He picked at the lock on his cuffs with the tip of a pen. Quebec had left an hour ago to retrieve the rental car she’d abandoned near his trailer. The pen made a terrible lock-picking tool. Zack didn’t think he would do better with anything short of the actual key. If there were real people who could open a lock with nothing but a hairpin or a paperclip, Zack wasn’t one of them.
The door ended his halfhearted efforts by opening. Quebec entered bearing plastic bags.
“Did you go shopping while I was stuck to the bed?”
Quebec cocked her head and looked at him. “I abandoned a car along a back road, walked a mile to retrieve another, and bought you a change of clothes. Be happy it didn’t take longer.”
“Well, I have to use the bathroom.”
She pulled the key out of her pocket and unlocked the handcuffs. “You should take a shower while you’re in there.”
He took her advice. Fifteen minutes later, he emerged clean from the bathroom wearing new clothes. Quebec gestured at the array of vending machine food arranged on the table. Something in her mannerism made him smile. “Did you spend all your casino winnings on this?”
“Travel with me and you eat nothing but the best,” she said.
A twinge of his stomach reminded him he hadn’t eaten in close to a day. Zack sat across the table from Quebec and opened a bag of mini-donuts. “Want to hear something funny?”
Quebec’s brown eyes fixed on him as he ate. “Always.”
“I am a great cook.” Zack gestured at the junk food. “But I eat like this all the time. Up until the past year, I used to make all sorts of things I found in cookbooks. I stopped because right after we got married, Lacey told me I had to learn how to cook because she wasn’t doing housework. I tossed out everything in my kitchen that wasn’t nailed down and Lacey never noticed. We’ve been eating freezer meals ever since. Tater tots are the closest thing to a vegetable I’ve had in months.”
“You do realize Observers can get fat, don’t you?”
“What about teeth? Will those go bad?”
“They’ll fix themselves before you notice a cavity exists. Bad breath is something else. So either brush or chew gum or eat parsley.”
“It works. Remember Iteration five?” The light in Quebec’s eyes dimmed. “No. Of course you don’t. You don’t remember anything.”
Zack’s smile faded. “Sorry.” It always came back to Hess. “What was he like?”
“Hess,” Quebec said, “was the best man and the worst Observer. Out of all of us, he was the best at doing things. It didn’t matter what body he had, Hess could always take care of himself. But he didn’t do abstract. He hated higher mathematics and never got the hang of counting cards despite having a perfect memory. He was always stepping in to interfere because behind all his disapproval, he really cared for the people.”
She wiped her eyes with a sleeve. “Every Iteration, he would tell me that this body of mine was his favorite. There were times when it drove me crazy, but he never stopped saying it. And he always found me. Even if it took centuries, he would search every moment until we met. In worlds with computers it took only days. Except this one. I did everything I was supposed to.”
Quebec looked directly at him. “How could you forget me? I need you, Hess.”
Zack looked down at his hands.