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CHAPTER 13

IN A MOONLIT desert just east of Dubai, a Sand Viper 1100 dune buggy veered hard to the left and skidded to a stop, sending a veil of sand billowing out in front of the blazing headlights.

The teenager behind the wheel ripped off his goggles and stared down at the object he had almost run over. Apprehensive, he climbed out of the vehicle and approached the dark form in the sand.

Sure enough, it was exactly what it had appeared to be.

There in his headlights, sprawled facedown on the sand, lay a motionless human body.

Marhaba?” the kid called out. “Hello?”

No response.

The boy could tell it was a man from his clothing—a traditional chechia hat and loose-fitting thawb—and the man looked well fed and squat. His footprints had long since blown away, as had any tire tracks or hints as to how he might have gotten this far out into the open desert.

Marhaba?” the kid repeated.

Nothing.

Uncertain what else to do, the boy reached out with his foot and gently nudged the man’s side. Although his body was plump, his flesh felt taut and hard, already desiccated by the wind and sun.

Definitely dead.

The boy reached down, grasped the man’s shoulder, and heaved him onto his back. The man’s lifeless eyes stared up at the heavens. His face and beard were covered in sand, but even dirty, he looked friendly somehow, even familiar, like a favorite uncle or grandfather.

The roar of a half-dozen quad bikes and buggies thundered nearby as the kid’s dune-bashing buddies circled back to make sure he was all right. Their vehicles roared up over the ridge and slid down the face of the dune.

Everyone parked, removed their goggles and helmets, and gathered around the macabre discovery of a parched corpse. One of the boys started speaking excitedly, having recognized the dead man as the famous allamah Syed al-Fadl—a scholar and religious leader—who spoke from time to time at the university.

Matha Alayna ‘an naf’al?” he asked aloud. What should we do?

The boys stood in a circle, staring silently at the corpse. Then they reacted like teenagers around the world. They pulled out their phones and began snapping photos to text to their friends.

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