The desert sun climbs higher and higher in the pale amber sky, piercing the thin layer of atomic dust. A light sand storm billows up in the East and crawls across the sandy floor, moaning and bellowing cries in the wind. Post-noon heat slowly bakes the sand and clay ground, hardening it.

Matt Smith cracks his knuckles, hiding under a cloth canopy in the market sector of the Oil Oasis in South Central Texas. His wife Nina, who hails from the forsaken zone to the south along the former US-Mexico border, rubs his shoulders with exhausted and hungry fingers. They've not eaten for three days, and any water they've drank has come from some of the few thorny 'rain barrels'.

"Matthias," Nina says in her thick, ancient accent. "What are we going to do? There's no food and no work here. Everything's rusting away; the people who normally live here barely eat as it is. How will we be able to find anything?"

Taking a deep breath, Matt shakes his head slowly, and begins to murmur an explanation of his scheme. "We've only been here two days, no one will remember us if we steal some food or money, and run."

"What if they try to stop us?"

"We shoot them." He says cold and hard, his fingers wrapping around the hilt of his grandfather's revolver. The old steel wall he leans against creaks with age and wear. Nina is silent. "What do you say, honey? The child has to eat, right?"

"The child..." The expectant mother trails off, holding her belly. "This must be for the child."

"We are for the child."

He hugs her tight. "Then let us do this. But where we go after here?" Nina asks.

"Any where else. There's a small encampment about five miles North, we'll steal money and food, and head up there. Okay?" Matt asks. His wife nods. "Then let's do this."

They both stand up, slowly walking into a run-down diner. Taking a seat, they order a few coffees and some eggs with a huge of steak. The waitress tears up as she walks away to deliver the best news the restaurant has had in three years. When the food arrives, the waitress gives them a smile, as if they just helped her deliver her golden child. "Thank you so much for your generous contribution." She says.

As the splattered and burnt meal is finished, the waitress hands them a piece of paper with a few numbers scribbled on it. "You can pay at the register." The two diners each receive their own hug.

"Are you ready, honey?"

"Yes, Matt." They view the check: 176 dollars. Nina cringes. "That's a lot. They must really be hurting here." She looks at him, here big brown eyes gleaming with guilt.

"Let's get on with this." He looks out the window to the blank sky that slowly gathers darkness. The couple walks up to the register, a machine from a different time entirely. It's old black body has the feel of an old bot-belly stove. Originally, it was bought by the owners of a diner in San Antonio before the war. After about a hundred years, it was raided and brought here. This family running the diner here have been using it since it was brought into town and sold at the market.

"Are you ready to pay your bill?" The cashier asks them as she gleams a smile too big for her small face. Matt looks at the cashier's name tag. Maria. Goodbye, Maria. I'm sorry for this, but my child must eat. He thinks to himself.

The father bandit pulls out his grandfather's .44 revolver, leveling it at the cashier's face. BAM! Maria's small green eyes beg why? as she falls to the floor. BAM! Matt shoots the cash register open, Nina grabs the money, piling it into a patch-work bag she had fashioned.

The waitress, of who's name Matt couldn't bother to catch, pulls out her own handgun while hiding behind cover. She stands, catching the thief off-guard. "Die you son of a bitch!" She screams. BAM! A fifty caliber rifle sounds off. The waitress falls to the ground, a majority of her chest blown out. Matt ducks to the ground. Nina turns around, eyes wide, paralyzed with fear.

Two hulking suits of shining white and silver armor crash in. One levels his automatic rifle, and a spray of high caliber rounds peppers anyone who stands facing them. The other crushes all in his path, as he approaches Matt. Standing nine feet tall, the guardian leaves little to be afraid of after a choice encounter. The booming bass voice sounds out of a speaker in an authoritative manor. "Drop your weapon. Your life is forfeit." Matt bows his head, drops his weapon.

The Guardian of Order lifts the six foot two man with ease, tossing him over his shoulder. "Filth." The man in the metal mutters. Bringing him into the Guardians' Barracks, the policers of the corroding desert oasis put him in an interrogation cell. Matt trembles as he sits on a tiny metal cot.

Hours pass by, and a woman with straight, silver-line black hair enters the small dwelling, wearing a suit much like the Guardians; with a sleeker, more smooth design. "Do you know what has happened?" She asks. Mr. Smith shakes his head. "You committed a serious crime. You stole and you killed. Do you recognize your infractions?"

"Yes." He says quietly.

"My name is Chief of Security Maria Jones. I am the Head Guardian. And I shall be your executioner." She says curtly, as if talking to a misbehaving dog. "You have not committed enough crimes for me to exile you, so death is your punishment." The prisoner blinks.

"If I were to commit enough crimes, I would walk away with my life?"

"Not quite. You'd be branded an exile; forced to roam in the wastes with out a home. You'd be killed on sight by who ever wanted you dead." Smiling, Matt hops to his feet, and takes a left hook at COS Jones. He finds himself pined on the cold concrete floor, no longer smiling. Jones smirks, her boot pressing hard on his spine. "You really want to be exiled? I don't think you even begin to understand what this would mean."

"My wife's dead!"

"I know. That little street urchin decided to steal. And so did you."

"I don't care what happens any more!"

Maria Jones sneers at the petty criminal. "Yes you do. You do care what happens, because you just threw a punch at me. You want to live. Maybe, I should let you walk out there." The murderer huffs under the weight of Jones' boot.

Another Guardian enters. "Chief Jones, we have a situation! Someone is attacking the Monks' Temple!" Jones' face hardens.

"Too bad." She mutters to her captive on the floor. "Death is your penalty." A big green revolver with an army star on the hilt clicks. The trigger is squeezed. The sound echoes in the cell. Matt's blood runs into a grate. His body is carried to the incinerator.

The dream of the atomic wastes

dies

and lives on.

The people of the

broken world

cry in pain and

fear.

Life is a

death sentence,

death is an

ever nearing

dream.

Few see light,

most just see the

shadows of the mushrooms.

In the world

a child is born,

he who sees that

light.