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The planet of Victoria received two waves of colonists from Earth: first two prison ships founding a penal colony and then one ship of political exiles. The descendants of the prisoners mostly inhabit the City. The descendants of the political exiles, the "People of Peace", inhabit Shantih Town, which is known to the City dwellers as Shanty Town. The Shantih Towners, whose primary occupation is farming, want to settle another valley further away from the City. The City "Bosses" do not want to lose the control they believe they have over the Shanty Towners and so they take action to try to prevent any settlement beyond their sphere of influence. The title is a reference to a fictional animal on the planet Victoria which early colonists called heron because of some superficial similarities to Earth heron. The characters' encounters with these animals occur at moments of significant introspection, particularly when they are considering that which they perceive as alien, or other, in relation to themselves.