Liddell stops in the middle of "dinner", a sliver of canned peach dangling from the tines of the plastic fork he's holding. "Today's the twenty-sixth, isn't it?" he asks Ian. They've taken shelter on the shady side of the downed plane under the wing that's been truncated to provide parts for their undertaking.

The accountant fumbles his wristwatch from his pocket---it's safer there when he's doing manual labor---glances at the date function and nods. "July twenty-sixth," he confirms.

"Hell," Liddell says, setting the fork down on the rim of the plastic bowl. "It's my little girl's birthday today."

Ian knows the other man has two daughters. "Which one?" he inquires politely.

"Zandra, my oldest. She's going to be five."

"Pretty name."

"That was Marilyn's idea. I wanted to name her Alice, after my mother, but I was away on a job when she was born, so I got outvoted." He sighs. "She's probably having a really crappy birthday this year, if they've broken the news to our families. Think they have?"

Considering how long they've been missing, Ian suspects they---Americore HR---has made perfunctory announcements to their next-of-kin. He wonders who that would be in his case. His parents are long gone, there's no spouse or children...possibly his brother Richard, although Ian's not sure if he has contact info for him, let along passed it along to Corporate.

"I think so," Ian admits. "It's been long enough."

"If we don't make it out, she's always going to associate this time of year with Daddy going away forever," Liddell says sadly. "Kids always think everything is their fault, she'll probably think she did something terrible."

"Surely not!" Ian protests.

"You don't have any kids, do you, Ian?"

"No, I---no kids."

"On account of, you bat for the other team?"

Ian looks at him sharply, but Liddell has retrieved his peach and doesn't seem to mean anything by the question. He supposes it was inevitable---he and Radhi have done their best to be circumspect, but there's virtually no privacy in or around their quarters.

"It's not that," he says after a moment. "I get along with women, I can function that way, it's doesn't seem fair. Say I go to the trouble of finding a compatible lady friend and persuade her to marry me. We produce offspring. And what happens? I have to work even longer hours and be gone constantly to make enough money to raise and educate my children so that they can find mates and produce offspring---"

"It's the circle of life, ol' buddy," Liddell smiles. "And it's not that bad. My girls are great, I wouldn't trade being their daddy for anything---"

There's silence for a long moment.

"The plane will fly," Ian declares, tilting his bowl to get the dregs of peach juice. "Elliot is brilliant, we're lucky to have him. Even if he won't let me bring my PING Eye2 with us. That's going to be a bitch to replace."

"You and those golf clubs," chuckles the other man. "I'm more of a softball guy, myself. Used to play second base."

"Which team was that?" Ian asks innocently, and Liddell snorts.

"The other other team."

They both chuckle.

It's too bad about Liddell's daughter, Ian thinks as he returns his bowl to the "kitchen". They'll get out of there soon---within the next couple of days, if Elliot's right---and as soon as the company swoops down, they'll be whisked back to civilization. Little Zandra will get her daddy back, but if he's right about kids blaming themselves, she may think he's forgotten about her birthday.

That won't do.

The middle of the Gobi Desert is lamentably lacking in toy stores. While he or Liddell might be able to score some tinket for her on their way back to the States, he suspects there's not going to be much time for shopping---debriefing, yes, they'll probably be up to their asses in Suits---it wasn't that long ago that he was a Suit, Ian remembers, slightly stunned. Now?

Maybe he'll become a professional golfer. Or liquidate his portfolio, buy his own course and install an oasis for its nineteenth hole.

He wanders over to where his golf bag rests, and he'll miss that as much as the rare club---he's played courses all over the world, and acquired various souvenirs---luggage tags touting various resorts, an assortment of club covers...Ian laughs out loud.

"Here," he says to Liddell a few minutes later, glancing around to make sure that their resident engineer in particular isn't watching. "A gift for Zandra. Keep it stuffed down in your pocket---Elliot might raise a fuss."

Liddell looks at the knitted golf club cover that's made to looked like a kilted Scotsman complete with a pom-pom on his wee cap. He grins, carefully rolls it up and tucks it into his chinos. "That's great, she'll love it. Thanks, Ian---I really appreciate that."

"Sure. My pleasure." Ian surveys their motley crew. "Out here, we're all on the same team."