The North Atlantic Nullification

A/N: I don't hate Leonard. Really, I don't. I just don't like him very much either. In many ways, his character seems to represent an idea more than being fleshed out as an actual person. He is a caricature of a "nerd", and the writers and producers of the show seem to think that automatically makes him an underdog. Continuing on that theme, the show artificially realizes Leonard's dreams of having a successful career and a "hot" girlfriend (not necessarily the order in which he would prioritize them). I stopped consistently watching TBBT around season 5 because I began to feel the show had lost its spark. TPTB fell back on tired clichés and juvenile pranks. The characters' lives progressed as if they had grown as people, but they still continued the mocking and snide remarks and juvenile practical jokes, making it highly unbelievable that these guys would ever get girlfriends at all, let alone one of them get married. I especially found the relationship between Leonard and Penny unbelievable. Most of the time that we see the two of them alone, they're in bed together. I just wasn't seeing any romance or attraction besides half-drunken hook-ups. That does not a relationship make, people. And I'm not the only one who noted how Penny seems to drink a lot more whenever she is dating Leonard. On top of that, I feel the actors themselves, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki, looked bored in scenes of the two of them together. Not their fault, of course, when the writers don't give their characters much reason to be together other than fulfilling their own adolescent fantasies of loser-guy-somehow-gets-hot-girlfriend. And that's what Penny has become: a two-dimensional character who is basically arm candy for Leonard, whose relationship seems to hinge on sex which she implies is mediocre at best. She is a young woman approaching thirty whose life goals are to make just enough money to buy shoes and booze, then self-medicate with said booze until she can stand to be around the boyfriend who will eventually marry her and keep her supplied with her panacea of choice for the rest of her life. Gah. If you disagree with what I've just said, go read someone else's fanfic. So, now that I've got that off my chest, on with the story.

Chapter 1

There was a surprisingly boisterous party going on aboard a certain research vessel floating in the North Atlantic Sea. The group of assorted scientists had the music cranked all the way up—no neighbors to complain about the volume—and red Solo cups full of cheap beer and good vodka were passed around freely. Several couples were making out in isolated corners, and one tipsy researcher was tastelessly showing everyone topless pictures of his girlfriend, probably trying to prove to them that he actually had a girlfriend.

In one of the upper decks, another tipsy couple was looking for some privacy. The young woman laughingly pulled her companion by the hand down the hallway, protesting that someone might hear them. Finally, she stopped in front of a door.

"This one," she said. "It's perfect."

She pulled an ID badge out of her bra with a wicked grin and slid it through the black strip at the side of the door. The lock opened with a flashing green light and a merry beep, and the girl squealed with delight as they stumbled inside. She grabbed the man by his shirt front and shoved him up against some machinery.

"Oops," she giggled, as certain pieces of equipment crashed to the ground.

"Doesn't matter," the man slurred as he tried to unhook her bra.

Then she tipped over the plastic cup that was still in her hand. Unfortunately, her drink spilled over the laptop sitting open on the counter. She jumped up, cursing quietly. "We're not really supposed to be in here," she moaned. "What if we get in trouble?"

She looked around. "Quick, go grab some paper towels from the bathroom. We'll clean this mess up."

The young man did as he was told. As soon as he had left the room, the girl quickly leaped into action, all signs of drunkenness gone. She rummaged through drawers until she found what she was looking for: a set of flash drives. Slipping them in her pocket, she then turned her attention to the laptop. She noted with satisfaction that the unit wouldn't power on. As her companion re-entered the room, she helped him wipe up the spilled beer.

"All right, let's get out of here before someone sees us," she whispered.

"Sure. Do you want to go back to my room?" he asked.

"You know, I'm really not in the mood anymore," she scowled and left the man drunk and confused in the hallway. She made her way back up onto the deck where she furtively tossed the flash drives over the rail into the churning waves.

Dr. Leonard Hofstadter woke up with a pounding headache the following morning. His hangover was exacerbated by the tossing of the ship over the rough seas. He couldn't remember much of the party last night, but he hoped he hadn't done anything too embarrassing. As he made his way to the mess hall, he got some nods of approval from some of his male shipmates, and a few glares from the women. Puzzled, he reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe his glasses and instead pulled out…oh. Now he was starting to understand the looks he had been getting. He had a vague memory of showing his friends—and everyone was his friend last night—that screen-capture photo of Penny topless. As always, he felt a frisson of guilt, and he quickly tucked the photo away. Leonard was sure Penny wouldn't mind if he had a sexy picture of her, especially while they were apart. But the truth was that Howard had found that still of Penny online the very first day they had met her. Later that night, after Howard and Raj had gone home and Sheldon was asleep, Leonard had printed out a copy. She had starred in many of his fantasies long before they had started dating. He couldn't give his photo up, but he also didn't want Penny to find out how he had gotten it, or exactly how long it had been in his possession.

After several cups of coffee and some reconstituted eggs, Leonard felt well enough to get back to his research. He hoped that last night's readings would provide a good set of data, although it was impossible to know for sure until he returned to Caltech in a few more weeks and started analyzing his data with one of the university's supercomputers. Two decks down, Leonard arrived at his lab and opened that nondescript door with a swipe of his key card. As he entered the room, he had a nagging sense that something was wrong. Scanning the room, he noticed that his laser array had been knocked over. He frowned. That hadn't happened before, even in the choppiest weather. It was about that time that the singular smell of stale beer began to register in his tired brain. He turned around slowly, spotting the wad of saturated paper towels in the trash can. What had happened here last night? It took him a few more minutes to discover that there was still a puddle of spilled beer underneath his laptop. Leonard bit back a scream of frustration as he found out that his laptop was indeed fried.

"All right, okay; it's not the end of the world," he muttered under his breath. He could probably scavenge an extra laptop off of one of his fellow scientists. He just needed to reload some software, and then he would be up and running again in a day or less. As he thought about his data, he opened the drawer where he kept all of his results backed up on flash drives. The drawer was empty.

Two hours later, the lab was in a complete shambles, as was Leonard's cabin. His data was gone, just… gone. Someone must have taken it, he realized. Maybe someone was playing a practical joke on him. Well, in his opinion, the joke had been taken too far. At one point he had actually broken down and sobbed at the thought of losing his data—something he would never admit to another living being. But now he was fed up. As a thought struck him, a slow smile spread across his face. He knew how he could find out who was responsible, and once he did, he would make sure to get back at them in an equally nasty fashion.