Behind The Scenes
Also by ssjelitegirl with art by ssjelitegirl
The white Weewoos were sitting on the roof of the Neopian Times headquarters as well as on the branches of nearby trees, cooing at each other. The building was filled with shouting, chatting, and the sound of running feet, as it always did, yet the Weewoos' territory remained calm and peaceful, a striking contrast to all the chaos inside. The petpets bathed in the warm rays of the Neopian sun, watching the neighborhood. There was always something to see in Neopia Central.
Like that shadow Lupe trotting closer over the pavement. Something white was stuck under his studded collar. Another one coming to submit for the Times, assumed the Weewoos, focusing their beady eyes on the Neopet for a moment, then turning away again. They saw hundreds of such messengers every week.
Shad the Lupe had reached the front door and looked up curiously, digesting the view. "Wouldya look at that," he muttered. The office was much bigger than the small branch office he usually visited at home, on Mystery Island. The white building towered above him, all windows open for the warm breeze. And there was a lot of noise, more than any of the branch offices ever got.
The noise was a mere hint to the pure chaos that went on inside the building. A few Weewoos had flown in through an open window, and a Kyrii screamed as she ran past Shad, chasing a Feepit, who was pursuing a Meepit. Scraps of paper were littered everywhere, and Shad detected a distinct odor of rubber erasers.
Directly in front of the Lupe was a large Waiting Room packed with Neopets and humans milling around, stacks of papers in hand. He stepped over a snoozing green Mynci using a recent issue as a pillow and maneuvered through the crowd to find the place to submit his owner's next comic. On the other side of the room, an Aisha the color of rain clouds sat at a charcoal desk laden with papers.
"Excuse me," Shad began, but the Aisha put a hand up without even glancing at him.
"Take a number and have a seat," she said gruffly. "We have a system here, you know."
Affronted, Shad snatched a small square with the number 638 printed neatly on it and found a seat shoved in the corner between a hulking Elephante and an even larger Grarrl. He squeezed himself in between the two Neopets.
"Busy day, eh?" he said to the Grarrl.
She laughed in response. "Busy?! This has been the slowest day this week! Maybe it means my number will finally be called."
Shad was speechless. "You've been here for a week already?"
The Grarrl nodded grimly. "Better settle in, kid. It'll be a while."
The Lupe's ears drooped. He looked around. "Great. At this rate I'll definitely be late for dinner." He eyed the number in his paw, then the large number 421 above the Aisha's desk, then sighed and shifted around for a more comfortable position.
And remained in that position for a whole two minutes.
"Going somewhere?" asked the Grarrl as Shad plunged into the crowd again. "I'm not gonna keep your seat."
"You don't have to," grinned the Lupe, his golden eyes full of his usual curiosity. "I'm going to look around a little." He trotted towards the hallway that had a vast "PERSONNEL ONLY" sign above the door.
The hallway was crowded and for Shad's sensitive nose there were a billion smells to register. There was enough here to explore for days, but he was a lot more impatient than that and the rubbing of paper on his fur reminded him what he was here for, so he turned into the nearest open door he saw, and promptly stepped on a figure lying on the floor. The creature squawked angrily and Shad leapt backwards, shocked. He watched as a Mutant Lenny emerged from a pile of envelopes, face contorted into a glare.
"Who are you? No, don't answer that; I don't really care," the Lenny spat. "Why are you in my office?"
Shad ignored his question and looked around the room. Letters were seemingly coming out of the walls of the Lenny's rather large office. On his desk lay a few of these letters plus a few sheets of paper with scribbles and an oversized Lenny wing he seemed to be using as a quill.
"You look familiar," the Lenny said as he looked over the Lupe. "Do you work here?"
"Nah," replied Shad, sitting down. "I actually live on Mystery Island. But the Times branch there was closed this week for repairs so my owner sent me on a little trip. But you may have seen me in her comics? That's how most people know me."
The Lenny shook his head. "Whatever. I didn't ask for your life story. Look, kid, d'you got a letter for me, or are you just here to stare? I'm very busy; gotta get this column into Droplet by five or it won't make the deadline."
"Column?" Shad asked. "What sort of column?" For all the pieces his owner had had published in the Times, Shad usually just read the comics.
The Lenny shot a glare at him, only to meet the innocent gaze of Shad's yellow eyes. He sighed, picking up a pile of envelopes that had scattered over the floor. "Okay, kid, my name is Crabby. I'm a columnist of the Neopian Times. I write advice columns for the paper. Hey, what are you doing?"
The Lupe had trotted to the desk in the meantime, curiously gazing at the papers. "Sounds like fun. I'm here to submit a comic my owner drew. Will you take it?"
"Not my job," the Lenny retorted laconically. "Go grab a number and wait."
"I already did. It'll take ages." Shad's tail waved around, causing a pile of letters to wobble uneasily. "Can't you at least show me around a little? I've never been to this office before."
Crabby stared at him. A note in the Lupe's voice suggested that should he refuse, Shad would simply bug him until he agreed - or stick around and wreak havoc with the papers. The Lenny glanced at the half-finished work on his desk, and then eyed the Lupe.
"Eh, why not? It’s about time for my break anyways. Come on, haven't got all day here."
The two left the office, Crabby marching in front and Shad dallying behind him as he took in the sights around him, as much as he could see with all the Neopets running past him. The Lenny jerked his wing at the nearest door.
"There, the Articles department. Don't disturb them, got it? It's serious business."
Shad scoffed as he peered in through the window. The Neopets inside were playing games and taste-testing foods, and he distinctly heard a Yurble shout something odd about adding a "number 101" to their list. Serious indeed.
"C'mon, kid," Crabby muttered. "There're more interesting things to see."
Shad bounded after the Lenny, who dodged a Weewoo soaring through the cubicles. They passed by quite a few staff members scribbling furiously with whatever they could get their hands on--quills, pens, pencils, crayons, lipsticks. One writer, a Gelert, didn't even seem to notice a paper airplane sticking out of her matted fur. Judging by the amount of empty mugs surrounding her, Shad guessed she hadn't slept in days.
"Why's everyone so crazed about finishing their pieces as soon as possible?" asked the shadow Lupe. "These people look like they're here all the time."
Crabby sighed. "We receive so many submissions that it's hard for even us columnists to get our pieces published. The editor gets 300 to 400 articles a week, and most of those are from first-time writers. Can you imagine trying to get noticed in a group like that?"
Shad shook his head. "I never would have guessed that many people tried their hand at writing!"
Crabby nodded. "It's near impossible to get noticed. So these columnists work incredibly hard to get their pieces as perfect as they can. The better they are, the better the chances, as you can imagine."
The Lupe's ears twitched. "Ouch. No wonder I..." he sniffed the air. "I smell coffee. A lot of coffee."
Crabby nodded. "Our break room is farther down the hall. We have a special contract with the Coffee Shoppe, a discount 'cause we're regular customers. Speaking of which, those are some regular customers too. Watch your step and don't stare at them; they strongly dislike it."
Shad blinked as some half a dozen Meepits marched past him, disappearing into the crowd.
“There are way too many of those critters around if you ask me," grumbled the Lenny. "Not a single issue goes past without 'em. Moving on now, don't step on that Kacheek, he's been sleeping there for days now. A little longer and he becomes more famous than the white Weewoos."
Shad was carefully stepping over the Kacheek when a loud KA-CHUNK rang through the hallway. The Lupe froze, almost stumbling into a Fire Faerie who hurried past with a stack of papers.
"What was that?" he asked.
"The printing press," Crabby replied. He opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by another loud KA-CHUNK.
"They must be firing it up for the new issue," the Lenny said quickly, seeing that the KA-CHUNKs were coming more frequently now. "Come on, I'll show you," he shouted, beckoning Shad into an enormous room with huge machines spitting paper at a breakneck pace. The machines, though made of shimmering silver, were glittering with a pink aura.
"Enchanted," Crabby yelled as he followed Shad's gaze. "Faerie magic. Keeps 'em in tiptop shape. Interesting effect, mixing machines from the Space Station with magic. Those machines are impervious to nearly anything. Good thing too; it'd cause a riot if the Times wasn't delivered on time. Neopians are so impatient, I'm telling you."
"I can imagine," Shad yelled back, his ears moving back and forth. The presses sure were... well, impressive. The shadow Lupe slid closer to gaze at the tons of paper that disappeared into the machine. The scent of ink and paper shreds floated in the air.
"Careful there, you'll lose your nose that way!" shouted the Lenny. Shad leapt back quickly.
They left the presses and continued on their tour. The room they looked into, though only a few dozen feet away from the presses, was quiet and calm. The window was open, letting in a soft breeze and the cooing of white Weewoos. Numerous Neopets and a few Faeries were crouching on sofas, on the floor, and behind tables, each in the most comfortable position they could find, and drawing. Nobody looked up as the two peered in.
"The Art Department," whispered the mutant Lenny. "Where all those pretty custom images come from. Those are probably some of the most treasured staff members among the writers. Getting a custom image is a matter of luck; they either get inspiration or they don't; they either have time or they don't."
Shad blinked, gazing at the idyllic sight. "So... does the Comics department belong to this section as well?" he asked hopefully. The piece of paper tucked under his collar was still there, nagging on him with its presence.
"Nah, those people don't work with comics." Crabby closed the door again. "Comics are farther down the hall, and a lot noisier, I can tell you that."
Crabby kept moving, and Shad had no choice but to follow the Lenny for fear of getting lost forever in the labyrinth of the headquarters.
"Now, to your left you'll see the Short Stories department; those staff members read through the nonstop flood of short stories to find the very best. Quite a few are simply illegible, though, so that takes care of a lot. The best are taken to our editor who has the final selection, as with everything else that gets into the Times each week."
Shad was speechless. There were stacks of stories, and as they stood there watching quietly, another cart was rolled in with what looked like fifty more stories to sift through.
"So this editor," Shad began.
"Droplet," Crabby interrupted. As he said her name, a twinkle appeared in his eye, an odd thing to see in a Mutant Lenny. "Her name's Droplet."
"Right," Shad said, masking a smile. "So this Droplet. You mean to tell me she reads everything that gets into the newspaper each week? That's a ton!"
"No kidding," Crabby replied. "She's got a stressful job, but she pulls it off so well each week. She's a hero to us all." The twinkle had returned in his eye.
The shadow Lupe's ears twitched when he gazed at the piles of paper. "How many are there? I mean, I know more or less how many make it to the Times, but-"
"But ten times more make it to the office," said Crabby. "Some 300, 400 pieces per week. Now the series," he jerked at another room connected to the short story department, "they're not as much of a workload. Only forty something per week, and they're mostly well written. Those things take time and dedication, so the pieces that are actually finished are usually worth reading as well."
"Forty?" Shad scowled. "There seems to be a lot more than that."
"Well, the maximum is twelve chapters, you know? It's still a lot of paper. Now let’s go; not much more to see now.”
Crabby led Shad through a rather narrow hallway once more, this time ending up in an expansive room filled with numerous Lennies, Eyries, and Pteris.
"Our delivery crew," Crabby said proudly. "The largest assembly of flying Neopets in Neopia, all working for us."
"Why aren't you one of them?" Shad asked with a grin.
Crabby's proud smile evaporated as he glared at the Lupe. "Because I am better and smarter than that!" he shouted, perhaps just a little too loudly. The deliverymen and women quieted and stared angrily at Crabby, who smiled weakly. His attempt at smiling only seemed to anger them more.
"Maybe we should go," Shad muttered and backed slowly into the hallway they had come from. "Can you show me the comics department now?"
"If you insist," said the Lenny with a scowl, and pushed open another door quite near the end of the hallway. "Knock yourself out."
Whatever Shad had expected, it was far from the truth. The Comics department was nothing like the previous offices which, despite the mess in them, had radiated a sort of an order. The Comics section also had order, but it was different - colorful, vibrant, lively order. Neopets hurried to and fro, carrying huge stacks of paper.
"This place is three times as big as the other departments!" Shad's tail thumped against the floor.
"Yeah, because it gets the most submissions," said Crabby. "500-1,000 is pretty normal, as I've heard. I don't really come here. I deal with more serious stuff." He shot a glare at the colorful papers. "But it's the most popular section of the paper, so I guess people find use in these things."
"Oh, they're no less useful than any of the written pieces," said the Lupe. "Their purpose is just different."
Crabby shrugged. "Whatever you say. I still say they're too lazy to actually write something."
This time, the response was much faster. Hundreds of heads turned toward the Lenny in anger.
"Eh, keep your shirts on; I'm going, I'm going," he muttered as he backed out of the department. "I swear, everyone's out for my head today!"
Shad grinned. Twice in five minutes. That's got to be a new record or something. As he returned his attentions to the comic artists, the nagging presence of the paper under his collar came back. He slyly pulled the comic out, placed it on top of a stack and hurried to find the Lenny.
Crabby had already disappeared, though, and despite his good nose the Lupe didn't manage to pick his scent up either, seeing the multitude of smells. He snuck down the hallway, feeling strangely lost and out of place in that gigantic machine of Neopian info and entertainment. The Lupe peered into a few hallways, then gave up and simply leaped out of the nearest open window.
The white Weewoos on the roof watched as he pranced off over the lawn.
The sound of newspaper pages being turned woke Shad from his slumber. It had been a few days since he had returned from the headquarters, and his life had quickly slid back to the usual tracks, causing him to forget the little adventure pretty fast. But today, when Shad came to the living room, he was greeted with a surprised excitement from his owner.
"I don't know what you did at the headquarters, Shad, but that's the fastest I've ever had a comic published!"
Shad grinned. All too easy. "Hey, is there a Crabby column in there?" he asked. "I want to see if he managed to anger anyone else at the office."