Recently, I finished reading the incredible Zeroes series by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti. This story about a bunch of teenagers who discover they have crowd-based superpowers is probably the first series I’ve ever read where I felt completely satisfied at the end. It didn’t end on a cliffhanger, demanding endless what-abouts. Nor did it end with me wishing there was another book in the series. It’s okay that there isn’t.
The central characters of the story, the “Cambria Five,” have an assortment of special abilities:
- Nate, code-named Bellwether, is uber-charismatic, especially gifted to command attention and enthrall people with his words. He’s the de facto leader of the Cambria Five.
- Riley, code-named Flicker, can cast her vision through the eyes of anyone around her, seeing what they see. (Note: she’s blind.)
- Ethan (my favorite of the heroes), code-named Scam, has a Voice inside of him that knows exactly what to say to anyone to get them to do whatever Ethan wants. The Voice seems to know everyone’s deepest secrets and darkest fears.
- Chizara, code-named Crash, is super-irritated by technology, electricity, and the unseen radio waves that make WiFi, smartphones, and satellite TV work. And she has the power to shut it all down.
- Kelsie, code-named Mob, can project her feelings — joy, fear, bliss, anger — onto a crowd, controlling a group of people as a unified force.
- Thibault, code-named Anonymous, is… forgettable. His “power” cuts off the attention anyone gives him. Even his friends have trouble remembering he exists.
Okay, what comes next is a mild spoiler. It’s the only one in this article. But, if you haven’t read Swarm, the second novel in the series, maybe you should stop now, go read that, and then come back.
The most consequential ability of these super-powered teens is the potential to flip their power inside out — to become the opposite of what their powers make them. It takes Nate & Co. a while to realize they can do this, but for those who do, a sea change happens inside them. A reckoning of opposites.
Take Nate, for example: the Glorious Leader of the Cambria Five (yes, they do call him that) is chock-full of ego, charisma, and the need for attention. He thrives on it, feeds on it. He can command the eyes, ears, and emotions of anyone within the sound of his voice. He’s destined for greatness and political power.
But, in days of crisis, Nate uncovers the secret of flipping his power and turning himself inside out. To save his friends from certain death, he sheds his need for attention, dislodges his ego, kicks his very self to the curb.
The earth dropped out beneath him, and he was falling, tumbling, lost. That part of him that was hungry for all that attention, even if those hundreds of eyes were glaring pure loathing, stuttered for a moment.
Nate flipped his power inside out.
…he crumbled his ego… all his expectations of obedience, attention, and worship flew apart like thrown sand…
“I’m nothing,” Nate said. I’m worthless.
–Swarm (Zeroes, #2)
Nate’s choice to strip himself of all that, up to that point, made him who he was reminded me of another more Glorious Leader — Jesus Christ. Scripture states that he,
existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead, He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.
Jesus took all of his glory, all the trappings of deity, and cast them aside. He shed his royal robes and put on the dusky garb of mortal flesh — descending, a feeble life form, into a woman’s womb. He flipped his power, his very self, inside out. Though he’s God, he became Man.
He became humble, mortal, human — to save the world he loves.