Fandom: The Big Bang Theory
Spoilers: set a year or so in the future after Season 2 (some season 3 references)
Word Count: Part 7: 3,128 words
Disclaimer: If I owned them, I would let Sheldon win more often.
Betas: foxtwin, 3pirouette
Summary: Sheldon’s to blame. Penny’s furious. The guys are helpless. What’s a string theorist to do? Episode-style fic featuring the full cast, with a focus on Sheldon/Penny. Based on the prompt “pinkslip” from sheldon_penny’s Fiction Friday. Awesome banner by patronuscharms.
Author’s Note: I know it’s been about 15 ages since I last updated this story... I hope I haven’t lost my readership. My fic Muse went into hiding and needed a bit more than coaxing to come out. So here’s a little summary of the story so far under the cut:
Part 1: Penny decides to go to Comic-Con, accepting Sheldon’s suggestion to dress as Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman.
Part 2: At the Cheesecake Factory, Penny gets frustrated with all Sheldon’s nitpicking regarding her Comic Con costume and the food at the restaurant and blows up at him in front of her new manager. She gets fired.
Part 3: The guys try to get Sheldon to apologize. But Penny is still so upset that she announces she’s moving back home to Omaha.
Part 4: The next day at CalTech, Leslie Winkle taunts him about the situation. Sheldon discovers there is an audition on campus for a new popular science show called Unified Theory. Sheldon has no interest in auditioning, but when he finds out Leslie is going to be called back, he has to do something about it.
Part 5: While Penny is packing, she hears Sheldon practicing in the hallway. She is drawn to find out what’s going on, and finds out about the show. Even though she’s still mad, she tries to help him. But in Sheldon’s frustration, he suggests that Penny audition in his place.
Part 6: Sheldon coaches her to ‘sound scientific’ for the audition, but the casting director isn’t interested... until he sees the two of them arguing.
Previously: Part 1 // Part 2 // Part 3 // Part 4 // Part 5 // Part 6
Sheldon walked behind Penny going into the television studio, his pace a bit slower than his normal quick stride. His back was straight, however -- even though he was here against his will, his sense of honor would not permit him to renege on his promise. Penny only turned her head once to make sure he was still following her from the parking lot. He returned her raised eyebrow with an affronted glare. Penny smiled in satisfaction.
Reaching the door, she opened it and gestured with a sweet-dangerous smile for him to enter. “After you.”
Sheldon nodded almost regally, and went inside without another word. He was not willing to risk a repeat of the scene after the preliminary auditions a week ago. James, the casting director, had told them he wanted both of them to audition -- he loved the arguing, the banter, the way Sheldon and Penny were... how did he put it? “Fire and Ice, Beauty and Brains, a Perfect Paradox.”
Sheldon had protested: he was a scientist, not an entertainer! In the course of arguing further -- and some literal arm-twisting, he could still feel a bit of bruising on his wrist -- Penny had convinced him it was his duty to see it through.
In most other circumstances, Sheldon would fight an adversary to a full conclusion. Leslie Winkle, Barry Kripke, even the dread Wil Wheaton... they received no quarter. But Penny...? Penny was not an adversary, she was a friend. To prove it, he’d even kept her on his friend list. Even though they seemed to argue more often than not, it was simply a part of their friendship paradigm.
Sheldon hadn’t meant to cause the loss of her job... but it had happened because of his actions. No matter how right he was in complaining that there must be some other way to get her a job... This situation was clearly a high-level obligation. He would go through this final step of the casting process, “co-hosting” on Penny’s audition, the producers would see the utter foolishness of their mistake, and his obligation would end.
James met them at the reception desk, holding out his hand to shake eagerly. “Penny, Dr. Cooper. The producer, Michael Walters, should be here any minute.”
Penny, bubbly with excitement, shook his hand in return. “I’m really looking forward to showing him what we can do.”
Sheldon added, “I am confident that your producer will know for certain whether we are best for his program within moments.”
James smiled and nodded, then looked down a hallway for the producer to arrive. Penny wasn’t fooled by Sheldon’s clearly ambiguous statement -- she tilted her head and frowned at him, squeezing his injured wrist sharply in what looked like an encouraging gesture anyone who might see.
Sheldon yelped, but he kept quiet enough that James didn’t notice. He plastered as pleasant an expression as he could on his face to cover the pain.
James checked his wristwatch and then turned back to them. “Maybe Mr. Walters is planning to meet us in the studio. If you would both follow me?”
Sheldon followed behind James and Penny, who was chatting animatedly about something or other related to acting. She didn’t seem nervous exactly... but she was humming like a circuit in a positive feedback loop.
Sheldon wasn’t nervous; the audition was merely the final step to fulfilling his friendship obligation. Still, he found himself pulling at the tie the studio had sent over. In fact, his whole ensemble, as well as Penny’s suit dress, had been sent over the night before. The black suit Sheldon was wearing was certainly not the sort of thing he would have picked out -- not enough color or comfort for his taste -- but Penny had seemed to like it. That is, if the half-grin and the comment, “Nice, Sheldon” were anything to go on.
Leonard, Wolowitz and Koothrappali hadn’t been any help in determining how he looked. They totally ignored him, planning some sort of outing in his absence. And they shouldn’t delude themselves into thinking that he hadn’t noticed their muted conversations about the way the “schedule” would change once he was off taping the show with Penny.
They entered the studio, where a type of temporary set was waiting. There was a wall with the logo, Unified Theory, in large blue lettering emblazoned across the back and a couple of flat-screen monitors like one would see in a newscast. Two stools were placed in front of the logo, presumably where Penny and Sheldon were to sit while speaking.
Sheldon immediately walked into the set area without being invited, ignoring the cameraman and the set assistants. He stood in front of the camera dead center, looked around intently, then moved six inches down right. He had moved another six inches when Penny was suddenly there in front of him, blocking his view of the camera.
“Sheldon, what are you doing?” Penny hissed in a low voice.
He moved another six inches before responding. “Finding my optimal placement on the set. I must consider the lighting, the camera angles, my line of sight...”
Penny guided him forcibly to the stool to the left and pushed him down into it. “This one’s yours.” Her tone brooked no argument. She took the other stool and swiveled to face the camera.
Sheldon opened his mouth a fraction... but then simply lifted his stool and placed it exactly one foot to the right. Penny rolled her eyes but didn’t challenge him.
James sat in a director’s chair beside the producer’s still-empty one, his face difficult to see through the glare of the stage lights. “Let’s go ahead and get started. Mr. Walters can review the tape later if he wants.”
Penny frowned slightly, but kept her voice bright. “Sure.”
It didn’t matter to Sheldon. “All right.” He suddenly realized that one of the key tools of his trade was missing. He peered to both sides of the stage dramatically. “Where is the white board I requested?”
James answered off-handedly, “We felt it was too old-fashioned for the look of this show.”
“Too old--?” Sheldon sputtered. “I’ll have you know that the greatest minds in science, from time immemorial, have used a white board or its equivalent! I can’t be expected to explain some of the more advanced theories with nothing but my--”
Penny placed a heavy hand on one of his flailing arms. “Sheldon, sweetie, chill. I’m sure that you’ll be fine…”
He stood, indignant. “Fine? I am absolutely not fine, I--”
“Doctor Cooper.” James’ voice rang out strongly. “We have already pre-programmed the formulae you sent us with your audition script. When you mention them, the techs will display them on the screen behind you. It also functions as a touch screen if you need to improvise at any point.”
Sheldon’s mouth closed. “Very well,” he said, satisfied. He twirled his finger at the cameraman, imitating an old-style film projector. “Roll film.”
The cameraman looked back at James for confirmation. James rolled his eyes and nodded, already used to Sheldon’s temper tantrums. Scientists seemed to suffer from the same prima donna syndrome as movie stars.
Music swelled from the speakers, filling the sound stage with a currently popular rock song before fading away. Penny spoke confidently, “Everyone loves music. We listen to it in our cars, blast it from our headphones, sing and dance to it. Our favorite movies and television shows use a constant soundtrack; we even use music to help us focus and concentrate.”
The screen behind them dissolved into a video of the band Muse, playing their latest hit. Penny continued, “Rock music is one of the most prevalent forms of popular music today, and the guitar is the instrument that most people associate with rock music. How many of us wished we could play when we were teenagers? How many people now live out their guitar hero fantasies in video games instead?” Penny smiled and winked. “Let’s face it. The guitar is cool.”
The image on the screens behind them paused and zoomed in on the strings of the guitar. “Even ‘cooler’,” Sheldon used air quotes, “is the way a guitar works. Each string is tuned to a different frequency, or pitch, and placing one’s fingers on the fretboard changes the pitch as the strings are plucked.”
Penny nodded pleasantly at his explanation, easily following.
A visualization of the neck of the guitar, strings and fretboard appeared. “The pitch of a plucked string is directly dependent on three variables: the length of the string, the tension of the string and the mass density of the string. When the string’s length is decreased or when tension on it is increased -- for example, pulling on a string -- the pitch increases. When mass density is decreased then the frequency goes up. This is why the thinner strings produce higher sounds. The relationship between frequency and wavelength is also one of importance. As frequencies increase, then wavelengths become shorter. This can be better explained--”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa... slow down there, Dr. Gibson!”
“Dr. Sheldon Cooper,” he corrected, frowning at the teleprompter. “Ph.D.” Penny was already going off-script.
“Sheldon,” she emphasized, “what does all of that even mean? Mass density and tension and...”
“Frequency?” he added, tensing up at being interrupted in his speech.
“‘Frequency’ refers to the speed of the vibrations of the sound wave.”
The tech running the monitors quickly skipped ahead to a visualization of a single guitar string. The string was plucked in slow motion, and the vibrations were clearly visible.
“The smallest string vibrates the fastest, because it has the lowest density.” The lines in his face grew taut. “This makes the pitch higher.”
“So smaller equals higher?” Penny asked.
Sheldon was trying to keep calm, but her deviations were causing the scene they’d carefully practiced every evening this week to break down. He answered with clenched teeth, “Yes, and vice versa. The largest string...” Sheldon waited for the visualization to show proper string, “...vibrates much slower, and therefore produces a lower sound.” The two strings were juxtaposed to show the rate of vibration. The smaller string was vibrating much faster.
By this time, they had caught up to the teleprompter. Sheldon relaxed slightly and read again, “As frequencies increase, the wavelengths become shorter. This can be better explained through the use of natural harmonics. In the diagram behind me, you can see points called nodes. Nodes are areas where the string is unable to vibrate. These are found where the ends of the string are attached to the guitar and wherever a finger applies pressure on the guitar sting when in use. Harmonics occur at the same time...”
The sound of the door opening distracted James from the audition as Sheldon and Penny continued on, not having heard it. An older gentleman entered the room, dressed in an untucked button-down plaid shirt and a pair of brown pants. “Mr. Walters,” James called in a quiet voice, and made a cut motion with his hands. “Do you want me to stop them?”
“No, no...” Walters said, “keep it going.” He settled into his chair to watch, distractedly placing the papers James handed him in his lap. Sheldon was explaining the way the harmonic frequencies changed as each fret was pressed.
“I think they’re pretty good,” James commented, “but they’re not quite in the groove yet.”
Walters and James had been working together for several years, and the producer trusted his casting director’s judgment implicitly. But this was a change from what he had expected. “Why are there two of them? I thought we’d decided on just the physicist.”
“No, they’re better as a team.” James was confident. “I think you’ll be surprised at how well it works.”
Sheldon was now gesturing at a formula displayed on the screen behind him. “So when figuring out wave problems for guitar strings, that must be accounted for. The following equation can be used: L = (harmonic # / 2) L (L = string length). So if the velocity wave on a guitar string was 345m/s, then the second harmonic frequency of a 1.2 m guitar string would be 287.5 Hz.”
Penny stood up in the middle of his explanation and began to walk off-set.
Sheldon quickly turned away from the camera, whispering furiously. “Penny, what are you doing?”
Penny stopped and leaned in to Sheldon, smiling deviously. “He wanted us to argue, right?”
“But we didn’t practice it that way...” Sheldon complained, on his last nerve.
“No. You and I didn’t. James and I did.” She patted him on the shoulder. “Just go with it.”
Sheldon, never the best at improvisation, exploded. “Penny!” He stood up from his chair. “How can we possibly explain these concepts to an audience like this?”
“Sheldon!” She matched his pitch and intonation exactly, standing on tiptoe in her heels to look him in the eye. “How is an audience going to stay interested if we don’t!”
“This is a perfectly simple explanation -- any student of even high school physics would find these concepts beyond rudimentary.”
“But this isn’t high school physics, Dr. Cooper, this is you trying to explain things that happen in every day life in scientific terms.”
“What are they doing?” Walters whispered, confused. “Is this part of the audition?”
A smile grew on James’ face. “Yes and no...”
Penny stalked over to the display and pointed to the formula displayed there. “This? This is total gobbledygook to me. You wanna really explain it?” She walked to the edge of the set, and one of the prop guys handed her a guitar. She stalked back to Sheldon and shoved it in his face. “Use this.”
“What? I’m no musician,” he answered with more than a little distaste.
“Obviously. And I’m no physicist.”
Sheldon’s lips twisted in a small smile. “Obviously.”
She placed the guitar in his unwilling hands. “We both have to move out of our comfort zone to get the point across.”
James stood suddenly. “Thank you. I think we have enough tape for now.”
Sheldon frowned, looking flummoxed by the large wooden instrument in his hands. “But I couldn’t even finish my explanation. Surely we have to redo it!”
Walters cut in, a broad smile on his face. “No, it’s great as it is.”
James motioned for the two of them to come forward. “Penny London and Sheldon Cooper.” James nodded at each of them in turn. “This is our producer, Michael Walters.”
“Doctor Sheldon Cooper, Ph.D.,” Sheldon corrected smoothly. This time he dodged Penny’s wrist grab.
“Pleased to meet you.” He shifted the papers he had been holding to shake Penny’s hand, and only then seemed to notice what they were. He flipped through first Penny’s acting resume and then Sheldon’s lengthy curriculum vitae. C.V.s were supposed to be only a page or two long, but Sheldon’s accomplishments were far too many to be listed on a few sheets. Then Walters suddenly stilled, halfway into turning a page. “Wait a moment. You’re the Sheldon Cooper?”
“Ph.D.,” Sheldon corrected for the millionth time that day. “Yes.”
His demeanor instantly changed from affable distraction to full-on fanboy mode. “I can’t believe that I didn’t make the connection before! Your work on 11-dimensional M-theory is absolutely brilliant!”
“If I had known you were interested in television, I would have contacted you long ago as my science advisor. I would never have dreamed you would be interested in hosting Unified Theory!”
“Well, I’m not exactly interest...” He trailed off at Penny’s look of warning. “I mean, I admire what you are trying to accomplish with this program. And I...” He cut his eyes toward Penny again before continuing, “...owe it to you to explore this further.”
“Well, I couldn’t be more delighted.” Walters turned to Penny. “I didn’t notice any scientific background for you on your resume. Do you have a C.V. to add?”
“No,” Penny said, her face coloring. It wasn’t often that Penny felt like the socially awkward one in a situation. “I’m an actress.”
“That’s actually the beauty of it,” James interrupted. “Penny here provides the viewpoint of the audience.”
“The plebeians, if you will,” Sheldon put in.
Penny was nonplussed. “Or the regular Jolene,” she added.
James nodded. “She reacts to the information that Dr. Cooper presents and helps to explain it to the viewers.”
“Then I would love to have you both for the show!” Walters enthused.
Penny’s face lit up and she bounced slightly in excitement, squeezing Sheldon around the waist. “Thank you!”
Sheldon was so speechless that he didn’t react at all to Penny’s hug. Sheldon had never expected the producer to actually want both of them for the job. His mind was almost paralyzed with the conflict between his obligation to Penny and his drive to rise to the top of the scientific community.
“That is,” Walters continued, confused by Sheldon’s reaction, “if CalTech is okay with this.”
“Why...” Sheldon started, not completely coherent, “...why wouldn’t they be?”
“Well, losing one of their top physicists for weeks at a time can’t be easy. Or would you go on sabbatical?”
Sheldon’s mouth dropped open. “Weeks?” His eyebrows looked as if they were going to make a break for the ceiling. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“Sweetie...” Penny turned him gently to face her. “Television work usually requires several hours a day.”
He blinked repeatedly, and then sat suddenly in the director’s chair. “What about my Nobel...?” he said in a quiet voice. “I just can’t accept...”
Penny’s shoulders slumped in defeat. She knew if Sheldon had to choose between the two of them -- Penny and science -- which one would win. “Sheldon, I un--”
Walters interrupted her before she could finish the thought. “What if I added a lucrative research grant on top of your salary to sweeten the pot?”
Sheldon slowly turned his head to look up at Walters, an avaricious glint in his eye. “How lucrative?”
Walters and James shared a triumphant glance. Penny, overcome with emotion, leaned over and gave him an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. “Sheldon, thank you!”
She pulled back, embarrassed, expecting Sheldon to push her away. Instead, he stared back at her in surprise, a blush darkening his cheeks.
Walters chuckled. “I take it that’s a ‘yes’?”
Author’s Note: The information on guitar string harmonics comes from Physics 24/7’s Physics Tutorial: Guitar String Harmonics. Also, “London” is the last name used on Penny’s mail on set (the prop guy Scott London’s joke). It’s the closest thing I have to canon until they actually give her a last name in a script. :)
Next: Part 8 (Final Chapter)