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Literature / Zeroes

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Zeroes is a series of superhero teen fiction novels written as a collaboration between Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti.

The Zeroes are a group of teens with superpowers. Ethan "Scam" Cooper has a "Voice" that can say precisely what is necessary to get what he most desires. Riley "Flicker" Phillips is a Blind Seer who can only see through other people's eyes. Chizara "Crash" Okeke is a Walking Techbane who can break any complicated technology in her vicinity — even when she's trying not to. Nate "Bellwether" Saldana can Emotion Control groups, manipulating their emotions so that they feel great respect for him and long to please him. And Thibault "Anonymous" Durant is a Forgettable Character who slips from a person's memory as soon as he's out of their sight.

When the Zeroes first met one another, they planned on forming a superhero team. However, as they began training, it became clear that their powers and personalities weren't suited to it. Finally, a bitter argument tore the group apart, Breaking the Fellowship and causing each of the members to go their separate ways. It seemed the Zeroes were done for good.

The series kicks off a year later, when Ethan gets caught in the middle of a bank robbery gone bad, and has no choice but to call his former friends for help. It's an uneasy reunion for the team, who find themselves being investigated by the police, pursued by criminals, and on a collision course with another, previously unknown Zero, who Nate wishes to recruit.

The trilogy consists of Zeroes, Swarm, and Nexus.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Kelsie's mother was physically violent towards her, and so her father ran away with her when she was very young. However, though well-intentioned, he doesn't exactly provide a stable upbringing himself, as he's a scam artist and drug dealer.
  • Bank Robbery: Kelsie's father owes money to The Mafiya, and tries to rob a bank to get the cash to pay them off. The robbery pretty quickly goes wrong: the silent alarm triggers, he can't get the vault open, and his accomplices turn on one another. It might also have been wiser to choose a bank a bit further away from a police station.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Swarm. The titular villain has been killed, but Nate has been arrested as a terrorist, Thibault is suffering a despair-induced Ret-Gone, Craig is dead, and the remaining Zeroes must leave Cambria forever, lest they be arrested as well.
  • Blind Seer: Flicker was born blind, but her power allows her to see through the eyes of others.
  • Blessed with Suck: All the Zeroes have major downsides to their powers, except Nate and Flicker (Flicker's blindness is just a coincidence).
  • Break Them by Talking: One of the applications of Ethan's power, the Voice which says whatever necessary to accomplish what he desires. Prior to the story, he used his Voice in anger to deliver such a speech to the other Zeroes, resulting in the group splitting up.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: The Zeroes were torn apart when Ethan unloaded on them with his Voice, and— with the exception of Nate and Flicker— they hardly interacted for a year.
  • Code Name: Each of the Zeroes has a one-word code name. Flicker goes by hers exclusively.
  • Counterfeit Cash: Coin's superpower lets him make people temporarily mistake blank paper for money. It affects people's minds rather than the money itself, absolutely convincing them that it's genuine no matter what test they subject it to... at least, right up until he leaves, at which point the power wears off and they realize what they're actually holding.
  • Crowd Surfing: Kelsie can use her ability to control the emotions of a crowd to induce them to carry her Rockstar-style.
  • Destructo-Nookie: When Chizara and Kelsie have sex for the first time, Crash loses control of her power when she climaxes and accidentally destroys a nearby ship.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ethan's father left him and his mother and sister when Ethan was young. Nate wonders if Ethan inadvertently caused it with his Voice.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Kelsie's father is a drug dealer, and some of her sections include graphic descriptions of seeing the progressively worse effect of his products on his addicted customers. He later turns to his own stash.
  • Emotion Control: Nate and Kelsie both have powers that influence the emotions of others. It's not quite to the degree of mind control, but nonetheless makes them potent at manipulating people.
  • The Empath: Kelsie can sense the emotions of crowds, and also influence them to a degree: imposing calm placidity, or inciting riotous anger.
  • Everyone Can See It: Ethan's obvious crush on Kelsie, and later, his mutual attraction with Sonia.
  • Evil Counterpart: Swarm has the same powers as Kelsie, but he uses his abilities to drive crowds into murderous frenzies.
  • Failsafe Failure: The holding cells in the police station have electronic locks. They're supposed to stay closed in the event of a power failure — but when Chizara's power makes something fail, it makes it fail all the way.
  • Forgettable Character: Thibault's power causes him to be quickly forgotten by anyone not directly looking at him. The terrible negative consequences of this are explored: his own family forgot he existed, and he nearly died while bedridden in a hospital because the nurses kept forgetting to bring him food and water.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Ethan has a crush on Kelsie and spends six months trying to work up the guts to ask her out, but she comes out as a lesbian and hooks up with Chizara.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Sonia Sonic, a local blogger who skyrocketed to fame when she took video of Ethan using his superpower during a bank robbery, and who has been investigating the Zeroes ever since.
  • Invisible Introvert: Thibault's power causes him to slip from the memory of anyone not directly looking at him. As a result, his own family forgot he existed, he nearly died while bedridden in a hospital because the nurses kept forgetting to bring him food and water, even his own friends need to keep detailed notes on his existence just to not forget that he's a part of their team. Consequently, Thibault is a rather quiet, introverted sort with a deliberately "Zen" exterior - and a lot of inner rage building up beneath it.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Nate and Flicker have this type of relationship. During his Breaking Speech that tore apart the Zeroes, Scam accused Nate's of both thinking of Flicker as a younger sister and at the same time being in love with her; the chapters from Nate's perspective confirm this.
  • The Leader: Nate happily claims this titles. The rest of the Zeroes, particularly Flicker, dryly refer to him as 'Glorious Leader'.
  • The Mafiya: Kelsie's father owes tens of thousands of dollars to Russian mobsters. He tries robbing a bank to get the money to pay off his debt, kicking off the conflict of Zeroes.
  • Missing Mom: Kelsie was raised by her father, who refuses to tell her about her mother.
  • Money to Throw Away: While fleeing from pursuit, Kelsie throws about two thousand dollars worth of bills into the air. Combined with her ability to manipulate the emotions of crowds, this allows her to escape in the chaos.
    • Coin in a nutshell; his ability is to create money from blank paper. What else are you meant to do with a limitless supply of money
  • Not So Stoic: Thibault has a lot of rage under his Zen exterior.
  • Number Two: Flicker is Nate's right-hand, and seemingly the only person he trusts completely. She takes charge of the group in Nexus when Nate is in prison. Upon his return, the two have trouble reconciling their leadership styles.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Flicker is the only Zero who insists upon using her codename at all times, and gets frustrated when people (especially her family) call her by her birth name, Riley.
    Real names were stupid, especially when you had one your friends had given you. One that made perfect sense.
  • Outlaw Couple: Coin and Glitch, two lovers who use their superpowers to commit crimes, cause chaos, and have fun while going on a cross-country "honeymoon". The Zeroes explicitly compare them to Bonnie and Clyde.
  • Parental Abandonment: Thibault's parents abandoned him because his power caused them to forget he exists.
  • Power Incontinence: Thibault and Chizara are unable to control their powers. Thibault is forgotten by everyone as soon as he's out of their sight, and Chizara risks destroying any advanced technology in her vicinity.
  • Punk in the Trunk: In Zeroes, Ethan and Kelsie are stuffed in the trunk of a car by Russian mobsters.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: The beginning of Zeroes has Nate working to reassemble the group, which had previously worked together but had broken up several years ago due to a conflict between Nate and Ethan.
  • Right Behind Me: Unsurprisingly happens to Thibault, whose power causes people to forget he's there. One notable instance has Flicker's sister Lily meeting him, the forgetting he's present and unloading about how creepy she finds him.
    Lily: Oh. Shit. You're still here.
  • Seamless Spontaneous Lie: One of the applications of Ethan's Voice. It helps that the Voice has knowledge of all the relevant details and facts necessary to make the lie believable, even if it's information Scam himself has no way of knowing.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Flicker, occasionally Sophisticated as Hell.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": Craig insists on referring to himself as "the Craig", to varying degrees of incredulity from the other characters.
  • Super Zeroes: The Zeroes initially trained to be a superhero team, but their powers proved to be varying degrees of unhelpful, uncontrollable, and dangerous.
  • Talking Your Way Out: One of the applications of Ethan's Voice. When he is in a bad situation, it provides exactly the words he needs for him to get out of it. However, the Voice is not all-powerful: it's possible for Ethan to be in a situation where no possible words will work, in which case the Voice falls silent.
  • Technopath: Chizara has the power to affect complex machinery, allowing her to destroy anything computerized. She later learns to use her powers to repair tech as well as to destroy it.
  • Tell Me About My Mother: Kelsie was raised only by her father. She tried asking him about her mother on numerous occasions, but he was never willing to talk to her about it. Ethan finally uses his Voice to convince her father to tell her the truth when they believe they're all about to die.
  • Twin Telepathy: Flicker assumed that this was the nature of her power when it first manifested as the ability to see through her twin sister's eyes. When her ability developed further and she learned to see through any person's eyes, it made her power a lot stronger, but she also was somewhat disappointed that her bond with her sister wasn't as unique and special as she'd initially thought.
  • Walking Techbane: Chizara has the power to destroy any complex technology in her vicinity. She has a difficult time controlling this power, and stays away from places like hospitals for fear of accidentally breaking something vital.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Chizara suffers pain and discomfort when in the presence of complicated electronics, particularly those which use wireless transmission. Needless to say, the proliferation of computers and cellphones has not had a positive impact on her life.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Chizara knows things have gotten deadly serious when Nate calls her and talks about the Zeroes using their real names instead of their superhero names.