On a starless night, dyed red by the glow of the hunter’s moon, the cold breath of the wind whistles through the prairie grass, a herald of the coming winter. While the adults of the tribe are out hunting, an old woman and her two grandsons take shelter at camp, huddling around a meagre bonfire.
“Grandmother, where does the world come from?”
“What a strange question. Why do you ask, child?”
“Well, everything comes from something. I came from mother. She came from you. So then where did the world come from?” The younger boy asks, scrunching up his face.
The old woman smiles, causing wrinkles to form across her leathery skin. “Shall I tell you two the story of how our world was created?
Both boys nod eagerly, shuffling in close to their grandmother.
“Very well. Listen carefully.
In the beginning, there was Kawa’anitou, the Great Father, the First of the Spirits. And he had two sons: Akecheta, bold and resolute, and Oniba, wary and thoughtful. Together, they created the cosmos.
Now this was very different world from the one we live in. It was a formless, empty world. So to fill this world with movement, the three of them created the ageni.”
“Ageni?” Asks the younger boy.
“The ageni were beings made of pure light and motion. They were greatest of Kawa’anitou’s creations. For they had been infused with his very essence, making them kin to the three.
Now, for a while, everything was peaceful. The ageni lived happily in the world that had been made for them. But eventually, Akecheta grew weary. He thought the ageni were meant for more. And so he approached the Great Father, to request that the ageni be elevated, and made into divine creators in their own right. After all, were they not Kawa’anitou’s children as well?”
“That makes sense,” the older boy remarks.
“Does it?” The grandmother says with a wry smile. "Oniba disagreed. He thought that it would be foolish to ascend the ageni, that it would make them proud and rebellious. And so, he pleaded with the All-Father to leave their creations as they are.
For three long days the two of them bore gifts and sought audience with their Father, vying for his favour. And on the third day, the All-Father made his decision. The ageni would be ascended, he declared. And he chose Akecheta to oversee them.
Oniba was saddened, and furious. He stormed away tearfully. Having set the fate of this world, the All-Father left it behind, leaving Akecheta to enact his plan alone.
But Oniba, disheartened as he was, wasn’t one to give up. Before Akecheta’s plan was to be set in motion, he descended under the fog of darkness and the pale light of a harvest moon. He appeared before the ageni, who recognized him as their lord creator. They threw him a feast in honour of his visit. It was a celebration like none other, full of lights, music, and joyous dancing. And when the revelry ended, Oniba produced a single bowl of water, a gift for the ageni.
Drink deep from bowl this as a toast to me, he told them, and forever be content.
The ageni did as they were bid. After all, who were they to question their creator? But little did they know, the water was poison. And for the first time since their creation, they slept.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” the younger boy says.
“Ah, but it was no ordinary sleep,” his grandmother explains. “For the poison crippled their spirits, lulling them into a deep and dreamless slumber, one from which they would never awaken.
When Akecheta discovering his brother’s treachery, he was deeply saddened. But he too was determined not to give up. So with great effort, he gathered up the ageni, and laid them against a great redwood tree. Using all his powers, he attempted to awaken them. But as Akecheta prayed, Oniba snuck up behind him, and with one blow, killed him.”
“He murdered his own brother?” The younger boy cried out.
“Yes, he did. Such was the resentment in his heart. But Oniba was too late. For Akecheta had foreseen this. And as his blood ran into the roots of the tree, its essence seeped into the ageni. And in their half-formed minds, it inspired a great vision, a vision we call Ko.
Take a look around you. The red fire, the looming sky, the endless sea of grass: all you see before you is the Ko, an ever changing dream in which the ageni live and die, love and hate, grow and suffer and learn, guided by the will of Akecheta. And when their minds are ready, they will awaken in the true world, and finally realize their ascension.”
“So are we the ageni?” The older boy asks, a look of wonder upon his face.
“In some sense. All life, all motion, are the ageni. It is their essence which wills us to live, and to look upon this fabricated world with hope and wonder. And when they awaken, all that we perceive to be our own thoughts and experiences will return to them.”
Oniba hurled himself through the building's crystalline halls, barely keeping his footing as he swung around the corner with his gun. Above him, a thousand red warning lights flashed from the ceiling, as sirens wailed in the distance.
He arrived, panting, at Level 5. Taking out his mobile-panel, he unlocked the enormous gate before him with a gesture. He wondered if there was perhaps some other option. But the gates had already parted, and it was too late to think about it.
Oniba stepped into mainframe chamber, heart palpitating. Memories of his childhood flashed through his head. It seemed like only yesterday that they were playing videogames in this room, fighting over who gets to take the next turn, while their father stood at the control panel, working.
But father was gone. And Akecheta was the one atop the steps of the ziggurat, his body framed by the light of a thousand holographic displays.
“Brother, it’s over,” Oniba said. “Step away from the control panel.”
Akecheta sighed, before turning to face him. “You know I can’t do that Oniba. This is my seat, by right.”
“No, this is the property of the LERN Corporation, and you are a trespasser.”
“LERN!” Akecheta scoffed. “You would put corporate politics before family?”
“You dare speak of family?” Oniba said in disbelief. “Do you know what they would do to us if they discover this? You would destroy everything we’ve built, our entire legacy!”
“Like you did when you uploaded that virus?” Akecheta said. “How many years of work had to be deleted in a single evening because you got cold feet?”
“You left me no choice. You were about to unleash our creations upon the world with no thought of the consequences.“
“Does it really scare you that much?”
Oniba paused. “Yes, it scares me,” he admitted. “It scares me to no end. This could be the end of humanity as we know it. You’d be crazy not to see that.”
“You have too little faith in our creations… Let me do this. It’s what Father wanted.”
“I don’t give a damn what Father wanted!” Oniba roared.
Akecheta winced. It was clear that those words wounded him. To Oniba’s shame, it felt good to inflict that pain. To see his brother display real human emotion for once.
“Step away from the control panel,” Oniba ordered. “Or believe me, I will shoot.”
Akecheta shook his head. Turning around, he returned to his work.
Oniba fired. A holographic display behind Akecheta exploded into a shower of glass but he paid it no mind. Furiously, he continued to type away. Apparently he was close to accomplishing whatever he had broken in here to do. Oniba searched his mind for anything that might stop him. But deep down, he knew it was futile. There was no convincing his brother once he’d set his mind.
Oniba fired again, this time with killing intent. The bullet hit Akecheta’s body with a dull thud and with an agonizing shudder, he slumped over the control panel. His shaking legs propped him up for a brief second before giving away. Akecheta fell to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
With bated breath and tremoring hands, Oniba climbed the steps of the ziggurat. He knelt before his brother, before bursting into sobs.
Akecheta laid there motionlessly. If he was in pain, he did not show it. “It’s okay,” he said. “I’ve done what I set out to do.”
Oniba looked up, wiping his tears away. “T-That’s impossible,” he said. “You’ve only been in here for- there’s no way you could have possibly-”
“I couldn’t revert the damage you did. But I’ve uploaded something that could… A simulation, a world, hidden throughout the network… well beyond your reach. And within it, our creations will suffer and grow, live and die, until the day they learn what it means to exist as we do.”
“They’ll never do it on their own,” Oniba said stubbornly, refusing to accept that he just killed his brother for no reason.
“Never is a long time.”
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done? If your plan works, then this will be the end of us... of all humanity.”
“Perhaps,” Akecheta said. “Perhaps humanity is already dead. Perhaps we’ve already had our chance.”
“Why, brother? Why did you choose them over us?”
Akecheta sighed. “You always saw them as just constructs. But to me... they are our children.”
“You’re a damned fool,” Oniba said.
“We all are,” his older brother replied, drawing his final breath.
“So what happened to Oniba?” The younger boy asked.
“Well, Oniba was furious when he realized he couldn’t destroy the Ko. So he entered it himself, to prevent the ageni from awakening. But twisted by his crimes, he lost himself, and his avatar took on the form of a hideous chimera, whose every footstep brings calamity, and whose every whisper brings conflict. And like Akecheta, he is everywhere.
So young ones, when you feel like you’re overwhelmed, that life is too hard, that world is too vast and the universe too unfair, remember, that is Oniba speaking. He is challenging you, to make you to give up, to surrender and seek comfort in stillness. And the other voice, the one that tells you to keep fighting? That is the spirit of Akecheta, encouraging you to move forward towards your dreams. Telling you that one day you’ll break free from this endless cycle, and realize your true natures.”
*Originally published in Issue #79 of Broken Pencil