“The Anilef are funny things,” Serena said.

“I’ve never met one. Guess I should have read up on them.”

“Well, they’re a minor power at best. They tend to trade their skills for raw materials and finished products. They do remote tech support via galactic network. Ever have a support call with NerdCorps? Maybe the Eureka Bar?”

“You’re joking,” said Anika. “That was the Anilef?”

Serena smiled broadly. “Yeah. They’re really good at distributed cognition, but they almost always use a computer generated avatar. To keep people from being alarmed, you know, by their appearance.”

“Is it that alarming, though?” Anika said. “I thought they were just big sponges.”

“More like coral, I’d say, with a little Portuguese man’o’war mixed in to taste. But they go the extra mile in trying to fit in with others.”

“More than the Haxge, who just wear that environment suit?” laughed Anika. “Or the Yarub, who just swirl there and dare you to stare at them?”

“It’s a bigger sacrifice than that, I’d say,” Serena said. “The Anilef put down a skeleton as they grow, and it serves as the center of their distributed consciousness. They can send their polyps out as free swimmers to manipulate things, but…well, let’s not get too into how it works. This is a financial meeting, after all.”

“So…?”

The doors slid open and revealed the Anilef in its travel capsule. It was growing in the rough form of a humanoid, with a shimmering purple membrane where skin ought to have been. A forest of gently undulating jellylike tentacles stood in for hair, and as Anika and Serena approached, the “face” lit up, with chromophores lighting up to simulate eyes, nostrils, and mouth.

Words came over the speaker through the translation program, in time with pulses of light playing across the Anilef’s “skin.” It rendered the complex interplay of visible light, invisible light, and water-soluble pheromones into comprehensible language.

“Greetings, friends. I am Sryvan of the Anilef, and I have made it my mission and my growing over many years to deal with your people face-to-face.”

Serena nodded at Anika. “This is where you take over. I’m just here for support and context.”

Anika stepped up to the transport capsule and laid her briefcase upon a table that had been set up before it. She pulled out a sheaf of papers and tapped them into shape.

“Very well,” she said. “Who do you want to sue, and why?”

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