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            When Mairren was a small child, her grandmother would tell her stories in hushed whispers as Mairren settled in the bed for the night. Mairren loved her grandmother’s tales, listening rapt to all of the fantastic details. There was one story, however, that Mairren loved more than any other. It was a story that her grandmother said that she had heard from her own grandmother, who had witnessed it herself. Mairren wanted to believe this story above all others, but it was even more fantastical than her grandmother’s other tales, telling of a world before the Overlords, a world where people governed themselves and made their own choices, a world where you could be anything that you wanted, a world filled with people, a world with a bright blue sky. Mairren had a hard time imagining this world. For one thing, the Overlords had been around as long as anyone could remember and they dictated everything that everyone did, including assigning each person with a job. For another, Mairren knew that most of the world was a vast wasteland where nobody could ever survive and she had been taught in school that the Overlords had built just a few cities in the habitable part the world where people could live in relative safety under the protection of the Overlords. Also, blue was an awfully strange color for the sky. The sky Mairren knew was all different shades and patterns of gray. Blue was the color of Mairren’s mother’s eyes before she passed away, the color of the pills that the Overlords had everyone over 5 years old take, the color of the fizzy drink that the loony owner of the apothecary, a woman called Faylee who’s actual job was as a night-mechanic at the city’s Refuse Repair Center (where broken things were fixed to be resold and things beyond repair were stripped for parts), sold and claimed would cure anything even though everyone knew that it was just lemon juice and soda water with blue food-coloring and a bit of salt and sugar. Blue was not a color that Mairren particularly liked – her mother had always been rather emotionally distant from her and her cold blue eyes had always had a certain brooding fury that frightened Mairren despite that anger never really being aimed at her, the blue pills that she was made to take always made Mairren feel funny in the stomach but whenever she forgot them she would get shaky and sweaty and weak and her whole body would ache, and the apothecary’s Blue Elixir was a delicious waste of money that never cured anything and always made Mairren’s constantly queasy stomach revolt. So, yes, Mairren had a lot of difficulty believing this story, though she desperately wanted to.

            When Mairren turned thirteen, her Assignment came. On the morning of her birthday, Mairren had waited outside of the complex that she and her grandparents lived in, joining the rabble of other waiting workers from her building for the first time. Each of the others had the same drawn, haggard looks as her grandmother, with pale skin and dark circles under their eyes that spoke clearly of exhaustion. Most of them also had scars on their hands and faces; one man was even missing several fingers. After a while, a steam-trolley arrived. First exited the night workers, a group of filth-smudged men and women, several of which seemed to be suffering from miners-lung, each hacking up black mucus after every few sputtered breaths. Then, the day workers boarded. One of the night workers was Mairren’s grandfather, a stern, though kind man who Mairren wished that she could know better because her grandmother loved him, yet his schedule being different than hers left very little time for them to bond.  He kissed her grandmother good morning before giving Mairren a pat on the back that she could tell was meant to be comforting, assuring both of them that he would wait with Mairren for her ride. Mairren’s grandmother hugged her tight and bade her the best of the luck on her Assignment before boarding the steam-trolley herself. The steam-trolley departed and Mairren and her grandfather only had to wait a few moments more before the single-rider steam-cart that everyone called the Assignment Trolley arrived to take her directly to her new job. Everyone always got their Assignment on their thirteenth birthday when the Assignment Trolley would pick them up and take them wherever the Overlords had decided that they should work. Not much was known about how the Overlords decided this. The only sure things were that your assignment was permanent and that if you were born during the day, like Mairren, then your Assignment Trolley would arrive on the morning of your thirteenth birthday and you would be a day worker, but if you were born at night, then it would arrive in the evening instead and you would be a night worker. All of the jobs helped run the city, providing everything that the people needed and paying the Overlords back for their protection.

            Mairren’s Assignment Trolley had taken her to the Textile Factory. She worked there diligently for several years, dutifully running a loom and carefully avoiding the many dangers of her job. Then, one day, when Mairren was almost 22, a newer worker that Mairren herself had trained, a minute girl who had been tasked with crawling through the largest loom to fix it, got crushed to death. Mairren had tried to save her, reaching into the loom to grab her and pull her out of harm’s way, but Mairren hadn’t been quick enough and her arm had been crushed too. Her hand had been mangled and she wasn’t expected to survive the blood-loss from the injury. By this time, Mairren’s grandfather had passed on, succumbing to miners-lung in the end when he collapsed in the coal-mine that he had worked in for just over 40 years when Mairren was 17, and her grandmother was a widow of 60 whose body was giving up on her after being worked hard at the city’s livestock farm for decades. Mairren was rushed home to die next to her dying grandmother.

            Only, Mairren’s grandmother refused to let her die. From her bed, she grabbed the wall phone and called up the owner of the apothecary, Faylee, who rushed over from her own home. Mairren’s grandmother, who had often tended to injured milk-cows at her job, instructed Faylee to put a cleaver in the fire until it was red-hot, then to chop off Mairren’s injured arm. Doing so was the only way that they could possibly save Mairren from bleeding to death. Mairren had passed out by the time Faylee went to do this, but the searing pain of it all aroused her. It took several hacks to get through and the smell was revolting, but afterwards they submerged Mairren’s new stump in cold water and Faylee put a cream-colored salve on it. Then, they made Mairren drink a lot of Blue Elixir to help keep her hydrated. Miraculously, this time she didn’t throw it up.

            That evening, by the request of Mairren’s grandmother, who knew that if Mairren were to recover she would be made to return to her Assignment, Faylee snuck Mairren out to the Refuse Repair Center at the edge of the city and into a series of abandoned underground tunnels that Mairren’s grandmother had heard about from her own grandmother, tunnels where people had supposedly hid from the Overlords when they first came to Earth. Faylee had grown up with Mairren’s mother and had heard all of the same stories that Mairren’s grandmother was fond of telling, including the one about the world before the Overlords. Unlike the version that Mairren had heard, this version ended with the Overlords taking over the world, enslaving those who surrendered and destroying those who resisted, scorching the Earth in all but a few cities where they put their slaves to work. In part of the story, some resistors had built tunnels under the edge of this city somewhere to the East. Mairren’s grandmother had never told Mairren that version because she blamed it for her own daughter’s young death at 24, which had left her and her husband at 44 and 42, respectfully, to raise a 5 year old Mairren.

    Faylee had always wanted to search for those tunnels from the story and when she had been Assigned to the Refuse Repair Center, which stood along the Eastern wall of the city, she had her chance. After searching for a few years, she finally found the entrance to them and had told Mairren’s mother and grandmother as much. The older woman urged Faylee to keep the place a secret and Mairren’s mother, who had the very special Assignment of delivering supplies to the Overlords’ Airship and had noticed how much better the technology, food, and medicine available to the Overlords was, began stealing supplies and having Faylee store them in the tunnels to distribute throughout the city. This was when Faylee first opened her apothecary. She would work at the Refuse Repair Center during the night and for one hour a day would sell medicine out of her home before going to bed. She secretly gave out pilfered medicine to anyone who truly needed it, but she also made some harmless elixirs and a few home-remedies to sell so that the Overlords wouldn’t suspect her. She also made certain to have her happy ‘customers’ openly denounce her as batty, but covertly send anyone that really needed medical help her way. For about a year things had gone smoothly; Mairren’s mother had kept Faylee well-supplied and the Overlords’ medicines had helped tons of people. Then, tragedy struck as Mairren’s mother was caught red-handed. The Overlords executed her for treason and Faylee’s supply began to dwindle. Luckily, Faylee had been studying the Overlords’ medications and could produce a few concoctions that were similar. So, she kept her stash of stolen meds for emergencies only and used her own mixes to help her customers. The salve that she had used on Mairren’s amputation was one of the last of her supply of the Overlords’ medications. It helped skin to repair itself and grow back and Faylee hoped that it would work on such a large wound.

    After smuggling Mairren to the tunnels, Faylee continued to care for her. Mairren’s grandmother told everyone that Mairren had passed away from her injury and even had a funeral for her. About a week later, she passed away and everyone said that it had been a broken heart that had gotten her in the end, but really it was because she knew that she could now rest knowing that Mairren was safe and free from the Overlords’ enslavement. As Mairren mourned her grandmother, her skin, with the help of the salve, grew over her crude amputation and she began to heal. She also went through withdrawal from not having that blue pill that the Overlords made everyone take. For days she sweated and her body quaked as she clamped her still-present hand over her mouth to muffle her agonized screams. Faylee tended to her and brought her food and water every night. As they grew close, in the brief moments of reprieve that Mairren had, Faylee revealed to her the truth about her mother’s so-called treason and told her the true version of Mairren’s favorite childhood story.

    Mairren was furious. The Overlords had conquered the Earth, enslaved the people, and, to maintain power, had forced people to live in near squalor with second-rate technology and to work dangerous jobs with no proper protection and practically useless medical care when the Overlords themselves had rather advanced medications. When her withdrawal cleared, Mairren also realized that she could think more clearly and react quicker now that whatever was in the blue pill was out of her system. She and Faylee figured that the Overlords must be drugging everyone to make them easier to keep under control. Mairren vowed that she would work for the rest of her life to overthrow the Overlords because if there really had been a world before the Overlords arrival, then there certainly could be one after their demise. As a sign of her vow, she dyed her hair the bright red color of the blood that had been spilled because of the Overlords with some dye that Faylee had brought her. While at work, Faylee pocketed bits and parts to use to make a mechanical hand for Mairren. It took months to make, but eventually she accomplished the task.

    Months went by until it had been over a year since Mairren’s injury and she had been fighting almost single-handedly against the Overlords’ regime. She had taught herself combat, though she rarely used it because most of the missions that she sent herself on were to steal Overlord supplies for Faylee to distribute. Other than these missions, Mairren rarely ever left the safety of the tunnels, which she had turned into her home. It was a lonely life, other than the biweekly visits from Faylee to give her food and water and to pick up medications. Then, one evening Mairren was awoken by a frantic Faylee, who was practically dragging in a woman who looked a little older than Mairren and who was missing most of the lower half of her right leg.

    Mairren jumped up to help her friend and together they got the woman situated and attended to. Faylee explained that the woman, Taetym, had worked as an electrician at the Rail Station. Taetym had been trying to fix a faulty line when an unscheduled Overlord Transport came barreling down the tracks; she had tried to get out of the way, but one leg got caught in the rail as she had misstepped in her frantic rush. When the train got to her, the wheels sliced her trapped leg clean off. Faylee had been summoned by one of Taetym’s co-workers and was able to keep Taetym from bleeding out. Faylee had immediately brought the girl to the tunnels, knowing that they were the safest place to treat her without the Overlords knowing.

    Mairren and Faylee nursed Taetym to health, helping her through her withdrawal and using the last of the original supply of skin-growing salve to heal her where her leg was missing. Taetym, enraged at what had befallen her at the hands of the Overlords (and at what had once befallen her younger sister) and incensed by all that Mairren and Faylee told her about the history of the Overlords that they knew, joined Mairren in her quest to overthrow them, vowing to avenge the wrongs done to her family. She too dyed her hair blood red to signify her dedication to their cause. Faylee built her a mechanical leg and Mairren trained her. Faylee sent a message to Taetym’s only surviving family, her younger sister Aurora, that Taetym had survived but that, for her own safety, they must act as if she hadn’t. Faylee told Aurora of how her sister was fighting against the Overlord regime and Aurora, who had her own reason to join the cause, insisted that she be allowed to fight alongside her sister and Mairren.

    Aurora had been born completely deaf in one ear. That didn’t stop the Overlords from Assigning her a rather dangerous job, however. She was sent to work as an engineer in the bowels of the Overlords’ steam-powered airship that hovered menacingly over the city, a job that ran a high risk of being burned. Her job involved stroking the fire and maintaining the proper amount of steam pulsing through the engine. If there was too little steam, the airship wouldn’t stay in the air, but if there was too much, pressure would build in the pipes until a valve would burst, sending boiling water and scorching steam into the room. Engineers had to listen out for the telltale sounds of pressure building and then carefully relieve the pressure before a valve-burst could occur. Unfortunately, one day when she was 14, Aurora was working alone in her station of the engine-room, as her station-partner had received the day off to bury his wife, and she didn’t hear the pressure building in one of the pipes because it was on the side of her deaf ear. When the valve burst, it sent scalding steam onto her face and into her eye. The burns were horrible, permanently scarring the left side of her face and destroying the outer part of her ear, and her eye was completely blinded. Despite her injuries, after a few weeks she was sent back to work in the engine-room, sporting an eye-patch from then on.

    Despite having accepted her new disability and learning to cope with it, making peace with the fact that it was now a part of her, Aurora had never given up her anger that it had happened at all. And now, with the fate that had befallen her sister, Aurora was more than ready to fight the injustice of the world, ready to stand against the Overlords at any cost. So, she enlisted Faylee to help her fake her own death. They made it look like a suicide and Aurora wrote a letter saying that her life had always been miserable and that now that her dear sister was gone, there was no reason to continue on, so she was going to join her sister in death.

    After their charade, Aurora joined Taetym and Mairren in the tunnels, training with them and dying her hair red. One of the first missions that they went on together was breaking into the Overlords Waste-Field, which was a place that the populace was forbidden to go, and salvaging all that they could of the Overlords discarded technology. From what they salvaged, Faylee was able to build Aurora a mechanical eyeglass and hearing-aid and upgrade Mairren’s and Taetym’s prosthetics. The true prizes of the mission, however, were several broken laser-guns from the Overlords’ Military Squadron. Faylee was able to repair four of these from all of the parts that they had gathered. After Mairren led Taetym and Aurora on a mission to steal some swords from the Forge that had been commissioned for the Overlords’ Military Squadron, Faylee fitted out three of the swords with the repaired laser-guns, creating pistol-blades that were perfect for the three fighters to use. She kept the fourth laser-gun with her, in case the Overlords ever came to arrest her.

    And so, Mairren, Taetym, and Aurora fought against the Overlords one mission at a time, earning the reputation among the regime as wanted terrorists and among the populace as freedom-fighters and heroes. Word of their deeds spread in excited whispers and they soon became known as the Red Warriors. Faylee, who would still bring food and water to the tunnels, worked as their mechanic, fixing their prosthetics as needed, and continued running her apothecary. Each time her supply of Overlord medication helped somebody, she would covertly tell them that they had been saved thanks to the Red Warriors. It wasn’t long before people started secretly tying red scraps of fabric all over the city in solidarity with the Red Warriors and the Overlords were quick to try to stamp out the rebellion by tightening the law and increasing Military presence. However, all that did was fan the flames of the growing resistance. Tensions were climbing and dissension was at its zenith. All that was needed was a catalyst for the revolt to truly rise.

    That catalyst happened one afternoon when a school-aged child, too young to have even been Assigned yet, was caught by an officer of the Overlords’ Military Squadron tying a red ribbon around a link in a fence. The Overlord arrested her and she was convicted of treason, a crime with an automatic death-sentence. The people were violently angry and Faylee spread word that the Red Warriors were going to make a stand and that any who wished to join the fray would be welcomed. On the day that the Overlords put the child to death, the Red Warriors led an army of ramshackle citizens with improvised, homemade, and piecemeal weaponry against the Overlords’ Airship. They were out gunned, but their numbers far exceeded those of the Overlords, as did their push to fight.

    That is how this city became free. Faylee was entrusted with helping reorganize the city and she recruited many citizens to help her in this endeavor. Anyone that wanted a say in how the city was reorganized was involved in the process. The Red Warriors, however, took a few volunteers to journey to other cities and help free them. So now, our city is governed by the people for the people and everyone is allowed to make their own choices and be anything that that they want to be. Soon, other cities will be free like this as well. The Earth isn’t Overlord-free yet and the sky still isn’t blue, but maybe someday it will be.

This was made as an example of an entry in the Writing Only Category of The Original Character Contest.

The art related to this work may be viewed separately by clicking the links below:
Secret Tunnels - a Red Warriors illustration 
Apothecary Mechanic - a Red Warriors illustration 
The Red Warriors - characters 
The Red Warriors - inner title page 

To see just the fully illustrated PDF,  click the following link:
The Red Warriors: A Short Story  
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