"Sir, we can't just move on without him. He was kidnapped!"
"Jim, there is no use getting worked up over it," the Captain said, gently but firmly. "I am just as interested in his safety as you are, but there's nothing we can do. The Thrush is limping; we need to make repairs. Poor Ophelia is still having nightmares. We'll need to stay docked for a week at the very least, and whoever did this will be long gone by then."
Jimmy did not look happy to hear this. He had rushed to see the Captain as soon as he had recovered from his unfortunate head injury, but he wasn't making much headway. He knew the Captain spoke the truth, but he didn't have to like it. "So, what? We just let them get away with it? We can't involve the police or something - we're technically our own country! We're supposed to deal with our own problems!"
The Captain did not have an answer to this. He heaved a heavy sigh and stared at his charts, though his gaze seemed to pass right through them.
"I just don't see what we can do about it, Jim..."
"Sir, if I may?"
"Yes, Miss Pennington?"
The first mate cleared her throat and stepped forward. "There is the Nereid, sir. She was unharmed by the fire."
Jimmy instantly brightened, and looked toward the Captain for his verdict.
"Hmm... I suppose we could cancel all related classes, seeing as we're docked anyway... But how would you find him? No doubt his kidnappers are long gone by now."
"Joshua is telepathic. When I get close to him, I'll know it." Jimmy's conviction was plainly carved into his features. There seemed no doubt in his mind, but the Captain had other ideas.
"I understand that, Jim, but finding a needle in a haystack would be a cakewalk next to this. They could be anywhere, and you said yourself you'll need to be close."
Jimmy's face darkened, but only momentarily, a lightbulb quickly going on in his mind. "Tony! Tony could help me find him, definitely! I know he'd do it."
The Captain gave Miss Pennington a curious look.
"Tony Fairbanks, sir. A senior, communes with marine life. Theoretically, he could---"
"Ask the fish where Joshua's captors went?" the Captain hazarded, one eyebrow doubtfully raised at the idea.
"Hey, it's the best we've got," Jimmy said. "And we can't sit here and do nothing."
"...very well. Have Professor Harraway prepare the Nereid for departure. I'm sure he'll agree to pilot it."
"No need, Captain. Tony practically lives in her. He can pilot her no problem, and that's without Nestor's help. Nestor could pilot the Nereid by himself, and I can lend a hand if they need me."
The Captain fixed Jimmy in his gaze, though he seemed deep within his thoughts. He eventually nodded.
"When you find him, don't do anything stupid. Whoever took him, they're dangerous; we don't need you getting hurt, or damaging the Nereid. You are to follow at a safe distance and notify us of your coordinates. We will send help as soon as we're able. Understood?"
Jimmy only hesitated for a split second. "Yeah, I've got it. I'll go talk to Tony. You tell the Professor we're stealing his baby. He won't be happy." A ghost of his usual sly grin surfaced for a moment before it was replaced with a look of determination as he headed for the exit. He had a lot of work to do.
* * *
"Jimmy? Jimmy! Hey!"
It took Jimmy a moment to realize someone was talking to him. His mind was too wrapped up in preparations. It had been almost twenty-four hours since he'd first talked to the Captain and they still were only just approaching ready to go.
"Benny? What's up?" Jimmy asked, turning to face the younger boy, who was nearly running down the hall.
"I... was going... to ask you... that. Where... have you been?" Benny panted, leaning over as he attempted to catch his breath.
"Why are you so winded?" Jimmy asked.
Benny waved it off. "Just a... Ophelia... Never mind that." Benny took a deep breath and stood up straight. "I haven't seen you since..." His eyes met the floor. "Well..."
"I've been keeping busy." Jimmy said.
"Preparing. I'm going after Joshua."
The speed with which Benny asserted he was going too caused Jimmy to blink with surprise, but he quickly collected himself and smiled. "You don't even know how---"
"I don't care, I'm coming."
"You can't stop me. I'll swim if I have to."
"I know, Benny."
"I will jump into the ocean and drown trying to follow your boat and it will all be your fault."
"I know. The Captain gave you permission to come when I told him pretty much what you just told me. I just haven't had time to tell you yet. We're not taking a boat, though."
"No, Einstein. We're taking the Nereid."
Benny's eyes widened, and it was a moment before he collected himself, swallowing nervously. "O-okay. When do we leave?"
"We'll be ready in a couple hours. Get your stuff together and tell Mr. Dower you'll be gone, then meet us in the marine lab."
Benny was gone almost before Jimmy had finished talking. Jimmy stared after him for a moment before laughing and heading off to his own destination.
* * *
"What kind of knot is that? Tie it again, or we'll have it rolling all over the place soon as we get moving. Disgraceful!"
Jimmy sighed and untied his carefully crafted knot. He was pretty sure it would hold just fine, but he wasn't about to get into an argument with Nestor. His lack of cooperation would be tantamount to their mission's failure.
"Hey Jimbo, throw me that duffel bag eh, will ya?"
Jimmy tossed the bag to Tony, a boy a year younger than Jimmy who looked at least five years older. He was as muscle-bound as a professional fighter, but at least ten times less aggressive, and his perfect tan and glowing smile made him somewhat of an unwilling ladies' man. Tony maintained he was married to the sea, and wouldn't have it any other way.
Tony stowed the bag and turned back to Jimmy.
"Where is this friend of yours, eh Jimbo? We leave soon, and no sign of him. We can't wait for him to finish his siesta; we have a boy to rescue."
"I know, Tony. I can't imagine what's keeping him. He'd never let us leave him behind."
"Is this 'Benny' a slight, strange looking boy?" asked Nestor, his wrinkled eyelids pressed gently together.
"I guess you could put it that way," Jimmy said, puzzled. "Do you see him?"
"He is currently cowering in the lab," Nestor said, opening his eyes and giving an exasperated sigh. "Why, exactly, was he chosen for this mission? You I can understand, given your unique talent, but he appears to be afraid to come aboard. It's pathetic."
Jimmy pursed his lips. "Because he's Joshua's friend, and there is no way he would stay here while we go rescue him."
"That strikes me as being a terrible reason."
Jimmy waved Nestor off and climbed out into the lab. "Hey, Benny? What are you doing?" he asked, looking around the vast room. He didn't see Benny anywhere, but Nestor wouldn't have lied.
After a moment's pause, Benny's head poked out from behind some instruments. "Hi... H-Hey Jimmy. How's it going?" There was a very strange smile on his face that Jimmy didn't like at all.
"What are you doing?" Jimmy said with an incredulous laugh. "We've got to go!"
"I'm coming!" Benny protested. "Slowly..."
"Benny, you live on a boat. How can you be afraid of a submarine?"
"That's different! It goes under the water!"
"You're under water right now, Benny. It's called being belowdecks."
Benny shifted uncomfortably, but moved a little closer to the Nereid in the process. "I... guess," he said, uncertainly.
"Come on, buddy. It's not a big deal. We've got a kidnapped kid to rescue and you're worried about a little water?"
For a moment Benny looked upset, but it hardened into a look of sheer will. "All right. Let's go," he said, grabbing his things from a pile around him and making his way to the submarine.
Jimmy went first, and Benny threw his bags down to him as directed before finally, haltingly climbing down himself. He spotted Jimmy immediately after his feet hit 'ground', the older boy's smile encouraging him. The intimidating sight of Tony and the disapproving look Nestor was giving him worked in the opposite direction, but only for the short moment before Benny looked at Nestor again, somehow recognizing him.
"Do I know you?" Benny asked him, confused.
"I should think not," Nestor huffed.
Benny moved on, and it wasn't until the old man announced they were departing that he figured out what seemed so familiar about him; he had exactly the same strangeness, the same aura of being a little out of place, that Ophelia had.
"Hey," said Tony, clapping Benny on the shoulder with a suddenness that made the boy jump. "You need to stay on your bunk for the trip, eh? The Nereid doesn't have the room for you to be standing about like this, staring off into the space."
Benny complied, staring at Nestor's back the whole time. The old man seemed to be navigating the small vessel out of its dock in the underbelly of the Thrush, but he wasn't even touching the controls.
As soon as they'd cleared the Thrush, Nestor called out to Tony. "Come take the controls, I'm going to have a nap."
Tony did so gladly, sliding into the captain's seat like it was a warm bed. "Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seatbelts. The Nereid is a research vessel, but she is speedy like the gazelle. She will have your Joshua back in no time."
Somehow, neither Jimmy or Benny thought it would be so easy.