“Yun, my bro, you’re a fucking genius.”
Or so Gilbert says, half an hour later, when they stand in front of a shallow, freshwater creek with nothing but two sturdy fishing rods, both of them shaped like extraordinarily long octopus tentacles. The bait is a large obsidian green rock wrapped with tubular gauze, Palomar-knotted to perfection, shining gorgeously in the midday sun.
“Gil bro,” Meng Yun replies with deep respect, “the method you proposed is equally as brilliant.”
“Fish have complex behaviors, and to catch the best, we have to be the best. Think ahead not just one step, not just two, but think so far beyond that neither fish nor humanity can fathom. And that,” the curly-haired scientist replies, “is the science of fishing.”
The science of fishing has a physical manifestation and that is fishing rods in the shape of flexible, porous tentacles that were created in poor imitation of the Kraken. The design is indubitably a work of art – the tropophobia-inducing suction cups are embedded with hard rose quartz, carefully picked to complement the pale-salmon rod. It can be inferred that this is one of Meng Qing’s handiworks.
It would have been impressive if the proposal itself weren’t so flawed. Intermingling with marine creatures – “the psychology of blended identification,” according to Gilbert – sounds swell on paper, but the ‘camouflage’ is as the Kraken; and by all laws of the universe, the Kraken does not exist.
“Fish are conditioned to be aware of common lures and as such, even a fully-equipped arsenal of neon-hued rods aren’t a match for them,” Meng Yun says with full determination. “Hence operation ‘Kraken in.’”
“That’s just the first step,” Gilbert begins an exposé of his own. “The fish will no doubt be lured in by the sea monster Kraken. It’s all survival of the fittest in the marine ecosystem and all of them will have a chance to dethrone the legendary sea terror and start a saga of their own. The fishing rod is marked with an ultraviolet hook. It’s a perfect bait and when they come close…”
Gilbert narrows his eyes, which is apparently a telepathic signal for Meng Yun to follow suit. None of them finish the sentence, however, and even Shu is curious of the exposition.
“And then what?” he asks.
The two answer him in unison, “We whack them with the rock.”
Shu isn’t curious anymore. He leaves the two of them to their own devices. Meng Qing takes the other rod and attaches on a plastic worm bait – a much more conventional approach to fishing, or so he had thought, until he sees her also attach a glistening obsidian rock by its hook.
Meng Qing violently plunges it into the creek, takes it back out, and then plunges it in again. She’s stuck in a fascinating loop and not a single action is off-balance. A very valid method – perhaps even the Kraken wouldn’t be able to survive the violent impales. Shu heads back inside the car and decides to sleep again. He’s had enough excitement for the day.
A gentle knock on the window interrupts his plans.
“Need something?” Shu asks as he lies comfortably on the backrow.
“Slacking off?” Glenn teases. He opens the door uninvited and Shu doesn’t bother telling him off.
“I’m on the lookout,” Shu corrects him.
“Sleeping on the job then.” He lightly nudges him, “Let me sit here.”
“There are other seats,” Shu grumbles but acquiesces anyway, shifting his body a lazy three centimeters. It hardly leaves room for the other. “You’re one to talk. What book are you holding?”
“It’s a collection.” Glenn squeezes himself in the corner. Their legs brush slightly but no one acknowledges it. “Drowned Out. Are you familiar with it?”
He hums in affirmation. “An anthology of outdated works. Among them are some written by talented but anonymous authors. In the end, they’re all lost literature that are only distributed to tens of people. Unknown stories compiled in a book of miscellaneous.”
“They’re not lost,” Glenn disagrees. “They left behind a legacy. Written works will never be lost.”
“They leave a legacy if they’re groundbreaking. I can name less than fifty writers who fit that criteria.”
“Is that sad?” Glenn asks him.
“No,” Shu answers simply, “it’s just the way it is.”
The afternoon sun is beaming highlights through the ajar window. Laminated glass reflects on cloudless sky blue and the equally as clear freshwater creek. A gentle waterfall cascades down polished stone rocks, washing away earthy residues of dirt and grime. From here they can hear the muted voices of their fellow fishermen, though the stillness remains unbroken in the car.
“In fact, some of Lunar Painter’s works are in it,” Shu murmurs as an afterthought. He’s relaxing in the tranquility, eyes half-lidded and one arm shielding them from the brightness. “His first pieces are from a decade back. He’s always been an anomaly though – writing then disappearing for years on end. I’m reminded of a certain artist…”
He trails off when there’s no response from the other person. Glenn has the book opened to a random page but he’s not reading its contents at all. Instead, he’s been staring inquisitively at Shu, looking fixatedly as if he’s committing something to memory.
“Hm?” Shu blinks back at him, “what is it?”
“Imperial topaz,” Glenn suddenly comments, leaning over him for a closer look. “The color of your eyes in the sunlight.”
There’s more distance between them than usual – Glenn has taken precautions to be close, not enough to touch him – but the scent of moss and seawater is still covered by pleasant rosewood. It’s all he focuses on although it’s faint.
The collar of Glenn’s black shirt is dipped low and Shu unexpectedly sits upright, reaching out a hand to lightly tug on it. Just below the collarbone are faint scratches from the earlier incident. The flesh is already almost healed, leaving just a streak of broken skin.
“Mr. Lenos, I don’t know what he told you nor what your objective is,” he muses as he examines the small cut, “but there’s no need to be so familiar with me.” He traces a finger slowly on the area. “How does it heal this quick?”
Glenn remains in place. “You dislike him.”
“We’re…” He zones out, consumed by his thoughts. He’s unknowingly tracing circles on firm skin, resting a hand on solid muscle, feeling the indents against his palm. Shu looks complicated when he continues, “We’re not close.”
“This time,” Glenn whispers down on him, “I’m not the one touching you.”
It snaps him back to reality. He hesitates briefly before replying, “That time, the memory was unpleasant.”
“And this time?”
Shu gives a clear answer. “Examining your inhuman regeneration speed. Don’t be too bothered, I just—”
“I’m not bothered,” Glenn cuts him off. Then a smirk makes its way in, curving up one side of his mouth, twinkling in his deep-set eyes. He holds Shu’s hand in place and purposefully drags it further down his chest, brushing against the soft fabric of his dress shirt. He finishes with a purposeful drawl, “I’m not opposed to intimate contact.”
Shu grumbles, swatting him away. “Stop being irritating. You never answered my question.”
“It’s hard to explain,” Glenn tells him.
He sighs. There’s no point in pursuing the topic further – if Glenn wants to derail the conversation, he can throw it off in infinite loops. He asks instead, “How did you know it was me?”
The other man answers with another question of his own, “When did you get your ear pierced?”
Shu looks at him in confusion. “When I was sixteen.”
“Felt like it. Why are you asking?”
Glenn smiles mysteriously. “I think it suits you.”
The raven-haired man watches with amusement as a conflicting rush of expressions flashes across his face. There’s the initial wariness distorted into confusion, dancing on astonishment and then finally, realization.
“The both of you are really immoral,” Shu growls out. “Putting a tracker on an unsuspecting person.”
“As expected, you’re very intelligent,” Glenn teases him. “When did you find out?”
Shu raises an eyebrow. “When I first found it in my mailbox.”
“Oh? You’ve worn it for six years without complaint?” The latter sounds genuinely surprised.
His eyes darken in response. “Was it your idea?”
“The tracker or the gift?” He has the audacity to chuckle. “The gift was not picked out by me. As for the tracker, we can say it was a suggestion.”
“I was proven correct. Indeed, you are suspicious and also…” Shu’s eyes narrow, “a stalker.”
“I’d like to call it authorized voyeurism,” Glenn tells him shamelessly. “A professional use of my resources in pursuit of an elusive target.”
“You’re not denying it?”
“Should I?” the other man smiles.
“So?” Shu leans forward, stirring up in challenge. “What have you been prying on?”
“Prying?” His eyes curve in attractive crescents. “I was merely following the orders of a doting older brother. For example, monitoring your movements at three in the morning and making sure you’re not involved in anything dangerous. Rest assured, nothing too personal…”
Glenn also leans forward, matching him in kind, eyes glinting at mischief. “Because I prefer to find out certain kinds of information myself, such as your measurements or your preferences in—"
“I’d like to file for a restraining order,” Shu tells him curtly.
“Denied,” Glenn answers. He reaches over to softly brush a lock of light-brown hair, tugging it behind his ear. The silver ear cuff glistens prettily in reveal. “You’re too reckless for your own good.”
“Isn’t this an extremely shady practice, Officer? In fact, I’m certain it’s illegal to infringe upon my privacy.”
The other man chuckles. “Our young master has run away from home since he was sixteen. While a certain sibling was concerned about the lack of nutritional meals in the school cafeteria, I was more taken aback by the destruction you’ve caused. Hm, what was it?”
Glenn pretends to have difficulty recalling the incident. “Smashed a plate of sweet and sour pork on a boy’s face? Sent him to the hospital, or was it just to the nurse that time? Rammed him over with a lunch cart?”
“How do you know about that?” Shu is certain the incident was put under wraps – after all, the victim had begged for the school to cover it up in order to save face.
“Your brother has a connection with the lunch lady,” Glenn tells him. “It comes in handy. He’s gotten numerous calls about his… problem child. His lab has more detention slips and complaint letters than anything else. He had taken all-nighters to write formal letters of apology to each parent you’ve offended, thinking hard to give excuses to why you punched their child in—"
“—I got it,” Shu stops him before he delves any deeper. “He needs to mind his own business.”
“I’m also curious. It’s illegal to track someone without their consent, but you’ve been aware of the tracker since the beginning. It’s surprising for our rebellious young master to be this obedient. I wonder why that is?” Glenn continues with a suspicious mix of amusement and ploy.
Shu looks at him warily, trying to decipher his words. “What are you thinking?”
“I’ve formulated a series of conclusions…” Glenn whispers the next part, “Do you like being watched?”
Shu replies sarcastically, “Should I throw you into the ocean as fish bait?”
To his surprise, Glenn responds quite easily. He points outside the car, singling out a group of people who are fishing very unconventionally. Beyond a white current of misty water are limestone outcrops and stone pebbles, and beyond that are the silhouettes of his travel companions. The salmon-colored fishing rods are just as ugly far away as they are up close, but what makes the scene traumatic isn’t the mock Kraken or the glowing ultraviolet baits.
Dangling from the giant tentacle rod, shirt hoisted up by the hook, is a lanky, curly-haired scientist who is being offered up as a human sacrifice to the seas. Gilbert remains languid in place, either in acceptance of his fate or in full support of it – Shu doesn’t dismiss the high probability that the man himself had a say in the plan.
“We already have fish bait,” Glenn says.