The room was clear enough: veils, mosaic, white stucco. Smoke rising from a bejeweled hookah. Old man, dressed in loose flowing robes, smoking said hookah. Quiet, lilting music coming from a set of speakers nestled into the far wall. But there was one thing that escaped clarity, refused to come into focus. A little box in the middle of the room. A sphere, floating three inches off the ground. A pyramid inscribed with a strange design. Every time she looked at it, it was different. It was black, no, grey, no, completely colorless, and from it came a sound that sounded at times like sinuous whispering and at times like a soft, pining song carried by the wind from some far-off place.
She took a step forward. The old man coughed.
“Do you know what this is?” His voice was rough, and his Arabic almost completely unintelligible. If it weren’t such a simple phrase, she though, she might not have understood him.
“I have a guess,” she replied.
The very corner of the man’s lips twisted upward ever so slightly. “Tell me.”
“It’s the Black Cube of Mad Al-Hazred.”
She hesitated. The man waited, silent, smoking his hookah. His eyes were closed and his head bobbed gently up and down. She knew he was praying, uttering one of the Forbidden Chants in his mind. “Save me, oh Mad Arab, from the Darkness and the Things that Writhe in Darkness, from Shub-Niggurath and its Thousand Young, from the Walker in the Wastes and from the mad flute of Azathoth…”
She spoke again.
“This cube is a computing machine. Its purpose is to process advanced image and speech recognition algorithms that will not work on any other machine in the world. The cube is linked via direct Gigabit line to the Mountain View offices of the world’s three largest search engine providers. For the last six months, the search engines have been using this cube to pass the Human Intelligence Threshold and create an artificial intelligence to handle their search queries. These companies refuse to disclose this fact, because they don’t know how the cube works. Nobody knows how the cube works. Some think it’s a quantum computer, some think its an alien artifact, some think it was sent here by God.”
The man coughed again. “So why are you here?”
“To…” she swallowed. It was time to say it. “To find out how it works.”
He laughed this time, a loud, raspy laugh that may as well have been a cough. Little wisps of smoke curled out of his mouth and floated, she was sure, directly towards the box. “And if you can’t?”
“Then.” She raised her right arm, palm facing the old man. The dark pattern started at her fingertips and stretched along the skin of her hand, then further, running along her veins over the forearm, then into the small of her elbow and back out, and ended at her shoulder. Even now, little tendrils stretched further up, yearning to claim the rest of her. To take her mind.
“Then, I intend to destroy it.”