When scientist Jim Marshal disappears from work, leaving only a mysterious letter saying that his research assistant Deidre will know what has happened, Deidre and Jim's distraught wife Beryl try to find where he has gone.
Their search flings them across space and into the power of sinister aliens - a beam that can transport them to another planet. These powerful aliens have collected people from Earth, and are studying them, putting them through strange experiments. Is it just scientific curiosity, or are there darker designs behind it? And, stranded on an alien planet, is there anything Deidre, Beryl and Jim can do?
GAMMA PRODUCT is one of Denis Hughes' works under his many pseudonyms. It has been out of print in the UK for decades and is now available for the first time as an eBook!
Release date: August 12, 2021
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 320
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But nothing could quite dispel the grim realisation that here was Monday morning come round again.
Deidre Cronin finished brushing her hair, sighed, closed her eyes for an instant and then went into the kitchen. It was Monday of course, but in spite of that there was much that was undeniably cheerful in life. Last evening, for instance, had been perfect. And the ones that were to come. … She hummed to herself as she approached the griller and sniffed. Fortified by the knowledge that she was not due at the air terminal till eleven o’clock, she was halfway through a leisurely breakfast when the doorbell rang abruptly.
Deidre frowned, furrowing her brow in a mixture of curiosity and annoyance. She had a lot to do before getting her plane for the north; this was no time for visitors.
The bell rang a second time before she reached the door and opened it. At sight of the anxious looking woman in the tiny vestibule hall, she raised her eyebrows in surprise. Even as she stood aside, to let her visitor in she was wondering what Beryl Marshal could be wanting at this time of day, and why she was so obviously worried.
“It’s Jim,” began the dark-haired woman breathlessly. “Have you heard from him, Deidre? What’s he doing and why should he be so mysterious about it?”
Deidre frowned again. “You’d better come in and take it slowly,” she said. “I haven’t seen the Doctor since we left the lab together on Friday night. What’s the matter?” She took Marshal’s wife by the arm and led her through to the kitchen-cum-dining-room. “Cup of coffee? You look as if you could do with one,” she added judicially, “Sit down and stop jumping about for heaven’s sake!”
But Beryl was fumbling in her handbag, impatient at the other girl’s cool reception. “Read this!” she said quickly, thrusting a letter under Deidre’s nose. “It came by the first post. Jim isn’t like that as a rule. You know that as well as I do!”
Deidre took the letter, puzzled and gradually growing a little alarmed by the other’s obvious concern.
“He didn’t come home on Friday,” went on Beryl. “We have our disagreements, but he’s never done this before.”
“Be quiet and give me a chance to digest it,” said Deidre. “And drink this.” She pushed a cup of coffee across and sat down with the letter. It was certainly from Doctor James Marshal. She knew his handwriting well, but what it was all about, and what his apparent disappearance meant, she had not yet had time to discover. She read half aloud, half to herself, so quietly that Beryl could barely distinguish the words.
“… be surprised when you receive this, but I assure you that my non-appearance will be in the interests, not only of myself, but of the entire world. When I tell you that various factors have conspired to make me force the pace you will probably not understand, but it is so. This weekend will see either failure or success in my efforts. If it is to be failure it will be final and complete; on the other hand, success will be but a beginning. That is all I can tell you, Beryl. You are not a scientist and never will be, so I cannot expect you to appreciate the magnitude of events. If you really feel the need for a more explicit summing-up I suggest you get in touch with Deidre Cronin. She will understand. Remember she is not only my right-hand assistant, but one of my most trusted friends as well. I may say that she knows nothing of my present intentions. If she did, she would never let me make the attempt. Only circumstances beyond my own control are forcing me to push ahead with the last stage of the experiment. By the time you receive this letter it will be too late to stop me. Alone, I may well succeed in thwarting North. Deidre will understand. …”
Deidre lowered the letter and stared at Marshal’s wife across the table. “But I don’t understand!” she muttered. The anxiety in the other woman’s eyes was painful to see. It pricked at Deidre like a goad, compelling her to rise to her feet and pace up and down for seconds on end, too restless to remain calm and still. The whole trouble was that she did understand, and the knowledge that was locked in her tawny head was so frightening that she shied instinctively from taking Beryl into her confidence. Understanding a part of Marshal’s actions was one thing, but not the whole story by any means.
“But he says there you would!” objected Beryl anxiously. She was small and slight, darkly attractive, years younger than her husband, not at all the kind of woman associated with the wife of a scientist such as Marshal. Even Deidre was aware of recurrent surprise as she studied her.
“Listen, dear,” she said soothingly, “I’m sure there’s no need to worry so. The Doctor knows what he’s doing; he sent you that letter to explain his absence. He’ll be back; I’m positive. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was up at the lab right now, getting things ready for another day’s work. Now you just relax.” She spoke more firmly and calmly than she really felt justified in doing, but Beryl Marshal was close to hysteria, a thing that Deidre detested.
Beryl eyed her distrustfully. “Then you can’t help me?” she said. Her tone was depressed, worried. “I mean to get to the bottom of this whatever happens. Why should Jim send me a letter like this and say in it that you’ll know what he means if he wasn’t speaking the truth?”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you.” Deidre’s voice was sharper. “I’m just as interested in the Doctor’s work as you are in his home life. Shall we leave it at that, Beryl? What I propose to do is to go up to the lab straightaway and see if he’s there.”
Marshal’s wife heaved a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry if I’ve acted like a child,” she said quietly. “I shall go with you, of course.”
Deidre bit her lower lip; she’d been afraid of that, but it couldn’t be helped. The only thing that worried her was the fact that her plane was not due to leave till eleven and it was now little more than nine. For reasons of her own she was anxious to fly north considerably sooner than that.
“You can come if you like,” she said unenthusiastically. “I suppose you took the precaution of putting through a call to the lab before you panicked?”
Beryl smiled wanly. “Naturally! There was no answer, so I suppose the place was deserted.” She sighed. “I should never have married a scientist in the first place!”
Deidre gave a grim little smile. “That has nothing to do with the present situation,” she pointed out sweetly. “And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just make a phone call. Have another cup of coffee; help yourself.”
Beryl pouted in a spoilt way. Deidre left the room without another word. Her mind was in a turmoil and she felt the need to talk coherently with someone cool and rational, someone who would understand and view the entire business in its correct perspective. There was only one person she could turn to—apart from James Marshal himself—and that was Fortnum. He was stalwart enough to lean on in any kind of emergency. The question was just exactly what kind of emergency did this affair constitute? The answer that formed in her troubled mind as she reached for the phone was not a comforting one. If Marshal had really taken the final step she knew perfectly well that anything could happen. And she experienced, too, a vague feeling of resentment at being left so completely out of it. He had always promised her a front seat when the great day came, and now. …
“Hello, is that you, Midge…? Yes, me, darling. Are you frightfully tied up right now? You’re what…? Oh, I see. … Well, as a matter of fact you could help. But I don’t want to do a clinging maiden act. No, I know, sweet. Yes, of course! Do I sound so worried? You will! Oh, good. I’ll wait here then. Oh, by the way, I’ve someone else with me. Can’t tell you on the phone, but if you’re really flying up it would be a help.” She replaced the receiver and turned to find Beryl at her elbow.
“What are you doing?” the woman inquired.
“Fixing us a lift to the boyfriend's helicopter if you really want to know,” answered Deidre somewhat bleakly. “My usual plane isn’t due to leave till eleven. We want to be there sooner than that.”
“As soon as possible. I didn’t know you were very interested in men, Deidre. Do tell me about him!”
Deidre felt annoyed for no reason. “You’ll meet him,” she answered abruptly. “Midge Fortnum. He flies charter planes for a living. That’s how I met him when he did a special rush job with equipment for the Doctor.”
Beryl listened eagerly. Deidre thought what an appallingly girlish gleam there was in her eye when she scented a romance. She never would grow up and mature in spite of being several years older than Deidre. But there was too much on Deidre’s mind to spare more than a passing thought for Beryl. Instead she fetched her handbag and the briefcase of papers she had worked on for Marshal over the weekend. If she knew Midge as well as she thought she did he would not waste a great deal of time in picking her up.
In actual fact it was less than ten minutes after calling him up that they both heard the drone of his aircraft as it touched down on the landing roof above their heads. Deidre and Beryl took the lift up, stepping into the sunshine just as Fortnum was leaving his plane. At sight of Deidre he came to a halt, a broad grin spreading across his rugged features.
“You look even better than you sound on the phone!” he said cheerfully. Then his gaze travelled to Beryl, smiling at him despite her anxiety about her husband. Deidre felt a twinge of jealousy, but Fortnum was merely polite when she made the introduction.
“Where do you want to go?” he inquired. “Deidre said a trip north would be helpful. I’m going that way in any case; you’re welcome to a lift.”
Beryl simpered a little. They clambered into the snug cabin of the helicopter. Fortnum throttled up and took off almost before the two girls were settled.
Deidre was trying to make up her mind how much she could tell Fortnum. She badly wanted to talk to someone, but not being alone with him was a nuisance.
Beryl was looking out and down at the green fields beneath them. The morning was perfect, a rare spring day with a hint of chill in the air but the promise of warmth. She began to talk quietly to Fortnum, framing her sentences with care. Beryl seemed to be lost in her own thoughts, staring unseeingly from the cabin window. The hum of the engine partly covered what Deidre was saying.
“My boss has disappeared mysteriously,” she told him. “I want to get to the lab in a hurry. You know where it is.”
He nodded quickly, then shot a sidelong glance at Beryl. “So that’s why you’re worried?” he murmured. “Want to talk to me about it?”
“Uh-huh. … Alone. We’d better wait till we. . .
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