Venusians do not worry about being on time, and I think I know why. Itâ€™s the fogâ€”the dense fog that permeates the atmosphere and keeps visibility so low. Every terraformed planet has its quirks, and this is ours: though the poisonous gases have been removed, the fog is still here, and it follows us wherever we go. Travel is always problematic on Venus, no matter how many new sensor techniques are developed, and it is accepted that a meeting will take at least an hour to start. Thatâ€™s how the tea ceremony developed. I hear it came from one of the immigrant cultures back when the planet was first colonized, but itâ€™s different now, a ceremony of waiting. Weâ€™ve evolved.
The fog is everywhere, no matter what time of day or night, and though it does lighten during the hours when the sun hits us, it never breaks. A life on Venus is a life of isolation. We donâ€™t need to be told not to talk to strangers; we are not inclined. Movement through the fog is like stepping into oneâ€™s own world, secret and secluded from everyone else on the planet, and the presence of others is an intrusion rather than a blessing. It is impolite to cross paths with someone on the street, and if a Venusian should be so crass as to do so, it is expected that he ignore you in order to preserve the sense of privacy.
For some time, the leading social problem on Venus was the declining birthrate, brought on not by sterility but by disinclination. We are not interested in meeting others. The family is the core of Venusian life, and we stick to it, preferring our own brightly lit homes and the familiar faces of parents, grandparents, siblings, and cousins to the grey mists of the outside world. A century ago the government was forced to issue a mandate that all young people between the ages of fourteen and twenty-nine would meet at city-sponsored social gatherings in order to increase matchmaking potential. Though it was met with resentment at first, we all knew it was necessary. Mutations and inbreeding were not a problem that could be ignored.
Families are still large and close, but the government now subsidizes housing for couples who want to move out of their familiesâ€™ homes, even providing space for those family members who cannot bear to be left behind. Our old practices have become deep taboos, so much so that even twins can no longer share the same cradle without becoming the subject of hushed whispers and aghast looks. I am twenty-seven years old, and I know that soon Iâ€™ll have to choose. Unspoken custom dictates that we select our lifemates by twenty-five, so I am already an outlier, but Venusâ€”Venus is in my blood.
Earth natives say they find the fog depressing, even malevolent, and will spend as little time here as they can manage. I embrace the fog. It is cool and smooth, not suffocating but comforting. It envelops me and preserves my privacy. Behind the curtain of fog, I can lie in my cousinâ€™s arms without fear of persecution. The family knowsâ€”there is no way to keep secrets, not from familyâ€”but like strangers on the street, they turn their eyes away, ignoring what they know they are not supposed to see. What is done within the fog of Venus is not meant to be known, but every so often I will catch the eyes of my family and see the hidden glimmer of approval. They know that the old traditions are still alive.