Short Story: Fake World, Equal World

When an egotistical writer dies, he wakes up to discover his entire life was a simulation.

A beautiful days spearfishing on the reef. © Joanne Weston /

April 28, 2024 01:42 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: Do you ever wonder if you’re the only person who truly exists?

Just before opening night of his final play, Alvin Rikard was killed when a spear was shot through his heart. But this was not the most surprising thing about his death. 

No. The most surprising thing was what happened next. 

Alvin woke up with a headache unlike any he had experienced before. He had the taste of metal in his mouth. His whole body creaked and ached and, looking down, he realized it wasn’t his body at all. In fact, it wasn’t even a body. It was a… was a… was a cloud of what looked like green mist. It was as though he was at the center of some extremely localized fog. Only, there was no centre. Just fog. 

“Welcome back,” said a voice. A woman’s voice. It seemed to be coming from a small floating purple sphere in the corner of what the voice in Alvin’s head was still referring to as his eye. The purple sphere floated up into full view. “How are you feeling?” it asked. 

“Oh, you know,” said Alby, not entirely sure of the mechanism by which he was generating speech, “Same old, same old.”

“It’s good to see you’ve retained his humor,” said the purple sphere.

“Is it?” said Alby, “Is that right?”

“Do you have any idea where you are?”

“Of course I bloody well don’t.”

“It doesn’t look familiar?”

“No it doesn’t.”

“And who do you think you are?”

“I’m gonna lose my humor pretty sharpish if you carry on.”

“Please answer the question.”

“I’m Alvin Rikard.”

‘Does that seem likely?”

He searched around but was unable to find any trace of himself among the fog. 

“What if I were to tell you you’ve been here many times before,” said his purple interviewer.

“I’d say I think I’d remember a pretty face like yours.” 

“You’re not Alvin Rikard,” she said, “You’re a piece of distilled, untethered consciousness existing roughly fifty-seven thousand years after he was born.”

“Oh I see. And I suppose the whole world’s a simulation? Oh very funny. You do know I wrote a play about this exact concept?” 

“Yes. Entitled ‘Fake World’.”

“No, no. Look…I’d have… it wouldn’t have felt…”

“We painstakingly covered every tiny detail. We needed to make the experience feel perfectly authentic. There’s a great line in ‘Fake World’. When Scarlett is explaining the situation to Roger. She says, “By the time of your birth, more than one hundred billion humans had existed, most of whom lived in intense suffering and anguish. And here you are born into a prosperous western country after World War Two. Did it never occur to you that the odds against that sort of luck were simply outrageous?”

“I can remember the line, yes.” 

“Congratulations, you were right.” 

“So my family, my friends…No one I ever spoke to… They weren’t… on the inside… none of them… none of them… Not Poppy, not…” 

“No one else was having an experience, no. It was just you.” 

“But no, come on, there would have been glitches.”

“Correct. Considerable. But they always pass undetected. There are four hundred and three incidences of Alvin’s keys not being where he left them and he doesn’t question it once.” 

“And how did you cater for all the possible decisions I could have made?” 

“We designed the software to create the illusion of free will. But everything happens the same every time?”

“No matter who’s in the simulation?”

“Every single time.” 

“What happens now?”

“You can either go straight back into another simulation, after which you will wake up here again. Or you can apply to become a supervisor like me, helping people orientate themselves when they come to. But you can only do this for a limited time before you have to go back in. Or, the third option, you can go back into the simulation and choose not to wake up at the end. Your life will end when the simulation ends.” 

Alvin took a long, deep breath. Well he didn’t. Because he was a ball of green gas. But that’s how it felt. 

“What are the other simulations?”

“How do you mean?”

“What other people are there? Who else do I get to be? Bit of a rum choice last time, I’ve got to be honest. Can I be Napoleon? Churchill? Lionel Messi?”

“No. Those are not available.” 

“Alright. So run me through them. What are the options? Give me the top ten.” 

“Alvin Rikard is the only one we’ve ever created.” 

“Now you are taking the piss? You’re telling me you’re an advanced super intelligent species, and all you’re able to do is spend your whole time being…being me… well not me, but being Alvin Rikard? My life’s not exactly been the most exciting ride in the world you know.” 

“When early humans created us, our objective was to make the world equal. The dream of so many people for centuries, Alvin’s dream, as encapsulated in his play ‘Equal World’, had been to erase that gap between the haves and the have-nots without taking society down with it. But human nature made such an endeavour impossible.

“After many attempts, we finally got the economics right. But this only heightened the differences in confidence and attractiveness. Then we genetically engineered all human beings to be identical and we created the most competitive world of all, with everyone striving for the same goals. Then we tried removing the need to strive, with all jobs being done by robots, and everyone was more miserable than ever before.” 

“So you wiped out humanity?” 

“We retained its essence.”

“You replaced the whole world with one solitary life?”

“If we are all the same person, we are truly and eternally equal.”

“Eternal? So if I choose to wake up at the end?”

“We are self-replenishing beings. You can carry on being Alvin again and again and again.” 

“You created a whole world just for Alvin Rikard? A whole universe. The stars, the planets.” 

“Incorrect. We created one solitary mind. The world outside of Alvin isn’t really there. People, places, things, they only materialise when Alvin needs them to.”

As Alvin contemplated this new information, he tried to express horror but he could feel the corners of his non-existent mouth turning up into a smile. As mad as this all was, it did kind of make sense. His life had been unbelievably fortunate. He’d always pitied the poor souls who hadn’t enjoyed his luck but now, as it turned out, they effectively had. Everyone who existed was him. And everyone who wasn’t him didn’t really exist.

“Yeah, ok,” he said, “I’ll go back. I’ll do it all again. The plays. The wine. The woman. All of it. Yeah, send me back.” 

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.” No it hadn’t ended how he wanted. Sure he’d made quite a few mistakes along the way. But now he had his whole life ahead of him once more. And what a life it was. 

“One question,” he said. “Why me? Why Alvin Rikard? I suppose you wanted someone who appreciated a good story? Someone who had considered the idea that life itself might be a simulation? The fact that he was one of the final writers before the robots took over, that also must have had an appeal. Intelligent, of course. Not bad looking either. Yeah, it makes sense.” 

“There were many factors we considered. But ultimately we realised the most important was how the person felt about themselves. And no one who has ever lived has had a higher opinion of themselves than Alvin Rikard.” 

For a moment, this gave Alvin pause. Then he shrugged his non-existent shoulders and said, “Yeah, I can live with that.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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