It was the belief of Findyl Dray that if he named the small moon on which he lived, it would only encourage others to mark it on their charts.
In general he was happier undisturbed, and the fewer who knew about his world, the better. His moon circled a giant planet with many rings, its atmosphere banded alternately with brown and pearly gray. The planet circled two dim stars, one blue and one dull yellow.
The light that reached the moon of Findyl Dray was therefore like the early twilight of an autumn day of his home planet, unchanging as the day wore on. It gave him a nostalgic comfort and aided him in his dreams of the strange and wonderful.
Yet, on occasion there were those that came here and for their convenience, Dray had built a spaceport, a paved area where the strange trees of the moon grew within a close distance to six of the seven sides which each were a mile in length, leaving a margin of the thick and lustrous blue grass of the moon between the forest and the landing pad. This landing pad was built of a single piece, a substance of Dray's own devising, capable of sustaining the weight of the largest ship known, and more -- though few were the ships that came and as yet never of a mass or size to test the landing pad.
The seventh side was lined with hangars, and gigantic sheds for the storing of equipment and testing of such devices and phenomena as Findyl Dray might find or conceive of.
Those who came sometimes traveled from unimaginable distances, and the ship that was landing now came from the far edge of the Cygnus Arm of the galaxy, out where the worlds peer into the blackness of transgalactic space itself, and where no known ship from any of the civilized worlds in the Orion Arm had ever ventured.
It was massive, that starship, though not quite so massive as to fill that great landing pad. Its shape was not entirely definable to the human eye, and the material it was made of seemed to be covered entirely by swarming insects, like beetles, that moved and crawled all across the surface of the ship.
As the ship settled, it sang in deep tones and sent the air all around it swirling and frolicking like wind devils.
When it reached the ground the singing stopped, the wind stilled and, after a long time, a portion of the ship's hull opened and four of the beings who manned the vessel appeared and guided a huge vehicle across the field to one of the larger sheds.
Presently, into the shed went Findyl Dray.
Of the vehicle which had brought the cargo here there was now no sign. It was as if the vehicle were constructed of forces which, once used, dissipated into nothingness, leaving only what it had carried.
But there was no sign of the ship's crew, either, and a crew that will complete its mission and then allow its component atoms to be dispersed is a loyal crew indeed, and something worthy of consideration.
But Findyl Dray gave these matters no thought, and instead examined that which the ship in a voyage of 80,000 light years had delivered, and he was pleased, immensely pleased.
He saw before him a block of impalpable force. It rose up above for a quarter mile, and measured no less than half a mile on each side. It was black like the cosmic blackness of space itself, and opulent with stars compressed into a glowing mist within the blackness. It was like a portion of the universe itself light years in extent, impossibly shrunk down and held in place before him, waiting to be studied, understood, manipulated and even changed.
The slender, silver robots of Findyl Dray that were the only other intelligent inhabitants of the moon filed into the hangar and ranked themselves around their lord and his new acquisition and gazed at it in wonder, their metal faces glistening and unchanging.
But the normally immobile face of Findyl Dray was not unchanging. As he gazed on the bit of the universe that was laid out before him, a look of wonder and an expression of awe crossed his features; and at that also, his robots marveled.
This was no simulacrum, no image, no representation of space. It was actual space, a slice of the galaxy itself, excised as if a surgeon had cut a sample from the body of a patient for examination; and then compressed using a technology that Findyl Dray did not believe human beings would achieve for a thousand years.
It was a canvas handed to a Rembrandt; a block of stone offered a Rodin; a scribbled-on piece of parchment waiting to be cleansed and scraped blank by a sharp-edged knife, of some long-dead monk's meaningless laundry list so that a new and perfect poem might be illuminated upon it. No poet could ask more; and Findyl Dray was a poet.
After a time the robots left, all but one, who Findyl Dray had named Xyv after a pet remembered from his childhood. Xyv continued staring at the block of space just as Findyl Dray stared at it, save for Xyv's lack of expression. But there was that in the robot's stance, the robot's attitude which suggested things which an expression might reveal. Noticing the robot's attitude, Findyl Dray said, "Do you know what this is, Xyv?"
"It is, I think, a compression of actual space," said the robot.
"Indeed. The Eslerayn have devised a new process which allows them to do that."
"And you have had them bring it here?"
"Why?" the robot asked.
"That I might rebuild it," said the human, "into something more perfect."
It was impossible to tell how the robot reacted to that statement, whether it marveled at the prospect or whether it regarded it as arrogant and hubristic. But Xyv continued staring in rapt fascination at the thing before them, and Findyl Dray turned his attention to his project and forgot about the robot. In the cloudy brightness that hovered within this slice of space, stars glistened and nebulas glowed, planets and moon in uncountable numbers moved, and perhaps there were beings upon them.
Findyl Dray began his study of the thing. Using instruments of superb sensitivity, he gazed raptly at the marvel before him, regarding this aspect of the stars within it, and that aspect of the way in which this or another world might move. He moved around it that he might study it from every side, and had himself lifted up on wondrous wings that he might see it from above.
The robot Xyv however, left the shed and went into the great palace of Findyl Dray, down a long dusty passageway to the star poet's library.
Here on shelves stacked to the high vaulted ceiling were the books of Findyl Dray, books the poet had read so many times that he could recall almost every word of all of them, though most only with difficulty and great concentration. For that reason he had not ventured to the library for many years. But Xyv came here often and read and reread books and each time he read he learned a little more.
There were books there that contained the secrets of the star mages and it was to these that Xyv went.
Now Findyl Dray was a great poet and his fame and reputation was spread throughout that speck of the Galaxy which humans regard as "explored" and "civilized," and even farther, for Findyl Dray had contact with beings and civilizations other humans did not yet suspect existed. He was known for the meticulous care with which he approached his projects, and the variety of media in which he worked. That he might work with space itself was not a thing to surprise those who followed his career.
At the end of the day he had no more idea of what he intended to do than when he began, but he was confident he was making progress.
Xyv the robot, however, by mid-afternoon found the book and the passage in it that he sought. He committed the passage to his perfect electronic memory.
Findyl Dray had his favorite chair brought into the shed and there he sat until far into the long night of his secret world, gazing at the block of space, hoping for inspiration. When, by midnight, none had come to him he arose, intending to return to his palace to partake of a small late supper and a few hours sleep.
Out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw something in the great block of space.
The day had been long and his study had taxed and strained his endurance, but he did not feel it was a trick of his vision. Something, he knew, had moved inside that block.
Could it have been something that lived? He wondered.
For a bit longer he postponed his meal, his rest, and stood watching; but after several hours, as there was no further sign, he gave up and went into his palace.
Xyv remained behind and continued to watch the block of space.
The robots of Findyl Dray were amazing inventions, tall, slender metallic forms capable of extruding limbs as needed, equipped with instruments capable of subtle perception across the entire spectrum, and throughout the full range of atomic, subatomic and macro-atomic reality as understood by its inventor. Yet as it stood beside its master and studied the great block of empty space, Xyv had perceived no more than he had.
Findyl Dray had grown tired of waiting, but the robot lacked that ability, and remained and watched. The twilight dimmed.
Night loomed and stars, barely perceptible in daytime, came out and space itself stared down at the surface of the world, at the stolen segment of itself and gave no hint of how it felt. Dawn came and the stars faded. But still the robot remained.
In that vast compressed segment of space, nothing seemed to move. Yet surely, as Xyv waited and studied the segment, something within it waited and studied back.
The night passed; the dark, blotted sky assumed a guise of twilight and Findyl Dray returned.
The robot had recorded all that it had seen, which was nothing, but it had also made measurements and analyses, and these were of interest. Findyl Dray downloaded them into his gatherium and studied their implications, gathering much new knowledge though little understanding. Still he had no idea how or into what this segment of space could be remade.
At last, years later, something exciting happened.
There was sudden movement inside the segment of compressed space. Something seemed to flicker into existence. It approached the very edge of the segment and held itself motionless for a billionth part of a second, then went away as quickly as it came.
All this the robot recorded, with observations and measurements, while it signaled Findyl Dray what was happening.
The Star Poet tore himself away from the sonnet he was working on and came at once.
The recordings of Xyv were almost as interesting as being there when the event happened, and had the virtue that they could be played and replayed again and again, for study. For days on end, the poet did just that, and was fascinated at what he saw.
Had he asked Xyv what it thought, he would have received an answer that was fecund with potential for speculation, but he never did. The robot believed the movement in the segment indicated some unknown form of life.
This was not exactly what Xyv had suspected might happen, but it knew this was something on the order of those suspicions.
Then one day the great observatory reported to Findyl Dray that a supernova was about to occur in this region of space.
Findyl Dray went directly to the great observatory to witness the event.
It was sufficiently distant from the Star Poet's world that it would never threaten its safety, but there were other worlds and other star systems, and they were not as lucky. In a million years, perhaps, there would be a radioactive cloud that would visit this vicinity of space, but that did not matter now.
An actual supernova in this day and age. The subtle instruments available to Findyl Dray gathered in their data and processed and analyzed, and the results were so fascinating to him that he forgot all about the segment of compressed space, for a supernova promised an even greater poem.
The robot Xyv, however, could not forget; it did not know how. It remained as assigned, watching the segment and waiting for it knew not what, nor technically cared.
So it was that on the night the great nova was to happen, Xyv observed again that strange, remote unexplained flicker in the segment of space. It watched closely. It recorded all that it could. It seemed to Xyv that something, something that was out of phase even with the robot's many and astonishing instruments of perception, actually came to the surface of the segment and stayed there for almost a second before vanishing again.
And then the robot was called away from its post for the first time in decades, by Findyl Dray.
There was great excitement in the observatory for something unprecedented had been noted. The seven Elders, those robots of superior mental capacity who served Findyl Dray as his senior scientists, were gathered, as were all the lesser robots.
The star that was on the verge off exploding had simply blinked out of existence. No explosion, it was simply no longer where it had been, and there was no clue to where it had gone.
The robot, not having been given any order but to come to the observatory, watched and listened. The Elders were expounding ideas and theories, to which Findyl Dray paid great attention. Xyv listened and understood because he had nothing else to do.
A star had vanished, that was all.
After a time excitement gave way to reason and resolve and the Elders and Findyl Dray organized the robots to study the situation.
Findyl Dray came to Xyv and said, "I believe at long last I have had my inspiration. I know now how I want to rebuild the segment of space brought here by the Eslerayne."
Xyv returned to its post and resumed its study, in the hope that once again it might see the flickering image of that creature -- it was certain now it had been a creature -- that lived inside the segment.
So intent on discovering the whereabouts of the creature was it that the robot did not notice an extra star in the segment for almost a full minute.
But then it did notice, and with alarm communicated the fact to Findyl Dray and the Elders. This was not exactly what Xyv had suspected might happen, but it knew this was something on the order of those suspicions.
Yet even as it realized that, the robot noticed that the star was growing brighter. There was no time for Xyv to perform the rite it had memorized from the ancient book.
The star blossomed and bloomed into a great gout of energy too quickly for human perception, but the robot had better perceptions that any human's.
It saw the energy from the star's explosion fill the segment of compressed space to its limit and push against its edges and outer restricting forces, so that they bulged and quivered, and then burst. And it seemed then to Xyv that the universe was filled with energy and fire and violence and a loud, overwhelming noise.
It also seemed to the robot that there were thousands, hundreds of thousands of flickering things, not just one, inside the segment and that they flew past, expanding into space, going off to take their rightful place among the stars. Not even the robot had time to fully perceive what these creatures really looked like, but in the brief and precious billionth of a second it had, it observed them dutifully.