The fiery-haired woman in a backless black leotard instinctively tucked and rolled as she slammed onto the flat roof. Her roll interrupted by the wall of a boxy structure, she kipped to her feet and spun around just in time to see the whirling black-and-purple vortex that had spit her out fade away. With a sigh of relief, she brushed bits of gravel out of the thick red fur covering her shoulders as she looked around at what she could see of the line of buildings to either side, more buildings behind, and—she squinted in the bright sunlight, much brighter than the midnight dark she had been surrounded by just moments before—a busy beach on a lake or sea.
Looks like Yohko was right, no true hell dimension can hold the truly innocent. I’m just surprised that I still count as innocent, after everything. Ranma looked up at the sun almost directly overhead. But wherever I ended up I’m a long way from home, I’d better call before they try to mount a rescue party.
Swishing her red-haired, spaded tail out of the way as she sat down against the boxy structure on the opposite side from its door, Ranma pulled a cell phone out of a pouch on her belt and flipped it open, selected the phone function and then her wife’s name on the list, held it up to her ear ... no ringing, no tone, nothing. Frowning she lowered the phone, only now noticing the lack of reception bars. Okay, no reception, I’ll have to find a really understanding stranger that’ll let me use theirs. So let’s find out where ... her frown deepened. GPS wasn’t working, either.
Okay, this is getting weird.
How weird became obvious when a shadow crossed her and she looked up to see a flying man, apparently headed toward what looked like it had started out as an oil rig out on the water. It was easy to tell he was male, because as far as Ranma could tell he didn’t have a stitch on.
Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. Though wherever she was, it wasn’t anything like the kids’ movie she and Akane had watched years ago with their little girl. Their current not so little girl would probably enjoy it, though—her mothers had real doubts about Miiko following in their footsteps. She liked men too much, for one thing, and not just physically.
(The fact that their little girl knew how much she enjoyed men physically was not something Ranma and Akane were happy about, but if it convinced her not to become a succubus when she reach her majority at least there’d be a bright side to losing her virginity at sixteen ... as much as her mothers enjoyed being succubae they knew it wasn’t for all women—or even all that many of them. Miiko would just have to find some other method of becoming immortal. Nabiki had, after all.)
So, let’s start finding out just where you ended up. And you’ll need to top off fairly soon, dealing with the Depravity within the Inside really took it outa you. The shift from succubus to human—the two horns on her forehead (considerably larger than the buds she’d had when she’d first become a succubus) shrinking away, her tail doing the same, the long triangle of fur the same color as her hair that ran from across her shoulders to the base of her tail sinking into her skin—was second nature now, so it was to all appearances a normal woman, if definitely on the short side and with fiery red hair unusual for a Japanese, whose eyes widened when she peeked over the edge of the roof. Well, that’s not something you see every day.
The fact that everyone on the beach older than toddlers in diapers was naked wasn’t that big of a surprise, she had been to one or two nude beaches over the past almost two decades. (They made excellent feeding opportunities for succubae.) But it was the people on the boardwalk that ran along the beach that were the surprise because they weren’t naked, not most of them. Certainly, there were both men and women whose ‘clothes’ consisted of footwear and an ankle-wallet, but most had at least speedos for men and bikini bottoms for women, many with shorts and even very short skirts. A sizable minority wore shirts, but all of them were open up the front, showing that none of the women were wearing bras ... well, except for some women that jogged past—and for a couple of them, their sports bras and running shoes (and ever-present ankle-wallet) were all they wore.
“That’s enough, you’re blocking traffic. You know that belongs on the beach.”
The statement caught Ranma’s attention, and she looked over to find a ... police officer? Security guard? He was certainly more fully dressed than everyone else and had a pistol on his hip ... and was tapping a burly man on the shoulder, and she realized that the man and the woman with him hadn’t simply been pressed up against the walkway’s railing, they’d been going at it like rabbits.
Now that she was looking for it, she realized that the couple now headed for one of the frequent breaks in the railing was far from the only ones—there were multiple couples of all three combinations of the sexes, and some triads. And they were all being ignored by everyone else, except for a few enjoying the shows. Ranma even heard an older woman pointing out a pair of men to a young teenage boy that was probably her son, offering a critique of their performance.
Ranma pulled back from the edge of the roof and flopped on her back. Okay, I’m definitely not anywhere near home, and Akane is going to freak. Not that Ranma was really needed back home—with Kasumi to look after the girls, Nabiki to handle the books, and Akane keeping an eye on the customers, the brothel would be fine; and the demonic Thing from Beyond Ranma had helped Yohko deal with was a break in how quiet things had been lately—but it was the principle of the thing! After the last time Ranma went world-hopping without her, Akane had threatened to do a number of very uncomfortable things to her wife if she did it again. A’course, last time was a stroll through a permanent gate, at least until we got back and blew it to itsi bitsi pieces. This time, getting home is gonna be more of a chore.
Well, there was no point in lazing around hoping Yohko could pull off a rescue before Akane found out. She moved back far enough from the edge of the roof that she would be out of sight of everyone below, shifted her hair from her usual braided tail (halfway down her back now) into a pony-tail, stripped out of her leotard and stuck it in her weapon space (the leotard was enchanted to a fare-thee-well, which was the only reason she wore it for probable combat missions), and shifted to look like the age she’d been when she and Akane got married, apparently wearing sandals, an ankle wallet, and a microskirt without underwear. She’d look like one more teenager cruising long the beach. When in Rome ... and this Rome she could definitely enjoy!
Walking along the boardwalk, it didn’t take her long to realize that things were going to be both easier and harder than she thought. Easier, because she had never been anywhere that was so sex-saturated, not even her brothel. Sure, her girls were having sex, but for most of them it was just a job and their customers were limited to set times and not all that many of them, anyway ... it wasn’t that big a brothel. But here it was like everyone was at least contemplating sex all the time, to the point that she was wondering how anyone got anything else done, and as a result she was actually getting a trickle of energy just from walking through the crowd ... just a trickle, nowhere near enough to keep her fed even if she didn’t use any of her powers, but enough that she might be able to skip a day or two, now and then, without needing to make it up later.
Harder, because more than once she’d seen couples pull cards out of their pouches and place them back to back, usually to be followed by going down onto the beach for a good shagging but sometimes not—from what she overheard, due to a lack of compatibility, mostly physically but sometimes in sexual tastes. And of course, she didn’t have a card.
Then she noticed a girl—around her own apparent age, dressed in a high-cut bikini bottom plus sandals and ankle wallet and nothing else, dark blond hair just past her shoulders, a scattering of freckles across her nose, and bottle-glass-green eyes that were growing wider moment by moment as she stared at Ranma.
Lisa strolled along the Boardwalk, just enjoying both the day and her pride in a “job” well done and anticipation of more “jobs” ahead. Indeed, she could see quite the friendly “rivalry” growing between her and Taylor with a little planning. Harmonic! Not Taylor, Harmonic. Taylor’s the lonely teenager you spent a pleasant afternoon with, even if she couldn’t get you off any more than anyone else but Grue. Harmonic’s the new Ward that gave you the most mindblowing orgasm of your life, all without you wearing a leather catsuit while tied up and immersed in Grue’s darkness to cut off sensory perception. Only the second person to get her off since Lisa’s trigger event, and the orgams that Grue could give her were mediocre at best and not just in comparison to what Harmonic had done to her—even with everything the catsuit, ropes, and Grue could do, her always-on power was simply picking up too much distracting information just through touch. Lisa was happy she’d been able to talk the rest of the Undersiders into ambushing Harmonic on patrol so they—so she—could pay her back. And they had, oh, how they had. When they were through, Taylor—Harmonic, damn it!—had had to be picked up by a PRT patrol, because she hadn’t been able to walk! It was only fair, Lisa hadn’t been any better off when Harmonic had finished with her, so in this case turnabout was definitely fair play.
Lisa frowned slightly as she remembered the single flaw in that otherwise perfect day when Harmonic had sent her into orbit—it had all taken place on the stage where Harmonic had been introduced to the gathered press and interested audience as the newest Ward. Which meant that Lisa’s orgasmic convulsions and blissed out after-state had been recorded from multiple angles and were now up on Parahumans Online for the entire world to see—and the domino mask she wore on jobs as Tattletale didn’t cover all that much. She was just going to have to hope that people remembered the writhing body on stage and the blissed out expression afterward, instead of the undistorted appearance of the volunteer Harmonic had picked out of the crowd to demonstrate what she could do.
Pushing aside the worries, Lisa concentrated again on the crowd around her—this was her day to enjoy herself, and she wasn’t going to let concerns she couldn’t do anything about get in the way. Time to get back to her favorite hobby, people-observing. Her power might have a catastrophic effect on her sex life, but it could be fun.
So, Mister Stud is stepping out on a jealous wife ... no, girlfriend who’s desperate for anyone that’ll pay attention to her—for a moment Lisa’s emotional high dimmed again, remembering the desperately lonely Taylor that she’d first met; she was genuinely happy that the girl’s Trigger had worked out so well for her, and really wanted to know who had been responsible so she could give some ... ‘remedial education’ for the worst moment of her new friend’s life, she’d have to do some research soon—but the girl he’s with isn’t his usual squeeze on the side. An out-of-towner? Yeah, a tourist enjoying some time away from her husband—two husbands, brothers.
Mr. Creepy is paying too much attention to the kiddies, looking to grab his second this week ... and he’s in for a shock when he tries ‘cause there’s a pair of undercover cops keeping an eye on him. No surprise that he hasn’t noticed them, I’m impressed. I wonder if the police academy gives training on how to keep an eye on everything around you while apparently lost in sex. Though you’d think the belt pouches they have instead of ankle-wallets so they can hide their guns would be a dead giveaway.
And Mister Big Talker is boasting about how big a wheel he is in his company and how they couldn’t survive without him, all to impress a woman that owns her own company and isn’t buying it for a moment but is already impressed by the size of his cock. Lisa giggled at the thought of the pair running into each other again later, in a business meeting ... where she was the client and he was just a flunky for his company’s representative.
And little fire-top is— Lisa stumbled as her powers seemed to hiccup. The cute, tiny redhead was obviously oriental ... Japanese, for those that could pick out the differences. She wasn’t a refugee, lacking the haunted air shared even by the surviving children of the sinking of Kyushu by Leviathan twelve years before, the resulting tidal waves that hit everywhere around that island, and the following economic collapse of Japan. She moved like a fighter of some kind ... and that was all Lisa was picking up! No personal details: no verification if she was American-born or a foreign tourist, no info info on what kind of style she was trained in, nothing!
And then the girl’s own roving gaze landed on her and stopped, and Lisa froze. She knows! How does she know?! She took a step back ... and suddenly the world took on a faint unreal quality, as if she was slightly out of synch with reality, and the redhead that was just as suddenly her best friend walked over to her and said, “Hi, do you know somewhere close where we can talk for awhile?”
“Sure, right this way!” Lisa led the way toward one of her favorite Boardwalk eateries, smiling happily when her friend took her hand with a gentle squeeze.
It didn’t take long to buy lunch, though her friend—she said her name was Ranma—only bought a Coke. They sat in a booth at the back of the eatery, and Lisa scarfed down her burger (not as big as Fugly Bob’s, but exponentially more healthy), and answered question after question about the state of the world, recent history ... especially how a naked man was the world’s first superhero over twenty years before, and how the new superheroes that followed had had to strip down because the more clothes they wore the less effective their powers got, and any number of villains were more than happy to fight naked if that meant they were more powerful. (She giggled when Ranma muttered about porn logic.) And how as Tinker-tech and advances had made the detection and curing of STDs a certainty and birth control a hundred percent effective, fashion had followed superhero undress and casual sex had followed both.
And not a single question was personal, until Ranma asked just how she had recognized her new friend for what she was.
“I didn’t, my power to read people from visual cues didn’t work on you and I freaked out a bit. It’s always on.
Ranma stared at her for a moment. “You ... read things about people from visual cues?”
Lisa grinned. “Yeah, you’d be shocked at how much people give away just by how they move. Or maybe not, I can’t pick up much from you at all, you must have trained long and hard to keep all that out of your movements.”
“Huh.” Ranma leaned back in her chair, looking thoughtful.
Lisa frowned worriedly, as she noticed her friend had gone a little pale, sweat beginning to bead on her forehead. “Are you all right?”
“I will be. But we need to find a place where we can be completely private fast. There might be shouting involved.”
Her frown now one of confusion, Lisa shrugged. “Sure, I know how to find a place.” Dumping their garbage, she led Ranma from the eatery and away from the Boardwalk deeper into the Docks. With all the businesses leaving the city after the harbor’s entrance was mostly blocked off, it wasn’t hard to find an empty building the pair could get out of sight in, far enough away from anyone that any shouting wouldn’t be heard ... assuming anyone that did hear, there, would care.
A now profusely sweating Ranma looked around the room they were in, a file room in an abandoned business, stepped so she was between Lisa and the single doorway, and seemed to sag as her increasing tension drained away.
And the unreal quality of reality Lisa had been enjoying came apart and faded away. She started to hyperventilate at suddenly finding herself isolated and trapped with the stranger that had Mastered her. Don’t scream! Don’t scream—no one that might hear will care, and she’s a martial artist, you don’t want to find out what she can do to shut you up. But that didn’t keep her from going lightheaded as the world seemed to shift and roll under her feet.
“You’re safe, I’m not gonna hurt you. Crouch down, head between your knees, steady your breathing before you pass out.”
She followed Ranma’s advice, waited until everything steadied then looked up to find the redhead crouching a few yards away, rubbing her neck under her ponytail. As soon as Ranma saw her looking at her, she smiled sheepishly. “Sorry ‘bout that, I thought you recognized me for what I am. And I really don’t like that particular tool in my set, manipulating people’s emotions like that, so I haven’t really practiced with it, so it’s kinda a hammer instead of a scalpel....” She shrugged.
“You think?” Lisa snarked, then sighed, glad she had only crouched instead of sitting as she looked around again with a clear head, at all the dust coating everything—it had been a long time since anyone had been in there. “Like you did with eliminating all your visual cues? How long did you have to practice that?”
“I didn’t,” Ranma replied with a chuckle. “I don’t think your power works the way you think it works.”
“What?” Lisa shifted her attention back to Ranma, her gaze intent, and Ranma rubbed her neck again.
“What I practiced is how to shield my mind, keep people from peeping in.”
“What? No.” Lisa shook her head. “It’s not possible to read minds. I tell everyone I do, but really it’s like I told you, my power just makes me the best there is at reading body language ... well, and the tones of people’s voices.”
But Ranma shook her head. “I’m not a mind reader myself, but I know a couple. They tell me getting into someone’s head is only half the fight, the rest is actually finding what you’re looking for. Minds aren’t like a library, everything sorted by subject and author, they’re like a spiderweb with everything random and connected by strands in all directions. I’ll bet you’re using the visual cues to help you navigate, find what you’re looking for. And if nobody here really believes in mindreaders, then they aren’t trained to keep you out.”
I ... you ...” Lisa stared at Ranma, floundering, grasping for the usual confidence and snark with which she faced the world.
Ranma sighed. “Well, I guess I owe you for what I did.” Without so much as twitching a muscle, suddenly Ranma was as open as everyone else Lisa had met since her Trigger, and the teenaged reluctant villain found herself scrabbling backwards without a care for the dust she was smearing across her panties and skin, desperate to get away from the inhuman, dangerous girl across from her. Ranma instantly stood and stepped back, hands spread wide. “Easy, I’m not going to do anything to you.”
“What are you!?”
“I was human once, but I’ve been a succubus for almost two decades. Now that I’ve dropped my mental defenses, what do you see? Try to find out as much as you can.”
As her second panic attack ebbed, Lisa looked her over. Not her normal form. Used to be? Yes, this is how she looked as a teenager. Not the form she’s most comfortable in. Most comfortable form looks inhuman, different center of balance. Wings? Accustomed to hiding her real appearance most of the time.
Japanese, not American. Not refugee. Is from another Earth. Doubts she can find her own way home, has no doubt others from home will find her sooner or later. Not looking forward to explaining this to her wife, already misses her daughter. Friendly, not ashamed of Mastering me, but not happy about it. Lisa found herself finally really relaxing at last—she had faced people that could squash her like a bug with nothing but her insight, her wits, and her snarky attitude, but Ranma could take the first two of those away whenever she chose; the fact that she hated doing so was immensely reassuring. She has no problem beating people to a pulp if she thinks it’s needed but hates dominating them mentally. She’s hungry, food won’t help. She said she’s a succubus ... she needs sex. Worried, doesn’t have a card, doesn’t want to force anyone. Will if she has to, happy that at least willingness to have sex won’t be a problem.
Lisa found herself giggling in spite of her blossoming headache—no, the sex part of the equation wouldn’t be a problem, only the card. Disease won’t be either, any disease that she picks up dies. She finally stood up and brushed herself off as best she could, only wincing slightly as Ranma once again became an almost completely blank slate as she also rose to her feet. Lisa said, “I think we were both lucky to run into each other. Let’s get back to the Boardwalk so I can hose off the dust, and we can see about taking the edge off your hunger. And yes, I know now what that means. As hard as it is to believe, you may be right about how my power works because I picked up a lot once you let me. Then we can see about getting you a card. We won’t even have to falsify anything on it.”
Ranma gave Lisa a suspicious glance but fell in alongside her as she headed for the file room doorway, and Lisa waved dismissively. “Don’t worry, I won’t be asking for anything you disagree with.” It was even true, Ranma might be an inhuman monster that had to drain people of their life energies through sex to survive, as ruthless and pragmatic as they come at need, but she was a genuinely good person that would seriously—and probably violently—disagree with someone threatening to put a bullet through Lisa’s head if she refused to work for him.
Which meant Lisa might have finally found the edge she needed to get out from under Coil’s thumb.