Malfort was good with a pistol, he'd been shooting since he was a small boy. Now in the After-lands, a nuclear wasteland full of radiated monstrous creatures, he made his way down a thin trail to his mountain fort.

The sun was beginning to set over a bank of pale pink clouds, a ceaseless wind blew over the whole of the country side. Malfort had gathered enough supplies from the ruins of a small Virginian town to last him a few weeks of solitude in his mountain fort. A fort carved deep into the bedrock, a precautionary measure taken by the government before World War Terminus had caused the mutual destruction of 90 percent of the Earths populace, leaving the rest to scavenge the ashes of a once prosperous society.

By the time he made it into his fort, a huge concrete door barring anyone except him, a former department of defense employee, from entering, it was already dark. His ruck sack full off canned goods and medicines. His only goal then was to subside off the land and keep his sister, a frail irradiated cancerous women, from passing away and leaving him all but alone with the exception of the forts built in AI.

the fort kept them safe. It was powered by a bank of solar panels and a fission back up generator. An irony not missed by Malfort, the technology used to destroy the planet's denizens is now their lifeline to staying alive.

His sister lay sleeping in what looked like a vat of clear gel. Tubes protruding from her mouth. The vat kept his sisters cancer at bay but slowly the insidious disease was taking over her frail structure and soon enough she would succumb to it. All Malfort could do was mind the life support mechanisms and do his best to keep the gel in the vat clean and the machine that kept her alive functioning. The fort's AI system chimed every so often the time of day and the fall out predictions for the day, like some grim weather forecaster from times prior. MAlfort spent his days infant of a monitor watching reruns of sitcoms from before the war and reading the few precious books he had found amongst the rubble and ash.

Then one day his sister had died. She had finally relented and her vital signs had ceased to show life. Heart broken over this calamitous turn of events Malfort stumbled out of the fort in search of more supplies, a book, or old video tapes, anything he thought to keep his mind occupied from the wave of grief he had felt. It was a world of survivors and to grieve for too long meant stagnation, his body and his mind could hardly withstand such a force as stagnation as it surely meant death in one form or another.

He journeyed farther and farther away from the fort, causing on an old gasoline powered motorbike he had scavenged and converted to more efficient fuel cells. The bike had a range of five hundred miles, its reinforced tires could withstand the cracked and broken road scape. He journey full suited up in a sealed eco-suite with oxygen filters to keep the radiated fall out at bay and to keep himself healthy. He longed for human contact but he knew all that was left was not human but its dark shadow. Humanity had morphed into groups of roving cannibals and desperate men and women patrolled the roads in search of human flesh to consume or anything to consume for that matter, often they sported cancerous growths and hideous boils on their skin, but Malfort, after the loss of his beloved sister no longer felt the fear of death, a new urge to explore further from the fort replacing his survival instincts.

One day he came upon a group of cannibals in a truck powered by burning wood. He easily dispatched them with his Automatic rifle, spilling blood onto the feral asphalt. It gave him no joy to do this but the rush of battle had for a brief moment replaced the gnawing boredom he had felt. He scavenged what he could from the vehicle and its inhabitants and went back on his way down the road. He had plenty of ammunition. his full cells were loaded to almost full capacity so he journeyed onward into the dusk light of the scarred eastern seaboard in search of a colony of or town or something that was not as tainted by the radiation, He found nothing. but ruin after ruin.

many months after his journey and after many long weeks without finding anything but destruction did he stumble upon something of interests. It seems like the navigational computer of his exosuit had found something of interest. A colony of non-cannibals. He approached the colony under darkness so as to spy on it before entering.

It seems like a society had sprung up around a huge mountain fort in the blue ridge mountains of Virginia. other humans which he could congregate with. He approached them in the daylight with the mask of his exosuit off and waving the white flag of peace. It was a colony of some two hundred inhabitants. Joy filled Malfort's heart. He would no longer be lone in the wastelands.

It took some convincing. they had first taken him prisoner, stripping him of his suit and he was initially jailed as a cannibal spy but eventually the colony of people warmed up to him. often bringing him steaming bowls of vegetable broth to keep his substance and strength up. in a matter of months he was welcomed into the community after some vetting and long interviews full of questions.

they grew their food hydroponically underground, subsisting off the same type of fort Malfort and his sister had once lived in. They valued his expertise and knowledge of the area and they even let him wear his suit again. He joined them for scavenging runs into the irradiated cities where no one dwelt except for the ghosts of the deceased. it seems after some time he had found his place amongst the rubble and even rose to a high ranking official in their colony. Malfort was happy once again, or as happy as one could get in the wastelands.

His happiness sprung from having people around him. People working toward the central goal of repairing and maintaining some sort of civility in a world gone mad by near complete destruction. He found solace in their stacks of science fiction novels. Novels and stories about what Earth was supposed to become. A space faring race, not one destined to the ash heaps of non-history. He often thought of what an alien species might think of them then. How all the promise of science had failed to blossom into a new era of technology and human progress, instead that same technology bombing them back into the near stone age, back into the dark ages. In those books he found something, some ember of hope and hope was something he not only needed but rewarded as some secret treasure, some way to stay alive amongst all that was hopeless. And the people around him felt the same way. There was even children around, and as the children huddled around inside the protective womb of the fort he could sense the palpable feeling of hope amongst their glittering eyes. It seems like Malfort had finally found his home. Sure there was cancer and the constant threat of roving bands of cannibals but even amongst these trials a sliver of hope remained. This sliver like a ray of sunshine piercings through a dark ominous bank of clouds.