Tipping Point

Crese nibbled at the pod growing from the wall in front of her. The wall was translucent, so she could see the swirling orange winds outside, and it was this that was occupying her attention. The wind looked more pink than orange from in here, due to the wall of the Domen separating her from it. The ferocity and chaos of the outside world mesmerised her.

“Huh?” She turned away from the wall to see another of her kind behind her. His name was Bast, and the two had grown up together.
“I said, me and the others are gonna go play up high for a bit. Wanna come with?”
“Oh! Sure.”

As the two swam off, making their way towards the top of the Domen, Bast and Crese chatted, as they often did. Then, he asked, “What were you looking at, anyway?”
“Huh? Nothing, just... Outside.”
“There's nothing outside, Crese. You know that.”
“Yeah, but... It's fascinating.”
“And dangerous. Remember Gren?”

She did. The pair were now teenagers, expected to look after themselves and understand the dangers around them. But when they were younger, one of their friends had strayed too close to the bottom of the Domen.
At the bottom was a hole that brought warm air in and let the cold air escape – Gren got caught up in the stream of air leaving and was sucked through. All the adults knew that he was dead almost immediately, unable to breathe in the strong winds outside. Some of the children hoped that he'd be able to swim back inside, but this idea was quickly dismissed by the adults.
To this community, which numbered just thirty Tanth, the loss of even one child was a major one. They were all taught never to go low again.
“Yeah, Bast. I guess you're right.”

The Tanth look a lot like small sharks from Earth. A Domen is a large, mostly hollow ball of warm gas inside which the Tanth make their home. Although alive, they are barely aware, spending their lives floating through the skies of the gas giant Reus mostly at the mercy of the winds. Every now and then a chance collision with another of its kind gives the creature a chance to exchange genetic material, and thus give birth. Understandably, these collisions are important to the Domens. What might not be so obvious is just how important they are to the Tanth, too...

“You like that Bast boy, right Crese?”
Crese was eating with one of the adults, Sade. She was the closest person Crese had to a mother. Tanth society raised children as a group, so she didn't know who her biological mother was, but the pair acted like they were blood relatives regardless.
“I guess?”
“What about those others the two of you play with so often? You're close?”
“Kinda. Why?”

Sade paused for a moment and looked at Crese thoughtfully.
“Can you keep a secret?” When Crese nodded, she continued, “We think there's going to be a collision soon. You, Bast and the others, you're our best candidates for a new gosnae! It's so exciting!”
“Wait, a collision? But then we need to be careful!”
“Oh, yes, very careful. But collisions are essential for us to survive, so we've just got to make do. And it means there will be another gosnae! I remember mine, when I was young...”
Sade trailed off, leaving Crese to ponder this information.

Sure enough, it wasn't too long before everyone was preparing for a collision. It was a tense thing, Crese had never witnessed one before but she had been told stories of past collisions that had thrown other Tanth out of their Domen. A particularly fierce collision might even kill the Domen itself, and then everyone inside would be doomed!
But there was no sense in worrying about that, as there was nothing anyone could do about it. Besides, the adults said that this was probably going to be quite a slow one. They could see the partner in the distance already, and unless the winds changed significantly, everyone was expecting a fairly gentle exchange.
In the meantime, Bast, Crese and their group of friends had all been told to stay inside the Domen's heart, one of the safest places to be. Just in case something went wrong, the adults wanted to keep the potential gosnae safe.

But Crese wasn't one to just follow orders like that.
“Crese! Where are you going?!” Bast whispered.
“I want to see this.”
“But it's dangerous!”
She ignored him and swam off.
The other Domen was quite a sight. As it drifted closer and closer, Crese could see other Tanth moving around inside. There were only a few visible – just like their own community, almost everyone was hiding deeper inside for safety. And was it just her, or did those Tanth have slightly bigger jaws?
She had no time to ponder the issue, however, as she was spotted and ushered to safety.

Traditionally, the Tanth leave most of their education until they know that a new gosnae is imminent. Exactly why this is the case has been lost to the generations, but it is an evolutionarily poor strategy. It increases the chance that information will be lost between each generation, as the older generation fails to teach things quickly enough.
However, it would be valid to argue that the species is unlikely to progress much further than it already has. On one of the moons of the planet Reus, a species that may be descended from the Tanth (or a common ancestor) is slowly evolving. Unbeknownst to any in the Domen, the infinitesimally small chance that Gren had of surviving could well have caused him to father an entire species. Of course, no Tanth would ever have any hope of finding out such a thing.

It had been nearly a year since they had last seen the other Domen. The second Domen that the children had seen in their entire lives. It had felt like weeks, however, as their time had been filled with more activity than they'd seen in years.
The adults were trying to teach them everything they had picked up over years of their lives in just a few short months, and it was exhausting trying to keep up.

“Couldn't they have started sooner?” Crese complained, her voice barely audible.
“Shuddup Crese, mmtryina sleep...” Bast wriggled slightly, finding a position resting against the wall of the Domen that was apparently slightly more comfortable to his barely conscious brain.

Despite the enormous load being placed on the eight that had been chosen to carry on this line of Tanth, however, Crese still pondered. Maybe this regime was intended to wear them out precisely so that they couldn't think too much about these things. But perhaps she was being paranoid. She was sure, however, that she wasn't meant to notice what had been happening in the centre of their small home.

There was a small ball growing in the centre of the Domen. A baby, clearly. It had never quite hit her that soon she would be leaving her entire world behind, but the baby Domen growing inside her home was starting to make it painfully clear.

Over the generations, the Tanth have grown to attach great significance to the gosnae and the Domen mating cycle. Despite the inherent risks it proves to be crucial to their lifecycle as well, as they have no other way to leave the soon-to-die Domen. Over time, this has led to the lifespans of the two species slowly aligning such that each generation of Tanth lives in two Domens, that of their birth and that in which they raise children. Of course, it is worth remembering that Reus is a gas giant. There's no telling how many different versions of the Tanth have cropped up as a result of this extreme isolation...

It was time. Two years had rushed by, and the group of childhood friends had found themselves closer than they had ever been. There were, of course, other children in this Domen. However, they had been chosen for the gosnae, and it was about to begin.
The Tanth gathered around the centre of the baby Domen that was beginning to move. Quickly, the eight children – although they would be considered adults in mere moments – swum below the creature and into the small space inside. It was hard to believe that this creature would balloon to over twenty times its current radius, becoming large enough in its adolescence to support their future children. For now, however, it felt cramped.

Crese had no time to dwell on this, however, as she and Bast were the official birthers for the next generation. They had only one chance to watch the process and then, many decades from now, they would have to repeat it flawlessly. Two of the adults, looking uncharacteristically nervous, approached the baby Domen as it started to float towards the hole at the bottom of its parent. They gently guided it towards the hole, looking somewhat unsure of exactly how much they were allowed to touch the creature.
Despite their apparent qualms, however, the birth went flawlessly. As the baby approached the hole, the cold air started to suck it outside. Apparently it was common for the baby to need a lot of guidance, and more than one Tanth had seen one of their carers get sucked into the void in order to ensure that they were safe. This time, thankfully, it was not the case.

As they slipped outside, however, all thoughts of her family were forgotten. For the first time in her life, Crese was outside the creature she had been born in. And she would never see her family again.

Thanks to Damian Hoekstra for inspiring and helping me to create this world.