The days passed in the mill of routine. They became weeks, the weeks months. Another year passed for Nishka.

Today, sleeping in late was firmly noted on the agenda. Nishka used her free time to let body and soul unwind.

Still feeling sleepy, she gently detached from Kent and turned onto her back. Wakefulness and sleep alternated until she finally opened her eyes with a pleasant heaviness in her limbs. Kent had a good taste for holos. Above them the night-time southern sky spread, the walls displayed the endless expanse of the sea, from loudspeakers waves roared against a beach. Nishka grinned. The fact that the same seagull always flew through the twilight quickly exposed the illusion.

She looked at Kent with a grin. The red of her hair on the green pillow looked like a campfire on a meadow. The impression was only enhanced by Kent’s eternal scent of hyacinth. Nishka breathed it in. She listened wistfully to the surf. The sea. Did Kent miss her home? Did she suffer in the desert? To date, she had not dropped one word about her past.

»Morning, sleepy head!«

Nishka opened her eyes in surprise. Hell, Kent was wide awake. Nishka rolled over onto her and tickled her. Kent screamed and brought Nishka under control in the blink of an eye. Ouch! Without the use of her music, the elder woman could beat Nishka in any fight, even after all these years. Not much had changed in their comparative skills since their first fight, long ago in prehistoric times. She surrendered and cuddled in Kent’s grasp. Kent tousled her hair and Nishka purred. How she loved those moments!

»What’s up for today, Grandma?«

With an eye command, Kent replaced the stars with a data field. »Read for yourself, teeny.«

Nishka raised Kent’s arm and lay in her armpit so she could see the ceiling and pulled Kent’s arm back over her. With her other hand, she pulled the blanket up to her chin and grinned mischievously. Kent’s bare feet lay exposed to the cold. She waited in vain for a complaint. Kent simply pulled up her legs and studied the data. Nishka sighed. With her sixty years, Kent was decidedly too grown up.

She still did not understand her relationship with Kent. After merging with Khruschew, would she begin to love Kent as a woman? Did Kent not realize that Nishka touched her differently than before? She interrupted her thoughts. They led nowhere.

»Finished dreaming?« Kent plucked the blanket aside a bit so Nishka could see the plan.

»Lucky dog. You have off today. Tomorrow Deubler wants to see you. Any last words?«

Nishka disappeared under the blanket and moaned. Deubler! Her stomach suddenly ached. He was a master at putting her off balance.

»Hey, dwarf, why don’t you grab a horse and make yourself scarce?« That sounded good. Some calm before the storm. Only her and the desert.

Kent had earned a reward for that. Nishka swung out of bed and gritted her teeth as her feet touched the tiles. Kent hated carpets; she would never forgive her for that.

She slipped into her socks and brewed herself some coffee. She also made a cup of tea for the old tea fanatic. She let her fingers glide over the fine porcelain. Kent had style. She came up with an idea. With a diabolical smile, she poured the tea into a cheap earthenware beaker. That was for the cold tiles!

Finally, it was time. From afar already, she heard snorting and the pawing of hooves. Nishka gave Mistral a longing look. He was in high spirits! The wood of his stall was cracked in places, the straw was scattered everywhere. The black horse’s coat shone with sweat. The other horses blew their nostrils in reaction to the steppe stallion’s wildness.

Nishka approached the stall cautiously. »Well, my hero? Do you miss your herd?« He eyed her and snorted. She halted in respect. »Do you know how many times I’ve watched you from the cafeteria? You are so beautiful! You don’t belong in this hole. You were made to gallop through the desert.«

»Your horse is ready, Major. Over there, the light-colored mare. She is very calm and even-tempered.« A stockwoman gently squeezed herself and her high-pressure hose past Mistral’s stall. The horse reared as she passed. The woman instinctively ducked away.

»Thank you.« Again, Nishka looked at the stallion. He turned his head and fixed her with his gaze, ripping his head up and down as if he were nodding to her.

»Better keep your hands off of him, he has the devil in his body.«

Something stirred in Nishka. ›Speaking of the devil, fancy a little lesson?‹

Nishka’s body immediately tensed. ›Amtranik! What a question. What are you going to do?‹

Mount up.‹

How ….?‹ She gave a sidelong glance to Mistral.

No, you jokester. A near-death experience is not on the agenda today. Take the mare.‹

Moments later, Nishka steered the obedient animal out of the yard and relaxed the reins. They went through a long tunnel into the open air. ›Where are you leading me?‹

Amtranik remained silent.

Even the hardiest shrubs were rare here, the hardy grass barely reached any noticeable height. Thousands of rabbit holes littered the ground, which the experienced horse skillfully avoided. Nishka relaxed and gazed around. The sun was burning down from a cloudless sky, the air was already flickering at that early hour. A fine haze of dust hovered over the red earth. A myriad of flies swirled around her head, settling in the corners of her eyes and mouth. She waved her hands about to drive them away and had to grin. Australia offered her its kiss.

Her gaze wandered over the landscape that lay in front of her.

Do you feel as I do? I mean, there’s hardly a more inhospitable country than the outback, and yet I love it as it is.‹

Maybe I can explain it to you.‹ Amtranik sounded unusually emotional.

Oh yeah? I’m all ears.‹

Look around.‹

I’ve been doing that the whole time.‹ A measure of displeasure arose in Nishka. ›You’re wasting my day off, get to the point.‹

I mean, really look around,‹ Amtranik insisted, without commenting on her flippant tone. ›Open your eyes and open your mind. Let the world into your heart.‹

Am I The Little Prince now?‹

Amtranik was silent.

Nishka took a deep breath, exhaled and tried to dispel her displeasure and impatience. Her eyes wandered over the horizon. In the swirling air there was only emptiness, dust and a few grasses. The sky was cloudless, nothing that would hold her gaze. It shone a special blue, deeper, wider, clearer than she had known in Adelaide. Why did she only now really see this? She lost herself in that blue, it absorbed her. She felt free and safe at the same time.

Beneath her she heard something rustle. A wombat hurriedly sought protection from the perceived threat. A lizard warmed itself on a stone. In the distance, a group of emus frantically stretched their necks. In a depression, the leaves of desert oaks moved sluggishly in the wind. Water had to be found there. A swarm of the ubiquitous gray-pink Galahs fluttered about, and all around her she heard cawing, crackling, rushing and rolling sounds. The wind stroked her cheeks and brought her news from far away, from eucalyptus and koalas, from giant kangaroos, from people dancing around glowing fires. The smell of hundreds of thousands of years. Once again, her eyes wandered over the horizon. This emptiness, this vastness, the land breathed in and out, in and out.

She understood. ›The land is alive!‹

Amtranik gave her an appreciative smile.

I mean, it’s really alive. It’s one, it’s all one. How much I’d like to be a part of it.‹

You have not understood it yet.‹

What then?‹

An indulgent sigh.

You are already a part of it. The land, the water, the sky, the trees, the shrubs, the grass, the snakes, the kangaroos, you! It is all one, part of the great creation.‹

Nishka remained silent.

Aschmunadai’, she heard quietly.

Asch… what?‹

From a distance, a thunderous cloud of dust approached. She could occasionally discern horse heads in it. They went from a gallop to a trot, then walked and at last halted and eyed her. The dust gradually settled.

Nishka was in awe. ›The herd! How many times have I admired them. Now they’re right in front of me. They are so beautiful. Why don’t they flee from me?‹

Why should they be afraid of you? You are a part of them.‹

Nishka blinked in irritation. ›That all sounds good and beautiful… But… what do you mean?‹

Send a part of you and let it settle into one of the horses.‹

I’m supposed to … what?‹

You are not what you see. Your body with all its spare parts is meaningless. You are – pure energy. Send it forth.‹

Straining hard, Nishka tried to send something of herself.

Amtranik would not help her until she had tried to the best of her ability. After a while, she gave up. ›How am I supposed to do it?‹

Amtranik stirred. »First of all, you shield yourself, as I have taught you. No one can be allowed to listen to your music. Then …« She felt a slight pressure that quickly increased, then a tweak. The next moment she saw herself, from the outside, sitting on the horse. She opened her eyes. She was still firmly in the saddle, but at the same time she was…

»Amtranik, help!«

Do not scream! Calm down. Enjoy your first time! Move the splinter you have sent forth.‹

Nishka tried. She almost fell from the saddle.

The splinter, not your butt’.

Nishka sent Amtranik an angry thought, then she focused, shifted her attention to … whatever that was, and the splinter moved. She quickly gained in practice, she circled around herself and looked at herself from behind. Then she moved towards the lead stallion.

She felt his soul open and readily absorb her energy, as if nothing in the world were more natural. A swell of impressions poured into her. Coat trembling under the tingling of flies. A stomach filled with delicious grass. The tail constantly flicking. Nostrils that snorted as they sensed messages from afar. Ears that turned attentively in her direction, not to listen, but to tell her, ›You are here – I am here – we are one’.

Tears of emotion streamed down her cheek. ›We are one,‹ she repeated. She turned to Amtranik. ›Can I connect with every being on Earth?‹

Now we are at lesson two. Your energy is not infinite. So, do not overdo it, and above all, see that the splinters come back to you.‹

Nishka nodded, focused on the splinter, on herself in the stallion, returned it to her body, fused it with her own entity. ›Could I connect with you too?‹ The thought aroused Nishka. ›Then I’ll finally know who you are.‹

You will get answers, later!‹ He made a short pause.

Do not connect with energies you are no match for. With those like me or with Mother. Even I would never …‹ Suddenly, Amtranik fell silent.

Mother? You have a mother? Who is she? Who are you? And who is the woman who wants to kill me?‹

Amtranik remained silent, Nishka gave up – for now – and let her horse run free.

What happens if I forget that?‹

You do not want to know. Let us return. Mistral is waiting.‹