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21 Tragic and Heroic Soundbites from the Life of Charlotte Froom, Stormwalker

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1. Charlotte and Tennessee were friends when they were barely old enough to form words, let alone display superpowers.

2. Actually nobody noticed Tennessee's powers for ages. They said she had a way with animals, and her father complained that his house wouldn't hold any more stray kittens or wounded birds, but really it was all so natural seeming. Of course ridiculous woodland creatures would adore Tennessee – everybody else did.

3. Charlotte used to think she could learn Tennessee's way with animals, if she watched Tennessee with enough yearning jealousy. When she found out it was a superpower it rained for six weeks straight.

4. Everybody noticed when Charlotte's powers awakened. The cyclone carried off the entire school gym. But the worst thing was Tennessee's face: so pale, and with that dark scared look way back in her eyes. Charlotte doesn't think that look has ever really disappeared.

5. Every year on her birthday, Tennessee asks for a sunny day. Z always used to ask for lowering clouds and sullen lightning on the horizon, because it was more atmospheric. (Charlotte noticed that she always seemed to have more fun on Tennessee's birthday, though.) Charlotte's own favourite kind of day is a blustery autumnal one with brown leaves whipped into eddies, catching in her hair as she spins and laughs.

6. The beginning is probably the storm at Christmas. The way the slums are ripped right apart, and even though Charlotte gets a hold on the centre of the storm, she can't save them. The way the city councillors wrinkle their noses and say the storm might have been a good thing, sweeping out some of the trash; they way they look hopefully at Charlotte, hinting for a little more wind to tidy the mess.

7. (That's a lie. The beginning was that scared look in Tennessee's eyes.)

8. Tenn worries her lower lip when Charlotte rages to her about the councillors. "You didn't do anything to them, did you?" she asks. Charlotte narrows her eyes, feeling jagged inside, and asks what Tennessee thinks of her. And ignores the way she nearly did exactly what Tennessee is implying.

9. Three weeks later there's a flood downtown. It was engineered by a real estate company, Charlotte knows that, and it forces an entire block of low-income families out of their homes. She can't prove anything, though. She isn't equipped to kick legal butt. Sometimes being a superhero is the most limiting thing in the world.

10. Charlotte stays at home for a week, curled in a duvet, taking a black satisfaction in the roiling clouds outside. Z calls a couple of times, bubbly about something she and Ryan have done, but the bubbliness fades into wariness after a minute or two of Charlotte's grunted replies. Tennessee comes over once, but when Charlotte snarls "Go away!" through the door and calls up the wind outside a bit, Tennessee only hovers a few moments before she turns up her collar and trails back down the steps, shivering in the spitting rain.

11. Charlotte is holding up a broken, sickened system. Everything she does for the city, everything she ever does as Stormwalker, props up the rule of lazy and corrupt leaders who will twist a superheroic photo opportunity for their own ends every time.

12. ("But we help people," Tennessee said once, her chin on her knees. "No matter the rest of it, how can that be bad, Char?")

13. There's a storm coming. A big one. She could use it, if...

14. Charlotte doesn't realise she's made a decision until she finds herself on the top of the Axis Towers, whipping the storm up around her. People spill out of the buildings below like ants, frightened eyes lifted to the sky. Charlotte smiles like a goddess of death and spreads her arms, letting the storm lift her.

15. Parliament house is directly below her. She twists the threads of electricity around her, her eyes narrowed to slits. She jerks her fingers. The lightning bolt screams through ionised air, splitting the steps of Parliament down the middle.

16. For a moment there's shocked stillness. Charlotte is suspended, waiting for her own reaction to catch up with her. When it does it's a fierce, despairing exultation. She smiles again, curling the strands of destruction around her fingers.

17. She can see Z, now. It never takes her long to reach a scene. She's running along the arch of the Corazon Bridge, shouting into cupped hands. The wind tears the words away, but Charlotte, so high above, can imagine what they are. I don't want to fight you, Charlotte! I'm going to have to if you don't stop! Charlotte supposes, with an oddly dispassionate feeling, that she probably will. Right now she just lifts higher, her eyes on the city below, seeking out a new target.

18. The seagull shouldn't have been able to get through the storm at all. It must have had an enormous amount of help. Charlotte gazes at it, there at her shoulder, its wings beating furiously, black eyes fixed on hers. She knows who this message is from, of course she does. She blinks back tears, wiping her arm over her face already wet from the storm, and uses the same motion to reach out and bat the bird away.

19. It loses its tenuous grip on the thermals and sweeps out, wings crumpling in the storm. The tiny white shape falls away into the maelstrom, and Charlotte watches it fall for an instant that stretches forever. Then she gives a cry and dives after it, snatching it to her chest.

20. Tennessee's already running towards her before Charlotte's feet touch the ground, the wings of the storm dying around her. Charlotte cradles the struggling seagull in her arms, sobbing too hard to look up, feeling so small, hollowed out inside. Tennessee throws her arms around her, kissing her hair, her wet cheeks. "I knew you wouldn't do it," she says fervently, her voice gladder and more certain than anything has ever been. "I knew, I knew."

21. Charlotte holds on.