"I've got the protocols right here." Harriet brandished the sheaf of papers at the young man in the trim black suit. "This will be the first and likely the last test of the subwave network."
"We haven't much time." Suppressing his nervous fidget, he glanced out of the window at the street that was thankfully still clear of invaders. "It all depends on you. Good luck, ma'am." Though he wasn't a soldier, he snapped a respectful salute, then stepped toward the front door.
"Hold on, Michael, if you please. I need you to execute the first step."
Turning back, he frowned in confusion. "Ma'am? The protocols were designed to be executed by one person, in case there was only one left to do them."
"Oh, I added this step. It's the first one, the most important one, and I can't do it alone. I'll be right back." Dropping the papers next to the subwave terminal, Harriet jogged out into the hallway. Michael heard a knock, then the opening of a door, followed by her muffled voice. After a minute, Harriet reappeared in the doorway, leading an older woman gently by the arm. "Yes, Mum, Mr. Copper asked specifically for you. He had such a lovely time when we visited last month, and he was hoping that you'd stay a while to help him with his garden. I'll send your things over later today."
"Oh, all right," the woman replied, a bit testily. "But I don't see why it's such a rush."
"He says his hydrangeas are in a right sorry state." She glanced up at Michael. "You'll take her up there with all speed, won't you, Michael?"
Swallowing at the lump in his throat, he put forward an eager, polite front. "Of course, ma'am."
"Thank you." Harriet hugged her mother and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Be safe. And behave yourself, Mum."
"Oh, stop fussing about me!" She swatted at her daughter, then smiled at her as she took Michael's proffered arm. "Don't work too hard, Harriet." She shook her head. "Always so serious. It'll be the death of you."
"I'll be fine, Mum." Returning her smile, Harriet nodded at Michael, who led the old woman out.
Satisfied, Harriet inhaled deeply, then slipped into the chair in front of the subwave terminal. Glancing at the first paper, she started mumbling to herself as she reached down to flip the switch on the machinery under the desk. "Step two, turn on backup generator..."