"If they close the roads, we may have to make a run for it."
The roads weren't closed, but they did have to run for it.
The drive was harrowing, which was pretty par for the course with Sheldon in the passenger seat. Same with the incessant backseat driving. Less usual was said backseat driving including gems like, "Take the sidewalk!" at a snarl of wreckage and, "The police have more important matters to concern themselves with than minor traffic violations. That means go faster, Penny," and, "Run over him again, Penny, I think he's still moving," and, "I don't care if you have a flat tire, we're still several blocks away from the meeting point!"
Sheldon complained bitterly at this last even as they abandoned her car, pulled haphazardly to the side of the road in a laughable facsimile of parking.
"If you can talk," Penny huffed out, wishing she'd at least had the chance to put on a bra, "you can run faster."
To his credit, Sheldon shut up and ran faster.
Later that night, finally changed out of her makeshift pajamas and into real clothes, she helped build barricades and let the sound of a bunch of scientists and engineers squabbling over how best to secure the campus wash over her. Even Penny could see that step one of the solution was realizing that they couldn't and needed to choose which buildings were worth the resources needed to fortify them. Somehow, she couldn't see the arguments over that going any better. It was like the last time the guys had to go to a costume party and couldn't agree on a theme, only with ten times the participants and twenty times the opinions.
The person helping her drag an empty vending machine stopped to give a strangled laugh. "Sorry," he said. "It's just—the last time it was this bad, we'd just started choosing teams for paintball."
Penny smiled back, wry and understanding. "Welcome to the rest of your life."
Leonard finally began removing his shirt, following it with his pants. Penny held her breath until she could see that his skin was unmarked.
The next morning, having left Leonard in bed to catch a little more sleep, Penny had breakfast with Bernadette. Today was cinnamon apple oatmeal, and Penny was doing her best not to miss fresh fruit.
Penny knew she shouldn't ask, that Bernadette and the others working on it were probably sick to death of people asking and would be shouting it from the rooftops the instant they'd made any progress, but Penny had woken from dreams of Leonard's chest covered in bite marks, his eyes gone blank, his teeth bared and cheeks hollow with hunger. Seeing him bare-chested in bed and snuffling cutely into his pillow hadn't been able to completely wash away the image. Digging her spoon into the little plastic bowl, Penny asked, "How's the great hunt for the cure going?"
"It's not a cure," Bernadette said with the air of someone repeating themselves for the zillionth time. "It's a vaccine."
"Yeah," Penny said. "That."
"It's." Bernadette made a face. "It's going?"
"Honestly, these things take time." She scowled. "You'd think a bunch of scientists would know that better than anyone, but no." Bernadette stabbed her oatmeal with the spoon, her voice rising with every word. "They just keep on asking questions and demanding results right now and—"
Penny resigned herself to a breakfast of Bernadette ranting on the nosy and overbearing nature of a bunch of people who were not microbiologists and had no idea of the difference between a virus and a bacteria, much less the complicated work the research team was doing.
Howard and Raj came in, looked at Penny and Bernadette, cautiously grabbed their own bowls, and snuck back out again. Bernadette continued, caught up in her rant and not having noticed their presence, "—and you'd think you could at least trust them to wash the beakers, but no, apparently theoretical physicist means practically useless!"
Yeah. Penny knew she shouldn't have asked.
"There might be a vaccine, if we're lucky, which would prevent further infections. If not. . .perhaps if we hold them off and they can't get to us, they'll start eating each other. With luck, they'll kill each other off, and eventually those few that are left will starve."
Sheldon was right. Five months in, and they'd started to noticeably starve. (Sheldon also had a theory that before they'd started on each other, they'd gone for pets and vermin and even insects, but Penny really, really didn't want to think that.) A few seemed to go into some sort of hibernation—and hadn't that been a fun discovery, the first time they passed too close to an emaciated body they thought was dead and was just sleeping—but the majority either ate their fellows or withered away. At ten months, there were maybe half as many zombies as at ten days.
On day 343 of the zombie apocalypse, watch over and passing the torch to the next team, Penny found herself starting to hope, a little bit. Maybe they could make it through this. Maybe they could all make it through this.
And then she heard a whoop of joy, and Leslie Winkle, of all people, was crashing into her side and hugging her and saying, "They did it! They actually made a vaccine! Score one for female scientists!" before turning to Penny's replacement beside her and kissing him full on the mouth.
"I'm gay," Rick said, off-balance, like he was trying to let Leslie down gently, but also was having difficulty processing the news.
"And I really don't care." She went on to hug Sheldon, too, who looked even more upset at the contact than the guy she'd kissed, then dashed off to further spread the news.
"Huh," Penny said. It didn't feel real.
"There'll be testing," Sheldon said. "Until the human trials are done, we won't know it actually works."
But he sounded like he was starting to hope, too.