Maidoa life is never easy. They mate in pods of three, but first they must survive, then once they find each other, it’s love at first sight.
Naidon and Alooma lose their meeraid—the third part of a maidoa pod. Naidon has his eye set on a new meeraid to join their fold. But Sade has other plans, and his rejection could have life or death consequences.
Naidon dug his claws into the lining of his egg. Phlegm snagged between his webbed fingers and stretched over his head until he finally tore through. He opened his eyes, letting in the moisture around him. Breathing in deeply, he filled his gills with the air in the methane water. He licked the remnants of the sticky phlegm off his lips, tasting its salty flavor. It had been what nurtured him for all the months of incubation. Now he washed it down with the tasteless methane.
Naidon wiggled out from the last of the thick linings of his egg, stretching his tail and limbs.
From his parentals’ memories imprinted upon him, he knew his name, and that he was part of the Maidoa race. He also knew he was of type udon, named for their black skin. Most importantly, he knew he had little time to make it to his destination.
A plethora of eggs was clustered around him. To stop the eggs from floating away, Naidon knew their udon parentals had stuck them on the bottom of the fissure. Above him, giant bubbles spewed from jets along the rocky walls. Eventually, they formed a stream that spouted from the opening at the top of the fissure. A sliver of murky light came from above. Other than the glowing red eggs, it provided the only light source.
That was where he needed to go.
Other udons ripped from their eggs. They all looked similar, like there were a million copies of himself. Some larger and fitter than others, but still having the same jet-black, circular eyes. The same small dorsal fin above the unibrow that ran along the scalp and receded down the spine.
The group of udons rushed to the opening at the top towards the light.
Naidon’s muscles strained to move in the heavy liquid methane, but he forced his body onward, using his webbed hands, strong arms, and long brawny tail to propel through the dense liquid. Once outside the fissure, it would be easier to swim in the open ocean. He just had to make it there.
The lead swimmers were fast, but Naidon kept up, passing some of the smaller udons that struggled in the crushing weight. His perfect physique resulted from hundreds of years of parental improvements to his DNA and made him resilient to the crushing gravity.
He didn’t want to be left behind. Feeders on the hunt for stragglers patrolled the opening. He knew a great deal about the feeders from his parental memories—specifically, his udon parental’s contributions from whom he was cloned.
An udon in front of him floundered. Unlike Naidon, this one had a stumpy tail. A defect? Those happened.
After getting the other’s attention, Naidon tried to grab his hand. “Here, let me help—”
“Huh?” The udon pulled free. “What are you doing? You’re an udon.”
“And you’re in trouble! Do you want to make it to your pod or not?”
The udon seemed to weigh his options. A group of udons raced by in a frenzy, knocking him out of their way.
To increase their chances of survival, they needed to reach the currents created by the fissure’s jets. This would provide them the necessary speed to not get caught by the feeders once they were out in the open.
“Well, come on, it’s now or never!” Naidon said.
The stumpy-tailed udon hesitated. “W-Why should I trust you? You might want to devour me.”
An udon could absorb another udon. Naidon was only a few minutes into his life, but instinctually, he knew how—not like he ever would. His parental memories, probably incorporated from another culture they harvested, taught him to rise above that behavior.
“I won’t,” Naidon promised. “But the feeders will.”
Finally, the udon relaxed. “Okay. Let’s go.”
The moment he consented, Naidon linked their hands, feeling the suction cups on their webbed fingers stick to each other. It felt too intimate. Too naked. Too personal. Immediately, he released the other udon.
“What’s wrong?” The udon’s eyes widened in shock.
“Just hang onto my tail.” Naidon used his powerful upper body to swim through the methane, so a little extra strain on his tail from a passenger wouldn’t slow him down much.
They passed one of the jets spewing from the cave wall. It was best to avoid the spout—otherwise, they might get killed from the force—and enter up ahead, when the current, while swift, wouldn’t be overwhelming.
“Thanks,” the other udon said.
A few more swims up, and they entered the current. Immediately, it jettisoned them out of the fissure and into the open waters. Not a second too late.
Feeders rushed in front of the mouth of the cave.
Three other udons were too slow. A rope net dragged by an approaching feeder snagged two of them, and large reptilian jaws from another feeder caught the last one. As it munched on its meal, the udon’s purplish blood colored the water.
Naidon fought the urge to go back and save them. He didn’t have time. Already he could feel his bolooa and meeraid—the last two types of maidoa that made up his pod. His meeraid’s signature was growing weaker. Naidon had to be quick.
It was harder for sunlight to reach the bottom of the ocean, so the waters around them were murky, and if not for Naidon’s evolved eyesight, he would be lost. But as the current carried him upward, it became a deep blue.
Staying inside the stream provided him extra speed, and as he didn’t have the stumpy tail like the udon he’d saved, Naidon whizzed by the others.
A rather large udon swam up ahead. He was bigger than Naidon, but not by much.
“Hang on!” Naidon swished his powerful tail to pick up speed, his dorsal fin making him glide through the watery substance.