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You learn the inscription is written by Man and the obelisk or pillar is actually a high tech device that contains all of humanity continuing to live in virtual reality. You later learn the planet, which is covered in dust and is devoid of life, is actually Earth!

I have no idea where or when I read this but my attempts to find the full story have failed miserably!

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    I can just see the writer turning to his publisher and saying "But the twist is...it was Earth all along!!" and his publisher sighing, looking at his schedule and replying "Sure, fine, but can you have it finished by Tuesday?"
    – Valorum
    Aug 3, 2016 at 19:42
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    Earth all along trope page.
    – Valorum
    Aug 3, 2016 at 19:43
  • Unlike 'Earth All Along' suggests, this story wasn't necessarily gloomy (though it felt that way). Instead, humanity had transcended if you will, figured out how to increase the passage of time in virtual reality. It then became more economical to live in virtual reality because it cost very little in the way of resources. This intern resulted in the prolonged existence of humanity. Aug 3, 2016 at 19:55
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  • How sure are you that you're thinking of a short story? I originally posted the preceding comment as an answer because it seemed like it might be what you remembered.
    – David
    Aug 4, 2016 at 15:13

2 Answers 2

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This sounds very similar to the November 22, 2013 strip from the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

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Your description reminds me a bit of the sci-fi short Unearthed (2010), co-directed by Lindsay Harris and Stuart Leach.

On the edge of space, a mining ship, The Ezekiel, finds an uncharted planet that reveals signs of a possible fuel resource. Two crew members undertake a mission to the desolate rock to take samples for later analysis. The mission goes well until they unearth a dark and terrifying truth.

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    Hi, welcome to SciFi.SE! Even though this may not be what the OP was looking for, this answer may help someone else who may be remembering something similar to the accepted answer. Editing in some points from the question that match details from Unearthed would help future readers confirm if this is what they're looking for.
    – fez
    Jul 8 at 19:15

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