April, Tianzhu Mountain.
Located in the south-central part of the country, Qian Zhou was part of the southern region where the weather was getting warmer already. The rolling mountains were long rid of their gloomy and bleak appearance and were instead coated in green by a wild profusion of vegetation.
It was the time of the year when hikers' hearts started to palpitate and get restless at the temptation. Being one of the most popular hiking destinations, Tianzhu Mountain was unavoidably well trodden over the years.
However, long before the Spring Festival this year, the local government made an announcement: the state was going to construct a new nature reserve and ecological research base and the mountain was closed for an indefinite duration; all tourists would be denied access.
Such move doubtlessly caused an uproar from the hiker community, which was a reaction the authorities well prepared for. With a massive campaign of guiding public opinion, the tumult had soon blown over. After all, the country was more than abundant with tourist resources and the hikers could easily pick another destination.
"Captain speaking! Captain speaking! We are three km from the destination and we have detected no abnormality so far."
"Keep your vigilance!"
The Captain put down his walkie-talkie and looked back over his shoulder. The relatively closely packed team was marching in a single file, proceeding slowly forward. Quite a few vehicles loaded with heavy equipment and daily necessities were crawling in the rear.
They were in the heart of the mountains, where not a single road had been built before. After the government's decision to have the area developed, they made adequate preparations in advance and the most important one was to build a makeshift road, which at least would allow vehicles to drive in.
Of the hundred or so members of the team, sixty to seventy were researchers and the rest were guards and support crew. Their destination was none other than the node in Tianzhu Mountain—that strange cave.
Somewhere in the middle of the procession, Gu Yu was walking side by side with an old man. The latter was called Qiu Guan, an academic big shot and the chief consultant of the development project.
Qiu was a genuine scientist through and through, one who would not get involved in the politics or any other trifles. He was only excited over the discovery of the spiritual essence and held no particular reverence towards Gu Yu.
"Well, Xiao Gu, I still don't understand what exactly is this spiritual essence?"
The old man was hale and hearty—no walking stick was necessary for him. He went on, "Is it a form of energy? How is it created? What's its internal structure and what carriers does it act on?"
Gu Yu almost broken into sweat. He was never good at science and had to try his best to describe it. "I don't think it's a form of energy, nor is it a physical substance. It's more like, like something to do with the consciousness."
"The consciousness? You mean the mentality?" The old man wondered.
"No, no, the spiritual essence is the essence of nature and a product of Yin and Yang. In order to understand it, you have to jump out of the science box. It's like the concept of meridians in our traditional medicine, which are the channels for the vital essence to circulate in, but both of which are things no method in modern medicine could detect. Can you deny their existence because of that? We're leaving the world of science and stepping into the metaphysics."
"I see. Taoism brought up the idea of Yin and Yang, which in turn gave birth to the idea of spiritual essence. No instrument could detect it, because they do not belong to the same system to begin with."
Following Gu Yu's reasoning, Qiu Guan immediately understood. He then asked, "In that case, what change will this essence bring when introduced into a human body?"
"Well, it's harmless with a small amount and a controlled method, which would actually enhance one's health. It's the the chaotic and uncontrolled one that would cause harm." Gu Yu picked his words carefully.
"I believe you're able to control it, right? Here, try it on me…"
With new things at hand, Qiu Guan was acting like a child, abandoning all reserve and pestering Gu Yu with pleadings.
As much as Gu Yu liked the old man, there was no way he would fulfil just any random request like that. You would never ask a swordsman to demonstrate his skill by cutting open a watermelon. That's not making a joke; that's asking for trouble.
He simply stopped talking. Qiu Guan was a smart man. Realizing that he had offended Gu Yu, he let go of the subject in embarrassment.
The team walked on. They reached the node around noontime.
The team members scurried to and fro, unloading the equipment. The plan was to set camp by the river. They were only the vanguard—a whole lot more staff were waiting in the town of Tianmen, ready to move in at any moment.
Gu Yu checked the surroundings, which stayed pretty much the same as the last time he was here—only that the spiritual essence was denser now. The plants in the surrounding area were also growing at a frantic speed; they were thick, luxuriant, and completely against the law of nature.
The members had circled out a large piece of land and were building houses on both banks of the river, which was a fail-proof task. The makeshift houses were easily built by joining light-steel-framed boards and adding a roof over the top. They followed the standard of building barracks, where the guards were arranged on the periphery and the researchers and equipments in the inner section. There were also separate kitchens, canteens, and toilets.
All sorts of materials flowed in incessantly. In the middle of the area, on the south bank, a giant house was built. It was the most important laboratory. Almost instantly, a construction site was set up outside the cave, where a hundred or so people carried out their assigned tasks methodically. The operation was in full swing.
Without him realizing it, such a scene also excited Gu Yu.
He was still unclear on how the government was going to develop the node. However, he was sure of one thing—this task could only be carried out with the power of the authorities behind it. He was also looking forward to seeing the change it would bring about.
At that moment, a member of the BIMAUP came up to him and pointed at a direction. "Your lodging is ready. Please let me know if you need anything else."
"Ok, thank you very much."
Gu Yu waved at the man and walked into his house. It was about a dozen square meters in size and consisted of an inner and an outer room each. Inside were a bed, a table, chairs, and daily supplies. It felt almost luxurious for a place out here in the field.
While he was still looking around, a scream came from outside and he hurried out. It was from one of the guys in charge of cooking. He saw fish in the river and, elated, tried to scoop one out.
The fish was a mutated snakehead with a head twice its original size and sharp, protruding teeth. Its face was a living demonstration of wickedness. The fish gripped the unlucky cook's right hand between its teeth and the man almost passed out from the pain.
Fortunately, other men were around. They grabbed a dagger and cleft the fish in half before forcing apart its teeth bit by bit. The strange fish simply refused to die. With its body severed into two twitching parts on the ground, its mouth was still opening and closing.
The man's right hand was badly mutilated, the wound so deep that his bones were visible. The medics disinfected and bound up the hand.
"Quickly, send it to the lab while it's still alive!"
While the rest of the crowd was terrified by the incident, Qiu Guan's eyes were shining with anticipation. He instructed his assistant to gather the fish for further study.
Gu Yu was also speechless. He had handed over the map a long time ago and there were elaborate notes on it, including all sorts of potential threats. People of the government were not idiots, they must have done some preparation in advance.
That was why he did not act like a know-it-all, pointing here and there like a backseat driver. But as it turned out, accidents still happened.
"Weren't you told there were strange fish in the river?" he asked in a surprised tone.
"Um, we've taken classes. That was probably an individual case. The guy was careless for a moment back there."
The Captain was greatly embarrassed, but could say nothing other than the ambiguous comment. In his head, he was cursing the wounded guy.
Apart from the minor accident, everything else went smoothly.
These specialist were scientific nuts. The camp had barely taken shape and they already could not wait to start collecting samples. Knowing the area well, the authorities had designed a small boat specifically for this terrain—it was of the ideal size to sail in the river.
The boat had a narrow body, tilted up on both ends. The bow was covered by hard metal plate as an anti-collision device. The bottom and the hull of the boat were also enhanced with a special material. The sides were higher than usual to prevent the strange fish from jumping on board.
As soon as the boat was in the water, ceaseless knocking sounds went off like a solo drumming. The strange fish dashed and jostled in the water; some even leapt out of the surface.
"Zap! Zap! Zap!"
"Thud! Thud! Thud!"
Soldiers keeping guard on shore responded with a barrage of bullets. Sprays of spurting blood immediately colored the water red.
The resistance of water was much higher than that of air. Ordinary bullets lost their momentum at a remarkably high rate in the water and regained little destructive ability after about one meter in. The soldiers were using conical bullets instead, which had a long nose, center of gravity in their front, and were specifically made for underwater shooting.
The strange fish did not even flinch at the assault, but were getting more ferocious at the sight of the blood. Countless fish gathered around them, knocking frantically onto the small boat.
The soldiers dumped in another volley of bullets and the fish kept jumping up. The boat was on the verge of tipping over.
That was a bit of a headache. They could not throw a bomb there, could they? The Captain frowned at it and turned around. "Mr. Gu, we need your help in this."
"Sure. Please take your men aboard first," nodded Gu Yu.
The superiors had instructed him to not question Gu Yu and just carry out whatever arrangement he gave out. The Captain gave his order without hesitation.
"Board the ship!"
These were excellent soldiers. Despite the flapping and splashing of the strange fish, they followed the order without any question and strode onto the footboard. As the first soldier walked along the board and halfway through it, a strange fish swished out of the water with an open mouth, ready to bite.
Before it could reach his leg, however, its body—big-headed and short-tailed—let out a "pop" and exploded into a bloody mist.
The crowd jolted, now eyeing Gu Yu with reverence. Even those with the sharpest eyes could only get a glimpse of a green flash, which was barely discernible. It had disappeared before they could make out anything else.
The soldier jumped on board, still baffled. 'What the hell just happened?'
"Keep moving! Quickly!" The Captain secretly let out a sigh of relief and called out.
Within no time, four soldiers and two specialists were all safely aboard. Even if some fish tried to sneak upon them, they were immediately turned into popping bloody mist. Gu Yu boarded the last, making them seven passengers in total.
The front engine started and the boat flitted across the water, sailing towards the cave at an unhurried speed. The rest of the team followed it with their eyes. They were staying close by the river to keep an eye on the surroundings.
The scientists prepared a few detectors, which were round and the size of a washbasin; the detectors were dropped into the water. Once at the bottom, three metal legs stuck out automatically, which supported the detectors steadily as they collected the data.
Before long, they reached the cave. The small boat drifted in, as silent as a ghost. The lights were switched on. Dozens of meters into the cave, their field of vision widened abruptly as a pool of water as still as a mirror jumped into their sight. It was none other than the small lake in the cave.
For some unknown reason, their entrance into the lake seemed to have irritated the strange fish, for they were becoming all the more violent. Fish of all sizes were attacking the bottom and sides of the hull like there was no tomorrow.
Even with the weight of seven men, the boat was rocking left and right, threatening to topple over at any moment.
Guns at hand, the soldiers dared not shoot, fearing that they might cause other unnecessary trouble. They could only turn to certain fellow for help.
"Don't worry, just keep at whatever you were doing."
Gu Yu lifted his eyes and an invisible fluctuation instantly extended out from where he stood. The school of fish froze in unison, but their eyes immediately glinted maliciously. They then started tearing at one another.
Blood spread out under the boat; the red liquid felt thick and sticky, as if a small red mark had been miraculously embedded in the lake. A few fish that managed to escape the slaughter of their own kin were taken out by the green jade needle.
"This, this stone wall is spectacular! I can't believe my eyes!"
Being the ones more prone to look past these things, the scientists soon shifted their focus. One of them was amazed by the stone wall under his palm and the other opened his eyes widely. "I've never seen minerals like this before. How can the surface be this smooth…"
"Gentlemen, you'd better hurry up. We can't hold on for much longer!" One of the soldiers found their excitement irritating and urged impatiently.
"Oh! Sure! We're taking samples right away!"
The two scientists took out a cylinder-shaped tool and switched it on. A semi-flame, semi-laser substance struck out. They then swiped it hard across the wall. Like a blade cutting into a piece of tofu, a neat chunk was carved out.