She is small, in a way that makes her easy to underestimate, and to feed on long spaceflights. She is reserved and affectless, in a way that makes others desperate to befriend her, or at least to make her laugh. She is wise beyond her years, but looks half her age. She is Hilea Zelnick, Earth’s greatest liar.
Insomuch as the Terran Hegemony will acknowledge her as an employee, she is officially listed as a diplomat. When she accompanies the interplanetary delegations, however, that is rarely her title. She is some other, minor thing, important enough to justify her presence but not important enough to occupy much time. She has been a linguist, a custodian, a munitions expert. She is often a botanist.
Hilea is fluent in some thirty-seven languages, and picks up more like suns pick up cosmic debris. She is so adept in these languages that she can flawlessly pretend not to speak them, then play a gratifyingly quick study under an altruistic alien tutor. It is another of the ways in which she is good at making friends.
Hilea’s job is to make the galaxy’s other sentient species think it was their own idea to join the Terran Union, under the strict terms the Union dictates. She “leaks” tantalizing rumors of Union life to the aliens she befriends. She seduces them with her eagerness to understand their culture. In truth, she lies very little. As with the Bonsai trees she keeps, it takes only the occasional suggestion of a barrier to create the patterns she desires. With words and with silence, with laughter and with lies, she shapes her new acquaintances into their homeworlds’ own greatest liars.
[Face by Frank Tasty]
Back in highschool, a teacher told Jimmy that if we could see every organism floating in the air around us, we’d go crazy. These days, Jimmy Flaco wishes he could see those organisms. It’d block out the other things he can’t help but see.
He’s the lead singer of a rock band, and like most of the good ones he made a pact with the devil years ago. He didn’t ask for a good voice, though, or a marketable face, or a perpetually hard cock. His voice is a hand-saw drawn across the hood of a rusty Studebaker, his strong cheekbones are always drenched with nervous sweat, and the only shit that gets him hard these days … well that certainly isn’t marketable. Jimmy asked to see inside people. He wanted to tell the truth with his music, and he figured he ought to know it first. The devil shrugged, and now Jimmy sees souls.
Written on the soul of every person, like the rings in a tree, is a record of every awful thing they’ve ever done. The most beautiful people Jimmy meets – the ones who did trade for eternal beauty – have gnarled ghouls walking around inside their perfect skins. He can tell a child-murderer at a glance. He sees souls even with his eyes closed, and though his body is failing – from all the stress and heroin – his eyes will never age.
The visions of corruption aren’t the worst part, though. Every time he plays a show now – and he has to play shows, to packed arenas – he gets to watch the whole audience give their souls to him. They vomit them up alongside their frantic cheers, and their ugly ghosts float around him to caress his sweaty brow, run spectral fingers through his damp hair. Everywhere he goes, he is followed by the souls he’s stolen with his voice. A whole army of them, fawning over their unwilling master. Before he dies, which he hopes will be very soon, he needs to find something good to do with all these souls. He needs to find a way to phrase his truth in such a way that it can, if not give them back their souls, at least make their souls beautiful again.
[Face by Frank Tasty]