Sirius B

a short story by Grommy

    A hollow wind drove through the gray street, earthen hovels lining either side. Some dwellings were completely destroyed, little more than piles of muddy rubble lying strewn across their respective lots. However, most had fared better under the stresses of the elements and still stood, however transiently. Secured in a small burrow, carved into the far side of the boundary wall, was a little figure with its arms outstretched, holding a weapon in a triumphant pose. In the past it had wielded two, but, like the scene surrounding the monument, time had not been kind to it; all that remained now was a pathetic, fractured blade. Clinging haphazardly to its skin were flakes of off-white paint, crusting like lichen, and glowing along the figure’s margins was a halo of pale algae, which had appeared where the torchlight didn’t penetrate quite as harshly.

    The statue was dedicated to the people’s savior. A conqueror of sin, and a cleanser of souls. So deeply entrenched was reverence in the people that the first name most children would learn was hers—Lilith.

    Generations had passed since Lilith’s time, since the Schism, but its lingering memory still lived healthily in the minds of the public, its invisible, ghostly hand-shaping civilization like a clay doll.

    Long ago, a horrible illness had arisen. Though it took many weeks to be noticed, by the time it was identified, it was already too late. The disease flowed ruthlessly through the population, appearing as quickly as a spark in a box of tinder before raging like a wildfire. For years, cycles of boom and bust ravaged the people.

    There were no obvious signs of sickness, and for the first few weeks of its spread, life was normal. Except for those who’d come down with one of the regular yearly sicknesses, nobody was coughing or sniffling. Instead, the infection would develop in a much more sinister manner. Starting two weeks after finding a host, it would begin to silently carve tunnels through the host’s flesh with its hyphae, effectively building its own wiry skeleton from pale, rubbery flesh.

    This is how the disease spread. From two specialized roots would flow a slurry of tiny egg-like cells; each one had the potential to grow into another full infection. It would void these spores into the stomach and the mouth. This ensured that no matter which way the young germs entered the world, they would have a chance of colonizing another body.

    Nevertheless, like every animal, plant, fungus, or bacterium that had lived or will ever live, the infection was not perfect. Though successful, the sickening disease could not live forever. The body it had claimed would eventually grow wise to its numbing effects. The invader could only produce so much of its anesthetic, after all. Evolution had gifted it with a way to circumvent this—a clever last stand. About two months after its introduction, the infection would cease growing its roots, the network already encompassing most of the host’s body—instead, it would begin focusing all its energy on a single project. In the middle of the host’s back, just under the surface, a veritable spear made of rigid chitin would begin forming. Every available little bit of effort the infection exuded, every little nutrient it had stockpiled, went towards its growing lance.

    This would go on for just a few days if the host was lucky and succumbed quickly to the ensuing fever, but often it would last over a week. As the body fought with itself to purge the invader it had now discovered, the infection would jab its spear straight through the back, exposing it for the first time to the outside world. Here, pointing straight up into the sky, it would bloom into a nineteen-pointed flower with segmented, chitinous petals. From these petals would sprout countless thousands of spores, which could catch the breeze and float effortlessly through the wind, fluttering like tiny angels.

    The explosive final stage of the disease is what earned it its common name, which roughly translates to “Crown of the Sun.”

    It was soon impossible for anyone to tell who might wear the crown next. It could be a neighbor, a close family member, or even oneself. News spread quickly of the infection, and with it, mistrust, and paranoia. Where there had once been a community, there was now a row of hovels, each their own little world.

    This kind of isolation was a natural response to a disease so infectious; quarantining was the only way to prevent a swift annihilation—the best way to stop a fire is to deprive it of fuel. But it was ultimately unsustainable. Pantries don’t stay stocked forever, after all. People would eventually need to leave. And leave they did. But the world they found was a far cry from the one they had last seen.


    It isn’t remembered how the conflict started, not that it matters much. So tight was fear’s hold on the public conscious, it could’ve been anyone. What is remembered is the utter chaos that followed— people pushing through masses of corpses to jab into one another, in a desperate struggle for resources as the systems that produced them broke down. It was neighbor against neighbor. Sister against sister. Nobody was safe in this world. Ironically, the chaos only aided in the proliferation of the Crown. The battlefields were, naturally, not the most hygienic places, and the constant exposure to bodily fluids and the laborious nature of battle ensured that a huge number of people would become host to a little Sun; the population was sliced in half several times over.

    Though forming bonds was difficult at this time, it wasn’t impossible. People are inherently social, and they needed a clan to survive in a world as harsh as this. So, they grouped up with anyone with whom they might share an enemy, or with whom they had even the shallowest of similarities. Because of this, the titles of friend and foe were quite superficial. Bands of three-horned marauders made a living by raiding stores of supplies, cutting down those monstrous two-horns. Those well-endowed in height aimed their projectiles down at the stocky dwarves that clambered for shelter in their hovels. All the while backs continued to pop and the rays stretched out.

    That was until a single individual arose from an obscure corner of the dismal scene. She glowed with a radiance like alabaster, stinging the eyes, and spoke like water crashing in a rapid. Crossing streets and across the territories lesser individuals squabbled for, she kept a keen eye out for others like herself. Not that any could hope to match up to her sheen, but in comparison to the muted reds, greens, and yellows that stuck to the others’ skins, they were like opulent pearls.

    She never became ill. Despite spending an inordinate amount of time amid the Crown—in places where its spores floated idly through the air like a dusty attic—she remained in good health. Her followers attributed this to the brilliance of her veneer. How could the rays of the sun ever hope to cling to something that reflected it so brilliantly? It was proof of her holiness: A gift that had marked her destiny from birth.

    Her teachings were rousing, and her charisma intoxicating. To her broken followers, she was a deity: a savior that could lift their souls from this sick plane and show them life in perfect, comfortable twilight. She talked a great deal about the sins of the people. How had they allowed the outside world’s illness to infiltrate their harmonic society, welcoming in the piercing white rays, and burning to ashes like a corpse? She promised a return to an idyllic state of being. In her era, nobody could remember a time before the Schism, as it would go on to be known, so their tired minds were susceptible to this kind of rhetoric.

    By her thirteenth cycle, she had amassed a following of fifteen, maybe twenty devotees. They followed her everywhere she went and attended to her every need. She was their queen, and like a queen, or maybe a gyne, she knew the time would come when she had to establish her kingdom. So one day, with her disciples, she departed from the wretched world and entered a place the sun couldn’t pierce. From within a mound of earth, Lilith and her followers would create an ark for the people; a vault safe from the corruption of the outside world, where purity and perfection could flourish.

    Generations would be born into the nest, never knowing firsthand the terror of the Sun. In the cool darkness, they would all become as white as Lilith. And with their collective radiance, they would be free of the sun.


    The pale creature’s thought process halted for a moment as it paused to hack up a glob of bloody mucous. After laboriously squeezing out the half-centimeter-sized ball of bodily fluid, it wriggled around for a few moments so that the unpleasant biological amalgam would slide off its skin—it wasn’t much for looks, but it cared about its hygiene. The little thing had long since lost its ability to move more than a few inches without serious risk of exhaustion. In its old age, its muscles had become worn and weak, and its mind enervated.

    Fortunately for the creature, nobody seemed to be around to see it in its revolting state—little dollops of spittle still oozing from its mouth as it collected itself. It had certainly been a while since it had seen anyone else. The only company it had now was the chill wind that occasionally breezed through its small dirt shack.

    It had been thinking recently about the story of its people. About their legacy. Maybe because it felt its own end coming on, or, maybe, it had a cruel sense of dramatic irony. But it had grown uneasy in the past few months, recalling the narrative. Since it could remember, it had been told about the outside, and its Sun. It had heard of the plague and those who had stayed basking in it. Most of all, it had heard of—and loved—Lilith, the all-mother.

    All the same, whilst remembering the details, a foreboding feeling had begun bubbling up in its head; a sneaky sense of dissonance, like a shark lurking beneath the surf. It wasn’t especially pointed yet. It remained to be more of a vague feeling that things just didn’t add up. Still, the creature didn’t like it. It loathed that it was beginning to feel this way. It felt like a slap in the face after a lifetime of pride.

    The generations preceding the organism had been marred by the circumstances of their birth, and its generation was no different. Very few, if any, of the mealy children that had entered the world would survive to adulthood; most youth would emerge horribly malformed. Some had two arms awkwardly dangling out of a single socket. Some had pockets of empty space in their chests, where their hearts had shriveled up into a tight cord of sinewy flesh. Some had legs that jutted out from the tops of their heads like rabbit ears. They were a horrifying sight to behold, like a twisted, alien idea of what an animal should be. Most ignored them; they had become such a regular fixture in the damp, crowded nursery chambers that they simply were cast aside as waste. The most use they had was as fertilizer in the groves of fungus the people cultivated in their underground gardens—however poorly suited the children’s nutrient-deficient bodies were for the job. Like a candle without a wick, they were never meant to bear the light.

    Mercifully, all but a handful of females in the nest would never have to deal with the horror of finding their babies misshapen and stillborn, for only a few would ever be granted the privilege of reproduction. It had been observed in the early generations, after Lilith had gone, that undesirable phenotypes were becoming more common in the population. Where before there had been a relatively uniform palette of whites in the nest, there was now a dull rainbow of diversity—the radiance was being lost. How long would it be before Lilith’s glow was lost entirely? So, it was decided, breeding would be limited to the handful that shone the brightest, so that the nest may remain pure. And this practice gallantly marched forward until it would be halted by the very laws of biology.

    The creature was notable in a few ways. It had been the only one of its brood to survive to maturity. All its brothers and sisters were dead on arrival, or died very shortly after, and were promptly cast into the soil. While not shining especially bright, its complexion was still above average and certainly would’ve granted it breeding rights—if it was capable. But it was still diseased: Its two front legs had fused together into a set of dysfunctional, paddle-like bars. And because of them, its locomotory ability was limited to horribly slow, laborious strokes of the two appendages (supported in part by its sole normal pair of legs). All it could do was drag its fat little body along the ground like a sea turtle. Nevertheless, it was heaped with praise and afforded the best the nest had to offer.

    The animal had truly believed it was living in the pinnacle of the civilized world: in that city set on—or in—a hill, it held the righteous deed to the world. It was a holy creature blessed with near-divine radiance. In spite of that, looking at the ruins that lined the streets, it knew that wasn’t the case. It couldn’t be. How could a fate like this befall the masters of this place? The creature knew deep down that nothing about the story it had heard since birth added up, not now. It subconsciously understood how much of a parody its life had been. But it did not have the strength to accept this. It couldn’t. Not after a lifetime of reverence.

    Cruel as ever, fate had seen fit that this individual would be the endling. The last sentence of the last page in the book of its people. The final resting place for all the memories, hopes, and beliefs of a culture. It could’ve been a pitiful last whimper into the night, as the pale creature succumbed to hunger, exhaustion, or just plain sorrow, and its light was snuffed out. But instead, it made a choice that would alter the end, and change the future. It would seek revelation.


    Mud squelched in the packed earthen tunnels as the creature’s forelimbs pulled it along, leaving tread marks sculpted into the ground. Its approach was sluggish but consistent, like a quarry truck carrying a load of fresh rubble. Its oars heaved against the dirt with the same steady routine as a scull. It was exhausting work, but it didn’t pause its march. It was hungry, sure, and it was heaving loudly. Still, somehow, it pushed on with the same conviction as ever, as though it were finding power in something other than its metabolism.

    It wiggled past tattered fibers, which had once woven elegant tapestry that now lay raggedly on the ground. It paid these artifacts little attention and kept rowing. Whatever they’d represented was long forgotten anyway. The later generations, on top of the physical deformities, were marked by deformity of culture. As the caretakers became overwhelmed by the demands of their tasks, having to attend to misshapen, dying babies, they had less and less time to dedicate to other things. This fact was the thing that singlehandedly changed the nest the most, as its effects radiated out like waves in a pond. Soon, other castes were forced to take up jobs that they simply weren’t suited for. The overall working efficiency of the nest nosedived, which, combined with the number of adults being taken by deleterious mutations, caused the quick collapse. The people of the nest made a valiant effort to hang on, and maybe if things had come slower, they could’ve kept pace and made it out on top. However, this is not how biology works. You can’t outrun your own failing genes.

    The creature laboriously wiggled a little more until it had managed to prop itself up on a little pile of muddy rubble. Its pale skin was smeared with the wet dirt, and its heaving was now plainly audible. Despite all odds stacked against the creature, it had made it. Secured in the small burrow that lie in front of the animal, carved into the far side of the boundary wall, was a little figure. Her arms were outstretched and in a triumphant pose and she bore a weapon. In the past she had wielded two but, like with the animal that stared up at her once-radiant form, time had not been kind. Clinging haphazardly to her skin were flakes of off-white paint, crusting like lichen, and glowing along her margins was a halo of pale algae, which had appeared where the torchlight hadn’t penetrated quite as harshly. The creature’s mind grew fuzzy at the scene; either from exhaustion, reverence, or more likely a combination of the two. And it slipped into a trace.


    It stood before a line of pallid individuals. Each one was facing the same direction, like they were all links in a giant chain that stretched on and on into the distance. On either side of the links, there were yet more lines, so that the original chain lay in the middle of the crowd. As the chain stretched further and further towards the horizon, the length of each flanking line shortened, until at the very end each row was comprised of a handful of individuals, forming an arrangement like a triangle. The individuals furthest to the back were pale but near the front of the group they grew more and more radiant. And shining dazzlingly at the tip of the triangle was a single, brilliant point, which pierced into the darkness like a beacon. Opposing the white triangle was another group, similarly triangular and made up of a rainbow of colors. The two triangles faced one another, locking their cold, milky eyes. From above, the two groups resembled an hourglass shape. The sight was dreamlike, and its edges rippled like waves on a beach; a turbulent in and out that sought to endlessly reshape the sand.

    Soon the pale creature felt a numbness spreading throughout its body. First in its appendages, but soon extending deep into its core. It collapsed into itself and became a singular, weightless particle of light. In this quick moment, it was being pulled forward in the chain, like a buoy on the tide, before it regained its mass and sunk into one of the forms a few links up.

    The waves seemed to part as the edges of the creature’s vision solidified into a scene as rich as life. It was in the nest. But things were different. The hollow wind that had once coursed through the tunnels and streets was drowned out by the sounds of life. The soft clamp of a thousand footfalls. Murmuring. The whirring of simple machines. There were less pleasant sounds in the air—coughing and moaning weren’t especially rare by this time. But more notably, there were nice ones: Pale people laughing and sharing stories. It’s what life had been, not that long ago.

    The creature felt that it had four-thousand arms, two-thousand feet, a thousand heads. Each of them was in a different place, doing and feeling different things. Some were curled up in their death throes, and others were just emerging in the nursery, their washy eyes ignorant of their destiny. It felt like it was them. All of them. It felt their sorrows and joys. Struggles and triumphs. More than anything, it felt their fear; the fear that the outside would peer in and stamp out their flame. That it would take everything they had worked so hard for and eliminate their way of life. That they would be bleached and crumble under the intensity of the sunlight.

    In a flash, it was over. The organism felt like it had lived thousands of years in a single moment. Just as soon as it had understood the things it had seen, it floated up and away, before descending once again into another link of the chain. It would continue the cycle of floating, descent, and floating again for several hundred iterations. Each time experiencing the passage of millennia in just a millisecond.

    As time went on, the forms it inhabited became increasingly alien. The peoples’ fat little bodies gradually became slimmer and well-armored. Their legs became longer. The babies became healthier, and the few that did come out misshapen were looked at with great distress. Their skin, now giving way to proper shells, also became whiter. But curiously they never shone that brightly, always possessing mottled multicolored specks beneath the surface. The number of lives it lived was dwindling too. Where it had before peered through a thousand eyes, it now only saw a hundred.

    Eventually, it felt it had reached the precipice. Like it was staring out over a horizon, the sun looming massive in the distance. It stood there for a few seconds, before she appeared. The star in the sky dimmed and coalesced into a single point, which landed on the dusty ground like a raindrop. The creature was no longer in an elegant, speckled body, like the ones it had spent several thousand lifetimes in. But it was back to wallowing on the ground. Heaving and clearing spittle from its face with its two paddle-like arms. Lilith stared down at the grub;their differences now starkly apparent. Its squishy skin was a mealy white, where hers shone a brilliant opal, multicolored speckles dazzling underneath its surface. Other spectral bugs now were coalescing; a rainbow of haggard specters, no one the same. Some were colors the worm’s eye couldn’t even perceive. They looked weary. It gazed into her eyes, a polychromatic aura now orbiting her black hole pupils. In these haunting pupils, it saw a vision.

    Each eye became a star and everything else in the scene faded to blackness. The two stars circled one another in a tranquil dance, radiating the full spectrum of light. About halfway through, the rightmost star’s hue shifted to a smoldering red, and it grew into a massive angry ball. After a few seconds, its wrath waned and it shed its outer layers, leaving a puny white dwarf. The star and the dwarf kept up their dance until the pathetic white thing had dissipated entirely. And the grub understood.


    An intruder crawled hesitantly through the muddy holes of the nest. Its fiery shell was tarnished by particles of dirt and dust carried in the breeze. It emerged from a tunnel into a gray street, lined with earthen hovels. Most were totally destroyed, little more than piles of muddy rubble lying strewn across their respective lots; some had fared better under the stresses of the elements and still stood, however transiently. It hesitantly moved forward, still wary of the dangers that might lurk in this cavern. It moved along the walls to limit the possibility of being encircled. Nobody knew what lurked in the tunnels. Long had they been the subject of legends, which spoke of the horrible pasty monsters that dwelled within.

    Coming to an alley between two still-standing walls, the intruder noticed a small burrow, carved into the far side of the boundary wall. Though its unease was palpable, its curiosity was ultimately in the driver’s seat. Slumped on the ground in front of the burrow was a small object of some sort. It was hard to make out the amorphous shape in the low light. A mushroom, perhaps?

    Figuring the coast was clear, the intruder strode up to the object and pumped its abdomen with luciferin, producing a brief pulse of yellow light. It lasted all but a second, but what it witnessed caused it to jump back in horror. It looked like an old man with the body of a deformed child. It was sickly looking, its complexion luridly pale. Its eyes were peacefully shut like a bedroom door, its tail curled up in rest. The fiery angel spread its wings and darted to the ceiling, before fleeing through the tunnels from whence it came.

    The dismal wind coursed once again through the dusty streets, a requiem for a people now dissolved. The star was dancing alone. Lilith’s effigy stared out at the muddy hovels. And no one was home.