“Random Outbursts” by T.M. Tomilson
Karyn wanted nothing more than a warm cup of tea. She was trudging in the direction of her room, which promised the aforementioned drink and a relaxing sit by the fire, when Shivani rounded the corner at a sprint.
Shivani, who only broke the rules when no one was looking, quickly slowed to walk. “Evening, ma’am,” she greeted. “I’m sorry, but why are you covered in green ink?”
Karyn sighed. “There was an incident in fifth period. I haven’t had the chance yet to get cleaned up. And you know there is no running in the halls, Shivani.”
Shivani blushed. “I’m sorry,” she said. She was quite the actress. “I’ll go get another professor.”
There must have been an incident then, which meant tea would have to wait. “Another professor” would mean waking Professor Trevisan early. He had the night shift this month and wouldn’t be up for another four hours. Or Shivani could try Professor Bozic, but she had no compassion for accidents. And the other two on-call professors were currently on medical leave following in-class incidents.
“No, no,” Karyn said. “Lead the way.”
Shivani smiled. “Thank you, ma’am.” She began to walk in the direction of the classrooms. Karyn took one last look at her stained shirt, sighed, and followed after her.
“What can you tell me about what occurred?” she asked. Students were hesitant to share incident details because they were well familiar with being blamed for everything, but Karyn believed she had built up enough trust with Shivani and her clique.
Shivani looked over her shoulder at Karyn. “It wasn’t one of mine, ma’am.”
That didn’t change anything for Karyn, except perhaps to make her job more difficult. But random outbursts were always difficult to deal with.
“Can you tell me which group he’s with at least?” she asked. The students formed gangs to survive. They needed families of some sort, since their blood families had abandoned them. The other professors disapproved, but Karyn argued that it happened naturally in other schools. But people assumed that dangerous kids forming cliques were going to somehow be more dangerous.
They had more than a handful of students at this school that could decimate the entire grounds by themselves.
“He’s alone,” Shivani said. She halted and looked at Karyn again. “Professor, he hasn’t settled yet.”
These moments of compassion always startled her. That these mistreated children could still be protective of each other was astounding. In their place, she hadn’t had much room for anything but anger.
“Thank you, Shivani,” Karyn said. “Is he,” she paused. It was a potentially dangerous question. Karyn was outside of their politics and couldn’t be sure how Shivani would take it. She might freeze and refuse to answer any more of Karyn’s questions.
But Shivani was already shaking her head. “Not going to be one of mine,” she said. “Sorry, ma’am, but he’s,” she hesitated. Her lips twisted. “Too volatile.”
If that were true, he must be positively explosive. One of Shivani’s crew had destroyed the greenhouse last week. It had been an accident of course. She’d only been trying to accelerate the growth of a plant. She’d succeeded, but with terrifying results. Professor Oko had been on leave ever since.
Karyn cleared her throat. “Do you think he will, ah, find a place?” They usually did sooner or later. Some few went it alone, but they never amounted to much. Karyn had clipped some of their obituaries and arrest announcements out of the newspapers.
Shivani only regarded her with a placid expression. She pointed to the closed door of what had once been Professor Chard’s classroom. Chard had quit at the beginning of the semester, and no one had repurposed the room yet. Karyn was not positive that they’d ever find someone to replace Professor Chard. The University for Redeemable Youth didn’t really have the funds.
“Okay,” Karyn said. “Go get some sleep, Shivani. Thank you for alerting me.” After Shivani’d turned the corner down the hall, Karyn knocked on the door. There was a shuffle from within but no reply. She knocked again and then opened the door.
Liam, one of the university’s newest students, was standing in the middle of the room. All of the chairs were bent at odd angles and one of the overhead lights was flickering. Electricity danced up and down Liam’s arms. His shirt was singed. He glared at her without apology. That was fine. Anger was easier for her to deal with than tears.
“Good evening, Liam,” she said. She’d often found that acting like nothing was wrong would cut to the problem quicker than demanding answers. However, Liam reacted rather more aggressively than expected. The electricity increased. The lights flickered out, but the energy dancing up and down his arms was enough to see by.
“You can’t hurt me,” she said. “Drop the lightning, Liam, and tell me what happened.”
“Why? I’m already in trouble,” he replied.
“That remains to be seen.” Karyn took a step forward.
“Don’t,” he said, eyes wide and frightened. He didn’t truly want to harm her, but he had no control of the electricity. It launched itself at her, and she caught it.
She held the ball of light out between them. “You aren’t in any of my classes. How long have you struggled with electricity?” One of the other professors should have informed her. She was more skilled in this area than any of the others. Did they simply not care, or had Liam been adept at hiding it up until this point?
He shrugged, but his eyes were focused with awe on the light trapped between her hands. She let go of it and let it drift toward the ceiling.
“Have you heard any rumors about me?”
He craned his neck to watch the light. “You’re in a relationship with Professor Trevisan,” he said, blushing. His eyes darted to hers and then back to the lights.
She laughed. “No,” she said. “That’s one I hadn’t heard.” Trevisan wasn’t her type for multiple reasons. “I meant rumors about my history.”
He frowned. “Some of the older students say you killed someone.”
“Close,” she said. It was no longer difficult for her to speak of it. She’d found discussing it with the students sometimes helped them realize that one day all this would be, if not behind them, at least manageable. “When I was nine, I put three other students in a coma.”
He looked at her then. Karyn leaned back against one of the mostly whole desks. “I was kicked out of prep for that and denied entrance to the university.” There was only one respectable university for people with their skills. Those that were denied entrance ended up at the University for Redeemable Youth, a stopgap between prison and living on the streets. Karyn glanced around the classroom. “I see an accident here, but I don’t see any children in comas.”
“Bullshit,” he said. “You’re making this up.”
Karyn shrugged. “My records are public. You could even, if you were curious enough, find me in the yearbooks in the library. I graduated some years ago. I won’t tell you exactly how long ago. I do like to pretend I’m still young.”
He didn’t smile, but it wasn’t much of a joke. “You want me to think there’s something out there for me. You’re a teacher.” He sneered and stalked away from her. “I’d rather be . . .” He floundered for something else he’d rather be.
Karyn had felt the same when she’d been younger. There had been no glory or promise in becoming an educator, but the position had fallen into her lap and she would have been ungrateful not to take it.
“A murderer?” Karyn asked. “I was lucky I only put those kids in comas. If you don’t get your powers under control, you’ll do much more than wreck a classroom.”
Liam’s face darkened. “It’s not my fault.”
“It will be. It’s only an accident to a point. If you’ve given up on trying to control it, then it will be your fault when someone dies because you couldn’t be bothered to learn.”
“What’s the point?” he screamed, and the lights flared. “I’ll be blamed for something eventually. Wrong place, wrong time and I’ll be put away again. It doesn’t matter!”
She took the ball of light and split it again and again until tiny stars filled the room. Liam reached out a hand and almost touched one and then pulled back quickly, tucking his hands beneath his armpits.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You can touch them.” She demonstrated by reaching out and running her hands through the tiny light. They spun away from her, and went careening toward him. Liam flinched back, and she made them stop. Tentatively, he reached out and watched them dance away from his fingers.
“How?” he asked.
“Precision,” Karyn replied, “and a lot of practice. This isn’t something that I could do when I graduated.”
“How long?” he demanded. “How long until I can control it like this?”
That was a difficult question to answer. It depended on a lot of factors, and she didn’t know Liam enough to gauge how much determination lay in wait beneath his anger.
“Years,” she said. “Time enough for you to doubt yourself again. I’m not going to lie to you, Liam. You will always be struggling against the tide, working to withhold the amount of power that you’ve been blessed and cursed with. It will never be exactly what you want it to be, but with training and determination, you will make it work for you.”
He didn’t look like he believed her. To be fair, she hadn’t believed her professors either. She flung out her arms and gathered the stars back to her, compressing them back into a sphere of light, and then began to bring her palms together. The energy dispersed into her arms, lighting up and cackling along her forearms and toward her heart. She let it. She breathed in and out and absorbed it.
“There was a storm a week ago,” Karyn said. “That was me.”
Liam raised an eyebrow, but as she had just done something fairly impressive, he seemed to believe her.
“I had a bad day,” she said. Dana had broken up with her. She’d said Karyn’s job was going nowhere. Looking back, Karyn could almost believe that was fair. She certainly didn’t make enough to support anyone else. There were no prospects, unless she desired to be a dean. The school didn’t have enough money for the requisite number of professors to students and was using outdated textbooks. Half the time they didn’t even have enough money for pencils and paper, let alone enough to provide an annual increase in pay for the staff. They had students working kitchen details since last spring, when they’d realize they could no longer afford a kitchen staff.
“All my days are bad,” Liam said.
“They won’t always be.” She was confident of that. He was still new to the school, and like Shivani had said, hadn’t settled. Eventually, Liam would find a group and a purpose. Karyn couldn’t be sure if that would be enough, but it would get him through his schooling and after.
Karyn was only in the business of ensuring that students survived their childhoods, but she’d like to think that she also ensured they wouldn’t believe their only recourse was a life of crime. She didn’t always succeed.
“My office hours are from four to nine every day, but my door is open on weekends and after hours. I expect to see you tomorrow,” she told him. “If you are not outside my office at four, I will track you down.”
He was glowering. “You can’t make me come to office hours.”
“If someone told you that, they were lying,” Karyn said. “If you refuse, I can make it detention. But I don’t think you want to refuse. We will start large, which I know is the opposite of what everyone has ever told you, and work down to small.”
“Large?” he asked, glancing around the demolished classroom. “Like this?”
Karyn regarded him for a moment. Liam had been sent to The University for Redeemable Youth for an explosion at his prep school. No one had been hurt, but he’d been blamed for property damage. Someone of his caliber, the prep school staff had written in his file, should be able to control random outbursts. That was what was written in most of the children’s files at The University for Redeemable Youth.
“Random outbursts” was a criminal offense. Liam would have difficulty finding a job and people would judge him for the mistakes of his youth as though an accident were his only defining quality.
“No,” she said. “You already know what I mean by large, except I’m not referring to the results.” She brought her hands back together and the energy built easily. It was lying in wait beneath her skin. She brought the electricity back into a sphere and let it grow and grow and grow.
Liam, shaking, took two steps back. “Wait, stop,” he said. And then he pleaded, “Stop, please,” when she did not.
“This is large,” Karyn told him. “And we are capable of more.” She pressed her palms back together and the energy returned to her, leaving nothing in the air except for a faint burning smell.
“You don’t realize it now,” she said, “because you have never done it, but you are quite capable of controlling a large amount of energy. It’s when it comes down to precision that you lose control.”
His eyes were very wide.
“Tomorrow,” she said, “four o’clock. Be outside my office. We’ll go on a field trip. You won’t hurt anyone. I think I’ve made it quite obvious that you are incapable of hurting me.”
He nodded, though there was still a faint air of disbelief in his features.
“No one was using this classroom anyway,” she told him. “But we will use it later on in your education. Put the desks back into rows as much as you are able and go to bed. You have five hours until your first class.”
He stared at her. She raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and moved to begin dragging the desks back in place. She left him then, trudging back down the hall in her ink-stained clothing. She was more than exhausted now. It had cost her a lot of energy to control the electricity like that, to prove to Liam that it was possible. She’d have a hangover in the morning.
Someone was running down the hall toward her. She sighed. “Eagan,” she called, “is that you? Do stop running.”
He stopped. He was breathing hard. “Fight,” he said, wheezing, “in the East dorms.”
She walked briskly past him. “Who is it this time?”
“Usual.” He was still attempting to catch his breath and fought to keep pace with her. “I came straight to you.”
“Good,” Karyn told him. “Thank you, Eagan. Do you know what set them off this time?”
He shook his head and then shrugged. “Yes. I think. Maybe. Something to do with a letter. I think Michael got a letter from home.”
Letters were never good at the University for Redeemable Youth. They usually meant an upheaval at home, some sort of change that the child would read as them being replaced. With no one else to take it out on, Michael would start a fight with his sometimes friend and sometimes rival.
“Damage?” Karyn demanded.
Eagan shook his head. “Not when I left.”
That was good. It meant one of them was holding back. Michael and Freya were the two most powerful children currently within the browbeaten halls of the university. If they wished to bring it to its knees, they were completely capable.
Tea, again, would have to wait.
About the Author
T.M. Tomilson is a graduate student and USAF reservist. She lives in a foggy city on the coast of California with her husband and three pets. She can be found on Twitter @TMTomilson.