The Assistant Conundrum

Chapter One

Sheldon Cooper studied his whiteboard impatiently. Where was Raj? The nerve of him to leave for two weeks when they were deep into these proofs. Raj had come up with a most intriguing new hypothesis for measuring the gravitational forces inside black holes, and they had been hard at work determining its viability for the past two months. Now he takes an assignment that will take him out of town to have time at the Palomar telescope. Sheldon sighs. He knows that as an astrophysicist this is a prime assignment for his colleague, but they were on the cusp of something amazing, something that could easily get them a Nobel nomination. Oh well, Raj had not left him high and dry. He was leaving his assistant in his place, a fellow named Nikita Horner. Most likely one of those Russian hybrids science was too full of lately. Sheldon snorted, we had beaten them to the moon and now they felt they were justified in interbreeding with all the brilliant English, German, and North American minds the world possessed. While Sheldon had no problem with selective breeding in its purest form, he detested the use of it to "cheat" in the scientific community. Marry and breed with your own kind if you're so smart, leave our brilliance to us.

Suddenly, Sheldon remembered Amy and sighed once more. They had been two of the most brilliant minds in North America. They really should have reproduced before Amy's death two years ago, but they had both felt that they had had plenty of time for that; it was science and their relationship that had been of paramount importance to both of them. Some days he truly missed having Amy to talk to and bounce ideas off of. She had understood him so much better than any of his other friends and colleagues. Cancer. It had been the most difficult and emotionally horrendous year of his life after Amy had been diagnosed. Surgeries, chemo, radiation, nothing had stopped the cancer's insidious growth through Amy's weakened body. The day she died, Sheldon had actually felt relieved. Relieved that Amy's pain and torment had ceased, relieved that he no longer had to look like he bought into her valiant efforts to stay upbeat, even after they both knew the truth, the inevitability of her death. Sheldon's tears had been a mixture of both grief and release. He had not wanted another relationship since her passing. What would be the point? There could never be a woman as intelligent and accepting of his foibles as Amy, not in this particular universe, anyway.

"Hey, Sheldon! We're here." announced Raj as he entered Sheldon's office. His voice had an almost forced gaiety to it. Sheldon took a second to compose himself before he turned around. He didn't want Raj to see the grief that was etched upon his face. All of his friends thought he was almost fully recovered from Amy's passing and he wanted it to stay that way. Sheldon turned and started to greet his friend when he noticed someone with him that could not possibly have been his replacement. Raj was with a female. Now, Sheldon recognized and accepted that there were brilliant women in this world; Amy had been proof of that. But, this female looked like she could have more likely been one of Penny's airheaded friends than a serious scientist. This woman was around his age, tall, slender, with ash blonde hair. Her mouth was turned up at the corners, too. As if she was sharing a secret joke with herself. The total effect was an unsettling one for Sheldon.

"Good afternoon, Raj. Where is my new assistant, if I may ask?" Sheldon had no interest in whom the woman next to Raj could be, he just wanted to continue his work.

"Right here, dude." Raj chortled. "Dr. Nikita Horner, this is Dr. Sheldon Cooper. Sheldon, Nikita."

"On what planet do you find this acceptable, Dr. Koothrappali? That person most definitely does not look like a Nikita. A Penny, maybe, but not a Nikita."

"Hey, no problem." The woman replied, "I get that all the time. Just call me Niki."

Sheldon narrowed his eyes and spat out, "I will not! Raj, what are you trying to pull off here? Is this some kind of joke?"

"She's quite qualified to do the work, Sheldon." Raj answered.

"In what way? I ask for an assistant to help me solve one of the most perplexing puzzles in the universe and you bring me a Hooter's waitress?"

The woman broke out into a melodious laugh, "Dr. Cooper, I assure you I am qualified. I received my Doctorate in Astrophysics from Stanford, and I was an instructor for some time at the Keck Science Institute. I, as they say, know my stuff. Oh, I have also spent most of the last two years before I came here in charge of the big telescope at the Mount Wilson Observatory. But… I have been to Hooter's and I have no objection to having a good time, so does that disqualify me? Listen, I have been assisting Dr. K here for about 6 months and I find his work fascinating. He has told me about the work you two are doing with Black Holes and I would love to help with that."

Sheldon turned away from both of them. "Absolutely not! Raj, I refuse to work with this person. You can tell her to leave now."

Another laugh, "I'm afraid you can't refuse me, Dr. Cooper. I'm all you've got. No one else at this institution cares to work with you. They say you're a bit difficult. I will, though. I am familiar with your work and think you are one of the leading minds in physics today."

"One of?" Sheldon replied haughtily.

"Well, I have worked with some fine scientists in the past, but never one with your credentials. I can't say you're the best until I've had the chance to work with you as well, now can I? "

"So, you've worked with 'some fine scientists'. How does that qualify you to work with me?" Sheldon spat out.

"Being in charge of the Observatory put me in contact with many prominent physicists and astronomers, Dr. Cooper, and they all recommended I work with you if I ever got the chance. So here I am." She replied, her eyes almost drilling a hole through him.

Sheldon was unnerved. Her eyes were a light shade of grey, much like mercury. Sheldon also noticed a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Did women her age still have freckles? Sheldon asked himself. No more of this silly thinking. The woman was correct in that no one at this institution relished working with him besides Raj, and she seemed to have no problem with that. Hmmm. Well, he could take her on and if she wasn't up to speed, he could let her go. No problem there.

"Dr. Cooper, may I work with you or not? It really would be an honor."

Sheldon relented, though reluctantly, "Well, played, Dr. Horner. I will accept you as my assistant under two conditions."

"Those being?" she inquired with a knowing smile. She knew he had no choice.

"That you never forget that you are merely my assistant and that you discuss our work with no one. Not to family, friends, nor spouse."

"Agreed, Dr. Cooper. But who would I tell? I am single and I have spent most of the last two years on Mt. Wilson. Still, my lips are sealed and my subservience is promised." She broke into a wide smile and held out her hand for a handshake.

"Very well, Dr. Horner," Sheldon responded, grasping her hand and shaking it firmly. "You may start tomorrow morning. One thing I am curious about, though."

"What would that be?"

"Why on earth did your parents name you Nikita? I would hardly call that a proper name for a female."

"Oh, that. My mom loved that Elton John song and instead of the boy she was expecting, she had me. So, I was Nikita. People call me Niki, though." She smiled warmly at him, "You can too, if you like."

"No need for that. Dr. Horner will do nicely. I will see you tomorrow at 9:00 a.m., don't be late. I demand punctuality."

"Fine, I will see you tomorrow. Good day, Dr. Cooper."

"Good day. Raj, I will see you when you return."

"Yeah, dude. Enjoy your time with Niki. You will find her a more than adequate assistant, plus, she's fun once you get to know her!"

"I don't need fun, Raj. I need results."

"Don't worry, you'll get both."

Raj turned and left his office with Dr. Horner, leaving Sheldon staring in their wake.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Raj had asked his assistant earlier that morning. "I'm telling you, I love the guy, but he can be difficult to work with."

"Most geniuses are." Nikita answered him. "I've dealt with difficult men in the past, why should Dr. Cooper be any different?"

"By the end of the morning, believe me; you won't have to ask that one again."

"I think I can handle Dr. Cooper. He can't show me anything I haven't seen before, unless it deals with physics, and that is what I want, the physics."

Raj looked at his assistant fondly. He had been extremely lucky to have grabbed her when she first came to the university. Scientists with her credentials generally did not work as assistants to others. Partners, yes. Subordinates, no. However, Dr. Horner had been more than happy to work under him. She seemed to enjoy playing second banana. He wondered why. There was something about this woman that didn't totally add up. She was accomplished, brilliant, and charming, yet she was happiest when she was buried in her work, cutting off the outside world. In that way she reminded him of Sheldon. But Nikita Horner had none of Sheldon's idiosyncrasies; she seemed to be perfectly normal, or at least as normal as physicists of her caliber could possibly be.

"Why do you want to work with Sheldon so badly?" he finally asked her. "The guy can be a total pain."

"I'm assuming that he can be, but while I was up at Mt. Wilson I had the chance to read some of his work. The man is beyond a genius, he thinks on an entirely different level than everyone else. I would love the chance to work with him."

"Okay," Raj relented, "but don't say I didn't warn you."