Too Young to Die by Michael Anderle


Jacob’s favorite part of MMORPGs by far was that you could be another you. Not someone else entirely because you could never be that, but you could find out who you were if you were dropped into the middle of, say, a fantasy world with a rusty sword and nothing else.

He liked to think he was the same in either world. A straight talker, he liked to give people the benefit of the doubt until they blew it and once they did, he immediately leapt to conclusions about their character.

It was why he wasn’t part of the public relations part of the PIVOT team, generally speaking. As Amber liked to say, no part of that cycle was helpful in PR.

She, meanwhile, took her opportunity in the game world to be a—mostly—more “woohoo” version of herself. In real life, she was five feet two inches of terrifying muscle, with a head of curls that could put Medusa to shame. She had studied engineering with Jacob and Nick at MIT, and she managed to meld creativity and an intuitive grasp of design with one of the most coldly analytical minds Jacob had ever seen.

Which made her druids both fascinating and pants-pissingly frightening. You never knew if she would preach about the harmony of the natural world, slit someone’s throat…or both.

Nick, meanwhile, was such a dialed-up version of himself that he was insane. He wanted everyone to love him and poured time into learning the backstory of every NPC. When monsters attacked the group, he felt personally betrayed.

His two friends had learned a very simple way to deal with this. They let him get as far as he could in terms of winning people over and killed those he had no success with. While they had agreed never to tell him about this strategy, both of them had to admit it was likely he would notice someday. He might be a pathological people-pleaser but he was also quite intelligent.

They’d deal with that when they came to it.

Right now, Jacob listened to Amber and Nick argue about the best way forward.

“No,” she stated, “because the villager said there were dozens of orcs in the hills, and if we stop to talk to all of them, it’ll take us a thousand years to reach the next settlement. And it’s midnight, man. I’m tired.”

“I won’t talk to all the orcs,” he argued. “I merely thought I’d try to find the leader and talk to him about the attacks on the village.”

“Okay, but…” Jacob could practically see her rubbing her forehead. “Here’s the thing. It’s late, the orcs will not listen to you, and it would be so much easier to take the side road, log out at the inn, and come back and kill them all tomorrow.”

“Kill them?” Nick sounded aghast.

“I’m only jumping ahead,” Amber said grumpily. “It’s where we’ll end up. Jacob, back me up on this one.”

“Nuh-uh.” He laughed. “I won’t get in the middle of this one.” He typed out a PM to Amber: Remember the rule?

Yeah, it works, her answer agreed, but it takes so long.

To be fair, you once said that about a McDonald’s order.

They had fries already made!

Jacob laughed but forgot to mute himself, and Nick took this as a condemnation of his strategy.

“It’s always worth talking to people,” he said grumpily. “Plus, if I resolve five more disputes, I’ll get Diplomat Level Twenty-three.”

“There it is,” Amber said and sounded grimly amused. “Nick’s a people-pleaser and this game turned it up to eleven because now, he gets little gold stars when he does it.”

Nick muttered on his end of the voice chat, and Jacob decided to wrangle the two of them. “Let’s go up the mountain path. If it looks like an ambush, we turn and go back to the village behind us. If they immediately want to parlay, we save and come back tomorrow. If it’s smooth sailing, we log out at the next village.”

The two of them muttered but as he’d expected, they began to walk with him. They even joked about the next day’s lunches. For years, the three of them had lived together and Jacob had only recently moved out. He felt a little pang and could imagine the way the kitchen had smelled while they were cooking.

It wasn’t something he wanted to spend his time thinking about, though. He liked his new place, and it wasn’t like the three of them didn’t see each other every day at work. They were on the cusp of making