Today's Reading

Russia and America were trying to be allies, not shoot at each other on their quiet, shared border. They had attacked, withdrawn, attacked again, as if the crew was following a stream of conflicting orders. They were not returning Mikki's fire. Clearing water from his eyes, Rake saw the woman, trying to swim, knowing the direction she needed to go. The remnants of the patrol boat's wake splashed around him. Mikki guided the dinghy toward her.

Rake held her, keeping her head above the surface, careful not to grasp too hard, not knowing where she had been shot. Mikki lifted her gently under the shoulders, sliding her over and laying her on a blanket. He hauled Rake in, then opened full throttle. The thrust of the engine put the bow in the air and the stern further down in the water. The Russians didn't fire again. Nor did they cross into American territory. Mikki swung toward Little Diomede island, bringing back the throttle to ease the bumps. Rake checked the woman's vital signs. There was a pulse. She was shivering. There was a wound in the lower right leg. Judging from rips in the clothing, she had been hit by at least two rounds in the torso. Her breathing was light and erratic.

'Look at me.' Rake gently pressed his hand against her cheek. 'Stay with us. You're going to be fine. We'll have you dry and warm in a few minutes.'

Her eyes opened, expressionless, and closed.

'What's your name?' Keep her engaged. Keep hope. Keep her alive. 'Look at me.'

She was in her mid-thirties, Asiatic features, with short dark hair and a rounded face with a sharp chin. She wore a one-piece green waterproof, its top shredded. Underneath, her clothes were wrong for the environment, as if she had bought them from an expensive city camping store.

She opened her eyes again, bloodshot with salt water. 'We've got you.' He gently held her hand.

Her eyes moved jaggedly left to right, until they focused on Rake. Something seemed to ripple through her, something she understood. Her voice was faint, barely audible.

'You are safe,' said Rake.

'No. Not safe.' She had enough strength to squeeze his hand. 'Not safe,' she repeated.


CHAPTER THREE

The island of Little Diomede was covered in a thin haze that swirled around small houses built on stilts up the steep hillside. Islanders stood with a stretcher on the rocky beach encircled with large dark boulders in a tiny bay which kept the water calm. The aluminum hull jolted and scraped on pebbles as Mikki brought the dinghy ashore. Strong hands pulled it in.

'This is America,' Rake told the injured woman. 'You made it. We're going to get you—'

'Not safe,' she said again, her voice quivering.

Rake was about to give the signal to transfer from the boat to the stretcher when he heard Carrie's voice from the hillside. 'Wait.' Blonde hair tied in a bun, dressed in a green smock, a large medical rucksack slung over her shoulder, she ran down narrow concrete paths, along rough ground toward the jetty, jumped onto a boulder and then to the beach. 'Wait,' she repeated. 'I need to check her injuries.'

The islanders stepped aside. The woman lay across the middle seat of the dinghy, her back straight, her feet down, her breathing shallow, her face blotched with pinks and reds, wrinkled from cold salt water. Her eyes stayed fixed upwards at the sky. A black bang of hair tufted across to the left of her forehead, stuck in congealed blood gashed from her ear.

Carrie barely acknowledged Rake and the others. Her concentration focused on the wounded woman. 'What happened?' she asked while checking her pulse.

'Gunshot wounds,' said Rake. 'Right leg. And somewhere in the torso.'

Carrie's expression was unfazed, face sharp, skin drawn tight across prominent cheek bones. She unzipped her rucksack, pulled out a metallic bandage pack containing a combat gauze impregnated with a clotting agent to stop bleeding. She unraveled the gauze, laid it across the upper right leg and gave it a second to start soaking up blood. Joan Ahkaluk, the island nurse, took over holding it. The woman winced. Her eyes squeezed shut.

'We're going to lift you,' Carrie told her. 'It will hurt.' There was no response. Rake gave the count—one, two, three, lift. In a second, she was on the stretcher. Joan laid a pillow under her head, rested her left fingers on the pulse and held down the gauze with her right hand. Treading smoothly over the rocky ground, they carried the woman to the school, a large modern building on the edge of the settlement. Mikki slipped his rifle into the case and asked, 'Who the hell is she?'
...

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