Doug Beckett drove to the outskirts of Fep City and parked near the amplifier dishes on Point Abic. The area wasn't exactly wild, but it wasn't exactly built up, either.

He got out of his car and looked at the area. It was mainly flat, with a decent-sized spreading olowa tree. There was a little rise, too. He hiked up the rise and there was a lovely view of the surrounding area.

He jogged back down, where there were stalks of wild tofflin growing. He saw a peering pair of eyes in the undergrowth, and his presence startled the creature in there. It dashed out. It looked a lot like a hare, and it was the right size, but it had fangs which, he knew, could be used for killing and eating smaller animals or for burrowing. It was a linfep, and it scampered away. He'd have to be mindful of their holes, he remembered. It was easy to twist an ankle in one.

A car drove up and parked next to his. It was a native Calafan woman. "Ah, I see you found the place," she said. "Is it what you wanted?"

"It is," he said, "but I think I like the part up the rise better."

"That land is more expensive."

"How much more?"

"It's the view," she said, "It may be undeveloped, but it's still high, although not as high as Point Abic itself, of course." She checked a PADD. "It's a good thirty thousand los. The original lot we agreed on – that one's only twelve."

"Huh, yeah. I guess I won't be getting the view. How do I work out the deal?" he asked.

"Bring over a finance draft and we can sign the papers tomorrow."

"Good," Doug said, "and my wife will never know."


"It's a surprise for her."

"It should be a pleasant surprise," she said, "I'll see you in my office tomorrow. At, say, ten hundred hours?"

"I can do that," Doug said.

The realtor left.

He had a real piece of paper in his pocket, and a real pen. "Now, let's see," he murmured to himself. "My stride is close to two meters, but it's less. So, uh, here." He paced out a large rectangle about twelve meters by fifteen. As he walked, he would trace in the ground with his shoes.

He checked his work as he went, occasionally erasing and then pacing an area out again. Then he stood and copied the crude dirt drawing, transferring its essence to the paper as he sketched and made notations.

"Okay," he said. "Living room over here. With a fireplace. Wood pile could be here. Then, uh, the baby's room goes over here, where there's sunlight. Then a bathroom, and then the guest room. Dining area goes here. Master bedroom and bath will go here. Then the kitchen – a big, big kitchen, in the back. You can garden out here, plant herbs or flowers or vegetables. Over to the side it's flat. The baby could play here. Over at the front, space for two cars and a carport. Cellar goes below the kitchen. Maybe a picture window in the front living room. I bet you'd like that, Lili."

He stopped what he was doing and looked at the little empty lot. "When you first saw me, I was almost like this. Just a, a blank slate that needed to be written on. More or less undeveloped. And this will be another blank slate. God, I hope you like it."

He paced the outline again. "I wonder how I'll keep this quiet until Christmas. Our house."

One more pacing. "I never thought I'd settle down, never thought I'd really fall in love. I never thought I'd marry. And I never thought I'd become a father, or this, either. Thank you for reversing my life for the better, Charlotte Lilienne O'Day Beckett. You're my reason for being here."