On the side of the road, a young man sat on the bench. His thumb was up—the universal gesture for hitchhikers. About the only thing this young man had to his name that looked nice was a funny checkerboard scarf—aside from that, he looked like he might as well have just run from home.
Sometimes, when he sat by the side of the road on the bench, people would ask him where he was going. "Somewhere I'll feel useful, I suppose," he'd answer.
Eventually, some kind stranger would pick him up, and he'd get a ways further down the roads. Then maybe he'd find a nice town he liked, and stay the evening. Sometimes, he wouldn't leave a town for months. People would start to recognize the shaggy blonde handyman who did anything around town. Many a rural European village came to enjoy him, and told him they'd welcome him back if he decided to return.
He'd stay the night with someone, and wind up staying for much longer—an honored guest, or more, but with the understanding that if he wasn't truly satisfied, he'd have to move on. He worked dining shifts, warehouse shifts, retail shifts, he walked dogs, he watered flowers, he delivered papers, he shoveled snow, he did just about everything a man could do on his way around.
"Eventually, I think I'd like to ride a boat," he'd say sometimes. "A boat to somewhere I can't get on foot."
He had a kindly manner, and was very polite and industrious, so he wound up saving a fair amount of money through not staying in one place. People asked him why he didn't buy a car, or a home, and he'd say, "I can't do that until I feel I can settle down."
Sometimes, he would ask for a phone, and from the sound of it, he called back to his parents. He knew a number of languages, but to them, he spoke German. He'd tell them about the people he'd met, or the places he'd seen, and he always did so with a smile on his face. People asked if he was really happy, and he said, "I think this is a sort of happiness. I don't want to do it forever, but still."
He was a good-looking young man, too, so a number of other people found themselves attracted to the young hitchhiker. He was always gentle, and kind, to let them down—divides of gender or, within reason, age, weren't a question to him. "I think I'll know when I find the right person," he'd say. "I haven't yet, but thank you for saying so. I hope we can continue getting on well."
As far as anyone knew, he was simply a normal boy, trying to find himself. That's what he'd often say—he was trying to find himself. There was only one time people saw otherwise.
It was in 2017, as he was working in a law firm. His manager complained that their computer system was running too slow, and a number of high-profile clients were coming in today. Many high-ranking techs couldn't manage to figure out the problem, so the young man raised his hand. "I might be able to help," he said.
"Oh," his manager said, "so little Judgey wants to play?" (His name, in German, meant 'judge', so it was surprisingly apropos.) "Fine, you can't do anything worse."
The young man took a deep breath in, sat down, and cracked his fingers. Immediately, a number of obvious, fixable structural issues popped out to him, so he got to work working on the coding. In fact, while he was there, he went into the source code itself and altered its structure in a number of ways to improve the load on the server, which always ran hot, in his experience. He typed like a blur, as though he was manipulating another limb, and the room fell silent. His coworkers' amused gazes turned into silent awe to see him work, his focus locking so tightly that you could take his chair out from under him and he wouldn't move a muscle.
His face was flat, his eyes darting about. Occasionally, his eyebrows would twitch. The system soon began running faster than it had ever run before, and all of those worryingly high-profile clients were utterly satisfied by work they had no way of knowing was by the young hitchhiking boy. He was summarily offered a promotion, and even headship of a department, for how absurd his skills were—but he declined. "No," he said, "that's not how I want to do this. I'll take a lower position in the tech department if you'd have me, though."
He left that position just like any other, but his manager stopped him as he left. "Say," he said, "I have a friend somewhere you might like to meet."
"Oh?" the young man said.
What he got was a ticket on a boat. As it turned out, he was not great with boats. The young man got seasick easily, so he found himself glad he had mostly traveled on land up until this point. It didn't help that the ride was quite long, as he was heading from the northern end of Europe all the way to the island nation of Japan.
—He traveled across Japan, too, to reach his destination, but there was much less of Japan to travel across, so it was faster. The referral he'd received was for what appeared to be a small government agency running out of Tokyo City Hall, and he was quickly accepted for aptitude tests of some sort. He heard hushed whispers as he listened to the people there discuss his results. "S-Class," he heard.
"Young man," he heard once, "have you ever worked in cybersecurity?"
"Once, yes," the young man responded. "In my home country of Germany. I was recruited to a new military branch... it didn't last long."
"I see," the invigilator of the aptitude test said, and no more words here were discussed.
Eventually, he continued to work, but he was outsourced to another branch of this small agency as a low-ranking technical agent. He was, however, told that he was placed on a 'waiting list'. They would not explain to him what this waiting list was for, only that he was on it, and that yes, it was a good thing. Congratulations, sir.
In 2020, his number was called. "Please head to City Hall, sir. We have need of you."
And on the day he was called,
he looked up toward the sky
and saw it fade
with numbers that blocked the sun.
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