Venus was the most miserable planet in the system, peopled by miserable excuses for human beings. And somewhere among this conglomeration of boiling protoplasm there was a being unlike the others, a being who walked and talked like the others but who was different--and afraid the difference would be discovered. You'll remember this short story.
The foundling could not have been more than three years old. Yet he held a secret that was destined to bring joy to many unhappy people.
Unlike Gaul, the north continent of Venus is divided into four parts. No Caesar has set foot here either, nor shall one--for the dank, stinging, caustic air swallows up the lives of men and only Venus may say, I conquered.
This is colonized Venus, where one may walk without the threat of sudden death--except from other men--the most bitterly fought for, the dearest, bloodiest, most worthless land in the solar system.
Separated by men into East and West at the center of the Twilight Zone, the division across the continent is the irregular, jagged line of Mud River, springing from the Great Serpent Range.
The African Republic holds one quarter which the Negroes exploit as best they can, encumbered by filter masks and protective clothing.
The Asians still actually try to colonize their quarter, while the Venusian primitives neither help nor hinder the bitter game of power-politics, secret murder, and misery--most of all, misery.
The men from Mars understand this better, for their quarter is a penal colony. Sleepy-eyed, phlegmatic Martians, self-condemned for minute violations of their incredible and complex mores--without guards save themselves--will return to the subterranean cities, complex philosophies, and cool, dry air of Mars when they have declared their own sentences to be at an end.
Meanwhile, they labor to extract the wealth of Venus without the bitterness and hate, without the savagery and fear of their neighbors. Hence, they are regarded by all with the greatest suspicion.
The Federated States, after their fashion, plunder the land and send screaming ships to North America laden with booty and with men grown suddenly rich--and with men who will never care for riches or anything else again. These are the fortunate dead. The rest are received into the sloppy breast of Venus where even a tombstone or marker is swallowed in a few, short weeks. And they die quickly on Venus, and often.
From the arbitrary point where the four territories met, New Reno flung its sprawling, dirty carcass over the muddy soil and roared and hooted endlessly, laughed with the rough boisterousness of miners and spacemen, rang with the brittle, brassy laughter of women following a trade older than New Reno. It clanged and shouted and bellowed so loudly that quiet sobbing was never heard.