Solomon Regis was wandering through an anime convention while having a long argument with himself over whether the cosplayers did or did not want him to stare at them. There was a case to be made for either interpretation. On the one hand they were predominantly sporting bare midriffs, bare legs, and as much cleavage as the laws of physics permitted. And the other hand held very much the same.

This was Sol’s fourth con and so his fourth time wrestling with this conundrum. In the years since he’d lost his con virginity he’d come to realize that most of the cosplayers were themselves in precisely the same quandary. This revelation as to human (or at least otaku) nature did nothing to simplify matters for him.

In previous years it had been a moot point. Most of the people at such cons are college students, or even graduates, where Sol had still been in high school. An appreciative stare might have occasioned a demure nod or a knowing wink, which could easily have led to conversation, and everyone knew where that led. It was a base assumption of Sol’s that college students, in particular College Girls, were as far beyond him as a Vestal Virgin to a Roman gladiator. Which was about the only way he could find to be compared to the latter, rather than the former.

Now that Sol was a college boy himself, and had spent a few months living campus life, he had begun to think such interactions more appropriate. Having spent the last four hours with half-dressed Harukos and Sutokkingus (and no few very confused Yotsuba&!), he had ceased to think of very much else. As such he set out to do what he had always feared, and bridge the gap between eye-contact and other sorts of contact which were rumored to be both exquisite and quite bestowing of boasting-rights.

I shall spare you the anguish which Sol was not spared. Let it suffice to say that he discovered the line between a glance and a caress to be somewhat thicker than he had imagined, and moreover much thicker than he was able to cross. He left the con with a growing respect for frustration, a shrinking respect for himself, and the IM screen-names of a dozen women with whom he knew he would share lifelong platonic friendships. Presuming that he did not first kill himself with a sledge-hammer.

He found himself giving the problem a great deal of consideration. This not the least because the watching of anime had rather lost its flavor, leaving him with a sudden superabundance of free time. After a few epoch-seeming days of meditation, Sol decided that the difficulty lay within him. He had not accomplished enough with his life to warrant the amorous intentions of his fellow man, in particular his fellow woman, and therefore he would do well to tuck a few such accomplishments under his belt.

The maturity of this decision was perhaps tempered by the manner at which it was arrived. Sol’s other great pasttime was video gaming, and with anime out of the picture it remained his only context in which to place all life’s great trials. A survey of his gaming experience left it impossible to escape the fact that the protagonist was the one who got the girls. Not the NPCs, not the glazed-eyed background characters or instanced enemies; the hero got the girl. And the only thing which separated the hero from any other character (besides a certain facility with reincarnation, or, most often, the inability to speak) was the fact that he Got Shit Done.

Unfortunately for Sol, as for most college students and no few others, he didn’t have much shit that needed doing. For the next three and a half years he had only grades to get, which even to young Sol bore only the slightest resemblance to actual accomplishment. He had quickly surmised that getting an offer of acceptance was the most difficult part of the undergraduate experience, and everything thereafter could be completed while under the influence of even the most powerful hallucinogens, or the manga equivalent thereof. While it was possible that a slight increase in his GPA would allow him to accomplish things once he had graduated, Sol wasn’t entirely convinced of a correlation. Conversely he was quite convinced that if he studied more, and thus got even nerdier, he was going die both an old maid and in a Spock outfit concurrently.

But a video game hero’s life was not nearly so restricted. They were always, not only able to do amazing things, but called upon most necessarily to do so. Setting aside things which would have caused the wrong sort of attention to be drawn, such as using a gun the rough dimensions of a garbage truck to destroy anything and everything that moved, there were still a number of options which remained him. He could fight. He could platform. He could learn how to survive the apocalypse (zombie apocalypses being the greatest danger, but any variety of apocalypse was liable to come back into fashion). He could learn to perform complex magical rituals. He could learn to sway wild beasts with sweet melodies. He could even become a plumber and go around killing turtles, or a hedgehog with serious dependence issues in regards to rings, or possibly even roll around pick up stuff, as one did.

Rather – for he was eighteen and horny but neither of these facts had yet driven him entirely mad – he could find some way to ape these acts in real life. To fight he could study martial arts, from kung fu to swordfighting to the most exotic sort of ancient weaponry. To platform he could study parkour or acrobatics. He could study survival skills ranging from gadgetry improvisation to DIY aptitudes to the ability to whitewater raft, this latter being particularly popular among his fellow students. He could study magic or firespinning or the circus arts. He could learn to play an instrument, a guitar if he wanted to be true to his age, an ocarina if he wanted to stay true to his inspirations. Or he could do what every video game character did: look for girls to rescue, questionmark-clad boxes to smash, and doors which seemed in desperate need of being unlocked.

Many of these things, he realized with a great deal of surprise, did not actually appeal to him. People were always out on the quad showing off with one or another flavor of flash. This was not his way, and would not have been even if the market for attention had been less competitive. Besides, he wanted to accomplish something, not simply accrue more potential which might One Day let him accomplish. This left him with either evil to defeat, princesses to rescue, one hundred and fifty varieties of rodent to catch, or doors to unlock.

Looking around him, at both the colossal nature of evil and the unfortunate dearth of princesses – rescuable or otherwise – Sol decided the become an unlocker of doors. Certainly there were enough of those things on campus. And, now that he had begun to think about it, why should they all be locked to him? Indeed, gaining full and complete access to his campus, including its secrets and sanctum sanctorum, seemed like an excellent use of his four years before the mast.

Sol was a smart kid. He freely admitted even to himself that this was, in all fairness, a very stupid things to want to do. He was also smart enough to realize that there were parts of his body that were quite stupid, and yet still wanted to do various things to which they did not currently have access. It was Friday night, the moon was high, the drinking half of the campus was drunk and the sober half was alone in the rooms watching torrented TV episodes, and Sol decided he would one day gain access to every single room on campus.

He was methodical in his preparation, as only a true nerd could be. He made a list of every building on campus (though compiled from official sources, this list would prove to be both inaccurate and incomplete). From there he began to compile a list of every room on campus (whose completeness he would not be in a position to judge for some time thereafter). He ripped the various Faye Valentines and Motoko Kusanagis down from his wall – even his Shinji dart-board – and replaced them with a hastily-drawn map of the campus. Before too long this map would approach a level of detail and accuracy that the city building inspectors could only envy.

By this time it was morning. He lay himself down and woke to find it evening again. It was Saturday night, the same people were either drunk with friends or sober without, and Sol put himself to the task at hand.

When dawn’s rosy cheeks were swelling up as if to blow a raspberry Sol was just returning to his room. In the intervening hours he had been in the presence of pot-smoking, whiskey-drinking, karaoke-singing, and the removal of a woman’s shirt – all new experiences for him, and some in particular quite desperately requisite of extended contemplation. He had also set foot in twenty-seven rooms, twenty-two of which were dormitories and five were otherwise student-related. He updated his list, fell asleep, and dreamed of keys and of the things that they might unlock for him.

He began to fully appreciate the enormousness of his undertaking. The several thousand undergraduates alone required him to eventually visit at least a thousand dormitory-rooms. Many of these were occupied by students who did not much enjoy casual visitors: compulsive studiers, quiet depressives, obsessive fornicators, those whose chemical dependencies did not lend themselves to socialization, and of course entrenched weeaboos such as Sol had recently counted himself. And these were only the rooms to which students were the sole gatekeepers; this said nothing of janitor’s closets, physical plants, chemistry store-rooms, astronomy towers, and things Sol guessed (quite correctly) that he had never even heard of before.

Some rooms were easy to access. He had visited every public lobby within a week. Classrooms he would visit either between classes or else during a lecture (it was in this fashion that he discovered his passion for archeology, as well his hatred for literary theory and the voices of those who teach it); professor’s offices required that he make an appointment for office-hours, the excuses which he created for such causing him to be exposed to untold varieties of human learning; when necessary he would even join a student group, joining a sit-in so as to see the inside of the President’s office or using credentials with the newspaper to get backstage at a Stones concert (the stage-back was, it seemed, only accessible during times when it was meant to stand for The Inaccessible). By the end of the semester he had made what he felt to be quite significant progress. He had also gotten drunk, gotten high, and even gotten rather close to that which he had started seeking in the first place. All these things occurred in the pursuit of his noble goal.

He put himself to his task with the single-mindedness of the true nerd, moving with a speed that would have honored, if not a Sonic, then certainly a Gordon Freeman or a James Sunderland. As he became better at his craft, so too did he begin to move on to more difficult prey: empty dorm-rooms, offices of professors on sabbatical, condemned annexes, whole buildings undergoing the sort of refurbishing that might easily extend well past his graduation date. Through one means or another he managed to get into every one of them. By the time he finished his first year of college he had made considerable progress. Enough that he was confident in his ability to, by graduation, reach one hundred percent completion.

The summertime found Sol in rather intense training. He barely had time to play video games, let alone trip the light fangasmic like a good little otaku. He ordered a lock-picking kit and became rather proficient with it. He built an RFID scanner using a blueprint he found out in Deep Internet. He spent three months practicing free-running in order to make a ten-foot leap into an abandoned wing of the Art Museum. By the start of his sophomore year he was picking locks like a Garrett, climbing up walls like a Link, making long-jumps like a Prince of fucking Persia. He was also proving as conversationally adept as The Nameless One. Depending, of course, on where you put his starting stats.

His second year he decided to skip the anime convention which had stirred these great passions in him. He did not want to show his face until he had done that which he set out to do. Also he had a very small window for getting into the old radiation lab before it was concreted shut. He made it in and out in six minutes. Which, with a professor’s help, he calculated not to have increased his risk of developing cancer by too significant a margin.

He did have some setbacks. He was caught red-handed several times breaking into buildings, and on one or two occasions was not able to talk his way out of trouble. It took him a week or two after each such incident to realize that he was not actually going to be punished. That was not how colleges treated their alums-to-be. He also broke three fingers (one twice), sprained an ankle failing to make long jumps, suffered innumerable cuts and bruises as a result of blundering about darkened buildings on dark nights, and required tetanus shots and rabies shots at a fairly consistent ratio. During an investigation of the library’s archival annex he also came very close to being caught in a compromising position with a 16th-century manuscript of Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow-Book. In order to save himself such embarrassment he took both himself and the evidence to flight, thus making a rather substantive addition to his manga collection.

He often required the assistance of other students in his adventures. Sometimes they would act as guards, sometimes as co-conspirators, sometimes they were just the ones who were in possession of the keys he needed. In this manner he learned how to talk, how to smile, how to give a bribe, how to hint that one would eventually become available. To gain access to the astronomer’s radio-tower cost him a six-pack of beer; to gain entry to the bio-lab required him to promise that he would acquire certain LSD precursors from the chem lab; to gain access to the chem-lab required him to take a post-doctoral researcher out to dinner. This latter proved to have its own rewards, such that for a short time Sol was distracted from his great cause.

Yet soon enough he was back to task and very happy to be. This infuriated his distraction to no end, especially when she was trying to make plans an evening only to find that he already had a date with felonious breaking and entering. Some of the things Sol had learned as a result of his quest let him have little difficulty finding company for his excursion. He found it particularly useful to to request a girl accompany him on one of his adventures. It seemed a willingness to be alone with him in a dark and helpless place rather presupposed that they had a fair romantic interest in him. Or at least were quite terribly without concern for themselves, which usually came to a similar conclusion.

By the beginning of his junior year Sol had developed a bit of a reputation among the more knowledgeable members of the campus community. Not only had he set foot in most every room on campus (only the great challenges remained him), but he retained the ability to gain entrance to most any of his previous conquests. He had pass-keys and swipe-cards and all manner of stealthy strategies. He was beloved of the fraternities when it came time to play pranks, of the sororities when it came time to hide from the fraternities, of most every doer of bad deeds (or more particularly, those who fancied themselves such), so that by the end of things not a few professors would come to him when all else had failed. He was a campus personality, That Guy With The Keys. He didn’t much mind.

His crowning achievement was to gain entrance to the President’s mansion, even into the master bedroom. After that, he knew, everything would be anticlimactic. This thought was well banished by the comapny of the co-captain of the women’s volleyball team who had been only too eager to share his moment of triumph. After this Sol felt it behooved him to repeat this climax to his career, with her or with another, on several subsequent occasions.

It was the beginning of his senior year when he finally succeeded in his goal. He had been in every single room on the entire campus, bar none. It had taken him nearly three years. It was no speed run, but that didn’t matter; the final boss was dead and he had killed him. When it came time to return to the anime convention which had once incited this life’s-work of his, Sol had some trouble deciding whether or not to look at the cosplayers and the decors of their decolletage. The reasons behind his indecision were not the same as they had once been; now it was much a matter of deciding whether or not he wanted to ogle them. As he looked around at all the Haruhi Suzumiyas and Nia Teppelins (as well as no few very confused Chiyo-chans) he began to realize that they were, by and large, much the same as he had once been. None of them had ever broken into the a building before. None of them had ever set themselves to anything more complicated than putting on a Sailor Moon suit. And none of them, he guessed, had ever taken one off, certainly not in the way those two pre-meds had done in the President’s guest room while President was off addressing the alumni association.

The rest of Sol’s senior year was rather difficult. His goal completed, he felt listless; never has senioritis struck so deeply or so strong. He could’nt wait to get off campus, to get out into the world and its new challenges; on the other hand, he had invested so very much of himself in that campus that to leave it behind seemed almost a tragedy, and certainly poor disposal of a careful investment. When he graduated he took an apartment very near the school, though he began to appreciate that this was an act of desperation less noble than pathetic. It took him many months (and a few counts of illegal trespassing, all thankfully dismissed) before he could admit to the inescapable nature of this conclusion. At which time he blew the campus a kiss, put all his blueprints up online, sold all his keys and key-cards to the head of the school’s janitorial service (who had been wondering where many of them had gotten to), and left the school behind.

After the conclusion of what he would later refer to as his Year Off, Sol managed to secure a position as a junior level-designer for a respected and profitable video game studio. Though his work was lauded by his superiors for its realism (if occasionally denigrated for its untoward reliance on the overcoming of dead-bolts), Sol just could not find in his work the challenge which he had grown to demand from life. He ended up finding more stimulating work at a major investment bank, where the accrual of money provided opportunity for the sort of linear progression which defined every great game. In this position it was not long before Sol discovered that pride in one’s work, whatever it might be, was the best possible aphrodesiac – but neither was a gruesomely large disposable income entirely repulsive to members of the opposite gender, otaku or otherwise.


~ by davekov on 4 May 2011.

One Response to “Keys”

  1. I will propose marriage to anyone who can tell me why I named my protagonist as I did.

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