The Battery, part 3

Photo by Nik Radzi on Unsplash

They were kinda cute, right?” Nailah says, glancing at Jai from the corner of her eye, but still trying to stay focused on the road.

            “Yeah, very well dressed.” Jai murmurs, watching Izrael through the rearview mirror. He hadn’t looked up from the card since they got in the car. “They were cute.

            “You shouldn’t think such jealous thoughts at me, babe,” his voice washes into her ear. He looks up and cocks an eyebrow at her in the rearview mirror.

            “Who says I’m jealous?” Jai refocuses her eyes on her phone and shifts in her seat. Even if she is a little bit jealous, that would never show on her face. She relaxes her jaw and remains aloof. Izzo doesn’t reply; he just turns the card over and over in his hand, allowing his fingertips to activate Dane’s information, and releasing them, letting his name and number disappear. He keeps shaking his head and whispering “this is so fucking cool” under his breath.

            “What kind of business card doesn’t have a business on it?” Oleva leans over Izrael’s shoulder, watching him play with the card.

            “It might just be his own thing, not his company card.” Izrael replies, shrugging, eyes still trained on the card.

            “Aight, but who do you know with enough cash to just have a touchcard? Most companies still haven’t switched over. I heard even 50 of those would set you back a couple rent payments,” Oleva says, plucking the card out of Izrael’s hands.

            Izrael scratches at his growing beard. “I mean . . . he obviously ain’t some little boy. He was at the Innovator’s Summit. They don’t let just anyone in there. It’s mostly reps from major tech companies and Nobel prize-worthy academics.”

            “Maybe he wants to give you a job,” Nailah says from the front seat.

            “If it’s not a company card, it’s probably not company business,” Oleva replies, leaning forward in his seat to wave the stiff black card next to Nailah’s face. She shoos it out of her face so she can focus on driving. Leaning back, Oleva nudges Izrael, “I’m thinking, you got a rich nigga with a crush on you.” Izrael smirks and raises his shoulder to his jaw, a nonverbal “I don’t know”.

            “Living Nai’s dream,” Jai thinks in Izrael’s direction. “I can get you all the answers you need,” she continues out loud. She turns in her seat to face the two guys, her face animated with a recognizably mischievous look.

            “I’m curious, even if this nigga’s not,” Oleva says, reaching out to hand Jai the card, but Izreal grabs it before he got a chance.

            “Chill, chill. I don’t need to know yet. The magic’s in the mystery, right? I’m sure he’ll tell me everything I need to know when we get coffee.”

            “Since when has everything you need to know been everything you wanted to know?” Jai’s eyes are almost invisible in the pitch black of the nighttime, but every time the car passed under a streetlight, Izzo would catch a glimpse of her teeth sparkling in a grin he knew all too well.

            “Why are you like this,” Izzo says to her, rolling his eyes and coughing out a laugh.

            “There’s no other way to be.” Jai stares back into his face and watches the gold of his eyes catch the streetlight and reflect it back into something majestic.

            “Uh, what y’all doing?” Oleva’s voice breaks Izzo and Jai’s gaze. Jai turns back to sit properly in her seat and giggles to herself.

            Izrael covers his mouth with his hand then stroked his chin slowly. “So, uh, I gave Jai—she Integrated with Oracle this morning. We were just talking.” He gesturs back-and-forth between his ear and Jai’s.

            “Wow, before me? I thought we were brothers.” Oleva shakes his head and faces the window.

            “I—I had to test it on a girl first, make sure it still works,” Izzo says, stumbling to find the right words to bring Oleva back down.

            “Since when has gender ever mattered, nigga? You’re always the first to say that—”

            “Besides, why start with Jai? You know she drops Mach 10. Won’t that fuck up the spinal fluid and shit?” Nailah interrupts Oleva as she pulls to a stop in the parking lot for Howard’s upperclassmen dorms.

            “It’s just a half-tab. When has a little LSD ever hurt anyone?” Jai says. Her hair bounced freely as she hops out of the SUV. “And what’s spinal fluid got to do with anything?”

            “See? She don’t even know how the Oracle works,” Oleva exclaims, chuckling. He points his thumb at Nailah and then back at himself, “And y’all can talk to each other? These are Mwari models and you gave it to someone who wasn’t even around for the Ruzivo? Day one doesn’t mean anything to you, huh?”

Photo by Tarun Dhiman on Unsplash

            “I Intergrate into your body by melding myself to your spinal cord and accessing your cerebral fluid, through the fluid contained in your spinal cord.” Jai stumbles against the curb. The Oracle’s voice seems to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.

            “You’re back?!” Jai thinks to herself. She stands there for a moment, as she tries to realign her balance and settle her mind as it swirls around her. The alcohol was still floating through her system.

            “I was never gone. You seemed bothered by my presence, so I receded until you were faced with a serious inquiry.”

            Oh, that’s just perfect,”Jai thinks.

            “For someone who hungers for information, you insist on standing in your own way,” The Oracle taunts her, the epicene voice hovering between her ears.

            Jai stumbles, but Izreal catches her by the elbow. She leans against his chest and sighs.

            “You planning on spending the night with Nailah? Might be too late to try to get you into my room.” Izrael helps her walk to the entrance of the dorm. She nods but doesn’t speak up. When they get inside, Nailah takes over as Jai’s crutch and walks her to the west elevator while the guys wave goodbye and watch them leave.

            Nailah lowers Jai onto her white, soft leather futon before heading over to her own bed. Jai waits until she could hear Nai’s breathe slow into a light snore before reaching into her cleavage for the black card. When her fingers press against it, the words “Dane Woods. 310.486.5486.” appear in white letters, glowing slightly in the dark.

            “Hmm, 310. What area code is that?” Jai thinks, turning the card over to see if more information would appear. It did not.

            “310 is the area code for the southwestern portion of Los Angeles county. The number on the business card originated from a T-Mobile store in Ladera Heights.

            “Ooo, you can do your Googles. I can find out more on my own. I’m sure Izzo wouldn’t want his precious Oracle fumbling its way across the darker bits of the internet.

            “I am an artificial intelligence designed to learn from and build a unique relationship with my host. While all Oracles can access the open web, they are limited, and in some cases, aided by the abilities of their host. In short, though we communicate, I will be able to do things the Oracle of Izrael cannot because you can.

“So, what did Oleva mean earlier when he started talking about Mwari and Ruzivo?”

            “The Ruzivo was the first prototype of the Oracle technology created by Izrael 3 years prior. The Ruzivo model could only access information. Her intelligence came from listening to the conversations of her host and surrounding humans, and then presenting related searches. She could ‘do her Googles’. As a Mwari model, I am not only able to communicate, but because I am true intelligence, I can analyze and interpret data for myself, learn from my host, and conduct my own independent searches.”

            “Reeeeeeally? Well, let’s start small. Search the web for a Dane Woods.

            “There is no match for a Dane Woods who resembles the image of the man retained in your memory.”

            “A fake name for a rich nerd? I knew there had to be something else going on,” Jai twirls her fingers in her hair and lays back into one of the satin pillows fluffed on the futon. “It would be too much to ask if you can do a reverse image search, right?

            “If there was a physical image or a search was requested when the individual was within view, I would be able to conduct a search from a retinal scan. However, mental images degenerate as time passes and any reverse image search would be inaccurate.

            “Try it anyway. Why the hell not?

            “Disregarding the inaccuracy of the search, I have found 2 images from recently deleted social media profiles. The closest matches are from a profile for Darrien Williams, deleted December 17, 2023, and Nathan Williams, deleted December 17, 2023. The latter match has silver hair and a wider facial structure.

            “The guy we met was with a twin. But fake profiles with the same initials? That’s sloppy as fuck.

            “The deletion of the profiles was not ‘sloppy’. Given 3 days, the profiles would be completely erased from the internet. None of the profiles could even be found in a regular Google search. Even the archives had been deleted from the public web.

            “So, you searched the private cloud databases of the main social media giants ‘til you found something? And nothing from further back in time?

            “Correct. Those were the only images resembling your memory of ‘Dane Woods’.

            Jai closes her eyes. A vague feeling of fatigue was weighing on her body, and her head was still swimming a little with her eyes closed. She couldn’t think as well as she needed to, not even to ask any questions to drive their search. There was always the option to continue when she woke up in the morning, but she would lose the image of ‘Dane’ in her head by then. But at this point she couldn’t even think of a plausible reason why a man would fake a name and a social life, just to delete it to start a new fake life. And to delete it that thoroughly. . . Well, if he was at a technology innovation summit, he probably had enough computer skills to get rid of anything about himself that he didn’t want to float around on the web. Jai tucks the touchcard back between her breasts; she could try this again tomorrow.

The Battery, part 2

Photo by Terricks Noah on Unsplash

My eyes are trained on the lithe, dark beauty standing at the bar, set apart from her friends, but eagerly watching them take shots of swirling color. You can always tell the D.D. from across the room. Her dense afro had been constrained into two bold puffs at the top of her head, standing in defiance to the otherwise overwhelming domination of gravity. A shorter, more energetic girl made up of tiny bundles of muscles packaged in a skin-tight denim dress tugged at Afropuff’s hand, her short, copper coils bringing out the redness in her skin that the blaring, fluorescent lights tried to drown out.

            “Who’re you staring at tonight?” a sigh followed by a smirk as Nega drops into the couch beside me, a thick manila envelope in one hand and a quarter-full glass of some dark bourbon sloshing against ice in the other. A rotating floodlight behind his head briefly disappears his face, but I still knew it was him from the low cut, the light ridging against his carefully maintained waves. I lift my drink in the direction of Afropuffs and Denim Dress, now joined by . . . someone who had to be a football player, with long, draping dreadlocks, and another man, with shorter locks and a smaller chest. I can see the glinting gold of his eyes from here.

            “Oh shit,” Nega murmurs, as he leans forward, following the sight line of my strawberry margarita.

            “What,” I ask. He carefully places his Bourbon on the table before fumbling with his envelope, pulling out a holographic picture of Gold Eyes standing on a stage, holding some milky, white orb. The hologram then zooms in on the orb, which seems to have small, worm-like tendrils protruding out from its . . . skin. Gold Eyes shoves the orb in his ear and clutches the side of his head, his face contorting in pain. Suddenly, the hologram is blocked by someone appearing to stand to applaud. The hologram loops back to Gold Eyes standing on stage holding the orb.

            I snatch the holo-pic from my brother’s hand and watch the loop several more times while he pulls documents from the envelope.

            “Izrael Mann. 22 years old. 4th year senior at Howard University. Majors in Bio-Mechanical Engineering.”

            “You’re rattling off facts as if he’s a target,” I mutter. “That wouldn’t make sense though, because I know my brother brought me here on vacation.”

            “All I said is nothing happens in D.C. anymore since they moved the capital to New York in 2030. It seems that my brother can’t help assuming things.”

            “Explain to me how that doesn’t sound like time off.” I stand. My margarita is empty and Nega is preparing to ruin my night.

            “Poz, if it makes you feel better, he’s not a target,” he says, lowering me back down into the couch.

            “So what? You planning on asking him out?” Nega glances back in the direction of Gold Eyes and his group. They’d migrated to the dance floor, except Afropuffs, who’s still leaned on the bar, ignoring the bartender’s attempts to flirt. The Football Player had found another tall, dark beauty to grind on, this one with more restless curves. Gold Eyes and Denim Dress seem to have found each other.

            “I don’t think I’m his type,” Nega hisses, and turns back to his documents. “He’s a recruit.”

            My eyes linger on Afropuffs. “I’m listening.”

            “Well, you saw the holo-pic. That thing he stuck in his ear is called the Oracle. It’s supposed to be some new organic tech that integrates with your nervous system so it can communicate directly with your brain.” Afropuffs was starting to look uncomfortable with the bartender’s advances and had her eyes fixated on Denim Dress, willing her to notice. The bartender was reaching for her afro.

            “So, what’s it do? Help the deaf hear? Let the blind see?” I’m getting impatient, but I can’t just go over there. No girl wants to be rescued from a creepy stranger by another creepier stranger who would have to admit that he’d been staring at her all night.

            “Nothing so heroic,” Nega continues. “I think he wants it to be some commercial thing that eventually makes cell phones obsolete—“

            “Bout time.”

            “It’s supposed to help people with Oracles communicate non-verbally and also access the internet. He said in his presentation that ‘she knows everything Google knows, and once she’s in you, you do too.’” Denim Dress finally noticed her and was tugging Gold Eyes—Izrael—back towards the bar, grabbing the Football Player on the way.

            “So why does the Battery care?” I ask, finally relaxing again into the couch.

            “The Battery cares about information; you know that. This thing—“

            “She. He called her a she.”

            “Fine, she can access information.”

            “Anyone can ‘access information.’”

            “But can everyone access information and process it, presenting you with several plans of action and blueprints. Not to mention the nonverbal communication. You should be excited. This thing could take all the guesswork out of being an agent.”

            “Isn’t being a spy all about the guesswork?” Afropuffs’ friends had come to her rescue and were escorting her out of the club. I’m finally ready to actually give Nega my attention, but he’s already standing up, ignoring my last question.

            “Come on.”

            “Come on what?”

            “You’re the one who’s been staring at them all night. Let’s go introduce ourselves.” Nega downs the rest of his bourbon in two quick gulps and gathers his files back into the envelope, tucking that into his cardigan. I hesitate for a moment, then stand up as well. After all, what did I really have to lose?

Photo by Antoine Julien on Unsplash

            Nega weaves his way through the mass of people dancing, masterfully avoiding bumping into any drinks or parting any dancing couples. The flashing lights make it difficult to follow his path, and the heavy bass of the deep house/synthetic funk mixture the DJ was spinning drowns out any hope of conversation as we make our way through the club. It still baffles me that we’ve evolved to the point of using machines for most of our day-to-day activities, from automated self-checkouts at grocery stores to self-driving cars and planes, but we can’t escape the human touch of bartenders, strippers, and nightclub DJs.

            When we finally make it outside, into the bone-chill of the October breezes, we see Gold Eyes and Football Player huddled together against the cold, talking to themselves and apparently waiting for Afropuffs and Denim Dress to return with the car.

            “Izrael? Izrael Mann?” Nega had suddenly adopted this needlessly charming, infectiously personable attitude and was unashamedly approaching the group of friends.

            “Uh . . . yeah? Have we met?” Gold Eyes shivers at the cold and at this stranger addressing him out of nowhere.

            “No, but I was at Howard’s Innovator’s Summit last month. I gotta say I’m a fan,” Nega replies, reaching his hand out for a shake. “I didn’t mean to walk up on you and your peoples out of nowhere, but I saw you and had to introduce myself. Dane Woods.” Izrael seems set at ease by the realization that Nega was a fan, and not a stalker, probably. His shoulders relax, and he grips Nega’s hand and gives it a firm shake. The little ego stroke Nega gave almost made Izrael’s eyes shine brighter.

            “Nice to meet you man. Always good to meet someone who appreciates the vision.” Football Player rolls his eyes. “This is my friend, Oleva.” Izrael gestures to Football Player who smiles and reaches out to shake Nega’s hand.

            “This is my brother, Nick.” Nega turns and pulls me into the conversation by my elbow, a bright grin shining from his mouth, but his eyes darkened with the threat to “play along.”

            “Uh, yeah. Nice to meet ya’ll too.” I shake both of their hands and stuff both fists into my pockets to block out the cut of the night air.

            “I don’t think I’ve ever met a Black guy named Dane before.” The comment comes from Oleva, his fingers stroking his well-groomed beard, while his eyebrows burrow in confusion.

            “Honestly, my name is O’Dane. My people are from New York, by way of St. Lucia, and it’s pretty common down there,” Nega says. “It’s wild, but I still gotta drop the ‘O’ to make my name business formal.” The three of them laugh and I try to join in, but I’m more focused on not blowing the moment by asking about Afropuffs. I just have to wait patiently.

            As that thought crosses my mind, a red SUV pulls up on the curb next to us and rolls the window down. Heat radiates from inside the car, driven by Afropuffs, Denim Dress in the seat beside her, fiddling with the music on her phone.

            “Oh hey, you made some friends.” Afropuffs’ voice carries a soothing, inviting melody when she speaks.

            “Yeah. Dane, Nick, meet Nailah,” she waves her white nails at us, “and my girlfriend, Jai.” Denim Dress’ head pops up, looking at both me and Nega with probing eyes.

            “Dane and Nick?” Jai asks leaning out the window to get a good look at us, her head cocked to the side. She takes in Nega’s short, jet-black hair, dark brown eyes perfectly framed by faux tortoise shell glasses and bushy eyebrows. Her eyes work their way down his lean body, subtly approving of his all black cardigan, wax denim jeans, and loafer combination. When she looked at me, she seems struck by how my platinum blonde hair, that shoots out in every direction, in a short, kinky afro, contrasts with the bushy eyebrows and dark brown eyes I share with my brother. My light, acid washed jeans cuffed neatly at the top of my winter boots and turquoise and orange tribal sweater to hide my chubbier frame is not quite the sober, mature image that Nega presents, but I’m still pretty proud of this look too. She gives a little frown and head nod.

            “Yeah. Nice to meet you. We were just paying some respects to the Crown Prince of A.I. here,” Nega says, grinning broadly. He looks back at Izrael. “It was great to meet you. We should get coffee sometime.” He pulls a black card out from the back pocket of his skin-tight jeans. When the warmth of his fingertips activate the card, his name “Dane Woods” appears on the face of the card, in dim lit white letters, followed by his phone number. Izrael takes the card, proud to be the one singled out for the honor.

            “Of course. I’ll call,” Izrael answers, his eyes still transfixed on the card. Oleva waves and ushers him into the backseat of the car. All four wave again as they drive off.

            “Flirt.” I elbow Nega in the side as the car disappears into the darkness. A smile works the corners of his eyes, but he returns to his sober demeanor.

            “I’m just doing my job.”

The Battery, part 1

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

            It was days like this, when the heat was sweltering, that the stench of death was especially prevalent.

            “Uh, what the fuck are you reading?” Jai’s tiny, copper coils breach Nailah’s field of vision, calling her attention away from the book laying across her lap. Nailah jumps at the sudden person leaning in over her shoulder.

            “I’m doing research,” Nailah says, composing herself. “Some of us still have school.” Her slender fingers stay poised over her laptop but don’t actually type anything. She feels Jai rest her chin on her shoulder.

            “First of all, don’t try to play me. I’m only suspended for the semester. Secondly, research for what?” Jai’s voice makes Nailah’s shoulder vibrate. Nai taps her fingers on the only words written on the screen of her laptop, her shock white nails a stark contrast to her deep, dark skin tone. “‘Atlanta’s Organ Black Market?’ Uh-huh, I’ll just let you have that . . . Your nails are so cute though. Where did you get them done?”

            “I finally gave in and bought one of those MiniMani things they been advertising. Where you just stick your hands in the machine and it does a full set in 10 minutes. What they don’t tell you that you gotta buy these acrylic cartridge things for it to actually do shit. But it’s better than going to a salon and hoping that the stations have been programmed by someone who actually knows something about nails. I told you about how I went to that one on campus and it was programmed by some guy who used to be in the military, so all it did was file my nails down? A waste of $40. And you know my nails have to look right . . .”

            Jai flops down on Nailah’s bed. She could really just relax at this point. Once Nai got off on a tangent, she could talk for hours to herself, telling stories wrapped in stories, without ever reaching the point she started talking to make. She would completely forget about the creepy book in her lap, and her computer screen would go dark after going so long without typing anything. Jai could close her eyes and throw in a “girl, yes” here and a “fuck that” there, as she snuggled into the plush wine-red comforter. At some point Jai would pull her cellphone out of her pocket and double tap the plexiglass screen, checking for new text messages.

            “Jai. Jai! Are you paying attention?” Nailah rolls her desk chair over to her bed, as Jai fumbles with her phone.

            “Of course I am.”

            “Sure. Look, I’m trying to do this investigative journalism thing with my degree, so I have to get this article written for my thesis project. There’s evidence of this shit everywhere, so I doubt it’ll be that hard.”

            “Wait, evidence of what now?”

            “Black market organ trafficking. See? Not listening.” Nailah wags her fingers in Jai’s face.

            “So what? Are you gonna go undercover or something?” Jai asks. Nai fidgets in her chair.

            “Uh . . . I’m not really sure yet. It’s kinda creepy, to be honest.”

            Jai pops up, sitting straight up on the bed. “I can help, and you won’t ever have to leave the comforts of this bedroom,” she says, leaning into Nailah’s face, a serpent’s smile spreading across her lips. Nailah softly pushes Jai back, rolling her own chair backwards in the process and crosses her arms.

            “. . . Are you not on suspension right now because of that silly shit?”

            “A lil hack never hurt anybody. All I did was round a B up to an A and everyone freaked the fuck out. I’m just tryna help you get your hands on some real information. Not some conspiracy theory written by some crazy old White guy back in the 90s.” Jai shrugs and lays back down on Nailah’s bed. Her phone vibrates almost inaudibly, muffled by the comforter.

            “Let me guess, Izzo needs you?” Nailah rolls her eyes and turns back to her laptop.

            “Yeah, actually. I promised to help him with the new version of that thing he stuck in his ear last month.”

            “You should probably pay attention to the nerdy shit your boyfriend’s getting into. Everybody else is.”

            “Relax, relax. It’s just a Bluetooth or something. People had them back in the day. We’re still going out tonight, right?”

            “You just need someone to drive, huh?”

Photo by Halacious on Unsplash

“It’s way more than just a Bluetooth, babe.” Izrael stands in front of his work table making a few last-minute adjustments to his tiny invention. Jai was relaxing into the RestrainT Izzo had junked and refurbished at the beginning of the semester. They were mostly for doctor’s offices and asylums, and the occasional nursing home. Honestly, people were starting to think they were inhumane, because whenever they sensed tension, they clamped down hard on your wrists and ankles to keep you still for shots or medication. She couldn’t understand why he would need one of these, but apparently, he had overreacted at his own Integration so he assumed he would need a RestrainT if he ever wanted to implant it in anyone else.

            “The Oracle is the single greatest piece of technology I’ve ever invented. I’ve been working on her since sophomore year. You should really pay more attention, babe. She’s beyond any type of A.I. anyone at this school’s ever even thought of. The engineering department’s been on my ass about developing a new version ever since I Integrated with the prototype. Basically, everything Google knows, she knows, and then some because she has the ability to learn. She can even communicate. Mostly, she just talks to me and my computer, since I’m the only person with one, but now, since you’re letting me use you as a test subject, our Oracles could talk to each other, too.”

            “Okay, so when you put that thing in me, will it hurt?” Jai feels the RestrainT tighten around her wrists. It was barely noticeable, but the cuffs had sensed her apprehension and were making sure she couldn’t run away. Izrael doesn’t respond; he just approaches her with a tiny bauble in the palm of his hand. He’s careful not to drop it or even shake it as he walks over.

            “Remember, it’s biomechanical, so it’s gonna respond to you. Once it’s in, you won’t even notice it’s there. Are you sure you want to do this?” Izzo asks, his orange-gold eyes blazing against his dark, umber skin, burrowing through to her soul. She nods, not wanting to speak. She knew that if she spoke, it would be real and she wasn’t ready to be responsible for that decision. “The Oracle can’t work without a verbal response.” His hand strokes her chin, then traces her jaw up to the ear, adjusting the milky, translucent orb so it sat in her ear canal correctly.

            “Yes. I’m ready to Integrate.” she whispers, but she knew it heard her.

            “Aight. It might pinch a little.” And she definitely felt it. The Oracle opens in her ear, thorny tendrils digging their way through her ear canal, pulling itself deeper into her ear cavity. Suddenly, everything was on fire. Then it went black. She goes to claw the damn thing out of her head, but she’s shackled to her seat, wrists too tightly bound to be wrung out of the RestrainT without breaking something. Her ear was bleeding; her eyes were bleeding; she can feel it. Then, suddenly, everything was silent. She closes her eyes and can only hear a low buzz.

            “Jai, open your eyes,” comes a voice deep in the back of her mind, no higher than a murmur, inexplicably male, but undeniably female all at once.

            “What? WHAT?! You didn’t say there’d be a voice!” Her eyes shoot open, targeting Izrael with her shouts, but he was out of sight.

            “It’s up to you, Jai. It can sound like a thought if you want it to. Or it can sound like anything at all. But I did say she would talk to you.” His voice was coming from another room. “If you relax, the chair will relax and let you up.”

            “You’ll grow accustomed to me soon enough.

            “And maybe you’ll talk like a normal person,” Jai mutters aloud, trying to ease herself back into the chair.

            “Doubtful. And I resent being called a person.

            “Oh great, you have a sense of humor,” she says, regretting it immediately. Well, maybe it hadn’t registered her attitude, or had caught an attitude of its own, because it doesn’t reply. The Oracle was shaping up to be a piece of work, but it was definitely an amazing piece of technology, just like Izzo said.

Jai, can you hear me?” Izrael’s voice fills her ear, but he hadn’t come back into the room yet.

            “Izzo?” she asks, out loud. Jai rubs her wrists as she stands up.

            “See if you can reply through the Oracle. Uh . . . you just gotta think a thought in my direction. Like we’re talking, but we’re not.”Izzo’s voice echoes in my ears again.

            “This is so fucking weird. Oh! I did it!” It was the strangest feeling, hearing her own voice in her head. It was a little louder than a thought, more involved.

            “Yeah, good job. Honestly, we probably won’t have to use that much, unless you really can’t help thinking to me while you’re at work,” Izrael says, smirking as he walks back into the room. “Shit, I’m just glad it works. Mine was glitchy as fuck when I first used it, but, I mean, this is the first Oracle ever.” He taps his ear, and laughs to himself, as if his Oracle told him a joke. “And yours is only the second. I’m gonna change the world, babe.”


“This makes absolutely no sense,” Lynn muttered, as she stood over her dark-haired companion. Her short red curls were sticking to her scalp as if they too were unsure of their surroundings and were cowering near what they knew best. She could taste the salty sweat dripping down her cheek. Lynn’s partner was sitting against the wall, her legs splayed in front of her, seeming to stretch across the room. She held her hand in front of her face, so she could blow softly on her fingers, her eyes closed in contemplation. “Any reason in particular that we’re here, Cyn?” Lynn kicked her partner’s muscular thigh.

Cyn peeked one eye open at the Amazonian redhead before her, and shrugged. “It feels like the right place to be.”

“Of course it feels like the right place to you! There’s candles everywhere! We may as well be sparks hiding in a matchbox!”

“If I remember correctly, I used my last bit of fluid to burn whatever evidence you left at the bank.”

“Last bit? There’s no way that could’ve been a ‘bit’. You burnt the whole place to the ground. No one would even know we had been there if it wasn’t for you!”

Cyn bit her lip to keep it from trembling. She remembered the blaze. Beautiful. Bright. Tall. Red, with a hint of blue in the eye of it, just like . . . Now was no time for that. The police were on their tail. She had hoped that hiding out in one of the most combustible places would benefit them at least for a while—hiding in plain sight and all that. But how were they supposed to get out of town. Especially with Lynn as angry as she was. She gets clumsy when she’s angry, and when she’s clumsy, they get caught. Cyn wouldn’t leave her, but there was no way they were getting locked up again. Not when they finally had enough money to disappear forever. The thought of losing that opportunity left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Fuck, do you hear that?” Lynn had gotten antsy.

“I don’t hear anything, Red,” she replied, but Cyn’s eyes were wide open now. The red and blue of sirens was barely visible in the distance through the windows of the factory, but they were growing, fast. And they were approaching from every angle.

“Where do we go? Is there a way out of here?” Lynn panted, her eyes darting in every direction, her taunt body growing stiff. Cyn pulled herself off the ground. If this had been last year, they could’ve escaped through the sewers into the river, but those sewers had been sealed shut when she attempted to burn down the candle factory and the wax melted over the drains. The place wasn’t as combustible as people thought, but one more fire and it would probably blaze correctly. “Come on, Cyn. Wake up! We have to get out of here,” Lynn yelled, as she shook Cyn to attention. Cyn grabbed her partner by both shoulders. She was probably the only person, male or female, who could look Lynn in the eyes. That speck of blue was bouncing around her pupil, as it always did when she was excited or scared.

“There isn’t a way out. Not without running into those cops. The sewers are sealed tight, and they have us from every angle.”

“They aren’t gonna catch us!”

“They are.” Cyn had to resign herself to the fact that they were headed back to prison. If the judge was smart, they would be sent to separate cages, far away from each other, so they couldn’t escape again.

“Don’t say that like we only have one choice.”

“We don’t.” Cyn released Lynn’s shoulders and dug into one of their duffel bags of stolen cash. Out of it she pulled a small bottle of lighter fluid and a pack of matches. “You know I always run out, so I packed extra this time. We can go out in a blaze. So they can’t send us back to the awful box. So they can’t separate us.”


“I’m not going back, Lynn.” Cyn said, the passion brimmed over in her eyes. Lynn sighed deeply, but the sound of it was drowned out by the wailing sirens. We have you surrounded! Come out with your hands up!

    The same old routine.

She’s heard it before. It only ever trapped them once before. She didn’t want to go back either.

“Okay, we’ll flip for it. Heads, we burn. Tails, we surrender.” Lynn said, somberly. She dipped into her pocket for the two-headed trick nickel she’d had since her father died. “Let it hit the ground.” She flipped the coin in the air.

Cyn looked up, biting her lip in anticipation.

Lynn closed her eyes.

    The coin clattered to the floor.

Smino: KLINK

Smino “Best Hair In The Game” “Too Grown To Teach You How To Ride” Smith (I didn’t make that last name up, where do you think Smino comes from) has dropped his new album NOIR. I’ve heard far too many people many people say it’s not as good as blk swn but that’s an unfair comparison. blk swn was and is a cover to cover masterpiece which introduced the world at-large to Smino’s avant-garde rap stylings, but NOIR is a deeper dive into the artist’s personality. Not to say it isn’t also a cover to cover masterpiece, but you definitely get to see more of who Smino is through these songs.

I know I’ve likened GoldLink to a saxophone before, but if GoldLink is a tenor sax, Smino raps like an alto sax with a split reed. A lesser artist would have this voice and be completely unbearable, but Smino manages to incorporate style and flavor into his sound (and great taste in samples and instrumentals, because his songs could easily be a cacophonous train wreck). His voice will hit your ear wrong, no matter how many times you listen to him, but that has to be by design, because once you’ve heard his music, you’ll want more.

Smino’s life and music are all about being as Black as possible, which is part of his appeal. That, is his ability to incorporate humor throughout the sexual overtones of his music, which keeps him from being like some other one-dimensional R&B singers that shall not be named. The album is sprinkled with a few features because he obviously can’t leave out his Zero Fatigue mates: Bari, Monte Booker (producer extraordinaire to have to deal with this out-of-pocket artists), Jay2, and Ravyn Lenae.

KLINK is the single single, and has to be my favorite song on the album. I don’t even know how to describe the instrumental; I’m not sure what instrument Monte has leading the beat, I just know it fits Smino’s voice perfectly, has bass in the right places, and falls out at just the right moments. Smino’s voice changes all over the place, but never sounds wrong. And if anything, Smino is a master when it comes to using epistrophe.

His music is perfet for pre-gaming, partying, or just playing in the car.Well, I can’t honestly say there are times when I would’nt listen to Smino.

In my experience, his song “Ciabatta” is maybe the closest to his regular rap/singing voice as we’re going to get.

Kodie Shane: Don’t Worry Bout It

Kodie Shane has dropped Young Heatthrob! The cover art is amazing; honestly, her whole aesthetic is amazing. Her sound has matured and rounded out a lot, so she deserves some attention. She’s a heartthrob after all.

My first experience with Kodie Shane was ‘Drip On My Walk”. Her voice was impossibly high-pitched and annoying. Her flow was redundant. Her lyrics were somehow both basic and all over the place at the same time. Still, I couldn’t stop listening to the song. It was addictive, even though all the best parts of you would advise you not to like it. But that was 2 years ago, and it would be disappointing if in that time span she hadn’t grown as an artist. I’m glad to say she has.

These days, she does more sing-rapping than straight-out, rhythmic spitting, which definitely suits the beat choices she makes now. There’s a lot more space for R&B-esque harmonies and tone shifting, that adds variety to her sound, and fills out her voice in a lot of places. It also sounds a lot less forced for power, though you can still hear that old sound in her adlibs at times. Honestly, I lean more towards describing her music as R&B than I would rap, but it’s all hip-hop so she doesn’t lose anything for that. If you like Def Loaf’s style, you’d enjoy this album, though I would say her sound is a bit more enjoyable.

“Don’t Worry Bout It” is definitely a steal your girl song, all about the types of feelings you experience when you’re high and don’t want to be alone. It’s not a love song, just a song about wanting to have someone with you, which is a relatable feeling for a lot of people. This is definitely a song you should play in your headphones, because the instrumental shifts from the right to the left ear a good amount, and you’ll miss things when you play it out loud. The whole album has that vibe. Like that feeling when you’re drunk and in your feelings, and the room is starting to spin on you.

Considering the way her sound has gone, I’m not surprised by the fact that Trippie Red is on this album.

Tee Grizzley: Wake Up

Tee Grizzley is one of those rappers who I see and hear about but never take the time to listen to. Why? Who knows. He was always outside my scope. But since he dropped Still My Moment on November 9th, I figure why not?

If you, like me, know nothing of Tee Grizzley, the best way to learn about him is memes on the internet. Apparently, he robbed a bunch of college students after hitting his own broke point in college. It sounds vaguely funny, because “everyone’s broke in college,” until you find out it was $20,000 worth of stuff which is federal crime territory, so when he release “First Day Out”, he was really coming out of a state prison. So the man wasn’t really lying.

While the Detroit-repping artist released his mixtape on the 9th, it was preceded by “Pray for the Drip” with a feature from Offset, and “Wake Up” with a feature from Chance the Rapper. “pray for the Drip is definitely much more of a flex-on-you song, but “Wake Up” tackles some of the more serious issues rappers tend to tackle, specifically giving hope and consciousness to the people in the streets, going through it. It’s interesting to hear tracks like this from people you don’t really take to seriously. Not that he dives too deep into the rough things he’s been through, but more so, he acknowledges that people want to do stupid things when they get money because he does too, but that doesn’t stop him from advising others to do things like go to college, and no let the prison system get the best of them (supposedly because he took his own advise).

I won’t lie; my interest in the song was piqued because I saw that Chance the Rapper was a part of it. Not because I’m a heavy listener, but that it just seemed to be an interesting combination for me. The album also has features from Quavo, B. Ryan, and Offset, which I understand more, and Lil Pump which I don’t question, but Chance seemed to be in a different vein. Of course, there’s the church organ making up the main part of the instrumental, but that’s less a Chance influence and more a “this is something hood niggas do when they’re being serious”. But the verse is really what you expect: a little hope, a little “I bridge the gap”, and a mention of police brutality.

The album is definitely worth a listen or two, and is definitely something you can play in the car as you ride.

Vince Staples: Tweakin’

Between his humor, iconic personality, and West Coast Crip stylings, it’s easy to forget that Vince Staples is a rapper, and a pretty good one at that. Well, on the first night of November, he released FM! his new album, paying homage to the culture of new music and a staple of L.A.’s radio world, Big Boy’s Neighborhood.

Now, I’ve never listened to Big Boy’s Neighborhood (where I’m from, when it’s six o’clock, it’s time for Greg Street to rock) but Big Boy has been the voice of the West Coast for decades, and is probably one of the most recognizable radio personalities in hip-hop. And like any good radio host, Vince Staples takes advantage of this album to preview some bits from other artists’ upcoming works. There’s snippets from Tyga and Earl Sweatshirt as interludes.

Vince also uses this album to speak on a lot of difference aspects of the Long Beach lifestyle, but with a lot of focus on violence and death. The lead single of the album, FUN (with a feature from E-40 so that’s a definite listen) goes, “we just wanna have fun, we don’t wanna f*** up nothing”. In an environment publicized for being a place where people lose their life easily, it’s important to remember that people still want to and try to have fun. Not everyone’s out for violence.

However, Tweakin’ shows the darker side of his city. Kehlani sings about losing friends over the weekend and how that can leave you messed up. Vince raps about people he’s lost, to death and prison, and how that affects him. He reminisces about growing up in church and going into music and fame, and how that didn’t really help him when his friends die. He can’t protect them, and their gone by the time he has the ends to take care of them. The song also features an intro and outro with Buddy, as well as a backsell from Big Boy’s Neighborhood.

It’s a sad song,but it plays well. “Death is common but not something to ever get used to,” is the very poignant message left by the song.

Metro Boomin: Up To Something

I’d like to think Not All Heroes Wear Capes is a comprehensive list of all the people Young Metro trusts. Unfortunately for some, it’s not a long list.

Metro Boomin has been retired since April. Why? I don’t know. I never really questioned it. Honestly, when I stopped hearing his production, I assumed he had quit while he was ahead and was riding the wave of his own popularity and not continuing to release music unless he could guarantee all his beats would be fire. I can respect that; why ruin your own reputation? 2017 rocketed him to nearly super-producer status (some would say he was actually a super-producer, but until you have the same level of longevity as Scott Storch, I’d hesitate to say that). Or maybe he stepped away from his MIDI to focus on school, which is also a respectable choice. But on November 2, Metro released Not All Heroes Wear Capes, his first studio album. Is he back for good? Who knows. Does this album have 21 Savage whispering like a Ying Yang Twin, as if we aren’t supposed to question that? Perhaps. Are we going to listen anyway? Of course.

As we know, Metro trusts Travis Scott and Young Thug (though 21 Savage, Swae Lee, Gucci Mane, Offset, Wizkid, Kodak Black, Gunna, and Drake all appear on the album). Unfortunately, this song is nothing like a track from Days Before Rodeo. That may be because the song is co-produced with Allen Ritter and Southside, rather than with Travis Scott, but it’s more likely the song isn’t as wavey as it could be because Travis Scott is more glorified background vocals than a legitimate feature. However, the production does have the ambient moaning vocals, and heavy, punctuating bass that signifies Metro Boomin and Travis Scott co-productions.

That’s not to say this is a bad song. It’s pretty great actually. Thugger was right; he is getting back to his old self on this song. Thugger got off some of his most enjoyable verses since before JEFFERY on this album. He’s almost Slime Season Thugger on this song, which is the Thug we need. But that sound is probably more due to this song having been cut sometime in 2014 or ’15, and not because Thugger is actually going back to his old self, which leaves a question: how many of these songs are new, and how many has Metro Boomin been sitting on and touching up here and there before thinking he might as well release.

I still wish Travis would have had even a 6-bar bit on the song;it could really pushed this song to the next level.

This is a song you have to play with the bass-boosted because it would be disrespectful otherwise.

Takeoff: Casper

Hol’ on, Takeoff.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Takeoff is the best rapper out of the Migos. hands down. And he released his first solo album, The Last Rocket on November 2. Let’s respect this occasion.

For the sake of respecting Takeoff as an individual artist and the Migos as America’s Favorite Boyband, I’ll try not to compare this project to QUAVO HUNCHO or to Offset’s album when that drops.

The Last Rocket was definitely Takeoff’s opportunity to flex his rap muscles in a way that one verse on a collaborative song doesn’t quite allow. Solo albums are, of course, the individual’s chance to show off their personality and the aspects of their artistry particular to them. This is not to say the Migos don’t all take advantage of the same types of beats, or fall into the same style. They all have that triplicate form that I’m convinced is a Houston flow that they Nawf Atlanta-fied.

But Takeoff has a very singular persona and a distinct voice. Yes, it sounds like this man smoked blacks all throughout puberty, but in a good way. The way he raps is also amazingly laid-back. I wouldn’t describe him as lackadaisical, but the way he gets bars off is effortless.

While Last Memory is his lead single, Casper is a great example of his sound. The way he slides across the chorus is so mild, that he needs the grit natural to his voice to make things hit the way they need to. The one negative is, though you want to shoulder-bop to this song the whole way through, his voice is so monotone and the chorus is so long that the song feels repetitive, even when it’s not. Any more than three minutes and I would’ve gotten bored but any less and he wouldn’t have one enough to make the song good.

Cassius Jay and Nonstop da Hitman did their thing with this beat. Similarly to Takeoff himself, it sounds so simplistic when you aren’t listening closely, but the more you open up your ears, the more you hear. And it echoes throughout your body in a way that makes you feel so comfortable but want to get hype at the same time.