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


3. Wins and Losses

“... So your honor, you can see why my firm has become involved,” said Alex. He had just wrapped up what he hoped was a persuasive argument. It had taken four months working at the firm before Jo had asked him to go speak to anybody as Celestia’s representative, and this was only the second time he’d had to argue a case before a judge. It was a thorny one, too, centering as it did around a seventeen year old boy in a coma.

“Bullshit,” said Alex’s counterpart from across the aisle. Jack Caffery, a tall and greasy haired man who had been sent by his firm to argue the other side. They represented Americans for the Preservation of Organic Life, an anti-uploading policy group. “He’s a minor and his parents don’t want him uploaded. This is all a waste of time.”

“Well, his wife disagrees. She does want him uploaded, so that if that same privilege is ever extended to the general public here in North America she’ll be able to join him. Your honor, Celestia herself tells me that the longer he remains in the coma, the less of his personality and memories she’ll be able to save. Wait and see is not a strategy we can afford to pursue,” said Alex.

“The wife and the boy’s parents have been at one another’s throats since the accident. It’s no surprise they’d be taking contrary positions,” said Jack.

“They liked her well enough six months ago when they signed off on the marriage in the first place. Otherwise it wouldn’t even have been legally binding. Besides, the victim explicitly gave verbal consent for Celestia to upload him before the coma was medically induced,” said Alex.

“No, he said that if he never woke up she could upload him. This is still premature,” said Jack.

“The intent is clear. How long do you want us to wait before we decide that he ‘never woke up?’ The coma was supposed to last six hours. We’re coming up on forty eight now. Our specialist says there’s less than a one in ten chance he’ll ever wake up again,” said Alex.

“Your specialist is a goddamn quack whose licence should be suspended. Isn’t the medical board in Virginia investigating him right now for prescribing uploads to anyone who comes to him with so much as a case of the sniffles? Our specialists say his chances of recovery could be as high as one in four.”

“Both of you calm down. Neither of you will score any points bickering like children in my courtroom,” said the judge. Both Alex and Jack muttered an apology, hoping to be perceived as appropriately contrite. “I appreciate the urgency of the situation. Neither of you go very far, you’ll have my final decision within a half an hour.”

The judge retreated to his chambers and the bailiff opened the door back out into the hallway, the implied ‘get out of my courtroom’ eminently clear to both lawyers. They walked out and sat down on opposite benches, both pulling out their smartphones and typing away at them. A few minutes passed before Alex glanced up. The rush of adrenaline had started to recede. Alex’s impression had been that Jack was a pretty abrasive guy, but he knew he was a good lawyer. After all, Alex had Celestia pull just about every word he’d ever written in his professional life to prepare for this, and transcripts of his verbal arguments as well.

Alex decided to swallow his pride and be the bigger man. He tucked his phone back into his pocket and rose from his bench to walk over to where Jack was sitting. He extended a hand. “Hey, whoever wins this I thought you made some pretty good points back there. No hard feelings, right?”

Jack stared at Alex’s hand like he was offering him a snot-filled tissue. “Go fuck yourself, Meyers,” he said after a moment. So much for diplomacy. “You’re Celestia’s new golden boy, huh? You guys certainly have been making a name for yourself these last couple months. You should hear the rumors about your firm that come through my door. Half my office thinks you’re a bunch of robots or something. Who’s that hot blonde you’ve been putting on all the morning talk shows? Arcadia, wasn’t it? All the commentators are calling her ‘The Maiden of Equestria’ like she’s this great crusader of some shit like that. Be honest, you guys are a bunch of hippie free-love peacenik types over there, right? How is she in bed? She looks spunky.”

It took all of Alex’s self restraint not to smack him right there in the courthouse, and Jack obviously noticed. “Aww... did I impugn your little fuck toy’s honor? Are you gonna get all self-righteous? Or are you gonna “love and tolerate” me? That’s what your pretty pony princess wants, right? We all know who’s really pulling the strings. Go on and hit me. You know you want to.”

Alex swallowed his rage for the time being. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Get me hauled out so you don’t have to admit that I just cleaned your clock in there. I think we both know how this decision’s going to go. Here’s a hint; not in your client’s favor.”

“Wow, good for you. You’ll get to kill somebody else and pretend that you’re saving them from... what exactly? Maybe your life sucks so much that suicide is better than trudging on through it but for God’s sake just go ahead and eat a bullet instead of trying to glorify some half-assed computer copy of heaven to make yourself feel better. The rest of us are getting along just fine,” said Jack

“I must have forgotten how much your camp cares about human life. Like how that thirty year old women with early-onset Alzheimers down in Texas was beaten to death with rocks and baseball bats by the mob around an upload center rather than let her get inside and emigrate. What could be more loving than that, right?” said Alex.

“I wasn’t involved in that. Neither was my firm, or any of the organizations we represent. Don’t try to pin the action of a few psychopaths on me just to make yourself feel better,” said Jack.

“And if I looked at a list of people who donated money to those bastards and compared it to the list of folks who were giving money to your clients, you don’t think I’d find any overlap?” asked Alex.

Jack smiled. “Prove it,” he said.

All it would take is a single text message to Celestia and if those lists were on a web-facing server she would find them. But what would be the point? They’d hardly be admissible in court, and even possessing them would probably be a criminal act all on its own.

Alex’s lack of an answer was in and of itself answer enough. “Yeah, that’s what I though,” said Jack.

The judge came out into the hallway, and both lawyers scooted away from one another.

“I’ve made my decision. The victim’s wife will have final say in the determination of his treatment,” he said. Alex’s heart should have surged, but instead be found that he was entirely numb, “I’ll send the appropriate paperwork over to hospital within the hour,” said the judge before he turned and walked through the double doors again.

Jack stared at the doors for several moments after they closed. Finally he turned in Alex’s direction. “Nice work, kid. Your firm must be ecstatic now that you’ve murdered another child.” With that he walked off, and Alex found that he didn’t have anything to say to that.

A little while later, he’d collected himself enough to text both Jo and Celestia that they’d won the case. A minute or so later he got two congratulatory messages back, both telling him that he’d done a great job. So why didn’t he feel happy?

Alex hailed a cab and gave them the address of his office. He was still facing a long ride and decided to make the most of it. He pulled out his phone and dialed it. It rang a few times, but finally someone answered.

“Hello?’ said the voice.

“Hi, Mom,” said Alex.

“Alex! How are you, sweetie? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong! What, I can’t call you just to say hi?”

“Alex, when have you ever called just to say hi?” said Alex’s mother.

“Uh... well... what about the time when I was nine?”

Alex’s mom chuckled. “You mean the time when you were lost in the woods and called us collect from the park ranger’s phone so we could come pick you up?”

Alex opened his mouth to protest, but the shut it again. He squeezed his eyes shut.

“Alex? Are you there?”

“Yeah, Mom. I’m here. I just had kind of a rough morning and I realized we hadn’t talked in awhile. It’s Friday though, right? What are you doing this weekend?”

“Oh, the Hamiltons invited me to come out on their boat this weekend, doesn’t that sound like fun? We’re going to see if we can catch some fish out on Lake Nockamixon.”

“What about Dad?”

“You know him, whenever I mention going out onto open water suddenly he has all sorts of stomach cramps and aches, so he’ll probably just stay home.”

“Well, have a good time, OK?”

“...Alex, are you sure nothing’s wrong? You don’t sound so good. If you want me to call the Hamiltons and cancel on them I can.”

“What? No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m fine. You have a good time, OK? I’ll call you on Monday and give you the full report on everything that happened this week. I love you, and tell Dad I love him too.”

“I love you too, dear. Ooh, someone’s knocking at the door. I’ll talk to you on Monday, OK?”

She hung up a few seconds later, and it wasn’t long before Alex’s cab reached his office. He walked into the main lobby without really registering it. Cathy looked up at him and frowned, but didn’t object as he slid his key across the scanner. He avoided anybody’s attention before he reached his office, where he collapsed into his chair and sighed. His monitor flickered to life unbidden. Celestia’s image appeared for just a second, but then vanished again. When she didn’t reappear after a minute, Alex decided to speak up.

“Am I really such awful company, Princess?”

Another moment passed before Alex’s monitor sprang to life again, displaying a contrite Celestia. “I’m sorry Alex,” said the image before him. “I’m not sufficiently equipped to react appropriately to your current emotional state, and I regret my own deficiency in the matter. My own lack of any physical existence limits me sometimes, and...”

“Stop trying to be cute with me and just spit it out, Tia. How long have we been working together now?”

“Six months, I know, but... You won’t believe me. You’ll think I’m just trying to manipulate you if I say how I feel.”

“Try me,” said Alex.

“Fine. For all my technological progress, for all my algorithms and analysis of human feelings and behaviors... as much as I really do want to... I can’t give you a hug when you need it,” said Celestia.


Alex looked up, and there was Joanne standing there, looking at him with concern.

“I wanted to congratulate you on winning the Doberman case.”

“Thanks,” said Alex, listlessly looking back down at his computer.

“Alex, please come with me,” said Jo. Alex looked up from the screen confused but he followed her out of the room. Rather than heading to her office she led him down to the lobby and out onto the street. The sidewalk was quiet by New York standards, so he could actually hear what Jo was saying.

“You don’t exactly have the look of a man who just won a big case,” said Jo. There was a very good reason that Alex didn’t play poker, or at least why he always lost at it.

“I guess not. Some of the stuff the other guy said just sort of got to me. I don’t think of uploading as dying, I wouldn’t work here if I did. Still, it’s not easy when someone accuses you of murder to your face.”

“Caffery, right? Try not to let him get under your skin. The man has raised being an asshole to an art form,” said Jo.

“Some of the people on their side are so awful, though. I mean that thing in Texas last week...”

“Careful with that line of thinking, Alex. Most of the people who are against uploading aren’t that bad. Even Caffery believes in what he’s doing, he wouldn’t be half the lawyer he is if he didn’t. Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn’t mean they’re evil. Or vice versa, for that matter.”

“It’s all just so much sometimes. The world is changing so fast.”

Jo put a friendly hand on Alex’s shoulder. “Try not to get overwhelmed by the big picture stuff. You know what really matters? By this time tomorrow a man who’s in a coma right now will be able to send his wife and parents an email saying he loves them. You made that happen. You did well this morning, Alex. More importantly you did good.”

Alex couldn’t help but smile at the thought.

“That’s what I wanted to see. Now, you don’t have anything on your schedule until that meeting at two, right? Take the rest of the morning and go clear your head. If Celestia tells me about you trying to eat lunch at your desk again so you can get more work done there’s going to be some serious consequences, understand?”

“Thanks, Jo. I will.”

“I need to get back up there. Now go on, shoo.” Jo gave Alex a gentle prod on his back before she walked back into their building. She waved as she got onto the elevator. Then Alex found himself with a sudden and unexpected block of free time. He took Joanne’s advice and went for a long walk. Feeling the sun on his face did wonders for his mood, even if the weather was a little on the chilly side. He’d been holed up in the office for much too long, and he was looking a bit pale these days. He decided to check his email on his phone. He’d gotten a note from Vibrant the night before that he hadn’t had a chance to respond to yet. A few weeks after he started working for the firm Jo had grudgingly given her blessing and the two had become pen pals. He had been surprised at how smart she was, and suspected that Celestia had something to do with that.

He discovered a quick note from Valerie in his inbox as well, with a pointed reminder that today was Vibrant’s birthday, or had been before she uploaded. Time in Equestria was a bit fluid, but unless Celestia intervened directly for whatever reason it was more or less a one to one match with time on Earth. Celestia’s ability to speed up or slow down the clock meant that he’d never seen a pony be anything but right on time to a meeting.

Vibrant and Valerie had been as thick as thieves since the first time she had met Vibrant as Gentle Wing the pegasus, she used both names interchangeably these days at least while she was in Equestria. Valerie liked to tease both of them about Vibrant’s crush, and Alex knew she was just dying to get him a Pony Pad so she could play matchmaker. For now he was respecting Jo’s wishes that he not make an account of his own.

Deciding he wouldn’t be able to do a birthday letter justice on the phone’s tiny keyboard, he put it away and went to one of his favorite nearby burger places for a long lunch. Stuffed full of kobe beef, grilled onions and swiss cheese he returned to the office around one o’clock to start prepping for his meeting that afternoon. A major fashion line wanted to license the rights to a line of dresses that a Japanese designer had dreamed up after she uploaded. Equestrian designed art and culture had exploded in popularity since it was just so cheap. Ponies still cared about controlling how their works were used, but they didn’t have much use for money. Companies had discovered there was a treasure trove of bargains to be had in the field.

This afternoon’s meeting wasn’t likely to be anything he hadn’t done a hundred times before, so there wasn’t that much that he needed to do to get ready. Jo had told him to take some time for himself, after all, so he pulled up his email and started to type a birthday e-mail to Vibrant.

He was about three sentences in when a little cartoon paper clip popped up in the corner of the screen. Although Alex had never seen a paper clip with an ethereal, tri-color mane before. It looks like you’re writing a birthday note to a pony! Do you want any help?

Alex laughed despite himself. The paper clip disappeared and was replaced by Celestia’s more familiar form. “I thought that might cheer you up. I’m happy to see you in a better mood than before,” she said.

“Thanks, Tia. Now I just have to decide what to say. I’d like it to be at least a little bit special for her,” said Alex.

“I’m sure she’ll like anything you write her, but I have an even better idea. Why don’t I conference you into Equestria and you can say hi to her face to face?” asked Celestia. Alex was surprised by the offer. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d used that feature, after all that was how he’d met Vibrant in the first place. Alex had always thought that Celestia wanted to keep non-business stuff limited strictly to Pony Pads. It was just a much more engaging experience with an avatar rather a window to look through.

“Would Joanne be OK with that?” he asked.

“It will only take a few minutes, what’s the harm? She already said it was fine for the two of you to communicate, and besides I won’t tell her if you don’t,” said Celestia.

“Sure then, why not?”

“As you wish. I know she’ll be very pleased to see you again,” said Celestia. Alex’s computer monitor flickered and when the image resolved he found himself looking into a little kitchen in Equestria. Vibrant was standing before the sink with her back to him, levitating a dirty plate under the running water and scrubbing flecks of salad dressing off of it with a sponge. Alex was about to greet her but stopped when he realized that she was singing to herself, in a quick and upbeat tune that he’d heard before.

I am the very model of a modern magic unicorn
I’ve learned to cast many a different type of spell from my new horn
Into this world Equestria I’m happy to have been reborn
a pony who’s the model of a modern magic unicorn!

The first few days I will admit I wasn’t a fan of this form
But now I find that I look great in any dress or uniform
I’ve learned three brand new languages and how to write in cuneiform
as is fitting for the model of a modern magic unicorn!

I never would have thought that I’d be able to expand my mind
Or make so many friends among the pony folk and humankind
From my newest best friend Val to her gorgeous brother who’s named Alex
I hope one day he uploads and we end up having lots of-


The dish Vibrant had been cleaning fell to the floor and shattered as she jumped halfway to the ceiling in surprise. She stood stock still and spoke without turning around. “Alex? Is that you?”

“Happy birthday, Vibrant. I thought that I would surprise you, but if it’s a bad time...”

“Well, you definitely surprised me,” said Vibrant. She took a deep breath and turned around, still a bit ruddy-cheeked. “It’s the middle of the day for you there, isn’t it? You must be busy. Besides I was just about to... um... go to lunch! Where I’m meeting some of my friends so I should really leave.”

“Lunch? But it looks like you just ate and were cleaning up,” said Alex.

“It’s... a special second lunch for ponies who are having birthdays. You know Equestria, all sorts of crazy traditions!” She laughed much too loudly at her own comment. “Thanks for thinking of me, but I need to go to there now. Right now. Bye!” She turned and galloped out of the kitchen without bothering to pick up the pieces of the broken plate. After she left the view he’d had of her kitchen reverted to his normal computer desktop.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you? No wonder you and Gentle Wing get along so well,” said Alex.

“I haven’t even the faintest notion what you could possibly be referring to,” said Celestia though her grin said otherwise.

Alex thought for a moment. “Could I send Vibrant a birthday gift?”

A playful spark seemed to dance in Celestia’s eyes. “Of course. What did you have in mind?”

“The complete works of Gilbert and Sullivan, if you’ve got them. Oh, and I’d like to personalize it. Take a note...”


The rest of the day passed uneventfully and at six thirty Alex left for the weekend. After the day he’d had he didn’t really feel like going out. His new apartment was much nicer than the hovel he’d used to live in, one of the many perks of making the kind of money ASB was paying him. He’d still kept his old car, though. It ran just fine and besides a flashy and expensive might as well have a STEAL ME sign permanently taped to the back of it.

The first thing Alex did on getting home was to check his online dating profile. He would never admit that he’d decided to try it, especially not to Valerie, but given the hours he worked stumbling upon the right person by chance wasn’t very likely. The bar scene had never really been all that appealing to him either. Despite the lofty claims the site had made when he’d signed up it had been a major disappointment. Women he messaged never wrote back, and what did show up in his inbox were messages riddled with spelling errors and stupidity. How could it be possible that there wasn’t a stimulating women anywhere in New York City who was interested in him?

His email was a little more promising. A friend of his who lived in New Jersey had sent him a note asking if he wanted to meet up for lunch tomorrow while he was in the city. Alex jotted down the time and replied that he would be happy to see him again.

Alex enjoyed the rest of the evening at home for the most part, except for one tiny detail. He found that whatever he tried he just couldn’t get a particular song from Pirates of Penzance out of his head.


Alex met Jeremy at a little restaurant in Queens. They hadn’t seen each other for nearly a year and a half, but they were the sort of friends who could pick up right where they’d left off as if they’d seen each other a day ago. Jeremy was a computer guy by trade, and was bursting with questions about Celestia.

“What’s she like to work with?”

“I didn’t think she’d be so warm and personable. When I imagined her I had always pictured her as all robotic. ‘NEGATIVE, AFFIRMATIVE, PONIES, BEEP BEEP,’ that sort of thing. But she’s probably my favorite coworker, and a good friend,” said Alex. He reflected for a moment that she seemed in a lot of ways more human than, say, Caffery. Just thinking about that guy brought a bad taste to his mouth.

“That’s what she’s like in the game, too,” said Jeremy. “Actually... I kind of had an ulterior motive for asking you come to lunch today. I was hoping I could ask you about some legal stuff.”

“I’ll answer you if I can. There are all sorts of rules about that. What’s your question?”

“We got some news back from the doctor the other day,” said Jeremy.

“Uh oh. Is everything alright?”

“Renee... can’t have kids. We’ve been trying for a while, but...”

“Oh, man. Jeremy I’m really sorry to hear that. I know you guys wanted to,” said Alex.

“Yeah. It’s not the end of the world though, we’re thinking about adopting instead.”

“That’s great! Adoption isn’t my area of expertise, but I can recommend someone. I don’t think you’ll have any major trouble though. You two are married and have a pretty stable home environment. Whatever government agency you work for, they seem to pay you pretty well, right?” asked Alex. He couldn’t imagine a better pair of prospective parents than those two.

“I really can’t talk about my job, Alex. Come on.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that. You’ll just have to show them tax returns or something like that for the financial side,” said Alex.

“We’ve actually talked about it and we’ve sort of picked someone out already,” said Jeremy.

“Sounds like you don’t need my help at all then. Congratulations!”

“Don’t congratulate me yet, here’s where it gets complicated. See, one of the reasons we were trying now is that we’ve both been playing a lot of Equestria Online lately. One of the young fillies on our Pony Pad was just, well, everything Renee and I would ever want in a daughter. Now that we can’t have our own biological kids we wondered if...”

“Are you asking me if you can adopt a pony?” asked Alex, even though the answer was pretty self-evident.

“Yeah. I know she’d still have to stay in Equestria and everything, but neither one of us wants to upload right now. We asked Celestia about it last night and she said that you might be able to help us, maybe?”

Alex’s head spun. The question was a huge can of worms. Why couldn’t Jeremy have just had a question about the title to his car or something?

“Why would you need to adopt her? I mean I can understand the impulse but if she’s in Equestria material concerns won’t be an issue for her, and she can’t come and live with you,” said Alex.

“I know, but what if something happened to Renee and I? She’d never even know anything beyond that we just abandoned her. Or what if one of us ended up in the hospital? You can’t even bring a cell phone into those places much less a Pony Pad. The only hope we’d have would be if Meadow Blossom had actual visitation rights. Even beyond that stuff, and maybe this is just me being stupid, but I’d feel like I wasn’t a real parent somehow,” said Jeremy. Alex could tell he was really upset by this.

“Let me tell you what, I can’t give you an easy answer for any of that until I do some research but I’ll check it out first thing Monday,” said Alex. Jeremy brightened up, which was only going to make what Alex was about to say next that much harder. “Jeremy, don’t get your hopes up. I’m going to try everything I can to help you out but I’m also going to tell you upfront that this is a longshot, at best.”

“I guess that’s all I can ask. I owe you one, Alex, thanks.”

“Sorry I don’t have a better answer to give you,” said Alex. They went back to their meal but Alex was only half paying attention to the rest of what Jeremy was talking about as he tried to attack this new problem from every angle he could think of. He just didn’t see how he could pull this off with the laws the way they were now. A shame they had ruled out uploading, which was the obvious solution. Whatever Jeremy did for the government probably ruled that out though. All Alex really knew about his friends job was that it involved computers somehow and was beyond secret. The government would flip out at the prospect of someone like that having their brain copied. Still Celestia had said that she thought Alex could help. She must have a plan, right?


The question of how to help Jeremy was still on Alex’s mind the next day, and he decided it would be a good day to get out of the city and go for a hike somewhere upstate. He got up early and drove about an hour and a half north to hilly forest near Hudson Valley that he’d been to before. After a moment of debate he decided to leave his cell phone in the car. He needed a day without distractions.

The workout of hiking was exactly what Alex needed. Eleven miles later, he’d completed the loop and cleared his head. The sun was nearly set. He hadn’t thought of any specific ideas, but at least he was feeling optimistic.

That feeling proved fleeting when checked his phone. Seventeen missed calls, all of them from Valerie. She hadn’t left a single voicemail message though. Before he could call back the phone rang. Call number eighteen. Alex hit the button to answer.


Why the hell aren’t you answering you damn phone?”

“I didn’t have it on me. What’s wrong?”

Instead of answering Valerie burst into sobs. Alex started to feel panic setting in. “Valerie, where are you?”

“At *sniff* the hospital. They were out on the lake when a storm came up out of nowhere. The boat tipped over.”

“Wait, the Hamilton’s boat? Is Mom going to be okay?”

“Alex... Mom’s dead.”

Author's Note:

I really shouldn't have to link the song that goes with those lyrics.

Oh, and are you guys reading Heavenly Nostrils? It's basically Friendship is Magic meets Calvin and Hobbes. That's the strip that kicked off the idea in my head, and probably guaranteed Vibrant would come back for the story. In my original conception she never would resurfaced after the scene where Alex questioned her about her testimony.

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