Feng Mian stood outside the hospital ward in jeans, a hoodie, and a pair of drenched sneakers. In order to get a better view of the patient inside, her whole face had been plastered to the glass panel like an irremovable suction cup.
Inside the ward was her housemate Hao Junlin who laid on the bed soundly with several cords attached to his body and a tube that led to the IV drip. Spying the fluctuating monitor next to his bedside, her heart felt as if it was clutched by the cold hands of a Grim Reaper.
Tears welled up her ducts and her nose reddened. She sniffled a sob. On the corridor, few passersby slowed down to watch the scene of a crying young lady wearing mismatched socks latching onto the glass like a spider.
"Un, it is truly hard to see one's beloved one go," they lamented.
Today was Hao Junlin's twenty-first birthday and although she and her housemate weren't close friends, they were civil enough that they could be considered close acquaintances. Feng Mian, who in her entire twenty years of living had never touched a single pan or pot, decided that today was the day she'll bake her good housemate a cake.
The recipe for a chocolate layered fudge cake had already been printed; with some crucial points highlighted in bright yellow to make sure she won't miss anything.
The recipe said to first heat up the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. She held a ruler to make sure that the head of the knob was directly in line with the 180 degrees temperature setting. Not one degree more.
All the steps were religiously and meticulously followed. When she accidentally scooped out 121 grams of flour into the mixing bowl, one gram excess of what the recipe required, the extra one gram had to be taken out. When the recipe required 3/4 cup of unsalted butter, she made sure that the butter was well compressed into the measuring cup with all surface areas flattened on every sides of the diameter.
Everything was fine and dandy. That is, until procedure number eight.
8. Put two teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Turns out the vanilla extract bottle had been emptied out.
With her one-track mind determined to finish this extra, extra special birthday cake, she quickly ran out in casual wear to the nearest bakery store.
All this happened while the oven was still on.
When she came back with one bottle of vanilla extract in hand, her house was no longer a house.
Smoke signals ran off like crazy and curious pedestrians surrounded two fire trucks that had their sirens blazing loud and clear.
Her fingers loosened and the vanilla extract was dropped to the pavement underneath her and shattered upon impact.
The cause of the explosion was a gas leak.
She, the immediate perpetrator, caught on to the stretcher her housemate occupied and anxiously followed after him until he was loaded into an ambulance. Under her relentless insistence and maybe due to how wretched she looked at the moment, the paramedics yielded and they let her ride in.
Feng Mian painfully felt and heard the vessels in her heart pounding rhythms that pushed blood through beating a million times per second and her stomach churning acids the entire journey to the hospital.
And here she was. In the waiting room.
The doctor finally came out after what felt like an eternity. "Are you his family member?"
She shook her head, shifting restlessly in place like a boiling kettle. "No. I'm his housemate. His family's overseas. How is he?" she asked nervously.
"He's out of danger for now. He had a contusion and some external injuries. But it's not certain when the patient will be waking up... You should hope for the best." The doctor didn't have much hope either that the comatose patient will be waking up anytime soon.
The mood between them turned sullen.
It was even unclear to herself how she managed to find her way back home, whether it was by cab or by her own two feet, whether she used the key to open the door or if there was any door left to open, but she found herself staring at the charred walls of her bedroom for perhaps a little over an hour.
She sat crossed leg on the bed that was once white in colour but is now charcoal and before she knew it, teardrops started falling down like raindrops wetting the comforter underneath her.
It was like a switch had been turned on, and once she started, waterworks with no end to them came gushing down.
She bawled endlessly.
Suddenly, during mid bawl, like the onset of an earthquake— her room, or what was left of it, shook and her heaps of belongings fell down from her cupboards and tables.
It scared Feng Mian so much that her voice had gotten stuck in her throat and her tears paused themselves.
An electronic voice echoed loudly.
["Potential host pinpointed. Coordinate #5025778. Signal stabilised. Preparing for contact."]
A small black hole was open mid-air and a round and metallic soccer sized ball shot out from it like a pinball. Feng Mian's mouth hanged open comically before she screamed like a banshee exorcised.
Thinking that the startling scream was due to it falling, the ball began to console in its adolescent mechanical voice.
"It's okay, it's okay. I'm fine. It was just a slight bolt."
Because it had been surprised after hitting the ground so harshly, it levitated unstably for a few moments and tried vibrating itself steady.
Feng Mian heard it cursing. "Bloody hell! That douchebag main system just yeeted this daddy out without warning. F***!"
Feng Mian felt that she had woken up the wrong way today. 'Was she dreaming? Otherwise how could she explain this soccer ball thing with eyes who was intruding her house?'
Without waiting for Feng Mian to collect herself, the soccer ball spoke first.
"Hi there! Are you Feng Mian, an acquaintance of Hao Junlin?"
Feng Mian saw that it was directly staring at her and answered wearily after a few seconds have passed, "... Yes?"
"Good!" The ball spoke giddily, proud that it had managed to track her down so quickly.
"I'm system 555 from the Lost Soul Retriever Bureau! You, my lucky friend, are chosen to collect Hao Junlin's pieces of lost souls from wherever they flew off to!"
The introduction was too quick and all the plotlines weren't properly covered before they jumped right into the ending.
Feng Mian: "....."
System 555 saw the cloudy confusion in the human's eyes and thought that maybe he hadn't explained enough.
"Ahhh, wait a second. Let this daddy get his script."
555 pulled himself together and turned back around once more after pulling the database out.
"Feng Mian, age 20, female, a second-year law student from Peking University."
Feng Mian's eyes widened into circles. 'How did it know?'
555 trailed on. "Today at 1015 am, the subject had left the oven of her apartment open which caused gas to build up and trigger a gas explosion. Consequently, her housemate, Hao Junlin, was caught up in the explosion which caused pieces of his soul to shatter across different planes and time."
"The missing soul shards had caused unstable fluctuations in the trajectory of corresponding worlds. The Lost Soul Retriever Bureau had deemed subject Feng Mian responsible for this incident. Thus, she shall compensate by travelling to these planes herself to collect Hao Junlin's souls."
Feng Mian gulped and sweated bullets. 'Missing souls? Travelling planes?'
"Then… how to retrieve?"
555 also explained graciously. "In every plane, Hao Junlin's soul will be in a resting state. You need to wait for him to wake up then collect his soul shards when the time is up."
"What if I don't collect?"
"The punishment for murdering a fellow human is hell, unable to reincarnate ever again."
"..." That severe?
555 remembered another matter.
"Oh… another thing host, you will be resuming different identities in every plane you cross over. One of the conditions the original host has set in order for you to occupy their body is to grant their lifelong wish. So while you wait for Hao Junlin's soul to wake up, this will also be one of your missions."
"This… sounds a bit too difficult." Feng Mian was hesitant, she was only but a struggling university student ba. This recruitment process was also so sudden that it feels like a scam.
"Not to worry, host. This system has attached to your consciousness and will be with you every step of the way!"
Feng Mian: ' ... When did you do that? Isn't this an invasion of privacy?'
"Host can choose to talk with this loyal dad— system telepathically and no one but the host will be able to see me. Isn't that great?!"
Feng Mian: 'Is it?'
"... Yeah... Great." It wasn't like she was given any other choice?
555 was an efficient system that doesn't like to waste time.
"Okay, " he said immediately. "Hold on to your shorts, we're about to transfer to the first plane now. Initiating transmission countdown in 5… 4…."
"Wait! You mean… Now?!" Feng Mian sprang to her bare feet.
["Soul transmission 100% complete."]
["Target location: Song Dynasty. Era of Emperor Tai Ke."]
["Downloading soul server. Original host's wish: Be a first-ranked servant to at least a second-ranked consort in the harem."]
[SYSTEM PROMPT: Influx of unstabilised current detected. Coordinate of time stamp has misaligned. System and host, please take notice]