Bai Liu nodded. “I saw it. What’s wrong?”
“My colleague is dealing with this matter. He said that it doesn’t look like ordinary food poisoning. Many children are now in emergency care and it hasn’t been determined what happened.” Lu Yizhan frowned. “They were poisoned by mushrooms. You and I have lived in a welfare home and Mirror City isn’t a place where mushrooms are produced. The price of mushrooms is on the high side and the welfare homes here rarely buy mushrooms since they are expensive and easily cause accidents. This is also a private welfare home on the verge of bankruptcy….”
“in short, I think it isn’t right. However, the current solution is leaning toward preserving the welfare home. It is just that the safety of the children staying at the welfare home can’t be well guaranteed without an investigation…”
“It sounds complicated.” Bai Liu’s voice was calm. “Still, why does it matter to you? Lu Yizhan, you might be a police officer but this isn’t your case right?”
Lu Yizhan was silent for a moment. “I took the initiative to volunteer to participate in the investigation team.”
Bai Liu glanced at Lu Yizhan and said nothing.
“You know that I am getting married soon. Sister Dian (Lu Yizhan’s fiancée) isn’t in good health… the doctor said she likely won’t be able to get pregnant. We discussed whether we should adopt a child…” Lu Yizhan’s fingers gripped the cup tightly and he smiled bitterly. “Bai Liu, I know you must think I am too impulsive. My current financial situation isn’t good…”
Lu Yizhan sucked in a breath. “I discussed it with Sister Dian and we have decided to adopt a child from this welfare home. After all, it is good to have one less child in such an unstable situation. I am also from a welfare home so it can be regarded as giving back.”
“You know that I don’t agree with you so what is your purpose in telling me this?” Bai Liu wondered calmly. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Lu Yizhan lowered his head and fiddled with the cigarette without speaking. The waiter came and placed the spicy hotpot between the two silent people. Then Lu Yizhan muttered to himself, “Bai Liu, I actually don’t want to get you involved in this type of thing but your mind is really too good at it.”
“If a matter involves something criminal then you can almost immediately guess the other side’s next step. You are a genius in this area.”
Bai Liu took a sip of his tea without any expression. “I will take it as you praising me. This isn’t the first time you’ve been nosy and come to me. Just tell me if you have a problem.”
“Can you help me see what happened this time?” Lu Yizhan raised his head and stared at Bai Liu. “My colleague’s investigative thinking is stuck. Previously, I asked you about this type of thing and you gave me the right ideas. So…”
Lu Yizhan seemed to find it difficult to open his mouth. “I know I am being nosy but since I know about it, I can’t just watch. They are children…”
Bai Liu raised his hands and broke open a pair of disposable chopsticks. He interrupted Lu Yizhan before this person could finish his words. “I can help but it won’t be for nothing. It is according to the old rules—this meal is on you.”
Lu Yizhan was already familiar with Bai Liu’s request for compensation.
“In addition, I only have one day to help you be nosy,” Bai Liu told him. “I’m going on a business trip tomorrow and I won’t be back for two months.”
Lu Yizhan was startled. “Two months? So long? What exactly is your job? The type of performance work you mentioned last time wouldn’t take as long as two months, right?”
Bai Liu paused. Then he considered the shielding mechanism of the game and changed his words. “This time, I will bring a monkey and a young master to form a team. We will play games on the stage to show the audience and perform for two months.”
“……” Lu Yizhan’s expression was really complicated. “Is your job really legal?”
“It is legal.”
“A monkey and a young master, playing games legally for the audience, performing for two months…” Lu Yizhan thought for a moment before hitting his thigh. He looked at Bai Liu with certainty, “You are a circus performance team right? You are going on tour for two months?”
“……” Bai Liu was silent for a few seconds. “Yes.”
Bai Liu went home and looked at some of the related materials and information about the private welfare institution given to him by Lu Yizhan.
Most of the children’s welfare homes in the world where he was located were public welfare homes established by the government. The one that Bai Liu and Lu Yizhan came from was one such public welfare home.
Lu Yizhan was educated to be a kind-hearted young man full of gratitude to society. He had been determined to serve society as a police officer since he was a child. Meanwhile, Bai Liu the freak came out with only the desire for money. If it wasn’t for Lu Yizhan vigilantly pulling Bai Liu onto the path of abiding by the law, it was hard to say what the madman Bai Liu would do for money.
Yet this time, the welfare home wasn’t a public one. It was a private children’s welfare home founded by a large number of corporate philanthropists a decade ago.
Many of these entrepreneurs were said to be terminally ill. In accordance with the traditional practice of ‘do good when you are about to die’, these people donated a large sum of money to build the private welfare home. They said they wanted to do something good to accumulate virtue before they died. At that time, they won a lot of praise. Lu Yizhan had also praised this behavior.
It was a coincidence that not long after the construction of this welfare home, the illness of these entrepreneurs got better as if ‘good is rewarded with good.’
However, ‘do good when you are about to die’ meant that people didn’t want to spend a lot of money to do good deeds if they weren’t going to die. Later, these entrepreneurs gradually became less concerned about the welfare home. Therefore, this private welfare home slowly declined in 10 years.
Bai Liu looked at the information given by Lu Yizhan and realized why he felt that something was wrong. This poorly managed private children’s welfare home had various incidents, most of which were a variety of mushroom poisonings, but this time was the biggest incident.
Lu Yizhan said that these food poisoning incidents piled up together and didn’t look like accidents at first glance. Yet after the investigation, there was indeed no evidence of any crimes. It was either deliberate poisoning or a simple accidental food poisoning and this incident was the same.
It felt like there was some higher power that had erased all clues beyond ‘accidental food poisoning.’ Lu Yizhan even suspected that there was an internal problem with the police and traces of the crime had been deliberately erased.
From the perspective of an inhuman game designer, this was naturally good material for designing a horror game: an at risk children’s welfare home, weird food poisoning incidents and children who died tragically from poisoning.
Lu Yizhan might suspect that someone inside had erased traces of a crime but Bai Liu was even more suspicious that it wasn’t a person erasing the traces. If his previous guess was correct—
He thought that the children’s welfare home was likely to be a horror game instance that was being put into the real world.
Early the next morning, Bai Liu was woken up by a series of calls from Lu Yizhan. The moment he answered the phone, Lu Yizhan’s tone was unprecedentedly serious. “Bai Liu, come to the First People’s Hospital in Mirror City. The children who were sent to the hospital, last night—”
“There were a lot who died, right?” Bai Liu asked calmly.
The opposite Lu Yizhan breathed in and then breathed out slowly. He opened his mouth and wondered, “Did you find anything?”
“Not yet,” Bai Liu answered frankly. “Still, I can see from the information you gave me that if someone is deliberately poisoning them, they repeated it so many times and the purpose should be to kill. This time, the situation is so serious that I think the mushrooms eaten by the children admitted to the hospital should be lethal.”
“…Yes, a lot of them died without being rescued.” Lu Yizhan’s voice was hard and dry. “However, one child is alive.”
“There is a child who survived?” Bai Liu noticed that something was wrong.
If the children’s welfare home was a horror game instance being placed in the real world by the system, the children who were the background setting of the game were likely to be wiped out just like the passengers on the train of Exploding Last Train.
Bai Liu asked softly, “Can I come over?”
Lu Yizhan answered, “Yes, come here.”
Bai Liu got dressed and came to the hospital to find that the outside of the hospital was crowded with reporters from various news media.
Bai Liu was picked up by Lu Yizhan from the elevator near the operating room. As he passed by the operating room, he could see small corpses covered in white cloth. There were so many corpses that some of them had yet to be transported away. They were piled up and turned the operating room into a small morgue.
From time to time, there would be numb looking nurses coming to push away the corpses of these children. Occasionally, they would accidentally hit a wall and a small hand would dangle out from under the white cloth.
The livor mortis and some hematomas bulged on the surface of the child’s body like mushroom patterns. It seemed that in the next second, a mushroom would break through the skin of the corpse.
The disgusting smell of mushrooms fermenting filled the entire operating room. It was as if these mushrooms were eaten by the children by mistake, fermented overnight with these dead bodies as the culture medium and rotted with the vitality of a fungus species.
Bai Liu calmly retracted his gaze. He turned to Lu Yizhan and waited until they were past the operating room before speaking softly, “Are you sure these children just died last night? There is something wrong with the decomposition of the bodies.”
“Yes.” Lu Yizhan rubbed his forehead. “The time when the livor mortis appeared was too early and the time of the body’s stiffening isn’t right.”
Bai Liu squinted at Lu Yizhan. “How is it wrong?”
Lu Yizhan stopped when he heard Bai Liu’s words. He leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette, taking several puffs. The corner of the stairs was covered with smoke and it showed that Lu Yizhan was in a bad mood.
“The livor mortis appeared on the children’s bodies a few minutes after death was confirmed. They appeared and spread very quickly. This is generally a situation that occurs when a person has been dead for more than 24 hours.” Lu Yizhan touched his eyebrow with the thumb of the hand holding the cigarette lighter. He wanted to smooth out his frown but it didn’t have any effect. “The corpses… they also stiffened quickly after death. They entered the softening and decay stage early this morning. This usually only happens more than 24 hours after death.”
“It is like…” Lu Yizhan paused. “This group of poisoned children died before they entered the hospital.”
They walked as they talked and reached the stairs of the ward on the children’s emergency floor. From the half open door of the emergency exit, they could see the children’s corpses with their heads covered in the corridor of the hospital floor as well as the nurses packing bodies into body bags.
The faces of these dead children weren’t the blue-white of the dead but contained colorful, protruding spots.
Bai Liu knew that some mushroom poisonings could cause this type of allergy-like skin reaction but the spots on these children’s faces were so dense that it was like a color blindness test. They also bulged from the surface of the skin. Bai Liu didn’t have trypophobia but there was a slight discomfort seeing it.
It felt like their faces were covered by mushrooms that hadn’t sprouted yet.