The Sinister Circle ChroniclesEpisode I: Bass Ackwardsby Spencer Myersaka 'Canuck'July 10, 1998   To put things into perspective for this story, I must begin by confessingthat I belong to an invisible minority consisting of socially undesireablemisfits; a band of blackguards who have traditionally been looked down upon andfeared as a subversive threat to morally upright people everywhere.

I'm left-handed.

And intensly proud of the fact too, as indeed most of my kind are.

We're a collection of independent, stubborn, self-reliant individuals. We'vehad to have been; you bloody right-handers never take us into consideration, doyou? You and your insideous tools and appliances, all carefully designed to putus at a disadvantage. Maligning us at every turn down through the ages, makingus feel as if we're somehow either mentally defective or devils incarnate. Evenas far back as the Roman Empire you were doing it, using the terms 'dexter' (asin 'dexterity') to refer to the right hand and 'sinister' (with all its negativeconnotations), for the left.

However, I suppose I can't really blame you. People tend to fear what theydon't understand, and admittedly we left-handers are an odd lot, being theartistic, reticent, strangely illogical folks that we are. So no hard feelings.

Now, where was I? Oh yes.

In his book 'Lefties', author Jack Fincher states that "left-handers are oneof the last surviving minorities in our society with no organisation, nocollective power or goals, and no real sense of common identity."But that's because he hasn't heard about the Sinister Circle. And since I'msure you haven't either, I've decided to regale you with my own personalexperience with them.

It all started during a recent vacation I took in the Bahamas. I was supposedto meet up there with a couple of buddies of mine from Toronto (pronounced 'Taronna'in Canadianese), but their flight wasn't due to arrive until the day after mine.

So for that first day I was left entirely to my own devices, which in the pasthas generally resulted in nothing but confused mayhem. I just have this knackfor getting myself into the middle of things wherever I go.

And this particular occasion would prove to be no exception...

Part 2After a day of lazing about on the beach, I'd had an early supper at ConchFritters, a restaurant across the street from the British Colonial Hotel where Iwas staying.

Numerous sunburned holiday-makers were clustered around the bar in varyingstages of inebriation, their boisterous voices competing with a jukebox in thecorner that was cranking out Fleetwood Mac songs.

As I sat at my table drinking Bahama Mamas and trying to figure out what thehell Stevie Nicks was singing, a trio of fetching, twenty-something-year-oldlasses came in through the open front door of the place and seated themselves ata nearby table. They were attired in an assortment of short summer dresses andall wore spike-heeled platform sandals. The gaze of every man in the placeimmediately focused upon them, but if the women noticed the attention theydidn't let on.

They merely continued the conversation they'd been having as they walked in.

They were talking about some guy who worked at the hotel they were staying at;he was one of THEM apparently, whatever that meant. I heard them saying nastythings about him and laughing.

Over the course of their conversation, I happened to pick up their names; theattractive blue-eyed brunette was Laura. Beside her was a leggy, long-hairedblond named Christine, and the stunning Mediterranean beauty with olive skin andjet black hair was Celeste.

I wasn't eavesdropping, mind you. Their table was so close to mine that Ijust couldn't help overhearing them, although the fact that I was leaningtowards them at a forty-five degree angle might have had something to do with ittoo, I suppose.

The women changed the subject, and began discussing an upcoming meeting.

Laura was doing most of the talking now. It sounded very important.

"I've just gotten word that the others are due to arrive tonight," she saidgravely. "Once we pass the information to them, it'll just be a matter of timeuntil..."The waitress chose that moment to show up and ask for their drink orders, somissed the rest of the sentence. Probably just something to do with a businessconference, I supposed.

After the waitress had moved on, Christine stood up and walked over to mytable holding a dollar bill.

"Got change for a buck?" she asked, jerking her thumb towards the jukebox.

"Yeah, I think so," I replied, wrenching my gaze off her ankles. I dug fourquarters out of the pocket of my khaki shorts with my left hand and gave them toher. She handed me the dollar bill and walked away. For some reason she hadgiven me a derisive look when I'd handed her the coins. Back at her table, shepointed me out to her two friends.

"He's one of THEM too," she whispered loudly, and they all glowered at me.

I shook my head. Women...

After I finished my drink and paid my bill, I went for a stroll. It was stillquite early in the evening and I didn't feel like sitting in my room like aBenedictine monk. As I walked along, I heard the rhythmic sound of Calypso musicin the distance.

I figured that it must be coming from the Fish Fry, a collection of outdoorvendors who cooked up fish, conch and so on caught fresh from the sea. Someoneat the hotel said that a lot of local musicians and dancers performed there on alarge outdoor stage. I decided to go and check it out.

As I walked towards the stretch of beach, I got the feeling that someone waswatching me. I looked over my shoulder and spotted of a couple of guys dartingbehind a dumpster.

Shrugging, I continued on my way. A few seconds later I whirled around; yep,there they were again, this time hiding behind some shrubbery. Very suspiciousbehaviour, that. Who were they? Muggers? That's all I needed...

I forced myself to continue on casually as if all was well. Once I'd reachedthe end of the block and turned the corner, however, I sprinted towards a narrowalleyway between two closed shops and hid inside, heart thudding in my chest asI heard my pursuers running to catch up with me. Unfortunately one of themlooked in and saw me as they dashed past. They stopped and stood in the entranceof the alley.

They were a strange, mismatched pair.

One of them was roughly forty-something. A portly fellow with a red face, hehad a walrus mustache and frizzy brown hair pressed down under a bowler hat. Hewas wearing a tweed jacket.

The other guy was only a few years older than me, in his early thirties, hisbrown hair close cropped. He was wearing a blue business suit, dark sunglassesand a stern expression.

Both men reached inside their jackets. The first man pulled out a pipe andcasually lit it, waving the match around to extinguish it. Meanwhile, the secondguy had hauled out a massive handgun, a Model 29 .44 magnum, and I found myselfstaring into the business end of it. It was like looking inside a railwaytunnel. I immediately put my hands up.

"Okay guys, you can take my wallet, watch, anything," I said, havingcontemplated the effects of stopping a .44 slug at a range of fifteen feet. "Idon't want any trouble."The first man stepped forward, pipe clenched between his teeth. He shook hishead.

"Game's up, old man," he said in a thoroughly English accent. He stuck hishand out. "Let's have it then and avoid any unnecesary brutality."I pulled out my wallet.

"The micofilm, pal," said the pistol-wielding suit-wearer. "Give him themicrofilm or I'm gonna blow yer head off." And he thumbed back the hammer with aloud 'click' for emphasis.

"What, you're really going to fire that thing at me," I snapped. "You thinknobody's going to hear it, do you? There's a police station just up the roadfrom here, you know. Anyway, I haven't got any microfilm."They both gaped at me, taken aback by my aggressive remarks, and I realisedthat perhaps I'd better not antagonise them any further. After all, I was theone getting mugged here; I'd better try to be more cooperative.

"I'm serious pal, hand it over. I'm not afraid to use this thing.""Oh yeah, you Americans and your guns," I mumbled. "You and your preciousconstitutional right to keep and arm bears, or... or something." Then I frownedat my words; that wasn't really the most diplomatic thing for me to say, was it?Perhaps I'd had one too many Bahama Mamas.

"I say, old bean," the Englishman muttered. "I wouldn't get him worked uplike that if I were you...""I get it, you must be one of those Canadians," the suit cut in. "Bunch ofgoddam spineless wimps."I knew I should just let the comment go and stop arguing. It wouldn't solveanything anyway and someone might get hurt, namely me. I'd just say somethingnonchalant by way of reply and let it all blow over.

"Sure, freedom of speech. You can say what you like about me and if Idisagree with it, you can just shoot me, right? Isn't that how it works in yourneck of the woods?""Lousy Canadians, don't know why we tolerate you livin' up there. We oughtajust go in and invade you. You guys are practically the fifty-first stateanyway.""Well if that's true, then we're far and away the best state in the union."The man suddenly handed his pistol to his partner, who held it gingerly withboth hands.

"That does it. I don't need a gun to handle a goddam Canadian," he growled,taking his jacket off.

"We'll see about that," I retorted, rolling up my sleeves. Well, it was hisfault; I'd tried to be nice, hadn't I?We put up our dukes and assumed the appropriate pugilistic positions.

Actually I'd never been in a fight before, despite having played hockey fortwenty-five years... unless you counted that one time last season in my team'ssemi-final playoff game, which had erupted into a good oldfashionedbench-clearing brawl halfway through the third period. Everyone was paired upand swinging except for me and the opposing goalie, so we'd looked across theice at each other, and thought 'what the hell'. We'd skated to centre ice andgot to grips, although it was difficult to do anything other than cling to eachothers' jersey and wrestle, encumbered as we were with goalie pads and otherbulky equipment; I was later told that we looked like a couple of clumsyastronauts doing the two-step.

The Englishman's voice interupted my thoughts.

"Hang on, he's one of us," he said, putting an arm out to bar his partner'sway. He was looking at my now exposed right forearm. "Surely they wouldn't havegiven the microfilm to him?""Well I'll be damned," the American said, putting his dukes down.

"Pardon?" I said, peering over my raised fists. "Who am I one of? What thehell's going on now?""You're left-handed," the American said. "Just like we are.""You're wearing your watch on your right wrist," the Englishman added inanswer to my questioning look. "Believe me, old son, you get to know thesethings doing what we do.""And what exactly do you do, aside from sticking people up in dark alleys?" Iasked, still wary of any tricks.

The American nodded at his English compatriot and turned to me, sayingsolemnly, "yer a leftie too, so it's only fair that you know.""Know WHAT? What are you talking about? Look, you're starting to weird meout.""This here is Bardolph. And I'm Cowboy. We're with the Sinister Circle," headded, as if that explained everything.

"We're a secret society of left-handers, my old," Bardolf said, warming tothe topic. "We're embroiled in a cloak and dagger war against an equally secretsociety of women who are trying to take over the world.""And your name's 'Bardolph'? As in Shakespeare's 'Lieutenant Bardolph'?" Iasked.

"It's not my real name, of course. It's a code name. Can't have a secretsociety without code names, what.""Okay, look, I've tried to be polite here because you've got guns," I said asI backed away from them, "but I just have to say, and I hope you don't take itthe wrong way, that you guys are a couple of real whack jobs."They both shrugged.

"I'm afraid it doesn't matter whether you believe us or not," Bardolph said.

"It's just as we've told you. And you're involved regardless, being left-handed,especially since we've let you in on the secret.""They would've gotten you in the end, even if you weren't involved with theSinister Circle," Cowboy added, taking his pistol back and holstering it. "Look,why don't we get out of here and we'll fill you in on all the details.""Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to hear you out," I said cautiously.

"There's a private beach at the British Colonial, right? Let's go there. Lessconspicuous than hanging out in a dark alley."We turned and headed back the way we'd come.

"So hey, since you guys both have code names, what are you going to call me?""Well, you're a Canadian, right? So we'll call you 'Canuck'.""That's original," I mumbled...

  Part 3There was a white gazebo-like structure at the far end of the private beach,standing over the water on stilts. We sat there on whicker benches while theybriefed me.

"So you mean to say it's been going on for centuries?" I asked, sippinganother Bahama Mama. (Those things are addictive.) "This female society takingover the world, I mean?""TRYING to take over the world," Cowboy corrected. "They would've succeeded along time ago if it weren't for us lefties.""But I'm still not exactly clear on who they are, or what they're reallytrying to do.""Originally they were a group of French and English noblewomen," Bardolphexplained. "They first came together over five centuries ago, towards the end ofthe Hundred Years' War. They were fed up with the destruction and chaos thattheir men had brought upon western Europe through their arrogance and stupidity.

They decided to try to stop it by influencing the decisions made by kings andnobles and so bring about a lasting peace. They had a broader goal in mind, yousee; uniting mankind for the good of all instead of furthering petty nationalinterests at the expense of all else.""There were a lot of powerful dames in that group," Cowboy added. "And to behonest, a guy can see how they had good intentions and everything.""But, over time, a power-hungry woman named Lucinda began to take control ofthe group, eliminating other members who refused to convert to her new order. Intime she came to have sole authority, and what started off as a noble endeavourended up as a personal quest for power. Lucinda was quite a ruthless young ladyso the story goes, and under her leadership the women's group became a force tobe reckoned with," Bardolph continued. He leaned closer, whispering, "they sayshe even had the ability to cloud mens' minds so they couldn't refuse heranything.""So why haven't they succeeded after so long?" I whispered back.

"Ah, that's where we come in, lad," he went on in hushed tones. "A nobleman,a left-hander, saw the danger Lucinda and her henchwomen posed and tried to putan end to it. The thing of it was, she had so many people under her spell bythen that they wouldn't listen to him, and when she discovered what he was upto, she had his lands repossessed and he fled to the hills, an outlaw.""Let me guess, he was the founder of the Sinister Circle," I murmured.

"Why are you guys whispering?" Cowboy demanded, making us jump.

"Correct," Bardolph said to me while glaring at Cowboy. "He discovered overtime that for some reason left-handed people weren't susceptible to her hypnoticwiles, so he recruited as many of his sinistral associates as he could. The twosecret societies fought each other much the way we do today; behind the scenes.

It's been going on like that ever since. Today the women seem to focus on tryingto take over powerful corporations and even governments. Whenever the SinisterCircle's spies get wind of their latest scheme, we send agents in to foil theirplans.""But it has to be dangerous," I said.

"Hell ya," Cowboy said. "Just yesterday we lost our irreverent Australian,the third member of our team. He was off by himself, following up a lead on thecourier's identity, when he just disappeared without a trace. 'Poof!', gone.""We can only assume that the women got him, poor chap," Bardolph said sadly.

" It's been happening a lot lately. Our lads have just been disappearing. Nobody ever turns up, nothing. Quite unusual, really. And speaking of women, whatdid they want with you earlier?""What, you mean those three in the restaurant?""Yes, those are the women we've been tailing. When Christine walked over toyour table, we assumed that she'd given you the microfilm. We thought you weretheir courier, you see."I shook my head. "She just wanted change for the jukebox. What's on themicrofilm, anyway?""It contains data on the Sinister Circle's members all over the world,"Cowboy said. "Who we are, where we live, aliases, information on our resistancecells recent activities, everything. Basically, if it gets back to the women'ssecret hideout they'd have all the information they need to wipe us out. Wehafta get it back at any cost.""If they haven't already got it to their HQ that is," Bardolph muttered. "Wehaven't been able to find out exactly who their courier is, you see, or whenthey're going to hand over the film. They may have passed it off already.""Maybe not. I heard them say that they were meeting someone later tonight," Isaid.

"So the exchange hasn't taken place yet," Bardolph mused. "All right, Ibelieve we ought to have a look around their hotel room. Possibly they've gotthe film tucked away in there somewhere for safe keeping."The women were staying at the Atlantis hotel on nearby Paradise Island. Wehurried down to the pier beside my hotel, took the next available water taxiacross the narrow strait and made our way to the posh hotel.

"They're on the fifth floor, room 505," Bardolph said, pressing theappropriate button in the elevator. "Hopefully they decide to go off dancing orsomething for the evening and give us a bit of time for a good look 'round."Cowboy easily foiled the card-lock on their door using some sort ofelectronic device hidden inside a pen. We pushed the door open and looked aroundin the semi-darkness. There were two queen sized beds and a couple of dressers.

The bathroom was over to the left. Sliding balcony doors to the right.

"Cowboy, you search the bathroom. Canuck and I will rifle their drawers,"Bardolph said, pulling open the nearest dresser drawer and dumping a pile ofclothes on the floor.

As I started pulling the drawers from the second dresser, I have to admitthat I began to feel a little nervous, crossing the line as we were to breakingand entering. And I didn't think the Bahamian cops would have believed us ifthey'd caught us and demanded an explanation for our deviant behaviour. Hell,I'm not so sure I even believed it yet!Although looking back on it now, I almost wish the cops HAD come in andhauled us off to the safety of a nice jail cell. Because it would have been ahell of a lot more pleasant than what we actually did go through.

When the women came in and got hold of us, I mean.

Which they did at that very moment...

  Part 4The door was unlocked and pushed open so quickly that we didn't even havetime to move.

"What the..." said Laura, as she turned on the lights and saw the results ofour handiwork. Then she looked straight at the three of us, standing like a trioof deer caught in the headlights of a semi.

I reacted the fastest and put a hastily conceived escape plan into action: Ismacked Cowboy on the back of the head.

"Oh you idiots," I said, rolling my eyes and adopting a longsufferingexpression. "See, I TOLD you this wasn't their room. We're very sorry ladies,but we thought this was our friend's room. It's a... a wedding night, er,prank.""It's that guy from the restaurant," Celeste said, ignoring me. "And thoseother two who've been sneaking around since we got here. I knew they wereworking together with that troublesome Aussie."The three of them pulled out weapons that resembled phasers from the originalStar Trek series.

"Aw, nuts," Cowboy said, belatedly reaching for his Smith and Wesson.

The women fired first.

A whining blue beam caught Cowboy full in the chest and he vanished.

"By God, they've disintegrated him...!" Bardolph cried, before a second beamenveloped him and he too was gone.

The third woman, the blond beauty, stepped forward to line me up.

I at least tried to make it difficult by hurling myself between the two beds,but she simply walked around and stood right over me.

"Good-bye leftie," she said, grinning wickedly. She pulled the trigger.

* * *I must have been out for only a few seconds, now that I think back on it.

But when I came to I had no idea how long I'd been unconscious, or even whereI was; none of my surroundings looked familiar. I wasn't dead though, that wasfor sure; my skull was pounding like a bass drum.

Wandering ahead a short distance, I came upon my two comrades, lookingsimilarly ill done to.

"Man, do I feel weird." Cowboy said groggily. "What the hell happened?""Dunno. Any idea where we are?" I asked, looking around. We were surroundedby large piles of... clothing? Naw, those things were way too big to be clothes.

They were about the size of collapsed circus tents.

Then I turned to the left and saw what I sincerely hoped was a figment of myimagination. "Hey," I called to the other guys. "Hey, does anyone else see thatover there, or have I just had too much rum?"They looked where I was pointing.

"Oh God," Bardolph muttered weakly.

It was a woman's foot. An enormous woman's foot, wearing a gigantic whiteplatform sandal. I had a feeling that I'd seen it somewhere before, only...

"Oh good, you're awake," said Christine, for it was she. But good grief, shewas like a hundred feet tall or something!Her shoe's platform sole, previously two inches in height, now came up toabout my chest.

We three little men looked up... looked waaay up... our gaze moving over herankle and following the curves of her shapely leg to see her face staring downat us. Her foreshortened body towered over us like a skyscraper. A verybeautiful and sexy skyscraper. I gulped, remembering the look she'd given mebefore she'd shot me; a very dangerous skyscraper.

"They've bloody-well shrunk us," Bardolph whispered incredulously. "We'restill in their hotel room, but we must be only three inches tall now."We were all standing in front of the dresser among the women's clothing we'ddumped out.

Christine was leaning over us, hands on her knees, her long blond hairhanging down all around her pretty face.

She laughed, the sound rolling like thunder overhead. It scared the pyjamasout of us.

"They're all alive," she called to the other two women, who were equally asimposing to us.

"Excellent," said Laura. "Gather them in a container and we'll deal with themafter the courier has the microfilm."Christine looked down at us again, her eyes glimmering in a manner slightlyunsettling to us.

"Let me squish 'em," she begged. "Please? I'll take care of 'em right hereand now."She shifted her position in anticipation, her right sandal tilting back onits five inch heel. (Or ten foot heel, depending on whose perspective you saw itfrom, theirs or ours...)"No, leave them alone for now. We have to interrogate them first," Laurasaid. "Just put them in the cage.""Oh, all right," she pouted, looking down at us again and wagging her finger.

"One false move, little ones, and I'll have to squash ya'," she warned, addinghopefully in a whisper, "come on, please try to escape. Just one of you? I'llmake it quick for ya'..."Not surprisingly we didn't move an inch, looking at those giant shoes andvisualising what it might feel like to suddenly be underneath them.

Realising that we weren't going to willingly fling ourselves beneath her feetfor her amusement, she turned and went to the closet to get the cage.

"Canuck," Cowboy said, pointing. "What's that over there?"It was the microfilm. (Of course at our size it was just 'film', really...)The silver disc was partly hidden under some clothes behind me. It was roughlytwo feet in diameter to us, so I reckoned it must be about one inch across froma normal perspective.

"Get it," Bardolph ordered.

"You get it," I replied hotly. "Look, if I make any sort of false move,she'll quite happily rub me out beneath her shoe like a cigarette butt.""What the hell IS a 'false move' anyway?" Cowboy asked.

"Shurrup!" Bardolph hissed at him. "Look Canuck, just do as I say, old man.

That film is vitally important.""So's my bloody life! And where the hell am I supposed to go with it onceI've got it? I'm not likely to win any sort of a foot race against thesetowering beauties now, am I?""Never mind your paltry excuses, just pick it up, man!""Aw hell, I'll get the damn thing," Cowboy said as he dashed across thefloor. He picked the film up and stood there looking pleased with himself.

Then Christine spotted him, at which point things became rather chaotic...

  Part 5Cowboy let out an excited yell (which seemed to confirm my theory that he wasutterly mad) and pelted towards the nearest bed with his prize while thegargantuan blond bore down on him.

"Stop him!" Laura shouted. "NO, don't step on him Christine! You'll damagethe film!"Cowboy stopped and threw the film towards me like an oversized frisbee beforediving under the bed.

"I got it! I got it!" I cried, and then suddenly wished that I hadn't got itas all three giant women converged on me at once, their thunderous footstepsshaking the floor. "Here Bardolph, you take it," I said, throwing it to him andthen hastily worming my way into a pile of massive brassieres and things.

Bardolph caught the flying film and charged gallantly across the floortowards the door, film tucked under one arm, the other hand holding his hat on.

The women were having a hard time chasing us down; high-heeled platform shoesweren't really designed for this sort of activity. Celeste lost her balancetrying to change direction and crashed heavily to the floor, but the other twokept after him.

It was madness, like playing some absurd game of tag. Only I hoped to Godthat none of the women managed to tag ME...

"Cowboy, a little assistance if you please, my good man," Bardolph calledcalmly, seeing his way blocked by Laura's feet. He flung the film across theroom again and ran the opposite way, cheeks puffing out with the effort. Cowboycaught the spinning disc and kept going, one arm held in front of him like arunning back on his way to the end zone, with Celeste stomping after him. Iheard the BOOM, BOOM, BOOM of her approaching footsteps and crawled out fromunder the igloo-sized cup of a bra just in time to see her gigantic black sandalstep forward.

"Argh!" quoth I, watching death descend upon me.

The shoe crashed to the floor on top of me, the ball of her foot behind me,spike heel right in front. I was thrown into the air by the impact, landing onmy back. I stared up at the gold printing on the underside of her shoe. 'Size8', it said. 'Made in Italy'.

Then her foot lifted off again as she took another step in pursuit of thefleeing Cowboy. She hadn't even noticed me.

Traumatised and trembling, I nevertheless managed to stand up. Then theflying disc clonked me on back of the head and I fell down again.

"Sorry," Cowboy shouted. "Thought you were watching.""I say, Canuck old boy," Bardolph called. "Head for the vent!""The vent, right," I muttered dazedly, heading across the floor.

The three of us ran towards the vent, tossing the microfilm laterally betweenus like three undersized rugger players, swerving to avoid the women's' stompingfeet and other such nuisances.

And then we were through the slats of the vent, alive and essentiallyunharmed. I hardly dared to believe it.

Cowboy, the very model of restraint, immediately ran back to the metal barsand looked out at the angry women, who were laying down on the floor.

"Na, na, na, na, naa-naaaa," he taunted, thumbs in his ears, fingerswiggling. "You can't get uUSSSS...!" He suddenly flew backwards as the vent wasripped from the wall with an appalling grinding noise and Laura's hand camethrusting inside. Her long fingers began groping for Cowboy, who was now settinga land speed record for the fastest backward crawl. Bardolph and I had alreadyprudently scuttled into the depths of the metal tunnel and were hiding around abend.

When Laura had pushed her arm in up to her shoulder, Cowboy stopped hisretreat. Seeing that he was out of danger, he stood up and actually kicked herfinger. We could hear her swearing angrily as she withdrew her arm.

"Call the drones," she shouted irritably.

"What are drones?" I asked.

"They're right-handed men who've had their brains erased," Bardolph wheezed,still out of breath from being chased after like a rogue cockroach.

"It's hard to tell 'em apart from all the other right-handers," Cowboysmirked.

"The women have reprogrammed them to act as slaves. They serve the women,usually doing the menial tasks and so on. They also act as thugs.""I see," I said. "Well, as long as they're out there and we're in here..."I was interrupted by the unmistakable whining blasts of the women's' shrinkguns firing.

A few moments later the three of us peered nervously around the corner andsaw about a dozen of the shrunken drones climbing into the vent, dressed in themottled grey and white of urban camo and wearing army boots.

They were all big, tough-looking guys.

Carrying sub-machine guns.

"Isn't that bloody marvellous," Bardolph muttered as the first drone raisedhis weapon and fired a deafening burst down the tunnel at us...

  Part 6The dark, round vent stretched before us like the screen from some'first-person shooter' video game, our only light coming from the slattedopenings in other rooms we passed occasionally. Fortunately for us there were alot of bends and twists in the tunnel to break up the line of fire; the droneswere a bit too eager with their Uzis for my liking.

Cowboy brought up the rear, pausing now and then to peg a couple of shotsaround the corner.

"Do you guys actually know where you're going?" he asked, stuffing shellsinto the cylinder of his pistol. His voice sounded hollow, echoing along thetunnel.

"Yes, Cowboy. We're both intimately familiar with the layout of theventilation system in this particular hotel," Bardolph said dryly, puffing forbreath as we stopped for a quick rest.

Cowboy grunted and peeked around the corner. "They're on the radio again. Thewomen will know exactly where we are unless we can lose those guys somehow.""We need to get out of the vent. It's too easy to follow us in here," I said.

"Let's go out the next opening and take our chances outside."Cowboy waved us on, firing several shots to keep our pursuers' heads down.

Bardolph and I ran along until we came to a hole in the vent floor, leading tothe lower levels of the hotel. There was no way around it.

"I say, Cowboy, when you're ready follow us down the hole!" Bardolph shoutedover the deafening staccato of sub-machine gun fire. He gave us the thumbs up byway of reply.

With that I jumped into the dark hole, plunging downward for what seemed aneternity before the vent curved forward and I slid the rest of the way like Iwas on a water-less water slide. I came to a stop in front of another slattedvent. Peering out, I saw that we were in the lobby of the hotel again.

Bardolph suddenly slid into view clutching the round disc, and, preceded by aloud and gleeful caterwauling, Cowboy arrived moments later. We squeezed throughthe vent and edged along the baseboard of the wall, trying to keep away from thenumerous pairs of feet walking to and fro in the lobby. All of them belonged toyoung women I observed, which I thought rather strange until I saw the largesign that read, 'Welcome, International Cheerleaders Conference!'"Under the couch over there," Cowboy said, leading the way across the floorduring a lull in the female foot traffic. "The drones're right behind us and wedon't want to be caught in the open."Diving under the gigantic sofa, we quickly discussed and discarded a fewplans.

"We need to get the microfilm away from the women, that's got to be our toppriority," Bardolph said. "We'll find a way to unshrink ourselves later... oop,keep your heads down!"The first drone had appeared outside the vent, looking cautiously left andright.

"We can't just stay under here," Cowboy hissed. "They'll find us in no time.""But where should we go?" Bardolph mused aloud. "Too much traffic in thelobby, not enough places to duck into."Meanwhile, I was staring at the giant cheerleaders. (To see where they wereGOING, f'r cryin' out loud! Sheesh.)"Hey, if we get a move on we can slip through the lobby doors over there whensomeone opens them," I said, pointing at the large glass doors leading to theback of the hotel.

"Capital idea, Canuck," Bardolph said, slapping me on the back. "See, youwere wrong about him, Cowboy..."We ran across the floor when a couple of bikini-clad women came into sightand fell in a safe distance behind their flapping leather thongs, waiting forthe right moment.

"There they are!" came the shout from somewhere behind us as the dronesspotted us.

The women opened the door and walked through. "Now!" I said, ducking throughthe narrowing gap of the closing door. The other two joined me just as a burstof gunfire ricocheted off the thick glass.

We found ourselves outside in some sort of mock up of a waterfall cave, witha damp rock tunnel leading out to the hotel's back yard. We followed the twogiant beauties as they entered the tunnel.

Coming out into the sunlight at the other end, it was like entering abachelor's paradise.

There were a couple of pools and water slides, palm trees aplenty and Calypsomusic piped over a PA system. There was a massage hut staffed by a busty Swedishmasseuse, a sports equipment hut that rented scuba gear and sea-kayaks, andoutdoor bars at either end of the private beach serving exotic drinks with niftylittle umbrellas in them.

Oh yes, and several dozen cheerleaders scattered all around the place; theneedle of the pulchritude meter went off the scale.

We stood stock-still in the middle of the concrete path, mouths agape at thewondrous sight before us. Then a group of chattering young women strode alongthe path towards us and we beat a hasty retreat under a row of deck chairs.

"Here come the drones," I warned, climbing onto the flat leather sole of awoman's thong and ducking behind the toe loop. They were skulking through thegrass and flowers beside the path, relentlessly stalking us. It didn't look likethey'd spotted us, however.

"Where to next, fellas?" Cowboy asked as he looked up interestedly at thesleeping form of the giantess on the deck chair above us.

"We've just got to stay ahead of them," Bardolph said, sitting down in atoeprint on the shoe beside me, wiping his sweating brow with a hanky. "Justthink of it as a game of 'keep away'.""Except in the version of 'keep away' that I'm used to the other side doesn'tspray 9mm bullets at you or try to grind you into mincemeat under giant shoes,"I grumbled.

Bardolph's witty rejoinder died in his throat when he saw that the threewomen had arrived to help their drones track us down...

  Part 7The three of them stood outside the tunnel, hands on their hips as theyimperiously surveyed the area. They were close enough that we could hear themtalking.

"Celeste and I have to go and meet the courier and explain why we don't havethe film," Laura said to Christine.

"There you are, Gloomy Gus," Bardolph said cheerfully, elbowing me in theribs. "Two of them are leaving!""Well, happy-happy, joy-joy," I mocked. "That leaves only twelve heavilyarmed drones and one giantess for us to handle. We're sure to beat them now!""Christine, you stay here with the drones and track down those SinisterStupes," Laura continued.

The blond grinned eagerly.

"But I want them alive, remember?" Laura reminded her sternly. "Tiny greasestains can't tell us anything, so do NOT crush them."Her grin disappeared and she stuck her lower lip out petulantly. "Okaaay.""I want you to promise."Christine rolled her eyes. "I promise not to crush 'em," she sighed. Only shehad her fingers crossed.

When the other two had left, she turned around and we saw that all toofamiliar glint in her eyes. "Oh bloody 'ell," Bardolph muttered.

She ordered the drones to spread out in a wider search pattern, poking aroundin every conceivable hiding space while she walked slowly along the path,looking left and right for any sign of us.

We retreated as far as we could under the row of deck chairs. If we tried todash across the open walkway we'd be spotted for sure, with nowhere to hide.

Our attention was drawn to a couple of kids beside a shallow fish pond,playing with radio controlled boats in the water. At that moment their motherarrived with a pair of ice cream cones and the kids bolted across the deck intheir haste to receive them, leaving their boats unattended.

We looked from the boats to the approaching feet of Christine to the dronesand finally to each other. We shrugged.

"Let's go," Cowboy said, picking up the film and sprinting across the deck tothe edge of the water.

"There they are, by the pond," Christine said into her radio. We heard thesound of her shoes clacking after us. No turning back now.

We jumped across into the nearest model boat, which would've been almost twofeet long to everyone else in the world. It was a sleek craft, highly detailed,right down to the life boat with its little electric outboard motor. Cowboyslipped the microfilm into the lifeboat, securing it under one of the seats.

The remote control was sitting in the stern of the ship, where the pilotwould stand in the life-size version. It had a lever for a throttle, withseveral notches in it, up for 'full-ahead', down for 'full-astern'. The steeringwheel was on the right hand side of the control unit.

I manned the throttle, shoving it forward, and the boat surged ahead withBardolph gripping the wheel resolutely. Cowboy stood at the bow of the ship,calling out directional commands. We cruised into the middle of the pond,swerving around an island. The pond curved gently and lead to a tunnel of somesort. We kept going, hearing the growling engine of the other ship. Presumablythe drones had followed our example and were doggedly continuing the chase. Ourboat entered the darkness of the tunnel, the rumbling of our enginereverberating loudly, and then we shot out the other side. I cut the throttleback, leaving the engine idling, to take in our surroundings.

The rock walls of the pool soared high above us now, at least fifteennormal-sized feet up, and the water was extremely deep, as much as twenty feet.

Looking over the side into the crystal clear depths of it I suddenly understoodwhy.

The Atlantis was renowned for its large outdoor sea-life habitat. Peoplecould walk around a scenic path on the edge of it and even descend undergroundand walk through a glass underwater tunnel to see the abundant marine lifeswimming around them. Marine life which included all manner of exotic fish,eels, and turtles.

And sharks. Oh God, the sharks; only little guys in reality maybe, they wereprobably twice as long as our little model boat.

Suddenly, a grey dorsal fin the size of a large sail rose from the waterbehind us and knifed rapidly across the surface before submerging again, leavinga whirling eddy as the only proof that it had ever been there.

"I wonder if it's too late to surrender to that nice blond lady," Iwhispered, as the blood drained rapidly from our faces...

  Part 8We didn't have much time to ponder this latest threat to our existencebecause the drone-filled boat roared out of the tunnel after us moments later.

Those drones not occupied by actually piloting their boat were firing burstsof semi-accurate fully-automatic gunfire in our general direction. Bulletsstitched across the water all around us and chopped into the hull, sendingsplinters of lacquered wood and plastic flying.

I shoved the throttle forward again and tried to duck my head into myshoulders like a turtle. Cowboy drew his pistol and clung drunkenly to theflagpole as Bardolph spun the wheel to starboard in a sudden avoiding manoeuvre.

The two boats wove crazily back and forth across the water like it was a MiamiVice episode.

Above the roar of the engine I heard multiple tearing bursts of Uzi firepunctuated by the booming 'crack!' of Cowboy's .44 magnum.

"I came here to have a nice, peaceful vacation," I snarled, as more of oursuperstructure disintegrated under a withering hail of bullets. "To get awayfrom it all and RELAX, for fu...""BLIMEY!" a wide-eyed Bardolph interrupted, seeing a school of monstrous tunaswim across our bow with bovine indifference. He spun the wheel franticallywhile I yanked the throttle into reverse. We barely avoided a fatal collisionwith the fish, but the other boat was now suddenly parallel to us.

The drones blinked at us dimly, taken by surprise. Cowboy shot one of them inthe chest, the large hollow-point slug knocking the drone onto his back, feetstuck in the air as if he was doing a slapstick routine or something.

The others quickly recovered their wits and returned fire. More jagged piecesof hull whizzed through the air as the 9mm slugs ripped into our boat.

"CANUCK,GIVEUSSOMEBLOODYSPEED!" Bardolph screamed, as he tried to steer theboat and cover his face against flying splinters at the same time.

I obliged, jamming the throttle to 'full ahead' once more while Cowboyemptied his gun at the other boat.

"It's no use," he hollered as he crouched down to reload. "I need somethingbigger than a pistol. If I'd known we'd be fighting a running battle with halfthe fuggen countryside I'd have brought..."I looked up when he paused, seeing him stare at something at the bow of ourship that we hadn't really paid attention to thus far. It was a rocket launcher.

Only a toy one obviously, with a plastic, rubber-tipped missile, but still...

"Take the throttle," I shouted at Bardolph, running forward to assist Cowboy.

I plunked myself down in the loader's seat; he was in the gunner's seatbeside me trying to get the other boat in his sights as it curved gracefullyaround for another firing run at us, sending up a large bow wave.

"Over to the left," he said. "Hurry up, they'll be on our ass in a minute!"I cranked the handle like a demented organ grinder and the launcher slowlyswung outwards to face the approaching boat.

"Lower the elevation a little," he said. "Good, good. Okay, here goes..."He yanked the firing lever and the spring-loaded gun kicked, hurling itspayload at the unsuspecting drones. The missile struck them amidships, knockingthree of them kicking and screaming into the water.

"Nice shot," I cried, giving him a high five.

The other boat shied away from us, the pilot turning back to pick up the menin the water.

But they were too late. A huge dorsal fin appeared and headed rapidly towardsthe terrified swimmers. The jaws of the monster shark snapped murderously downon them, cutting their screams short. With a flick of its tail it vanishedbeneath the waves again, leaving nothing but a lingering patch of blood on thesurface.

"Good God," Bardolph said, horrified.

"Well, better them than..."A large geyser rose into the air and splashed down over us, leaving the boatpitching violently.

Looking around for the source of this latest inconvenience, we spottedChristine standing on the observation deck. She was throwing rocks into thepool, despite the large sign beside her that said 'Don't Throw Rocks Into ThePool'.

"You've gotta be kiddin' me," a dripping and bedraggled Cowboy grumbled asshe cocked her arm back and hurled another boulder-sized stone at us. Anothernear miss, more water plunging down over us.

"Bardolph..." I shouted.

"I can't bloody-well steer AND operate the throttle, you gormless colonial!"Swearing as an errant 9mm slug plowed a jagged furrow across the deck besideme, I made my way aft again and held the throttle wide open. The other boatfollowed us, the remaining drones thoroughly pissed off at us now.

All of this violent activity had drawn quite a crowd, I noticed. Dozens ofexcited gigantic cheerleaders leaned over the railings far above us to see whatwas happening down below. They were even laughing and applauding our efforts forGod's sake, as if we were staging this whole thing for their amusement!As we sped across the water to a different section of the aquarium Christineelbowed her way through the crowd to keep us in sight, pausing to fling anotherrock or two at us like some gorgeous two-eyed cyclops.

Then the drones surged past us again, riddling our boat even more withgunfire. I wasn't sure how much more of this we could take; our once proudvessel was beginning to look like a piece of seafaring Swiss cheese. Butsuddenly the other boat sheered off.

"What the hell..." a confused Cowboy started, until he saw the shadow fallover us. "Hard a-port!"But Bardolph couldn't react in time and Christine's hand grabbed the bow ofour ship and held on tightly, her fingers crushing the hull.

We had inadvertently entered a shallow part of the aquarium where the wallswere a lot lower. Christine had leaned way over the railing to reach us and nowshe began to pull our boat out of the water, holding us by the prow. However,when she lifted us into the air the stern-end of the ship tilted downward andthe three of us shuffled overboard like a multi-national chorus line exitingstage right.

We plunged briefly through space and landed in the water, joined by anythingelse that hadn't been bolted down on deck. Thankfully this included the littlemotor launch with the microfilm in it.

"Oh, darn," Christine sulked, having hauled her prize up and discovered thatwe'd jumped ship, however unwillingly. She tossed the empty vessel aside and itsmashed to pieces on the ground.

Meanwhile, Cowboy and Bardolph had already climbed into the life boat andwere fiddling with the electric outboard motor. I was still paddling towardsthem through the floating debris, doing my impression of a drowned rat.

Bardolph turned to see what was keeping me. His eyes suddenly grew to thesize of saucers. "I say, Canuck old chap, you'd better get a move on!"Treading water, I turned around to see what he was looking at and aged thirtyyears in fright; a hungry shark had come along to see what all the fuss wasabout and had zeroed in on me, tail thrashing, dorsal fin slicing across thesurface.

My arms and legs blurred to life as I swam like a terror-crazed cartooncharacter, practically skipping over the water into the boat. A moment later thehuge grey form of the shark dove under us, scraping against the keel of theboat.

Cowboy finally managed to start the motor, while I lay there on the narrowdeck reduced to a state of nervous prostration by the close call. Bardolphstarted slapping me to bring me around.

"Drones're coming back," Cowboy commented, steering us towards a lowfootbridge spanning the shallow end of the aquarium; Christine was already onher way there to head us off. Meanwhile the shark had surfaced again and wascoming at us broadside-on.

"Options, anyone?" Bardolph asked, annoyingly calm and unruffled in spite ofeverything.

"Options?" I echoed hysterically, sitting up. "You want options? I'll giveyou our options! We can stop right here and get our collective ass shot off bythat boatload of trigger happy goons astern of us. Or we can keep going andJaws' big brother over there will have us for lunch, plastic friggin' boat andall. And if neither of those very real possibilities materialize, well we canalways get caught by that beautiful but rather homicidally inclined giantess infront of us! How's that for options, then?!""Pull yourself together, man," Bardolph muttered disapprovingly. "You'reletting the side down a bit, what?"After Cowboy had pried my fingers from Bardolph's throat, we continued ontowards the bridge, staking everything on one final desperate play...

  Part 9The shark, as it turned out, lost interest in the whole affair after Cowboyvery expertly shot its eye out. (I'll never mock Americans and their gun fetishagain...) The drones, however, kept right with us, which was actually part ofour plan.

Christine clomped onto the wooden deck of the bridge just as we disappearedinto the shadows under it. The drones followed in our wake, assuming that we'dbe continuing out to the other side. Apparently Christine assumed the samething, for one moment we saw the drones' ship emerge into the sunlight, the crewlooking around in vain for us, and the next, the ship had exploded into amillion pieces, drones and parts of drones splashing down into the water withthe other debris. Christine, in an overenthusiastic attempt to bring the chaseto an end, had smashed a handy sea-kayak paddle down on them, believing that ourlittle motor boat would be the first one to emerge.

"Oops," she said, looking over the railing to survey her handiwork. Shequickly tried to pluck the surviving drones from the water before they becamefish food.

We, meanwhile, had hidden our boat behind one of the support beams of thebridge and scrambled back onto good old terra firma.

The three of us ran like mad towards the hotel again, hoping that Christinewouldn't know where we'd gone...

"All right you guys, that's far enough," she thundered, freezing us in ourtracks. Damn. We were smack in the middle of the path, nowhere to run. We turnedaround.

Christine was standing there, legs slightly apart, feet planted firmly on theground, hands on her hips, looking down at us like a goddess. An angry goddess.

The two surviving, waterlogged drones were with her, but standing discretelybehind her out of harm's way; if those guys were afraid of her and they wereactually on her side...

"Let's have it," she demanded, crouching down in front of us and filling ourhorizon so quickly that we cried out as one man, throwing our arms up in frontof our faces. She laughed. "Whatsamatter, boys? You scared of li'l ole me?"After she'd taken the disc from Bardolph she rose to her full height. My God,was she ever big.

"Now, let me see..." she said, pretending to be thoughtful. "What was it thatLaura wanted me to do with you? Hm, I think she said she wanted you guys...

SQUASHED FLAT!""Uh, no she said that we were to be taken alive," I corrected. Politely.

"He's right, Christine. We've got to take them alive for questioning..." oneof the drones began. She turned and glared down at him. "...although I probablydidn't hear it right," he quickly added, the coward.

"That's more like it," she said. She lifted her right foot to take a casual,tiny-man-crushing step forward. "Ah, this is the part I like best about fightingyou loopy lefties. Shrinking you down and..."She was interrupted by a small figure that swooped down on her from a nearbytree.

"Waahoooooo!" he shrieked as he swung past her on a length of vine like atiny Tarzan, snatching the microfilm from her hand. "I'll take that, sheila!"He finished his swing by jumping onto a branch of the neighbouring tree. Hethen made a rather rude gesture at the enraged Christine.

"It's Bruce," Cowboy said, waving up at him.

"G'day, you lot," Bruce the irreverent Australian shouted. "You still can'tmanage without me, I see.""Give me that film back, you little creep," Christine demanded. "How did youget out of your cage?" She reached up in vain to grab Bruce, the three of us onthe ground momentarily forgotten.

The two drones charged forward to prevent us from escaping however, but sincethey'd lost their weapons in the boating accident they weren't nearly asdangerous. One of them went after Bardolph, knocking him to the ground. Cowboyquickly joined the fray, coming to the Englishman's aid. That left me to fightoff the second bruiser by myself.

He was almost as tall as my six feet, three inches, but he had themusculature of Arnold Schwarzenegger which I, well, didn't.

"Cowboy! Do me a favour and shoot this guy," I said.

"Sorry, I'm out of bullets," he replied, joyfully pounding the other drone inthe face.

"Swell," I mumbled as my adversary tackled me, knocking the wind out of me. Iwrithed out of a half-Nelson (or was it a full-Nelson? Either way it was damnedpainful...) and tried to make a run for it.

"Woof!" I said as he grabbed me by the shirt, spun me around and drove a fistthe size of a Chevy 350 engine block into my stomach. He then smashed me in themouth with a right hook, my jaw moving several inches to one side. I staggeredback a step and fell over (I seemed to be doing that a lot lately). A flock ofannoying little bluebirds started circling my head singing, "It's a small worldafter all." I shook my head violently to dispel them.

Not content with the grievous bodily harm he'd already done me, the brutehauled me to my feet, threw me heavily against a boulder-sized rock and therebysaved my life.

Christine was stretching up to reach Bruce, who was taunting her a secondtime, when she lost her balance and took a quick step backwards. Her foot camedown exactly where I'd been sitting only moments before, and where the drone wasstill standing, unfortunately for him. He disappeared beneath the platform soleof her sandal with a loud 'crunch!'Feeling something squelch under her, she looked down, lifting her foot to seewhat she'd trodden one. There was her little henchman, spreadeagled and lookingslightly more two-dimensional than the last time she'd seen him. The drone'sfatigues had never been so crisply pressed, however.

"Ooh, those darn lefties," she said between clenched teeth.

Meanwhile, Cowboy and Bardolph had rendered their adversary unconscious andcome over to help me hobble away, but deep down we knew there'd be no escapingthis time.

Christine had given up on Bruce for the moment and was walking determinedlytowards us. We backed away as quickly as we could, but knew full well that wecouldn't outrun her.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of a forest. A forest of femalelegs. I backed up against something and sat down. I looked up. An attractive,friendly face was smiling down at me. It was one of cheerleaders. I was perchedon her toes.

The other cheerleaders closed ranks around the three of us, arms crossed.

"Get out of my way," Christine growled at them.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own size?" one of the cheerleaders, anathletic brunette demanded.

"Why don't you mind your own business?" Christine retorted, reaching for hershrink gun.

The brunette didn't give her the chance to use it, shoving her hard against apalm tree. A large coconut detached itself from among the quivering palm frondshigh above and dropped straight onto Christine's head with a 'bonk!'. Her eyesrolled up and she slumped to the ground, out like a light.

Our rescuers got down on their hands and knees in a circle around us.

"Aw, just look at you," one of them cooed, gingerly picking Cowboy up for acloser inspection. "You guys are sooo cute!"Well, I suppose we were a bit, in a rugged, man of the world sort of way.

The brunette cheerleader came over holding Christine's shrink gun. Bardolphstepped forward to address her.

"Is there any sort of a setting switch on that thing, love?""Yeah, it says 'shrink' and 'restore'.""Ah, good. Would you be so kind as to put it on 'restore' and turn it on us?"She crouched down in front of us, holding a hand out for me to climb onto.

"Are you sure you want me to do it right now?" she asked, lifting me to eyelevel and giving me a coy giantess smile. "It was getting kind of boring aroundhere until you little guys showed up.""Er, well, I suppose we can tarry a little," Bardolph said, flushing brightred as he was scooped up and kissed enthusiastically by another of the giantcheerleaders.

"Hoi, will you three bladdy wankers stop makin' time with the ladies an' getme down?" Bruce demanded. "Cor, I save your bacon an' this is 'ow you pay meback?"One of the cheerleaders was despatched to retrieve our tree-bound Aussie, andin the festivities that took place shortly thereafter we discovered that itwasn't really so bad after all, being shrunk.

It just depended upon the company one chose to keep...

  ConclusionI'm not sure if I'll ever be able to purge myself of some of the darkermemories from that day; I often wake up in the small hours, drenched in sweat,with the stark images of killer sharks and giant platform sandals slowly fadinginto the recesses of my mind as consciousness takes hold.

But the day after all of that homicidal insanity had occured, when I went tothe airport to meet my two friends, I only had memories of unabashedly friendlygiantess cheerleaders and jacuzzi-sized Bahama Mamas on my mind.

I met Ray and Jerry at the gate and as we headed to the baggage claim areaRay asked me how my first day had been.

"Ah, you know how these bass ackward southpaws are," Jerry cut in, punchingme on the shoulder. "He probably just wandered into the closet and sat there allnight thinking it was the coldest sauna he'd ever been in."I caught sight of Bardolph, Cowboy and Bruce just then, heading towards anunmarked private jet. I waved at them.

The three of them stood at attention and threw me a crisp military salute inreply.

Using their left hands, of course.

"Yeah, something like that," I belatedly replied to Jerry, smiling as wepicked up their bags and walked out into the hot Bahamian sunshine.