Near the end of the Golden Age of the Abbasid Caliphate, engineers digging an irrigation ditch uncovered a most curious item. Accounts differ as to whether it was found there or plunged to the site in a ball of fire from the heavens, but all agree on the nature of the object: a nearly perfect cube of a material that was smooth as obsidian, warm to the touch, and roughly the size of a man’s head. Astonishing its discoverers, the cube was surrendered to the Caliph reigning in Baghdad and his House of Wisdom, the greatest grouping of scientific minds of this or any age.
It was called sagheer kaaba or little cube by those who found it, in reference to its shape as a near-perfect cube. Many in the House of Wisdom found the sagheer kaaba to be pleasingly evocative of the holy Kaaba in the Great Mosque, the House of God. For this reason, it was felt by some in Baghdad that the sagheer kaaba must be divine in and of itself, a gift from Allah.
The Caliph warned sternly against this, promising to punish as idolaters any who bowed to the sagheer kaaba in prayer and ignored the directive in hadith and surah that only the holy Kaaba in Mecca was to be used for such. Nevertheless, the Caliph allowed the study and display of the sagheer kaaba within the House of Wisdom as a curiosity.
One of the greatest minds of his age, the polymath Ibn Al-Haytham was the first to discover a curious property of the sagheer kaaba during an experiment in physics. The object had the curious property of generating an electric current in any conductor it touched–or even was brought into close proximity with. Ibn Al-Haytham was able to use the sagheer kaaba to power a variety of small automatons he constructed for the Caliph’s amusement, and the fragmentary Baghdad Chronicle records the Caliph’s son being delighted by a “mechanism of skittering brass legs like unto a spider” with the cube perched on top of it.
Study continued after the deaths of Al-Haytham and the reigning Caliph, with increasingly elaborate devices being designed to draw on the sagheer kaaba‘s power, which was found to grow at a geometric rate in response to the demands made upon it. It powered baths, moving walkways in the palace, lights that burned without wicks or oil, and a series of catapults and crossbows arrayed in the city walls for the purpose of defense.
In time, too, the younger Caliph wavered in his father’s attitude toward the sagheer kaaba as an focal point of worship. Arguing that its wondrous properties could mean nothing but a divine origin, the Caliph and his household began directing their daily prayers to Allah to the small cube rather than the great one. The House of Wisdom’s best scholars noted with unease that the cube seemed to increase its power output as a response to these prayers, and several quietly quit their posts and left Baghdad.
When the great imams of Baghdad learned of the Caliph’s actions, they demanded that he cease his heresy at once. He agreed through a messanger and announced that the sagheer kaaba had been destroyed, but thereupon he and his household were largely confined to the palace and did not appear in public. Observers from the House of Wisdom noted that the Caliph’s palace was increasingly fortified, and that the sagheer kaaba-powered defenses had begin appearing inside the city walls, at the palace’s battlements.
Eventually, the Caliph’s eldest son returned from campaigning against the Mongols in Iran and attempted to meet with his father. Denied access–again through a messenger–he snuck in through a secret oubliette. The next day, shaken and trembling, the Caliph’s son summoned the imams, the House of Wisdom’s scholars, and the commander of the Baghdad garrison. Without giving an explanation other than heresy and continued idolatry, he insisted that an attack on the palace begin at once.
When an emissary sent to the Caliph returned full of crossbow bolts, the luminaries of Baghdad agreed to the assault. They soon found out how efficient the new defenses were, though, and if the records are to be believed close to 10,000 men were wounded or killed in the battle–cut down by all manner of infernal machines. The troops that did pierce the inner sanctum were sworn to secrecy, but several accounts of moldering bodies locked in the harem and the sagheer kaaba floating in glory on a throne of gold nevertheless survived.
The new Caliph declated the sagheer kaaba to be a thing of the devil, a demon set loose upon the earth, and attempted to destroy it. The Mongols preempted this, however, with their great assault on Baghdad’s weakened defenses. With the sagheer kaaba‘s miraculous machines no longer functioning, the enlightened city of Baghdad fell to the invaders in only 12 days.
Unreliable accounts indicate that the sagheer kaaba was delivered to the Khan as a curiosity along with the Caliph’s severed head. In any case, its last known whereabouts were in the titanic convoy of plunder that left Baghdad in 1259 bound for Karakorum.
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