Melissa always struggled with her thoughts. Usually, this involved heated arguments between her and her soul, which floated next to her as a black shard. A shard created during a failed experiment by the Techiites, a new-era religious movement focused on self-sight. Kidnapped of the street, stolen from her sister, her only family, Melissa was only six. Now, ten years later, she wants revenge. Imagine her surprise at finding a Techiite, alone, and in her part of town, somewhere so seedy one doesn't even need to hide a body. "It'll be gone by morning," murders often say. Just about to kill him in an imaginatively painful way, Melissa is stopped by the shard, which suggests she let him live, and find out why the Techiites have put a 3 million teliit bounty on her head, and that of her sister (ya' know, maybe...). So, instead, she decides to seduce him and get him to tell her. That, or just beat it out of him. Whatever works best.

The Techiite in question is Ryan, another street kid, one that turned missionary when no one was looking. He is genuinely nice, caring, and good. He can't help it. Neither can Melissa help but wonder at this guy who is too stupid to see through her stolen makeup, stolen clothes, and fakesy eyelash flutters, and yet good enough not to see what she wants him to see. It all begins to go downhill when Melissa finds her long-lost sister.

Her sister, the one she had looked up to for so long, the one person she believed could do anything, is helpless. Useless. Desolate. She's a dusthead, addicted to teliite dust in the wake of her sister's kidnapping. Even when she sees her little sister again, she knows it's just another hallucination. How could this teenage girl with yellow eyes be her beloved little sister Meli? Obviously she couldn't.

Melissa begins to doubt herself when she finally learns why the Techiites are looking for her; they need a prophet. Her. The shard as they're god, and her as it's holy emissary. Her plans for revenge progress, and as she plans to destroy the main Techiite temple, she tries to cure her sister of her addiction. Eventually she has to confront her sister directly, up until now she's been pretending to be a figment of her sister's imagination. She confronts her sister about what happened ten years ago, and finally manages to convince her that she is real.

That night, she goes into the temple with Ryan, and takes him hostage to guide her to the temple's power generator, until she runs into the head Techiite. The man responsible for everything, her abduction, her shard, her sister. And now he threatens to kill Ryan if she doesn't. She can't do it, and in the end shoots the guy, decides not to blow the place sky-high, and lives happily ever after in some fashion that actually makes sense (hopefully). She also confronts her shard and acknowledges that it isn't real.

She ran down the dark alley, not daring to look back at her pursuers lest she trip over one of the many hidden snags and bumps. Her feet splashed in puddles of mysterious liquid that always seemed to accumulate in these alleys, and she worried about her shoes. They were good shoes.

Her breathing was quick, and her heart pounded with fear. She looked briefly to her side to see if it was there. It was. "It" was a shard of black, bobbing lazily alongside her, easily keeping pace. Against it's dark surface she could see even darker fractal patterns of night revolving and changing.

"You're going to die, slut." the shard said, "Let's just hope they're too angry to have any 'fun' before they kill you, eh?" She grimaced. The shard drifted close to her ear, and it seemed she could feel a chill in the air."Or would you enjoy that?" it whispered. She turned her head away and continued to run.

She came to a fork in the alley and quickly dodged to the left, hoping they would miss her choice. They didn't. She jumped around trash and people slumped over in the alley, probably jumped up on teliite dust. She heard several moans and small screams, probably from the teliite-induced dreams.

She heard someone stumble, and risked a glance back. She saw several men stumbling over a dusthead who'd gotten a little bit too immersed in the drug. She grimaced and continued to run. Why would anyone choose to inhale that stuff?

"Why don't you just give up?" the black shard asked, "Let them end your useless existence..." She did her best to ignore it. The shard was her constant companion, one only she could see. She knew it existed, otherwise they wouldn't have spent so much effort trying to study it. In fact, if it weren't for them, she wouldn't even have that shard. The Techiites had been desperate to study her after the initial experiment that brought the shard into existence. The experiment they'd kidnapped her off the street to perform.

The shard's patterns began to spin and shift faster, losing all semblance of order. She could feel her anger rising at the thought of what they'd done. Grabbed her off the street. Took her from her sister, her only family. Put her in a tube. All just to see what a massive dose of teliite dust would do to someone.

As they pumped the teliite dust into the tube, she could feel the dust clogging in her throat, and she thought she would choke. Her six year-old mind hadn't grasped yet the severity of the situation, and she still hadn't when she finally lost consciousness.

She was shaken from her memories when she spotted a prime hiding spot: an open door on her left. She dodged into it quickly and shut the door. She held her breath until she heard loud footsteps pass the dark open doorway. She sighed with relief several minutes after all sounds of her pursuers had faded.

She could still remember when she had woken up after the experiment and saw the shard. It had been floating just above her face, whispering.

"You have to admit you deserved it," it had said, "after all, you did 'run away'." She, not knowing that she was being watched, answered it with confusion.

"What do you mean?" she had asked. The shard had only laughed.

"You know what I mean," it had said between laughs, "you were angry she didn't listen to you, so you ran away. Your sister is lucky they took you." She had started to cry. "Don't cry," the shard had whispered, "your sister will never have to suffer you ever again..."

As she sat in the dark, she realized she was sobbing uncontrollably. The shard watched her silently. Through her tears, she saw the object she had gripped tightly during her escape. It was a small mirror, a precious thing in the slums. She had seen it in the window of a shop on the rich side of the city, and had immediately wanted it. Alison had loved things like it, small pretty things that reminded her that she was a girl, instead of just another street urchin. Melissa had loved her sister for things like that.

"Too bad you'll never see her again," the shard said contemptuously.

"Get out!" she yelled, "Leave me alone, you damned monster!" She realized how tightly she had been gripping the mirror, and let go. But it was too late, the mirror had broken. She let the pieces go with a sob and fell to the ground.

"Who are you calling a monster?" the shard asked, "I am a part of you, so if I am a monster, then there's no telling what you are..." She looked away from the shard, a piece of her own black soul, and looked to the broken glass of the thing she had spent so much time to get. All she saw was her own tainted yellow eyes staring back at her.

She waited on the rooftop, watching as three city watch patrolmen walked along the street. As soon as they were out of sight, she swung down from the shadows onto the pavement. She looked quickly for any threats, then sauntered up to an old man in a rickety wooden stand.

"So Huerly," she said, casually flicking her knife into the counter of the stand, making yet another notch in the wood, "what'cha got for me today?"

"Nice bad girl act," the shard said lazily, "maybe if you weren't actually such a bad person it'd be a bit more interesting." She snarled at it.

"Still seeing invisible shards, Mal?" the old man said unconcernedly. It was well known that she saw "things", or a "thing", to be precise. It didn't bother her. It only made people more cautious of her.

"Just answer the question old man." she said irritably.

"Alright, alright, fine. I've got nothing. No word on your sister or the Techiites." he stopped and thought for a moment. "Well," he said eventually, "I did hear a small rumor..." Melissa's ears perked up. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that she was gripping the knife tightly.

"Tell me." she said eagerly. He hesitated. "Please." she added with a sigh.

"Alright," he answered cheerfully, "alright, it seems that the Techiites are looking for you." She rolled her eyes, she knew that already. "I know, I know," he said, "no big news. The interesting bit is the amount of money they've put on your head; 3 million teliits. And that's for you or your sister, alive." She realized her mouth was hanging open and shut it. "I'd advise you to lay low for awhile," Huerly said, "and not go looking for Alison!" But she was already gone.

"Crazy kid." he said with a sigh, then noticed his money box was missing. "Damn good though..."

She leaned against one of the slightly less grimy alley walls.

"Was that really necessary?" the shard asked mockingly.

"Oh shut up," she answered testily, "he should learn to watch his stuff better near me." After messing with the box for several seconds, she managed to get it to pop open. It was empty.

"Looks like he learned just not to keep money near people like you..." the shard said maliciously.

"Damn it!" she cursed and threw the box to the ground. "Stupid old man." She began to stalk down the alley.

"Doesn't seem very dumb to me," the shard said, floating after her, "seems pretty smart to be careful around ruthless people like you." She grimaced and kept walking.

Eventually she reached another street. As she emerged back into society, or what passed for it around here, she looked around.

Looks like Switz street, she thought. Several people cursed when she suddenly stopped in the middle of the walkway. Directly across the street from her was a young man standing on an upturned box. He was handsome, blue eyes and dark black hair, but all she saw were the robes. Grey with neon blue stripes down the arms from the collar.

"Techiite," she growled. She realized her fists were clenched in rage, and her vision was beginning to redden. She walked slowly towards the gathering, smiling maniacally at her luck at finding one so far away from the center of the city. Now she'd finally get someone to test her "how much use there is beating an almost-dead human" theory. She suspected the answer was "plenty".

"Hmm," the shard said softly, "and I was expecting something a little more devious, like using him to find out why the Techiites want you..." She stopped and thought this over.

Well, she argued, I could always do that and kill him later... She began to grin as a plan presented itself in her mind. The shard reflected the grin in it's dark surface, fractal patterns spinning in utter chaos.

It didn't take much to prepare for her plan. A simple change of clothes ("Not yours." the shard said sardonically.). A little makeup ("That poor guy."). Her specially made blue contacts ("Wouldn't want him to recognize you...") And a few practice eyelash flutters ("Yeah, that might be overdoing it a little."). And she was ready.

"Too-small clothes, makeup stolen from some random person, and eyelash fluttering is a plan?" the shard asked derisively.

"Yes," she snapped back irritably. It was taking every bit of her concentration not to go back to her "just-kill-the-sick-bastard-in-some-painful-and-imaginative-way" plan. "Once he's totally in love with me, I can get him to tell me why they're looking for me..."

"I think you should be able to manage just about that much time," the shard said caustically, "if it only takes five seconds for him to fall in love with you." The shard floated around to her other side. "After that, well," it said, "let's just hope you don't get too much blood on those nice new clothes you stole. You wouldn't want the blood to shrink the clothes even more. They're slutty enough as it is..."

She made a face at it and quickly checked her hair. How long since I've done that... She thought.

"So," the shard asked apathetically, "what is the exact plan here?"

"Simple," she said, "I go and sit down at his impromptu sermon, and after-wards he's completely infatuated with me." She laughed. "All I have to do is bend down when I sit down, maybe bump into him when everyone stands up, that kind of stuff. And if it doesn't work, I'll follow him home and try again tomorrow." She got the feeling that if the shard had eyes, it would be rolling them.

"Well," it finally said, "at least you're starting to embrace your true slut nature." She ignored it and started walking.

She tried to walk seductively out of the alley, and ran into a fruit vendor. Or, at least, what passed for fruit these days. She got up slowly, checked herself for detritus, then just walked normally.

"Yeah," the shard said, floating behind her, "you got enough detritus in that mind of yours to fill this place to the brim." She rolled her eyes.

"Excuse me," she said when she reached the Techiite's box, "do you mind if I sit and listen for awhile?" She fluttered her eyelashes, and heard a exasperated sigh from the shard.

"Of course," he said warmly, without a trace of the gawking, staring, or infatuation she was hoping for. Covering a confused frown, she managed to sit down without making it too obvious that she knew exactly what kind of view he was getting. She looked up at him. Still no gaping.

Damn, she thought irritably. She didn't even bother listening as he recounted the 'morals' of the Techiite religion. Morals, ha! She thought angrily, Would any of those 'morals' include kidnapping, human experimentation or ruining lives? She quickly calmed herself down. 'Falling in love' with a Techiite was going to be a hard sell.

Hours later, he finally seemed to be getting ready to leave.

Please, she thought, please be completely in love with me so I can get what I need and just kill you already. She almost yawned. As he tucked his box into a corner where it would undoubtedly be stolen three minutes after he left, she mulled over just tying him up somewhere and beating the information out of him, but decided against it.

"Not sunk to torture yet?" the shard asked sardonically, hanging in the air near her arm, "Strange, I figured you'd leap at the chance to inflict pain..." She sighed.

"Hey," the Techiite said, turning, "do you want to, you know, go somewhere? Get a bagel?"

Bingo, she thought, and nodded.

"Sure," she said as they began to walk, "I'm Melissa, by the way." She couldn't help but grin.

"I'm Ryan," he said, and smiled.

If only he knew what I was grinning at... She thought maliciously. She barely resisted the urge to cackle as they made their way down the street.

About five minutes later, they were sitting outside of Mike's Bohemian Bagels after finishing two of Mike's suspiciously cheap bagels. Mike's food was filed under "just don't ask" in most people's minds. Ryan swallowed the last of his bagel, holding up impressively well, or holding down to be more precise.

"You know," he said, still slightly green, "you don't have to act like that with me. All flirty and alluring." She gaped, and her mind raced.

"Poor guy." the shard said mockingly, "Guess he gets to die early, huh?" She thought for a second, then shook her head.

"Really?" she asked softly, "I'm sorry, it's just..." She stifled a fake sob. "It's just so hard," she said quietly, hoping he wouldn't see through this act either, "and sometimes, I just can't help it. It's the only way I survive."

Please work, please work, please... she thought desperately. Ryan smiled.

"It's okay," he said, "I understand. It's hard on the street. I only recently found hope through the Techiites." She looked away to avoid laughing. Luckily, he mistook her tears as sobbing. "Do you need a place to stay?" he asked, "I mean, it seems so unfair that you should have to sleep in the street when my place has a nice warm bed that you could sleep in."

I bet that it is unfair that I'm not sleeping in your bed... she thought slyly.

"Come on," he said, standing up, "you can come sleep at my place tonight. I'll just sleep on the couch." She couldn't prevent her mouth from dropping open as he pulled her along into the night.

He took the strange girl back to his apartment in the lower east side. It was small, and sparse, but serviceable. He made sure Melissa was comfortable, then bedded down on the small couch. He didn't mind, it was just doing his good work. He would wake up to find her already gone.

"You're a real bastard, ain'tcha?" the shard asked as Melissa crept along the dark streets. She shrugged.

"What?" she asked, "I didn't kill him in his sleep. I count that as a testament to my self-control." The shard sighed.

"Yes," it said, "that, and the fact that you didn't steal anything is very impressive. The only reason you're doing it though is because you've promised yourself that you can kill him later." Melissa shook her head.

"Why would I kill him?" she asked innocently, then added in a lower voice, "When I can do so very much more..." She chuckled darkly.

"Watch out or you'll start cackling again," the shard said, lazily floating around her head, "people would stare. Again." She waved her hand idly.

"Of course not," she said, looking down a wide street, Central Street, "all I want to know is why it didn't work!" The shard sighed.

"Some people aren't quite as decadent as you," the shard said as she rolled out onto the street and started to run. "Where are we going, anyway?" it asked.

"I'm going to sleep in Market Street tonight," she said, smiling, "then... prepare."

"You're going to go to one of the richest parts of town and steal some even worse clothes?" the shard asked, floating easily near her waist. She nodded, ducking into a side alley as three city watchmen passed. Each sported a riot shield on their back and a large nightstick. Not to mention the smooth gray metal guns slung in waist holster.

"What I wouldn't do for one of those..." Melissa said wistfully, staring at the guns. They were the latest model, sleek and compact. They also had enough power to blow through walls, or so she'd heard. They didn't really need aiming, anyway.

Some might have called it overkill, sending cops packing so much heat into the slums. But that was because those "some" had never been to the slums before. The cops may be packing heat, but the urchins were packing numbers. And rocks.

And serrated knives.

The point was, you didn't go into the slums. No one would ever know, anyway. The bodies always vanished sometime during the night without a trace.

Melissa ducked down a side street minutes later before coming up on Market Street. Grinning, she found a side structure on a nearby building and climbed.

"Hey!" a voice called from behind her just as she settled in, "Freeze! Identify yourself!"

Shit, she thought, turning with her hands up.

The man across from her was resplendent in the city police uniform, all sleek lines and plastic. His gun was pointing squarely at her, and his eyes were narrowed in suspicion.

"Uh-oh," the shard said sardonically, floating up by her head, "looks like you won't have to worry about that plan working." She snarled.

"Oh shut it," she muttered. The cop glared at her. "Oh, oh," she said with a smile, "not you." Then, she pointed, arms still raised, behind the cop. "Him." The cop's eyes widened, and he spun. His gun was still pointed at her chest though. But Melissa saw his trigger finger relax and moved, dipping down and coming up into a punch into the man's jaw.

He staggered back with a shout, and she followed him, hitting his side and head, kicking him in the crotch. He dropped to the ground groaning, gun shaking wildly in his hand. Grabbing it, she spun, chopping his throat. He gurgled and slumped to the ground, and Melissa looked at the gun appreciatively.

"Nice work there," the shard said, floating down to the body almost interestedly, "little Miss. Homicidal-manaic." She shrugged.

"He pointed a gun at me," she said, kicking the body over the side of the building, "besides, he's not dead." She kicked the still breathing form. It let out a low groan.

"Not for lack of trying," the shard muttered.