390 Thing in the Soil

    December 3rd was the annual Arbor Day. The students at Mo Bei City's Gao Ji High School had activities to celebrate it. Early that morning, the teachers and students who participated in the event departed with joy and excitement. Mo Bei had plenty of sandy plains so vegetation and habitat-preservation was incredibly important. The city valued international events like Arbor day greatly. The city wanted to instil earth-loving habits in children since they were young so the annual activity included high school students from all over the districts. There were around 300 plus people in attendance.

    "Dear students, afforestation is important for our future. Plant a tree when you're free. One tree can save numerous lives. We need to try our best to save our hometown, to turn our streams clearer, our forest greener." The students stood at a wasteland away from the city and listened to Headmaster Chui's speech obediently. One of them was Lee Yuhan. He was in second year high school. This was his second year attending the Arbor Day activity. He still remembered the terror from last year. The horror mainly came from Headmaster Chui. It was not that Headmaster Chui was a stern educator, in fact he was quite popular among the students for his friendliness but his one downfall was his penchant for giving long and drawn out speeches.

    After a long time, just as people were falling asleep, Headmaster Chui finally finished his speech. He ordered the people to start moving. The wasteland was not technically a desert, there were still some sparse patches of grass but they were dying out. The location to plant the tree had been marked out by people from the Forestry Department and the tree seedlings were provided as well. The students only needed to dig out the hole and plant the seedlings.

    "Students, planting a tree is planting a hope, planting a tree is planting your bliss." Headmaster Chui said seriously. He continued with his speech as he moved through the crowd. "Planting a tree is planting your future! Hey, those over there, why are you standing there for? Get moving!" The people around him giggled. The group pointed out by the headmaster was Lee Yuhan and his friends. They were not being lazy, they just had not started yet.

    "Headmaster Chui, it's because we thought we're not done with your speech yet. We respect you so we haven't moved." Lee Yuhan sighed loudly and that earned a greater bout of laughter. Headmaster Chui did not mind this kind of jab but he did grab a shovel and push it to the kid, "I'm done now! So get digging!"

    Under the smiling scrutiny of his friends, Lee Yuhan accepted the shovel. As the future of the country, he was already 1.8 metres tall even though he was only in his second year at high school. He was a basketball player so he was muscularly built as well. He plunged the shovel into the ground and nudged the shovel around to loosen the dirt. Then he shovelled up a big mound of dirt. It was quite taxing but not that difficult!

    "Very good, keep digging." Headmaster Chui nodded with satisfaction and wandered off to monitor other students.

    When Lee Yuhan pushed in the shovel for the second time, he felt something wrong... Something made him feel uneasy. There appeared to be something hidden in the ground... With the third shovel, he saw something peeking through the hole. "What... what kind of bug is that?"

    His friend, Wang Jia Er saw it as well. His eyes widened. The girl, He Xingyi screamed in shock. They saw among the loosened dirt a cluster of stuff that looked like small cocoons. There were many small yellow stripes on them. They were all immobile.

    "What's wrong?" Their teacher, Teacher Liang as well as Headmaster Chui walked over. Seeing this, the two adults frowned. Something appeared to be wrong with this piece of land. Headmaster Chui said, "That appears to be locust eggs... Teacher Liang, go and get Captain Luo and his team." Headmaster Chui was a native Mo Bei City citizen. He was used to farming but Captain Luo was a representative from the Forestry Department so he should know more.

    "There are so many of them." Headmaster Chui shovelled out another block of dirt. It was filled with eggs.

    Lee Yuhan and the other students looked at each other. More were crowding over. Should they call Phecda? Due to advancement in science, locust plague was mostly a thing of the past. However due to the arid geography of Mo Bei, there would be small locust infestations every year. Thanks to the cooperation from many departments, it never became a big issue. Most of the students had not been in a farm before so they had never gained contact with any locust much less their eggs.

    "Jesus, this is not good for my trypophobia..." One of the girls groaned in disgust but she could not pull her eyes away.

    "You newer generation do not know how to appreciate the good stuff." Headmaster Chui huffed. "When I was your age, we used to dig out these things and then roast them. They're such delicacies..."

    The students moaned in horror but Lee Yuhan felt a strange sensation overcame him. 'These are food?' His Adam's Apple wiggled...

    By then, Teacher Liang hurried over with Captain Luo and his team. Headmaster Chui cleared away the students.

    "Headmaster Chui, you're right. These are locust eggs." Captain Luo recognized them with one glance. "These should be Dasyhippus barbipes."

    "Indeed." Headmaster Chui took out his phone to check for more information. This was a perfect time for outdoor education. "Students, a female locust's ovipositor can extend twice its body size once it's punctured into the ground. She can produce 100 eggs in one instance. During a locust plague, there could be several thousand egg clusters within each cubic metre and each cluster contains about 50 eggs. This means that each cubic metre can have more than several ten thousand locust eggs! If they successfully survive the winter and break out from their cocoon in the summer, it'll be a real tragedy."

    A cubic metre can foster several ten thousand locusts? That was unbelievable.

    "Of course, things are not always that serious." Captain Luo's honest face smiled. "Not every egg will successfully hatch and normally there won't be that many eggs laid. For this kind of dasyphippus barbipes, according to the Forestry Department's recent record, we normally have around 30 locusts within each cubic metre. It's considered abnormal if we have more than 100 of them within one cubic metre."

    "Yes, yes." Headmaster Chui nodded. "Students, you hear that? Presence of locust and locust plague are not equivalent to each other."

    "However, if the locust eggs are widespread and there is a lack of prevention taken, then even a small density locust swarm can cause a plague." Captain Luo added. It was like he was the sounding board to Headmaster Chui in a comedy duo. That earned a laugh from the students. "Our Mo Bei City is about several ten thousand mu if you include the surrounding farms and fields."

    However, they had not encountered any locust problem in the recent years. Captain Luo shovelled around the area where the locust eggs were found and thankfully they found no other egg clusters. Lee Yuhan was probably just lucky. The eggs were gathered around that small hollow. But this discovery did mean that the Arbor Day Activity had to be called to a halt. Captain Luo needed to call people over from the Forestry Department to check the ground, apply pesticide and so on.

    "Captain Luo!" Lee Yuhan chased after the captain and posed a question, "How deep can these eggs normally bury themselves?"

    "Not very deep, they're normally found less than a few metres underground." Captain Luo answered. He was grateful that young people were that interested in things like this.

    "Okay..." After he got the answer, the strange sensation within Lee Yuhan intensified. The more he stared at the exposed egg cluster, the stronger the sensation. He looked around at the barren land... Could there be more of these eggs buried deeper underground?

    The hunger awakened within him. It caused Lee Yuhan to swallow once more.
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