Penny still wasn’t sure how it had happened.
Well, that wasn’t true. She knew how it had happened, but it was so quick that the memory, although recent, was still blurry. She had been reaching into Bernadette’s bag to grab the phone, while Sheldon was making a speech on the origin of the word telephone and how most modern smartphones just barely fit the definition. Penny had rolled her eyes as her fingers had closed around the phone and a petri dish had slid out and crashed to the floor. It cracked into a few pieces without quite shattering.
Sheldon had leaned down to pick it up, but his eyes grew wide as he picked up the piece with the label on it. “Oh no.”
“Oh no?” Penny had asked.
“Oh no,” Sheldon had replied. “Oh no times infinity.”
Then he had moved quickly, stuffing the hotel’s towels in the cracks of the door and the sliding glass balcony door. While he was moving, he told Penny to call the CDC—he recited the number from memory. As the telephone rang on the other end, Penny asked, “What’s the CDC?”
“Center for Disease Control.”
And now Penny was under quarantine. So was Sheldon, unfortunately. He had tried to explain to her what the petri dish had actually contained, but Penny didn’t understand the science of it.
“Is it like the deadly Motaba virus?”
“Motaba is fictional, Penny. And a type of hemorrhagic fever—what we’re facing here is something much more like the Spanish influenza epidemic at the turn of the last century.”
“Can it be spread by adorable monkeys?”
“That is a nonsensical question, there are no monkeys here. And I would hardly classify the Capuchin as ‘adorable.’”
Outside of the window, a gigantic tarp rolled downwards, blocking out the sun. Hissing sounds that sounded hydraulic in nature came from the hallway outside of the hotel room door.
“What’s going on?” asked Penny.
“They’re sealing us in.”
It had supposed to be a short trip to a science conference. Bernadette had been invited as a guest speaker and offered for Penny and Amy to come along as well. Amy had the idea to turn it into a weekend long bachelorette party. Since Bernadette was scheduled to speak on Friday, that left the other two days free and clear for the numerous games and challenges Amy had planned. Then Sheldon had also been invited to speak. Despite the other boys trying to convince him to stay home, he had invited himself along to ride with them. And he had the hotel room next to them. The first day of the conference was boring, to Penny at least. She was looking forward to Bernadette’s speech being over so they could pop open the four bottles of wine Penny had brought.
But right before her speech, Bernadette asked Penny to go upstairs and grab her phone. Sheldon followed her since he needed to use the restroom and refused to use the more public ones in the conference hall. Somehow, they had both ended up in the girls' hotel room at the same time and now they were quarantined.
The surprising thing about the situation was Sheldon's lack of panic. Penny expected him to start freaking out and preaching doom, but after the initial scurry to blog all exits, he was able to sit calmly and not totally freak out.
"So why aren't you totally freaking out?" Penny asked. "Aren't you a germophobe?"
"'Freaking out' would only serve to raise my blood pressure and heart rate, diverting the attention of my immune system and making me more susceptible to the virus." Sheldon sat on the edge of the bed and put his fingers to his neck, checking his pulse. "And what about you? Why aren't you in some sort of panic-induced hysteria?"
"Once, when I was a kid, I got the measles. And then the chickenpox. And then malaria," Penny said. "I"m not afraid of the flu."
"Weren't you vaccinated?" asked Sheldon, horrified.
"Yep," replied Penny. "Except the malaria, everything else was an allergic reaction to the vaccines."
The hotel room door suddenly opened with a loud hiss, and a blast of cold air was let into the room. Two figures in yellow hazmat suits entered.
Penny shrank back against the wall. "Are they going to eliminate us? Is this a cover up?"
Sheldon gave her a disdainful look. "Conspiracy theories aren't real. Well, that one isn't at least."
"Hi Penny!" said the smaller of the two figures in a chipper voice.
Penny looked through the visor on the helmet and clearly made out her friend's face. She looked at the other figure. "Amy!"
"Hey bestie! How are you holding up?"
"Uh, as well as could be expected considering I could be infected with a fatal disease." Penny put her hand on her stomach. "And maybe a little hungry."
"Oh, there's some Cheetos in my bag," said Amy.
"Crunchy or puffy?"
"Crunchy of course."
"You're the best!" Penny dived under the bed where Amy's duffel bag was.
"Excuse me," said Sheldon. "Bernadette, why on earth would you be carrying around a petri dish full of a potentially lethal disease?"
"Well, it was unsafe to leave it in the lab," Bernadette replied. "There's been a lot of break-ins lately and spies posing as grad assistants. Mostly," she added in a whisper that came out statcky from the hazmat suit, "North Koreans."
"So why not put it in a safe or something?" asked Penny.
Bernadette, Amy, and Sheldon scoffed in unison.
"Come on, Penny," said Sheldon. "That wouldn't work at all."
"Won't you get in trouble for carrying it on your person, though?" asked Amy.
"I'll just say the North Koreans planted it on me," Bernadette replied cheerily.
"As much as I appreciate your slightly racist plan of action," Sheldon said, "Is there an estimated time as to when the quarantine will be lifted?"
"Oh, right," said Bernadette, opening the small toolbox she was carrying. "We have to take some blood samples."
"And air ones," Amy replied, waving a strange instrument around.
Penny sat down and offered her arm, which Bernadette quickly wiped with an alcoholic towelette before sticking in the butterfly needle. "This'll just take a few minutes."
"How long till the tests come back?" Penny asked.
"Oh, about 3 days."
"Don't worry," said Bernadette. Even if you are infected, the virus would take a week to kill you."
"Why would I worry?" asked Penny.
"Sarcasm?" asked Sheldon.
Penny smiled grimly and touched her nose.
There was a bright side. The CDC agreed to send them free room service. Penny ordered 3 filet mignons and chocolate mousse. Sheldon ordered a barbecue bacon cheeseburger, bacon and barbecue sauce on the side.
"It's not Tuesday," Penny said.
"These are dark times," Sheldon replied.
The first night wasn't so bad. They had full stomachs and the television worked. They sat on the floor at the end of the bed, eating and watching. Although Penny wanted to watch The Secret Circle and Sheldon wanted to watch a rerun of Mythbusters. Penny won that argument.
"Basic cable is a joke anyway," Sheldon grumbled. "This is the thing I hate about hotel rooms."
"Really?" asked Penny. "That's the thing you hate? Not the fact that you have to sleep in a bed used by hundreds, if not thousands of strangers? Or sit on a toilet that may not have been sterilized to your high standards? Or that you have to eat food prepared by people you are instinctly distrusting of?”
“No,” said Sheldon. “Basic cable is the worst.”
“Whatever,” Penny said, pulling herself upward. “I’m going to bed.”
“Wait a minute,” Sheldon stood up as well. “What are the sleeping arrangements? There’s only one bed.”
“Yeah, that was Amy’s idea. She said it would foster sisterhood.”
“That’s not what I mean. Obviously, you’ll have to sleep on the floor.”
“You sleep on the floor,” Penny snapped.
“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s where the virus was,” Sheldon replied.
“Well, I’m not sleeping in a puddle of virus!”
“Well, no, I was thinking you could sleep in the bathtub.”
“That’s not happening.”
“Well, then, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do then.”
Penny sighed. “I guess we could share the bed.”
“If we must,” Sheldon said.
He did not have any pajamas. Penny told him to sleep in his clothes.
The second day, the power went out. The government guys had strained the breakers powering all their equipment. Both Penny and Sheldon played Words With Friends against each other until the batteries on their phones died. Sheldon won every game except one where Penny managed to play “squab” on a triple word score and followed it up with “zoo” on another. They were able to go out into the plastic bubble in the hallway and the hazmat people gave them a deck of cards along with their food.
They played blackjack and bet crunchy Cheetos which Penny kept eating. Sheldon would only pick them up with a napkin so they wouldn’t get the cards orangey.
“Screw this,” Penny said around four o’clock. She pulled her bag out from next to the nightstand. “Let’s get drunk.”
“I don’t think that’s the most advisable action,” said Sheldon.
“What? Alcohol kills bacteria, right?”
“We’re not dealing with bacteria, it’s a virus.”
“Tomayto, tomahto,” replied Penny. “Drink up.” She handed him a bottle of wine.
“Penny, you know I don’t drink alcohol.”
“This is a special occasion,” said Penny. “This could be our last week on earth.”
“But you know I don’t—as the saying goes—hold my liquor well.”
“That’s good news. Because this isn’t liquor,” she waved the bottle back and forth. “It’s wine.”
He looked down at the bottle in his hands. “How do you open it?”
Penny reached back into her bag with a free hand. “Corkscrew.”
Sheldon got really drunk. At one point he had his pants off and sat in his tighty-whities trying to build a castle out of the cards. He could never get it more than two tiers high. The power was restored around six, but the cable was still out.
“Even basic cable would be better than no cable,” Penny muttered drunkenly; pushing the buttons on the remote control.
Sheldon tried to start a lecture on the history of cable. Penny told him she did not, in fact, give a shit.
As it got later, they slumped across each other on the bed.
“Sheldon?” asked Penny in a quiet voice. “Do you feel sick?”
“No,” said Sheldon. “Just drunk. How ‘bout you?”
“I’m okay,” said Penny. “Do you think that’s a good sign?”
The room was dark and quiet for a long time.
“I hope so.”
On the third day, Penny woke up and forgot for a moment where she was or what she was doing there. Then she rolled over groggily and came face to face with Sheldon and she nearly screamed.
“Oh, right,” she mumbled, struggling to sit up. She slapped his chest a few times. “Sheldon, wake up.”
“No, Captain Kirk—“ he cried, bolting straight up. “Oh. Right. Quarantine.”
“Mmm,” Penny nodded, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. “My head is killing me. “
She waited. She waited for Sheldon to say something snotty about how her head (in this case meaning brain, in this case meaning intelligence, in this case meaning her lack of such) should have killed her long ago, or how heads can’t literally kill someone, unless it was a reference to some acclaimed sci-fi movie from the forties by the director Famousy McPoopants or whatever, but instead, there was silence.
Well, apart from the grunt that seemed to be of agreement. Penny couldn’t stop herself from smiling. She staggered into the bathroom and did her bathroom things; brushing her teeth and running her fingers through her hair. It didn’t come close to getting all the knots out but she didn’t feel like brushing her poor hungover head.
Sheldon was still sitting on the edge of the bed when she came out of the bathroom. She sat next to him, putting her hands in her lap and looking in the opposite direction. He stared heavily at the floor.
“You know, it wasn’t so bad being stuck in here with you for three days.”
“You’re right. I could have been in here with someone much worse.”
“Wolowitz,” they said at the same time.
“Do you think they’ll lift the quarantine today?”
“Hopefully. Neither one of us shows signs of illness. It means the disease was not airborne, or perhaps there wasn’t a high enough quantity of the virus to contaminate us.”
“Oh, good.” Penny was quiet for a moment, staring at the balcony door. Suddenly, she leaned over and gave him a hasty kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for being so patient with me.”
Sheldon looked surprised for a moment, then gave her a small smile. “You’re welcome.”
There was a hiss and the hotel room opened with the now familiar blast of cool air. Sheldon and Penny both turned and stood quickly, as though they felt guilty about something.
“Hi guys!” said Bernadette, cheerily. She wasn’t wearing her hazmat suit, just a dress and a cardigan. Amy was with her, although she was still wearing her hazmat outfit.
“Hey,” said Penny. “Why aren’t you in your suit?”
“Oh,” said Berandette. “Your guys’ tests came back. You’re perfectly healthy.”
“Well, Sheldon, your cholesterol is alarmingly high,” said Amy.
“I had one of those deep fried twinkies the vendor was selling outside of the hotel,” replied Sheldon.
“Ugh, really? I didn’t think you would like that,” said Penny.
“What’s life without whimsy?”
“But Amy, why are you still in your suit?”
“Oh, I just like it. All the guys at the convention got a big kick out of it. They thought I was cosplaying.”
“Sure,” said Penny.
“Another great thing,” said Bernadette. “Turns out, the virus doesn’t affect humans. Only monkeys! Looks like all of Joyce Kim’s scheming was for nothing.”
“Joyce Kim?!” cried Sheldon and Penny at the same time.
“Yeah, that was my lab assistant. They arrested her yesterday.”
“You think for a highly intelligent spy she would at least change her name,” muttered Sheldon.
“Anyway,” said Bernadette. “You guys aren’t stuck with each other anymore. Isn’t that great?”
Penny looked up at Sheldon and was surprised to see he was looking back at her. And that they shared an expression of hesitation and regret.
“Yeah,” said Penny. “Great.”
Outside of the room, Penny and Sheldon were checked by various medical personal and asked various questions about their experience. Papers full of confidentiality agreements were shoved at them and they were forced to sign. Bernadette sat with Penny as it was Sheldon’s turn to be questioned, a job he undertook with the utmost seriousness.
“I’m so sorry, Penny,” Bernadette said. “Being stuck with Sheldon for all that time must have been awful.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Penny said. “If I had to get stuck in a room with someone for three days with someone, Sheldon’s isn’t the worst choice.”
“Didn’t he drive you crazy?” asked Bernadette.
Penny was quiet for a moment, watching as Sheldon argued with the men in military uniforms about his debriefing.
“Yeah,” she finally replied. “But in a good way.”