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241 Confrontation

 Bai Jinyi's eyes almost shot out of their sockets.

This was not the mentally compromised Song Jinning she had observed in the last 16 years. She... she looked and sounded entirely normal!

How was that possible?!

Bai Jinyi stared at Song Jinning, unable to hide the suspicion in her eyes. She asked tentatively, "What's wrong, Jinning? Is your mental condition acting up again?"

"You failed to cure me in the last 16 years, but someone else was able to do it." Song Jinning smiled gracefully. Now that the women were standing face-to-face, the difference in their looks could not be more obvious: Song Jinning could have passed for Bai Jinyi's daughter.

Bai Jinyi's face darkened. She immediately said, "Who was it? Who tried to cure you without the consent of the military and the Ministry of Science and Technology?! That's illegal!"

"You're one to talk, Physicist Bai. How many laws have you broken so far?" Gu Nianzhi walked over to Song JInning and slid a hand around her arm. Together, arm-in-arm, the two women stared Bai Jinyi down. "The court summons will be sent to your home address after the new year holidays. Please make sure you'll be around to sign for it-if you're not, we may have to put out an arrest warrant and start a nationwide manhunt for you, and that would be really embarrassing for the Bai family, I'm sure."

Gu Nianzhi's reply was perfect: not only did it serve to remind Bai Jinyi that she was the one on trial here, not the mysterious doctor who had cured Song Jinning, it also sent a message to the other members of the Bai family in the audience, warning them not to try to cover for Bai Jinyi...

Bai Yueran blinked. She looked at Gu Nianzhi in surprise, as though seeing her for the first time.

Bai Jiancheng and Bai Changhui, who were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, saw that General Ji and Chairman Long had joined the crowd. Their faces darkened.

"What law did I break?" Bai Jinyi returned to her senses. She glared balefully at Gu Nianzhi: the young lady had embarrassed her in front of so many guests, and Bai Jinyi hated her guts for it. "Don't accuse me of things I haven't done."

"I only make accusations when I have evidence at hand." Gu Nianzhi shrugged nonchalantly, before resuming her assault on Bai Jinyi's self-confidence: "Physicist Bai, you should have resigned from your position as Madam Song's psychiatrist when you officially began dating General Huo 10 years ago. It was a conflict of interest, and you should have stepped down, if only just to avoid potential gossip. But you didn't, and you abused your position. You neglected your patient for 16 years, even though there was an easy cure for her condition. From that point onwards, you've broken at least two different laws-you've violated the code of professional conduct for psychiatrists, and also the military's rule against the abuse of power when performing official duties. You should have known better, but you did it anyway. Why? If you didn't do it for General Huo, then what was your purpose?"

Bai Jinyi's heart skipped a beat. She clenched her fists, feeling the sweat on her palms, and bit on her lower lip, almost drawing blood.

Song Jinning looked at Bai Jinyi with perfect indifference. When she spoke, her voice, too, was entirely impassive, showing no signs of emotion. "Bai Jinyi, since you already admit that you love Huo Guanyuan, let's talk about what happened back then. I'm sure you still remember how you used to beg me to play Cupid between you and Huo Guanyuan. He got married, but that wasn't enough to deter you-instead, you continued to ask me to help set him up with you. I refused to do it. Did you begin to hate me because of that? I can't think of any other reason for you to treat me this way."

"Oh, I remember that, all right. I also remember how you used me as an excuse to get close to Huo Guanyuan and seduce him. You made him fall head over heels for you..." Bai Jinyi's face contorted into a vicious smile. "My dear Madam Song, did you know? Your brother-in-law, your husband's older brother, was so in love with you he called your name in his sleep!"

Song Jinning was thoroughly disgusted. She said sharply, "You have no shame! How dare you lie through your teeth and drag Huo Guanyuan's name through the mud, just because he's dead and can no longer speak for himself!"

Gu Nianzhi sighed inwardly: Bai Jinyi was already baring her fangs and claws, but Song Jinning was just too much of a lady to get into a proper catfight. She gave Song Jinning's arm a gentle, reassuring squeeze, before turning to say calmly to Bai Jinyi: "Physicist Bai, please refrain from presenting your opinions as fact. You have zero factual evidence to back up your claims, which means they are, legally, nothing more than mere speculation. To put it in psychological terms, you are confusing your deepest fantasies with reality. Your obsession with Huo Guanyuan has severely impaired your ability to think rationally-you take your fanciful imagination to be objective reality, and are now trying to impose your assumptions on everyone else..."

Before Gu Nianzhi could finish her speech, Bai Changhui suddenly walked over and said, "I see, so my poor sister is actually suffering from a mental disorder. Oh, how terrible! I didn't know... Jinyi, I shouldn't have blamed you..."

Gu Nianzhi arched an eyebrow. She knew what Bai Changhui was up to: he was trying to use the "mentally ill" card to absolve Bai Jinyi of her crimes!

Gu Nianzhi would sooner eat her hat than let Bai Changhui use such a flimsy excuse to take Bai Jinyi away. She was training to be a future lawyer-if she couldn't stop him now, when all he had was a lame "she didn't know what she was doing" excuse, she was obviously unsuited for a career in law.

She shook her head. "Mr. Bai, I don't believe she's mentally ill. Please don't try to change the subject and bail Physicist Bai out of this."

"Weren't you the one who said my sister is mentally ill? How I am trying to change the subject?" Bai Changhui turned to look at Gu Nianzhi with cool, impassive eyes.

"I didn't say she was mentally ill. I find it shocking that you, Mr. Bai, the deputy secretary-general of the Secretariat, could have misinterpreted my words in such an egregious manner. Your concern for your sister must have addled your brain-it's entirely understandable." Gu Nianzhi had actually wanted to say that Bai Changhui was an incompetent, unqualified fool who had only gotten his job because of his family's connections, but changed her mind just in time.

Bai Changhui was not the type to take offense at petty insults. He simply nodded, and said: "Well, you seem to be very knowledgeable about mental disorders, Miss Gu."

"We should leave the definition and diagnostic criteria for mental disorders to the professionals," Gu Nianzhi replied without missing a beat. "But I don't believe Physicist Bai is mentally ill. Her symptoms point to another disease."

"What disease?"

"Incurable stupidity. Or maybe she's just a thirsty flirt."

Pfffft-!

The room burst into raucous laughter. Even General Ji and Chairman Long, who had walked over to join the crowd, could not help quirking their lips into a smile.

"How dare you!" Bai Changhui fumed, purple with rage. "I'll sue you for defamation, see if I don't!"

"You want to sue me for defamation? Take a number, I'm afraid you'll have to wait your turn. Madam Song and Huo Guanyuan's family should be suing Physicist Bai for defamation a hundred times over, after what she said just now!" Gu Nianzhi spread her hands in an exaggerated display of resignation, before adding: "You say that Physicist Bai is mentally ill, but she was able to destroy Madam Song's marriage and steal her husband, General Huo, culminating in the engagement ceremony today. If this is supposed to be a mental disorder, I've never heard of anything like it." She turned to look at the guests. "Have any of you ever seen such a high-functioning mentally ill patient?"

No one answered her, but the looks on everyone's faces spoke volumes.

It was entirely plausible that Bai Jinyi had been so hopelessly in love she had lost her head and resorted to dirty tricks to get her man.

But to claim that she had been mentally ill the whole time? That was a huge stretch. The very suggestion offended the guests-did the Bai family take everyone present for a fool? Surely the Huo family would take this as an insult to their intelligence?

Song Jinning looked at Bai Jinyi coldly. Her tone was contemptuous when she said: "You keep making baseless accusations about me and Huo Guanyuan. I shouldn't be surprised: you've always been the type to lie and make things up to suit your purposes. How many times did you falsify your experimental data when you tried to submit your research paper? The US scientific journal, Physical Review Letters, rejected your paper, and I had to work through many sleepless nights just to help you redo the experiment. I was the one who made sure you got the correct results; you would never have been able to publish your paper without me. Have you forgotten all that?"

"This is why we should always think twice before helping someone who take us for granted-the moment we stop helping them, they forget we have no obligation to help them and begin to resent us instead." Gu Nianzhi could not resist giving the moral of the story. "Physicist Bai is evidently a petty, small-minded woman. She knew she could never compare with Madam Song, so when Madam Song fell ill, Physicist Bai immediately seized the opportunity to gain control over her and kick her when she was already down."

The reputation Bai Jinyi had painstakingly built over the years in academia-what she considered to be her proudest achievement in life-was thus ruthlessly ripped into inconsequential pieces by Song Jinning.

Bai Jinyi clutched at her chest; her heart seemed to be clawing its way up her throat. "Lies! You're making it all up! I'm going to sue you! Just you wait!"

"The original rejection letter and the peer review letter pointing out the problems in your paper are gone now-they were inside the laboratory building when the explosion happened. But don't forget: PRL still has the original copies, and I'm sure they'll be glad to corroborate what I've just said. I still remember the journal number and the date of publication," said Song Jinning, with a delicate arch of her eyebrow. Bai Jinyi felt as though she had been punched in the gut.

"Bai Jinyi, you can't go around sullying Huo Guanyuan's reputation just because he wasn't in love with you. He's a hero who lost his life while carrying out his duty to his country. If you keep this up, don't expect either the Huo family or the military to let you off easy." Song Jinning's soft-spoken warning was effective: Bai Jinyi found herself cornered, at a loss as to how to react.

It did not really matter who Huo Guanyuan had been in love with; there was no way to prove it now that he was dead, and more importantly, it had nothing to do with Bai Jinyi's crimes.

Song Jinning found the entire situation distasteful. It wasn't right for Huo Guanyuan to be tried in absentia; every time someone spoke of his alleged "affair" with Song Jinning, it was another act of vandalism on the brave soldier's reputation.

"She's right, the Empire believes in the presumption of innocence, at least until proven guilty. Physicist Bai, if you believe that Huo Guanyuan had an affair with Madam Song, you'll have to back it up with direct, objective evidence. Your imagination doesn't count, and you shouldn't drag everyone here to your level, just because you have a filthy mind," Gu Nianzhi argued eloquently. "As for those so-called 'love letters,' well, let me be blunt with you: I don't see how you can tell who they were meant for. Mr. Huo never addressed them to anyone. Why do you keep insisting that they were intended for Madam Song?"

Truth be told, Gu Nianzhi couldn't care less who Huo Guanyuan had actually been in love with. She knew, however, that it was a dirty, underhanded tactic to accuse two people who could not defend themselves of having an affair, on the basis of old letters that could have been addressed to anyone.

She wasn't about to let them get away with it.

Bai Jinyi was momentarily speechless. She turned to Huo Guanchen for help, but he was staring at Song Jinning, seemingly lost in thought. Her heart constricted with jealousy and resentment; she pulled him over and jabbed a finger at Song Jinning as she said: "Tell them, Guanchen. Tell them why those letters angered you, and why you immediately filed for divorce. They keep saying it's my fault, but what did I have to do with it? Jialan was the one who exposed the letters, and you were the one who filed for divorce. I only got together with you after your divorce, I'm innocent..."

"Physicist Bai, how can you be so shameless?" Gu Nianzhi put on an exaggerated expression of disbelief. "You just said that the love of your life is Huo Guanyuan. You said that you've never loved anyone else, and will never fall in love with another-so why are you trying to use his younger brother to prove your innocence now? Answer me this: do you honestly claim to be entirely innocent? Are you telling me you've done nothing wrong, at all?"

Huo Guanchen was still looking at Song Jinning, his lips pressed together into a straight line. His expression was stern, but he said nothing.

Song Jinning did not look at Huo Guanchen. Instead, she immediately pounced on what Bai Jinyi had said. "Hah! You had nothing to do with it? You're completely innocent? Fine, let's break it down: so Jialan exposed those letters, but you took advantage of my condition and forced me to write one of those letters against my will. And besides, how did Jialan get ahold of those letters, anyway? Huo Guanchen was the one who filed for divorce, yes, but if it weren't for those letters the thought of divorcing me would never have crossed his mind. Do you take me for a fool? This is no longer a question of your moral character, but of your intelligence, which appears to be sorely lacking."