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Shift House, Alicia II
Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology - Unknown Shiftek, North One, Shift House

The door opened into an antechamber where the appropriate paraphernalia were stowed in the shelves lining the walls floor to ceiling. Through the transparent membrane into the barbershop beyond, Alicia could see a somewhat familiar setting, made incongruous by the shimmer of the seawater filling it, and the wavy, grassy floor. Well, seawater was a misnomer, but it was close enough to H2O with a bit of salt in it to rate that name. Or so the explanatory note on the wall dropbox claimed. Alicia sighed with relief; she wouldn't have to bother with full bodywork this time. She pulled the note out from the dropbox and read the rest of it.

The fishmen of Rolei are humanoid in shape. The lower halves of their body consist of a powerful tail however, and their torsos and heads are sleek and rounded to enable less drag in the water. Their bodies also exude a thin film, similar to human oils but considerably thicker, that prevents heat loss and enables them to thrive in temperatures an unshielded human would find unendurable; however their world is mostly temperate and never reaches extremes that humans can endure with proper equipment. For the impact of this on Rolei culture, see Theophilus' Rolei Treatises; such discussion is beyond the scope of this Shift House pamphlet. Rolei taboo/tolerance variants include a rigid invisible class system, avoidance of physical contact especially within castes, complete lack of nudity taboo and full equality of the sexes. For the purpose of contact with Shift House, non-Rolei are class-less. As such, they can be talked to and touched freely.

The School is one of the few organizations within which a low class Rolei may aspire to improve their lot, even if it means completely submerging their desires and wishes for an unspecified length of time. It is completely hierarchical, and any promotion is up to the discretion of the higher ranks; upon promotion, the promotee's past as lower-rank is immediately "forgotten". Every higher rank is always surrounded by several courtiers, acting as messengers, pages or secretaries. A member of Shift House should never
(this part was underline three times in red) speak to a subordinate if their superior is present! The visual distinction between subordinate and superior is simple - the Rolei use whisker length as determinant of status. Some subordinates of the School trim their whiskers entirely to indicate their surrender of rights for the duration of their service, but up to an inch is acceptable. Naturally this is a very touchy issue, as dealing with such a personal service always requires a lesser caste - but the Lorei getting trimmed is, symbolically and by virtue of the Shearing, becoming an even lesser caste than that of the Lorei cutting! Thus it was with great relief that the School has hired the services of the Shift House to sidestep the question entirely.

The rest of the text dealt with a bit of a tangent as Theo tended to get overly enthusiastic about racial peccadilloes, but Alicia was getting the gist of her mostly ceremonial task now. She put the note down and pondered how to approach the problem in a manner best chosen to avoid a social snafu. She started by pulling off her shirt and shorts, smiling inwardly about the wise choice of wardrobe. Turning to the right she chose a small one-piece suit, a set of thin gloves and a cap, all in fleshtone colors. Tucking the last errant strand of hair under the cap she turned around, inspecting herself in the mirror attached to the door she came in through. She was looking at a shiny, mostly sexless humanoid mold, with matte limbs. Only her blue eyes stood out, staring seriously out from the mirror. Turning to the left where the various tools were placed she grabbed a human-aspected AA (aquatic/ambulatory) charm off the wall and slipped it over her neck, activating it by tracing the universal symbol for active with her finger - a simple circle. It awoke, squirmed briefly and tightened around her neck, flattening against her skin. In moments the thin band had lightened to match her skin and nearly vanished from sight.

She checked herself again in the mirror, took a deep breath and stepped through the membrane and into the water. A brief flash of heat around her neck signaled the charm activating as the water surrounded her. The brief touch of the cool water on her skin faded to a pleasant warmth, her vision focused, lightened and sharpened, her ears began to pick up the subtle hum of House North working all around her and the feel of the water impedance lessened. She forced herself to take another breath, and then the next; this was the part she could never get used to, despite having used the charm a few times before. She gave herself a minute to adjust to breathing normally and considered her surroundings. Apart from the addition of a small water vacuum to keep the cutting area clean the place looked remarkably normal, by Earth standards anyway. Admittedly the chairs were merely upright padded benches with straps to keep the buoyant Lorei in place during their trim, but the wall-to-wall mirrors, partitioned hairdresser stations and handy counters for assorted product and implements hinted that this room was used in a similar fashion previously.

She barely had time to register this fact when the door chimed gently. She smoothed her features, made sure any errant hair was tucked away and turned towards the opening portal.