Dr. Leonard Hofstadter leaned over the precision laser in his laboratory, and pointed it at the grilled cheese sandwich he had propped in the center of the table. He turned to his two assistants, engineer Harold Wolowitz and CalTech freshman Freddie Benson, a recent addition to the lab's team, and asked them to repeat his calculations back to him.
"Okay, for a grilled cheese sandwich using whole wheat bread and two slices of cheddar cheese, you need to hit it with the laser for 2.37 seconds," Howard replied.
"But the bread is buttered on the outside. Don't you need energy to melt it into the bread precisely?" Freddie added.
Howard quickly wrote some calculations onto a pad, "He's right. Make it 2.41 seconds."
"Okay, goggles on," Leonard said, hunched behind the laser pointer's viewfinder. He hit a button, and the room filled with a sizzling sound for exactly 2.41 seconds, leaving a sandwich toasted with light burn marks around the edges, yellow blotches on the outside from melted butter, and liquefied cheddar cheese dripping from the middle.
"Well, there's my lunch," Leonard said gleefully, releasing the sandwich from its holder and dropping it onto a plate. "Ready to do yours, Freddie? Did you work out your cooking time?"
"What did we come up with, Howard?" Freddie asked.
"Well, for this 'spaghetti taco,' we needed an amount of energy sufficient to soften the shell over only slightly, to heat the tomato sauce, to soften the pasta, and to raise the internal temperature of the meatball pieces to 160 degrees Fahrenheit to as to kill any bacteria. And to put it in the laser's holder without cracking the shell. I recommend a cooking time of 4.11 seconds."
Freddie leaned over and placed the concoction into the device in the middle of the table, backing away and putting his goggles on. "That thing looks disgusting, Freddie. The loose spaghetti hanging out of the taco almost looks like worms. I could never eat that. It's a ridiculous amount of starch," Leonard said, as he activated the laser following Howard's calculations.
"And you can't eat starch, right."
"No, I'm lactose-intolerant. I can eat starch. That taco simply looks gross."
"I'll have you know that the spaghetti taco is not only unique to Seattle, but that it was invented by none other than my best friend's older brother."
"Is this best friend the girl from the webshow you did?" Leonard asked.
"One of them, Carly. We did the show from a studio we set up in her apartment."
Howard sidled up to him, raising an eyebrow. "So, give us all the dirty details. Two girls, one guy…I wouldn't mind being the cheese in that sandwich. Did you get a lot of action from those two girls? They were hotties,"
"Those 'hotties' were my two best friends. I grew up with them," Freddie said, an edge to his voice. "But yeah, I suppose I had moments with each of them."
"So you almost dated them?" Leonard asked.
"Actually, Carly and I were together for about a week, but I realized she wasn't into it. It was hero worship, after I pushed her out of the way of," Freddie sighed as he help up his lunch, "a taco truck. But we never dated again."
"There's nothing better than hero sex!" Howard interjected. "It's like pity sex, except you don't have to be ashamed. You don't turn that down!"
"But that was before you dated…" Leonard tried to turn back to the conversation before Howard got any further under Freddie's skin.
"Yes, before I dated Sam. We were together for longer, a couple of months, but that didn't work out either. We were just too different, and we fought all the time. Still, the three of us spent nearly every waking moment together for over six years. Saying we were best friends doesn't really do it justice."
"I'll tell you what would have done it jus—" Howard interrupted yet again before Leonard cut him off.
"Where are they now?" Leonard asked.
"Carly is at New York University, studying theater arts. Sam stayed in Seattle, and is working for her Uncle Carmine."
"Doing what?" Howard asked.
"You know what, I really don't want to know. Carmine has spent the better part of two decades in prison. Whatever Sam is helping him with, I'm sure it's illegal."
"I do love a bad girl." Howard said, lowering his voice to a predatory growl, "Does she have tattoos?"
"Howard!" Leonard said before turning to Freddie. "Do you worry about her?"
"Well, I'm sure she can take care of herself. I've never met anybody with her level of street smarts. But yeah, I worry sometimes." He shook his head, "She'd hate it if she heard me say that."
"Wait, isn't this the one who has a twin sister? Twins are fun. Have her come visit you! She can bring her sister…two hotties for the price of one!" said Howard, oblivious to Freddie's rising anger.
Freddie finally started to lose his temper. "Cut that out! I haven't even heard from her for over a month! I don't even know if she's okay!"
"Drop it, Howard," Leonard said. He turned to Freddie and said "Just ignore him. She'll come around. She won't just disappear forever."
Leonard and Howard suddenly looked down to see the spaghetti taco was on fire. As Freddie threw a cup of water from the sink on the taco, Leonard turned to Howard.
"I thought you calculated how long to leave the laser on!"
"I did. Maybe my figures were a little, you know, off. It happens, okay?"
"Oh yes, it happens, as a dozen astronauts who had to take an unplanned spacewalk can tell you!"
Freddie tried to change the subject. "So does this laser have any potential? Maybe it can't cook food without setting the room on fire, but I'm used to things being randomly set on fire. Can it do anything else?"
"Well, it's supposed to have lots of applications," Leonard said. "It can heat an object evenly, and that part seems to work just fine, but what I really want is a laser that can cut. It would have some industrial applications, and best of all, it could be used in space."
"On the Wolowitz Zero-Gravity Waste Disposal System," Howard added proudly.
"The space toilet?" Freddie asked, his trademark smirk on his face.
"I think of it as sharing the ultimate form of relief with the universe," Howard said with a smile.
"But it still doesn't cut properly?" Freddie asked, turning to Leonard.
"It cuts, but it leaves rough edges and burn marks. So it can't be used to cut glass. And I'd really like it to be able to cut diamonds cleanly. If we could do that, it would revolutionize diamond-cutting, and the proceeds of licensing its use would finance this laboratory for a couple of decades. And, you know, if it improves diamonds, then even Penny might be impressed," Leonard finished with the shrug of his shoulders.
"So what do you think is wrong?"
"It's the element we're using. We're using lower-grade elements like polybdenum, which we already have on campus. I would really love to try using it salphanarium."
"It's the newest element. When it's enriched, it serves as a fine lens, and concentrates light energy precisely. It's perfect for cutting."
"So why not use it?"
"Oh, Homeland Security restricted its use. Something about it being highly volatile and radioactive," Howard offered.
"They're scared we'll blow up the campus…or grow three heads." Leonard shrugged.
Howard snorted. "Pansies."
Leonard looked up from his clipboard. "All existing stocks are being held at military laboratories, and university-based researchers don't even have access to it."
Knock, knock, knock. "Leonard!"
Knock, knock, knock. "Leonard!"
Knock, knock, knock. "Leonard!"
"Come in, Sheldon!" Leonard yelled at the door. The door opened to reveal their colleague, and Leonard's roommate, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, accompanied by Dr. Rajesh Koothrappali.
"Leonard, I was waiting in the cafeteria for six minutes and fifty-three seconds, and none of you showed up for lunch!" Sheldon whined.
"I'm sorry, Sheldon, we kind of brought our lunches today. We were trying out the laser and, well, cooked with it."
"Well that's no excuse for not meeting me at the cafeteria on time, especially when you know that Tuesday is cheeseburger day!"
"Sheldon, I'm sorry about that, but we've already eaten—"
"I can't eat alone, Leonard! The cafeteria is crowded, and someone might sit with me."
"So what? If they sit with you, just ignore them."
"Ignore them?" He laughed, "Social convention dictates that I at least offer a response to the greeting they are sure to offer." He looked around at the group, "And you say I'm the one with no social graces. And now I'm late, and I'm behind on my research for the day."
"Behind on your research, Sheldon? You spent two hours this morning looking around the internet trying to find out how to conjugate the past subjunctive in Klingon!" Raj interjected, by then having realized there were no women in the room.
"Guys, I hate to interrupt, but we need to get back to our laser. It's still not focusing properly, and I have to figure out how I'm going to get what I need to fix it."
"You're not talking about salphanarium again, are you?" Raj complained. "It's illegal! Don't you know what President Siebert would do if he knew you were even talking about using it in your research? And I could lose my visa and get kicked out! And I don't want to be kicked out, now that I've eaten a real Big Mac. I can never eat a Maharaja Mac again."
"Relax, Raj," Leonard replied. I was just fantasizing out loud about what I could do with it. It doesn't matter. We can't use it because we can't obtain it. End of story. We're the best and the brightest, but even we have our limits."
"Don't be ridiculous," Sheldon replied. "Best and brightest? Mediocre and satisfactory at best."
"You know, anything can be obtained if the price is right, guys." Howard interjected. "I'm sure it's available. We just need to figure out from whom, and what they'll ask to get it for us," Howard told Leonard.
"Yes, but from whom?" Leonard retorted. "Probably from some pretty nasty people, the kind who traffic in fissile material! I don't want to deal with these people, and in any case, who in a laboratory even knows where to find them?"
Freddie chewed on the inside of his mouth. He thought he knew exactly where to find these people, and he knew through whom he could contact them. "Guys, I think I know where you can get some enriched salphanarium, and it may only cost you a couple of extra-large hams."