You need a relatively clear space approximately 12 inches by 24 inches to play solitaire. I had a dimly lit submarine control panel with about 10 inches by 16 inches with a nasty slope, very bad for card playing. There was some thin adhesive vinyl stripping for sealing access panels tucked in a repair kit to my left. I took three short strips, stuck them to the com panel and shuffled my cards.
The sound of the cards thwipping against the panel made my passenger start up again.
"We're not being rescued," he stated. His voice was high and reedy with panic
I turned my head and looked at Ensign Greene. The boy was about a micron away from being a major liability.
I thought for a moment about explaining the Solitaire Theory of Rescue: If you are ever in a tough spot, start to play solitaire. Eventually someone will come along to tell you to play the red seven on the black eight, and you can ask them to bring help. I thought better of it, doubting the kid would appreciate the humor.
I played the red seven on the black eight without any miraculous help. It occurred to me that I hadn't said anything to Greene to help him over this rough spot.
"You're probably right." I replied.
"So, that's it. We're going to die!" The kid didn't take affirmation of his conclusions as comforting. I'd have to file that one away.
"Yes, but not today." That seemed to help him. It was absolutely factual. The Orca class submersible would keep us alive, barring medical emergency, for at least three days. We'd die on Thursday.
Maybe, just maybe, when Greene gets calmed down, he'll start thinking like a scientist and see the wonder of the situation.
After all, it's not every day one gets swallowed by a whale.
A little over a year ago (In subjective time, twelve years ago by the calendar) Gene called me to a meeting with Harvey Wu, director of the International Cetacean Institute. I was puzzled, as I had no interest whatsoever in dolphins, whales and the like, but when Gene calls, you come. Those of us who were there in the beginning knew that 'There was only one Gene and he is his own prophet'. He lived up to that reputation.
I found them at a corner table at a local seafood dive near Caspian Station's main aquaculture facility, near the outer hull of the space station. It was a nice place, on a third-floor roof; open air - as open as you can be on a Stanford Torus - good view; just enough noise wafting up from the street to be charming, not enough to be annoying. Of course they only served fish, and only Tilapia at that. These were still the rugged barnstorming days, after all, we weren’t fully established yet.
Gene beamed his megawatt smile at me. "Bob! Good to see you!" He paused to introduce Harvey, and then launched into the patented Gene sales pitch. He was Seventy-five (Subjectively), but he had the limitless energy and enthusiasm of a twelve-year-old.
"I have a challenge for you. As you probably already know, we've discovered that the Gagarin whale..."
"Whaleoid", Harvey corrected, blissfully unaware that he'd just interrupted the High Lord Grand Poobah of the entire known universe.
"...Whaleoid", Gene paused. "The Gagarin Whaleoid is remarkably similar to the cetaceans down on Earth." I knew nothing of the sort, but was along for the ride.
He continued: "Harvey here believes if we had a mating pair of Whaleoids here on Earth, we might discover some clues and get some genetic material that would help replenish the whale population here."
At this point, Dr. Wu launched into a lecture about the astounding genetic similarities between Earth and Gagarin's cetacean life. He started to ramble into panspermia territory, even making an unintentional pun about 'panspermia whales'.
I sat waiting for the part that would concern me. As Dr. Wu ran out of steam, Gene studied me for a moment, and then said, "Bob, I want you to catch us some whaleoids."
I did not expect that. I blinked rapidly, trying to come up with a response that wouldn't destroy my career. My mind raced, simultaneously trying to figure out what to say while at the same time working on an actual plan to accomplish this horrifyingly large challenge.