Nikolai was aboard the alien ship. He felt uncomfortable in his heavy brocaded ambassador's coat. He adjusted the heavy sunglasses over his plastic eyes. 'We appreciate your visit to our Kluster,' he told the reptilian ensign. 'It's a very great honour.'
The investor ensign lifted the multicoloured frill behind his massive head. 'We are prepared to do business,' he said.
'I'm interested in alien philosophies,' Nikolai said. 'The answers of other species to the great questions of existence.'
'But there is only one central question,' the alien said. 'We have pursued the answer from star to star. We were hoping you would help us answer it.'
Nikolai was cautious. 'What is the question?'
' "What is it you have that we want?" '
Extract from Bruce Sterling's Cyrstal Express, a collection of his short stories.