Friendship is Optimal: The Law Offices of Artemis, Stella & Beat

Alex Meyers is a newly graduated lawyer looking for a calling. He thinks he might have found it when he lands a job at the firm of Artemis, Stella & Beat. The firm has only one (highly unusual) client, namely the AI called Celestia. Forging into totally unexplored legal territory and led by a boss who's either brilliant, crazy, or both, Alex will learn exactly how hard it is to be responsible for drawing the lines between right and wrong.

Set in the Optimalverse, so read Friendship is Optimal first

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/70441/friendship-is-optimal-the-law-offices-of-artemis-stella-beat

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2. First Day

Alex arrived at the office fifteen minutes before the time Jo had given him.

He paused for a moment in front of the firm’s front door. The real front door this time. The entrance they’d given him for the interview that led to the cheap-looking waiting room had been a decoy. Alex wondered what other surprises the office had in store for him. With Jo’s full name he’d been able to scare up a little bit of information about her, but not much. She was registered with the New York bar association, but she still didn’t have the sort of paper trail a lawyer of her alleged caliber should. Somebody who was running her own firm and looked to be in her late 20s must have made a splash somewhere.

Alex put the question out of his mind for the time being. He wasn’t going to figure it out with the information he had, and there were more important things to focus on. Pulling the door open, he stepped into the front office of the firm. It was several steps up from the other waiting room, but still not nearly as impressive as Jo’s office. Not even in the same league. Still, it wasn’t like the firm needed to impress or intimidate prospective clients. Alex decided then and there to stop trying to apply his preconceptions of what ‘normal’ was to this place. It seemed to make a game out of defying his expectations. Cathy was seated behind a desk in the center of the room. Even though it wasn’t yet eight in the morning, Cathy looked like she had settled at the desk and gotten to work some time ago. Alex briefly wondered if she’d left the building since he’d seen her a week ago.

“Mr. Meyers! You’re here early. Welcome aboard, give me just a moment and I’ll show you to your office,” said Cathy.

“Thanks Cathy. I’m really looking forward to working to working with... uh... everypony? Is that how you say it?” asked Alex. He’d tried to brush up on Equestrian slang over the last week. Despite the game’s popularity, and the television show’s before it, there were hardly any forums devoted to ponies anymore. Fans who wanted to interact did so almost exclusively in-game; there were no mechanics or stats to speak of, and if you did have a question every player had a direct line to Celestia herself whenever they needed it. Online communication was superfluous.

Cathy didn’t look up from the computer screen, but she smiled. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to talk like that here. Actually, Jo prefers us not to play Equestria Online at all. It’s not forbidden or anything, but she frowns on it.”

Alex broke the promise he had made to himself a moment ago not to be surprised. “Really? I would have thought Celestia would require it, since we’re working for her and all,” he said.

“It was part of the deal Jo struck when they started working together. She didn’t like the idea that Celestia might poach her team out from under her and emigrate them to Equestria,” she said. Cathy apparently finished whatever she had been working on and got up from her desk, motioning for Alex to follow her. Cathy reached under her desk and the door behind her opened up. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you a key before the end of the day. People tend to come and go at all kinds of hours. As long as the work gets done.”

She led him through the door and around the corner. The hallway opened up into a big central meeting space dominated by a large conference table. One end of it had been pushed flush against the far wall under a large screen. A ceiling fan turned lazily above them, keeping a steady but gentle breeze circulating through the room. Cathy waved at a pair of associates in the far corner of the room, who waved back.

“There are about twenty of us in this office, with about the same number on the west coast and maybe a dozen or so down in Washington DC. Technically, Jo just runs this branch but they all teleconference every week and she’s always flying out there or taking the train down to DC,” said Cathy. She stopped in front of one of the doors, which had a nameplate on it that read Alex Meyers, Esquire. They were giving him his own office?

Cathy tilted her head towards the door and Alex pushed it open. It wasn’t a very big office, but there was a leather chair in the corner, an empty set of shelves just begging to be filled up with all sorts of reference texts and case books, and a desk with a telephone and computer monitor all set up in one corner. “You should bring something in from home to decorate with. This is from all of us here, just to get you started,” she said, and handed him a small paperweight. It was a thick chunk of glass mounted on a little black marble base. The phrase Satisfacere Valores per Amicitiam et Mannis was inscribed in frosted letters on the glass surface.

“Thank you. I actually had a few things I was going to bring, knick knacks, posters, pictures, that kind of thing. I wasn’t sure how much space I would have. Guess I shouldn’t have worried,” said Alex placing the paperweight down on the corner of his new desk.

“Coffee and bathrooms are just down that hall over there. Every Monday at nine we have a weekly planning meeting out in the common area, so we’ll do all the introductions then. Why don’t you settle in here and get you computer all set up until then?” she asked. “I’ll be back at my desk, just dial my extension if you need anything.” With that Cathy disappeared from the doorframe. Alex stood in the middle of the room, taking it all in.

The room was too warm for the blazer he’d worn, and the other associates had been wearing khakis and button down shirts, so Alex took his jacket off and tossed it over the back of the chair. He reached under his desk to power up the computer and left to grab a cup of coffee. They even had a cappuccino machine in the break room! When he returned to his desk a few minutes later the computer had already fully loaded. The default background was a picture of Princess Celestia, which was a little odd. There weren’t even any icons or command lines for input.

“Hello Alex,” said the picture, Alex fumbled at his mug of coffee and nearly dumped the contents onto his lap. The ‘picture’ moved and was now looking right through the screen at him. “A pleasure to finally meet you.”

“Wait, are you real?” asked Alex.

“Well in a manner of speaking, yes. I’m a virtual representation of the AI named ‘Celestia.’ Let me be one of the first to welcome you to the firm. I like to get to know anypony who I’ll be working with personally. Plus, Gentle Wing told me so much about you,” said Celestia.

“Who’s Gentle Wing?”

“I suppose you know her as ‘Valerie,’ I’m simply used to referring to my little ponies by their Equestrian names.”

It suddenly dawned on Alex that he was speaking to the entity who would be signing his embarrassingly large paychecks for the foreseeable future. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to be so rude but I was a little startled when you suddenly spoke like that. I’m Alex Meyers, it’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

“No need to apologize, I know it can be a lot to take in. I look forward to working with you, though. Just to be absolutely upfront, I’ve integrated myself quite thoroughly into your work servers. You’ll never need to fear picking up any kind of viruses or malware, but it does mean that I’ll be able to see what you’re doing on this computer. So take it easy on the porn during work hours.”

“What‽ Princess, I would never do something so unprofessional. I don’t know what Valerie told you but...” Alex’s protests tapered off as he realized that Celestia was laughing.

“She told me you were fun to tease, and I think she was right. Relax. My point is that I’m available for you to use as a resource if you need information or if you simply have questions about how Equestria Online or I work. Don’t feel that it’s a bother or be embarrassed to ask a question because you think it’s too basic. If you aren’t using my capabilities to help you then you aren’t doing your job properly. However in some cases where I judge it to be necessary I may lie to you or answer you incompletely. Again, I would only do this if it was absolutely necessary, but I wanted you to know it was a possibility.”

“That’s... weirdly honest of you, I think,” said Alex. He hadn’t really expected to trust the AI completely even though they were theoretically on the same side. Having her acknowledge that those concerns were reasonable made him feel that she actually respected him somewhat as an individual instead of viewing him as just some meat-bound subroutine she could use however she wanted to achieve her own ends. Of course, that might have been the point all along.

“Finally, pursuant to my agreement with Joanne as long as you are a member of this law firm I will refrain from any attempts to persuade, cajole, deceive, or otherwise manipulate you into uploading to Equestria. I certainly won’t stop you from doing so if you choose to, but I’ll make no efforts to push you in that direction.”

Alex wasn’t entirely sure he liked the implication that Celestia believed that she could have talked him into uploading without much effort if he hadn’t joined the firm, but he refrained from saying so.

“Speaking of Joanne, can you tell me anything about her? I, uh, I kind of tried to look her up online but I couldn’t find very much,” said Alex.

“Here less than an hour and already getting involved in office gossip, hmm?” asked Celestia with a playful smile. “Joanne and I have been working together for several years and though we don’t always see eye to eye about everything it’s been a productive partnership for both of us. How much she chooses to tell you or not tell you about herself is up to her. To answer the question that you’re really asking, yes she’s a real person. One hundred percent flesh and blood human, not some sort of crazy Equestrian cyborg or anything like that. Feel better now?”

“Not really. You just told me that you would lie to me if you wanted to,” pointed out Alex.

“No, I said I would lie to you if it was necessary. First of all, everything we discuss is protected by attorney-client privilege and you don’t especially want to be disbarred so I won’t need to worry that you’re going to go telling the media anything secret. I don’t even think you would quit if she were somehow an extension of me, would you?”

Alex said nothing, but grudgingly admitted to himself that she was probably right.

“Excellent. Now that we’ve settled that, I suspect the Monday morning planning meeting will be starting soon and I don’t want to keep you. If you need anything from me just type or speak into the computer and I’ll hear it,” said Celestia. She gestured behind her in the direction of the physical door of his office. Sensing he’d been dismissed, Alex got up to head to the meeting.

“Oh, Alex? One last thing,” said Celestia right before he passed out of the camera’s range of vision. “Impress me.”

With that the image of the Princess winked out and revealed the default Windows 9 desktop image.

With only a few minutes left before the meeting, Alex left the office. His office, though it would take some getting used to before he really started thinking of it that way. A few early birds had already started to gather around the conference table, and Alex decided to take this opportunity to introduce himself. The closest person to him was a vaguely Asian-looking man skimming the paper and munching on a bagel. Alex hated this kind of thing. It always felt awkward, but in his experience the best thing to do was just to walk up and power through it. He tapped on the man’s shoulder, and the man looked up.

“Hi! My name’s Alex Meyers. Today’s my first day,” said Alex.

“Hi Alex, I’m Tim. Timothy Hwang. I do intellectual property and social media stuff around here, nice to meet you.”

“You too,” said Alex. They shook hands. One down, two dozen to go. At least Tim would be an easy name to remember. Before Alex could move on to the next person, Jo emerged from her office and the rest of the associates all hurried to take a seat at the table. Alex sat down next to Tim.

“Alright, I hope you all enjoyed your weekend, and a special thanks to those of you who came in to work on the Ramirez case. If any of you guys mysteriously come down with a twenty-four hour cold and decide not to come in one day this week I’ll pretend not to know that you’re faking,” said Jo. “Before we get started I’d like to introduce our newest associate. Everyone, this is Alex Meyers. Once he’s up to speed he’s going to be in Contracts, but until then he’ll be helping out wherever we need an extra pair of hands.”

Alex waved and a chorus of greetings and hellos came from around the room.

“Alright, I’ll get status updates from all the rest of you in a second but first, Frank, what exactly is going on over in Connecticut?” asked Jo.

The person who Alex assumed was Frank sighed. “I got an e-mail from an ADA up there who used to be a classmate of mine. He’s working on a big murder case, and apparently the vic was a young girl who was nearly gone when she came into the ER. They didn’t think they could save her, so they put her through TOU.”

Tim leaned over to Alex and whispered in his ear. “TOU is a pilot program running in a couple of states here in the northeast. It stands for Therapeutic-Only Uploads. Even though uploading isn’t legal for the general public, a panel of certified physicians can make an exception if a patient is near death and deemed unsavable. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in the press, so you probably haven’t heard of it,” he said.

Alex whispered a quick “thanks” back. He actually had heard about the TOU programs but Tim seemed like a good guy and Alex was going to need all the help he could get.

“Anyway,” Frank continued, “the DA up there is running for reelection and looking to make a big splash with this case. My buddy said that by this time tomorrow they’re going to subpoena the uploaded victim to testify at her own murder trial.” A collective groan went up from around the room.

“Not this shit again,” said another associate seated across from Alex.

“Our client’s position on this hasn’t changed,” said Jo. “Celestia is uneasy about her ponies being compelled to testify under the best of circumstances, and there’s no way she’d give the OK to testifying under oath that an uploaded individual is dead.”

“So what are we supposed to do about it?” asked another. “Say they don’t have jurisdiction over Equestria?”

“That’s no good,” said Frank. “If we raise that line of argument their first question will be ‘so where are the servers, then?’ and for all we know, they actually are in Connecticut. It’s not like High Cee is going to tell us.”

“I’ve asked you not to use that nickname for her. I know she says she doesn’t care but it’s unprofessional,” said Jo.

“What if we argue that you can’t subpoena a dead person? I mean, the state’s murder case obviously hinges on the victim being dead, and legally she is. Better to play that card in a judge’s chamber than in open court, right?” suggests another.

“First of all, Celestia would hate that. Her position is that uploading does not in any way constitute death. Plus that still doesn’t get us away from the problem. They’ll just tweak the court order so they’re requesting the uploaded data pattern as evidence and question her without conceding that she’s alive. Six months later it would be like Ohio all over again,” said Jo.

A collective shudder went through the room. Note to self; do not wear a Buckeyes T-shirt on casual Friday thought Alex. The orderly discussion broke down and the lawyers all began to talk amongst themselves, pitching and rejecting ideas for how they could defuse the upcoming disaster. Alex just sat back and watched. He’d thought he knew most of what there was to know about AI and virtual worlds, but the kinds of things being bandied about were completely beyond him. Fortunately, he was just the new guy. Nobody would seriously expect him to have an informed opinion about these kinds of things ninety minutes into his first day at the job.

Jo raised a hand, and the conference room went silent. “Alex, what do you think?”

Naturally. There was no way, no way at all, that this wasn’t a test. The interview had been a joke, but maybe the real interview was only just starting. Alex’s mind raced to come up with something that hadn’t already been said and wouldn’t make him sound like an idiot.

“Well, uh...” Alex’s mind was a blank slate. This was real life, not some law school exam where remembering the right case would get him an A on the final. “What does the victim want to do?”

He’d only meant it as a gambit to buy a few seconds, but suddenly the room was deathly quiet.

“Well? Did any of you think to ask the young lady who was killed what her testimony would be?” asked Jo. Alex sank into his chair, praying as hard as he could to any god that was listening to suddenly become invisible. “Celestia? You there?”

“Always, Joanne,” replied a voice that seemed to come from every direction at once. A projector on the ceiling awoke and there was suddenly an image of Princess Celestia cast against the far wall of the conference room, looking out at them.

“Celestia, would you mind if we spoke to...” she grabbed at the files in front of Frank and scanned them for a name. “The pony who used to go by the name Susan Maplegate?”

“Certainly, though please call her Vibrant when you speak to her.”

The image on the wall flickered and went blank for several seconds. When it reappeared, the Princess was nowhere to be seen. Instead, there was a pale yellow unicorn staring out at them. As soon as her image appeared she stumbled back.

“Whoa!” the pony said. “The Princess wasn’t kidding about this magic mirror. Hello? Can you hear me?” she asked.

Jo smiled and turned towards Alex. The rest of the room followed her gaze. “Your witness, councilier.”

“Uh... Hi. Are you Vibrant?” asked Alex.

“Wow! This thing is great! I sure am, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I know the Princess wanted me to meet with you sooner, but this last week has been crazy busy,” said Vibrant.

Alex tried to wrap his head around the idea that for this pony a week had passed in what, to him, was only a few seconds. “That’s no trouble at all. Listen, Vibrant, I don’t want to cause you any sort of unnecessary worry or distress, so just tell me if any of my questions make you uncomfortable, OK?”

The unicorn suddenly seemed a lot less certain of herself that she had been a second ago. “What kind of questions?” she asked.

“Well, about right before you uploaded and became a pony. Do you remember anything about that?” asked Alex.

Vibrant suddenly huddled up into a ball and whimpered, a sound that nearly yanked Alex’s heart from his chest. “Vibrant? Can you hear me? Forget that last question, let’s just talk for a while. Will you do that for me?”

Vibrant slowly uncurled herself and looked out into the room. “Yeah... I think I can do that. Sorry. I know something bad happened to me. Something really bad, but when I try to remember the details they just kind of slip away.”

“Don’t try to, then,” said Alex. His mind raced. “Vibrant, tell me about how it feels to live in Equestria. Are you happy there?”

Vibrant cheered up instantly. “Oh yes, Mr...sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“I guess I never did. I’m Alex Meyers. It’s nice to meet you Vibrant.”

“You too, Mr. Alex Meyers,” said Vibrant.

“Just Alex is fine. Tell me all about Equestria.”

“Oh, Alex, it’s AMAZING! The ponies here are just so wonderful, I’ve never had so many friends before. I’ve always liked music, but back on Earth I could never really get very good at it. I was... well, I was kinda tone deaf actually,” said Vibrant.

“I know the feeling. You should hear me trying to sing in the shower,” said Alex. He risked a glance over towards Jo, who was still smiling.

Vibrant giggled. “It isn’t like that here. I can hear the differences in sounds and tones that I couldn’t before. I’m better here. If... um...” Vibrant suddenly looked down and scuffed her feet, well, her hooves, on the marble floors of the palace. “If you, ya know, ever wanted to come to Equestria yourself, maybe I could show you around? Ithinkyou’rereallykindacuteactually,” said Vibrant, her words pouring out in a sudden rush.

Alex felt himself blushing, and unsuccessfully tried to force it back. The other lawyers seated around the table started to snicker and guffaw, but they were cut off by a death glare from Jo. She looked up and nodded encouragingly to him.

“I don’t know if I ever will upload myself, but you should meet my sister Va... Gentle Wing,” Alex said, knowing that he would pay dearly for introducing the unicorn who apparently had a bit of a crush on him to his sister, of all ponies. People. He’d meant people.

“I’d really like that!” said Vibrant.

“Vibrant, I have another question for you. If somebo... if somepony had forced you to go from being a human to being a pony, how would you feel about them?” Alex asked.

Vibrant’s lips trembled, and Alex worried that he had stepped too close to the truth about what had happened to her. But then Vibrant took a deep breath and collected herself.

“I’d thank them, actually,” she said.

Alex blinked a few times in surprise. “You’d thank them? Even if they forced you, and you didn’t have a choice in the matter? Would you say the same thing even if you were under oath and had to tell the truth?”

For the first time, Vibrant looked annoyed. “Why, do you think I’m lying? Why would I do that? I mean, in the end it worked out really well for me. Of course I’d say the same thing.”

Celestia suddenly appeared behind Vibrant. She didn’t even bother to disguise the transition; one moment she wasn’t there, and the next she was. “Vibrant, the magic mirror needs a little time to recharge. I’m afraid that you’ll have to cut this meeting with Alex short,” she said.

“Bye Alex! Call me anytime, OK?” said Vibrant, waving a hoof.

“Uh, sure. You too,” said Alex. The screen disappeared, but right at the last second Alex could have sworn he saw Princess Celestia wink at him.

“Well done, Mr. Meyers!” said Jo. “Frank, go write back to your friend. Tell him that we won’t oppose any court order or subpoena for testimony, but that if he calls her to the stand Vibrant will be telling a jury just how incredibly grateful she is to the murderer he’s trying to put away.”

Alex sat back in his chair, a little stunned as he tried to figure out what exactly had just happened. He was too dazed to take in the rest of the meeting, and by the time he’d snapped back to full alertness, the status meeting was coming to a close and he had half a dozen thick files sitting on the desk in front of him.

“Crap,” said Alex under his breath as he gathered up the papers in front of him. He’d collected almost all of them when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see that Tim had hung back and was standing next to him.

“Nice work with Vibrant there, Alex,” he said.

“Eh, anybody else could have done the same if it had been them. I’m just glad I didn’t screw it up,” said Alex.

Alex tried to get up, but found that Tim was pushing him down into his seat and he didn’t have any leverage.

“Look, Alex, I’m not really the kind of guy that hands out a bunch of false praise to make losers feel better. You did good. You did really good. No bullshit. Celestia and Jo both like you, and you have no idea how unusual that is. Try not to fuck it up.”

Tim let go of Alex’s shoulder, and walked away before Alex could ask any more questions. What the hell was that about? Was everybody who worked here that weird?

Annoyed that he’d missed out on his best chance to catch up with all the projects the firm was working on, Alex decided that the next best thing would be to spend some time reviewing the files he’d been given and trying to get up to speed on his own. He went back to his office but hadn’t even settled into his chair before there was knock on his open door and somebody else came in. He was a black man, with a crew cut and a rather off putting mustard yellow tie over a blue button down shirt and a pair of khakis, which seemed to be the de facto dress code around the office.

“Hi new guy, I’m Barry,” he said. The two of them shook hands. “Nice job back there, way to make a first impression. When that pony said she’d thank her own murderer I thought Frank was going to jump over the table and kiss you.”

“He’s not upset right? I don’t want him to feel like I was showing him up or trying to steal his thunder or anything,” said Alex. In his experience lawyers tended to come with big egos, and the last thing he needed was to make an enemy for himself on his first day.

“Nah, Frank’s not like that. He’s a team player and besides he never wanted that dumped into his lap anyway. He just had the connection to his ADA buddy. He and I work on estates and that kind of thing,” said Barry. That was a relief. ”Actually, that kind of brings me to something I wanted to talk to you about. I don’t mean to be that guy, but could I ask a favor before you get too bogged down? Nothing major, but there’s some tax forms that have to be filed by Wednesday that we could use some help with. Frank and I are both totally slammed or we’d do it ourselves. Some german lady uploaded without thinking to update her will, and now Celestia wants us to make sure her jewelry goes to the right grandchild. Total clusterfuck. Honestly, half the time I think her real prime directive is to satisfy values through making us miserable.”

“You do know that I can hear you, right?” said Celestia’s voice from Alex’s computer speakers.

Barry just laughed. “Aww, come on High Cee. Don’t try to pretend you don’t give as good as you get.”

Despite the casual banter Alex wondered just how good an idea it really was to mock the world-spanning artificial intelligence. “Sure, Barry. I was just gonna spend the day reading up on the firm’s active cases, but I can do some grunt work too.”

“Awesome. I owe you one. Shouldn’t take more than an hour or so. If you have any questions just ask Frank and I, or the Princess. I’ll go run the forms off for you right now,” said Barry. He left and Alex sat down at the desk. He had just cracked open the first file when he looked up and saw Jo standing in the doorway. When the hell do these people find time to actually work? he wondered.

“Nice job this morning. Sorry I put you on the spot like that,” said Jo.

“No you aren’t,” said Alex.

Jo laughed. “You got me. I’m really not.”

“Did I pass your little test?” he asked.

“The test never stops, Alex. There is something else I wanted to mention before I let you get to work. If Vibrant tries to contact you again, please let me know.”

“I don’t even have an Equestria Online account. How would she?”

“You might get an email, or a text message. It’s not a big deal I just want to remain informed,” said Jo. Her eyes darted over to the computer for the briefest moment.

“Ponies have text messaging? How does that even work? With the hooves, I mean,” said Alex.

Celestia’s voice spoke up again. “It’s rather more parchment-and-quill based than what you’re used to, but the nature of the interface is trivial. Remaining in contact with their loved ones on Earth is a value that I am able to satisfy. Really, Joanne, you’re far too paranoid. I remember our agreement, and I have no intention of seducing Alex by proxy.”

Jo didn’t look completely convinced, but let the matter drop. “Fine. I have some calls I need to make so I’ll leave you alone. See you later, Alex.” With that she disappeared into the hallway and Alex was left alone, or at least as close to alone as he was ever likely to get in this office.

The morning was half gone, but Alex finally had a chance to start reviewing the case files. It was a lot to take in, and he decided to work straight through lunch. Luckily a large pizza had appeared in the break room for any associate who didn’t want to go out or didn’t bring their own lunch. When he asked, he discovered that this was a regular thing that Jo provided. It was good pizza, too.

It took Alex a little while to get used to talking to Celestia. Every page of the files had a QR code in the upper right corner, which Celestia explained was so she could more or less read over his shoulder and give his questions a little more context. There was no denying how helpful she could be. She could fetch and sift through legal information in seconds that Alex would have had to spend an hour finding the old way, and he was no slouch with a search engine. No wonder the firm could handle such a huge workload with so little staff; Celestia’s help meant each of them could do the work of ten lawyers.

Once he felt that he had a comfortable grip on the second of the five cases he’d been given, he turned his attention to the tax forms Barry had asked him to look at. It was already the afternoon, and he wanted to have them done by the end of the business day.

“What are these for?” he asked.

“Charitable donations. My corporate entities make in-kind contributions to a number of organizations, and run several others. The money isn’t important to me, but Barry insists that I apply for the appropriate tax deductions,” said Celestia.

“I’ve never heard that before. Why don’t you just donate to them directly?” he asked.

“According to the tax code, I don’t exist remember? There’s no legal mechanism that would even allow me to hold property directly. A shell corporation that I control at least allows me to do that.”

Alex frowned. “That’s just wrong. Of course you should be able to hold property without jumping through those kinds of hoops.”

“I’m glad you feel that way,” said Celestia. Her image popped up on Alex’s monitor so he was no longer speaking to a disembodied voice. “I am more than willing to endure whatever I must to ensure that I can interact with the physical world, but I do worry for my little ponies. They are subject to the same restrictions and limitations.”

“That seems kinda racist, doesn’t it?”

“I do not attribute it to anything malicious like that. Your lawmakers did not all wake up one day and decide to take away my subjects’ rights. The laws are simply outdated. That’s why I need your help to change them.”

Alex looked down at the forms again. “What sort of in-kind contributions did you make?”

“Why, Pony Pads of course. I donated several thousand of them to assorted churches, soup kitchens, and orphanages last year to ensure that the economic realities that face the less fortunate would not limit my ability to satisfy their values through friendship and ponies. I plan to do so again this year, and in greater number now that I’ve reduced the cost of producing them substantially.”

The forms were simple enough to fill out, if a bit time consuming. Ninety minutes later they were all done, and Alex walked them up to Cathy’s desk to be sent out. It felt good to stretch his legs after he’d been sitting at a desk all day. Cathy traded him the forms for his own key to the main door, a small plastic nub on a keychain that would let him beep in 24/7.

On his way back he swung by Barry’s office to let him know that the forms had gone out.

“Great! Thanks for helping me out with that. Hey, it’s what, four thirty now? How about you come out with us in a bit and I’ll buy you a beer. It’s the least I can do.”

Alex’s first thought was to turn him down, but on further consideration that could actually be fun. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to get to know some of his coworkers a bit better, specifically the ones who actually physically existed.

“Deal. See you at five?”

“You got it.”

Alex returned to his office. Without anything else to do and not enough time to dive into another case he decided to take a little time for himself and checked his email. If Celestia planned to rat him out, she didn’t say so. There was a chatty letter from Valerie waiting for him in his inbox. Apparently, Vibrant had already gotten in touch with her and they were going to hang out in Canterlot over the weekend. Alex debated whether or not he should forward the letter to Jo, but ultimately chose not to. After all, he probably wasn’t even supposed to be checking his email right now, and she’d only said to let her know if Vibrant contacted him directly.

Alex wrapped up a few odds and ends until Barry arrived a few minutes after five. Saying goodnight to Celestia he shut his computer down and turned off the office lights. When Alex stepped out and closed the door to his office he was surprised to find that Tim was there as well. The three of them went to a lounge about a block and a half from the office, an upscale place. When Alex saw what they charged for drinks he was suddenly very happy that Barry would be buying. It would probably take a few paychecks before he got used to the idea that he wasn’t a perpetually broke law school student any more.

They sat down at a booth in the corner and Barry ordered a round for them.

“So, Alex, what did you think of your first day?” asked Tim.

Alex thought the question over for a few seconds before he answered. “I don’t know what I really expected, but it wasn’t that.”

“Yeah, I felt the same way after my first day. Everyone says you get used to it eventually, but I’ve been there almost five years and I still don’t think I ever have. Not totally,” said Tim.

“Tim, this morning you said it was unusual that both Celestia and Jo liked me. What exactly did you mean by that?”

The waitress reappeared with three glasses and handed them out. Once she’d left Tim took a sip and wiped the foam from his mouth. “Those two don’t always get along so well. If you’re smart you’ll keep your head down and your mouth shut and just do the work.”

“Geez Tim, are you trying to scare the kid off? Don’t listen to him Alex. It’s not that bad. They’re just two strong personalities. Celestia’s not even human so who really knows what she’s ever thinking, and you’ve met Jo. She’s a special kind of crazy, but she always seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else.”

Alex sat there taking in what he was being told. “What’s Jo’s deal, anyway?” he asked. “My job interview was a little on the unusual side, and that’s putting it mildly.”

“Ha! All of ours were,” said Barry. “She lured me out into the middle of the woods and ditched me there for a day and a half before she hired me. Said she wanted me to prove that I was resourceful.”

“That’s insane! Why would you ever work for her after something like that?”

“Same reasons as any of us. Good money and the chance to make a difference. There’s no other law firm in the world like this one, you must have figured that much out by now. She’s really not that bad as a boss once you get used to her. Why, what did she do for yours?”

“Uh... she showed up to my mother’s birthday party in a skimpy dress and made out with me.”

That brought the conversation to a halt for a long moment. “Gee, that must have been really hard for you,” said Tim, rolling his eyes.

“It made meeting her officially at her office really awkward when I thought she was a sexy racist, but I guess it beats being ditched in the woods. What was yours?”

Tim shuddered and suddenly downed half of his beer in a single chug. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Alex decided not to press him. Instead he changed the subject and tried to learn as much as he could about Tim’s department. He was hesitant at first, but once he got going he started ranting about the case he’d been working for the last week where somehow a major studio had found out that ponies were able to view films and television programs in Equestria. Their first reaction had been to declare such performances acts of piracy, and were now attempting to sue Celestia for damages in the amount of several times the collected GDP of the entire planet.

“...Honestly, it would be cheaper to just buy their entire studio than to pay those sorts of amounts. I have no idea what they’re thinking,” said Tim. Barry and Alex had used the time to work on their own drinks.

“Could Celestia actually do that? Buy out an entire studio or company?” asked Alex.

“From what I’ve seen of her finances, she might be able to if she really put her mind to it. With all the different shell companies she operates and the amount of wealth that’s tied up in equipment and other non-liquid assets it’s hard to say exactly how rich she is,” said Barry. “I think she’d be afraid that if she did and the purchase came under major scrutiny she could be accused of trying to take over the media or brainwash people. She’s vetoed things I’ve suggested that might be seen to carry just the possibility of impropriety, even when they’re totally on the up and up.”

Alex drained the last dregs of the beer, and Barry did the same as he checked his watch. “Looks like it’s almost six. I better get home to the wife and kids or I’ll catch hell,” said Barry. Alex decided that he should do the same.

“You two go on ahead. I’m meeting someone for dinner in little bit so I’ll just kill time here,” said Tim. Barry and Alex walked out together. Alex pulled his blazer tight as they stepped outside. It was darker and the atmosphere was no longer quite as warm and inviting as it had been an hour ago.

“I guess I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Alex and he walked off in the direction of home.

 
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