425 Locust Illness

    Dark shadows pressed down on the sky, but they were far from innocent black clouds. A fleet of drones flew past the border line and dropped incendiary bombs on the ground but before the wiggling ground could burn in a sea of fire, the locust swarms engulfed the fleet. The drones exploded in the air. Before their parts could careen to the ground, there was already nothing left of them. Drones, helicopters, tactical planes, no matter their speed or function, they went through the same fate.

    During these trials, the pilots managed to escape through an airdrop before the planes entered the mutated area. That was how Phecda kept an impressive zero injury. The mutated area was completely stuffed with locusts. They covered up to 20000 metres into the air. That was already in the troposphere and stratosphere. Insect should not have survived at such heights, but there they were. To have to completely fill up a space that is 70 cubic km wide and 20000 metres tall, the number of this locust must have reached an astronomical level.

    When a drone was sent higher than 2000 metres, the signal was instantly lost and no one saw the drone again. They probably were brought down by a spatial distortion; if they went higher into space, the satellite imaging could only capture a blob of black blurriness. Earth revolves on its own axis, so the 'space' above the mutated area would be constantly moving. That made tracking the locusts much more difficult.

    Other than going high, Phecda tried going low. They used an excavator to dig to 1500 meters underground. Again, the border came in useful. The soil on either side was completely different. Once one crossed the line, there would be intense radiation in the ground. To add to their worry, the radar picked up signs of life squirming underground. Was the swarm of locusts also crawling underground? But shouldn't they have burst through the earth already? Or could these wiggling things be young locusts? Or something else completely?

    After these trials, the command central decided to launch a low altitude missile bombardment but it was to no avail. Even after they were burned into crisp or vaporized, the number of locusts did not seem to decrease. Their buzzing wings echoed through the skies. It sounded like a fatal summon as more insects and birds from beyond Mo Bei flew themselves into the swarm. Before the gigantic swarm, the human strength appeared so miniscule. Everyone knew this had to be stopped, they mustn't let this mutated area continue to grow...

    However, what were the plausible solutions to this problem? Someone suggested a wall to zone in the mutated area and cover it up with a dome. But with the fifth explosion, the wall would become part of the mutated area and nothing would remain of them once the swarm got to them. Furthermore, a construction of such a wall required more than several years.

    In comparison, it had only been 4 days since the start of this incident. On the morning of 14th March, Tian Fuhou called the police, and today it was only 17th March. If they could not discern the source behind the sudden appearance of this mutated area, the Locust Illness and the swarm, none of these solutions was going to be useful. However, how was Phecda supposed to do that?

    The multi-colored cat had disappeared; Wu Siyu was still a walking automaton; Gu Jun had disappeared; their only opening was to find people like Lee Yuhan and Wang Jia Er. That was what The One had been doing. On the other hand, the evacuation of the entire Mo Bei City was underway. Early this morning, the citizens of Mo Bei city woke up to a horrifying sight of insects and birds flying towards the north. Their numbers had not ceased.

    Soon the citizens received the news. The speakers and sirens rang around the city. 'An extra large sandstorm' might sweep the entire city so they needed to evacuate immediately. The citizens were advised to not panic and follow the agents who would lead them to a safer location. The announcement tried to minimize the impact but not many believed it. They just wanted to leave this place as soon as possible!

    The panicked yelling of adults and crying of children could be heard everywhere. Throngs of people waded through the city streets to look for the exit. The internet was a mess. Amidst this chaos, the doctors continued their work. Since yesterday, Wang Ruoxiang had participated in 3 autopsies on Headmaster Chui. She had accumulated less than 3 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours. The sleep that she got was barely enough. She was incredibly tired but she tried to focus as she sat in this diagnosis meeting. The epidemic of Locust Sickness... finally arrived.

    "Ah... I need to eat soil. Doctor, please give me some..." "Doctor, I can't do this anymore. I need it. I need it..." Two rows of doctors lined down the table. They watched silently the videos that were taken from inside the sickrooms.

    "Headmaster Chui self-imploded at 12:13 on the 16th, which was yesterday." Si Kouxian, the neurosurgical expert from the Spell Department explained, "The other students and teachers present during the man's explosion appear to have been infected. They showcase symptoms of allotriophagy, specifically the desire to consume soil. It took 9 to 10 hours for this allotriophagy to form. After 22 to 24 hours, the desire became uncontrollable. The patients display deep agitation, desperation, listlessness and verbal pleading for soil. This is very similar to drug addiction."

    Wang Ruoxiang saw a female student try to bang her head against the sickroom wall. She was held back by the nurses. There was a video of the discipline teacher, Wang Jinbo fidgeting on the bed or pacing around the room. He kept mumbling something. The audio was amplified and they could hear the man grumbling, "What is happening to me? Why the sudden wish to eat soil..."

    The base had 1006 such patients in quarantine, they were all students and staff from Mo Bei Gao Ji High School. Basically, everyone who was present during Headmaster Chui's demise was infected. From then until now, within these 30 hours, the patients could still drink normally but their appetite drastically decreased. Initially they'd eat some with coaxing but after around the 20th hour mark, they refused to consume anything but soil.

    The doctors looked severe. This Locust Sickness was now confirmed to be contagious but they still had no idea what was its method of transmission. In fact, they could wake up the next morning and found themselves inside the quarantine sickroom, pleading for soil.

    If witnessing a patient or the parasite would cause infection, then a large number of Phecda members and medical workers fitted that bill but thankfully so far none of them had shown any symptoms of Locust Sickness. If the transmission required one to inhale the parasite for infection, then Headmaster Chui's explosion was not strong enough to cover the entire field. Furthermore, the doctors found no anomaly in the patient's physical and they could not detect any pathogen.

    The patients temporarily only suffered from mental problems, which was allotriophagy. Perhaps after ingesting the soil, their sickness would progress to the next stage. But how did they get infected? Was it because they bore witness to Headmaster Chui's explosion? Or Headmaster Chui's last speech possessed some kind of curse-like effect?

    Was every patient contagious or the ability to spread the epidemic was unique to selected patients? Wang Ruoxiang pondered and something came to her...
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