FYI, please remember this is part of a rough draft. There is very minor editing done.

 

When the music abruptly stopped, Natalie sprung up as if she had been stung by an angry wasp. Her head spun from the sudden change in position and perspective. The rock’s power had run out. A stream of obscenities flowed like water from a busted pipe. The words so foul her grandma would have been spinning in her grave.

“DAMMIT! Why don’t these freakin’ rocks last longer?” ended the tirade.  It was a scene that had played out frequently in the past two years. She yanked her ear buds out and launched the small sliver of red rock into the alien sky. A dramatic sigh escaped her.

“Probably for the best,” she said aloud. “That song always brings back painful memories.”  There was no point in thinking about the past. Nothing could be changed. Nothing could bring back her father, Josh, or anyone else who had to be left behind.  Thoughts of it made her stomach churn and started the water works.

She couldn’t go back looking upset. It would worry her brothers.  Brows furrowed, she hastily wiped at her damp cheeks and gave herself a stern internal pep talk.  Satisfied that her appearance wouldn’t upset her them, she turned heel to head home.

Chapter 1

“Natalie Abigail Armstrong. Where the hell have you been?” came the angry voice of her brother Xavier.  Natalie, who had been in the process of climbing the paddock fence to get back into the yard, stopped and looked in the direction of the unhappy voice.

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath. It must be later than she thought. She sighed again and threw her leg over the fence to landing lightly on the other side.

“I’m waiting,” barked Xavier.

“I was up on the hill,” she mumbled, “Sorry. I guess I lost track of time.”

“That excuse is getting old,” her brother replied, “When are you going to finally get accustomed to the time here?”

“Well excuse me for not assimilating as easily as you!” Natalie replied hotly and stormed past her brother. She got to the front door where her other brother, Collin, was standing watching the exchange.  Collin gave her a small smile and stepped aside so she could enter the house.  She stomped through and slammed the door to the washroom.

Xavier sighed as he followed her past Collin and into the house.

“She’s still having a hard time Xavier,” Collin commented to his brother while putting a bowl of salad on the table, “Her eyes were all red.”

“I understand that,” Xavier replied, “but she can’t keep living in the past. This is our life now. She has to get used to Terra Nuevo and move forward.”  Collin nodded in agreement.

“I know, but cut her some slack. She’s a girl, a teenage girl at that, without a mother figure. Couple that with all that’s happened in the past two years and you’ve got to admit she’s come through better than most would,” stated Collin.  Xavier hung his head and closed his eyes. He knew his brother was right.  His sister was stronger than most girls her age and he knew he shouldn’t be so hard on her, but he didn’t know how else to deal with her. If only the others were here, they might better know what to do.  Xavier’s thoughts were interrupted when Natalie exited the washroom noisily and headed towards her room.

“Aren’t you eating?” Collin called after her.

“Not hungry,” she replied slamming the door behind her. Collin looked at his older brother and raised his eyebrows.

“Ok. Ok. I get it. I’ll go talk to her,” Xavier said, pushing himself away from the counter he had been leaning on.

Xavier knocked lightly on Natalie’s bedroom door.

“Can I come in?”  He strained to hear her mumbled acceptance.  Opening the door, he found her sitting on the floor with her knees meeting her chin.  He sat down next to her and didn’t say anything.

“Sorry,” she said softly.

“No,” Xavier said with a sigh, “I’m sorry. I know this hasn’t been easy for you.”

“It hasn’t been any easier for you,” she replied knowingly. Xavier lifted the corner of his mouth into a slight smile. She wasn’t stupid.  He knew she understood they have all been struggling to get used to life on this new planet. He decided not to rehash the earlier argument and ask her for her help instead.

“With what?” she asked with interest.

“We got a Doublehead colt today that’s pretty wild. I could use some help with him,” Xavier told her.

“Those things freak me out,” she replied wrinkling her nose.

“Oh come on now, they’re just horses!” Xavier said rolling his eyes.

“Those things are NOT horses. They have two heads! On two necks!” she exclaimed. Xavier just shook his head.

“I could really use your help,” he told her.

“Fine. Fine,” Natalie said, “but not all day. I have to go digging for another red rock.”

“God, you go through those things like candy.”

“What can I say, I need my music,” stated Natalie. “I used to go through a lot of batteries when we had those too.”

“I remember,” Xavier said with a smile. “Ok, let’s go eat before Collin finishes all the food.”  He stood up and offered his sister a hand.  As she gripped his larger hand, he was surprised to feel the calloused skin. It reminded him that she really had been working hard since they arrived.  He swept his arm out and made a small bowing gesture.

“After you M’lady.” Natalie chuckled and headed out of the room to join her other brother for dinner.

***

The sun dawned on a new day, its bright rays shining into Natalie’s small room. She gingerly opened her eyes, and immediately regretted that decision.

“UUGH! Too bright!” she grumbled lifting her hand to shield her eyes.  She slowly re-opened her eyes to allow them to get accustomed to the amount of light in the room. Her brothers kept telling her she should move her bed so that the morning sun wouldn’t shine in her face, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. At night she liked to lay awake and stare at the stars outside her window, wondering who else was looking at the same night sky.

“Can’t start thinking of that stuff now,” she chided herself.  She flung her legs over the side of the bed and groaned as she stood up and stretched. Grabbing a towel and some clothes, she strode out of her room to go get ready for a day with Xavier and those freaky beasts.

Twenty minutes later, Natalie was ready for the day.  Her short black hair was artfully styled in a manner which made it look like she’d done nothing but run her hands through it.  Her eyes were lined in black, making them look even brighter. They were green today; due to the long sleeve green t-shirt she donned. Her friends back home had always been envious of her color changing eyes. They changed color with what she was wearing. She never thought much about it when she was younger, but she kind of liked it now.  Her lips were stained their signature red color and she had on her favorite pair of jeans, soft and worn in all the right places.  A pair of black boots completed the look for the day.  As an afterthought, she stopped back in her room to grab a turquoise bandana which she tied around her neck. If it was as hot out today as it was yesterday, she would need it to keep her hair back and off her neck.

Walking into the kitchen, she saw that some fruit and juice had been left out for her, probably courtesy of Collin. He always mothered her.  Had it been anyone else, she would have been annoyed by the babying, but her brother had always been a gentle and kind soul, so she accepted his behavior and normally did as he asked of her. Their mother had died shortly after Natalie was born and she didn’t remember her at all. Collin, being four years older than her, had a bit more of a recollection, but even he didn’t remember her much.

Natalie gulped down the juice and crammed the fruit into her mouth in a very unlady-like manner. She placed the cup on the counter and headed towards the front door.  The heat was already oppressing as she stepped out into bright morning sun. The plus about the humidity is that it should keep the dust down.  When it was hot and dry, the red dust storms would inevitably appear which put everyone into a panic.

When their ship had crashed landed on what would be called Terra Nuevo two years ago, it had kicked up a red dust storm like no other they’ve seen since.  Natalie had seen sand storms on TV shows and in movies, but she had never experienced one before. Great swirling clouds of the red dust made it impossible to see one’s hand in front of their face. It made everyone cough, but even worse, it killed some people the instant they inhaled it.  Others would get very sick with tuberculosis like symptoms which could take months to recover from. Some people, like Natalie and her brothers, seemed to have immunity to the dust.  They didn’t know what would happen if they had to experience prolonged exposure to it, but they hoped they never have to find out.

Looking around, Natalie spotted Collin in the garden tending to the vegetables. Thankfully, the seeds they had brought from home seemed to thrive in the soil here.  They found some native fruits and vegetables that seemed safe to eat, but Natalie was glad they still had some of her favorites from home and that they were flourishing here.  He spotted her and gave a little wave.  She smiled and waved back at him before turning towards the paddock.

Xavier had his back to her and was trying to lead the horse-like monster around the paddock, without much success. Natalie stopped and took a good look at the thing.  It looked like any old horse from the backside up to the neck; tall and muscular, chestnut in color with a black tail. When you got up to the neck, well, there was more than one. This made the animal’s back a little broader than the typical horse back home, but not much.  The two necks were long and the heads looked similar except that one had a white diamond shaped patch of fur above its eyes. Natalie briefly wondered if she’d have to give the thing two names. Lefty and Righty seemed appropriate. She giggled at the thought.  Her thoughts were interrupted when the animal suddenly reared up kicked out at her brother. Xavier fell back to the ground, the wind knocked out of him. Natalie broke into a run and hopped the fence. Before she could get too far, she saw Xavier throw a hand out in her direction.

“Stay back!” he warned her never taking his eyes off the animal.  She could see his hand was all cut up and bleeding.  She took a step forward only to have him warn her to stay back again.  The animal took its eyes off of Xavier and looked in her direction.

“Shit,” muttered Xavier, “Nat, slowly climb back out.”  She would have listened to him, but fear had paralyzed her. The animal’s four eyes were locked on her. She was sure it was going to  charge after her, stepping on her brother in the process. Suddenly she had the craziest feeling that the animal wanted her to approach it.  Somehow, she willed herself to move forward.  Xavier, hearing her footsteps crunching on the sand, whipped his head around.

“What are you doing?!” he asked, his eyes wide with fear for his sister’s safety.

“Shhh!” she told him, never taking her eyes off the animal. Slowly Natalie approached.  When she got close enough she put her arm out with the palm up.  One head dipped to sniff at it and the other followed suit. After they both had a chance to get her scent, the head with the white diamond on it, Righty, plopped its head in her hand so she could scratch under its chin.  Natalie was familiar with this action from the horses they had had back home and she obliged the animal with a scratch. Not wanting to miss out on the action, the other head swung over and knocked its sibling out of the way so it could get the same treatment.  Natalie chuckled at the behavior and murmured soft words to them.

“Well I’ll be damned,” Xavier commented from behind her.  Natalie turned her head slowly to see her brother had gotten up and stood behind her.  The left head turned towards him to give him an evil look and then turned its attention back to Natalie.

“I guess maybe it just prefers females?” Natalie commented.

“I guess you’re right,” replied her brother, “that means this one is all yours.”

“What? I don’t nee-,“ Natalie started to say when he cut her off.

“They like you and you could use something to get around on, right? So why not train them as your own?” he asked her.

“I guess…,” she replied slowly.

“Good!” Xavier said with a smile, “Now get to grooming.”  Natalie tried to protest saying she needed to tend to his cuts and bruises first, but he waved her off saying they were nothing.  She took off her bandana and wrapped it around his bleeding hand tying the ends in a tight little knot.

“Thanks,” he told her slinging an arm around her neck. She knew he meant for more than the bandana. She just nodded her head and blushed. Xavier wasn’t normally the emotional one, so this was an unusual occurrence for him. She was grateful for his thanks.  He let her go and walked over to the fence to sit on it while she groomed the animal.

“To have something to get around on would be nice,” Natalie thought. She had always been slightly annoyed that they had left the planet right before she was able to get her learners permit to drive. Of course there were no cars here.  Electronics and mechanical things didn’t really work here for some reason.  It was thought that it was due to some strange magnetic field that surrounded the planet.  Some people think that it might have even been part of the reason why they crashed on this planet, that the magnetic pull was so strong it pulled them off of their course and into this planet’s gravitational orbit.

The loss of their electronics put a hurting on their way of living.  They’ve had to revert to the days of candles and riding animals and things of that nature.  A few months after being here, someone made an incredible discovery. While out exploring, a young man came across a shiny red rock the size of a grape.  It looked similar to a ruby, so he brought it home to show his family. While waiting for them to get in from their daily chores, he laid the rock down on a table next to his cell phone, which his younger brother now used as a toy since there was no way to charge it and no one to call. Much to his surprise, the screen lit up and the start up music played.  When he picked it up off of the table, to look at it, the screen suddenly darkened and it was dead once more. The man put the phone back down on the table and it magically turned back on. This time when he picked it up, he picked up the red rock along with the phone.  The screen stayed on.  After a few experiments of separating the rock and the phone, he came to the conclusion that something about the rock made the phone work.  The “battery life”, so to speak, of the rocks seems to depend on how big the rock is and how much power the item needs.  The grape size rock can power an MP3 player for several days on constant play, but would last a day tops on powering a computer or laptop. Red rocks are found all over, but most are very small or slivers, which don’t last very long. A few people have found larger sized rocks and have put them to use in helping to make things the community needed to survive.  There has been talk among the community to go mining for larger rocks, but digging means dealing with the red dust. It was still being debated.

Grooming was second nature to Natalie. Back home her family had had stables and bred racehorses.  While music was her first love, horses came second. She had helped out by mucking stalls and grooming for as long as she could remember.  After a riding accident where she was thrown and broke her arm and a couple of fingers, she refused to have anything to do with them. She had dreams of being a musician and if she permanently damaged her hands that might never happen.  It made sense when they ended up on Terra Nuevo that her family picked back up with the “horse” industry when they found similar animals.  Xavier had always been the one who was planning on taking over the family business since their two older brothers, James and Marcus both went into the military.

Due to the fact that they needed a lot of land to let the Doubleheads run and train them, the Armstrongs lived on the outskirts of the community. They got a decent amount of company from the other towns people, be it those who were interested in owning a Doublehead or those just stopping by to say hello, so Natalie wasn’t so surprised when she suddenly saw a figure appear on the other side of their property near the woods.  The Doublehead saw the person as well and whinnied nervously.  The sound got Xavier’s attention.  Natalie patted one of the necks to try and keep the animal calm as her brother hopped down off the fence and headed towards the person.  In the bright sun, the siblings could only see the stranger’s silhouette.  They seemed to be stumbling out of the woods when all of a sudden they collapsed. Natalie dropped the grooming brush and dashed across the paddock on her brother’s heels. Xavier called for Collin who came running around the corner of the house. When the three reached the person, their eyes were wide with shock. Natalie audibly gasped as she saw the man’s skin was red. Collin bent down to check for a pulse.  The man was alive but barely breathing. As he took his fingers away he noticed they were red.

“This is red dust!” he exclaimed, “We need to get him clean immediately!”  Xavier gingerly lifted the man while Natalie ran ahead to the house to fill the tub with water from the well.  Collin joined her with a second bucket so they could fill the tub quicker.

“Wait!” called Xavier, “Let’s douse him off out here and then let him soak in the tub. If we just put him in the tub the water will still be filled with red dust.”  Collin nodded in agreement.

“We’ll hold him up while you dump the water over him Nat,” Xavier told her. Collin took the man’s one arm and put it around his neck while Xavier did the same with the other arm so the man was in more of an upright position. Natalie dumped bucket after bucket of water over the man’s head until he was mostly clean save for a slight tinge of pink. Natalie’s arms and back were breaking, but she helped Collin fill the tub while Xavier took off the man’s wet clothes.  Once he was settled in the tub of warm water, Collin used a cloth and some soap to better scrub the stranger’s skin. As this was going on, the man started to stir. Collin stopped cleaning and sat back on his heels. Natalie popped her head around the door to see the man open his eyes. He looked bewildered at his current condition and she was afraid he might bolt out of the tub stark naked. Collin laid a hand on the man’s arm.

“It’s ok,” he told the man, “you’re safe here.”  The man visibly deflated as if he had no energy to fight even if he wasn’t safe.

“You stumbled out of the woods onto our property,” Xavier told him, “You were covered in red dust, and so we cleaned you off.”

“The mines…” the man mumbled.

“What?” asked Collin.

“The red dust, it’s from the mines,” the man repeated with his eyes closed. It was obvious he was exhausted.

“What mines?” piped up Natalie from the doorway. The man opened his eyes at the sound of a woman’s voice.  He stared at Natalie so hard she dropped her gaze, embarrassed by the sudden scrutiny.

“You look just like him,” the man told her. Natalie’s head shot up.

“Like whom?” she demanded to know stepping into the small washroom. Xavier put an arm out to keep her from getting too close to the stranger.

“Like the man who sent me to the mines in the first place,” the stranger said bitterly, “Lieutenant Colonel James Armstrong.”

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