"I think I'm being insulted." Steven leaned back in the leather chair and propped his feet up on a desk the size of his bed. "I just don't know if it's you doing the insulting, or the universe, or what."
A massive clock ticked away somewhere in the distance, echoing off of the dark wood that covered everything. Something from some rare or extinct tree, Steven guessed, although he knew that it could have been cheap artificial stuff like the furniture at Walmart and he wouldn't know the difference. On the other side of the desk his account manager sighed and wiped a handkerchief across a generous expanse of forehead. Steven thought yet again that the man reminded him of a cheap super villain with all that real estate above his eyes. The evil mastermind type, albeit a tired-looking one.
"Mister Odhner, I don't know what to tell you. You're not being insulted. It's just that I'm not able to grant your request at this time."
Steven used one foot to scrape the bottom of the other, leaving a little pile of dried mud from the treads of his shoe on the otherwise spotless desk. The account manager looked sadly at the mess, but didn't bother trying to clean it up.
"Let me get this straight. You're saying that in every possible universe every conceivable version of me is out of ideas? That I can't come up with a simple story?"
"Well, mister Odhner, recall that there are... conditions."
Steven arched an eyebrow at the little man. "You're kidding me, right?"
"I can refresh your memory..." he trailed off and Steven found his righteous anger fading somewhat. After all, he knew damn well that there were 'conditions' and if he could get over his annoyance for a moment it was clear what had happened. He just didn't think that it would happen so fast.
The account manager took his silence as a request to continue. "First of all, I am not suggesting none of them have ideas. Just not ones that they took the time to develop into stories. Secondly, many of the versions of you are either so similar that the stories are redundant or so dissimilar that they do not meet the minimum conditions of counting as 'you'."
Steven waved at him dismissively. "Fine, yeah, I get it. But it hasn't been that long. Surely one of them is still doing the project?" In fact it had been almost four years since Steven had started on his task to write a short story every day. He had run out of steam after four months, and had... outsourced... after that. The quality of his stories had increased and he had gathered readers in fits and starts as various sites online pointed to his blog. And then the talks with publishers...
"Well, no. None of them lasted more than a year."
There was silence in the room for a moment other than the metronome-ticking of the clock. Steven felt his anger boiling up once more, and tried to calm himself.
"You've been running on empty for three years and never told me?"
The man shrugged. "We've been mining through for different versions of stories, and some continued to post one here or there as time went on. All told with the natural variation it didn't start to get desperate until last month. You never asked. Did you really think that you were the only version of yourself that gives up on projects? Most stopped shortly after you did. Only a quarter of them made it to six months, and just a handful to a year." The man opened a drawer and pulled out a folder, which he slid across the desk. "We can expand the search somewhat, include other writers than yourself. Even a minor change in scope would ensure you have stories to last you the rest of your life, and we would continue to offer our editing services to keep the quality at the levels you've come to expect."
Steven took his feet off of the desk and leaned forward to look in the folder. The new price was a hundred times what he had already paid. "I knew this would happen," he said. "That things would be great and then you would find a way to make me need more, to give you everything. I knew it was a trap."
"Mister Odhner, I assure that everything has been -"
Steven cut him off with a glare. "I know, it's all there in black and white. My choice. But it's still a trap."
The account manager sighed, and swiped at his head with the handkerchief again. "You can write them yourself. Of course, our editing agreement won't apply."
"No, you know I can't do that. Fine. Fine, I'll pay your fee. But I wish you would just take my soul like a normal demon."
The account manager watched Steven sign the paper, a disturbing light in his eyes. "No, mister Odhner. I'm still not interested in your soul. Schedule the camera crew with my secretary, I'd like to get the videos on YouTube by the start of the month. We will provide the scripts - such as they are - and the props. You will, as before, need to pay for your own medical bills. I would suggest wearing a cup this time."
Steven stormed out and the account manager swept the dried mud off of his desk into a wastebasket. After a moment, he picked up the phone and dialed an extension starting with 666.
"Chauncey? It's Finnegan, just calling to gloat. I've got some more slapstick on the way, really humiliating stuff... oh, yes, bring that up again. I don't care if Jackass Five didn't do well in the theaters... You may be ahead online so far, but in the long run you'll see - the humans prefer people getting hit in the groin, not your stupid cat videos."