“3 A.M./Stare at the ceilin’, murder the feelin’/Spider crawl in the corner—Brown Recluse./So appropriate” I rap, far too passionately.

Honestly, there is no excuse for my obsession with Childish Gambino. It ruins everything. No, seriously. Because he’s basically made every reference under the sun, there’s a lyric for nearly everything—something that can become quite distracting in conversations. It’s always awkward when your friends are talking about their futures and families and kids they want, and you’re just sitting there like “HASHTAG MY DAY-WEAR. YOUR GIRL DRANK MY DAY CARE—I WAS BORN RICH, LIFE AIN’T FAIR (SILVER-SPOON-COON HOE!),” which you want to follow immediately with a fact about fiskers and their undetectable start-up noises.

“They tellin’ me I’m the rapper for these white kids/‘cause Black kids can’t possibly like the same shit…”

I imagine him in his own palisades, like “The Boy,” smoking far too much weed and fucking around with the idea of a script he’s had for far too long, to point where he’d be hella frustrated if it weren’t for, well, the hella weed. The smoke in his lungs. That same smoke clouds his mind, but it couldn’t be any foggier than the idea he’s trying to grasp. He stands there with his blunt between his middle and index finger in his right hand and takes a deep draw. He breathes out, dropping his hand down by his side, just overtop his left forearm which is stretched across his person. He pauses, and after two pumps of his right heel, he goes, “Why does it even matter if motherfuckers can’t code.”

The thought of it makes me more “bothered” than I’d like to admit.

I step outside and see the progression is already making its way toward The Grid. A parade of Black bodies, a chocolate river coursing toward the heart of the city. We make this move every damn day—while the city does its roundup, the citizens wake up, shower, dress, Grid, wipe, home, repeat. It’s been this way since the uprising. One seamless, monotonous system. The only ones exempt are the destitute. I hate it. Too bad every time you voice that shit, someone threatens to report that you’re “not fully plugged in” and need to “get with the program.”

We each enter $100 into the kiosk outside the Grid. It won’t be missed—we’ll all make it back within the hour. Inside, the building is already live. Everyone is pulsating—Black bodies teeming around their white test subjects, recording data and sending shock waves through the misbehaviors.

Sports management is giving their subjects their morning anabolics and throwing them into their eight-hour workout regimen. PR is training their subjects in likeability—should they answer all their questions correctly for the next five hours, they may get half an apple slice. Entertainment has their subjects putting on a show—“Minstrel and Me”—where everyone is tap-dancing while dressed in their finest fifty’s pin-up garb and getting heckled by the sea of eager eyes and mouths ready to eat them alive. The one who remained smiling for the longest would get five dollars. If more than one person was smiling at the end, the profit would have to be split. Music had their artists in separate booths, but were feeding them the same song. Any deviation in sound between artists elicited a shock. The more alike in sound the artists became, the more frequently the testers would hold a ten-dollar bill to the glass as an incentive. The artists must be getting worse—there are fewer claw marks on the glass, and far less blood.

It was mostly business as usual, except there were a lot more kids around today. It is encouraged that one bring their child in to “learn the ropes,” so that they may take over their parent’s position when they are of age. Parents retire early here—they can afford to. It’s not exactly like we want for anything. At first, the kids are horrified, but after their second or third visit, they’re asking to control the shocks themselves.

It’s all pretty sick to me, but what can I really do? It’s the way the system is—I didn’t make it. Besides, everyone around me seems pretty content with it. Everywhere you look there are smiling Black faces, so can it really be that bad?

Fuck. I’m becoming one of them.

I should have been there, I think as I shuffle past the coders. That exam kicked my ass though. Gambino would be disappointed.

I make my way to my station—analytics—and begin processing the data from each sector. Music is in fact doing well—their artists sound 85% the same, up from 75% from a week before. Entertainment is pulling low numbers again. No one is satisfied with anything the artists do—a flawed performance is met with death threats; a flawless performance is met with scrutiny and claims of boredom.

The same is occurring in PR. Ag damn near lost its entire crop because the whites tried having an uprising and they had to electrify the entire field. I guess it’s better to lose the entire yield for the city than it is to have all three of the Ag whites lose their shit. Sports management was also seeing some hostility—a couple of players were “angry at their conditions,” feeling like they “weren’t being treated fairly.” The PR heads managed to assure them that it was merely the anabolics talking. Won’t matter later anyway. Not after the wipe.

I run diagnostics on the main server, checking to see if anyone’s system is currently down. Only one system seems to be giving off a weaker connection.


That’s weird, I think, surveying my station. Everything seems plugged in. Is it the mainline?

I follow my monitor’s thickest cord to the server room and stand there, perplexed. I am plugged in. All cords are in order. The room is quiet, save for the soft static and whirring of the machines and the Gambino playing quietly through my headphones. Everything seems fine.

“Life’s the biggest troll, but the joke is on us/Yeah, the joke’s you showed up.”

The whirring begins to grow louder.

That’s fine, I think. Machines run hot—it’s fine.

It’s not.

My head starts pounding; my temples pulse to the rhythm of an indistinguishable chant forming in the back of my mind. I can’t hear my music anymore.

What the fuck, I think. What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck.

The recesses of my mind respond.

Get with the program.

My body follows the command I did not give it. I reach instinctively for my cord.

Maybe try cutting it off and cutting it back on again, jokes my conscious mind.

Screaming. Searing pain from my scalp to my calves, burning intravenously. Arm and leg straps, back arched off of a gurney. Panicked voices and scrambling. My eyes shoot open. A chocolate sea. Bloated and battered Black bodies lined on stretchers. Tubes and wires hooked up on computer monitoring systems.

White faces flitting over me, hooking back into my body that was more machine than flesh. One stands over me, mouthing slowly. I can only make out one word.


The uprising.

The victory of my people.

We lost.

And this is how they repaid us.

Nevermind that they still gave us class disparity. Nevermind that they couldn’t give us our utopia without still centering themselves in the narrative. They gave us our “own world,” made themselves victim, made us Master, programmed us to believe that this kind of slavery was okay, made us believe that our bodies were no longer their playthings.

Made us believe that we were free.

I begin thrashing, buckling against the restraints, fighting hands off me, Gambino bumping in the back of my mind—

You’re here now—you have to help me.”

They shove a tube down my throat.

I know this tube. I’ve seen this tube thousands of times.

They’re wiping my memory.

The smoke in my lungs. That same smoke clouds my mind, but it couldn’t be any foggier than the reality I’m trying to grasp. As I fade away, I imagine myself with my wires in my right hand, jerking them out of my body. I’d reach out, dropping my hand down on the keyboard. I’d override the system. We’d all be free.

I pause, and after two jagged breaths, I think.

Why does it even matter if motherfuckers can’t code?



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Ebony Hagans-Greene

Ebony Hagans-Greene. Human, editor, writer, poet, artist (in that order). Just trying to find the right words for the right things. Instagram: @ebonynoivory2020