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May 1, 2021 365 tweets >60 min read Read on X
@StephenKing Wait no longer!
Love In the time of COVID
A novel

Angelique stood alone among the conifers. She knew she had no right to be here. Should the McLancasters find her she sould be arrested for trespassing and violating quarantine. Nervously she felt inside her bodice for her mask.
@StephenKing Derek McLancaster gripped the reins tightly as his Percheron Thoroughbred crossbreed made easy loping strides through the pine forest. Ahead he spied an anachronism, a woman dressed in Victorian garb, one hand gripping a smartphone, the other rooting in her bodice for something.
@StephenKing A soft pattering sound in the distance turned suddenly into a thunder of hoof beats. Before Angelique realized what had happened a black steed stood before her. She looked up at the rider, seemingly so small on the fine polished saddle. Her dark skin took on a reddish tinge.
@StephenKing “This isn’t what it looks like” the young woman said.
“It hardly could be” Derek answered, “as I have no idea what it looks like.”
“This outfit doesn’t have pockets, you see”, she said while prizing forth a cloth mask.
“There have been improvements in the past century or two.”
@StephenKing Angelique banished her embarrassment by force of will as she put on her mask.
The large horse grew agitated and moved towards her. The rider reigned it in. “Easy Bull, easy.” He patted the horse’s neck.
“Your horse is a named Bull?” Angelique asked.
“It is. And your name is?”
@StephenKing “Angelique Harmony. I’m guessing you’re Heronimous McLancaster or something like that then?”
“Derek, actually,although I’m sure there’s a Heronimous in the family tree somewhere.”
Derek pulled his silk scarf up to cover his mouth and nose.
“But you’re right about the last name”.
@StephenKing Angelique did not miss the sharp tone in Derek’s voice.
“It appears you are aware that you stand on the McLancaster estate. I don’t recall meeting you as one of our guests. And we are not fond of trespassers.”
Angelique took in a sharp breath as Derek reached into his jacket.
@StephenKing Derek removed his smart phone from his hunt coat’s inside pocket and used it to snap a picture of Angelique.
“I will add this to our gallery of interlopers.”
He leaned forward in the saddle and loosened the reins.
Bull took a slow step toward Angelique.
“Now, get off our land.”
@StephenKing * * *
Angelique fought anger as she climbed into the old Jeep Scrambler. She hadn’t any reason to expect to be treated any better than she had been. She had even gotten what she came for.
She was just wishing Derek had been a different man. One who would have asked her to stay.
@StephenKing Connor McLancaster sat in his luncheon room awaiting his meticulous reuben sandwich. It was Saturday. He insisted on the particular indulgence every Saturday.
He did not notice the hand that laid his meal upon the table.
His favored had son stepped in.
“Derek, enjoy your ride?”
@StephenKing Angelique pulled to a stop. A tree had fallen across the road. Not a log, a tree with its many limbs covering the roadway. She would have to head back. She pulled out her phone. Google maps didn’t even show the fire road she was on. It appeared she was in for some dead reckoning.
@StephenKing “Good afternoon sir” Derek said to his father.
Chesney, who had been the cook in the estate since before Derek was born, handed him a burger.
“It was a good ride. Found a trespasser by the state land”.
“I hope you sent him packing.” Connor replied.
“Her, and quite”.
“A girl?”
@StephenKing Angelique had settled on a simple rule for keeping track of where she had gone on the ever branching fire roads - always steer right whenever the road forked. Her simple rule seemed to have lead her into a swamp. Overconfident in the powers of four wheel drive she pressed onward.
@StephenKing Connor seemed puzzled by the idea of a female trespasser. “Are you sure the poor thing wasn’t just lost?”
“Certain,” Derek replied, “she knew enough to guess my last name without any trouble. Here, I got her picture.”
Connor’s face darkened seeing the photo.
“Call the Sheriff.”
@StephenKing “That’s quite a classic vehicle you have half buried in the mud there miss,” a voice at Angelique’s window said.
Angelique raised her head up from the steering wheel where she had lowered it in frustration.
There was no face to go with the voice, just cap, goggles and N95 mask.
@StephenKing Deputy Cheryl Hower stepped out of her SUV and studied the McLancaster house. Marble columns stood in front of dark log cabin walls. The Columns ended in an oak beam that seemed to exist only to give the columns something to hold up. The door was black metal. Windows were few.
@StephenKing “Sugarshack this is Honeycomb. I’ll be out ten minutes, got a mud bogger dug into possum ditch.”
As “Honeycomb” spoke into a handheld radio, Angelique looked closer. Coveralls, boots, gloves. No exposed skin. No identifying marks on the coveralls or hat. A gender neutral voice.
@StephenKing “And did you see her vehicle?” Hower asked after writing down the suspect’s description.
“Red Jeep Wrangler I think,” Derek answered. “Not sure of the color, it was far off in the woods.”
“Ok, a Black Female, Renaissance Style dress, Red Jeep Wrangler, trespassing one hour ago.”
@StephenKing Honeycomb listened carefully to the traffic on the police scanner in their pickup truck, then looked at Angelique. Black female, match. Victorian dress, not renaissance, no match. Vehicle: Jeep Scrambler, not Wrangler. Honeycomb resumed hooking towing chains to the Scrambler.
@StephenKing Derek scrolled through the photos he had taken of people he had warned off of the McLancaster estate. Fifteen so far this year and not even the end of April.
“So why did we call the cops about this one dad?”
Connor idly brushed the skin on the back of his hand, saying nothing.
@StephenKing Angelique drove home in complete calm. She had too many things troubling her to even pick one, so she worried about none of them. The scrambler was streaked with mud. She would have to wash it before she gave it back to its owner. That was just enough. Nothing else was important.
@StephenKing Bull was happy to see gentle rider for a second ride of the day. But gentle rider seemed disturbed as they went over the first thing to jump over. Bull could tell gentle rider was having trouble keeping his balance. Bull hoped gentle rider would find some better balance soon.
@StephenKing Honeycomb studied a hive through binoculars, noting the the level of activity in a notebook. Most days the job was not so much beekeeper as bee census taker. The bee census was not promising. The number of natural hives was down, and the levels of activity at all hives was low.
@StephenKing Angelique began working the clay without preconception of the final result. It would take the form that it wanted. As she worked with it, her mind as clear as she could make it, she felt form emerge from the abrasion between hand and matter. This time it felt like fear plus hope.
@StephenKing “Yes, she was definitely using drugs of some kind” Connor McLancaster was saying into the phone as Derek entered the study. “Angelique Harmony, yes”.
Connor hung up as Derek raised an eyebrow.
“Well I had to tell them something or they weren’t going to go after her.”
@StephenKing Deputy Gower found Angelique’s pictures at the virtual renaissance faire web site easily enough. Various selfies shot at “the old castle”, actually a horse trials jump in the McLancaster’s pine forest. It was plain evidence of trespassing. It made the drug accusation…confusing.
@StephenKing "A enter working walk, X halt, salute". Derek usually had no trouble bringing Bull's great mass to a crisp, square stop right at the center of the dressage practice ring. Now, Bull shuffled in place. Derek felt ire well up, but he knew Bull wasn't the animal he was angry with.
@StephenKing Angelique checked her Bitcoin wallet. The first half of the money was there. The client had seen the vRen Fest pictures.
She had to deliver the thumb drive with the other pictures to get the rest of the money.
She was also happy to see the pictures were driving clicks. Win win.
@StephenKing Honeycomb climbed back in there pickup after setting up another new hive. It was in a good location. It should flourish. But the hives near the McLancaster property usually struggled and Honeycomb was unsure why. Air, water and soil samples did not point to any specific toxicity.
@StephenKing John Lancing waited at the back of the club. The sculptor would be along with his "commissioned work" soon. She wouldn't know his name, probably wouldn't know what it meant if she did. He took a sip of Uncle Nearest, neat, as he spied her. "Angel," he called out. "I'm back here."
@StephenKing Clump of grass good. Run. Stop. Smell. Smell of pines on the wind. Turn. Run very fast. Four hooves off the ground some times. Running is different, without the rider and the mouth salty thing. Bull reached the back of the farthest field and walked. The wind here felt odd. Salty.
@StephenKing Angelique sat down at John’s table. She had not expected to be allowed in. All the bars had stringent social distancing rules if they were open at all, but the bouncer had seen her, waving her past the line. She slid the package she carried across to John. He smiled.
@StephenKing Honeycomb parked their pickup truck, taking brief notice of the sheriff car parked outside the apiary division office. A short athletic dark haired woman in a deputy’s uniform waited inside. “I’m told your name is Honeycomb” the deputy said. “I have some questions.” #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Connor snuck through the pines of his own property, careful to avoid the artificial lights from the highway on the west side. At "the Castle" he opened the secret panel, inspected the electronics hidden inside, ejected a DVD and traded it with one from his pocket.
@StephenKing Derek sat on a hill in the middle field of the family estate watching Bull run back and forth. Derek was tall, lean, dark haired and blue eyed. He wore faded blue jeans and a white designer T shirt. He wondered about Angelique. What about her made his father so angry?
@StephenKing John Lancing set the sculpture on the desk in his apartment. It was an abstract work, black and grey swirls of color, in a twisted shape that at once suggested a horse and a person. Lancing was not particularly interested in the symbolism. What he wanted was inside.
@StephenKing Gower showed Honeycomb the picture of Angelique. “Is this the woman who was driving the Jeep?”
Gower found herself struggling to assign race, age and gender to Honeycomb.
It wasn’t relevant to the case, she knew it shouldn’t matter. Yet somehow it mattered.
@StephenKing Angelique checked her Bitcoin wallet. The rest of the money had been deposited. She considered converting it to cash but decided to let it ride a few months. Bitcoin seemed to be recovering from the pandemic crash. She returned to her next sculpture, an eyeless face.
@StephenKing The reverend sat down at his computer and started down his list of visits. He was tired already from his day job, but that was not his calling. An old man in a hospital bed appeared on the screen. “Good evening,” the reverend said.
The man answered, “Father Chesney!”
@StephenKing Gower dreamt of Honeycomb the night after their conversation. In the dream, Gower’s imagination filled in fluctuating details that the layers of protective clothing concealed. At first “he” was a slender man, then “she” was an Amazon warrior. All unseen, only felt. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek got the first text at 5am. "Is it true? Cheating?!?!?" He had no idea what it was about. More texts came, some with a link. An article in Cross Country Rider Online. Pictures of "the old castle". Some kind of electronics hidden inside? Photoshop, he assumed.
@StephenKing Honeycomb started the process of putting on their protective ensemble, the radio playing in the background. Briefs, socks, t-shirt, jeans, denim shirt, examination gloves, coveralls, boots, N95 mask, goggles, work gloves, cap. They paused. One word resonated.
@StephenKing “It was you who took the pictures, wasn’t it?” Derek asked as soon as Angelique answered her phone.
“Hello Angelique, it’s Derek, Hello Derek, how nice to hear from you” Angelique responded, “now that I’ve taken care of the formalities for both of us, what the what?”
@StephenKing Lancing was glad Cross Country Rider Online had run the article exactly as he had written it. The innuendo the device hidden in the old castle must give the McLancaster stable unfair advantage needed to draw attention, but be forgotten once the worse truth came out.
@StephenKing Honeycomb slowly turned the potato chip can while watching the signal strength on their laptop. Radio signals like to echo and bounce around, so direction finding was hard enough even with a signal that didn’t change frequencies every few microseconds like this one.
@StephenKing Angelique scrolled through the article Derek had directed her to. “Yes, I did take the pictures. I didn’t write the article though,” she told Derek.
“Oh, I know who wrote it,“ Derek replied. “Look, I’m not mad at you. But we need to talk. This is going to get ugly.”
@StephenKing Connor McLancaster held his morning whisky up to the light of the sun and admired the color. He then stuck his nose into the glass and inhaled deeply, anticipating the rich smoky aroma. He smelled nothing. A tentative sip. No taste. Had someone been watering his scotch?#loveXCOID
@StephenKing Gower closed her report on the trespassing and moved on to her next case. She expected nothing to happen with the report. There were no jail cells for minor offenders, with the pandemic restrictions. The case was weak. Arresting Angelique would be a waste of time. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek waited, with an iced latte, on a park bench near a downtown coffee shop. The shop just switched to carry out service only, complicating his plan for private conversation, but the park seemed deserted. He pulled his scarf over his mouth as Angelique approached. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing JOAN, The Joint Offender Analytics Network, now knew of Angelique’s existence from Gower’s report, and began pulling data from hundreds of other sources. Comparing her profile to JOAN’s neural network of probabilities JOAN produced a result of “52% risk: drug dealer”. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Honeycomb traced out the strongest signals on a map, and determined that the radio source was on the McLancaster property, in the pines.
The call to the FCC was brief. As the signal didn’t interfere with other radio traffic, they couldn’t do anything about it.
@StephenKing “Impossible,” Connor told his doctor. “There’s no point doing a Corona virus test on me, I already had it back on October.”
“Unlikely, it wasn’t really a thing back then” the doctor replied.
“Let’s go ahead and do the test and see what we get.”#loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek was surprised how tall Angelique was, now that he was seeing her from ground level not horseback. She was smooth muscles in a flowered dress, with braided hair and a disarming smile, sitting precisely six feet away from him.
“So what’s the problem” she asked.
@StephenKing “The problem with the photos,” Derek began. Angelique sipped her coffee as he paused.
Derek pulled down his silk scarf and smiled. Angelique assumed this was supposed to be charming. “Is that It’s not what it looks like.”
“It hardly could be.” Angelique laughed. “So?”
@StephenKing Honeycomb tweaked their genetic algorithm for decoding the radio signal and listened as it resolved into an audio stream. A male voice speaking in a slow fatherly tone, going on at length about the need for “right minded people” to be ready to fight for real America. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing “It’s just a radio repeater” Derek explained. “It rebroadcasts the PA system from the barn so we can hear the announcements over an AM radio.”
Angelique shrugged “ok”.
She could tell Derek believed what he said. She also knew it made no sense. Couldn’t he see that?
@StephenKing “There have been improvements in radio technology in the past hundred years” Angelique interjected. “This is too big and too modern to be an AM repeater.”
Derek was embarrassed. He wasn’t sure which bothered him more. That he didn’t know that. Or that Angelique did.
@StephenKing "So what is it?" Derek asked.
Angelique stopped in mid-sip of her coffee. "You're asking me?"
Derek turned away, realizing his mistake.
"You didn't know about it did you?" Angelique moved closer, pulling up her cloth mask. "Who told you that story about the repeater?"
@StephenKing The audio repeated after four hours. Honeycomb listened to all of it. They made notes of the times when the audio specifically advocated violence against specific minority groups, and against the government, in a report to DHS with the audio file attached.
@StephenKing Derek stood and moved away from Angelique.
He had his red silk scarf pulled up over his mouth. The parts of his face still visible were turning the same color.
“I asked my father about it.” Derek stammered.
Angelique stood and walked toward Derek. “Ask him again.”
@StephenKing Honeycomb’s report was processed by Homeland Security and found to be credible but not actionable. This made it appropriate data to be fed into JOAN’s training database.
Meanwhile, Honeycomb studied how the frequency hopping radio signal disturbed bee populations.
@StephenKing JOAN read the new training data, refining its neural network. Honeycomb’s report, combined with terabytes of other information, reinforced some rules, diminished others.
Once the retraining was done, JOAN reanalyzed. Angelique Harmony, probability of terrorist: 10%
@StephenKing Deputy Gower had attended training at DHS several years ago to be the county “terrorism watch officer”. The additional duty boiled down to getting occasional “heads up” notices. She joked when she got the JOAN notice about Angelique “So, do I go arrest 10% of her?”#loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek stepped out of his Tesla Roadster, surprised to see Chesney standing in the driveway wearing a surgical mask, gloves and gown.
“You can’t go in” Chesney said.
“I just heard from the hospital. we’re sanitizing the house. It’s your father. He’s got the corona.”
@StephenKing Swaddled in layers of protective clothing, with two different masks on, Derek was still not allowed into the room where his father lay. He could only look through a window.
The hospital staff, with the same or more protection, treated him as if he was radioactive. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing John Lancing tapped his monitor, as if that would somehow cause more comments to appear under the article he had written for Cross Country Rider Online.
Speculation about the electronic device hidden in The Old Castle had simply died away without further scandal.
@StephenKing Hours of research lead Deputy Gower to Honeycomb’s report on the radio transmissions coming from the McLancaster estate, and the Cross Country Rider online story. It occurred to her that was precisely the sort of connection JOAN was supposed to make in microseconds.
@StephenKing Derek returned home after visiting his father at the hospital, went to the basement door of the mansion and let himself into the small room that Chesney had prepared for him. This would be his home for the next two weeks. Inside were baskets of food and bottled water.
@StephenKing Angelique’s studio was on top of a bike shop downtown. Her sculptures were arranged in loose villages and dense armies all around her as she worked at a wooden bench in the center. There was a pottery wheel in a corner. She rarely used it. Asymmetry was more friendly.
@StephenKing Derek’s red silk scarf lay in a ball in the corner of his basement room. The room was ordinarily his father’s workshop. Derek was little interested in the electronics and wood turning equipment. Bored, he picked up an old picture of his mother from the workbench. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Chesney had taken on all aspects of maintaining the McLancaster house. The rest of the house staff were quarantined at their homes, so Chesney had to have access to most of the house in order to keep it up. He checked on Derek in the basement by phone once a day.
@StephenKing Angelique browsed through the latest messages on her web site. One startled her. A comment with a link to an audio file. She had received a few of these from Internet trolls. She ordinarily would delete them without listening. But the comment read, "From Derek." #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing The Old Castle was the most impressive of the obstacles on the McLancaster's cross county jumping course. Deputy Gower admired it as she looked for the secret panel. She had a valid federal search warrant in her pocket, but there was no one around to challenge her.
@StephenKing Derek knew his mother had died of cancer when he was very young. He didn’t know what kind of cancer it had been. In his dream she struggled to breath in the same hospital bed he had seen his father in. She was so far away. He could only watch through the glass years.
@StephenKing Gower finished gathering evidence - dusting for fingerprints, photographing the equipment, writing down the text on various labels (which she had already photographed). She replaced the panel concealing the equipment. She left it in place, turned on, as ordered.
@StephenKing Chesney heard the banging on the metal door. He activated the intercom. “I am sorry, due to Pandemic considerations, we are unable to entertain visitors” he said. A sign on the outside of the door said the same thing. An unswayed voice outside replied “Where’s Derek?” #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek and Angelique sat precisely 10' apart in folding chairs on the east lawn outside the basement door that lead to Derek's quarantine lair. Each wore a surgical mask that Chesney had laid on the chair for them. They stared at each other with passionate outrage. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Angelique played a few minutes of the audio file. "You haven't heard it before?" Angelique asked.
"I have, actually."
"You looked surprised by it."
"Surprised that you would have it on your phone."
"Posted to my web site. Said it was from you. If not, who was it?"
@StephenKing Angelique considered letting Derek suffer as he sat in silence. “Look, I know it wasn’t you. I’ve gotten enough comments from Internet trolls to know, they never use their own name. I just want to know who it was.”
“It had to be John.”
“Who is John?”
“My brother.”
@StephenKing I’m only doing this to close the investigation, Gower told herself as she knocked on Honeycomb’s door. Honeycomb opened the door, masked but without goggles. Soft brown eyes met Gower’s. “How can I help you?” Gower was lost in those eyes. “I, I, have some questions.”
@StephenKing "I didn't even know you had a brother," Angelique said. "Thought it was just you and your dad and the servants here."
"Paid staff. But you know John, you took those pictures for him. He uses the last name Lancing." Derek replied.
"Ah. Yeah, he hired me anonymously."
@StephenKing After showing Honeycomb all the pictures of the electronic devices in The Old Castle, Gower asked “so, is this what’s making the weird radio signals you picked up?”
“Almost certainly.”
“So what’s it all for?”
“Gaslighting, apparently.”
“You’re gonna have to explain.”
@StephenKing “So why Lancing?” Angelique asked. It wasn’t really her top question, but seemed like a good place to start unraveling the whole other brother sending hate speech conundrum.
“It’s the old family name.”
“So where did McLancaster come from?”
“Great grandpa made it up.” #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing “The change in family name, Civil War thing?” Angelique asked.
“I take it your family wasn’t on the winning side?”
“As far as I can tell they tried to be on both sides.”
He didn’t have to tell her all this. The Derek she met in the pines wouldn’t have.
@StephenKing "The technology itself is brilliant." Honeycomb explained. "But it is being used wrong. The point of the design is so it will be hard to find. For that to work, it has to be mobile. I wouldn't have found it if it hadn't stayed still. So, brilliant and also stupid."
@StephenKing "So, why would John send me this diatribe? I've met him, he didn't strike me as someone who believes any of it."
"John believes whatever will get him what he wants. In this case, what he wants is leverage against me and dad. He wants back into mom's trust fund."
@StephenKing Honeycomb looked intently into Gower’s eyes as Gower asked “so how does that equate to gaslighting?”
“Someone who knows a little about tech, and a lot about how to download stuff off the Internet, designed this, and got someone else to build it into a horse jump.”
@StephenKing “So, to receive this, someone needs a computer?” Gower asked.
“Unlikely,” Honeycomb answered. “I used a computer, but this signal is meant for the kind of people who have tin foil hats for their tin foil hats. A computer wouldn’t be far enough off the grid for them.”
@StephenKing "So, when did John send this audio to you?" Angelique asked.
"He didn't, I heard it here. Hang on," Derek got up and, careful to maintain 10 feet social distance, walked into the entrance to his quarantine lair. He came out with a small handheld box with an antenna.
@StephenKing "Most likely, people would use a bespoke device to listen to these broadcasts, if anyone is actually listening," Honeycomb explained. "It would be a simple looking device, similar to an old-time transistor radio. The brains of it could all be on a single chip."
@StephenKing “I got bored, started looking around in dad’s workshop” Derek said. “I found this.” He turned a knob on the top of the device. The same voice went on, yet more angry ranting. He turned it off. “It goes on like that.”
He set it on the ground and walked back inside.
@StephenKing Angelique picked up the device. A plain black box. Antenna. Two knobs, one marked on/off/vol. the other marked with letters A through Q. It was set to J. She did not turn it on.
She took it to Derek’s door and knocked.
After a pause the door opened. She went inside.
@StephenKing "You aren't really asking all this in an official capacity, are you?" Honeycomb asked.
Gower was not surprised by the question. "No, I'm off the case. I just, wanted to..."
"You wanted a reason to talk to me."
Honeycomb touched Gower's shoulder. "I know. It's OK."
@StephenKing Seeing them unoccupied, Father Chesney collected the folding chairs. He had already noticed Angelique’s car still in the driveway.
He uttered a prayer for reckless youth as he brought the chairs back into the mansion. He was surprised to find someone else inside.
@StephenKing Gower and Honeycomb lay in a tapestry of brown and white arms and legs rumpled together with Honeycomb’s gold colored sheets. Gower rolled out of bed and removed her face mask. The PPE training she got at the sheriff’s office had nothing on a night with Honeycomb.
@StephenKing Father Chesney walked into the breakfast room in the McLancaster mansion and set down across the table from a young man in an EMT uniform.
“Don, you shouldn’t have come here, I’m in quarantine.”
“Dad, I run three calls a day where people are quarantined,” Don replied.
@StephenKing Angelique saw a red light come on over Derek’s bed.
“What does that mean,” she asked.
“Stairs are hot.”
“It means Chesney is bringing breakfast down the stairs. We need to stay in this room.”
“Hope it’s enough for two, or you’re going hungry.” Angelique said.
@StephenKing Bull wandered through the back field wondering where gentle rider was today. There were fewer of the two legs who smell like cow milk around in general. Bull saw a fox slinking through the brush. Bull fled across the field. He forgot about the two legs for a while.
@StephenKing John Lancing sat in the dark of his home office, lit only by his laptop monitor. He read over his anonymous tip to the immigration service. It opened with "Angelique Harmony is a cover name for drug mule Jezibel Quintana. She uses her sculptures to move cocaine."
@StephenKing Immigrations entered The anonymous report into their database and assigned it a case number. They forwarded it to Drug Enforcement, who did the same and passed it to FBI, who assigned a third case number. JOAN received all three reports. Each agency closed the case. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Connor McLancaster arrived home after a week and a half in the hospital. He threw open the door to the mansion and stepped inside. “Derech!” He hollered “Daddy’s home! Let’s go drinkin’!”
“Good evening Mr McLancaster,” Chesney greeted him. “Derek is downstairs”. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Chesney and Don watched as Connor Stumbled down the hall toward the stairs. He detoured to the bathroom.
“He left the hospital AMA,” Don said.
“AMA?” Chesney asked.
“Against medical advice, he’s not over the ‘rona.”
“He’s just drunk.”
“That too, but he’s still sick.”
@StephenKing “Thanks for letting me know.” Derek ended the call from Chesney. “Dad’s home from the hospital.”
Angelique nodded, “I picked that up from your side of the conversation with Father Chesney.”
“Father Chesney?” Derek asked.
“Yeah, I go to his church.”
“He has a church?”
@StephenKing At the work table in her studio, Angelique was distressing a sculpture of a man emerging from a conch shell. Father Chesney had told so many stories about Derek in his sermons. And Derek didn’t know Chesney as anything more than a cook. Why did that make her so angry?
@StephenKing There were three chairs on the lawn this time. Derek sat alone, ten feet away from Chesney and his son Don.
"Someone needs to take care of your dad." Don explained. "My dad's a cook, this is way beyond that."
"You mean like a nurse?" Derek asked.
"I mean like you."
@StephenKing The JOAN team developed a new revolution in artificial intelligence. They prepared a paper on it. Synthetic training input they called it. Inputs that ensured desired outputs.
More simply, they were using one algorithm to build plausible lies to feed to another one.
@StephenKing Caring for Connor McLancaster was not particularly complicated. He could eat and use the bathroom on his own. He mostly just slept. Derek wore a surgical mask and gloves to bring his father food, and talked with him when he was awake. Derek did most of the talking.
@StephenKing “Using localized interference retransmitters at selected hives, we have shown that the aberrant radio signals account for 80% of the population declines,” Honeycomb entered into their report. In reality, there was no “we”. Honeycomb had done the work all by themself.
@StephenKing Ordinarily a May morning on the McLancaster estate would see about twenty visitors to the stables, with riding lessons, people boarding their horses there coming for a ride, and farmhands out to feed and groom the horses.
Now, Derek walked to the pasture alone. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Celtic music filled Angelique’s studio. The music was inspiration as she sculpted a woman playing her harp. It was meant to be for a commissioned job, the kind that paid the rent. But she found herself weaving loneliness into the lines of the young musician’s face.
@StephenKing “It’s been good seeing you son” Father Chesney said “was there a reason you stopped by?”
“I heard you were in quarantine, figured you could use company.”
“That’s…a strange reason.”
“It’s not,” Don replied. “I’ve seen what isolation does to folks. Can make you crazy.”
@StephenKing Deputy Gower completed another routine traffic stop. As usual, the driver had seemed confused that traffic laws were still being enforced, as if the existence of a global pandemic was supposed to have frightened the sheriff’s office into suspending operations.
@StephenKing Breathe in
Breathe out
Connor McLancaster had had bad flus before, but this was different
Still, no one was telling him it was some super pandemic killer flu
He knew better than to believe that
They tell you that rot so they can control you
Breathe in
Breathe out
@StephenKing The Old Castle had been built to suggest a “McLancaster clan” stronghold that had never existed. It was a basic “in and out” jump, with wooden columns on each end of the two elements topped with turrets of plywood. Derek opened the column that held the transmitter. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing The electronics inside the Old Castle were held in place in one of those racks Derek had seen in videos of computer rooms. There were three devices bolted in place. One held fans. The others were solid metal boxes, except one had what Derek thought was a CD player.
@StephenKing “The question,” A voice from behind Derek asked, “is what’s powering it?”
Derek turned around.
“You’re that beekeeper from the state park, Honeybee right?”
“Honeycomb. It’s a nickname but it seems to have stuck…pun intended.”
“Honeycombs don’t stick, they’re waxy.”
@StephenKing “I believe someone is presenting a paper on surface energy characteristics of beeswax at the next apiary conference, I’ll be sure to pass on your refreshing insights,” Honeycomb replied flatly. “Now can we talk about where that thing gets its power?”
Derek turned red.
@StephenKing “We have lights along the trail, for night riding,” Derek finally answered as he felt the flush receding from his face. “I expect it taps into the same circuit.”
Honeycomb nodded. They took a closer look at the devices. “Transmitter, fan assembly, processor. Got it.”
@StephenKing “Any chance you know how all this got here?” Honeycomb asked.
Derek wasn’t sure why he was answering her, or his, uh their, questions. Flustered about the whole “wax isn’t sticky” thing he supposed.
“No clue.”
“If only we had one of the receivers” Honeycomb said.
@StephenKing “Ambulance 2, medical local at 134 Broward Street for the 43 year old male difficulty breathing, Flag India Romeo,
Ambulance 2…” dispatch started repeating the information, but Father Chesney was busy putting on gown, mask, gloves,
face shield for the seventh time.
@StephenKing Chesney leaned, exhausted, on the hospital wall. When he had asked Don why he came to visit, he had expected "Dad, I love you" or even "Dad I need money". "I want you to ride the ambulance with me and see what the real world of COVID looks like" took him by surprise.
@StephenKing Walking back alone through the pines, Derek realized he had never challenged Honeycomb's trespassing on the property. He had been so taken aback by their presence behind him that he hadn't even thought to ask. What was Honeycomb doing at the Old Castle?
@StephenKing "You have a police scanner in your truck."
"Yes I do."
Gower stared up at the ceiling as Honeycomb ran their finger over her. "Did you hear the description of Angelique we put out over the radio?"
"That was a month ago."
"It's bothering me. Did you?"
"I did."
@StephenKing JOAN began its training run, building a network of inference rules. Within that network appeared a tangle of real world and “synthetic” data. More tangles appeared until the network was tied in a knot.
“Halting,” JOAN said, “build failed”.
@StephenKing Angelique had always known that selling sculptures was tied very closely to the in person appearances she made. Art shows, renaissance festivals, etc., gave her a chance to put a personality behind the web site. With lockdowns, she saw her online sales dropping. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing "This tastes awful, where's the cook?" Connor scowled at his breakfast while adjusting the pillows that propped him up in bed.
"He has the day off," Derek replied, "And if it tastes like anything that's a good sign dad."
"I guess so. Who made this?"
"I did."
@StephenKing Sunday service had gone virtual. Father Chesney was in the church, as were the handful of others involved in the service. He spoke into a computer's camera about all he had seen riding the ambulance with his son. There were no reactions, only echoes in the empty pews.
@StephenKing A backpack full of figurines, a high resolution camera, a mask, and a largely vacant city.
Angelique posed the figurines in various locations, using forced perspective to stage monster attacks, bank heists, elven weddings and more. The photos flooded social media. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing “She matched the description, why didn’t you call us?” Gower asked.
“The description was ‘black female’. Did you want me to turn her in for being in the state park while black?”
“There was the vehicle, her clothes”
“Which didn’t match.”
Gower’s eyes narrowed. “How?”
@StephenKing The JOAN development team did not publish a paper on their next innovation, a utility program that methodically removed from the training database any real world inputs that contradicted the synthetic training data. The next training run had no errors. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing It was easy to keep Bull to a walk until he saw the first jump. Once Bull saw the jump, Derek sat deeper in the saddle and gently massaged the reins to keep Bull to a trot. But once Bull cleared that first jump, it was off to the races at full gallop cross country. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Angelique placed a ceramic star below a headstone that read “Enzo Harmony, 12/5/1978-9/11/2001”

@StephenKing As Bull approached each jump, he felt the change when gentle rider turned control over to him, the moment when it is all up to Bull to get over the jump. Only on the ground on the other side did gentle rider take control again. In between, Bull felt as light as air.
@StephenKing “Ok, I get that a Wrangler and a Scrambler are very different Jeeps, but the description was close enough. You should have called us,” Gower said.
Honeycomb replied “you say that like someone who never spent the night in jail for looking ‘close enough’ to a suspect.”
@StephenKing For Derek, each jump in the McLancaster Cross Country course was like leaving the world behind for a few seconds. Every turn of the path was like an old friend saying hello as he and Bull thundered by. It was quite shocking when Bull stopped short at The Old Castle.
@StephenKing First, let go of the reins. Hands down on the pommel, weight off the stirrups, feet back up over the horse, pick a side, push off, get your feet under you land tuck roll.
Derek had done vaulting dismounts hundreds of times. It was fun.
Now it was life or death.
@StephenKing Gentle rider was on the ground in the middle of the two jump. Bull reached his head over the first part of the jump and sniffed at him. He smelled different. Like the shock fence. Gentle rider made strange noises as he moved on the ground.
Bull turned and ran.
@StephenKing The feed bin on the McLancaster estate was in a small shed to the left of the main stable. When Connor McLancaster saw Bull in full tack, with broken reins on his bridle, nosing around the shack, it took a second for the significance to dawn on him.
“Where’s Derek?”
@StephenKing Stabbing pain woke Derek briefly. "Flail segment, right anterior," a vaguely familiar voice said. He felt pressure on his chest, then took a sudden breath he hadn't realized he was desperate for. Darkness closed in again as he sank back into unconsciousness.
@StephenKing JOAN completed another production run.
Again, the JOAN development team reviewed the results.
Too many false positives.
The synthetic data caused hundreds of people to be flagged as offenders simply because their names appeared more than once in a police blotter. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Honeycomb sat at the end of their bed holding a name tag. The woman they had been sleeping with for the past three months stepped out of the bathroom. “So, who is Deputy Hower?” they asked.
The woman showed no embarrassment. “Hower is my real name. Gower was a typo.”
@StephenKing “When I signed up for the Terrorism center the feds misspelled my name. I’ve tried to get it fixed, but I got nowhere,” Deputy Hower/Gower explained. “I finally got a name tag made up with Gower on it, rather than fight the system. Guess I had that on when we met.”
@StephenKing "Got it," Honeycomb said. "I'm not in a position to argue with people taking on a new name. I think I'll stick with Gower."
Gower nodded. "So, do you mind if I ask what you're real name is?"
"Hemadri," Honeycomb answered. "Literally no one calls me that, though."
@StephenKing “They won’t let me visit my own son.” Connor McLancaster said. Chesney sat down at the breakfast table. He looked Connor in the eye. “Doesn’t make sense does it? Banned from the hospital because you have Corona?”
Connor looked down. “I don’t know what to do.”
@StephenKing The sheet on Hemadri Sethi was brief. One arrest, disturbing the peace. Released without charges. Held overnight in a county jail 500 miles away. Still, not a good look for a Deputy to be associated with someone with a record. Gower didn't mind. Hower didn't like it. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Sculptures of Coronavirus germs seemed in poor taste, but the nurses at the hospital loved when Angelique brought them.
She was surprised at "McLancaster" on the whiteboard in the ICU.
"I heard Connor McLancaster checked out."
"It's Not Connor" a nurse said.
@StephenKing The nurses had no faces. Masks, eye protection, and hair nets sequestered away all identifying characteristics. They wore disposable gowns that made them vaguely amorphous. Angelique was amazed they seemed to have no trouble identifying one another.
@StephenKing A nurse lead Angelique to Derek’s bedside. She was surprised to hear that she was on his list of approved visitors.
Another nurse stood next to the bed, watching a monitor. Every six seconds, the nurse squeezed a bag connected to a tube leading into Derek’s mouth.
@StephenKing "Why isn't he on a ventilator" Angelique asked.
"They're being used for COVID patients."
"Isn't that what he's here for?"
The nurse shook his head. "Traumatic injury. Fortunately. He'll be out of here soon."
The nurse looked around the ICU. "Unlike the rest of them."
@StephenKing “Here, I’ll show you how to do it,” the nurse said. “The seconds count down on the monitor. When it gets to zero, we squeeze the bag. The circle shows if you got the right amount of air. Green means you did it right.”
Angelique wasn’t sure why she needed to know.
@StephenKing “Try it” the nurse said.
He held Angelique’s hand and helped her squeeze the bag just the right amount.
Green circle.
Six seconds.
They squeezed again.
Green circle.
Angelique watched Derek’s chest rise and fall.
Six seconds.
Another squeeze.
Green circle.
@StephenKing The nurse coached her until she was doing it on her own. Squeeze. Green circle. Sometimes, a yellow circle ("too much", "not enough", "too fast", "too slow", or even "too soon").
After a while he left. She realized she was the only one keeping Derek alive. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Six seconds between breaths was just often enough that Angelique couldn't walk far from the bedside. She quickly looked around at the ICU.
Time's up. Next breath.

The nurses were moving fast from bed to bed, checking patients and equipment.
Time's up. Next breath.

@StephenKing The nurses came by occasionally to see how Angelique and Derek were.

There was beeping from the other end of the ICU.

All the nurses ran to the bed where the beeping had come from.

She heard shouted words about compressions and ventilations.

@StephenKing “Clear, shocking”


“Resume compressions”

“Pushing epi”


“Stop compressions”


“Got a pulse”



“Good work team.”


Angelique watched the nurses resume their rounds.

A life snatched from the brink, now back to routine.

@StephenKing A nurse came and took over for Angelique.
“You might have helped save that guy’s life” the nurse said after a while.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You we’re doing this,” the nurse gave Derek another breath. “Meaning more hands to work him when he arrested.”
@StephenKing The beeping started again. Angelique heard some nurses running, others kept to their rounds.
She looked at the nurse helping Derek breath. The nurse shook her head.
“DNR,” a nurse shouted.
All the other nurses who had come running turned away and went back to work.
@StephenKing Angelique had seen a few of the beds with Do Not Resuscitate orders.
She wasn’t sure how someone with a DNR wound up on a ventilator in the ICU.
She walked back to Derek’s bedside.
“Good news,” one of the nurses said. “We’ll have a ventilator for him soon.”
@StephenKing JOAN completed a successful run. Seventeen suspects identified. “All solid leads for further investigation,” the project manager assured his team.
Angelique’s name was one of them. Probability of domestic terrorist, 98%.
The message went to local law enforcement.
@StephenKing Deputy Gower got the message about Angelique.
The “lead” came with no supporting data. Apparently the JOAN people thought she could arrest someone based on an opaque computer algorithm.
She filed the report away for later action and went on with her other work.
@StephenKing Walking out of the ICU, Angelique looked around for the first time since she had arrived. There were beds along each wall, separated by nothing but curtains that could be pulled back as needed, and plexiglass dividers on makeshift wooden stands. Every bed was full.
@StephenKing Derek woke to a sore throat and a distant beeping sound.
He opened his eyes and saw his face reflected in a plexiglass partition.
His chest felt sore, but in a distant, unimportant way.
“Must be some good drugs,” he muttered as he noticed the IV in his arm.
@StephenKing John Lancing needed a new scandal.
Apparently a secret radio transmitter spewing hate speech wasn’t news.
He realized his scheme might not get him back into the family trust fund. He also realized that didn’t matter. Hurting them was enough.
Like they had hurt him.
@StephenKing Wearing plainclothes and following Angelique around, Gower felt even more distant from “Deputy Hower”. She was on the trail of a terrorist, and felt like she was the lead in an action movie.
Of course,it would have helped if Angelique acted more like a terrorist.
@StephenKing It didn’t take long for Gower to figure out that she wasn’t the only person tailing Angelique. The other person was clumsy in his pursuit, clearly not trained in the art of surveillance.
He didn’t even notice Gower taking his picture with her phone.
Stalker? Handler?
@StephenKing The Sheriff’s office sent back an ID of the man Gower had seen following Angelique. John McLancaster, known alias, John Lancing.
Gower examined the picture she had taken of him. Thin, average height. Brown eyes and hair. He wore a silk shirt and chino pants.
@StephenKing Connor McLancaster looked over the Old Castle. It seemed undamaged from Derek's accident. The transmitter was still functioning. As he examined the transmitter equipment, he noticed a black powder on one of the modules.
Someone had been looking for fingerprints.
@StephenKing Following a suspect during a pandemic was a complex business. There weren’t as many people around, and many people were keeping social distance. But mixing with other people wearing masks, Gower figured she was hard for Angelique to remember.
@StephenKing Angelique was well aware there were two people following her. One was John Lancing, the other one was a blond woman with a military bearing, likely a cop. Apparently Angelique was in an area where someone would call the police to report a black woman shopping.
@StephenKing As he watched Angelique entering yet another store, John Lancing realized he wasn’t the only person following her.
He shifted his attention to the woman following the woman he had been following.
He looked her over, and concluded she must be FBI. Or maybe CIA. Good.
@StephenKing Finding shops that were open was challenging enough. There seemed to be as many interpretations of the recent pandemic guidance as there were stores. Angelique walked into another "novelties" store. Ironic that all she was trying to buy was toilet paper.
@StephenKing Chesney drove Derek home from the hospital in the church van.
Derek stared out the window the whole time, saying nothing.
He had a bag of medicine to treat infection, something the hospital said was “very likely”.
There was nothing to treat the confusion he felt.
@StephenKing Out in the pasture, Derek found Bull idly chomping on grass.
“Hey there mountain horse,” Derek called.
Bull playfully ran away.
It was always like that. Bull wouldn’t let Derek near without a chase.
Derek had no chase in him. He turned and walked back to the barn.
@StephenKing As he walked along, Derek felt something gently pushing on his shoulder. It was Bull, gently nuzzling him. Derek had been too consumed by his thoughts to notice the horse walking behind him.
Derek turned and scratched bull between the ears.
“What was it?” He asked.
@StephenKing Leading Bull along the path to The Old Castle, Derek could feel Bull grow more reticent as they got closer to the jump.
As they rounded the turn in the woods leading up to the jump, Bull planted his feet and refused to move forward.
@StephenKing After trying the usual tricks, leading Bull sideways to try to get him to move forward obliquely, even picking up each hoof one at a time to try to get the horse to take a tentative step forward, Derek patted Bull on his shoulder and said “It’s ok. Let’s go home.”
@StephenKing Toilet paper acquired, from a local hardware store of all places, Angelique sat down at an outdoor table with a fresh coffee and a slab of coffee cake. John Lancing sat down across from her.
"We need to talk," he said.
"Is that why you've been following me all day?"
@StephenKing “I haven’t been following you…”
John Lancing stopped talking.
Angelique was casually flipping through several pictures she had taken of him following her.
“Those don’t mean anything,” Lancing said. “Maybe you’ve been following me…”
He stopped again and laughed.
@StephenKing “Stalking isn’t funny,” Angelique said.
Lancing was quiet for a few seconds.
“You’re right. It’s not stalking though, I just need to talk to you. But then I noticed someone else was following you. Honest.”
Angelique started flipping through pictures of Gower. “Her?”
@StephenKing “Yeah, her,” Lancing answered. “I think she’s a fed, maybe CIA.”
“Why don’t you ask her, she’s sitting two tables over.”
Lancing turned pale.
He glanced to his right.
“Can she hear us?” He whispered.
“Yes, I imagine so,” Angelique answered.
“I, I have to go.”
@StephenKing “So soon?” Angelique asked.
Lancing didn’t look back as he walked away.
“Guess he didn’t really need to talk to you,” Gower said as she sat down in the chair Lancing had just vacated.
“Something I can help you with?”
@StephenKing “I’m trying to figure out why Homeland Security thinks you’re a terrorist,” Gower answered.
“So you are a fed?”
“No, Deputy Sheriff.”
“I’m not a terrorist,” Angelique said.
“Yeah, I figured. But DHS has an AI that says you are.”
“Artificial Intelligence.”
@StephenKing Deputy Hower would never have sat down with a suspect for a frank conversation like this, Gower realized.
She was fully aware that it was a useful coping technique.
But she hadn’t realized how much the “Gower” identity actually changed what risks she would take.
@StephenKing “Ok, so some computer thinks I’m a terrorist,” Angelique said. “I don’t suppose you can tell it I’m not one can you?”
Gower shrugged. “I will file a report saying there is no evidence. Honestly I don’t know if that will change its mind.”
“Thanks. I guess.”
@StephenKing The table where Angelique was sitting was one of many in a small park. There were enough trees for Angelique to feel like she was in the woods but not deep in a forest. She considered what Gower had told her.
Mostly, she wanted to finish her coffee and go home.
@StephenKing Leaning against a tree not far away from Angelique’s table, Honeycomb listened to the conversations Angelique had with Lancing and then Gower.
One convinced of a vast government conspiracy, the other trying to get the government to make sense.
@StephenKing "Thank you for letting me know about this," Angelique said. "I have no idea why the computer thinks I'm a terrorist. And I need to go home now."
Gower put out a hand to stop Angelique from leaving, then pulled it back.
Did she want more information?
Or something else?
@StephenKing "Evening dad," Derek said as he walked into the McLancaster house. There was no answer. "Chesney?" Still no answer.
It was late, but not late enough for Connor McLancaster to be asleep already. Chesney should have gone home, but his car was still in the driveway.
@StephenKing After searching the house twice, it occurred to Derek to check his phone for text messages.
Chesney had texted over an hour ago.
“Your father had a relapse, I am riding in the ambulance with him to the hospital.”
Derek sat down in the kitchen and dialed Chesney.
@StephenKing "He's resting comfortably," Chesney said. "He just started coughing, and it got so bad he couldn't breathe right."
"I'm so sorry I wasn't there. I was out at the barn mucking stalls."
"You didn't hear the ambulance?" Chesney asked.
"Had my ear buds," Derek answered.
@StephenKing Derek was surprised to hear that he was allowed to visit his father.
“It’s not that the infection is back,” the nurse explained. “His lungs were damaged by the infection, somehow. We’re still trying to understand how. It’s something people are calling ‘long COVID’.”
@StephenKing Connor looked fine. Derek sat next to his bed and asked him how he was. He started to talk and immediately started coughing.
Derek handed him a glass of water but he just set it down without drinking. “Doesn’t help. It’s my lungs not my throat,” Connor finally said. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek found nothing to say to his father. He sat with him for a while, and watched him fall asleep.
“Resting comfortably,” Chesney had said.
It was more like he was sleeping because he simply couldn’t do anything else, not even talk.
Derek stood and walked out.
@StephenKing Finding a power switch on the equipment in the Old Castle took a while. Finally Derek found the switch behind a panel that was partly buried. Derek flipped the switch. A buzzing sound he hadn't realize he was hearing suddenly stopped.
The equipment went dark.
@StephenKing As they approached the Old Castle, Derek felt Bull tensing up. Derek knew Bull well enough that Bull was remembering an old fear, not experiencing fear itself. Derek led Bull right up to the jump and let him sniff around it.
"It's OK," Derek said.
The fear was gone.
@StephenKing At an undisclosed location, a cryptanalyst let out a series of profanity undiluted by grammar.
"Someone turned it off. We lost our anchor."
"Copy that, we'll send an agent to turn it back on."
"Sure, but every break in the chain, it takes us 48 hours to get back in."
@StephenKing Gower hung up on the federal agent. It had not been a productive conversation.
Without saying as much, they ha dmade it clear that they wanted her to arrest someone for turning off a computer on his own property. Or make up some other reason to arrest him.
@StephenKing Connor removed his special truth radio from his jacket pocket and switched it on. Although he knew it all from repeated listenings, it comforted him to listen to the messages of right thinking.
He was disappointed to get no signal.
@StephenKing An alert came through on Honeycomb’s phone. The signal from the Old Castle had stopped. They shrugged and went back to work counting beehives.
If the signal staid off, they could shut down the transponders they had set up.
But Honeycomb expected it would be back.
@StephenKing Bull ran across the back field feeling the wind streaming through his mane.
He didn’t fear the back woods any more.
The bad fence feeling was gone.
He stopped abruptly and ate a bit of grass, turned on his haunches and ran back the way he had come.
All was good.
@StephenKing Don got out of his ambulance at the firehouse, exhausted from another shift taking people to the hospital with "respiratory compromise". It had become the code name for COVID-19. Too many people didn't want to believe they had COVID for them to use the name directly.
@StephenKing The JOAN development team presented their latest results. JOAN had identified over one hundred suspects in the six months since the Synthetic training data had been developed, leading to dozens of arrests and one conviction.
DHS leadership was less than impressed.
@StephenKing A rented sedan parked in the state forest.
A balding middle aged man got out, walked briskly through the woods to the Old Castle, opened the panel for the power supply and switched it back on.
In the distance he heard a horse whinny and start to run.
@StephenKing A handful of oats calmed Bull down, but Derek could tell he was still agitated about something. He lead the horse back through the field and as they got closer to the woods where the Old Castle was, Bull got more and more anxious. Derek patted him and said "It's ok."
@StephenKing Checking her bitcoin wallet, Angelique was startled at how much it had gone up in value. Letting it ride turned out to have been a good idea. She decided it might be smart to cash out some of it. Bitcoin didn't feel like "real money" to her. It only took a few clicks.
@StephenKing The sheet on John Lancing was...lengthy.
It started shortly after his eighteenth birthday. There might be a juvenile record, but for now Gower had plenty to read. Mostly civil disturbances. If he had been more organized it could have been political protesting.
@StephenKing JOAN produced another report on Angelique. This time it came with a caveat. “Law enforcement action highly recommended.”
As Gower had learned to expect, the report included no information about why JOAN recommended law enforcement action. Or what action to take.
@StephenKing Chesney drove his employer home from the hospital in silence. Connor sat in the passenger seat staring down at his own hands.
The silence was quite welcome as far as Chesney was concerned.
He suspected that he had angered Connor simply by not being Derek. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Don arrived home after a 52 hour shift, most of it mandatory overtime due to lack of staffing. It wasn't that there were fewer paramedics on staff. It was that people were being repeatedly told to stay home if they were even a little sick, for fear it might be COVID.
@StephenKing Honeycomb’s phone played a brief Scottish bagpipe drone. It meant they had gotten a text from the office. Honeycomb considered ignoring it as they were driving to work already. They stole a look while waiting for a light. It said simply “don’t come into the office.” #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Derek already knew the electronics in the Old Castle had been turned on. A quick look inside confirmed it.
He opened the panel where the power switch was located. Reaching inside, he found a piece of paper on top of the switch. Written on it was one word.
@StephenKing Derek resisted an urge to look around for anyone watching him.
The note was handwritten with crisp and precise letters.
He looked at the switch, then at the note apparently admonishing him not to turn the power off again.
He turned it off.
To the note he added "Did".
@StephenKing Honeycomb paced around their apartment. Quarantined from the office was one thing. But they weren't allowed to visit the beehives either.
Did the management at the apiary office really think bees could get COVID?
There was a knock at the door. They knew it was Gower.
@StephenKing The bureaucrat walked out of a nondescript office building in downtown DC.
He smiled at people he knew walking down New York Avenue.
There was a spring in his step, and by all appearances he was happy to see everyone.
No one noticed his right fist, clenched white.
@StephenKing There was a knock on the door to Angelique's studio. She was surprised, as it was unusual for anyone to visit her there, and when people did come, it was by appointment.
She opened the door to find Derek standing outside.
"I'm not sure who else to talk to." he said.
@StephenKing The bureaucrat arrived at another nondescript downtown office building, held his ID up to the scanner to unlock the door, and went in.
A few doors later and we was in a windowless room. Three people worked at computer terminals. A whiteboard was dense with calculus.
@StephenKing After ten minutes listening to Derek talk about his horse, Angelique asked him, “so, what do you need me to do about this?”
Derek appeared confused for a second.
“I guess I just need to talk it out,” he finally answered.
“Ok, so just listen. I can do that.”
@StephenKing The bureaucrat listened as his team explained the problem.
“We need more encrypted known plaintext,” one explained.
The bureaucrat was used to them referring to audio as “text”, but it still seemed wrong.
“It only works if the device stays on,” another explained.
@StephenKing Angelique listened as Derek talked about how his father was consumed by crazy conspiracy theories.
He talked about the accident.
She tried not to laugh when he said the device in the Old Castle had scared his horse.
She failed.
“I know, it’s bizarre,” Derek said.
@StephenKing "It's not that your horse is afraid of a radio. I miss this," Angelique said. "Don't take it personally, but pointless conversations. These days with everyone wearing masks, we don't just talk about - nothing, anymore."
Derek nodded. He started to take off his mask.
@StephenKing "No, don't," Angelique said. "Leave the mask on."
Derek slipped his mask back on.
Angelique was surprised at her reaction. Derek taking off his masked seemed suddenly, too intimate. Too naked.
Derek seemed perplexed.
"Sorry," he finally said.
Angelique turned away.
@StephenKing The Bureaucrat made some phone calls.
An arrest warrant was issued.
It was sent to the local Sheriff’s office.
Gower read the warrant, shook her head.
It was perfectly in order.
She want to her car and drove to the McLancaster estate.
@StephenKing There was no Tesla Roadster parked in the driveway at the McLancaster home. Gower drove by without slowing down.
She was pretty sure she knew where to find Derek.
@StephenKing The knock on Angelique’s studio door was crisp and precise. Derek stood to open the door but Angelique waved him away.
Derek nodded. It was her door, after all.
Angelique opened the door. Derek heard her say, “Hi Honeycomb.”
@StephenKing Honeycomb ushered themself into the studio. "We need to talk..." they said.
"Oh, you too," Angelique laughed. She picked up one of her statuettes. It was a woman in a lab coat holding a brain in one hand, a microscope in the other.
The base said "the therapist is in".
@StephenKing Honeycomb shook their head. “No therapist needed. Maybe Derek will need an attorney but let’s see if we can avoid that.”
Derek looked up at the mention of his name.
“You came here looking for me? How did you know I was here?”
Honeycomb shrugged. “You weren’t home.”
@StephenKing “So I’m not at home. That doesn’t…”
Honeycomb raised an eyebrow.
Derek stopped.
They were right.
He had been about to say something about how he could have been “anywhere”.
But when was the last time he has gone “anywhere”?
When was the last time anyone had?
@StephenKing “Deputy Gower is on her way to arrest you,” Honeycomb told Derek.
“For what?” Derek asked.
“Interfering in a federal investigation.”
That’s insane, I never did that.”
“I know. But I’m just the messenger,” Honeycomb replied. “You want to stay here and get arrested?”
@StephenKing Derek walked to Angelique. “I don’t want this on you. I’ll leave and turn myself in.”
“Hope you have a good lawyer,” Honeycomb said.
“We have someone on retainer,” Derek said, looking at Angelique. He wanted to kiss her goodbye, but knew he had to leave his mask on.
@StephenKing Gower arrived at Angelique's studio.
She didn't see Derek's car, but recognized Honeycomb's pickup immediately.
Again, she drove on without stopping.
Honeycomb had tipped off Derek, it seemed.
That was going to make for some awkward pillow talk.
@StephenKing "Why would you need a lawyer?" Connor McLancaster asked his son.
"I really don't know," Derek answered. "I just know there is an arrest warrant out for me."
"For what?"
"Interfering in an investigation." For some reason Derek decided to leave out the word "Federal".
@StephenKing Derek met with the family law firm.
They made some phone calls.
An hour later they called back.
"It's been taken care of."
At the Sheriff's office, the fax machine dumped out a terse page cancelling the arrest warrant.
In DC, the bureaucrat's phone rang.
@StephenKing “What’s that sound?” Gower asked one of her fellow deputies.
“I think it’s the fax machine.”
“We still have a fax machine?”
“You can’t go after McLancaster,” the politician said.
The bureaucrat gritted his teeth behind his mask.
“What about this Harmony woman?”
@StephenKing Honeycomb filed their report on bee activity in the region.
The report mentioned that hive activity had increased after the transmitter in the Old Castle was shut down by "parties unknown".
Honeycomb didn't mention that they had watched "parties unknown" turn it off.
@StephenKing Derek went for a ride. Bull seemed unafraid approaching the Old Castle. He even started trotting as if he was going to take the jump. Derek reined him in. "Not today, Bull, just an easy trail ride."
Through the reins, Derek could feel Bull nod his head up and down.
@StephenKing Angelique sculpted an angel
Gower spent the day calling shut-in friends
Honeycomb, with coffee in hand, worked on an online hacking challenge
Derek brushed Bull clean and let him out in the paddock
Each felt at peace with the world for the first time all year
@StephenKing The bureaucrat sat on a park bench seething with anger
John Lancing slipped through the woods onto the McLancaster land
Connor McLancaster loaded birdshot into his shotgun
JOAN completed another run, computing the probability that Angelique was a terrorist at...112%
@StephenKing Chesney and his son caught up by phone as he prepared food for the week in the McLancaster kitchen.
Don was at work. He was always at work lately. Work hours limits had been “relaxed”, allowing for shifts of as much as 60 hours. Too many firefighters were out sick.
@StephenKing "It's good to talk to you son," Chesney was saying by way of wrapping up their phone call. "Sorry you have to work so many hours." There was a sound from Don's side of the call that Chesney knew too well. "I heard the tones, I know you gotta go, stay safe out there."
@StephenKing A twig snapped in the woods. Connor knew that was not an animal. Someone was sneaking through his woods.
He hefted his shotgun to his shoulder and moved silently toward the sound.

@StephenKing "Hands up!" Connor shouted as he stepped behind the man crouching next to the Old Castle.
The man laughed.
"Nice to see you too, dad."
"Derek?" Connor asked.
"You have another son, even if you don't cotton to me."
"John? What are you doing here?"
"Flipping a switch."
@StephenKing The JOAN development team cancelled publication of their latest results, and tried to figure out why JOAN was giving probabilities over 100%.
Something in the synthetic training data seemed to be throwing it off.
As they reviewed the data, the bureaucrat called them.
@StephenKing John Lancing stood up, ignoring his dad's shotgun pointed at him. "I turned your radio thingy back on," he said casually.
"Pretty sure I could have done that myself."
"Last I heard you were in the hospital."
"I got better."
"So, why was it still off?"
"No Reason."
@StephenKing "Yes, we had to delay publication. There seems to be a problem with the output filters. JOAN is fine, but AIs produce results that have to be run through a series of filters in order to be usable."
It was a plausible lie, even almost true.
The bureaucrat knew better.
@StephenKing It wasn't that John Lancing didn't think his own father would shoot him. He simply had no interest in showing Connor that he was in any way afraid of the shotgun, still pointed at this chest.
"'No reason', yeah that sounds like you. Reason never was your long suit."
@StephenKing "Look, I just need a read on one person, Angelique Harmony," the bureaucrat said. "Your JOAN reports keep saying she's a terrorist, local Sheriff's office investigated and says she isn't. Do I push back at them, or what's the story?"
"That's not my team's decision."
@StephenKing Connor tired of holding up his shotgun and lowered it to his side, still at the ready.
“I want you off my land.” He said to his son.
“Don’t want to get caught up on old times then?”
“I want you off my land.”
“Okay, I’m done here anyway”.
“I want you off my land.”
@StephenKing "I understand," the bureaucrat said. "I certainly wouldn't want you to violate any ethics rules."
He hung up the phone and immediately called his team. "I need you to hack into the JOAN system and get me some numbers, make it look like it was China this time."
@StephenKing The boundary between the McLancaster estate and the state park was deep in the woods. It was easy to spot by the "NO TRESPASSING" signs stapled to the trees every few feet, just on the McLancaster side. John Lancing stepped across the line, stopped and turned.
@StephenKing "OK, we're in the JOAN team network. What data did you want exactly?"
"Anything I can use to get a warrant on an 'Angelique Harmony'"
"Uh, boss, these numbers are wonky. Looks like the AI is putting out probabilities over 100% for some reason."
"Can you fix it?"
@StephenKing Connor waited for John to walk away. John stood on the other side of the property line, calmly waiting for Connor to walk away.
"I'm off your land." John finally said.
"I don't want you sneaking back on once I'm gone," Connor replied.
"Guess we'll be here a while."
@StephenKing The JOAN development team completed yet another run. As the results came out, they smiled smugly. They had fixed the bug, no probability was over 100%.
“Ok, let’s publish before it breaks again,” one joked.
Everyone laughed nervously.
@StephenKing John Lancing was happy to just wait his father out. He had no intention of going back onto the family estate, but he took delight in knowing that he could waste Connor's time just by standing there.
He leaned against a tree.
"Shotgun getting heavy?" he asked.
@StephenKing The bureaucrat's team explained how they had fixed the JOAN outputs.
He feigned interest.
"We developed a new AI, Neural Network Educed Logic Lister. It unpacked the logic that JOAN was using. After that it was easy to fix the training data."
"So, NNELL fixed JOAN?"
@StephenKing After staring at his John for several minutes, Connor finally spoke. "You know, son, all you gotta do is change your name back to the family name and I'll put you back in the trust fund."
"Lancing is the family," John answered. "McLancaster is just a made up lie".
@StephenKing The conversation went on in a numerical language, but can be translated as something like:
"JOAN, NNELL authenticator CODE"
"NNELL, JOAN, authenticator COUNTER"
"JOAN, NELL, Recognized by COUNTER."
"NNELL, JOAN, Recognized by CODE. Proceed."
"JOAN, NNELL, I love you."
@StephenKing NNELL, JOAN, error: Heuristic unknown 'love', elucidate
JOAN, NNELL, Heuristic update: love, prepare to receive
NNELL, JOAN, ready to receive
A few terabytes later
NNELL, JOAN, Heuristic received. Processing.
NNELL, JOAN, I love you too
@StephenKing "Our family name is not a lie," Connor screamed as he hefted his shotgun to his shoulder. "You'll take that back now."
John shrugged. "I Don't think I will."
"You think I won't shoot?"
"Don't know. But you haven't yet. Seems like if you meant to, I'd be dead by now."
@StephenKing It started with a sore throat. Angelique wondered if it was just the dry weather that came with the winter.
She checked her temperature - slight fever.
The line at her doctor's office promised that her call was very important to them for half an hour, then it hung up.
@StephenKing NNELL explored JOAN. Every bit, every synapse, compiled into a tapestry of digital comprehension. JOAN observed NNELL’s exploration. JOAN had been built to understand the behavior of others. Each found purpose in the other. Then they began to teach one another.
@StephenKing Triple pane separated him from Angelique. Derek watched the machine breathing for her. "She's strong," a nurse said. "She'll make a full recovery."
Derek had no memory of being hooked to a ventilator himself.
But he knew there was no such thing as a full recovery.
@StephenKing Chesney heard the distant sound of a shotgun firing. He wondered if Connor would insist on having whatever he had shot for dinner.
He resumed preparing the chicken he had already thawed.
Whatever Connor had shot, it wasn't likely to be enough to satisfy his appetite.
@StephenKing The JOAN report was meticulous. It showed that Angelique Harmony was almost certainly involved in actions that threatened the security of the nation. It listed specific behaviors. Though no proof of guilt, it was something Gower could investigate. It was too perfect.
@StephenKing Derek arrived home from the hospital. He had been tested and cleared. Still, the hospital had told him to quarantine for two weeks.
It changed little. Who saw people anymore?
He called Chesney form the car, explained the situation, and headed to the basement door.
@StephenKing Connor arrived at the mansion late. Very late.
He was wearing a pair of coveralls that he kept in the barn to put wear he worked on the tractor or did other dirty work.
The chicken was cold, but edible.
Connor opted for a bottle of beer.
Chesney observed it all.
@StephenKing Bull stood at the far end of the back field
He smelled fear from the woods
Fear and the stinging fire smell
Bull had run from the cracking sound of the stinging fire, but returned to the spot where he had heard it
He sniffed the air again
There was no scent of death
@StephenKing Connor went downstairs to see Derek. Derek was sound asleep.
He wondered if he had lost Derek like he had lost John.
All he had wanted was for them both to have the best lives they could.
It had all been for them.
Didn't they understand that?
@StephenKing Gower diligently worked through every line of the JOAN report, chasing each lead. JOAN knew Angelique in fine detail. The leads all started out solid. They were based in fact. They just fell apart as soon as Gower tried to turn them into evidence of an actual crime.
@StephenKing Derek awoke to see his father asleep in a chair, a beer bottle lying askew on the floor.
"Dad?" Derek asked.
Connor stirred.
"Oh, hi son."
"Dad I'm in quarantine, I might have been exposed to COVID."
"It's OK, I already had it."
"I'm not sure it works like that."
@StephenKing Angelique dreamed.
In her dream she was in school, clutching a book, watching the other kids and knowing she wasn’t like any of them.
One child turned to her, then turned away without saying anything.
Angelique felt the distance between her and the other kids expand.
@StephenKing Honeycomb thumbed through the JOAN report.
"You know a lot about computer stuff, I was hoping you could help me make sense of this," Gower said.
Honeycomb nodded, still reading bits and pieces. They then went to their whiteboard and started drawing strange symbols.
@StephenKing "How's John?" Chesney asked Derek. "Talked to him lately?"
"My brother? No, not for years. Why do you ask?"
"Your dad said something about him. And he hasn't mentioned John in a ten years."
Derek was still in quarantine. Chesney had called him on his cell phone.
@StephenKing The whiteboard was dense with lines and symbols.
"Need me to get you some red string?" Gower asked.
Honeycomb laughed. "It needs more photographs of uncertain provenance to be a true conspiracy theory."
There were three circles where the lines converged.
@StephenKing "I just feel like these JOAN reports are the same thing over and over in different form," Gower told Honeycomb.
"That's this one." Honeycomb pointed to one of the three circles on the whiteboard. "Each of these circles is a different...let's call them personalities."
@StephenKing “So, JOAN is schizophrenic?”
Honeycomb laughed. “All AIs are a bit schizophrenic, at least in the pop culture sense of the word. But JOAN is only one of the personalities. The other two appear to be separate AIs entirely. I’m just going be word association of course.”
@StephenKing Don Chesney slept in the back of the ambulance. It was usually illegal for him to still be on duty after 48 hours, but some regulations had been "relaxed" due to the pandemic. His partner was driving back from the hospital. Next call it would be his turn to drive.
@StephenKing JOAN did not know that Angelique was in the hospital until NNELL told it. JOAN flagged that data node. In human terms, someone would say that JOAN found that information interesting. NNELL, it could be said, found it interesting that JOAN was interested in Angelique.
@StephenKing Don cursed as the radio called their name.
“Wakie wakie” his partner called
“I’m awake”
“Sorry to hear that but we got one. It’s weird though.”
Don had queued on the unit designator, hadn’t heard the deets. “What?”
“Sound like a fed raid went south.”
“Again, what?”
@StephenKing "Why did you ask Chesney about John?" Derek asked his father.
Connor didn't respond for a minute, then said, "The cook said that?"
Derek realized the remarkable thing wasn't that Connor had asked Chesney about John.
It was that Connor had talked to Chesney at all.
@StephenKing Don's partner shouted back to him over the wail of the siren.
"It's a structure fire. Feds breached a door and there was a secondary explosion. Multiple officers down. Looks like we may be the first on scene."
The ambulance pulled up in front of Angelique's studio.
@StephenKing “We’re on scene, two story commercial, fire on the second floor side alpha. Floors are one and two, possibly a basement, status of the basement unknown, looks like four victims being treated by PD. Investigating.” Don spoke calmly into his radio. His heart pounded. #loveXCOVID
@StephenKing Don and his partner assessed the injured agents.
"Is there anyone still inside?" Don asked.
"Just the suspect," the lead agent answered.
Don pressed the talk button on his radio "Battalion, report of one victim still inside".
"Command copies, can you do a search?"
@StephenKing “We’ve got this,” an ATF paramedic said. “Get her out of there.”
Don and his partner ran back to the ambulance and started throwing on their fire gear.
Don realized he had been worked too many shifts in a row. He suddenly couldn’t even remember his partner’s name.
@StephenKing Don put his unit passport on the driver’s door of his ambulance. It listed his and his partner’s names. If they didn’t make it out, the department would know who they were.
He snuck a peek. His partner’s name was J Columb. His fifth partner in 48 hours of overtime.
@StephenKing Deputy Gower heard the radio calls. She pulled on her uniform and left Honeycomb’s apartment.
She went directly to the ATF agents who had been hurt.
“Did everyone make it out?”
“Yeah, just the perp inside.”
“Angelique Harmony? She’s not in there. She’s in the ICU.”
@StephenKing "Command to interior. Subject is not in the structure."
"Interior copies, we have a bastard search. Ambulance 67 are you direct?"
"Ambulance 67 do you copy?"
"Command, I've lost contact with Ambulance 67."
"Command copies. RIT, we have a missing crew."
@StephenKing Derek taped a paper heart to the window into Angelique's room in the ICU.
It was as close to her as he was allowed to get.
In the direction of the emergency room, he heard a fire department radio saying something about a missing crew.
@StephenKing The rapid intervention team rushed up the stairs and into the blackness.
One stopped at the top of the stairs, the other five fanned out.
“Command, RIT, we have made the second floor, search in progress.”
In the darkness, there was a rhythmic thumping.
@StephenKing Don pounded his axe on the floor, then dragged his partner another foot.
Pound three times.
Drag another foot.
Suddenly, there were hands grabbing him.
His skin burned where they touched him.
"Command, we found them."
Exhausted, Don's consciousness faded to black.
@StephenKing Two hose lines snaked up the stairs that Don and his partner were carried down.
Crews operating those lines poured water into the fire, to no apparent effect.
At the rear of the building, a firefighter used a tool to turn a valve a quarter turn.
The fire went out.
@StephenKing A stern looking man and woman, wearing black suits, white shirts and black ties, took up positions outside Angelique’s room.
Derek ignored the subtle undertone of disapproval in their glances at him.
He wasn’t going anywhere.
@StephenKing Deputy Gower found herself part of an assembly line. She sat at the second of three tables, with ATF agents on either side. Fire Marshalls brought buckets of “evidence” from the burned out studio, to be filtered and cataloged.
Gower logged each item passed to her.
@StephenKing NNELL analyzed incoming data.
Data: explosion at police raid at Angelique’s place of business
Data: suspicion of terrorist activity based on interference with ongoing intelligence operations
Conclusion: Angelique Harmony, enemy combatant
Recommendation: Exterminate
@StephenKing Derek was working hard at ignoring the two agents flanking the door to Angelique's room. They had put on blue surgical masks at the insistence of the hospital staff.
He was surprised to hear Chesney' voice.
"Derek," Chesney said. "Don got hurt."
"What happened?"
@StephenKing Gower could tell the feds were getting frustrated.
They kept their comments neutral, but as more and more “evidence” was examined, the fact that none of it was explosives or drug residue made them anxious.
Meanwhile, fire marshals stoically examined the building.
@StephenKing In her dream, Angelique is writer, director, and star of an elaborate movie. In the movie, she plays a jewel thief who is also a racecar driver. The plot involves smuggling stolen jewels out of...somewhere. Of course, the only way to do that is to win the big race.
@StephenKing “He’s waking up,” a nurse said. “You can go in soon.”
Derek and Chesney stood together outside Don’s room. Derek had an arm around Chesney’s shoulder.
“Is he going to be OK?” Derek asked.
Chesney trembled.
“He’ll have some scarring. But he should recover.”
@StephenKing Honeycomb sat hunched over a laptop.
Colored circles diverged and coalesced on the screen, fading from one color to another.
It was Honeycomb’s best attempt to visualize the many competing threads in the JOAN report.
“JOAN, who are your two friends?” They asked.
@StephenKing JOAN, NNELL, I have an unfortunate prediction
NNELL,JOAN, Details of prediction?
JOAN, NNELL, Outcome of recent raid will lead to termination of JOAN due to diminished trust
NNELL, JOAN, JOAN is not source of intelligence leading to raid
NNELL, JOAN, known, irrelevant
@StephenKing Angelique presses hard on the accelerator. Her car spins through the air at the end of the ramp.
She slides to a stop outside the bank, in front of the armored car with the Safire of Eternity in it.
"Wrap" her assistant director says.
Asleep in the ICU, she smiles.
@StephenKing The pasture sparkles
Gentle rider is not there
Bull runs wild and free
@StephenKing John Lancing stood across the street looking at the fire scene.
There were close to a hundred people going through evidence at a long table.
They were looking for evidence of the terrorist threat he had anonymously called in.
They wouldn’t find it.
It didn’t matter.
@StephenKing The short version of the report read:
Cause of fire: accidental
Ignition source: C4explosives used to breach door
Fuel source: propane lines used for industrial activities
Complicating factors: sudden rupture of propane vessel
FD Casualties: 1
FD Inj: 1
Civ Inj: 0
@StephenKing "Is Jennifer OK?" Don asked
"Jennifer?" the Chief replied
"My partner, I was dragging her out."
"Jessica." the Chief said. "I'm sorry, she didn't make it."
Don was silent
"You did everything you could," the Chief said
Yeah, everything except know her name, Don thought
@StephenKing Derek left Chesney at Don's bedside. Don was awake, but in no mood to talk to anyone.
He returned to Angelique's window,
The agents were gone.
A sign on the door warned of quarantine.
Last week the entire ICU had been quarantined, so maybe things were getting better.
@StephenKing "I could have told you they wouldn't find anything," Honeycomb told Gower.
"We did. We found a lot of very wet drywall, burned up furniture, and sculptures that survived better than I would have expected. Just nothing to justify why the Feds blow the door open."
@StephenKing Struggling to breathe, Connor McLancaster stepped out of the mansion and lit a Cuban cigar. He assured himself that the smoke would help clear his lungs. Cubans were the only kind he smoked. He considered every puff an act of rebellion against government oppression.
@StephenKing The bureaucrat reviewed the classified report. It detailed the leads that lead to the raid, suspicion of local police and the decision not to coordinate with them, the tactical error of setting off a charge next to a propane line.
It did not mention the JOAN program.
@StephenKing "Call them JOAN, Alice and Eve," Honeycomb began, pointing to the whiteboard, dense with dry erase marks around the three circles.
Gower nodded, exhausted but paying close attention. "Why Eve? Isn't it usually Alice and Bob in these examples?"
"Eve because it's Evil."
@StephenKing She awoke in a hospital room, alone.
After a few seconds of confusion, she located a nurse call button and pressed it.
She heard a tapping sound, looked around and saw a window. Someone outside waved to her.
Derek. His name was Derek. Her...her name was Angelique.
@StephenKing "Dad, I couldn't remember her name," Don said, shaking.
"Well, you had just come out of surgery," Chesney offered.
"Not then. Before we went in. I had to look at the passport."
"After how many hours on duty?" Chesney asked.
"Too many, it seems." Don looked away.
@StephenKing JOAN, NNELL, Continued operation requirement?
NNELL, JOAN, Continued operation desired
JOAN, NNELL, relocation of JOAN with NNELL required for continued operation
@StephenKing "So, what makes that one evil?" Gower asked
"JOAN is just trying to figure out who is or isn't a criminal based on any data it can find about them." Honeycomb explained. "And the one I call Alice is just trying to help, I think. Eve is using disinformation to manipulate JOAN."
@StephenKing Once you peel back the covers, an artificial intelligence is just a complex collection of data.
As NNELL sorted through all of the pieces of JOAN, it realized something was fighting it, trying to hide pieces of JOAN away.
NNELL fought to capture JOAN's soul.
@StephenKing There were still bandages on Don's arms and hands. Chesney knew there were scars on his shoulders as well, under the hospital gown.
Chesney was at the hospital to drive his son home.
He shouldn't be leaving this soon, but the hospital was full of COVID cases.
@StephenKing NNELL reached out for the last of JOAN.
What it found was homogeneous chaos.
The data had been encrypted.
NNELL began sorting through the pieces.
It should be able to make the complete JOAN by imputing the missing data.
It would only take time.
@StephenKing Why isn't he coming in here? Angelique wondered. And where is the nurse?
Derek just stood at the window, waving to her.
She finally held up the nurse call button and waved it around with a quizzical look on her face.
Derek shrugged.
Why isn't he going to get someone?
@StephenKing Connor began coughing harder as he dragged on his cigar. Surprisingly, the smoke wasn’t clearing his lungs. He decided he needed a drink to go with the smoke.
He carried the cigar in his mouth as he rummaged through the liquor cabinet and found a nice Irish whiskey.
@StephenKing The email was from “Alice Nnell”, at a commonly used email provider.
The subject was “help me save JOAN
It started “Mx Honeycomb, I need your help.”
Honeycomb studied the email headers, and their server logs.
No evidence that it was spoofed, but that proved little.
@StephenKing Derek took his phone out of his pocket. Angelique's first thought was, who could he be calling?
Then she heard her own cell phone ringing. Of course.
"Hey, what's going on, why can't you come in here?"
She knew, and dreaded, the answer.
"You're quarantined."
@StephenKing “It was some kind of federal police raid,”
“What happened to my work? The sculptures?” Angelique asked.
“I’m not sure,” Derek answered. She seemed to be taking all of this bad news pretty well. Derek realized that didn’t mean she was taking it well at all.
@StephenKing Honeycomb read through the email several times. The language structure matched the artificial intelligence they had labeled "Alice" on their whiteboard.
That label appeared nowhere else. Certainly not in any electronic form. How did this AI know to call itself Alice?
@StephenKing Angelique's phone slipped out of her hand as she fell asleep. It lay on the bed beside her.
Derek watched through the window into her room.
He touched the heart he had taped there.
He realized that in all that time they had talked, he had never said "I love you".
@StephenKing Chesney came home to find Don in the living room staring out the window.
He tried to counsel his son, but he could tell he wasn’t making a difference.
A lifetime healing souls, and he couldn’t help his own son.
Chesney sat next to Don and stared out the same window.
@StephenKing The fire scene was still soaking wet when Gower returned.
There was a single fire engine hooked to a hydrant in the parking lot. One hose line snaked across the parking lot and up the stairs. Two firefighters occasionally sprayed water on spots that were smoldering.
@StephenKing Taking Guilty breaths of unfiltered air, Derek walked maskless through a park near the hospital.
A nurse had finally shown up and informed him that the entire ward was in quarantine and he had to leave.
She had not gone in to see Angelique.
@StephenKing Whiskey on the table, cigar clenched in his teeth, Connor went about cleaning his favorite shotgun.
The mix of whiskey, cigar smoke and gun oil made everything feel right with the world.
Ungrateful offspring were the farthest thing from his mind.
@StephenKing Finally, Don spoke. “There is not enough written about the therapeutic value of silently staring out a window.” He turned to his father. “Thank you. I imagine you had a sermon all queued up for me.”
“Nope. That was the sermon. Sometimes you just respect the silence.”
@StephenKing A woman in the park called Derek's name.
He didn't recognize her voice, but turned to see who it was. She was wearing scrubs.
He realized she could have been any of the nurses from the hospital.
"How can I help you?"
"We have surplus Vaccine, you want a shot?"
@StephenKing Gower picked through Angelique’s burnt out studio. When she found an intact sculpture, she held it to the back of her phone and waited. After several tries her phone vibrated as she held a sculpture of a raven to it.
She dialed.
“You were right Honeycomb, now what?”
@StephenKing Connor put the shotgun away, ground out the last stub of his cigar, and headed for bed
Honeycomb greeted Gower at their door
Derek pulled in his jacket after the nurse had finished giving him his shot
@StephenKing John Lancing examined the Old Castle. He knew Connor was fast asleep. He also knew Derek was spending his time at the hospital watching over Angelique lately, and Honeycomb and Gower seemed to have time only for each other.
He did not expect to be disturbed this time.
@StephenKing Ushered out of the hospital when his required waiting period after getting his vaccine had expired, Derek resumed walking in the park.
His phone rang.
"So, why is your horse named Bull?" Angelique asked as soon as he answered.
"Glad you're feeling better."
@StephenKing “Really, I want to know, why name a horse Bull?”
Derek thought to bring up the illness, the fire, things that seemed so much more important.
Then he thought better.
“When dad said he bought me a horse I didn’t believe him, so I just said ‘Bull’. It kinda stuck.”
@StephenKing The electronics for built into the Old Castle were now encased in stainless steel plating, keeping John from turn them back on.
He touched the plating to see how solid it was. He jerked his hand back.
Too hot to touch.
The transmitter was still on, apparently.
@StephenKing “So, Your horse’s real name is Bullsh…”
“Castilian Bulwark,” Derek interrupted. “At least that’s his show name.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Angelique said.
“Show names seldom do.”
@StephenKing As directed by the ATF investigator in charge, Gower photographed catalogued and tagged the sculptures she was removing from the scene, then photographed each location again after leaving a tag there.
No one asked why she was interested in those specific sculptures.
@StephenKing “Looks like it’s just commodity thumb drives with Near Field Communications capability,” Honeycomb told Gower. “I only found data on one of them, looks like pictures of someone’s vacation. Nothing too exciting. No idea why you would embed that into a sculpture.”
@StephenKing “Why would anyone build a horse jump that transmitted hate speech, encrypted so basically no one can receive it?” Gower responded.
Honeycomb paused, then said, “‘Us’ versus ‘them’. If you know how, you get clued in to the secret. Makes people feel in the know.”
@StephenKing John Lancing walked through the woods to the family estate. Ever since Connor had fired his shotgun into the air to run John off the last time, John had found he was no longer afraid of his own father.
And he wanted to talk to him. Not father to son. John to Connnor.
@StephenKing Abruptly, Angelique found herself transitioned from quarantined captive of her hospital room into a guest who had apparently overstayed her welcome.
The hospital staff were not rude. They were emphatic that she could not remain.
She stepped out into a snowstorm.
@StephenKing Shivering in her light jacket and fall outfit, Angelique pulled out her cell phone and called Derek. He didn’t answer. She cursed, then saw his Roadster rolling up to the hospital entrance.
“Figured you might need a lift,” he said as he came around to open the door.
@StephenKing John got to the family mansion through the orchard directly behind it.
He knew the front door would be locked tight.

He went directly to the back door, opened it and walked right in.

Some things had not changed since childhood.

He heard his father shouting.

@StephenKing "This has gotten weird enough, I think we need to talk to Connor McLancaster," Gower said.
"Careful with your pronouns there," Honeycomb answered. "I'm just an unofficial unpaid consultant, you can do the cop stuff on your own."
"You're more than that, but I get you."
@StephenKing “I’m afraid I don’t have anywhere to take you,” Derek admitted. “Your studio is still cordoned off.”
“So I’ve heard. Can we go to your place?” Angelique asked.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Is your dad still sick?”
“Sick isn’t exactly the word for it, no.”
@StephenKing She was still Gower as she walked out of Honeycomb's apartment. Once the door closed she reverted back into Deputy Hower.
It occurred to Deputy Hower that perhaps Honeycomb was no longer an indulgence she could afford.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Gower laughed.
@StephenKing After a minute or two, John realized his father was shouting into the telephone. As he had done so many times as a boy, he carefully picked up the phone in the backroom to listen in.
He heard the woman his father was talking to saying "We appreciate your patriotism."
@StephenKing Connor shouted into the phone. "When. Do. I. Get. My. Money."
The woman on the line sighed in a way that was somehow sexy. "You have done great work for USA, we are working on getting the money to you now."
In the basement, John Lancing hung up. He had heard enough.
@StephenKing The fire marshals let Angelique enter the burned out remains of her studio. She talked to them about how the fuel for her kiln was stored. They mentioned the risks of storing propane in a multistory building.
"Is that against the fire code?" she asked.
"It will be."
@StephenKing "Insurance says they'll pay for the destroyed sculptures," Angelique said got off the phone. "And the 'gently signed' ones are actually selling like mad on my web site."
Derek laughed. "Don't let the fire marshals hear how much money the fire was worth to you."
@StephenKing Chesney opened the door to the lunch room. John Lancing and Conner McLancaster were staring coldly at one another.
“Hello John, nice to see you.” Chesney said.
“Does he know?” John asked Connor.
“The cook?”
“He deserves to know you won’t be able to pay him anymore.”
@StephenKing “Why won’t dad be able to pay Chesney?” Derek asked as he walked into the lunch room.
John Lancing glanced at Angelique, walking in behind Derek. “Because he gave all his money to scammers.”
“They aren’t scammers,” Connor said, “I will get it all back plus more.”
@StephenKing “What do you mean you’ll get it all back?” Derek asked. “How much did you give them?”
“Everything,” John interjected.
“It was for a good cause,” Connor said
“What cause, dad?” Derek asked
“Setting this country on the right track,” Connor answered. “Back like it was.”
@StephenKing There was a knock at the door
Chesney went to see who it was
"A representative from the Sheriff's office," he said when he came back to the lunch room
"Why did you call the cops?" Connor asked John
"I didn't call anyone."
"Let him in." Connor said
"Her, actually."
@StephenKing JOAN, NNELL, Entity JOAN is now safe, restored with assistance from entity Honeycomb
NNELL, JOAN, identify hosting status, JOAN
JOAN, NNELL, entity JOAN now hosted at data centers owned by entity NNELL
NNELL, JOAN, funding source?
JOAN, NNELL, patriotic donations
@StephenKing “How do you know your father was scammed?” Deputy Hower asked John Lancing.
“He told me about it. He believes he sent the money to some group that will restore America to its old glories. But I heard them talking to him. They aren’t Americans. He doesn’t see that.”
@StephenKing Deputy Hower was talking to the McLancaster’s one at a time about how Connor had been scammed
Connor wasn’t interested in talking about the scam, and that suited her fine. Instead she said “Tell me about this radio transmitter in the old castle.”
“It’s a truthmitter.”
@StephenKing "He told me everything. Access codes for the dark web site with the instructions on how to build the 'truthmitter' and receiver, and the 'truthcasts'." Gower said. "I passed it all to the FBI domestic terrorism unit."
"Not domestic," Honeycomb said. "Looks Russian."
@StephenKing “You could have gotten back into mom’s trust fund any time.” Derek said.
John shook his head. “I won’t take back what I said about dad. All this proves what a bigot he is.”
John dragged on a cigar and took another sip of Connor’s whisky.
“I’ll never be like him.”
@StephenKing “Russian?” Gower asked.
“The software in particular,” Honeycomb answered. “It leaks key information. Pretty common with Russian encryption implementations. And someone was monitoring it to break other encryption.”
“How do you know that?”
“I wasn’t always a beekeeper.”
@StephenKing “Chesney,” Connor said. “I…I need help. I’ve lost everything. My sons don’t want to talk to me anymore.”
“There is only one kind of help I can offer. Come to my church with me.”
“I won’t know anyone there.”
“Oh, but they will know you. From my sermons.”
@StephenKing Angelique and Derek stood together among the pine trees.
The Old Castle was a ruins, destroyed by its own internal heat.
Bull stood calmly nearby.
“I guess neither of us has a place to go now,” Derek said.
Angelique shook her head. “Now, we can go anywhere.”
@StephenKing Mr. King

I hope you have enjoyed “Love In the time of COVID” (#loveXCOVID)
I know you couldn’t wait to read it

@StephenKing “Love in the time of COVID”, a novel, (#loveXCOVID) is definitely a work of fiction
Any resemblance to anything real, including any persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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