Covenant A Novel - By Dean Crawford




She’s out here somewhere.”

Ahmed Khan had to shout above the hot wind tugging at his thick black hair as he wrestled an open-topped jeep across a desiccated landscape of thorn scrub and dusty riverbeds. Desert sand whipped past the windshield, stinging his eyes as it had those of his Bedouin forefathers for a thousand generations. To the west, the sun descended into a sea of molten metal.

“Can you find her before dark?”

Dr. Damon Sheviz sat in the passenger seat, a diminutive man with a feeble ponytail of white hair that twitched in the wind behind the collar of his tweed jacket. An associate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the elderly academic was clearly unhappy in the merciless firmament of the Negev. Ahmed saw him glance nervously over his shoulder at a rifle in the rear of the jeep, there to guard against foxes, rogue ibex, and anything else unfriendly they might encounter.

Ahmed did not reply, yanking the wheel of the jeep to one side as they climbed a steep escarpment peppered with thorn scrub. The engine growled as the wheels clawed ever upward through drifting sands until the jeep breached the top. Ahmed eased the vehicle to a stop and switched off the engine. A silence as deep as eternity descended around them as the Bedouin vaulted from his seat and walked to the other side of the ridge.

The Jordan Rift Valley sliced across the wilderness ahead, an ancient seismic scar slashed by the tributaries of long-extinct rivers that snaked their way into the endless deserts. Ahmed sighed and squatted down. He lifted a fistful of dust from the earth and let it fall in the hot breeze as he looked at a pair of parallel tire tracks descending into the valley below.

“Well?” Sheviz demanded, moving to stand alongside him.

“I can, but time is not on our side and she has a head start.” He glanced at the sun as it bled into the trembling horizon. “This is a restricted area. We should not be here at all.”

“I have no desire to travel the desert at night, Mr. Khan.”

Ahmed slowly rose to his full height. “Then go, and peace be upon you. Ma’assalama.” He strode back to the jeep and leaped into the driver’s seat. Crunching the Rover into gear, he suppressed a smile as Sheviz skittered with the speed of a frightened hare and clambered in alongside him.

The drive down into the shadows of the valley took another half an hour, Ahmed cautiously guiding the jeep into the shadow of a deep wadi before killing the engine once more. In the distance the shore of the Red Sea glistened, overlooked in silent vigil by the fortress of Masada. Ahead, Ahmed could see a white vehicle loosely concealed by a thicket of thorn scrub.

“That’s one of our jeeps,” Sheviz whispered.

Ahmed grabbed his rifle as he climbed out of his seat, cocking the weapon and creeping forward in the fading light, the land around him already laced with long blue shadows and the sky above darkening swiftly. Behind him followed Sheviz, treading only where he trod and moving only when he moved.

The Bedouin edged forward and caught sight of a small fire flickering in a clearing ahead. Beads of sweat trickled into his eyes. He brought his weapon to bear, one finger hovering on the trigger as his ears strained, but he heard no voices or footfalls as he lowered himself onto one knee at the edge of the thicket.

The clearing was thirty feet across, ending in the ragged face of a shallow ridge of sedimentary rock that stretched away to his left. Scattered across the clearing were various devices including a portable satellite dish, vacuum hoses, and a laptop computer.

Sheviz pointed ahead. “She’s here, that’s the university’s equipment she—”

The Bedouin clamped his hand across the academic’s mouth and glared at him. Sheviz obediently shuffled back out of sight.

Ahmed crept into the camp and saw a discarded mug near the computer. He dipped a finger inside it, and a trace of residual dampness told him what he wanted to know. He moved down the rocky edifice toward where a soft glow illuminated the sedimentary rock.

An unattended phosphorous lamp sat beside a large sheet of plastic concealing something in the sediment. Ahmed reached down and whipped the plastic sheet aside. He stared at that which lay before him, and then felt a superstitious awe creep like insects across his skin.

Sheviz appeared next to him. “Oh my God.”