Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Thirteen)
Chapter Thirteen In Which a Schemer Comes to the Rescue
Xiao Mei could hear her friends urging her to just abandon the diary. But she could not do that. As afraid as she was, there was no way she was going to just get rid the only clue she had to her mother's whereabouts, even to save her own skin, something she would later in life admit was probably very foolish but not a decision she would ever regret.
She frantically searched for a way out, but found none. While one automaton had the role of reaching out for her, the others had the role of keeping back a bit, blocking any chance of escape. The robotic menace grabbed her by the arms and lifted her in the air. Xiao Mei screamed as she was picked up off her feet. She kicked wildly at the automaton, feeling the tips of her toes strike against the metal barrel that was its chest. No amount of squirming was enough for her to slip free.
Having caught their prize, sort of, the automatons turned to leave. The one that had caught Xiao Mei placed her over its shoulder like a sack of rice. She flailed her arms and legs like a toddler in a tantrum. Her face even resembled one. But since the automaton is an unfeeling metal machine, it felt nothing, and wasn't even bothered when she pushed against its face. They all walked toward the opening they made.
"UNHAND HER, YOU MECHANIZED BRUTES!" Sparrow shouted.
With a mighty roar, he reached out and then pulled back as if performing a mighty heave in a game of Tug of War. The heels of the automaton flew up, causing it to topple face-first into the back of another automaton. Both fell, one atop the other. The other automatons turned but were met with rocks and whatever other random junk that Harold, Diana, Duncan, and Qiang Shi could get their hands on.
"NOW, PHOENIX!" Sparrow shouted again.
Phoenix soared over to Xiao Mei, clasping on her shoulders with his talons. He spread his wings to take off, but then he was batted aside by an automaton.
Xiao Mei's mouth opened with a scream of disbelief. Where her dear friend had been, there were only a few feathers remaining in a free float down, followed by the automaton casting its gaze down. She stared at it, and it stared at her. And then a dart with a suction cup end stuck to the side of its head.
BZZZZT! CRACKLE! POP!
Electricity coursed from the wire attached to the dart into the automaton, shocking its circuits. The torrent was so strong it caused the eyes of the automaton to pop. The automaton froze for a bit before falling to its side on the floor, smoke drifting up from its joints.
"Honestly," said a voice from the door. "You lot are so hopeless."
Standing at the door with her lab coat fluttering against the breeze was Jane Mortimer wearing an expression of contempt on her face. Her arms were crossed over her chest, with each hand holding a shock gun. She smirked at everyone's dumbfounded expressions and dropped the spent shock gun before shooting the other at another automaton. Like the first, it fell with smoking eye sockets and joints. But that wasn't all. There was no way to tell how many shock guns Jane had hidden behind her in her lab coat, but there were certainly more than enough for each and every automaton.
Realizing the threat she posed, the automatons abandoned their mission to take care of her. But as they approached, Jane pulled out two more shock guns and fired. The suction cup darts landed on the chests of two of the remaining three automatons. There was a crackle of electricity and more popping from the destruction going on inside the machines. While the two were shocked, the last automaton slipped between the other two and lunged for Jane. It would have had her by the throat if Sparrow had not chosen to tackle her at the moment. Together, the two smart teenagers fell to the floor just a bit short away from a dresser drawer.
They looked up at the same time at the automaton and broke away from each other when it slammed its fists down. Jane slipped beneath a bed and came out at the other side. She aimed a shock gun at the automaton and pulled the trigger.
Everyone stared at the fallen mecha, and then toward the young woman with the crazy messy hair holding a spent shock gun. Sparrow got up. He glanced at the automatons then shot a glance toward Jane. After clearing his throat, he straightened his tie, picked up his walking stick, walked up to the robots, gripped his stick with two hands and hit the fallen machines.
"Ha!" he went. "How do you like me now, losers?"
Jane let out a puff of breath and rolled her eyes up, shaking her head. She threw the shock gun aside and went up to Xiao Mei.
"Are you okay?" she asked, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Her eyes rolled up and down. If Xiao Mei could read her mind, she would have realized that rather than making sure she was okay, Jane was actually trying to make sure the book was okay.
Xiao Mei nodded. "But Phoenix . . ."
"Don't worry," said Dr. Green, bending down over the bird Seto was cradling in his arms. Seto had dove in and caught Phoenix. The impact of the bird against his chest knocked the wind out of his lungs and he sunk to the floor with his back against the wall. He was still coughing and gasping for air when Dr. Green reached his side. "He's just unconscious. But we shouldn't move him until help comes."
Jane knew that there was something special about the book the moment she laid eyes on it while just passing by. Well, actually, she was eavesdropping on Sparrow to see if he found any clues to something useful to her. Judging from what Sir George said about the little girl's mother, that book could hold clues to some big secret. Big secrets that could have her company raking in the millions. Maybe even more. Just the thought could make her drool.
"Uh . . . Ms. Mortimer?" Xiao Mei said, waving a hand in front of Jane's face. "Are you okay? Hello?"
"Huh?" went Jane, snapping out of it.
"Don't worry about it," said Sparrow. "She spaces out like that all the time."
Oh, there it is. That all-knowing look he always flashed whenever he suspected that she was up to something. There was rarely any fooling Sparrow. But please, cut the girl some slack. It wasn't like Jane had rigged the automatons to attack, though that was a backup plan.
After hearing about that automaton attack and about the rumors of the ancient secrets of this place, she put two and two together and realized that she wasn't the only one after this world's ancient treasures. And by treasures, she didn't mean the glittery stuff, though some wouldn't hurt. The treasures she was looking for had to do with the region's ancient past of alchemy. And then there was that diary. The automaton attack only further deepened Jane's belief that it was the key to something big.
Anyway, this was her plan: When the mysterious group behind the automaton attacks strike again, and they were sure to strike again, this time aiming for that diary, she, Jane Mortimer, would come to the girl's rescue. Grateful, the girl will have her join in on their little mystery-solving. And it won't matter what Sparrow says since all he did was beat those robots with a stick after they had already been taken care of. And once they find something juicy, she'll take it all and they all won't know what hit them.
And now here's what went on in Sparrow's mind: She totally knows something is up with that book, and was totally waiting for something to happen so she could save the day and then butt in on Xiao Mei trying to find out more about her mother, for whatever selfish goals she had in mind.
And here's what Xiao Mei thought: Jane seems like a nice person, but it looks like she's got some kind of ulterior motive. Still, she doesn't seem like a bad person. Not really, anyway. Besides, since she's here working, that must mean that she's a really smart person.
And what anyone else can get out of this is: Jane Mortimer was not fooling anyone.
"So, what was that all about?" Jane asked, keeping up with the ruse. "It looked like those automatons were after that book. But what could be special about that?"
"Well . . . " Xiao Mei began. She explained to Jane everything about her complicated family situation, about how her mother had been here in the past, but disappeared because someone was after her for discovering something. And then, she told the older girl how she found her mother's diary and how she hoped that it would lead her to finding her mother and the secrets she discovered.
"I see," Jane said when the young girl was finished.
"You believe me?" asked the young girl.
"Of course," replied Jane, flashing as kindly a fake smile she could make. How could she not after piecing together everything she had seen and heard? "And I want to help. Don't you worry about a thing. I'll find the truth faster than Sparrow could figure out how to fix a light bulb. This, I swear."
Get it together, Mortimer! Now's not the time to get sentimental. You're in this to get the profits. The profits! Yeah, that's really convincing, went her other self.
Footsteps echoed outside and Jing and Mei Ling appeared, armed with a staff of red glass and a fold-able practice sword. They were followed by a group of robed people armed with sticks.
"We heard a commotion!" Mei Ling asked. "Is everyone alright?"
"Not everyone," said Qiang Shi, motioning to the bird.
Mei Ling glanced back at Jing who nodded in response. Jing rushed over to Dr. Green and the bird and set aside his staff. He accepted the bird from Seto and gingerly picked him up in his arms as if cradling a delicate newborn babe.
"Don't worry," he said, looking Xiao Mei square in the eye. "I'll make sure that he's properly cared for."
"Thank you." Xiao Mei was washed over with relief and gratitude.
Jing carried Phoenix out of the room, but not before exchanging looks with Mei Ling. Once he was gone, Mei Ling took charge. Clapping her hands together, she ordered everyone to get out and practically pushed everyone outside. She commanded the robed shrine guardians to take the others to another room where a doctor could look the kids over.
"Hey!" Dr. Green protested. "I'm not a kid."
"That's debatable," Xiao Mei heard Sparrow mutter beneath his breath.
After being looked over by a doctor and being given the okay to leave, Xiao Mei and the others walked together for a bit. Seto kept a bag of ice pressed against the back of his head. Some of the boys watched Jane with admiration while she and Sparrow started their usual round of verbal jousting. If Xiao Mei didn't know any better, she'd have thought they had a crush on her. They talked among themselves, mostly praising Jane for her heroics. She would flash Sparrow a smug smile while he responded with a disgruntled scowl.
Eventually, they went their separate ways for the day. When it was just Jane and Xiao Mei, Jane turned to Xiao Mei and said to her: "Tonight, come to my room. That's an Imperial Dragon Company lock, right? I think I have something that might help get it open. It'll be much better than Sparrow's half-baked lock-picking."
"But what about curfew?"
Jane frowned and put her hands to her hips.
"You want to find out more about your mother or not?"
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Twelve)
Xiao Mei just found a diary that belonged to her long-lost mother. What could this mean for her?
- Wisdom of the Dragon (Chapter Fourteen)
How will Jane open a locked diary?