In How Like a God, Rob Lewis gave his friend Edwin Barbarossa the Pearl of Immortality that had once belonged to Gilgamesh. Seven years later, the space shuttle ferrying Edwin home from a stint on the new moon colony catches fire. Everyone dies except Edwin. First he's hailed as a hero. Then he disappears. It's up to Rob to rescue him from the man who will stop at nothing to take the secret of immortality for himself.
Part political thriller, part fantasy, part near-future SF, part family drama, Doors of Death and Life is both exciting and thoughtful, a literate excursion into X-Files territory.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Brenda Clough, journalist, fibrist and painter, lives near Washington, DC.
Read an Excerpt
The fight was the natural, inevitable conclusion to a horrendous evening. "You promised me," Julianne said. "You promised, that if I let you quit the rat race you would at least give me moral support on my job."
"That is really unfair, Jul. Home improvement is always seasonal. It's not my fault I had to finish a deck today." Rob tried to keep his voice down, but a passing hotel bellboy smirked at them anyway.
Julianne punched the elevator button, her bosom heaving in the tight blue taffeta cocktail dress. "Handing your business card to that woman, and offering to build her a swing set? What would Portia do with a swing set? She's the biggest slut in Milan! Debra actually asked me if that was the latest in pickup lines!"
Rob's jaw was set so tight his blond beard bristled. "I know she's easy. Everyone in the room knew. Why do you think I told her I was a carpenter? To get her to quit hitting on me, that's why."
"Or maybe it was just to get your pager number into her hot little hands, huh?"
"Jul, you can't possibly believe —"
The elevator doors slid open to reveal the smiling elevator boy. "Lobby, miss?" They stepped in, not touching, and stood in seething silence as the elevator descended.
The Willard Hotel's lobby was historically accurate to a painful degree, restored to look just as it had when Mark Twain strolled through in the 1890s. When they stepped out onto the antique-look mosaic floor, Rob got in the first shot. "And I didn't appreciate being appraised by that old vulture, either."
"Rob, the Signora is famous for her sense of style. She's the greatest fashion designer of her generation. If she ogles you, it's an honor, that's all! I mean, she's eighty-four years old."
"If a sense of style means dragging around the world with a planeload of whores and gigolos, it's an honor I could do without."
"You are just so impossible!" Julianne's hazel eyes flashed magnificently with rage. "Oh, for God's sake, go get the van. I can't walk another step in these heels." She sat down heavily on a red leather chesterfield sofa.
"High fashion makes people do such melonheaded things. I'll bring the truck around front."
"The truck?" Julianne sat up straight again, electrified. "Rob, you didn't drive that hunk of junk to a black-tie reception, did you?"
"It's not junk," Rob snapped.
"Well, it looks like a junker! You are trying to embarrass me, just out of meanness, because you didn't want to get dressed up!"
Rob forgot not to shout. "It was force of habit, okay?"
"I don't want anybody I know to see me riding in that clunker! Pick me up at the bus stop across the street!"
Snarling, Rob strode out through the revolving doors and down the street to the parking garage. His dress shoes pinched, and the warm May evening made him sweat where the old tuxedo jacket was too tight under his muscular arms. Jul hadn't appreciated a bit the aggravations he'd gone through — building decks all day, rushing home to wash up and climb into the monkey suit, and then battling rush-hour traffic all the way from Fairfax downtown for the Association of Garment Design's damnable reception. And it was ten o'clock at night, and they hadn't even served any real food. Why did he let her do these things to him?
He felt better when he got to the garage. Slowly over the last several years, Rob had marshaled his private coping mechanisms into a deliberately mundane armor. His carpentry work was always a calming and centering influence, and by extension his tools and truck had become talismans of normality. Automatically, he checked the light blue Ford over. The white truck cap hid all his tools, and the ladder rack on the roof was empty. He had locked all the doors and paid for garage parking to keep from getting ripped off. Once, he had forcibly trimmed back the crime rate of the entire District of Columbia, just to see if he could do it. But these superficial societal fixes were never permanent. After three years the local economy was still reeling from the '99 Quayle recession to the point where even Lewis Home Improvement's truck could be a target. But the truck was untouched tonight. Satisfied, he climbed into the cab and started the engine.
As he eased out onto the street, Rob's hyperactive sense of justice came to the fore. Julianne did have a point. This was not a vehicle to ride in wearing blue taffeta. The heavy-duty bumpers were spattered with red construction mud, and the vinyl front seat was invisible under a clutter of tools, maps, construction sketches, and notes. Hex nuts and odd carriage bolts rattled back and forth on the dashboard as he turned the corner towards the hotel. Of course he hadn't had time to clean up the cab, but would it do him any harm to tell Jul she was right?
Then Rob remembered that Julianne was waiting across the way at the bus stop. He was on the wrong side of the street, and would have to pass the hotel and pull a U-turn. He peered ahead and to the left to see if Jul was there yet, and gasped.
The bus stop had a shelter, a roof and two Plexiglas walls. Inside it several people were scuffling. Between them he could clearly see the blue sheen of Julianne's party dress.
The crisis mind-set fell over Rob like an icy cloak. He stamped on the gas and set the truck barreling at the bus shelter, screeching to a halt at an angle to the curb. On high beam, the headlights flooded the bus shelter with 110 watts of shadowless light.
Any other rescuer would have dashed to intervene. Rob had the time to cut the engine and turn on the emergency flashers. He got out slowly, sucking the air down deep into his chest because it was important not to get too mad, not to lose control. Still, his step was unsteady as he went across to Julianne and helped her to her feet. "Don't try to talk, dearest," he said, holding her close.
Her dress was torn open at the vee of the neckline, and her ash-blonde hair straggled down from its topknot. She trembled in his arms like a frightened bird. "My purse," she stuttered. "My shoe. And — oh my God, Rob, what are they waiting for?"
The three young muggers stood eerily still, staring into the glare of the headlights like jacklighted deer. Their hands, tattooed with gang emblems, hung limp at their sides. A knife glittered on the pavement beside Julianne's beaded evening bag. "They're waiting for me," Rob said grimly. "Let me cope with it, Jul. Into the truck with you." With tender care he helped her into the cluttered front seat, and fetched the missing shoe and the bag. "You're not hurt, right?"
"Just shook up. Oh Rob, let's go!" Tears ran down her face, smearing the mascara into raccoon rings around her eyes.
"One more minute, dearest." He pushed a hanky into her hand and shut the passenger-side door. Then he went around to the front of the truck and stood between the blazing headlights, leaning back a little against the truck's dusty grille. "You little swine," he said to the muggers. Suddenly his voice didn't sound like his own.
Very rarely now did Rob use his full power. Ordinary daily life didn't call for it, any more than it called for tactical nuclear missiles. But the ability was always there, leashed but vast, and he clenched it now like a fist around the three lowlifes in the bus shelter. He wasn't interested in their miserable past histories, or what drugs they were on now, or what half-assed rationales they could construct for their criminal behavior. Rob was out for blood, and the only question was how.
"A bus or a car accident is too messy," he said softly, remotely. "So is jumping from a roof. The Potomac River, that'll do. Walk yourselves halfway over the bridge down there, and jump in where it's deep."
The power hummed like thunder in his voice. The three young men turned obediently and began to walk, around the corner and then south along 14th Street towards the river. The doorman at the Willard had noticed the commotion at last and ran up. "Is something wrong, sir? You want me to call 911?"
Rob turned his berserker gaze onto him for only a second. As the doorman's mouth dropped open in terror Rob got a grip on himself. This guy was innocent. "They tried to snatch her purse," he said, breathing deeply. "But I sent them off with a tongue-lashing."
"You should press charges!"
"They'll never do it again," Rob said. "Forget it." Again it was a command, not a suggestion. The doorman held the truck door for Rob and waved cordially as they drove off.
Julianne wiped her streaming eyes with the smeary hanky. "Oh, Rob, I was so frightened! I let them have my handbag, but then they pulled the knife, and began to claw at my dress —"
For a second Rob could hardly see, he was so angry. Automatically he eased up on the gas as they rolled down Constitution Avenue. "I should've dropped them onto a railroad track," he muttered.
"What did you say, hon?" Julianne peered through the dark at his face.
"You don't have to worry about them anymore," Rob said hastily. Very few people knew about his weird abilities, and Julianne wasn't one of them. The glare of the headlights would have kept her from seeing anything, and he had stood with his back turned in case his expression revealed too much. But all this caution would be wasted if he didn't act normally now. "As long as you're not hurt, that's the only important thing."
"My dress is shot." Julianne pulled the torn edges together to cover her lacy black bra.
"You'll have to get a new one."
Rob smiled at her, secretly congratulating himself. She would deny it to her last breath, but sometimes Jul was just like a child, thinking about a new gown. The tigerish fury drained out of his body. It was like recovering from a sharp high fever.
They were over the Memorial Bridge and heading up 66 before the realization hit him. He had just murdered three people! The compartments in his life were so habitual, the clash now between the powerful and the mundane stunned him. His first foolish thought was, Am I too late? Rob cut the truck into the exit lane and zoomed up the Glebe Road ramp.
Julianne turned to look at the exit sign as it flicked past. "What are you doing, Rob? This isn't our exit!"
"Wait, Jul." There were two red lights on Glebe Road before the left turn to the eastbound ramp, and halting at them gave Rob time to reach out mentally. Unseen, unfelt, he could find them. He didn't know their names or ages, but hecould recognize those three punks anywhere in the world. Swiftly he reached back towards the river and across at the 14th Street bridge. No. They were gone. He was too late.
The light turned green and he put the truck in gear. His mouth had gone desert-dry, and he swallowed and swallowed again so he could speak in a natural tone. "Sorry — I must've been more upset than I knew. Thought this was Route 123. Let me get us back on the highway."
Julianne leaned her head on his tuxedoed shoulder. "You are such a sweet man, Rob. I don't appreciate you properly."
Rob flinched. "You aren't a very good judge of character, dear." With an effort he kept the bitterness out of his voice, kept the tone light.
Safely at home, the routine carried him along. He paid off the baby-sitter and stood in the doorway while the teenager crossed the street to her own home. He turned the deadbolt on the front door, looked in on Davey and Annie asleep in their rooms, and came upstairs to peek cautiously into the nursery. Four months old, Colin might drop his late-night feeding any time now.
In the crowded main bedroom, Julianne's ruined dress lay on the floor. Rob stripped off his confining jacket and the black satin bow tie and cummerbund, sighing with relief. She came out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. "Could you do this necklace, hon?"
With difficulty he teased the clasp open with his work-thickened fingers. He could feel the tension radiating from her neck and shoulders as he touched them. She leaned back against him, and he drew her down onto the big bed, tossing the bath towel aside. Pearl shirt studs flew in all directions as he pulled off his shirt.
This was the place where all their difficulties vanished away: all the petty conflicts and fundamental disagreements and miscommunications, deliberate or accidental. When he made love to Julianne, everything clicked into focus, and Rob knew that their marriage was as solid and well-founded as the decks he built. And more — only here could he use the weird mental powers without guilt. They were a huge responsibility. He did terrible things with them. But to use them for Julianne's delight made them okay. In the past seven years he had learned more about her responses than perhaps even she herself knew. Using that knowledge for her pleasure was glorious, a never-failing well of satisfaction.
She fell asleep an hour later pillowed comfortably on his chest. Rob could easily have dropped off too. But from the baby monitor on the nightstand came a wordless grumble. Colin was not going to sleep through. Rob slid gently out from under Julianne's overlapping limbs and pulled the covers up over her bare shoulders.
Donning a threadbare red flannel bathrobe he went downstairs to the kitchen. Only the tiny buzz of the fluorescent lights could be heard. He filled the big Pyrex measuring cup with water and put it in the microwave. While it heated, he went through into the toy-strewn living room and powered up the computer in his office corner. It would take Colin half an hour at least to tank up — plenty of time to read the mail from the Moon. A few clicks of the mouse got him logged on to NASANET for the preprogrammed pass. Rob left the messages to download themselves while he took the hot water out of the oven and stood a baby bottle in it.
Upstairs, Colin was just cranking it up. Julianne wouldn't wake. As he climbed the stairs, Rob smiled with secret pride — did he know his business in bed or what? He went into the small nursery and lifted his son out of the crib. "Hey, little guy, you're kind of wet." Colin, familiar with the routine, slowed down his fussing. Only a squawk every now and then emerged to warn the world that a baby's patience has limits.
Expertly Rob whipped off the sodden diaper and hitched on a dry one. "Let's go downstairs and talk to Uncle Eddie." The tiny body, so solid and warm in his arms, made Rob's heart swell with sudden misery. Those three junior rapists had been this cute once. Was a mother or dad waiting somewhere for a young man to come home?
He scooped up a burp cloth and the bottle as he went through the kitchen. He sat down in front of the glowing computer screen. Crossing an ankle over one knee, he set the baby into the angle of his legs and popped the nipple into the tiny questing mouth. Grunting with satisfaction, Colin waved his fat hands. Rob set them on either side of the bottle just to give him a hint, but Colin had no intention of doing any work. Rob continued to support the weight of the bottle with one hand while with the other he called up his e-mail.
Electronic communication is never perfectly private. E-mail to Moonbase was collected in Houston for inspection, and then squirted off-planet daily in one high-speed telemetry burst. Most of the other lunar colonists were resigned to their fishbowl existence. The first Moon settlement was an historic event. All transmissions including even the encrypted mail were eventually going to be fodder for analysis, research, and probably Ph.D. theses, so it wasn't unreasonable for NASA to keep an eye on it.
However, Edwin Barbarossa had cooked up an amusing private code. With it, he and Rob could discuss the single topic no one else could know about — their different but complementary supernormal powers. "We'll coauthor a sword-and-sorcery novel," Edwin had announced before his launch a year ago. "Maybe we'll set it in Mu, the mythical sunken continent. So you can be as up-front as you like about your weirdness, as long as it's the characters doing the weird." For a literary model he had presented Rob with a glossy paperback edition of The Tritonian Ring by L. Sprague de Camp, plus a list of further reading that Rob had avidly devoured: Howard, Silverberg, Tolkien. That and a simple one-letter-down-the-alphabet convention for names was all they needed.
So now Rob could understand Edwin's long e-mail with hardly an effort:
But Rob — suppose we get King Severneth to visit a dictatorship, on his quest to keep Mu from sinking. Say he pays a state visit to the Pharaoh, who's pumping all of Egypt's money into building himself a pyramid. Don't you think it would be RIGHT for Severneth to tone down the Pharaoh's death fixation some? His gifts are practically wasted, otherwise. A little exertion of his "magic" and the entire country of Egypt benefits.
Excerpted from "Doors Of Death And Life"
Copyright © 2000 Brenda W. Clough.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.