The premise and all established characters of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' belong to Joss Whedon and his collaborating deities (sorry: corporations, organisations and individuals), and I had no intention of claiming otherwise. Please, don't sue me: I'm not making money off this, so the only things you might win would be my Sarah McLachlan CDs and my computer - and you can have the CDs when you pry them from my cold dead fingers. :-)
On the other hand, any character you *don't* recognise from canon is almost certainly my creation, and my permission must be obtained before anyone else uses them. Heck, the only canon characters I'm using are Wesley, Travers, and Merrick. :-)
The opinions, views, and biases that may be expressed by the characters within this story are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the author or archivist(s). Certain real-life organisations are mentioned, but any similarity to actual persons, policies, practices or events is purely accidental.

Set before the first season of canon Buffy; contains references through the first three seasons, though with an AU twist.

Uh... overall a hard R-16, leaning towards R-18 at points (that's NC-17 to you Yanks). Foul language, graphic violence, atrocities, some sexual content and sexual violence, drug use, and generally a lot of dark and seedy adult themes and material. You have been warned: steer clear, or suck it up.

1. This is a prequel to 'Matryoshka', written more or less in parallel, so I'm pretty sure none of this directly contradicts canon. Be aware that while it's set mostly in the Buffy-verse, I'm only using one canon character in a major way; almost everybody else is an original creation. This is a Taz-verse story, pure and simple - a look at a different kind of Slayer/support-crew/villain(s).
2. Italic text is thoughts/non-verbal communication, non-English words, or names, depending on context. \Backslashes\ indicate dialogue translated from another language, and {brackets} is a transmitted medium - electronic, written, or true telepathy.
3. Feedback is, of course, welcome; criticism that is in any way constructive will be accepted, but out-and-out flames will be met with HALON.
4. Napier residents will note I've fictionalised some of the town's geography, locations, and institutions. To the best of my knowledge New Zealand is not a police state, and hopefully never will be.
5. I'm posting this instead of 'Matryoshka' mainly to get it out of my head so I can get *something* done. Hopefully, I should be able to clear out some of the cobwebs and make more progress on both fics once I get a couple of chapters of this posted and out of the way. :-D
6. More notes will follow when/if I can arrange my thoughts into something approaching coherence.


W: Of course, training procedures have been updated quite a bit since your day. Much greater emphasis on field work.
G: Really?
W: Oh, yes. Not all books and theory nowadays. I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.
G: Well, no danger of finding those here.
W: Vampires?
G: Controlled circumstances.

Wesley Wyndam-Pryce and Rupert Giles

'Bad Girls' - Buffy ep. 3:14

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Courage is rarely reckless or foolish... courage usually involves a highly realistic estimate of the odds that must be faced.

Margaret Truman.

You've just crossed over into... the Twilight Zone.

19:42, THURSDAY MARCH 15, 1993, LIMA - 07:42/15-03-93, ZULU

Tatyana Alekseyevna Zyrianova slowed to a walk for a moment as she and her companion came to the corner. "\Y'know, Misha, most people would take a break on their birthday,\" she observed, tucking a stray strand of henna-dark hair back into the rubber band that secured her pony-tail.

Peter Michael McKellar gave his best - and almost *only* - friend a *look* that was clear even behind the mirrored sunglasses that were almost part of his face. "\Since when do *you* pike out on anything, Taz?\" he countered, with a dash of genial scorn.

Taz smiled crookedly. "\Never have, never will - but that's not the point. You're fourteen today, Misha; you're allowed to eat cake and watch videos for once, instead of sweating your way up a hill.\"

"\Comes with the territory, Taz.\"

Taz tipped her head, conceding the point. Both of them had long since developed a fixed determination to follow in the footsteps of their father-figure, Andrew Hazelton, who was Taz's only uncle - and a hard-bitten 'retired' veteran of the NZSAS. "\It's your funeral, my white wolf.\"

"\Only if we let up, Taz,\" he grinned crookedly. "\C'mon, let's keep going.\"

Even as they resumed their trot up the slopes around the bottom of the Botanical Gardens, Taz reflected on her friend's casual fluency with languages with a curious lack of envy. She'd been born and raised speaking Russian and he'd come to it only a few weeks before meeting her, yet he was as at ease speaking the language of the Tzars as she was. In fact, he spoke Russian a touch better than *she* did, in a Saint Petersburg dialect as perfect as her mother's, while *her* English was still a shade stilted and accented. But then, the universe has to compensate for his difficulties in *some* w-

Taz almost skidded to a halt as every cell in her body started singing like crystal. She wasn't self-absorbed enough to claim to be psychic, but she'd always had a very well-developed sixth sense - made more so by Andrushka's teachings - and she'd learned to ignore it only at her peril. And right now, it was screaming at her.

Misha had stopped almost as she did. "\What?\"

She cocked her head a little. "\I don't know... I've just got a bad feeling.\"

"Awwwwwshit," the albino breathed. *Those* were words he'd heard all too often. And Taz had never learned how to back down from trouble. "Now what?"

"\The Gardens. Let's get out of sight until we see what's going on.\"

The Botanical Gardens were comprised of several hectares of parklands that clung to the central slope of a box-canyon formed by two off-shoots of Ahuriri Hill; the bordering slopes were covered in family homes that looked down on the trees, flower-gardens, and ornamental water-courses. One of those ponds was tucked away in a copse of trees and underbrush, and it was here that the two erstwhile joggers took cover. The sun had already dipped behind the overlooking ridgeline, and their dark-blue tracksuits meant they were well-concealed by the gloom.

A few seconds later, they heard noise from a few metres up-hill - the slapping footfalls of a couple of people moving fast in bare feet, then the crackle of those people tearing through the underbrush. Taz waved Misha over a few metres, so he'd have a better angle to cut off anyone who tried to bolt.

The fleeing duo crashed through some shrubs and came into the clearing around the pond, and Taz and Misha found themselves staring at one of the more outlandish sights they'd yet seen. The two fleeing figures were a pair of teenagers - a Japanese girl and a Latin-looking boy, both a little older than the joggers - but they sure as hell weren't dressed like locals. They were clad only in sleeveless, knee-length tunics belted with lengths of *rope*; both were covered in dust and dirt and sweat. The Latino was half-carrying his companion, and it was easy to see why: her entire leg was covered in blood, which welled steadily from a ragged crater on her thigh that was unmistakeably a gunshot exit-wound.

The Latino slowed his pace a little, saying something to his companion in... Portugese? She shook her head and jerked her head down-hill in an unmistakeable 'keep going!'

Taz and Misha glanced at each other, and neither needed words to know what the other was thinking. What the hell is *this*?

More thudding footfalls from uphill, big men in heavy boots by the sound of it. The two escapees(?) shot a panicked look uphill, but they'd barely made two more paces before the first of their pursuers appeared on the footpath they were headed for. He was a tall, bulky man, made more so by his attire: a black jumpsuit festooned with ammo-pouches and equipment, a matching balaclava, polarised SWAT-goggles, and Kevlar helmet. It was the sort of get-up only special forces affected, and the Browning BDA holstered at the man's hip completed all the identification he needed.

A Stormhawk? From the Special Purposes Group? Misha blinked, then shot a look at Taz and saw her jaw firm. No surprise there - she's *never* had time for those swaggering Stormhawk thugs.

Stormhawk Security had been contracted to patrol Napier after a sudden upswing in street-violence two years ago, and Taz hadn't liked the idea from day one. Their strutting arrogance reminded her far too much of the KGB toughs she'd seen on the streets of Saint Petersburg when she was younger... and of the men who'd taken her father away when she was five.

"Halt!" the newcomer commanded, levelling his sub-machine-gun on the two escapees. Another chill went through the watching pair as they recognised the weapon: a Chilean-made SAF nine-millimetre... the *sound-suppressed* version, the kind Stormhawk only issued to its SPG SWAT-commandos. Nor did either miss the significance of the fact that the Stormer wasn't wearing any insignia: whatever this was, the guy didn't want to be identified... which smacked uncomfortably of 'secret police', considering that Stormhawk sold themselves as nothing more than city security guards and 'defenders of the populace'. This whole thing feels wrong....

Both escapees went utterly still as the gunsel's aim steadied; then the Latino's shoulders sagged, abject defeat and despair written deep on his face.

What the - the way he looks, you'd think he was about to d- Oh, *shit*!

A few seconds later, four more ninja-suited troopers came into the clearing. All were armed and dressed exactly like their companion, and their swagger said it all. "You've given us quite a run," one of them said, in a thick German accent.

"Get *fuck*!" the Latino snarled. His companion tried to stand up alone, but couldn't quite manage it; she settled for squaring her shoulders and lifting her head in proud defiance.

"Perhaps," the German sneered. He's from *East* Germany, by his accent, Misha noted almost absently. "But we have to... *discourage* this sort of nonsense. Such a shame."

"*What*!?" Taz breathed to herself. He can't be serious -

Two of the ninjas must have heard her, because they whipped around to look right at her. The closer of those two let his SAF swing on its sling, crossed to her hiding place in three quick strides, seized her by her pony-tail, and yanked her out into the open, ignoring her squawk of agony. "We've got a witness!" he said urgently, his accent Russian.

"Too bad for her," the German declared off-hand, and his nonchalance about killing a perfectly innocent bystander chilled Taz's blood. "She got caught in a gang-fight and died in the crossfire. Let's get it done."

Before any of the men could react to that order, Misha took the matter out of their hands. Hurtling from his hiding-place like a sprinter from the blocks, he nailed the closest ninja *right* in the small of the back with a tackle honed by years of watching NFL football on Sky TV. The tackle emptied the gunsel's lungs with a *whoof* as he hit the ground.


With the gunsels distracted, Taz *acted*. Grabbing her captor's sub-gun, she yanked it forward to the limit of the sling, then drove it back, the buttplate catching him right in the larynx. Cartilage crunched; even as the man - corpse - choked and went over backwards, Taz was snatching his weapon free. In one fluid motion, she unsafed the SAF, shouldered it, sighted, and loosed three rounds into the German's masked visage. His face was blasted away in a spray of gore, and he crumpled backwards into the pond, his arms splaying.

Misha had seized his victim by the helmet and bashed his face against the pond's concrete surround thrice, quite smartly; with the man thus stunned and disabled, he snatched up the loose sub-gun and rolled away as one of the others started to aim at him.

Taz shifted her aim, putting two bursts into the chest of the man trying to shoot Misha. He grunted and sat down hard... raised a hand to the two tight clusters of red-rimmed holes right over his heart... looked at the blood on his fingers... then sagged over sideways and quietly expired.

The last gunsel, the other one who'd heard Taz's outburst, was caught between two targets; he was still trying to decide which one to engage when Taz fired a triple-tap into his temple and Misha put a single shot through the bridge of his nose.

The man crumpled - and his body and gear exploded into dust before he hit the ground. His sub-gun had tumbled from his fingers as Taz shot him, and now landed in a flower-bed with a soft thump, the only evidence that he'd ever stood on that spot.

"What the *fuck*!?" Misha gaped. Taz was no less stunned.

They heard rustling cloth and grit crunching under boots. Both turned towards the noise - and were doubly gobsmacked. The man Taz had butt-stroked was getting up!

That's impossible! the redhead thought wildly, her jaw sagging open in amazement. I *heard* his throat cave in - he should be dead!

The 'corpse' growled animalistically, stripping off his helmet and balaclava and fingering his collapsed windpipe. With the mask gone, his face was revealed: all distorted and twisted, his forehead ridged, his eyes yellow, his canine teeth pronounced.

"What the fuck are you!?" Misha breathed.

The - *thing* - grinned and snarled again, baring its fangs.

Taz was *not* one to stand still in a crisis; in fact, she'd based her entire life around *action*, and one of her cardinal rules was 'do *something*, even if it's wrong.' She swung her SAF around, jammed it into the thing's diaphragm, and snatched the trigger back. Three Starfire expanding bullets tore into the body, ripping flesh, splintering bone and crushing organs.

Any one of those wounds would have killed a three-hundred-pound human.

The thing advancing on Taz barely flinched.

Suddenly, the Latino boy entered Taz's field of vision, his arm driving down in a dagger-stab motion. She had a bare instant to recognise that he'd stabbed her assailant right through the heart with - a piece of deadwood!? - before the thing blinked, looked down, and flashed into drifting motes of ash.

Taz looked at her saviour with a bemused smile. "Uhhh... gracias."

"De nada," he shrugged.

"Shit...." Misha breathed, taking in the carnage. The pond was already crimson with the German's blood and other materials; Taz's second victim lay curled up on his side, a thin trickle of blood running through his balaclava to pool under his mouth.

"You said it." Taz glanced at her friend's first victim... considered... then shouldered her SAF again and fired a burst that smashed the man's head all over the concrete. Can't afford to leave witnesses who've seen our faces. That done, she started scrubbing at the sub-gun with her track-top's sleeve to remove her fingerprints. Misha caught her motion and did likewise; when they were done, both tossed their weapons into the pond.

"So *now* what do we do?" Misha asked, tipping his head at their rescuees.

"Now, we get the righteous hell *outta* here before more Stormers show up. Then we get Uncle Andrushka to take us all back to his place, and we debrief these two and find out what the precise *hell* just happened."

- * - * - * - * - * - * - * -

Making their way out of the battle-zone had been the sort of fun that... wasn't fun. By the grace of some guardian angel (or a whole troop thereof), they'd gotten all the way back to Andrushka's ute on Carnell Street without seeing hide nor hair of Stormers or regular cops; in fact, they'd hardly seen *anybody* on the streets. Andrushka had taken one look at their tagalongs, hidden them under the tarp on the ute's cargo-deck, and forgone the questions until they could get out of Dodge. On the way, he'd cell-phoned his half-sister, telling her that his niece and Misha had asked to spend the night at his place; no, they were fine, they just wanted to try out the new computer game he'd bought; yes, he'd bring them back in time for school.

The young pair managed to keep their self-control until they were safely out of harm's way, but little longer; when Andrushka pulled up in the driveway of his 'country house', the first thing Taz did was yank her door open, stumble out onto the grass, and cough up the fish-and-chips she'd had for tea. Misha wasn't much behind her.

"What the bloody 'ell *'appened* out vere?" the Cockney wondered, unfastening the tarp so the two fugitives could climb down.

Taz twisted off her knees to a sitting position, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. "Misha... that one who got up again...."

"Yeah, I saw him, too," the albino nodded, rocking back onto his knees and heels. With the last of the adrenaline shock fading from their systems, they could consider what had just happened rationally(!). "You gave him a burst in the gut. He took three nine-mil expanders at point-fucking-blank range -"

"- and he didn't even blink. But when our Portugese friend there stabbed him with a piece of wood he just... turned into dust."

"Stabbed him in the heart?"


"So what dies when you drive a wooden stake into its heart?"

Taz looked over, locked eyes with her best friend, and nodded once; he nodded back, just as seriously. They'd seen what they'd seen, they'd *both* seen it, and impossible or not, it had *happened*.

- * - * - * - * - * - * - * -

A couple of hours later, they knew exactly what they were dealing with. Paolo Castillo, 16, of Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and Mariko Kuromizu, 17, of Yokohama, Japan, had been most informative; Paolo had done most of his talking to Misha in Portugese, while Mariko, who had information that was by far more valuable but could not speak owing to an old throat injury, had written almost half a pad's worth of notes and observations in broken English and immaculate Japanese... and while their information was devoid of most of the technical jargon their questioners might have used, and the precise details they might have wanted had escaped their informants' untrained minds, it was certainly enough in general terms.

"And how many people know about this?" Misha asked. Mariko understood English perfectly, and while she was a touch loopy from the morphine Andrushka had given her, she was a sharp customer.

{\Among them?\} she wrote. When he nodded, she continued, {\Most of the very senior people - the majors and above. Out here? As far as I know, only the five people in this room.\}

When Misha had read that out, Taz and her uncle shared a meaningful glance. "No-one knows?" the redhead asked. "What about the police?"

{\The authorities, the politicians, and the media know little and can prove nothing. Those who know either work for him, or are pressured into silence, or simply don't care enough; those who attempt to speak out are silenced.\}

"So nobody's even trying to put a spanner in the works?"

Mariko shook her head.

"And nobody among the general public even knows about this?"

Another head-shake.

"Except us," Taz nodded.

A nod from the Japanese girl.

"Sounds like somebody has to do something about this," Misha observed... in the tone of someone who'd already made a decision and was seeking consensus from his fellows.

"You realise that our chances of actually winnin' are about nil," Andrushka pointed out, reading the look that his niece and his near-foster-son were sharing. "They've got so much clout that we couldn't actually wreck the machinery."

"Maybe not... but by the time we're done, they're gonna know we were here."

"Our chances of survivin' 'til the end of the year are pretty much infinitesimal," he added... not to discourage them; to make sure they'd considered the point.

Taz turned serious eyes on her uncle and gave him a crooked, devil-may-care grin. "Fuck it. I never planned on living forever anyway."