Tagg

Tagg swam with practiced precision into the narrow triangular gap between the two largest clusters of branches that grew on the northeast rim of the Tangle. The water here tasted sour. Tagg extended a flagellum and flicked nervously at branch tips as they swam past, feeling the plant’s acidic sting and smelling the menacing mixture of complex alkalies and esters it produced as its natural defense.

Defense against what? Tagg wondered. It’s not like anything eats this stuff.

Tagg felt the currents change as the gap narrowed. Eddies licked against the outer surface of their brain and bodies, caressing Tagg from a chaos of angles. Tagg thought the current felt frantic today, even more than usual.

But perhaps I’m reading too much into it, Tagg mused. I do that sometimes.

Tagg knew that the currents were a product of geometry: the water had to fight its way through a fractal maze to get this deep into the Tangle. That is why they came down here in the first place: it was a perfect place for Tagg to hide their brain. No random passing stranger could pick up their scent, or hear a stray thought unintended for public consumption.

After making sure their brain was safely stowed behind an outcrop of branches near the dirt where the Tangle plants anchored, Tagg’s bodies swam straight up toward the warmth of the upper water. Tagg knew their bodies couldn’t go too far from their brain–not in this fractured current that whorled around them. But they also knew about a secret path they had discovered generations ago, when they had been exploring the Tangle for the first time: a path to a shallow dimple in that upper surface of the Tangle that was more suggested by the geometry of the thin upward-pointing branch tips than it was a real, solid thing.

When Tagg’s bodies reached this place, they still their bodies and floated: spreading cells flat into disks, feeling the water draw the heat away from the increased surface area of their skin. Tagg floated and let their senses expand around them, falling into a deep reverie as they took in the sense of overpowering vastness they always experienced in this place.

Tagg reached out with their senses. The smell of vast volumes of unobstructed water coming from above. Gentle vibrations from the Vent far in the north. They thought they might even be able to detect a little warmth coming from that direction, too.

That’s probably just a mind-trick, though, Tagg thought to themself. Like how I think I can feel the microfilaments and microtubules of my cytoskeleton stretching to pull my bodies into flattened discs.

Tagg’s friend Agata sneered at this, the day Tagg admitted to these sensations.

You learned about microfilaments and microtubules sitting on Academe Rock. So now you think you can feel them, but it’s just your own mind telling you things. There’s no way you could actually feel that.

Nuh uh, Agata had insisted. No how.

But as Tagg lay in the quietness of the open water, body cells flat and rotating slowly a few lengths above highest branches of the Tangle, they could have sworn they could sense something more from the Vent than the reassurance of its gentle vibrations. If not the heat, then what? Was there a smell that could make it this far, and not be overpowered by acid of the Tangle or the sweetness of the podfields just to the east? Was it possible to hear the distant murmur of thoughts from people in the town beyond?

Nah, thought Tagg. Agata would definitely call bullshit on that one.

Tagg’s mind wandered.

I’m putting myself in danger out here, Tagg reflected. My senses have to travel from my bodies back to my brain to be integrated with my consciousness, and that time has to pass again for my bodies to receive the signal of any decision to act. This makes me very, very slow: slow-times-slow. If someone found my brain, hidden at the base of a Tangle Tree and unguarded by bodies…

The cynical conclusion came unbidden to Tagg’s mind: Well, if someone wants me so badly that they followed me here… who am I to get in their way? Let them take me.