Coil steepled his fingers as the report passed by his desk.
All in all, it was a disturbing situation for all involved. That an unknown Stranger with such a high degree of memory and data manipulation had been in PRT headquarters, had gone through M/S protocols, successfully outed a Ward, and then promptly vanished off of everyone's radar, had thrown the building into chaos trying to secure their information and double-check to make sure nothing else was lost. Of course, with the powers already shown to be at play, there wasn't much they could do to be absolutely sure.
Coil considered the facts, and smiled to himself. Being able to erase herself from everything but Armsmaster's actual armor was an extremely impressive act.
He could use somone like that to hide his trail. And if she was a memory manipulator as well, well, she'd be even more useful to him. Drugs were a very finciky method of brainwashing, after all. And an expensive one. He needed her in his services.
Unfortunately, the entire PRT couldn't find her after several days of looking. She had erased all but the barest hints of her existence. Luckily, he had someone on speed-dial who only needed a hint. He began to dial, "Tattletale."
"Boss." she said.
"PRT servers have recently been altered by a very powerful Stranger. One I'd like on my side." he said, "I need you to find her."
"What kind of Stranger?"
"Memory manipulator." he said, "Possibly data manipulation as well. She went by the alias of 'Taylor Hebert', but it may be a false name. As soon as she outed Shadow Stalker in the middle of Winslow, and went through PRT M/S Protocols, she erased her own paper trail, and all informational or physical evidence she existed, except for the footage collected and stored within Armsmaster's armor."
"Yikes." she said, "Okay, well, I'll try. I assume you'll want her on your side. Should I offer her a place in the Undersiders if I find her?"
Coil considered it. While he would need her services personally- but just the same there would be an element of risk. He wasn't sure if his own power would allow him to see through her memory manipulation if she were to try it on him, and having her go through the Undersiders first would be an early warning system...
"Locate her first. Contact me the instant you do so." he ordered, "I'll give you new orders then. I'm afraid I can't give you much else to start with, but Armsmaster has been cautious and hasn't allowed the footage he possesses back in the servers, fearing she might come back and mess with their computers further. A dossier has been assembled, however, and a sketch of the girl included."
"Got it. It'll have to be enough, I guess."
"It better. I expect results soon. The more time we give her, the higher the chances we never track her down."
Lisa frowned as Coil hung up, before going over to her computer to begin her own research.
She realized with some irritation that the PRT seemed to be doubling down on their security in light of the recent breach, making her take longer to hack her way in and go over what they had. The dossier did give her some stuff to work with, but looking through the spaces where [Taylor Hebert] should have been told her a lot more.
Whatever her power did, it wasn't all-powerful. She had erased all direct references, but it had left a kind of hole. Forms and IDs and footage and paperwork, none of it existed in a vacuum.
Rebuilding what had been lost was difficult, and some information was plain gone, but by simply following the numbers 1,2,3,5, she would know that Taylor would have been 4. From that principle, she began to put her power to work, and at least confirmed that the Stranger was "Taylor Hebert" and that the identiy wasn't a mere fabrication to get close to Shadow Stalker and out her.
That, of course, implied that she mind-wiped her own Dad.
It wasn't like any of the Undersiders had good track records with their parents. She wasn't one to judge. And so she wouldn't. Based on that, it seems that Shadow Stalker's own account of the sitatuation was the real one- there had been a prank, Taylor was put in a locker, Taylor broke out, fought her, and Shadow Stalker outed herself in the process. Perhaps accidently- no. Lisa decided, Taylor had planned it, but it had been something hasty and without much preparation.
Now that she knew more about her, she began to furiously look over maps and try to consider where Taylor might go to hide, trying out different understandings of the girls' psychology.
"Hey, Lisa." Alec said.
"Go away, I'm busy." she muttered, feeling her headache pounding in the back of her brain.
"But I'm boooored." he moaned, draping himself across her. "Come play video games."
"You hate playing video games with me."
"Well, Brian's not here, and I figure I should try and squeeze some entertainment out of teaching you how to use the controls."
"Try Bitch, then."
"She's not here." Alec said, "She left hours ago, didn't you notice?"
"I'm busy! Besides, this is something for the boss, you know, the one who gives us our missions and our pay." she poked him, "So, if you still want to keep your lavish lifestyle, why don't you leave me to do some real work."
"Fine, fine, don't get your panties in a bunch." he said.
"Let her go." Bitch growls.
Taylor watches, with interest, the way Bitch moves. The 'her' the girl was referring to was a stray puppy that Taylor had been following on a whim while she turned her thoughts over.
She had been debating over which group or people to target first in her destruction of the various elites of the world, but for the forseeable future, she was on the streets. So she had been following the stray to watch how it lived. No home, no family, no support- this puppy would have been the start of her education in self-imposed homelessness.
That is, until she found who she was sure would be her new mentor.
The girl in front of her wasn't filthy, but it was clear her clothes were well-worn, chosen for their durability and for how easily they could be cleaned. She smelled like dogs and alley-ways... but more than anything, Taylor knew she was looking at another loser at life. Almost Shadow Stalker in reverse.
Her mind wasn't shaped the same as other humans. When she looked at Taylor, she just saw a bipedal animal, one who might be a threat, one who might turn on her inexplicably. A thing who will act in ways she can't understand, and can't predict. Who, based on experience, only tried to manipulate her. Her only friends were dogs, the only living things she could depend on. She would never get support from humanity, she had never had friends, had never won in her life.
Taylor smiled, grinning very close to genuinely, as she walked up to Bitch, "You're just like me!"
Bitch took a few sudden steps back, her dogs converging on her as they snarled, "Angelica, hurt!" Bitch ordered, pointing.
The dog, which was quickly growing in size, tackled her to the ground, jaws sinking into her shoulder. The pain was terrible as the dog grew larger and larger.
And then the dog was regular-size again, and Taylor was fine. The dog looked genuinely confused, looking back to Bitch, before the girl decided to try again, pointing at Taylor. "Hurt!" Bitch said.
"This is Angelica?" she asked before the dog jumped up, growing once more, this time joined by two others as they wrestled her to the ground, "What a sweet girl! Wouldn't harm a fly." And then she was standing up, all the dogs free of mutation a second time over. "What happened to her eye and ear?"
Already, Bitch was feeling off-center. Her dogs, less equipped to handle reality-warping mentally than she was, were feeling confused. They had been told to attack, they attacked, and then suddenly they weren't attacking. Their target hadn't slipped away or broken through, she was just there, but they suddenly weren't attacking any more, and nothing in their dog minds could offer a workable explanation. They looked to Bitch for guidance, and Bitch stared at her opponent. "Come here. Here." the two more experienced, Judas and Brutus, pulled away, but Angelica hesitated, still in training, and tried to bite down on her enemy again.
"Oh. I suppose there was nothing wrong to begin with." the enemy Parahuman shrugged off the attack, same as before, revealing no injury- which was impossible. Bitch saw blood. It had just gone somewhere.
"Angelica." the dog turned towards her. "Here." Bitch repeated, harsher. Her last dog rushed back to her, and Bitch began to channel her power into all three- because even if the enemy could make them go back to normal, somehow, Bitch didn't have many options. If her dogs got big enough, she would win, eventually, or she would have to run away. And she didn't want to run away from someone so small.
But as they grew once more, she noticed something off about Angelica. Stopping the process, she took Angelica's side, patting her to make her turn her head, and Bitch stared at something that shouldn't have been there. Namely, an eye and an ear. Ones that had been lost to Angelica's former monster of an owner. (Bitch had been sure to repay the favor.)
They were back. And they didn't look freshly regenerated or anything like she had seen another Parahuman pull off. Everything around the eye looked as it should, with no sign of the scar tissue that had resulted when the terrier first lost it. The ear, similarly, had no obvious line where new flesh began.
"What..." she began, "You healed my dog?"
Bitch began to get angry. This girl had no reason for doing any of this, saying any of this, no reason to have been stalking the stray but to hurt it or try to adopt it- and Bitch could just tell that this girl had no idea what to do with dogs, or she wouldn't have been leering over the puppy to begin with, she would have been carrying it. Bitch has her dogs attack over and over, and nothing worked, and now she was helping her?
"No, no, it's fine." the toothy expression slid away, the face becoming utterly passive, but at least not confusing or aggressive. She leaned back, away from the others, "Don't worry. You see, no one knows what I'm thinking either. So let's be friends."
Bitch stared at her, "Friends?"
"Sure. We're both trash that no one wanted to help. So let's be friends."
"I'm not trash."
"You're a stray, like they used to be. You don't think like everyone else. They keep trying to punish you back into being human, but that won't ever work. Because you don't think like they do. They don't treat you right, and then when you snap back they get mad and it's stupid, but they won't change. It's not your fault, you didn't do anything." she held out her hand.
Bitch looked at it, and frowned when Angelica gave it a sniff, before looking at Bitch, wondering what to do.
"Come on. I'm a stray too. Take me in, please?" despite the wording, her expression and tone didn't change much.
"Will you heal my dogs? All of the ones who are hurt?"
"I could do that."
"...Fine." Bitch said, "But this doesn't make me your friend or anything." picking up the puppy, she grunted for her dogs to follow her, and tried to keep her eyes focused ahead, away from the weirdo girl who fell into step behind them.
Bitch had to say, while she didn't exactly feel comfortable around the girl, she did acknowledge that the sight of all the dogs being free of injury, scar, blemish or amputation did something to her she hadn't felt in a long time.
Normally, she'd utterly hate people like the weirdo. It was obvious she didn't have a damn idea about how to treat a dog. She didn't do anything right. She didn't try to assert dominance, she let them bite her or growl at her and simply ignored it, which you didn't do, not if you wanted them to stop. She wasn't yelling at them, which was good, but she wasn't even trying to make them listen either.
She supposed that the girl was just healing herself, constantly, or something. Bitch had tried to figure out how others thought before, why everyone could be so stupid- or why they all thought she was stupid. Maybe the girl was right. Maybe it was impossible for them to understand. For her to understand.
You're just like me!
Bitch wasn't. She really wasn't. But maybe she was more than anyone else. "Damn it." she muttered, before going up to the girl, and shoving a dog off of her. "No. No biting. Enough." she commanded. Not shouting, simply telling. All a shout was was an incitement to aggression. She looked at the girl, "Look, you might be able to heal anything they do, but if you let them walk all over you, they won't learn."
The girl shouldn't look so damn interested. "I need them to respect you, or you're not gonna be any help at all." Bitch continued.
"Okay." she said, "So what should I do? I think you'll kick my ass if I hurt them, even if I heal it back after."
"You bet I will." Bitch snarled, "You can't teach a dog anything by beating it. All you have to do is not back down, show you're stronger." the girl hadn't exactly been flinching, but freezing was almost as bad, "Let me show you." looking at one of the bigger dogs who was tussling a little too roughly with another, she stomped over, "Stop." she said firmly, getting the dog's attention.
Taylor watched, and made sure to do the same thing the next time any of the dogs tried biting or shoving her. When Bitch gave a small nod, Taylor almost grinned. Two losers, now, against the world.