He paced, barking his orders as they came to his head to the purple Grundo sitting nearby. The Grundo frantically wrote, and a bead of sweat dropped down his forehead. He ignored it- to take his hands away from the paper to try to wipe the small, salty river away would be mutiny.
"It has to be completely unoriginal. Completely, utterly, unoriginal. And I want all the sharing and kindness possible. Only way they'll accept it, I'm sure. Make it- what's the word, 14118?"
The Grundo paused, his pencil comically frozen in the middle of a letter. "Cheesy, sir? Bland?"
"Both of those," he said dismissively. "I want it perfect." A grin that could only be described as evil took to his green face.
The plan was simple- get into issue 550, make a profit off of whatever it was that they gave those that got into one of the so-called 'special' issues. Make it perfect. Even though he had never actually read the Neopian Times, he was sure of the content- blatantly friendshipy- that was a word now- and pretty and all sorts of other dumb things. The only times he'd even touched it were to read the editorials, to see what evil plans he'd have to make to counteract whatever it was that they were trying next, and the Sloth Day issues.
How he loved the Sloth Day issues.
The Grundo frantically scribbled in the last few words and slammed down the pencil, forcing Sloth out of his reverie. 14118 ran out of the room with the note as if Kadoaties were on his tail- Sloth had been known to come up with some very interesting punishments if things did not go as quickly or as smoothly as he wanted.
"I dunno, Cris." The yellow Grundo eyed 14118 skeptically. "That's a pretty tall order. 1,200 words? And then we have to submit it, and actually get it in? Does he know how many people try to get into that issue?"
14118, apparently also known as Cris, shrugged. "Sheila, you know him. He doesn't do any research."
Sheila sighed and turned her back on Cris. She shouted out so the whole lower level could hear above the various clanks of pipes and whirrs of machinery.
"Alright! Short story, NT, I need ideas! Now!"
She turned back to Cris, "And I'll want something from you, too. You're one of the more intelligent ones- that's why you're the one he picked to tell the one he picked to shout things- me- about his plans. So, hopefully, between the two of us and who knows how many others now, we can come up with something great that'll be sure to keep us from getting dunked 5.6 times in Asparagus Yogurt. Deal?"
Cris nodded and comically saluted her. "Yes, sir, Dr. Sloth!"
There was a pause just long enough to be considered dramatic, and the two subsided into giggles.
There were few upsides to working for Sloth- mocking his rules was one of them.
Sheila groaned, slumping her head onto the dusty, slightly rotten desk she had stolen- ahem, borrowed- from the third floor closet.
"No, no, no, that's horrible! It's too exciting for Dr. Sloth's rules, and the grammar could've been better if done by a baby! I mean, the pronouns alone! Out of my sight."
The white Grundo looked crestfallen. He dragged away, sending hurt looks to the others in a long line of Grundos still waiting to be judged. They returned the look blankly, holding their small packets of paper in the same uniform position- in their right hand, down by their side. Being forced to act exactly the same as everyone else doesn't wear off easily.
"He'll never read it, Sheila. You know that, right?" Cris offered helpfully from his spot at the left-hand side of the desk, where his job was to give encouragement and scan over the ones she thought might be good enough to submit. So far, he hadn't had the chance to do either.
She looked at him, her eyes weary. "Hmm?"
Cris smiled triumphantly and held up a few pieces of paper. "Almost done. You'll like it, I'm sure. It's only about halfway done though- and you can't see it until we submit it and it gets in."
Sheila stared at him. "What?"
Cris frowned in thought. "Never mind. You can see it- it's just not done yet. It'll all make sense soon, just trust me. Keep going with all of the looking-for-ideas. Have you finished yours yet?"
Without looking away from the next Grundo in line, a rather small green one that looked scared out of her wits, she held up her own pages. He pulled them away from her and read.
Insert slight pause, in which Cris's forehead furrowed and his mouth twitched, as though trying to keep in a smile.
"Sheila? Umm... You know this is a sentence and two blank sheets of paper, right?"
She sighed tiredly, snatching the next story from the aforementioned tiny terrified Grundo. "Yeah."
Cris paused, deliberating whether it was actually a good idea to press further. He took note of her annoyed look, remembered how fun it was to anger others sometimes...
And silently gave it back to her.
It was Sheila he was thinking about, after all.
"Cris, you're missing another three hundred words, at least! What... why...?" Sheila seemed at a complete loss of words.
Unusual for her, Cris thought with a small smile, before remembering where he was, who he was talking to, and why she was so mad. He cleared his throat, took the papers away from here and produced a pencil from who-knew-where, before scribbling in another few paragraphs or so. He handed it back to her without a word.
"This is still not enough, Cris! What are you trying to- oh." She came to a complete stop. "Oh. Ohhhh. I get it. It's still- it's in progr- Okay." She took a moment to study him with a devious grin on her face. "You're quite the smart Grundo, Dr. Cris."
He took a small bow, returning the smile. "Why thank you, Ms. Sheila. Now get back to work!"
They took a moment to chuckle gently before Cris, almost impulsively, snatched the paper back from Sheila and penciled in a couple more sentences.
He outright grinned madly. "This is going to be great!"
Congratulations! Your entry (Mission: 550) has been selected to appear in a future issue of the Neopian Times. A shiny trophy has been added to your user lookup. Thank you for contributing to the Neopian Times!
The Neopets Team
Grundo 14118 handed the Neomail over to Sloth, hiding a look that could almost be considered sly. He brushed his hands off almost unnoticeably.
Dr. Sloth eyed the little piece of paper in his hands.
"I knew it!" he trumpeted gleefully. "I knew I could get in if I tried hard enough!"
Cris didn't say a word. He knew that he wouldn't get any credit, or any of the profit Sloth would, sadly enough, make off of the story. He wouldn't be congratulated for what was essentially predicting the future, since he had to guess what would happen- when he wrote the story, it was a total shot in the dark as to whether they had made it in or not. Just lightly skimming over the paradoxes involved with writing about yourself receiving a letter about the writing about yourself could blow quite a few minds.
But somehow, it wasn't hard to guess that in just a little bit of time he and Sheila would be holding a party and laughing over the fact that his story ended up being about Sloth ordering them to write a story, and that Sloth would never even know. That thought was priceless.
And somehow, that was enough.