me most, and set up practice there. I was just one small part of the Extraterrestrial Homestead Initiative. A miniscule part, really. But if we were going to make a real attempt at colonization we would need to turn bands of astronauts living in tin cans into something resembling cities back home. Command structures would give way to democracy, self-taught surgeons would yield to trained doctors, and we would need teachers and clerks and police. And me, the logic went.

I was skeptical, to say the least. I had all of my rudimentary tools, but anything serious would have to wait until the rest of my equipment arrived. I think the idea was to get me established first, to get people used to the idea that their community was something real, something permanent. Also, the first children had just been born, so mundane but necessary professions had been prioritized. It seemed strange even to us to have a rocket full of psychologists, nutritionists and so on, but we had to be prepared. This was historic, and we wanted to make sure that the first generation of humans born off-world, the first generation of Martians, was well taken care of. Knowing that didn’t make things feel any less absurd, but we knew the logic was sound.

None of this prepared us for the actual experience of spaceflight. We knew what we were doing, we knew that it was important, but we didn’t know how it would feel to see your entire world, the only planet you had ever even considered habitable, shrinking to the size of your palm. To paraphrase one of the first men to leave the Earth, they should have sent a poet. But what they had instead was a dentist.

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Bryan Lawver writes copy by day and weirder things by night. He is currently exploring a love-hate relationship with Boston, where he has lived for the last three years. He enjoys running, frequenting independent movie theaters, and other excuses not to work. You can find his contact info and some non-fiction pieces at  www.bryanlawver.com.

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