The glittering iridescent hide of the beast shimmered in the pulsar’s light, dancing across the thick exoskeleton in waves; an interstellar tide.
The Caretaker was busy diving into the engine manifolds: great, burgeoning nuclear fires, spewing plasma and energetic gouts of flame from an internal nebula of compressing and expanding gases within the host beast. They found themselves awash with the colourful radiation of countless elements, and the sensation was not unpleasant as they inspected the inner workings, looking for cracks in the inner shell or discord among the rampant reactions that ricocheted throughout the light-years large space.
Satisfied that no significant damage was present this eon, they contented themselves to a few more centuries adrift along the stellar tide, eventually being ejected out of the engines and trailing in the wake of the Elder One.
The Caretaker had no name – had never felt the need for one – and had been designated for their role by no one but themself. They had taught themselves over vast distances what to investigate, what the creature tended to gravitate toward – literally, in some cases – and how best to keep themselves occupied when not busy with their tasks. Colossal as they were compared to planet-dwelling races, they were a speck in the grand majesty of their charge, a mere pebble in their sea of stars and void.
The beast’s pace had quickened over the millenia, with something akin to a “hurry” on a cosmic scale, and while the speed was measured in light-years at a time, the Caretaker kept abreast of it routinely, skimming across its surface the way a bird might survey its realm, senses keen for anything out of the ordinary. The few things that thrived out here in the background radiation and stellar winds were more than sufficient to sustain the Caretaker’s slow alien biology, which had become more and more like its ward over the journey.
As to where they would end up, one did not know, and the other had never spoken of it. In fact, if the gargantuan ancient had ever uttered a syllable, it was only heard as the song of the astral planes, the vistas of billowing gas and planets whirling their dance through the dark and oily black, with only a single flame to keep them from joining with that sidereal night. If ever there was a destination, it might have come and gone with the passage of time, or be so unfathomable distant as to be rendered moot by the inevitable cooling of reality.
Over the course of their journey together, there had been mishaps, and they had mulled them over during their sojourn across the empty spaces between galaxies. These cold, barren wastes were as endless and foreboding as the oceans of their home galaxy had been, and with nothing to guide by but the flares of the god-beast’s celestial fire.
One such incident involved a collapsing star within the galactic invertebrate’s shell; it had torn away most of the fuel for its thrust, and the two had to limp toward a nearby nebula to replace what had been lost. That leg of their trip had felt glacial by comparison, with the jets from the normally-volcanic engines reduced to a mere pulse of cosmic fumes. The Caretaker had watched with grim fascination as the being consumed the entire gaseous structure – some 80-light-years in size – with an air of refinement, seeming to relish the contents of the stellar nursery as though enjoying a fine meal. The reserves replenished, the hearth of gases within that impressively bedecked hide began to churn out energy again, this time tinged with the colours the nebula had brandished before being consumed.
Now, lost inbetween the lights of distant galaxies so far-flung that they made their journey through the past galaxy look minuscule, those colours were a beacon; without the song of the galaxy’s ever-shifting components, the Caretaker could hear nothing but silence – that empty sound one hears when the mind cannot detect a single noise – and it was deafening.
And then, like the slow reveal of light over the horizon, new sounds reached them as they traversed those obsidian plains. They were reminded of the sight of tiny seabed-crawlers, deep below their planet’s oceans: studious, plodding things, bizarre carapaces of raw material searching for the smallest scraps of nutrient in a dead zone.
Their scuttling search was remarkably similar to their Trust’s, and this expanse of naught but the promise of distant galaxies somehow felt less empty, less haunting. And these new sounds, they were the Trust’s own noises, finally unmasked in the quiet between the stars.
They traveled together for the rest of the Caretaker’s considerable lifetime, even meeting another of the Trust’s kind and witnessing the mating rights of beasts so massive they could stride galaxies. Their funeral had been one of no large consequence: the beast’s engines, alight with the fire of trillions upon trillions of stars, was their kiln. The heat and plasma poured over them like a rising swell, drowning out all but the roar of stellar combustion, until all was a wash of colour and fury.
The Trust scuttled on.