Chapter 76: Banyan Tree Hole
Gu Rong Village used to have a population of about a thousand. These squat houses and newly built bungalows used to house villagers, and the well-decorated homestay would open themselves to visiting tourists. Old men sat under the banyan trees to chat while children and dogs ran along the riverbank. But now, there was only a silence, a blanket of ominous silence. There was no trace of any villagers around, not even any cats or dogs. Even the rats that normally trekked their path across the small alleys had disappeared without a trace.
In their place was the patrol from Phecda’s Action Department and newly built guard towers, with guards taking their post there. The dark sky appeared to be cultivating a thunderstorm, and the mountain breeze caressed the electric poles by the roadside that swayed dangerously. Gu Jun looked out the car window. The cavalcade passed through an imposing looking government building. It, too, had fallen to dilapidation. That was the address for Gu Rong Village’s cultural and tourism management committee. He had once made a phone call to this place.
“This Gu Rong Village is the place where the first case of Malformed Banyan Disease was recorded,” Uncle Dan told him. “It is unclear whether this place is the source or not, but the earliest record of the outbreak traces back to here.”
“Hmm…” Gu Jun nodded silently. If they had come sooner, the villagers could probably have been saved by the Medical Department. They were still quite a distance away from the Banyan Tree when the cars stopped at a clear area by the river. Some standardized barracks had been built there. They were adjacent to several civilian houses, forming a temporary command center. Several Phecda officials were bustling inside it. After the Demon Hunters and Gu Jun got out of the cars, they met up with the members of the Abnormal Energy Investigation Group who were stationed there. Gu Jun stood to the side and observed. The big banyan tree before them was different from the one in the travel guide. It had lost its luscious verdancy. The twisted branches and dead leaves were all a wilted grayish-black color. It looked like it had been dead for quite some time. He noticed that there was a large tree hole that had formed from decay at the bottom of the main trunk. It was very dark inside, but Gu Jun swore that he caught glimpse of some lights.
“Uncle Dan, is that tree still infectious?” Gu Jun looked at the banyan tree, and his bones tingled with chills. One of the methods of spreading for Malformed Banyan Disease was through direct contact with the infected tree, but it remained a mystery how the whole village had gotten infected.
“Yes, but for now, we still cannot burn the whole thing down. Later, Captain Xue will explain more to you.”
Gu Jun could not say that he appreciated Uncle Dan’s penchant for speaking in riddles.
After a while, Xue Ba, who had finished his conversation with the member of the Abnormal Energy Investigation Group, came over. “Ah Jun, have you heard of Cueva de las Manos?”
Gu Jun had heard of it, but he could not say that he was familiar with the landmark. “Not really…”
“To put it simply, it is a cave drawing inside a valley in Argentina. It’s suspected to be the work of prehistoric humans, and the most famous of the drawings are the drawings of hands.” Xue Ba spoke like a teacher giving class. However, his image really did not match that of a teacher. Seeing Gu Jun frown slightly, Xue Ba added with some urgency, “It’s real. I’m telling you the truth! Go online and check if you don’t believe me.”
Uncle Dan winked and made faces at Gu Jun behind Captain Xue. ‘Do not play this game with Captain Xue. He is strangely concerned about other people not taking him seriously as a scholar.’
“Of course I believe you. I think I’ve heard of that before.” Gu Jun nodded. “But how is that related to this?”
“Look at that banyan tree.” Xue Ba handed Gu Jun a pair of military-grade binoculars. “Right inside that decayed tree hole.”
Gu Jun accepted the binoculars and looked into the distance. Now he had a clearer look. Right around the tree hole, there were some imprints of hasty handprints around the decayed bark. They looked like patterns formed by the bark but also like signs left behind by struggling hands.
This discovery unsettled Gu Jun. “Are those the handprints of the villagers?”
“No, the Investigation Group has taken samples to make comparisons. There are sixteen handprints in total, and there are no matches with the locals.” Xue Ba paused, his manly face shrouded in confusion. “Sixteen different handprints, sixteen people. That appears to be the maximum capacity inside that tree hole.”
“Maximum capacity inside the tree hole?” Gu Jun was startled. ‘We are not talking about the same tree hole, are we? That place does not seem big enough to even fit one person.’
“There is an abnormal space inside the tree hole,” Xue Ba said directly. Then he turned to look for someone. “This is driving the people from Scientific Research Department nuts. Lin Mo, come over here and explain it!”
Lin Mo was the Demon Hunters’ member from the Scientific Research Department. He was around thirty and had his hair parted down the middle. He looked polite and talked softly; he appeared to be the quintessential bookworm. But when he was summoned by his leader, he did not oblige but raised a middle finger to Xue Ba without hesitation.
“Hahaha.” Xue Ba was not offended. He then turned to explain it to Gu Jun. “Even Einstein probably could not explain what is happening here. In any case, you know about wormholes, right? Wormholes can twist space and time. There is a theory that one can travel through a wormhole to reach another place. The banyan tree hole is like a wormhole. There is another space inside it.”
Xue Ba said all that with a light tone like he was describing a new plant that he had grown in his backyard. It was as if he had no idea the impact his words and this incident would have on the understanding of the human world. It would make countless scientists go insane with joy, and it would also make countless scientists collapse with confusion.
‘Wormhole?’ Gu Jun looked at the tree hole that suddenly appeared to reach deeper, and his heart started to race.
“See, didn’t I tell you?” Uncle Dan guffawed.
This was not something knowable by a G Grade Member, and that was why Gu Jun was so unique. Gu Jun listened to the rest as they brought him up to speed. After the epidemic at Gu Rong Village was discovered and brought under control, the Investigation Department immediately noted this startling discovery. The area of three meters around the big banyan tree had become a strange space. The magnetic and gravity field had all gone out of control.
Therefore, the Investigation Department, Scientific Research Department, and Action Department had collaborated to form a ‘Gu Rong Village Emergency Group’ and summoned the Demon Hunters for help. Xue Ba used his phone to play some videos for Gu Jun. Initially, the emergency group used machines like robots and drones to explore the tree hole, but once they entered the tree hole, the signal would be lost. Then they came to understand why; signals from outside could not enter the abnormal space, but the machines inside could transfer radio ground waves out. However, the ground waves were so weakened through the barrier that they could only be picked up by the command center that was close by. Then, they sent in animals to experiment, but they lost control of them after the animals entered the tree holes. They would all die from hunger in a few days. The heat sensor and the members who later entered the tree hole had verified this.
“The animals had audio and visual recording equipment attached, but the image and videos taken inside are all like this…” Xue Ba showed Gu Jun some images and videos. They were all so distorted that no sense could be made of them. “The people from Scientific Research Department have tried their best to restore them, but it was to no avail.”
One week earlier, the emergency group had decided to send in actual humans for the first time. It was the Demon Hunters who had taken the risk. There were supposed to be some members from Action Department tagging along, but only one extra person could enter, and it was then that the ‘maximum capacity’ of the tree hole was discovered.
“After we got inside, we saw…” Xue Ba thought back to the strange scenery.