Luo Yuan was awakened by the horn of an advertising car. It was early morning and the sun hadn’t even risen in the horizon yet.
"My dearest citizens! There will be a specific quantity of food and water available to you for purchase in order to maintain harmony and suppress the price of goods. The city council committee has set up a few supply counters in a mega wet market, and all citizens are welcome to make purchases by showing their identity card. I repeat, It is only a limited supply."
“My dearest citizens! My dearest citizens!” The loudspeakers kept playing the same thing over and over until his sleepiness had all but disappeared. He got up, put on his clothes and opened the door.
“What’s happening outside?” Zhao Yali asked with a yawn as she walked out of her bedroom in her pajamas.
“The government has taken some action. We can get a specific quantity of food and water,” Luo Yuan replied happily. Although he had stored some dry food, he could not find any fresh vegetables or meat. They were always out of stock. Besides, sooner or later that food would run out too. However, they didn’t need to be worried anymore. That was definitely good news. After all, nobody liked turmoil except for careerists and madmen.
"Let me check it out and see whether we can get some," Luo Yuan said.
"Let’s go together. Maybe we could get double the amount?" Zhao Yali suggested.
"Sounds like a good idea! You go and change, we should go as soon as possible. I think you don’t need to brush your teeth first," Luo Yuan reminded her.
"Oh no!" Only then did Zhao realize that she was still wearing her pajamas. Her face turned red. She quickly closed the door and went to change. It was 10 minutes later that she came out of her room again. She seemed to have put on some light makeup. Luo Yuan felt uneasy while they left the house together. He was shocked to see what was happening outside.
The district was extremely crowded. He had never realized there were so many residents in the area. All those people seemed to be attracted by something and the human queues they formed had eventually caused traffic. Those who owned a private car wouldn’t stop honking as they got stuck in the human traffic. Some of them got out of their cars because they had not been moving at all. People had brought their shopping and laundry baskets along, some had even brought their luggage bags. However, most of them had gone with bare hands, just like Luo Yuan had. When they reached the main street, they realized that what they had seen earlier was nothing compared to the crowd in front of them. The streets were full of people and the traffic had gotten worse. Both of them squeezed through the crowd, not really having to make any effort as people kept pushing them forward. This was something beyond Luo Yuan’s imagination. He usually only saw such phenomena on TV.
“Wow! This is really happening, huh?” Zhao Yali looked excited to see all that crowd. She said, “I used to think that people in this city were cold to each other, and that made people feel lonely. I can’t believe this is happening. It’s like what my mother used to tell me.”
Luo Yuan shook his head, not really understanding her. "We shall see,” he replied, “I wouldn’t have come here if I knew there’d be this many people. I have no idea how long we are going to have to wait in line." He was already regretting it.
"Perhaps it is because I’m leaving soon. I always thought that I would spend the rest of my life in this city, that I would get married and have kids. And yet I’m leaving." She looked depressed and she had tears in her eyes.
"Hey, you have to leave those sad things behind. Actually, the villages are not safe to stay in anymore. Why don’t you convince your parents to move to the city? There are many mutated animals there. They would be safer if they moved here,” Luo Yuan suggested, trying to comfort her.
“Okay. Anyway, I really want to thank you. I wouldn’t have been able to go on with my life without your support,” Zhao Yali told him sincerely.
“I didn’t do anything. You’re being too kind. Are you forgetting that we have been housemates for a long time?” Luo Yuan said.
“Anyway, please keep in touch,” Zhao Yali said seriously.
“Oh, It’s not the end of the world. I’ll be accompanying you tomorrow. You can thank me when you get home,” Luo Yuan interrupted her. Finally, they arrived at the nearest mega wet market for food supplies.
There were two lines of fully-armed policemen standing there holding automatic rifles. Their job was to control the situation and maintain the order. Their deterrence caused some minor uproar among the crowd, but the situation was eventually stabilized. Luo Yuan and Zhao Yali run into the wet market, following the flow of the crowd. Many facilities had been removed from the market and replaced by huge bulks of food supplies. There was a yellow string set up around the guarded zone, and policemen were standing at a one-meter radius from the trading counters. Although there were approximately 400 to 500 counters, the queues still moved very slowly. It was hot and the humidity was high. Both of them were sweating in 10 minutes. Luo Yuan felt fine as he had been physically strong and fit ever since he had gotten the superpower, and he recovered from illness and injuries faster than the average person. Zhao Yali was weaker, though, and she would probably suffer a heat stroke before they could even reach the counter.
“How about we go up front and try to squeeze in?” Luo Yuan suggested.
“I don’t think that will work,” Zhao Yali said while she fanned herself with her hands.
“Let’s try. Just hold my hand,” Luo Yuan said.
Luo Yuan did not wait for her to respond. He just grabbed her hand and squeezed through the crowd. He was very strong, his strength being 1.5 times greater than a normal person’s. They both moved between the gaps of the crowd, hearing some complaints around them. However, they were not only people to do that. It was something very common for Chinese people. In fact, most working adults did that every day when they took the train or bus to work. After a while, they reached counter 1.
"Why do I only get this much? It’s much less than what the others are getting!" an old lady was saying.
"Because you’re not from the area. Please check the notice on the board outside," the young woman at the counter replied impatiently. "Please make way for the next person. Next!"
The old lady was pushed away by the crowd.
"I want everything. Give me the biggest portion," a bald guy with a big golden necklace said, shaking a stack of cash.
“Each person can only purchase supplies for three days using their identity card. You can only come back again after three days.”
“Can’t you make a special arrangement? I have more than enough money,” the bald guy asked in a disrespectful way.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do that. That’s the policy. Total CNY 200, please!” the employee said after explaining.
“Looks like I can only buy food from the black market then,” the bald guy murmured to himself while he paid and took his groceries.
Finally, Luo Yuan came up to the cashier. He passed her his identity card along with CNY 200.
The cashier asked him, "Three days right?" Then she went on to record all the particulars on her computer while another staff member handed Luo Yuan the groceries. They purchased them and quickly got out away the crowd.
"Gosh, how hot it was in there!" Zhao Yali said while she let go of Luo Yuan’s arm and looked back at the crowd. “Let’s see what’s inside the bag.”
“A 2.5 kg bag of white rice, 500 grams of meat, 1 kg of vegetables, three apples, and 2.5 litres of drinking water. Oh, plus three pieces of chocolate and a small packet of milk and sugar,” Luo Yuan said after checking.
Zhao Yali seemed shocked. "That was way too much money that we paid for these little things. They used to cost just CNY 50. The value of money is depreciating!"
"This is considered cheap these days. What did you expect? At any rate, it’s a lot cheaper than the black market," Luo Yuan told her.
He knew that dry food in the black market cost about CNY 25 per 500 grams, and meat was sold for CNY 100 per 500 grams. Therefore, CNY 200 for those things they had just bought from the counter was cheap in comparison.
“Those are supplied by the government, though. How can they still be so expensive? Are they crazy? Ugh, thank God I’m leaving soon, otherwise I don’t think I would be able to survive in this city,” she said angrily. She used to work in a foreign investment company and her salary had been below CNY 3000. She wouldn’t have been able to survive even if her company had not shut down.
“It’s true!” Luo Yuan said with a smile.
Actually, the villages did not seem to be better off than the city. Captain Chen from the police station in Gaotang had given Luo Yuan a call a few days ago to remind him to store some food for emergency. He had not said much, but Luo Yuan could sense how critical the situation was, and he had decided to go check on it. When he had arrived in Gaotang, everything had seemed fine and stable. The government had burned most of the farmland and removed lots of big trees. However, when he had come to a small junction, he’d realized that the new crops in the paddy field weren’t growing in this warm unusual December temperature. In fact, he saw weeds growing lusher and higher than those young paddies. Those weeds had occupied all the spaces between the paddy, preventing the paddy from absorbing sunlight for photosynthesis.
An old farmer told him that those weeds were hard to get rid of by using pesticides, and the only other way of removing them was by pulling them out. However, there were too many poisonous snakes in the paddy field now, and no one was brave enough to do it. Luo Yuan was shocked by the situation in the village. He could not even remember returning home. All he knew was that the world was about to change.
The next afternoon, Luo Yuan and Zhao Yali were ready to leave. Luo Yuan carried out two pieces of luggage and called a cab to drive them to the train station.
“Why are you carrying that wooden box?” Zhao Yali asked, looking at the box in his hands.
"Oh, it’s a piece of art," Luo Yuan replied with a smile.
"Actually, you don’t need to buy anything for my parents. They might get the wrong idea," she said helplessly. Apparently, she had misunderstood Luo Yuan. If he brought a gift along, she knew that her parents would not believe any explanation she gave them.
"You are the one who got the wrong idea. This is not a gift. I forgot to buy a gift. We can buy something from the train station!" he said with a smile.
"Please don’t. I’ll never hear the end of it," she rushed to stop him.
"Are you going home to see your parents? What about rice? I’m sure your future mother-in-law will like it," the cab driver joined in the conversation for fun.
Zhao Yali’s cheeks turned pink.
“Actually we’re just friends. That’s why she was concerned,” Luo Yuan explained when he saw the color on her cheeks.
“Oh, I see. My wife and I were like this as well, and we got married in the end. Anyway, where are you guys heading to? I mean, what’s your final destination?” the driver asked.
“Yushui City!” Luo Yuan said loudly. He was a bit mad.
“Is there a place there called Yushan?” the driver asked suddenly.
“Yes! Yushan is located in the northern region of Yushui City. It’s a famous tourist attraction. Have you been there?” Zhao Yali asked the driver. She seemed excited to be talking about her hometown.
"Hmmm, I haven’t actually, but I’ve heard from my friend that many people have died in the village recently. Even armored cars came and bombed the place for a day," the driver said seriously.
Zhao Yali looked frightened.
Luo Yuan tapped her shoulder to comfort her before he asked the driver, "Is it that serious? How reliable is your source?"
"I wouldn’t joke about something like this. I’d get nothing out of it anyway. My buddies are from Yushui City, but they work in Donghu City. They got their parents to move here because Donghu City seems to be safer. Everywhere else you go there’s mess and chaos,” the driver said.
“How long ago did you hear about this?” Luo Yuan went on to ask.
“About three days ago. It should be fine by now. Anyway, you can never be too careful," the driver explained.
"Thank you. It’s lucky that you told us. We really appreciate it," Luo Yuan quickly thanked the driver.
"Don’t mention it. Everyone is having a hard time. It feels like the end of the world is coming, and the government is still being strict with us. If you ask me, everyone should be given a gun for self-defense," the driver complained.
“Yuan, what should I do? I’m worried about my parents,” Zhao Yali said anxiously.
"I thought you just called them last night. Perhaps you could call them again?" Luo Yuan suggested.
"Yes, yes." She quickly took out her phone and dialed.
"Hi, mom! Are you and dad alright? Oh, nothing special, just checking. I’m taking the train at 1.30 p.m. I should be there by 4 p.m. I have a colleague coming along. It’s a guy, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Oh, mom, did something happen in Yushui City? A rodent attack? Alright then, I’m hanging up.” Zhao Yali hung up the phone, looking relieved. “They are both safe. Seems like there was a rodent attack. That’s nothing, right?” Zhao Yali asked.
“Just rodents?” Luo Yuan thought silently. He had a bad instinct. He knew an F+ Level Mission would not be that easy to handle.
The two of them arrived at the train station but the Zhanmadao was not allowed past the checkpoint. Luo Yuan needed to arrange for an express shipment and make sure that it arrived at the same time that they would. He was not confident that he could complete the mission without the knife. The train station was very crowded as Chinese New Year season was approaching. Everyone looked depressed and anxious about the future. Zhao Yali and Luo Yuan stood aside and waited because they could not find a seat. Luo Yuan realized that a lot of trains were delayed at the same time. The train going to Yushui City got delayed as well when it was around 1.30 p.m. It seemed like something had happened to the trains on the way to the station.
“Our train got delayed too. That’s not punctual at all,” Zhao Yali complained.
“It’s alright. What’s important is that we get to our destination,” Luo Yuan comforted her.
Fortunately, there had been no accident, and the train arrived after 30 minutes.
Luo Yuan validated his ticket and entered the platform. Everyone around him looked shocked. Some people were even shouting. The exterior of the train was covered in blood and there were also feathers in some places. Luo Yuan bent down and picked up a gray feather. He used his superpower to identify it.
"A feather from a sparrow."
"Weight: 10 grams."
"Comments: This is a feather from a mutated sparrow."
A mutated sparrow? Had the train been attacked by sparrows? Judging by the size of the feather, he assumed that the sparrows must have been about a foot tall. If birds had also mutated, that would be really bad news for air transportation. It might even have to shut down entirely. The worse thing about birds was that they could go much higher than other beasts, making any defense against them more difficult.
They were unable to prevent the arrival of mutated animals, even if the government chopped down the trees and burned the forests. Luo Yuan felt cold at the thought of thousands of big birds flying above the sky of the city. "I hope this won’t happen in my city," he tried to comfort himself. With the government burning forests on a big scale, those starved animals had to prey on humans to fill their empty stomachs.
"I have no idea how this happened," Zhao Yali said. She kept shaking while she held onto Luo Yuan’s arm.
Luo Yuan did not know how to comfort her, so he just said, “Let’s get on the train, otherwise we’re going to miss it.”