We told people that it was to give the twins a cultural experience but in reality there was another reason for our presence in Bridgeport. Between what we had gathered from our own hunts and the information Nuala had learned being with mother we had discovered what she was after.
The food of the gods.
And stuff of legend. I was half convinced that it should stay there too. The idea that there was a magical food out there that would make you immortal was practically laughable. But it was a chance we couldn't afford to take. If it was real we couldn't risk our mother getting her hands on it.
It wasn't all to be meetings in dark and dodgy bars though. People think being a spy is all about big guns and fast cars. The reality is more like short periods of intense action followed by long periods of waiting for something to happen. We were waiting now, but as we were here with the family we were going to have a bit of fun.
The twins, of course, just wanted to go shopping, clubbing and celebrity spotting.
Through a bit cajoling and a little bribery we did manage to convince them to to come to the Butterfly Esplanade with us.
The damp air filled our senses as we walked into the building. Hidden in the deep canopy of trees you could almost believe you had left the streets of the city and were magically transported to the depths of the rain forest. In vibrant and ever changing colours butterflies danced around us as we wandered around the enclosure. Despite their protestations the twins really enjoyed themselves when we got there.
I just sat back letting the heat and humidity of the place seep into me, relaxing me, as I watched them. So this was what it was like to have a normal family moment. I never imagined it to be quite so peaceful.
As I sat and reveled in the moment a play of light caught my eye. It was our contact. Sighing I returned to the real world.
Making my way through the twisting paths I saw a familiar head peering around a tree.
Smiling I gave her a hug and in hushed tones said, "What are you doing here? It's great to see you but if the girls spot you..."
"I know," she said in equally quiet tones. "I just couldn't resist coming by and seeing them. They look so happy don't they."
"They are happy, but Nuala it's dangerous for you to be here. No one knows you are in Bridgeport. If the girls see you..."
"Listen," she cut in. "I have some news. It seems the contact can meet you tonight at Eugi's."
"I've notified the agency and they will have a surveillance team in place for your entrance." Reaching in her bag she handed me a necklace.
"Here, take this. The tech team have worked it up. Inside is a micro-transmitter. It not only records the conversation you are having but it records images as well and since it is on your neck it will act as a throat mic so you can talk to the team stationed outside. It's pretty impressive, all these gadgets, I never saw this kind of thing when..."
It was now my turn to cut in, "Yeah those guys are pretty impressive aren't they. But they're no substitute for a great team," I smiled and grabbed her tight on the arm. "Just stay out of sight." Hoping she would stay out of trouble I went back to my moment of waiting.
Which was followed by...
The music was thumping with a deep bass as I approached the club. It had been dark for hours but with the lights of the city you would never know it. Passing beneath neon signs and street lights I tried my best to blend into the shadows. Ducking into the bar my nose was assaulted with smell of spilled drink and smoke from the dance machines. Trying to avoid the worst of the stickiness that seemed to cling to every surface I made my way to the bar.
There wasn't anywhere in the place that a woman on her own could go without getting unwanted attention. Ducking into a corner behind a group of girls I sat back to watch the room. The giggling and dancing of the girls was more than enough to hide me as I kept an eye out for the contact. It wasn't long before I noticed the sign I was looking for.
Slipping out from behind the girls I made my way over to the table. Hidden from the lights as he was I couldn't make out much of his face. Reigning in my curiosity about this mysterious contact I set my drink down adopting the attitude of a causal encounter for the benefit for anyone watching. Before I could even get seated he started in with what he had to say.
"There is one piece of puzzle that has eluded your mother up to this point. A fruit that is rumoured to give a small amount of life back to anyone who eats it. Like ambrosia itself the fruit was thought to be something of myth and has never been seen in the wild. The final clue on the upper half of the Simsetta stone points to a location near Shang Simla." He passed over some pictures of a hasty drawn map and some satellite shots of the area.
He leaned closer lowering his voice. "She knows where it is. You don't have much time. She will be going after the fruit and if you want to stop her from getting her hands on the one thing that will make it possible for her to have never-ending power you need to move quickly. I've seen what she can do with the power she already possess, she has to be stopped."
I had been flipping through the photographs as he talked only half paying attention to him but the tone his voice drew me back into the moment. Looking into his eyes I tried to read the emotions that were there. Hurt, anger and betrayal looked back at me. I opened my mouth to speak but my thoughts skidded sideways as a voice crackled in my ear piece.
"Sugar! She's gone!"
"Who's gone?" I asked turning sideways and whispering.
"Nuala." Came the terse and slightly stressed answer. "She was sitting out of the way when the meet started and I didn't notice her slip out. Rosé this is not good. She knows about the location of the fruit and when the agency hears she ran off they are going to think..."
"She went to meet up with mum." I finished for him. He was wrong and the agency would be too. She wasn't going there to join up with mum but to seek her revenge. I had to get there before she did something she would regret for the rest of her life. Or worse, before mum did something to her.
Grabbing the photos I ran from the club.
The snow crackled underfoot as I made my way up the mountain side. It was a clear day with only a light snow fall but cold enough that I could see my breath as I worked my way higher up the slopes. Although I had dashed out of the club as soon as I had heard she was gone it had still taken me time to get the gear I needed and get off the ground. I was going solo on this one. Blue had stayed behind with Bondi and the twins. The agency had to be kept out of it until I could get in there and prove Nuala was acting on their behalf.
Nuala's footprints were easy to follow. In her haste to get to the fruit she had left a path a blind man could have followed. With such a mess and only one set of prints I was confident that it was her. No one else would have been foolish enough to come to this place alone.
Except me. Smiling at the thought of how much alike we were even it these most extreme of circumstances I made my way into the crevice that lead to the fruit.
Walking through the curtain of vines that covered the entrance it was like stepping into a whole other world. The snow was gone to be replaced with steaming pools and tropical flowers. Catching my breath I stared around in amazement.
And there kneeling at the edge of a ravine was Nuala. Nearly weak with relief I started forward.
I hadn't made it two steps before I was yanked backwards abruptly. Struggling against the force that held me I tried to call out, to somehow get Nuala's attention. But the hands that held me also had one clamped firmly over my mouth and I could do nothing but rage in silent frustration. Slow and deliberate footsteps caused me to stop my struggles and turn to see who was coming. Walking past and oozing a haughty disdain was my mother. With barely a look in my direction she continued towards Nuala.
As if sensing her approach Nuala turned. She didn't react to the presence of our mother, it was if she had been expecting this all along.
"You're too late," she yelled above the echo of the water. "The plant is dead and the fruit is gone."
"Don't be ridiculous." Mum scoffed as she reached Nuala side. She too was having to practically shout to be heard. Gesturing the one remaining fruit that Nuala held in her hand. "That one fruit and the seeds it has inside is more than enough to give me what I need."
"I won't let you have it" Nuala shot back. "I will throw it into this ravine before you can get close. I have seen you mother, seen you for who you truly are. There is no place on earth that would be safe if you had this and so the world is better off if no one can have it." Moving slowly Nuala edged closer to the ravine arm outstretched.
"If you take one more step then it won't be you that pays, it'll be Rosé," my mother said gesturing in my direction. Eyes wide Nuala turned to see my being held firmly by the entrance. "You wouldn't sacrifice your sister for something so small would you? You wouldn't want her little boy to grow up without his mother." She asked trying anything she could to get to Nuala. "All you have to do is hand over the fruit and you can both walk away."
I could see Nuala wavering and I had to do something. Struggling once more I managed to get my teeth right up against my capture's hand. Without hesitation I bit down, hard. He yelled and pulled his hand away. It was all I needed. "Don't listen to her Nuala." I yelled trying desperately to be heard. "Think about who she is. She can't have that fruit! Get rid of it. She..."
A blow to the side of my head cut me off and left me seeing stars.
I could see the emotions warring on Nuala's face as she glanced from me to mum and back again. That moment's indecision was all mum needed. With a triumphant gleam in her eye she lunged herself at Nuala.
The force at which she hit Nuala was enough to send them both falling backwards. Struggling as they landed I could see them dangerously close to the side of the ravine. Nuala was no match for our mother and it was becoming very clear that she would quickly be overpowered. Absorbed by their struggle as I was it took me a moment to realise that my capture was equally engrossed, and had loosened his grip.
With all the power I could muster I drove my elbow back into his stomach knocking the wind out of him. As he doubled over gasping I turned and with a quick roundhouse to the side of the head knocked him out.
Time was running in slow motion now as the adrenaline kicked in. Turning I ran towards the struggle. But I was too late. With a cry of desperation Nuala flicked her wrist and sent the fruit skittering toward the edge. Seeing her life's goal about to disappear forever mum let go of Nuala and lunged forward. In her haste and with her own adrenaline pumping hard she miss judged the distance and I watched as she continued to slide and then toppled over the edge.
I got to the edge to see Nuala lying flat, arms outstretched, holding onto mum as she dangled, one handed, off the edge. "I can't hold you" I heard her yelling. "Let go of the fruit and give me your other hand."
"Don't be ridiculous." Mum shot back. "There is nothing without this. Now pull me up!"
I could see Nuala loosing her grip as our mother's weight dragged on her arm. But more concerning to me was that I could see Nuala herself was slipping. She was so far over the edge trying to hold on to mum that she was starting to fall herself. Lunging forward I grabbed her legs.
"Nuala you have to let her go." I cried. "You're falling."
"I can't." She was nearly sobbing the pain and stress of the situation was getting to her. "I can't kill my own mother."
"She's killed herself. You can't save her." I was trying anything I could to get a firmer position on the edge. I could feel us being dragged forward with every breath. We hung like that for what seemed like an eternity, carefully balance while gravity worked slowly against us.
I felt more than heard Nuala's cry and her weight moved dangerously as she tried to tighten her grip. But it wasn't enough. With what felt like inhuman strength I was now yanking Nuala back from the edge as I heard the cries of anger and pain echoing out of her and mum.
We stood there at the ravine unable to move. My arm was wrapped around Nuala as she was racked with sobs.
"I...I...cou...I couldn't save her."
"You did everything you could." I said quietly pulling her closer.
After a time she took a deep breath and composed herself. Half turning to me she said, "I'm ok let's just get out of here."
As we walked away from the edge my foot knocked something.
Smiling I walked Nuala to the entrance. "Let's go home."