Tin Coffin

There wasn't much delay before they were back on the road. The inside of the blood and guts covered IFV was quickly cleaned out; a vomiting Petras did his best to help, but eventually he got so weak from his nausea that the soldiers requested that he just stay away. It was in that very same IFV that Shelton found himself as they went on another slow trek towards Urgal. His eyes shot around, looking for blood stains; he had no idea why his mind was so curious, but something about the thought of blood stains in such a small room intrigued him.

It already felt suffocating enough in there, although there were two empty seats. It smelt like sweat and stomach acid; it was stuffy and thick. How anyone managed to sleep in there was beyond Shelton; he lied awake several hours after most had drifted to sleep. Petras was on one side of him, snoring loudly; on the other side was Antoine. The trapper wasn't buckled into his seat, and spent the majority of his time leaning over the seat in front of him; there sat Caesar, and at that moment he was being tended to by Lena.

Interested in why Lena was nursing Caesar, Shelton unbuckled himself and leaned over Lena's seat. "What's up?" he asked. Lena cradled the young man's head in her lap. Caesar peered up back at him; his dull eyes seemed more lifeless than ever before – a hard feat for someone as sickly looking as the young man.

"He just over worked himself, that's all," Antoine answered. He leaned over and playful punched the young man's leg. "Soon you'll be back with your mom and dad, right kiddo?"

Caesar nodded weakly; Shelton smiled and said, "Well that's great! Where does his family live?"

The tired dark eyes of Caesar dashed away from Shelton's smiling face. "They're dead," was his stated reply.

"Ah," Shelton exhaled. "That's… Sorry to hear that." He slumped back in his seat, sad for the young boy. How long was Caesar without family and how had they died? He was curious but knew better than to ask. Many people were without parents; they starved to death, were killed on the job, died of disease or were killed in skirmishes between anarchists and the soldiers. As these thoughts went through his mind, Shelton's clear blue eyes fixated themselves on the armored ceiling. The silent whispers of Antoine and Lena mixed with the snorts and snores of Petras to create a harmony that was just about to put Shelton to sleep.

A hand grabbed Shelton's shoulder and squeezed hard. He craned his next back to see Andrei with a concerned expression etched with his brow. "Are you alright?" he asked. "You haven't slept much recently."

"Obviously if you know this, you haven't either," Shelton coolly shot back. "So I guess I have the right to ask the same question."

"I was just worried," Andrei said. "I thought maybe you were still shocked a little bit."

"Ah, buzz off old man," Shelton snapped. "I rolled the back alleys of Amsterdam when I was ten. I can handle a bit of violence."

Andrei appeared to be slightly offended, as he fell back into his seat behind Shelton and crossed his arms. Shelton hadn't lied; the violence – although shocking and certainly disturbing – wasn't what kept him up at night. The problem was that his mind was completely blank. Even if it was the memory of Nikon's brain matter being splattered all over the factory office floor, it would be welcomed compared to nothingness. Shelton was beginning to doubt he even existed.

Bored, Shelton leaned forward again. They had been trapped in there for hours now; he was sweating, his stomach was aching, and he wouldn't mind a little privacy. Besides, the only female within God knows how many miles was sitting right in front of him; he wasn't about to let that go away without some use. Aside from a quick glance of her backside in jeans, Shelton hadn't seen Lena's figure. She was clad in heavy clothing to keep her warm most of the time and had several layers of protective armor. Her neck was long and slender, so he assumed her body must have been fairly decent.

Before he would dare make a pass, there was something he wanted to get out of the way. So he asked, "You three seem close. I mean, closer than anyone else here."

Antoine caught the unasked question and smiled. "We're like family," he explained. "Lena is my little brother's widow; and Caesar I met as a camper."

"You both worked in the labor camps?" Shelton questioned. "I mean, Caesar's really young."

"Does age really matter when the government is involved?" Lena asked. "They only bother with age restrictions when it suits their personal goals."

Shelton pouted at the observation. He didn't care much for politics; he didn't feel like messing with a woman who cared about intellectual things more than he did. Last time he attempted that, it ended rather embarrassingly. And although the memory made him blush a little, he was happy to be thinking about something.

A warm breath next to Shelton's ear brought him back to reality. Antoine whispered, "No matter what the boss says she's not off limits. I just want what my brother would have wanted; if you can make her happy, she's all yours."

The hatch above opened and everyone inside stirred. The cold air nipped at their noses and roused them from their rest. Darkness poured in and only the outline of the man outside was visible. Petras had risen also, stretched and looked around. "Where's Bonaparte?" he asked.

"I think we left him at the shop," Shelton said with a nervous laugh when he realized the dog was gone.

"Cute conversation, girls," the gunner said. "But I'm freezing my balls off out here and this harness is giving me a rash. Anyone want to switch?"

"How clear is it?" another man asked.

"You could snatch the stars out of the sky," the gunner answered.

"Then I'll be right up," the man said.

"About time –"

TNK TNK TNK!

"Oh, shit!"

Shelton jumped out of his seat at the sudden clank from just outside. Enemy gunfire spread itself across the side of the IFV; fortunately, it wasn't armor piercing. The loud pop of gunfire made its way through the open hatch; when the gunner let loose with a counterattack, the ringing was almost deafening.

"I don't see them!" one of the drivers shouted. "Piece of shit radar!"

"8 o'clock!" the gunner cried back. "Tell the driver 8!"

"8 o'clock, Captain," Antoine relayed. Shelton noticed how far the Lunarian was leaned forward and became conscious of the fact neither of them were buckled in. He fumbled with the harness for a second as adrenaline started to pump itself throughout his body.

The belt's final latch clicked just in time. A crash smashed against his ears and his world turned; something to his left smashed into him as the entire IFV twisted over. Panicked, he gripped the seat in front of him and closed his eyes. His ears still picked up the shouts and curses everyone emitted at the shock. His body was thrown around slightly, held down only thanks to the harness he had just fastened. It pressed harshly against his skin, especially his collarbones. His jaw clenched itself tightly, partially to prevent himself from crying out in pain and partially as a conscious effort not to bite his tongue. Airborne, the IFV turned over and smashed into the ground on its right side; it then rolled once, maybe twice – no one inside could tell. It came to rest, quite surprisingly, on its wheels.

Slowly, Shelton opened his eyes. Dizzy, he swayed a bit in his seat; he lifted his right hand towards his head in an attempt to hold it straight. One of the drivers shouted, "Move! Move you piece of junk! We're a sitting duck!" Something warm and wet dripped from the ceiling. His eyes traveled up to the hatch, which was right above his head. Another drop dripped right as he looked up and landed on the bridge of his nose. His finger touched the wet spot and brought it in front of his eyes; it was thick and dark red. He looked back up and saw part of the gunner; with only the red interior glow as a light, Shelton caught sight of a twisted, mangled body.

He quickly looked away, not daring himself to see the details. Instead, his eyes shot around; Petras was fixated on the gore rest above Shelton's head, ready to fall at any moment; Antanas, who was seated next to Lena, held onto his injured thigh and cursed quietly. Only the back of Lena's head was visible to Shelton, but she was moving.

A sudden jolt hit the IFV as it started to move again. The movement caused the gunner's body to slide slightly; due to the explosion that rocked the IFV and the weight of the vehicle, the gunner's body was almost completely splattered. Since the hatch was open, part of the gore fell straight onto Shelton. He attempted to jump, naturally, at the guts that splashed onto his head. Thanks to the seat belt, he didn't get very far.

"Report!" one of the drivers demanded.

"Jimmy's dead," one man said back. "We've got a lot of injuries. I think Trev's broken his neck, Antoine's out cold; we've got lots of broken bones. How are you?"

"We're both okay," the clearly shaken response came. The gunfire outside was still loud and clear.

During this conversation, a hand touched Shelton's head from behind and tried to help him remove the burnt and squashed remains of the gunner that had fallen. Shelton's hands hurried to unbuckle himself; he rushed away from his seat and tried to remove all the unwanted filth.

"We need a gunner!" one of the drivers shouted.

"I'll handle it," Andrei said as he stepped right where Shelton once was and leapt into the darkness.

The hatch was closed, finally, so the noise outside was a bit more muffled. The clunk that followed the closing of the hatch snapped some sense back into Shelton. He focused on nothing other than getting his thoughts in order. When no thoughts came to mind, Shelton took a seat in Antoine's old spot. Only his ears worked properly; perhaps they worked too well, because all of the outside noise was loud and clear for him. Suddenly, the IFV felt more suffocating than ever before. It was a cage to him; perhaps, being trapped in there would be his death.

Someone pushed him back towards his old seat. "Look out, kid," the man said. Shelton blankly watched as the soldier opened up a small hole on the left side of the IFV and peeked out. Soon, his gun replaced his vision and he let out a few bursts of gunfire.

"Are you okay?" Petras asked Shelton. The elder's pale face and wide eyes showed off his current mode of panic. Petras wasn't in much better shape, with his teeth chattering slightly and his breath unsteady. There was a large bruise on the side of Petras's head, and a small abrasion accompanied it.

"Are you?" was Shelton's response.

Petras touched the cut and said, "I think so." He got up and leaned forward on the seats in front of him. Lena had held desperately onto Caesar and by some miracle he hadn't been tossed around. The young man was now rested half in his seat, half in Lena's. The woman was attempting to see what the status of Antanas was, but he kept pushing her away. "Hey, Mr. Fedorov," Petras said in a rare polite tone. "Are you alright?"

Both of his hands were placed on his left thigh; closer observation showed thick blood creeping through his fingers. His old injury had reopened, and the amount of blood loss was rather alarming; his entire thigh had been dyed dark red and it was dampening the seat. His jaw was locked shut and the only noise he made was the labored, shaky breaths that came from his nostrils.

Lena leaned over again and tried to remove his hands. "Let me look, please," she asked of him.

He shook his head violently and said, "No you crazy bitch! The last time you touched me I was in pain for ten minutes!"

"You'll bleed to death!"

"Fine!"

While the argument between Petras, Lena and Antanas continued, Shelton's ears continued to pick up the gunfire outside. He was especially aware of the gunfire from Andrei, as it was louder and seemed to rock the entire vehicle. He watched as Petras harshly placed his hands onto Antanas's shoulders and Lena ripped Antanas's pants almost completely off. It would have been an amusing sight if they weren't in such a life or death situation. He stopped watching them completely when the rattling shots of the IFV's machine gun ceased. His ears perked up as he waited patiently for another burst; when it never came, he scrambled to get outside.

"What are you doing?" Petras asked as he strained to see what Shelton was doing while still keeping Antanas still. Shelton ignored him and pushed open the hatch. "Hey! Shelton, wait!"

Shelton was relieved that – as far as he could see – Andrei was perfectly fine. He stood slightly hunched over the gun; his right arm was busy with something while he muttered loud enough for Shelton to just hear a dull roar. "Andrei!" Shelton shouted above the surrounding commotion. Andrei just passed a glance of his shoulder before he continued his work. "What's wrong?"

"The gun is jammed!" he yelled back. "I… I think it got damaged!"

"Get out of the way," Lena demanded. Shelton wiggled back down into the IFV and out of the way. He watched as Lena climbed out and joined Andrei on the gun. He sat motionless for a few moments as he stared out into the night sky. What would happen if they were flipped again? Andrei and Lena would both be killed, just like the previous gunner; Shelton would be flown about the compartment, like Antoine had; would the vehicle even survive?

A flask was presented to him; he was surprised to see it came from Caesar. Shelton didn't utter a word and snatched the offered drink. After he took a swig he gave it to the injured Antanas without bothering to ask Caesar. The bureaucrat was able to shoot a look to Caesar; the boy nodded, and Antanas swiped the flask for himself. He pressed it to his lips and tipped it back; whatever remained was eventually gone as the hurt man cherished the burning liquid as a distraction from his pain.

"This is a long fire fight," Petras observed.

"No it isn't," Antanas mumbled. "We've only been stuck in this for a few minutes."

"Well it feels like it's been longer. How would you know anyway?"

Antanas sent a glare at Petras; the younger man just turned away.

It really did feel like they had been in that situation for an entire day. While the previous firefight had Shelton in the jeep where he was able to witness the action, this particular one had him trapped in a metal coffin. The only way they could tell the fight was still on was the occasional bullet that struck the side of the IFV. There was quite a bit of commotion inside the vehicle, as the mercenaries rummaged around, treating injured and providing support fire.

When another explosion rocked the vehicle, the fear was evident on everyone's face. Fortunately, it wasn't strong enough to do anything other than shake the IFV a tad; it was enough, however, to stop everyone dead in their tracks. Their eyes danced around as the rest of their bodies remained perfectly still, afraid the slightest move would send the IFV into a roll. Three or five seconds of calmness came and went before they went back to their tasks.

Shelton, Petras and Antanas were being completely useless. The three of them watched the chaos with interest, panic and perhaps helplessness. Well, Shelton and Petras watched the scene; Antanas by that point in time had allowed the alcohol and pain to take over his mind. While the other two were fascinated by the situation they had been placed in, Antanas cursed it.

He wondered, as his blood stained the seat he sat in, just why he was stuck there. What sin had he committed that warranted his pain? Anger had taken over any sense of curiosity or shock he had felt during the beginning of their trip. There was no reason for him to be there; surely, if people were looking for him, it would be easier for Rex to just turn him over. He was positive a reward was probably attached as well. The only thing they had to gain with him being there was the ability to watch him suffer. He hated everyone around him.

"Boss says there's only two left," the driver said aloud. "Gunners on the right, look out for two light arms."

"Got it!"

"We're going to slow down once you catch them," the second driver announced. "We need to do some serious repairs to these beasts."

It wasn't a minute later before they came to a complete stop. By this time, the night had worn on for quite a while; but the first rays of sun were not yet threatening to appear. Before Shelton was allowed to look at the vehicles, they had to tend to the injured. Due to the rollover, one mercenary was killed and three were severely injured. Antoine had been knocked out completely, although he was mostly uninjured. The jeep was completely destroyed, yet surprising only one passenger was killed. All in all, they had lost three people that night.

Andrei sat down on the cold ground once they stopped; where they had finally ended up, there was very little snow. Shelton wanted to get away from the obnoxious Antanas, so he rested next to his old manager. Once again, the bureaucrat had his leg patched up, and again his loud curses echoed around Shelton. This time it was Petras who did the stitching, Lena tended to Antoine.

Andrei watched Shelton as he sat down. The younger man was dirty, just like everyone. But the disgusting, thick blood in hair probably wasn't welcomed. Andrei could see in Shelton's clear blue eyes a bit of a mist. The battle got to him; the fear and anxiety of not knowing what would happen and the mental stresses of their journey had finally hit Shelton. With nothing to say, Andrei ignored Shelton and focused on their comrades.