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>> Welcome to the A.C.E. Records Database. Please enter qualifications. --------- Deb Stancel closed her laptop and rubbed at her temples, squinting into the bottom of her cup and wrinkling her nose at the light dusting of coffee grinds sitting there. She glanced at her watch - a real watch, none of those absurd fabrial devices some Rosharans swore by - and sighed. Half-past nine. With one final glance at her watch, Deb rose from her desk and tugged at the end of her uniform jacket. It was a deep olive green with orange trim, and it matched her pants. Indeed, it matched nearly everything in her cramped little office, as was fitting. This was Alleycity Excavation, and those were Alleycity Excavation's colors. If she was lucky, she'd find a few more competent souls to pad ACE's ranks today, and a few more orange and green coveralls would get churned out for them. No such thing as luck, she reminded herself, smoothing her hair as she rounded the desk and headed for the door. She needn't have bothered; her hair was already as smooth as a sheet of ice, her bun a perfect ring of blonde. A place for everything, and everything in its place. That was how things got done - that was efficiency. And if Deborah Stancel was one thing, she was efficient. She slid a clipboard and pencil off the end of her desk before turning the knob on her door and walking out into the hallway. People scurried this way and that, accountants, engineers, pencil-pushers. They bobbed their heads to her as she passed them, and she returned each nod with one of her own. Smaller, of course, but still. Decorum was to be rewarded. Everything in its place. As she neared the large meeting room at the end of the hall, she spied Farren, one of her assistants. He gave her a deep nod, then straightened up to look her in the eyes. "Ma'am," he said briskly, awaiting her reply. The corner of her mouth quirked up just a bit. "Good morning Farren. Has anyone arrived yet?" "Not yet, Ma'am," Farren said. "Though, it is only nine thirty. The recruitment ad specified a ten o'clock start time." "Nine thirty-six, to be precise," Deb corrected. "It is always important to be precise, Farren. Still," she said, catching him before he could apologize, "you are right. Arriving too early is inefficient. Let us wait then, and see who has answered our call." Farren looked at her, a question in his eyes, though he did not voice it aloud. Deb sniffed a little. "Speak, then. I can practically hear you thinking." Her assistant blushed a bit, but did as he was told. "Waiting, well, it just seems a bit... dramatic for you, Ma'am." Deb raised an eyebrow at Farren, almost cracking a true smile at the young man. "Contrary to popular opinion, Farren, I am human. Allow me this one failing." Farren blushed deeper and cleared his throat. "Perhaps I should go in and, um, wait for you then, Ma'am. Let the applicants know what to expect. If... if, um, that's alright with you, of course." Deb jerked her chin at the door. "Best not to keep them waiting then," she said, and watched as the young man slipped gratefully into the meeting room. She would have laughed, but then, it was not the time for laughter. Not here, not now. Not with what was at stake. Whatever is down there, we'll need all our wits about us. All the wits we can get. Laughter was for later. For now, she waited.