Jimmy had mixed feelings about being back on the Thrush. A part of him would always miss the place, but he'd been looking forward to getting on with his life, on his own. Making new friends, seeking his fortune, putting all his hard-earned knowledge to use... And while he certainly wouldn't have minded coming back aboard for a just few minutes, the ship had started sailing again as soon as he was on it, so he would have to wait until the next port they came to to disembark. He wasn't very happy about this, and only took consolation in the fact that he hadn't made any solid plans for after he'd made landfall that he would have to go back on.
All of this only served to speak volumes about how important his reason for coming back was, though.
He'd been off the ship for only about five minutes when it happened. He'd spent a moment watching the ship load its cargo, marvelling at the fact that only the people who were actually associated with the ship seemed to notice the gargantuan sail-ed vessel in the port, before walking into town with his hands in his pockets. He'd taken maybe twelve steps into the busier section of town when he spotted a boy sitting on the side of the street.
He seemed to be attracting the attention of every person who walked by; they all dropped copious amount of coin at his feet, but he didn't respond to any of them, or indeed even ask for the money in the first. He was dressed entirely in tattered rags, and staring consistently at his feet. The only conspicuous thing about him was that he was so young to be on the streets. One might wonder why he was not at an orphanage.
Jimmy only had a glimpse at this version of the boy, though. No sooner did Jimmy begin to take in the sight did the boy look up at him, smile, and run lightly over to Jimmy's side. He didn't say a word, he simply smiled up at Jimmy. It was then, upon closer inspection, that Jimmy noticed the boy was blind. His eyes were as green as a fresh shoot of grass in the sun, and twinkled like stars, but they were unused, and focused on nothing.
"Hello," said Jimmy amiably, mostly covering up his shock. The boy had picked him, out of the crowded street full of people, and without the benefit of sight. Clearly, there was something strange going on. Jimmy knew what he should do; the Captain would be infinitely interested in this anomaly; but he feared the ship would already have left anyway.
Looking back toward the port, Jimmy could see the enormous sails of the ship. They hadn't moved quite yet. He might still have time... Wasn't he supposed to be putting all of this behind him? Moving on with his own life?
"All right, all right, let's go," Jimmy caved, as if the boy had been begging him to go the whole time. He took the boy's small hand in his own and headed back to the port. But by the time he'd reached a direct line of sight with the ship, it had started moving away from port. "Damn," Jimmy muttered. He gave the boy a measured look before making his decision.
A moment later, he was running toward the ship with his new friend in his arms, yelling, "Wait!" at the top of his lungs. When he'd reached the end of the docks without making any headway, he put the boy back down and let out an exasperated sort of noise.
"I hate doing this," he mumbled, speaking to no one in particular. Then he closed his eyes.
A moment's pause, and then...
Yeah, it's me. Listen, you've got to stop the ship. I found a new student.
Jimmy, you know the Captain can't stop the ship now. Ophelia won't slow it down until the next scheduled port.
I know, and I wouldn't be asking if I didn't think this was important. There's just something about this kid...
Jimmy, I'm sorry, but... What? What do you mean? ...
Sorry, Jimmy. Things are a bit confused here. It seems as if Ophelia is stopping the ship.
"What?" Jimmy both said and thought.
Apparently she... overheard our conversation. She says she can feel the boy. She wants the captain to take him on board. We're sending a lifeboat back to pick you up.
Both of us?
The Captain wants you here for this.
Outwardly, Jimmy sighed.
Alright, I'll be there.
So it came to be that he was standing in the Captain's quarters with the boy, who still hadn't spoken a word, Miss Pennington, the only other telepath on board as well as being the first mate, and Ophelia, the strange little girl hiding in the shadows who really guided the Thrush, waiting for the Captain to speak.
"What's so special about him?" the Captain finally, gruffly asked. He wasn't an unkind man, but he didn't appreciate the interruption, and really didn't appreciate being overruled by Ophelia.
The boy didn't look particularly special, guzzling root beer between massive bites of his sandwich. The only thing out of the ordinary upon first glance was his choice of clothing.
"Can't you feel him?" Miss Pennington said, something akin to awe in her normally even tone.
The Captain grumbled. "Yes, well... Has he even got a name?"
The thought entered the mind of everyone in the room, and it had the distinct feeling of coming from the boy, but he hadn't moved an inch, or even looked up from his food. He finished his sandwich and proceeded to guzzle down the soup as if nothing had happened. If his mouth hadn't been so full, they would have thought he'd spoken the name aloud.
Jimmy was flabbergasted, and he could only imagine Miss Pennington was no better off. He could tell everyone else in the room had heard the thought, too. He could communicate with the first mate through thought, yes, but only after years of training, and only to other telepaths. Trying to communicate with a non-telepath was like trying to speak with a deaf and blind person.
This... this was something else entirely.
"Okay," said the Captain begrudgingly. "I see your point."
Ophelia crept out of the corner of the room and sat beside Joshua, smiling eerily at the boy, who returned a much more lively copy of the same gesture before going on with his soup-guzzling.
"Well... what do we do now?" asked Jimmy, though he was, in truth, referring more to himself, now that he was a graduated student stuck aboard The Golden Thrush.
Miss Pennington and the Captain looked meaningfully at each other.