“Ms. Usher is going to kill us,” Carter mumbled. Montag was tempted to remind her to enunciate but a small part of his mind, one which sounded like the aforementioned Ms. Usher, told him this wasn’t a good time. She was correct, too. Both Ms. Usher’s phantom voice and Carter. Montag supposed he could let a bit of poor enunciation slide, given that the two of them were about to be murdered by either cultists or Montag’s colleague.
Friend, Ms. Usher’s voice chimed in, which didn’t make any sense. She’d called them friends once in the break room of the school, before everything went wrong, and it had been such an awkward concept that they had dropped it immediately. Perhaps he had already been murdered, and Ms. Usher’s voice was some sort of strange death hallucination. He should start a mental tally of the effects; if he ended up trapped as some phantasm and retained a measure of his sense of self, he’d have to write this all down for the good of scientific progress.
“Uh, Professor?” Carter asked. He heard her shifting behind him. It was good that she was moving, she’d been curled up in a ball in the corner and looking forlorn since she’d woken up from whatever that dust the man in the fedora had blown at her an hour ago. He turned to her. Watching Marquard’s lab hadn’t gotten him any new information since he’d been trapped there, so he might as well try and make eye contact for Carter’s sake. “You’re supposed to say something encouraging here, I’m pretty sure.”
“I have always valued honesty, young Carter,” he said. In reality he’d been distracted, but that wasn’t something he was willing to admit. He was honest, but she was a teenager and as her teacher he had an image to uphold. Not that it particularly mattered, given that they were all going to die. Carter frowned at him, and Montag regretted looking at her.
It had, perhaps, been a mistake to agree to this errand. Montag seemed to be making those often, lately – for most of his life, if he were being honest with himself– but this one was shaping up to have Consequences, with a capital C. But Carter had been so insistent on it when he caught her sneaking out by herself to go on a mission for some faction or another. She’d admitted to feeling suffocated, and Montag had realized then that all the times she’d slipped past him before – and assumed he hadn’t noticed, underestimating both his and Ms. Usher’s attention to detail – weren’t just to visit the Dufresne boy at the skate park. Realized that if he tried to stop her she’d just find some other way to seize whatever grandiose destiny was ahead of her. So instead of leading her back to the academy he’d agreed to let her go on this mission to the Morninglight Camp, which had seemed the least dangerous of the missions available on the agent network at the time, provided she allow him to accompany her.
“Do you think dying like…this...do you think it’ll kill me for good?” A real fear flickered through Carter’s eyes, one powerful enough that even Montag – who would admit that he was terrible at reading the room – caught it easily. He froze. He hadn’t considered that. He should have. He was supposed to be analytical to a fault, but even as he ran over the worst possibilities in his mind he hadn’t considered that whatever grisly fate awaited them would be permanent for Carter.
“I’m sure it won’t,” he said. She looked even more uncertain. Montag considered patting her shoulder comfortingly, but given the way she’d always flinched back from it before he decided against it. And Ms. Usher had said he couldn’t learn. “Whatever happens, I will do my utmost to ensure you escape, no matter the cost. I am your teacher after all.”
Carter’s face scrunched up at that, and she groaned. “Okay, never mind, we’re definitely escaping! God, what is with you and weird unnecessary suicide missions?”
Montag was willing to admit he pouted at that. He didn’t know why, exactly, Carter had decided she was so against Montag very reasonably offering to sacrifice himself, but he supposed he couldn’t complain. Not out loud, at least. It would sound ungrateful.