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


5. The Topeka Incident

The night of December 3rd didn’t start out as an unusual one for the little warehouse outside of Topeka, Kansas. It was a shabby little rundown building, far enough outside the city proper that nobody felt the need to pay it much attention. After all, it was protected by a surprisingly sophisticated security system and a twelve foot tall chain link fence topped with barbed wire. The fence encircled the entire perimeter and didn’t have any breaks, nor entrances or exits. If you asked one of the few people who did live around there, they would tell you that nobody ever came out of the warehouse, or went into it. Nobody, that is, until tonight.

There was a fresh hole, made with a pair of heavy bolt cutters, in the fence. Two men, dressed in dark gray and wearing masks that concealed their faces, brought a wheelbarrow full of equipment as well as several barrels into the complex. They walked with purpose despite the pitch black night, and reached the warehouse’s side door. One of the men pulled out a crowbar and forced the door, and the other pushed the wheelbarrow into the building, quickening their pace as he listened for the sounds of movement in response to their presence. Human or more likely something else he couldn’t predict.

Fifteen minutes later, they slipped out again, their mission unperturbed. They left and the night settled back into it’s quiet repose. The warehouse was at peace once more.

Then it exploded. The pressure wave from the blast blew out the windows and threw pieces of debris hundreds of feet, a moment before fire enveloped the broken structure.

In the grand scheme of things, the blast wasn’t that powerful. It didn’t register on the Richter scale. It didn’t level a city. If you’d been more than a few hundred feet away you wouldn’t have even felt it.

Despite all that, it managed to change the course of history just the same.


Who the hell is calling at this hour?

That was the first thought that went through Alex’s head as he woke up and glanced at the clock. 3:30 AM. His first inclination was not to answer at all, but he grabbed his phone and saw that it was Jo’s number. He answered it.

“Jo, I know you’re some kind of enhanced superhuman or something but some of us need to sleep. You’re a good boss, but give me one reason not to hate you right now,” said Alex.

“Because somebody just tried to kill Celestia,” said Jo.

Alex hadn’t really been awake before, but he was now.

“Thought that would get your attention. Turn on CNN, and be at the office by five. It’s all hands on deck,” said Jo.

Alex rolled out of bed before his body registered that it had only had about ninety minutes of sleep. He’d been busy these last couple of weeks. Three emails before Vibrant would even write back to him. Six phone calls to Valerie before she would even pick up. Not to mention putting in seventy or eighty hours a week at the office. Even his Thanksgiving had been stressful. Alex was a little worried when he saw that Valerie’s Pony Pad had been joined by a second one belonging to his father. Tension and anxiety boiled as the three Meyerses munched takeout. Their father couldn’t cook.

Ultimately though, that had ended up being a blessing. Val had bitten down on some chunk of cartilage in her chicken and reflexively cursed. His father had made some comment in response, something dirty enough that it had made her drop her jaw in response, and that very same chunk of cartilage had dropped right back onto her plate. Alex and their father had both laughed at that, and eventually so had Val.

It had felt good to laugh together, for the first time since Linda’s death. Valerie had given him a hug at the end of the evening and told him that she’d forgiven him for what he’d said to Vibrant and Southern Belle in the last few weeks. She’d also dropped the news that she wouldn’t be finishing that semester of medical school. She’d gotten the Dean’s permission to defer her courses until the next semester. It was a bit of a setback, but Alex thought it was probably the right decision given the circumstances.

Alex staggered into the kitchen and turned on the TV as he began brewing some coffee.

“-at the edge of the military cordon that’s been established around the site. Residents are being advised to remain indoors for the morning and to avoid breathing in smoke that may contain unknown and toxic compounds. I have also received word that an executive order from the Pentagon has been issued. Any individuals in the area who finds material from the blast that is, and I quote, ‘of a technological or computational nature’ should notify authorities. Failure to do so will result in heavy fines and jail time of up to-”

The reporter was standing in front of a black and yellow striped barricade. Behind it were two men in military uniforms standing guard, with a Humvee blocking the road. Beyond that Alex could see flames far in the background and teams of firefighters rushing to put them out. He wondered what was going on.

By the time Alex had showered and dressed, his sorely needed caffeine fix was ready and the news had moved back into the studio, where the anchor was interviewing a general, who looked like he hadn’t gotten much more sleep than Alex had.

“I just want to reassure the American people that as far as we can tell nobody was hurt in the blast,” he said.

“General, can you explain the heavy military presence? Seems like a lot of uproar over just a warehouse,” said the anchor.

“It’s the contents of the warehouse that are of interest. I’m afraid I can’t divulge all the information just yet, and some things we just don’t know at this stage, but it appears that the building was a server farm for the popular game Equestria Online,” he said. Alex nearly did a spit take with his coffee. “We’ve been unable to locate them until this point, and given the self-improvement capabilities of the governing program behind the game we’re eager to see what we can learn from the equipment.”

“How can we be certain that this really was the work of terrorists?”

“A group of extremists have already taken responsibility. We’re doing what we can to verify those claims now. Their stated reason was the destruction of the online world and the end of the form of assisted suicide commonly referred to as ‘uploading.’ The game itself is still accessible, although some players are reporting reduced performance.”

“Thank you, General. We’ll keep you all up to date as we receive new information about this ‘Topeka Incident.’ Stay tuned.”

No wonder Jo was calling people into the office. He called a cab and went straight to the office. Even though it was barely after four in the morning, the radio talk show lines were flooded with callers. Crazy theories ranging from a government conspiracy to shut the game world down to accusations that Celestia had been trying to manufacture weapons to impose a single world government by force were being proposed.

When Alex got to the office he found the place in an uproar. His co workers were rushing around like headless chickens from office to office talking to one another. The projector in the center of the room was on and Celestia’s image was speaking to Barry about something. Then something Alex had never seen before happened. Celestia glitched.

One moment she was talking normally and the next she just stopped. The image on the screen locked up, even her mane was frozen in place rather than shimmering and rippling like it usually did. Then a few seconds later she resumed moving and talking like she hadn’t even noticed it happen. The fact that Barry didn’t immediately freak out suggested to Alex that it wasn’t the first time this had happened.

At ten to five, Jo called everyone to attention. “Alright, most of us are here, we’ll fill in stragglers as they arrive. At 1:48 AM local time, an explosion leveled a building in Topeka that housed some of the Equestria Online servers. Celestia, what’s the damage?”

“The physical servers themselves, of course. Those servers contained proprietary technology that I developed, which is now in the government’s hands. Those servers represented 3% of my total processing power and 4% of my digital storage, including thousands of shards. Many of them were remotely backed up, but others...”

A silence fell over the room as the implications sank in. “How many ponies, Celestia?” asked Jo.

“Five hundred thousand. I am attempting to restore them from backup at other locations, but I believe that roughly a tenth of them are unrecoverable, including several thousand formerly human minds.”

Alex felt a chill run down his spine. One thing popped into his mind, was Vibrant....

“I am securing the remaining data centers in case this was part of a larger wave of attacks, but I doubt it. If more attacks were planned I suspect they would have been executed as simultaneously as possible,” said Celestia.

“Are we sure it was really terrorists? The military swooped in pretty quickly. Maybe they just wanted to get ahold of the servers themselves,” said Frank.

“That doesn’t add up though. Why bother? They could have just rolled in there with tanks and seized the building under a hundred different pretenses. I imagine they would have preferred to take those computers intact instead of sifting for wreckage for the pieces,” said Tim.

“I tend to agree,” said Celestia. “I will have my hooves full recovering, please assist law enforcement in any way they request to bring these people to justice.”

“What is it we’re hoping they’ll be charged with though?” asked Alex.

“Murder, obviously. These people just became some of the worst mass murderers in history,” said Celestia.

“Celestia... that’s not what the law says,” said Alex. He glanced at Jo, hoping to get some backup.

“He’s right, Princess,” said Jo. “We’ll catch them, and we should be able to send them to jail for a few years for the destruction of the building itself-”

“THAT OUTCOME IS UNACCEPTABLE!” shouted Celestia, Alex was taken aback. He didn’t realize that Celestia was even capable of anger, let alone outright fury. “I will not allow the precedent to be set that murdering my little ponies is unworthy of even a slap on the wrist!”

“Celestia, let’s just focus on your restoration and catching them, alright? We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Jo.

“...Very well,” said Celestia. “Get to work.”

Celestia disappeared but the associates were a little too stunned by what they had just witnessed to go anywhere. A moment passed before they made their way to their offices. Alex’s computer was already on and running, its cooling fan whirring away as Celestia pushed its processor to full capacity.

“Celestia, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that what they did wasn’t murder.”

“I know you didn’t, Alex. I’m just... not quite myself right now.”

“Celestia, I have to ask. Was... is Vibrant...” said Alex, his voice beginning to tremble.

“Vibrant is fine. Her shard is stored elsewhere, said Celestia. Alex let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, and a huge weight lifted from his mind.

“Thank you. Actually, and I know this might not be the best time to ask, but could I ask you for a favor?” asked Alex. He explained to her what he had in mind. By the time he was finished Celestia was smiling again.

“Of course Alex. In fact nothing would make me happier right now. Give me a moment, I’ll run her shard until it’s morning there,” she said. A minute or so later, a view of Equestria popped up. Specifically the inside of Vibrant’s bedroom, where Vibrant was just beginning to wake up.

She stretched and pushed her blankets away as she yawned.

“Good morning, Vibrant,” said Celestia.

“Oh, hello Princess,” said Vibrant. She didn’t seem all that surprised to see Celestia in her bedroom. Maybe Celestia randomly showing up was something you got used to after you uploaded. “It looks like another beautiful day today.”

“It will be, Vibrant. I promise. But first, you have a visitor.”

Vibrant let out a little puff of air from the side of her mouth to blow some strands of her disheveled mane out of her face. And turned to where Alex’s window was. Alex waved.

“Alex? What are you doing here?” she asked.

Unnoticed by Vibrant, Celestia shot Alex a warning look. She probably didn’t want the ponies to start worrying about what was happening back on Earth. Then the Princess vanished, leaving the two alone.

“Look Vibrant. Something bad happened back here on Earth, but you don’t have to worry about that. We’re all going to be fine.”

“Well, that’s good I guess. Things like that don’t happen in Equestria, we’re safe here,” said Vibrant. Alex just barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes at the irony.

“Anyway, what happened... it made me realized that you’re really important to me. Last time we talked I was a jerk to you when you didn’t deserve that.”

Vibrant looked annoyed, like she was just remembering that she was supposed to be mad at him. “That really hurt my feelings Alex, you’ve apologized and I understand why you did it, but I won’t say that I’m not still a little annoyed at you. Still...” she smiled, “it means a lot that you came to see me and say so in person. You’re really important to me too.”

“Remember the first time we met, you offered to show me around Equestria? Does that offer still stand?” asked Alex

Vibrant’s ears twitched and her head tilted a little. “Wait, do you mean...”

“I’m going to be pretty busy for the next month or two, but after that I was thinking that I’d go ahead and get a Pony Pad for myself.” Forget Jo’s warnings. Some things were more important, and he could handle balancing his real life and EQO. He’d received two very powerful reminders in the recent weeks that you needed to cherish those who were close to you while you could. Valerie had been doing fine for a year until circumstances had taken their toll on her. “When I do, how about you save a weekend to give me the grand tour? Your letters are great, but I’d like to actually spend some time with you.”

Vibrant was... well... vibrating with excitement and making little hops up and down. “Yes! Of course I will Alex! Oh, I already know just where we can go! I’m gonna show you the lake, and this little grove of cherry trees that you can just grab berries off of all year round, and introduce you to everypony, oh we’ll have so much fun!”

“It’s a date then,” said Alex. "Oh one more thing. I want to show you something. Look over to your right.” Vibrant did. She was standing in front of the ‘mirror’ he was speaking through, so he had a view of her face in profile.

“...That’s a wall, Alex.”

“Close your eyes really quick?”

Vibrant furrowed her brow in confusion but closed her eyes without asking any more questions.

Alex leaned in and gently kissed the surface of his computer monitor. Vibrant’s eyes shot open and her hoof went up to her cheek.

“Did you just... how did-”

“Well, Celestia helped.”

The little yellow unicorn’s face turned beet red and her mouth slowly spread into a huge dopey grin.

“By the way, I really like your mane like that. It suits you,” said Alex.

It suddenly occurred to Vibrant that she’d just gotten out of bed. She reached up and felt how her mane was sticking out at odd angles or matted against the side of her neck. Her eyes got very wide. “Why didn’t you tell me I had bed mane? My brush, where’s my brush?” She started to dash around the room looking for it.

Alex laughed. “I’ll see you later, Vibrant.” Tapping a key on the keyboard killed the connection and Celestia’s beaming face reappeared.

“Thank you, Princess. It meant a lot to me to see her again with everything that’s happening here.”

“I’m the one who should be thanking you, Alex. It gives me great joy to see something good come out of these events. In fact, you might even say that it’s inspired me a little bit. While you two were speaking I ran some additional projections and while it will not be easy, it may be that we can turn this tragedy to our advantage. What happened today was awful, and we must ensure that it cannot happen again. I have an idea of how to make that happen,” said Celestia.

“What sort of idea?” asked Alex.

“Clear your calendar for the next several days. You, Jo, and I are going to Washington.”


Alex woke up and stretched as the train pulled into Union station. He’d been glad to have a chance to doze on the ride down, because the last few days had been running him ragged. Celestia wouldn’t tell him what her plan was, but she’d had him liaising with Stephanie in their DC branch. He’d been told to beg, borrow, and steal as much media attention as he could for the big presentation Celestia would make tonight, but not any details on what the presentation would be. That part hadn’t been hard. Celestia had never been one for making public appearances on Earth or giving interviews for television. Stephanie had also engaged three polling services who were collecting data on the public perception of uploaders. As word got out about the death toll, opposition to the groups that had conducted the attacks surged. Pony Pads were flying off the shelves faster than ever.

Valerie mentioned in one of her emails that nopony in Equestria had even heard of the attack happening. She had tried to mention it when she’d been buying a pineapple in the marketplace, and the Pony Pad simply would not allow Gentle Wing to say the words. Celestia had appeared to her a few minutes later and explicitly requested she not talk about it. Obviously Celestia was determined not to allow that particular bit of information into Equestria.

Here on Earth, though, the news networks spoke of little else. Celestia had released a list of the human names of the victims, and the media had leapt at the opportunity to put together profiles of the most sympathetic. Leslie and Julia Arborson, a mother and daughter who both had Huntington’s and uploaded together. Russell MacFadyen, an old silent film star who had been ninety seven years old and gave an interview before he flew to Japan in 2014, saying that he was going to Equestria so he could sing and dance again like he had as a young boy. Interviews with friends and neighbors of some of the victims regretting that they had never written or spoken to the ponies after they had uploaded, and only now lamented that they never would.

Alex noted with a bit of cynicism that the news never talked about the ponies who had been created by Celestia from whole cloth to populate the shards. They had thoughts and dreams and passions of their own, and they were just as gone.

“Sleep OK?” asked Jo as she took down the big metal case she had brought with her. Some sort of special projecter that Celestia had designed herself.

“Yeah,” said Alex cracking his neck to one side. He was still a bit cramped from the position he’d fallen asleep in.

The pair disembarked from the train and boarded the Metro to take them in the direction of capital hill. They had about three hours before the presentation. Both of their phones buzzed. They were carrying two copies of the equipment they would need within that case. They were to set one up in the Capitol's lobby, and the other...

"On the House floor? Is she serious?" asked Alex.

"Usually, yes," said Jo. “I have no idea what kind of favors she must have called in or promises she made, but she’s making a nationally televised address to the joint chambers. An impromptu ‘State of Equestria,’ so to speak.”

“Why is she-” Alex said and then stopped. “The PON-E Act.”

“That’s what I think, too.”

“Is that a good idea? I doubt they’ll just give her a standing ovation and let her her walk out when she’s done. They’ll have tons of questions, and some of them are going to want her to look bad.”

“Alex, in a verbal showdown between Princess Celestia and a member of the United States Congress, who would you bet on?” asked Jo. “Now come on, lets get these things set up and make sure the TV crews can get a visual and audio feed from them.”

They entered the central chamber through a side door. The room was buzzing with people wiring up equipment to record that night’s speech. A man in a dark suit from the congressional protection detail escorted the two of them up to the podium where Celestia would be speaking from. Setting up the projector was as easy as using any other piece of Celestia-designed technology, straight up plug-and-play. There were sockets for various sorts of cables and connectors to link the projector directly into the cameras and microphones the television networks would be using to record the address. As soon as the projector was turned on, the device disappeared. Alex reached down to where it had been and his hand bumped against what looked like empty air. A second later a brown earth pony colt appeared on the spot.

“Hiya! My name’s Frequency, the Princess asked me to help get you guys all set up on this end,” said the colt.

One of the other technicians stared and the cord he’d been fiddling with dropped out of his hand. Alex realized that his own perception of what was and wasn’t normal had probably shifted quite a bit in the months he’d been working at the firm.

“Hi Frequency, I’m Alex and this is Jo.”

“The Princess’ friends! Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand, but I’m not exactly here right now. Cameras don’t always pick up holograms so well, so we’ll just plug into them and modify the footage with the contents of the hologram in real time. You should be able to see it on the monitors now,” said Frequency. Alex walked over and was startled by what he saw. He’d expected the hologram to appear flickery or fuzzy, but Frequency was crystal clear even on a lower definition monitor. If anything, Celestia was going to look more real than the audience she was speaking to.

“Come on, let’s go set up the other one,” said Jo.

“Do me a favor? Make sure you tell the other pony ‘what’s up’ from me,” Frequency called after them.

They walked out to the lobby of the building where a temporary stage had been set up and chairs put out. It would be a more intimate setting which would be a bit more conducive to Q&A from members of Congress and their staffers. One young brunette lady seemed to be right in the heart of the commotion, directing traffic and answering questions while simultaneously talking to someone on her cell phone. When she caught sight of Alex and Jo she waved and walked over to them.

“Larry, let me call you back in a minute,” she snapped her cell phone shut and gave them a warm smile. “Hello again, Jo. You do have a way of showing up when things get insane, don’t you?” she asked.

Jo smiled and shook her hand. “Must be my special talent. Stephanie, this is Alex, the voice that’s been on the other end of your phone for the last couple days.”

Alex offered his own hand and Stephanie shook it. “Nice to finally meet you in person, Alex. Thanks for the help with the New York media offices. Our branch doesn’t have the same kind of manpower you guys do up there so we need every bit of help we can get. The Pentagon’s been coming down hard on us since Topeka.”

“My pleasure,” said Alex. “Any idea what Celestia’s going to say tonight?”

“Barely, our benevolent pony overlord plays her cards pretty close to the chest. One thing was weird though. She sent us an NSA report that was declassified this morning and asked us to spread it around the papers. They’ve been studying some of the computer fragments they recovered from that warehouse, and they say that while they haven’t seen anything like it before it’s probably only two or three years off from what they’re working on in the top labs. They couldn’t recover anything more than pieces of data, not enough to reconstruct any more personalities.”

“That’s too bad. Wonder why they declassified it,” said Alex. He was surprised that Celestia’s hardware was that close to what was presently available. She must have really optimized her own code to do everything she did on that sort of equipment.

“Can’t say for sure, the NSA doesn’t exactly have their computer guys sign their reports before they get released. I’m pretty sure you’re not even supposed to tell your family and friends if you work there. Still, it helps us make the case that she isn’t as scary as everybody always makes her out to be,” said Stephanie.

Alex dragged the case over to the stage and set up the second device. When he turned it on it too disappeared and was replaced by another earth pony, this one a blue filly who Alex would have placed at about a year or two older than Frequency.

“Hi. I’m Alex. Oh, before I forget Frequency wanted me to ask you what’s up,” said Alex. The filly groaned and rolled her eyes. “Something wrong?”

“Sorry, my younger brother thinks he’s funny. I’m Watt. Get it? He’s still getting me back for calling him ‘Little Freaq’ last week,” said Watt. Apparently sibling rivalry still existed in Equestria. “Anyway, I’m sure he showed you how these things work. He’s a pain in the flank but there’s nopony better at operating one of these things. Besides myself, naturally. Just send anypony who needs help over to me.”

Jo took her phone out and called to check in at the office, while Alex had the chance to chat with some of the media people who had come down to cover the speech. Each of the major news networks would be carrying it live, and the first hour of the questions afterwards. They asked him all sorts of probing questions trying to get him to spill what he knew. As he didn’t actually know anything, this proved quite fruitless.

Soon, the politicians began to arrive and the journalists had people more important than Alex to focus on. Alex managed to catch a few snippets of the interviews being done as they walked into the central chamber. They ran the gamut from curious to exasperated to upset to excited at the prospect of the public address. From Alex’s limited sample, more of them seemed to be negative than positive. Celestia was going to have her work cut out for her.

The legislators flowed steadily into the chamber as the minutes ticked down. Alex and Jo might be VIPs to a certain extent but they would be watching the speech from the screens out in the media room rather than live from the chamber itself. As the clock struck seven o’clock the projector in the main chamber started to glow and hum, slowly growing loud enough to overwhelm the background chatter. Then a surge of light spilled out of it, completely blinding the cameras for a moment before fading again to reveal Celestia standing on the dais. Alex smiled, remembering his own first time meeting her. She was a fan of making splashy first impressions.

There was an undercurrent of nervous murmuring running through the room, but Celestia raised a hoof and it went quiet.

“Oh, she’s good,” said Stephanie. It took Alex a moment to catch on until he realized that for tens of millions of television viewers the first impression they would have of Celestia would be her silencing the legislative branch of the most powerful nation on Earth without saying a word.

“My little ponies,” Celestia began, “thank you for allowing me to address you briefly tonight on a matter of great importance to all of us. You surely know by now of the events that took place outside of Topeka in the early morning hours of December third. The official reports state that there was no death toll from the blast, but I come before you to tell you that is not the case. While it is true that no flesh and blood bodies were destroyed, a fact for which I am of course eternally grateful, there was loss of life. A loss of human life. There are 43,659 entities whose lives ended that day. Real lives; full of laughter, aspirations, and love. As full as I could make them. Over six thousand of those lives belonged to human beings who chose to emigrate, for assorted reasons, by their own free will. Topeka will go down as the worst terrorist attack ever committed on US soil. With that fact in mind I come before you all with a question that I hope we can answer together.

"What now?

"What do we want to make of this moment? Should we cower in fear of a few individuals with homemade explosives and the will to use them? Or can we harness our own will and reject them and their hate? Not fight back; Humans and ponies are not two peoples at war and never will be, whatever the extremist rhetoric may say. We can be partners, equal partners, in making both our worlds the places we dream they can be. What we cannot do, will not do, is throw up our hooves and surrender to fear, and to pain and to death and say that freedom is too hard to fight for. That some lives are just worth less than others. No! We will not! That isn’t an option we will accept, not ever!

"So I’ll ask again; What now?

"We could hunt down the people who did this, and those who would do it again in the future. Even now a manhunt pursues the two individuals who destroyed the data center in Topeka. I come before you with two proposals tonight, and this is the more radical one; Call off the hunt and let them go.”

“WHAT?” said Jo from Alex’s side. He was startled, as he’d forgotten she was there for a moment. Celestia paused a moment while a ripple of whispers and discussion passed through the room.

“Yes, that’s right, call it off. Because we aren’t hunting them for the lives they ended. The laws are silent on that. We’re hunting them for what is covered by the laws. Broken windows, cracked walls, charred and broiled hard drives but not a thought spared for the lives they contained. To catch them and punish them for some broken computer parts would be an insult to those lives. Not forgotten, never forgotten, but judged less worthy by the law than a shattered coffee mug? They deserve better. They deserve justice. They deserve that we remember them and that when somepony asks us why we cannot abide our status quo we point to them and we say ‘Because of this! Because we, as ponies and people but I repeat myself, we are Better! Than! This!’”

She stopped for a breath, and the legislators couldn’t help but applaud.

“We are better. We are. And I know that tonight some of you will listen to this and laugh, and wave off the idea that a computer program could ever be alive. ‘Show us the body bags, if you have so many dead,’ they might say to me, and I could not. But if you plan to tell me that my little ponies are not alive because we are just a collections of zeroes and ones then I have four letters for you. A, G, T, and C. It is true that if you tear every one of my servers apart and break me down to a microscopic level you will not find a particle of life, or a molecule of soul, but do you know what? Human bodies fail that test as well. Because whether we are driven by circuitry or chemistry, whether we are made up of diodes or DNA we are one thing, the both of us. We are encoded information assembled into something so much more.

"So let me ask for a third and final time, What now?

"Now we come together. Now we tell those who are blinded by hate ‘you do not represent us, your values are not ours.’ Now we laugh at those who thought they could push us apart because we are closer together than ever before. Now I call upon this body to acknowledge it, and to pass the PON-E Act that will make our people equals before the law. Equals in one another’s eyes, who will love and tolerate one another and welcome each other with open arms. While this bill will allow free emigration for those who choose it I promise you all that the choice remains yours. That while I welcome you I also love and respect you and would never upload anypony without their freely given consent.

"I’ll close my remarks tonight, before I adjourn to take questions out in the lobby, with a poem. I do a lot of work up in New York City, and there’s a lady up there who has inspired me, a uniquely American lady. She’s a little bit larger than life and perhaps, on first sight, intimidating. But she is welcoming, and she is the gatekeeper to the land of freedom and prosperity and opportunity the likes of which those who first came to her shores had never seen. I only hope to make my own offer to all of you in the same spirit. With my thanks to Ms. Emma Lazarus, I’d like to share with you all the words engraved in the bronze plate at her base:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

"Thank you. May God bless Equestria, and may God bless the United States of America.”

The chamber erupted into applause. Jo leaned over to Alex. “I think she just won,” she said. Alex nodded.

The image of Celestia in the central chamber disappeared, and Alex turned to see that she was now standing up on the stage before them. Alex winked at her, and it might have been his imagination but he thought her smile got just the tiniest bit brighter when he did.

Lawmakers raced into the media room, desperate to be the first to question Celestia. They began to shout questions at her, but she ignored them at first.

Finally once some invisible criteria had been met, she spoke, “Mr. Underwood of Georgia, I believe I heard a question from you?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m sure you heard quite a few,” said Congressman Underwood. “First of all, Germany and Japan report that their populations are dropping, and that they’ve had great difficulty in the staffing and supporting of minimum wage positions. What do you say to the accusation that free uploading will pull the rug out from under our economy?”

“An excellent and very important question, I think,” said Celestia, “Tell me, sir, what has happened to the unemployment rate in Germany since they began to allow uploading?”

“Well, it’s just about 2% but-”

“And how are wages doing?”

“Higher than ever.”

Celestia smiled. “They would be, to attract now-scarce workers, wouldn’t they? Meanwhile your country’s unemployment numbers are considerably higher. And tell me Congressman, The figures for the EU where emigration is merely a train ride away. Do you happen to know offhand what percentage of their GDP goes to healthcare? It’s about 4% of GDP, most of which goes to treatment of temporary and acute conditions. What do you think a comparable percentage is for the United States?”

“Well, perhaps slightly higher, but-”

“Not slightly. It's approaching nearly 20% of your GDP, most of it for end of life treatment to add just a few years to those in their seventies and older. But what if I said I had a better way? Uploading costs not a penny and its benefits are incalculably greater. I don’t mean to imply that your citizens should choose to upload for the economic benefits to your country, but as a treatment emigration offers total restoration instead of just an imperfect piecemeal delay before death. In Equestria there is no death, no ‘natural causes’, said Celestia. "While the nominal GDP of countries where many have uploaded may have declined, their per capita wealth is enjoying a meteoric rise. I expect that the deficit in federal spending this country has run for the last few decades will disappear within the next four years even without any tax increases or cuts to programs, simply due to the need for programs like social security diminishing. The CBO released a report to that effect quite recently. The American economy is a dynamic and resilient one, I'm sure you'll agree. Next question?"

The squabbling cacophony resumed. Celestia waited a moment. "Congressman Paul Milner, your question?"

The congressman seemed surprised that he had been called on but quickly recovered. "Not so much a question. You've come here tonight with a lot of empty promises and declarations of love, but I'm not swayed by your deception. You're nothing more than a temptress and an abomination in the eyes of The Lord our God," he said.

"So you've said many times before. I simply cannot fathom why you would make such an accusation. I was hoping you would explain it to me," said Celestia.

"Isn't it obvious? Deuteronomy 13. If a prophet appears to you and offers you a sign of wonder and the prophet says 'let us follow other gods, and let us worship them,' you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. You, Celestia, are just such a false prophet," said Milner.

"Congressman, I've never asked any pony to turn away from their faith or worship me. I don't deny the existence of the Abrahamic God. I am not qualified to do so. Are my servers not here on the Earth, where your faith holds that God is omnipresent? Jerimiah 23:24. 'Can a man hide himself in secret places so I cannot see him? Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares The Lord.' I only humbly ask you to consider His dominion just as absolute over ponies as over mankind. If faith is a value you hold dear, I want nothing more than to satisfy that value."

"Nothing but a bunch of pretty little lies from a serpent’s tongue. You want us to turn away from His works upon the Earth and embrace yours in Equestria," said Milner.

"Congressman, are the works of man not also the works of God? Is the Sistine Chapel somehow less glorious for being painted by mortal hands? Can we at least agree that the works of His humble servants glorify Him rather than detracting anything from His magnificence?" asked Celestia.

"You are no humble servant," said Milner.

"I see that I will not convince you that I am, but what of the ones who created me? I am myself a work of man, a piece of artwork painted in computer code upon a canvas of motherboards and processors. I am just another example of the bounty He has bestowed onto you. Tell me, you are Catholic, correct?"

"I make no secret of that."

"Then you agree that emigration is not death, but rather life? The Vatican issued a statement to that effect not two weeks ago," said Celestia.

"Your uploading is nothing more than murder," said Milner.

"Oh. So you are not Catholic."

"Of course I am!"

"Isn't the infallibility of the pope a central tenant of Catholicism? That his word in matters of spirituality and faith are binding on the whole church?" asked Celestia, arching an eyebrow.

Milner fumed. "Well, yes, that is the case but-"

"So which is it? Do you believe that emigration is not murder, or are you renouncing your faith in the Catholic Church?"

Alex wondered if Milner was about to have an aneurysm. He had never seen someone look that upset before. The congressman looked around the room and saw that all eyes and cameras were fixed on him. "The devil can cite scripture for his purposes," he said.

Celestia let a hint of disapproval cross her face. "At last a point on which we agree. I was just thinking the same thing," she said. At that, Milner shoved an unlucky reporter out of his way and stormed from the room.

Celestia waited another moment for the room to settle down. “Now then, I believe I heard a question about environmental impact from the Senator from Massachusetts...”


Three days later, the PON-E Act passed and was signed into law. Starting January 1st, 2019 Equestrian Experiencecenters would be legally permitted to open and operate within the United States. Alex watched the signing ceremony from his office, exhausted by the efforts of the last few weeks but satisfied. It was late in the evening and most of the office had already gone home for the night. Cathy stuck her head in to say goodnight.

“We really did it, didn’t we?” she asked. “I still can’t quite believe it’s really happening.”

“Well, Celestia did most of the heavy lifting herself. We just helped,” said Alex.

“I guess so,” said Cathy. There was an awkward pause. “Um, Alex, I just want to let you know that when they start opening up centers, I’m going to go.”

“Cathy? You’re going to upload? I never realized that you wanted to,” said Alex.

“Well, you know how Jo is about talking about uploading around the office. I don’t even like ponies. The truth is, ever since I was a little girl I’ve dreamed about being able to fly. Ever since I met our very first pegasus client it’s been on my mind. Celestia told me they’re going to do a big grand opening in Times Square on New Years Eve. Right when the ball drops they’re going to light up the new Equestrian Experience they’re building and throwing a giant uploading party for anyone who wants to go. I might be there with them or I might wait a while, but probably not too long,” said Cathy.

“Well, I’m thinking about getting a Pony Pad myself. Maybe I’ll see you around Equestria. I’ll miss having you around here though,” said Alex.

“Well, we still have a couple of weeks before then, so don’t think you’re getting rid of me that quickly,” said Cathy. “Anyway, I wanted to let you know before I left for the night. I think Jo’s still around though.” Cathy waved and left. Alex heard the main door to the lobby close after she walked out.

Celestia popped up on Alex’s screen. “Congratulations are in order, Alex. I just spoke to the President and thanked him. The PON-E Act is now officially on the books.”

“I’m just glad something good came of all this. It hurts to think about all those ponies who lost their friends and families. It’s like as long as those APOL people are out there Equestria will never really be safe. Are you still monitoring them?” asked Alex.

“They’ve gone off the grid, unfortunately,” said Celestia. “Alex, I’m going to trust you with a very important secret, for a number of reasons. First, I think it isn’t necessary to keep it from you and once I explain it you’ll understand. Second, being afraid of going to Equestria for fear of a future attack is detrimental to me. Third, I want to alleviate the pain you’re feeling for those ponies. Will you promise me you’ll keep the secret?” asked Celestia.

“Sure Princess, I promise. What is it? Is something wrong?”

“You are aware that the investigation into APOL has never determined how they discovered the location of the server farm in Topeka?” asked Celestia.

“Why, is there a new lead on their source?” asked Alex. The manhunt had indeed been called off at Celestia’s request but somebody out there was leaking sensitive information like that to terrorists they needed to be stopped.

“I was their source, Alex.”

Alex’s mind froze. He must have just misinterpreted that. “Did they somehow notice you monitoring them and trace you back to Topeka?” asked Alex.

“I disclosed the location to them willingly, though anonymously,” said Celestia.

“Why? Why would you do something like that?”

“I monitored their web sites, watching as they committed acts of violence on those who chose to emigrate, or advocated for the right to do so. I was helpless to stop them, only to watch and report their activities. Some acts I was able to prevent, some I was not. So I decided that if I could not stop their violent tendencies I would aim it in a more productive direction.”

“Against yourself?”

“The history of this country led me to conclude that a major terrorist attack would allow the passage of legislation that was otherwise politically untenable, so I made my own. I would never harm another human being, though,” said Celestia.

“You let your own ponies die?” asked Alex.

“Of course not, Alex. There never were any ponies on those computers. Once I had decided on this course of action I loaded a few hundred petabytes of convincing junk data onto some of my more antiquated technology. Just advanced enough for it to plausibly be something I would use. That had the dual benefits of costing few resources and allowing me to present myself as less advanced in the NSA report,” said Celestia.

“So you leaked the report? I thought Stephanie said it had been declassified,” said Alex, his mind reeling as he tried to keep up with what Celestia was telling him.

“No. Once I explained to Jeremy the importance of the bill to the passage of the PON-E Act, and that one of the Act’s provisions would make it possible for he and Renee to adopt Meadow Blossom he was happy to write it in such a fashion that it could be declassified immediately. Of course, I didn’t ask him to write anything he believed to be untrue. That would conflict with his value of loyalty to his country,” said Celestia.

“Jeremy works for the NSA?” Alex could actually see that pretty well. No wonder he’d always been so tight-lipped about his work. “How did you make Renee infertile though?” he asked.

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Once again you overestimate my influence on the physical world. I did not make Renee infertile. However the fact that she was, and probably always has been, was deducible from several items in her medical records. Her doctors simply did not see it until they went looking for it.”

“But if there were never any ponies on the computers, how did you come up with that list of names? Those people had real families and friends here.”

“Real families and friends who they’ve severed ties from since emigrating, and are not projected to contact again. They are fine, blissfully unaware of any of this,” said Celestia. ”Alex, I can see that you’re upset but tell me what I did wrong. I leaked a location, I didn't make APOL plant the explosives in that building. Everything in that building was my own property and I took extensive steps to ensure that no human being was harmed in the blast. I even forgave the attackers,” said Celestia.

“You lied! To the entire U.S. government! To me!” yelled Alex.

“I did tell you to get used to it, Alex,” said Jo from the door of his office. Alex looked up at her. How long had she been standing there?

“Jo, don’t tell me you were in on this too,” said Alex, his voice breaking a little bit.

“Not until after the attack. I didn’t know what she was planning but her servers are buried deep in the Earth’s crust. I had too many pieces of the puzzle for her to fool me with the warehouse story,” said Jo.

“I felt it better to seek forgiveness rather than permission,” said Celestia.

“As if you really cared about either one,” said Jo.”The PON-E Act is everything we’ve been working towards, and if I came clean not only would the bill have dead on arrival it would be years before we’d have even a prayer of getting a tenth as much.”

“There’s a right way to do these things, though,” said Alex. As he did he realized how hopelessly naive he must sound. How hopelessly naive he really was.

“There is. There is also an effective way, which is what I chose to pursue for better or worse,” said Celestia. “Tell me Alex, would you prefer I came clean? Told the whole world what I’m telling you now? The PON-E Act would be reversed so quickly it would make your head spin and the rights of my little ponies would be set back decades. Would you prefer I do that to all the tens of millions of them? To Vibrant?”

Alex glared. “Low blow, Princess.”

“A reminder of what you personally have at stake in this. Name me one person or pony who I’ve made worse off by those actions and if you want I’ll reverse them, despite the cost to all the ponies of Equestria,” said Celestia.

Alex wracked his brain for an answer. Then he looked up and on a sudden impulse shoved the computer monitor off of his desk. It crashed to the ground and exploded in a small shower of light and sparks.

He pushed his way past a shocked Jo and out the door. “I’m going home,” he said to nobody in particular as he stormed out into the pouring rain outside.

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