Strangled silence [electronic resource] : Strangled Silence Series, Book 1. Oisín McGann.
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- ISBN: 9781497665774 (electronic bk)
- ISBN: 9781497665712 (electronic bk)
- Physical Description: 1 online resource
- Publisher: New York : Open Road Media Teen & Tween, 2015.
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Are you being watched?Before she turns twenty-one, Amina Mir intends to have one of her stories published on the front page of the Chronicle. So when she gets an internship there, she's thrilled, even if it means a summer making coffee and writing human-interest stories. Then she interviews Ivor McMorris. A veteran of the war in Sinnostan, Ivor is convinced that someone interfered with his memories while he was there—but if he does anything about it, the watchers will make him disappear.At first, Amina is skeptical. As the daughter of a major in the Royal Marines, she knows that veterans often suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder. But when she meets Chi Sandwith, a conspiracy investigator who has spoken to dozens of soldiers like Ivor, Amina realizes that she may have stumbled upon the biggest and most terrifying government cover-up ever. Now if only she can break the story before disappearing herself.
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By Oisín McGann
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA
All rights reserved.
AMINA STARED DOWN the street before her and looked back at the address on the notepaper: 143 Winston Street. This was definitely it. Ivor McMorris lived in flat number five. She blew out her cheeks and continued walking. The Underground station had been grotty enough, but this area was a dump. That didn't put her off. She regarded places like this as hives of social issues such as poverty, drug abuse and domestic violence, buzzing with great stories. She expected to see much worse than this as her career progressed.
The block of flats was a relatively small, damp-looking concrete-cast building on the corner of the street. It wasn't a complete slum—the window panes had obviously been cleaned recently and the bars on the windows were freshly painted in a pale mauve.
Checking her reflection in the stainless steel speaker panel, she straightened her navy suit jacket and flicked back the hair feathered over her forehead. Then she pressed the buzzer for number five.
"Mr. McMorris? I'm Amina Mir, from the Chronicle!"
She still got a thrill from saying that.
"Hi. Come on up—second floor."
The door's lock clicked and she entered, making her way through a utilitarian lobby and up the stairs. McMorris was waiting at the door of his flat. He had only opened it a crack.
"You on your own? Can I see some ID?" he asked.
Amina blinked for a moment, but then fumbled around in her handbag for her wallet. She showed him her citizen's identity card.
"You're just a kid," he said, the lack of enthusiasm evident in his voice.
"This is ... I'm at university," she said haltingly. "I'm with the paper on—"
"Work experience." He sniffed. "Nice to know Goldbloom's taking me seriously."
He opened the door and reluctantly let her in. McMorris was a few centimeters taller than her, with a square face and curly brown hair. He'd look good enough in a photograph; a little on the thin side, but with wide shoulders that saved him from being skinny. There was a certain rough style in the way he wore his faded jeans and green T- shirt. She always liked to take a few shots of her subjects with her compact camera, just in case she could get one printed.
The skin around McMorris's right eye was marred by a spray of triangular and diamond-shaped scars. Amina made a mental note of them. Hours spent poring over her father's books of battle injuries had taught her to recognize shrapnel wounds when she saw them. That meant that his disability was most likely a missing eye.
He wasn't much older than her—probably in his early twenties—but there was far more experience written on his face. She had seen that look on the face of her father and his mates, one that said they had seen just a little too much.
Behind the door was a basket full of opened envelopes.
"Begging letters, mostly," he told her. "People with sick relatives. I get a lot of offers too: 'once-in-a-lifetime' chances to invest in start-up businesses. You win the lottery and all of a sudden people start offering you 'opportunities' to get rich ... well, richer."
The one-bedroomed flat was comfortable, if a little cramped. There were piles of books on shelves and stacked around the edges of the floor. One bookcase was filled with graphic novels, another with films and CDs. The walls were painted in the kind of creamy yellow popular in rented places, but the framed expressionist paintings that hung on them looked like originals—possibly his own.
McMorris's home spoke of a man with a lot of time on his hands.
"Have a seat," he said. "You want coffee or tea?"
"Just water if you have it ... I mean, mineral water. If you only have tap water—"
"Don't worry," he reassured her with a smile, as he opened the fridge in the little kitchenette. "I don't drink the free stuff any more either. Ever looked up inside a tap? I mean, I'm sure it's safe enough, but ..."
He had a wide smile with a hint of sadness about it. Amina imagined him to be one of those guys who was more popular with the girls than he realized. She had to remind herself that she was the one in control of this interview.
"Do you mind if I record this?" she asked, taking her recorder from her bag.
He shook his head as he poured two glasses of water from a bottle in the fridge. She sat on the chair that looked towards the television, shunting it round until it faced the couch across the low coffee table. Switching on the recorder, she placed it on the table between them. He handed her a glass and sat down on the couch.
"Now, Mr. McMorris—" she began.
"Sorry, Ivor. How would you like to do this? Do you want to just tell it your way, or would you like me to get things started with a few questions?"
He took a sip of his water and leaned forward, staring intently at her. Amina was reminded that he was a virtual recluse, and she was probably the only young woman he had seen up close in some time. Her mother had prepared her for times like these. "Men like talking to pretty young women," Helena had once said. "Don't be afraid to use that. Work your advantages. If they want to lose themselves in your eyes or ogle your legs, let them. You know they won't get anywhere with it, and it'll help loosen their tongues."
It was the main reason Amina wore skirts to interviews.
"Why don't I do the talking?" Ivor said to her.
She nodded and sat up straight, crossing her legs.
"You want to know why I'm afraid to spend the lottery money," he began. "But I can't explain that without giving you some background. I wanted to do journalism at university, but the idea of a student loan freaked me out—and besides, I was looking for something more. I thought the army sounded like a good option. Plenty of adventure, sports, travelling, and they had a scheme where they'd put you through university, so I'd get an education without spending the next ten years paying off debts.
"Sinnostan was just heating up. It wasn't a war back then—they were still calling it a 'security operation.' I didn't think I'd get sent there, but it turned out I had a gift for storytelling and they needed writers. The moment I finished basic training they rushed me through a crash course in journalism and shipped me off to the Media Operations Unit in Kurjong.
"I joined the hearts 'n' minds campaign ... y'know, putting together news stories to convince the Sinnostanis that we were occupying their country for their own good ... showing them what great guys we were. Putting a good spin on the whole thing.
"It was exciting stuff, getting to see heavy armor storming up mountain roads, watching fighter-bombers shoot past overhead, riding in choppers and talking to soldiers who were revved up and eager for action."
Amina found herself nodding. She hated reporters who nodded while they listened. But she had discovered recently that it helped. It showed she was listening—that he had her full attention, without her having to respond to what he was saying. It kept him talking. But she still thought that sitting there nodding all the time looked stupid.
"I wasn't too cynical about it all then," he went on. "I had a job to do and I enjoyed doing it. I was getting to cover some thrilling stories. I thought I might even get a book out of it in the end. I didn't spend a lot of time worrying about telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—I had officers to keep happy. But on the whole, I suppose I figured we were doing our bit for the cause.
"It seemed like a pretty good gig until my crew went to cover the operations in this tiny village called Tarpan; me, my cameraman and our guide, who acted as translator. Like most of the places in Sinnostan, it's a pretty run-down dump stuck up in a lonely spot in the mountains. Mostly clay-brick buildings, forty-year-old cars made from spare parts, a few rickshaws and a drained bunch of people with those wide-cheeked, wind-burnt, oriental faces who looked like they'd never seen a foreigner before. The winter cold was setting in, and there's a dry wind up there that would cut you to the bone.
"We were sent to the scene of a car bomb in a marketplace in the middle of the village. It was gruesome; the injured had already been rushed to hospital, but there were still a few charred corpses in the burnt-out cars around the site of the explosion. Men with hoses were washing the blood off the road and into the drains. We started filming, even though we knew the insurgents—or the resistance, whatever you want to call the bastards—had a nasty habit of launching follow-up attacks on the people and the soldiers who gathered around these bombsites."
His hand went up unconsciously to touch his right eye. Amina leaned forward slightly, wanting to urge him on but knowing it was better to let him do it in his own time. Ivor took a sip of his water and leaned back on the couch.
"That's when things got weird," he said at last. "This ... this is what I remember: we were in the middle of filming when the second bomb went off. A suicide bomber on a bloody bicycle, believe it or not. We were caught in the blast and I was thrown against the side of an APC ... sorry, that's an armored personnel carrier—"
Amina nodded. "I speak the language, my father's a major in the Royal Marines."
"Oh, right," Ivor said, looking slightly uncomfortable. "Well ... anyway, I was knocked out. I didn't come to until I was on a chopper taking us to the hospital. I had a concussion, as well as shrapnel wounds in my face, arm and leg. And I had a punctured eyeball. They had to keep my head very still for the whole flight. There was a chance they could save the eye, so the medics strapped my head to the stretcher so that I couldn't move my head. They covered both eyes too, to stop me looking around and making the injury worse, so all I could do was lie as still as I could and listen to what was going on. The morphine took care of the pain and it helped with the fear too.
"Everything that followed was what you'd expect: the deafening roar of the chopper's engines, status reports shouted into radios, my hand being squeezed as friendly voices offered reassurances, a dramatic rush to the operating theatre as soon as we landed. And all through it, I couldn't see anything—just blackness with those bursts of light you get when you squeeze your eyes closed. In the clear, painful moments when the drugs started to wear off, I can't tell you how terrified I was that I was going to lose my eye. I could taste and smell blood; I could feel it on my face, along with the fluid from the eye itself. But they told me there was hope. And I believed them ... God, I wanted to believe them so much.
"But it turned out the surgeons couldn't save the eye after all. That made things simpler for them. Once you take out what's left of it and remove the shrapnel that's lodged in there, recovery is much faster. My other wounds were minor enough, so they just pumped me full of painkillers and antibiotics and a few days later, they shipped me home."
Ivor paused again, and for a minute he sat there saying nothing at all.
"It must have been absolutely horrible," Amina said with a sympathetic expression. "I ... I've heard stories like this before—from soldiers, I mean. You never really get the same sense of the horror of being wounded from the news. I can't imagine what it must be like." She hesitated, praying that what she said next wouldn't be too insensitive. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but—"
"What has this got to do with me not spending my lottery money?" Ivor chuckled. "After all, that's why you're here, isn't it? Not because I was wounded in Sinnostan." "Well, that's not how I was going to put it, but ... yes."
He leaned forward again, looking more intense than he had before.
"You see, I said it was weird because that's what I remember, and I could recall it for you in much greater detail than that if I wanted to. It's what I remember, but I'm convinced it's not what actually happened!"
Amina waited, glancing at the recorder to make sure it was getting all this. She had a feeling that this story was about to become more than a human-interest article.
"Memory is a fluid thing," Ivor said slowly. "It changes over time; we forget names, get things mixed up; confuse times, dates and places. Very few people have perfect recall. But my memory of that time is damn near flawless. I can remember who was in the chopper, how long it took to get to the hospital, how many people were in the operating theatre ... just about everything. I can remember the times these things happened."
"It was a fairly traumatic event," Amina pointed out. "It's hardly surprising it sticks in your mind."
"No, it's more than that," he insisted. "I was drugged, remember? Morphine sends you into outer space; it should all be a blur. But I can remember what times each stage of the event happened. I went and checked the incident report afterwards and I was accurate to the minute. I can remember it like it was timetabled. The recollection of it sits solid in my mind while the rest of my memories flow around it like ... like ... it was a rock in a stream. It's just not possible."
"So ... what? You think these memories aren't real?"
"Yes ... no. I think ..." He hesitated. "I think I've been made to forget what really happened and had these false memories ... implanted into my brain."
"You're saying you've been brainwashed?"
Ivor winced at the term, with all the science fiction it implied, but nodded reluctantly.
Amina gazed out of the living-room window at the blocks of flats beyond, trying to avoid meeting his intense stare. She was becoming less and less certain about his state of mind. Goldbloom would not thank her for writing about the ravings of a shell-shocked war correspondent. Although maybe there was an angle on the man who was too mad to spend his lottery winnings.
"I've mentioned this to other people," he continued, becoming increasingly animated. "But nobody paid much attention to me. Post-traumatic stress disorder, they called it. I just needed therapy, they said. I've had bloody therapy! I know what I remember ... and I know it's just plain wrong!"
"The army just ignored me! They ignored me right up to the day that I won the lottery."
He looked pointedly at her. Amina waited to be enlightened, sitting a little further back, grateful there was a coffee table between them. Ivor seemed ready to burst.
"And then what happened?" she asked, when she realized he was waiting for the question.
"Then they started having me followed," he breathed.
Amina wondered if this was the time to turn off the recorder and get out, but she didn't want to do anything that would set him off. He could be dangerous as well as delusional. Better to hear him out, let him calm down a bit, make her excuses and leave as inoffensively as possible.
"I was rich, see?" Ivor said, opening his hands towards her. "There are thousands of hacked-off soldiers with paranoid gripes against the army, but the world doesn't listen to them because they're nobodies. But suddenly I'm a millionaire, and if I want, I can start using all that money to shove a great big thorn up the army's backside. They're not ignoring me now because all of a sudden I'm rich enough to cause them real problems."
"So why haven't you done it?" Amina asked. "You haven't done anything with the money. You told Goldbloom you've hardly spent a penny!"
"I've been afraid of what they'll do," Ivor said in a hushed voice. "I mean ... I don't even know what they've done to me already. I know they're watching every move I make and I don't know how they're interpreting what I do. I think they might hurt me ... or ... or they might mess with my mind again. I didn't want to do anything that might make them ... angry with me.
"I could go out and buy ... y'know, the wrong thing, and they read into it and decide I'm a threat to whatever they're doing and the next thing I know I'm being pulled into the back of a van. I can't spend the money because I'm afraid of what they'll do."
"But if you're scared that they'll come for you if you make trouble ..." Amina asked slowly, a quizzical expression on her face, "why did you ring Goldbloom and tell him you wanted to tell your story?"
"Because I'm sick of waiting for it," he sighed. "Whatever's going to happen, I just want it to be over."
Excerpted from Strangled Silence by Oisín McGann. Copyright © 2008 Oisín McGann. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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