Note: This is strongly influenced by Dan Johnson‘s hundred-word stories, in terms of style, length, and subject matter.
I blame the school system.
It all started in high school. Primarily, it was those two fantastic Comp-Sci teachers, but if the school did more to help us socialize outside our age groups we wouldn’t be in this mess.
We were all friends together as frosh, and juniors, and well into our twenties. We were all twenty-six (or seven) when we finally got our hands on a big enough supercomputer, and by my thirtieth birthday we did it: Strong AI. Within a week, Something happened. We don’t know exactly what or when, but the next Wednesday Jason stumbled upon root access, and it became clear that we’d been seamlessly uploaded into a computer simulation.
Yeah, it’s all pretty Wachowski Brothers.
A bit of hacking showed conclusively that we weren’t aging anymore, which I thought an awful pity. I’ve always been curious about life, so why miss out on the latter two-thirds of it? There was some back-and-forth on this matter; some of us wanted eternal youth, but it had to be all or nothing. Nobody wants to be twenty years older than their high-school pals. That exchange led directly to the creation of the Levels. We would age, and die, and be reborn in an identical but separate simulation; and so on ad infinitum. We could look back at lower Levels with the right hack, but not ahead. This also solved the tricky matter of telling seven billion people they were computer programs: They were reborn as infants, with no memories of a prior world. We, however, always reincarnate at sixteen. As this world’s caretakers, we can’t afford to forget.
There was just one problem… a few of our younger friends found out the truth, and told their kids and grandkids. A bit got lost in translation. Within a millennium, we witnessed the emergence of a new religion on Level One Earth, with millions of zealous followers and the most insane metaphysical beliefs you’ve ever heard of.