"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought,
but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."
Those who survived called it World War III, but I doubt you could call it a world war. At least not like the wars our kind were used to witnessing. There was no strategy, no declaration of war and there were no troops because there were no battles. The biggest fear from the Cold War era had come true. It was just a push of a few buttons made by men who sat safely in their bunkers, making decisions that would affect mankind forever. They weren't even sure who fired the first missile; China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran? It didn't matter because the Western world fought back. As far as the free world was concerned, they had every right to defend their nations. No country was left untouched by these actions; everyone was affected, including our kind…Vampires.
Only a quarter of the world's population had died in the initial bombings on March 16, 2006. But the radioactive dust managed to contaminate everything. Within a few weeks, people started showing symptoms of radiation poisoning. It was such a horrific way to die, and if you weren't prepared for what was to follow, you would have wished for the quick death that the blasts had so mercifully delivered. It had always been a theoretical concept made by scientists, that a change in global climate would follow a large scale nuclear war. It might not have been the great proportion they had speculated, but a nuclear winter did follow, and for almost two years the world never saw the sun. Five years later, half or perhaps more than half of the world's population was dead. Most of those deaths were attributed to exposure, starvation, plagues, and more importantly anarchy. That is to say that they died from the breakdown of the social infrastructure that they so regularly depended upon for day to day survival.
The world had erupted in chaos. Humanity followed soon after. There was no government, no law and morality was something that most humans had long forgotten. There was wide spread pandemonium in the beginning amongst the survivors. Humans not immediately affected by the radiation poisoning were convinced those showing symptoms were contagious. The areas or cities that had managed to survive the blast radii established barriers, gated areas that kept out the sick. These barriers eventually became what we now know as Districts. There were too many Districts to count, and they were spread all over the country, at least in what was formerly known as the good ol' U.S. of A. There wasn't much news from other parts of the world as to how they were faring.
Each District was surrounded with barbed wire and any kind of metal that would form a barrier to keep people in, and more importantly keep people out. They isolated the healthy humans from the sick ones. As soon as someone would show signs or symptoms of sickness, they would be cast outside the barriers. The sick were not contagious; it was the dust that carried the radiation that was. Of course many of the educated survivors argued these actions, but when the world erupted in widespread social disorder, the strong outweighed the intelligent, and mob mentality won out. Eventually, people stopped protesting, no one risked going against a violent mob, for they risked being cast aside along with the sick. There were no exceptions to the laws that were imposed. They were harsh, and judgment and punishment was swiftly served. The Districts became organized, militarized and functioned in a highly dysfunctional way.
Those who didn't die outside the barriers, moved on in search of help, food and shelter. There were rumors surfacing as to what happened to these people. Forced to steal, murder and pillage their way across the country to survive, they became extremely violent. The Districts lived in fear of them, and they eventually became what we now know them as, the Ravagers. A roving group of maniacs bitter and cruel and hell bent on revenge. It was all very 'Mad Max,' and it was extremely difficult to accept the reality of it all. We had lived through many things, but this was unfathomable.
It hadn't been as difficult for our kind. Vampires for the most part, survived the war, at least the ones that were outside of the blast radii. The fallout or radiation didn't directly affect us, but the biological changes of the animals and humans from the irradiation did. The animals died, and many of the humans were "poisoned" and their blood was no good to us. There was a shortage of "food" which was a becoming problem. There was another war beginning, and our family's future was uncertain.
My family, the seven of us, had been prepared. We had Alice to thank for that. She had known what was coming to an extent, which allowed us all of the preparation time we needed. We were extremely well stocked with private caches hidden all over the country filled with exactly what we required to survive, as well as supplies to help the humans as best we could. Carlisle, my father for all intents and purposes, was adamant that he had as many medical supplies and equipment as we could manage. Esme wanted a greenhouse in each of the caches, so she could stock up on seeds, soil and anything else she would be able to grow after the bombs hit to help the humans with their inevitable fresh food shortage. The rest of us wanted to make sure that we protected as many essential electronic devices, including kitted-out vehicles, from the Electro-Magnetic Pulses that would follow each bomb. We knew that just one strategically placed nuclear device would disable electric power and communications on the ground as well as satellites, rendering all communications useless. We made sure we shielded everything we were going to need. Even my brother insisted we protect his coveted PlayStation and all that went along with it. Not exactly a necessity, but to him it was, so we overlooked it. We would make the best of this, and do what we did best … live on.
For the past ten years, we had become our own militarized unit, moving from District to District helping where we could. We had only one rule: never separate. It was too dangerous and difficult to find each other without the modern conveniences technology provided. We had been constantly on the move, never staying in one place too long. The fact that we looked as if we thrived, while humans continued to deteriorate, could draw some unwanted attention. The world was lawless, and we were trying to find our way in it, because it was just as new to us. So in turn, we became the Nomads we so desperately never wanted to be for all those years, and it was wearing on each of us.
We had been able to warn as many of our vampire friends as possible. Carlisle had managed to convince them of what was coming and each of them took him seriously, knowing of Alice's omniscient gift all too well. We were prepared, for the most part. We had no idea where the bombs would hit, or the extent of what was to happen, but we were ready. What we had not been prepared for was what to become of our kind.
My family was always my first concern. That was the only reason why I was here, in what was formerly known as Texas, breaking the Family's only rule. It had been ten years since the end of the former world, and there were rumblings amongst the Districts of a colony of people that didn't age, didn't get sick and had turned to cannibalism. The Districts were passing this off as the Ravagers and concluding that the radiation poisoning had done something to affect their brains. But we knew differently. Something was brewing in the south. The Vampires were being careless and we needed to find out what was happening.
So I made a visit to the one person I had hoped to never lay eyes on again. It wouldn't be easy to get an audience with her, but she never could resist my charms and was more than curious as to why I would show up on her territory alone. I was taking a risk by being here, but we didn't have a choice. I needed to find out what was happening to protect my family.
Never in my 172 years on this earth could I have imagined what I saw as I turned the corner to the inner chamber where she had led me. The chamber itself was dark and cavernous, and I could tell that it extended far beyond what my eyes could see. It was filled with filth and refuse, and there were scatterings of human belongings everywhere. To my right, about hundred feet from me, was a large cage-like structure with about thirty or so vampires gathered around it. Not one of them gave me a second glance, so I assumed visitors were common with Maria. My eyes swept the cage and my breath caught as I stumbled backward reaching for the wall for support. To say I was shocked at what lay before me was an understatement. Maria turned to me, obviously perplexed at the erratic emotions projecting from me. Shock, disbelief, anger, sadness, relief, love and lastly fear. I was afraid of what I saw. What did this mean for us?
"Jasper, I see nothing has changed with you. Still a mess of emotions. I thought after all these years you would have better control. You disappoint me somewhat," she spoke brazenly.
I did have control, I always did. What I saw before me shook my resolve to the core. I needed to compose myself. I could not, for any reason, have Maria privy to my thoughts or suspect I recognized anything.
"I must say, I'm a bit surprised as to how organized you are, Maria. I see you've stepped up your game," I responded casually with a smirk. I had been a part of this life many years ago, but this was more than I could have imagined. She had raised an army far greater than anything we had ever put together, I could tell from the guards she had placed around each of the entrances. But it wasn't the numbers that shocked me; it was what was at the heart of those numbers that frightened me. I could swear my supernatural eyes were betraying me. I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was real, and in that instant, there was nothing more important to me than to get out of here alive and back to my family. I needed to play her game and I would, no matter what the cost. I would do anything she asked me to, because for a brief moment, I thought I was staring at my redemption. Maria's snide voice woke me from my thoughts.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. You never did truly grasp our potential." She laughed as she trailed her finger down my chest to the waist of my jeans. She grabbed my belt pulling me closer to her. "And now my power is endless with the army I have gathered." She raised her scarlet eyes to look into my golden ones. "I heard you changed your diet. Did your wife survive?"
I stared back at her not willing to give her what she wanted. It was always a power struggle with Maria, and I knew exactly how far I could go with her. I needed to stand my ground and act indifferent or she would be capable of ending me right then. I would not give her the satisfaction of revealing anything about my family. Their names would not be spoken in this wretched place.
I blinked at her while raising one side of my lip in a sneer of sorts. She was just inches from my face, but I didn't move. "Just what do you have planned this time, Maria?" I changed the subject to avoid her question. "The world is already in turmoil, what more could you possibly need?"
She laughed and stepped away from me pushing me backward. "Oh, dear Jasper, don't you know? What I want, is to not live in hiding anymore. We don't need to live in the depths of the shadows any longer. The time of the vampire is now.
"I want to walk in the sunlight and proudly display what I am. And I want to feed on humans when I see fit and they will feed my army, and do my bidding." She finished with a curt smile, like she was having a conversation with me about the weather, not enslaving the human race.
"The humans are a lost race, their time is over. It's our time now and they are ours for the taking, Jasper … finally." Her eyes were wild with desire as she smiled at her own words.
"And just how do you suppose you will do that?" I asked, nonchalantly flicking a piece of dirt from my shirt trying my best to amuse her antics.
"With my gift." Her eyes alighted at the word gift. "The Volturi are dead. There is no one to stop us." She motioned her arm toward the right corner of the chamber, toward the cage and other vampires, the same area that was the cause of my initial shock. "No one can stop me, not with this gift."
"What does that mean? What is this gift you are referring to? Show me." I feigned indifference even though my insides were turning as I tried to control my emotions. I desperately wanted her to bring me further into the chamber so I could reassure myself that what I was seeing was an illusion. A sick and twisted delusion my mind was playing on me cruelly.
She looked at me with hesitation and then a knowing smile crossed her face. "I don't think so. No. I can't have you telling my secrets now can I, Jasper? I know where your loyalties are, and they are definitely not to me. I can see from your face, but it's your eyes that give you away. You would never join me again, so no, this is as far as you get. Besides, my little pet doesn't play so well with strangers."
I struggled to control the panic. I just needed to get closer. I needed to reassure myself that what I saw was not real. But I couldn't push Maria any further. After living with her and sharing a bed with her after all those years, I knew she was volatile and could change her mind on a whim.
I made a non-committal laugh. "Maria, I never understood your need for all this power, and for your sake I hope you are right about the Volturi." I turned on my heel going back the way we came. I needed to get out of here, because I needed to breathe fresh air. I stifled a laugh at the irony of my thoughts.
"They died in the blasts, Jasper!" she yelled after me. "They're all dead!"
I could feel a trace of her panic as she processed my words.
"Besides, they can't touch me!" She was convincing herself more than me. I played on her doubt and projected it back to her.
"Jasper," she hissed as she caught up to me, "I'm not appreciating your little talent right now. I know what you're doing."
I laughed again. "And what is that, Maria? Amplifying the doubt that's already embedded in your mind? See that is why I don't want to be a part of this. If there is any chance the Volturi are still alive, I don't want to be around when they come looking for you." I drawled out my last words without a hint of the anxiety I was feeling.
She grabbed my jaw and forced me to look at her. "What do you want, Jasper? Why did you come here?"
"I thought there might be a place for me here, but I don't want a part of this."
I fought back and grabbed her wrists pushing her up against the wall. Two of her guards moved closer to me waiting for her to give the order to stop me. I let her go and raised my hands in defense. "No harm done, gentlemen." The guards relaxed a little but did not move from their place on either side of me. "I'm tired of feeding from sickly animals." I shrugged, hoping she wouldn't see through my façade. "I'm done trying to live like the Cullens." I felt the guard to the right of me stiffen at the word Cullen and I could feel the curiosity and anxiety rolling off of him. I stole a quick glance at him before continuing and could swear I saw a slight grimace in his expression.
"But I see there is nothing here for me, Maria. So I'll go and leave you to your delusions of grandeur." I laughed trying to ease the tension, projecting calm to those around me.
Maria smoothed down her dress. "That's right, no harm done , yet. But you'll stay for a bit , won't you, baby?" I recognized Maria's tone and knew this was a rhetorical question.
"Of course, as you wish, Maria."
"Boys, please show Jasper to my chamber."
I wanted nothing more than to get back to my family, I had too. I had to let them know what I had seen, for everyone's sake. Already the scenarios were playing through my head as to how I could make my escape. I was observing as much as I could without notifying anyone of what I was doing. I was counting the exits, the guards, and the thickness of the walls, anything that would be useful. If there was a way out, then there would surely be a way back in. If I managed to make it out of here intact, we would come back, all seven of us. I just had no idea how we were going to do it, but we would come and claim what was ours. I would do whatever it took for this second chance, and more importantly to make it up to him, my brother. But this isn't my story of redemption. This is no longer my story to tell … it's Edward's.