First Appearance: Fooker's Abducted by Aliens! (March 17, 1999)
The Grey Aliens, for lack of a better name—no information has yet been revealed about their planet of origin—are a race of beings from another planet within Earth's galaxy. They are highly technologically advanced and have the capacity for interstellar travel. They are probably best known on Earth as the source of alien abduction rumors and cattle mutilations.
Physiology and Society
Grey drones are genetically identical, being sexless and reproducing entirely via cloning from various templates (scientists, engineers, soldiers, etc.). They closely resemble the stereotypical aliens often spoken of by alleged abductees: short and thin with large bulbous heads, gray rubbery skin, huge black eyes, no nose, and thin lipless mouths. They have little individual personality, although a few have exhibited distinguishing traits.
Individual Grey research ships are governed by a Skaboola, who acts as the ship's "captain" as well as the central telepathic control node for all Grey drones aboard the ship. The Skaboola is of the same species, but is much larger than the drones in both height and girth. He is large and fat, so much so that he rarely (if ever) moves under his own power and usually travels by means of a levitating chair. The Skaboola controls the drones via some form of telepathy and is one of the few Greys permitted the ability for purely independent thought. However, it should be noted that individual drones can act on their own in the absence of the Skaboola's influence.
Each Skaboola reports to a Protuberance, a Grey that is even larger and fatter than they are. Protuberance Omicron, who commands Skaboola Tau Sigma and his drones, appears to be very sly and cunning, and wields sufficient power over the drones under his command that he instills a great deal of fear and awe. Ultimately, the Protuberances and all Greys under them report to the Supreme Fu, the ultimate commander of the entire Grey civilization. So large is the Supreme Fu in relation to the others that he is completely immobile, and never leaves the Cynosure on the Grey home world, Municipal Locus Alpha One.
Greys do not sleep, but enter a "hibernation cycle" every 96 hours, lasting for about six hours. They consider this to be more efficient than humans' need for sleep (typically for eight hours every twenty-four). This hibernation cycle is a "complete shutdown of the body" that leaves the drone completely unresponsive. If it were not for the fact that the drone usually remains standing upright with its eyes open, someone unfamiliar with this process might mistake this state for death. This hibernation cycle allows the Greys to operate in a sixteen-shift rotational cycle, ensuring that at least 93% of their work and defense force are available at any given time.
Although currently genderless, it has been implied that the Greys once had two genders similar to humans (male and female) but "eliminated annoying biological flaws such as aging, disease, and sex" via genetic engineering. When speaking English, they tend to use masculine pronouns (he, his). While they apparently no longer have genitalia, it has been implied that they have something in their groin region; whether this is some vestigial sex organ or something altogether different is unknown.
Grey drones apparently go through "revision" cycles, with an average of one revision every 6.331 giga-ganadans (or approximately once every three Earth years). Exactly what these "revisions" entail has yet to be revealed. When a drone dies, its body is "recycled", presumably so its organic material can be reused for another, currently unknown, purpose. Certain dialog suggests that, under unusual circumstances, drones may have their "biomass recycled" prior to any form of natural death, perhaps if the drone becomes uncooperative or grows too independent.
History in the Strip
Early in the strip, Fooker was abducted by these aliens, who subsequently tossed him back as a "reject". However, the aliens were forced to come back to retrieve some "doodads" Fooker stole from them. Years later, Fooker encountered the same aliens again when he and Trudy were captured and placed in an alien zoo so their mating habits could be observed. It was here we learned of the Great Skaboola, the fat, corrupt, and greedy leader of the drones. Unfortunately, the Great Skaboola's greed was his downfall when he struck a deal to trade freedom and alien weapon technology for vast quantities of cheese, his one true weakness. Those traded weapons proved vital to Empress Trudy's rise to power in the future (see Surreptitious Machinations, Chapter 6: Plots and Complications).
In the alternate universe of Emperor Nicholas the Puissant, the Greys abducted General Barker, just as they had abducted Fooker in the "prime" universe. However, the General conquered the Greys, who eventually were called upon to assist the Emperor in his conquest of Earth. The Emperor, with the assistance of Dr. Akhilesh Sehgal, subjugated the Skaboola and subsequently the entire Grey population under his command, forcing them to become his slaves.
Unfortunately for the Emperor, enslaving the Greys brought a new threat to Earth. The Greys' mortal enemies, another alien species, then unknown, discovered the Greys' presence on Earth and targeted the planet for acquisition. This resulted in an interstellar war between the Empire and the Greys versus the second alien species, with the Empire fighting a desperately losing battle. At the end of To Thine Own Self..., the Empire fell into ruin as the capital came under attack, although the Greys, freed from both the Skaboola's and the Emperor's influence, mounted a devastating counter attack. The outcome of this battle is currently unknown.
Here we learned that the interstellar war in the "Negaverse" has an analog in the "prime" universe. The Greys and their enemies, whom they called the Physarics, both control vast territories of star systems, many of which they acquired strictly to accumulate resources in order to combat their opponent. The Grey/Physaric War began when scouting parties from both factions inadvertently visited the same planet at the same time, resulting in a disastrous and deadly first contact. The Greys first visited the Earth out of scientific curiosity, hoping a study of "primitive" but evolutionary similar humans would reveal details about their own past. The Physarics first became aware of Earth when a chance encounter between a Physaric ship carrying critical cargo and a Grey research vessel resulted in the Physaric ship crash landing on the planet. Although the Physarics eventually learned that the Earth had a rich biosphere that made it a tempting target for conquest, they were initially hesitant to invade once they learned the human inhabitants were sapient. This changed when Colonel Lionel Barker learned of the existence of both factions and their war and, as part of his own convoluted scheme to navigate the Earth through the interstellar conflict, he offered to help the Physarics gain control over the planet in return for protection against a Grey counterattack.
Swept into the fray from various directions, the GPF gang found themselves in the awkward position of representing Earth in the midst of an impending crossfire. With two opposing alien fleets poised to fight over the planet, Nick managed to first free all humans on or around Earth from Physaric control, then trick both parties into believing he destroyed the Earth rather than see it fall to either faction. With nothing left to fight over, both alien fleets decided to stand down and retreat, putting the war into an uneasy truce. Suspicious of Nick's motives and capabilities, the Grand Protuberance left the Great Skaboola's ship behind to "monitor" the situation, allowing the human "survivors" to remain on board in exchange for allowing the Greys to study them. The Protuberance ordered the Skaboola to assist the humans, likely as a means of determining how Nick managed to "hide" the planet.
Since Grey drones are cloned and thus have little individuality, they prefer to go by a numerical designation rather than use true names. Coincidentally, many of the Greys we have encountered tend to have numbers that mysteriously line up with well known mathematical or physical constants. For example, Drone #3141592 is similar to the mathematical constant π while Drone #6626068 is similar to Planck's constant, at least when expressed in the standard SI designation of joule seconds. A drone's "full designation" is a hierarchical, top-down listing of who he reports to, followed by his numerical designation and revision number. For example, Planck's full designation as of "Babylon" is "Protuberance Omicron, Skaboola Tau Sigma, Scientist Drone #6626068, Revision Twelve". Since this is quite the mouthful to say all the time, the full designation can be abbreviated when sufficient context is understood; aboard Skaboola Tau Sigma's ship, "Drone #6626068" would suffice, assuming there are no other warrior or other caste drones aboard with the same number. This also assumes that only one revision of a given drone is active at any given time, a fact that has been neither confirmed or denied.
In the "Negaverse", many Greys adopted nicknames to more easily interact with their human allies in the Resistance. In many cases, these nicknames were derived from the drones' number and the above association to constants; Drone #3141592 became "Pi" and #6626068 became "Planck". Devoid of the Skaboola's influence, some Greys came to resent these "designations" while others embraced them enthusiastically. After Scylla and Charybdis, a similar naming convention was adopted by the Greys in the "prime" universe to help the human "survivors" adapt to living aboard the Grey ship.
Skaboolas appear to have a naming scheme that, at least in English, uses at least two Greek letters (i.e. Skaboola Tau Sigma). It is unlikely that the Greys would actually use Earth Greek letters in such a naming scheme, so this could be some sort of translation quirk; since we've never heard the Greys speaking in another language, we don't know if non-Greek letters would be used for another translation. Similarly, the two Greek letters might imply a count of the number of Skaboolas (there are 24 Greek letters, so a two-letter scheme would yield 24 x 24 = 576, or if single-letters are also possible, 576 + 24 = 600), but this could be misleading.
Similarly, Protuberances use a single Greek letter (i.e. Protuberance Omicron), likely with the same caveats as above.
The Greys are technologically more advanced that humans; Nick describes them as "a couple of centuries ahead of us in a lot of areas". They have faster-than-light travel that allows them to cross vast interstellar distances, as well as matter/energy conversion technology to teleport or "beam" matter from one location to another. As mentioned above, they are highly adept with bio-engineering, preferring to use cloning for reproduction. They have very sophisticated weaponry consisting chiefly of energy-based weapons. Their "inertial variance gun" has the apparent ability to produced minor, localized distortions in the laws of physics, such as causing unexpected acceleration or even stasis or paralysis. It is implied that they also have weapons of mass destruction; a "planet sanitizer" was mentioned during the stand-off between Nick, the Greys, and the Physarics during the climax of Scylla and Charybdis.
Grey computer technology is largely based on Base-3 quantum phase orbits and hyperspace information theory. Their primary programming language, VLURM, is a Base-3 language that is reportedly extremely difficult to master. As Planck told Fooker, "A common VLURM program uses quadratic fractal arrays modeled on n-th dimensional hyperspace decision trees." Despite its supposed complexity, Fooker managed writer a driver to allow the MUTEX to interface with Grey technology, although this required an unhealthy quantity of caffeine and his flow-control syntax was "a bit... verbose".
Units of Measurement
A few of the Greys' units of measurement have crept into the strip, revealing a few tidbits of their culture.
A "ganadan" is apparently a measure of time. 1,000 ganadans is roughly equivalent to 15 Earth seconds, yielding a conversion rate of 66.67 ganadans = 1 second, or 1 ganadan = 0.015 second. Assuming an Earth year to be 365.25 days (to account for leap years), 1 Earth year would be equivalent to 2,103,840,000 ganadans (or 2.1 "Giga-ganadans"). The Grey/Physaric War has supposedly been raging "for over a tera-ganadan", which would be approximately 475 Earth years.
A "quatloo" may also be a unit of time, or possibly some form of currency, depending on how the reference dialog is interpreted. If it is a measure of time, no known conversion exists between ganadans and quatloos. However and, perhaps, coincidentally, there is another "quatloo" as a form of currency known to exist in our galaxy, which may lead credence to the monetary association.
A "moolan" appears to be a unit of length or distance. However, no useful conversion rate has been abstracted yet. Drone #3141592 once stated that they had traveled "trillions of moolans" to study humans on Earth, but this provides only a gross approximation of scale that offers little hope of refinement. Nick later gave an approximate distance between Earth and the Grey home world as "a couple thousand light years"; a gross approximation could put put the moolan into the scale of 9500 km, or 5900 miles. Later strips show the use of "nano-moolans" to measure Ki's unborn child.
The "flargon" appears to be a unit of mass. No in-strip conversion yet exists for this unit, but assuming from the referenced strip that Ki's fetus is approximately eight-weeks along ("323 mega-ganadans"), it should be approximately 1 gram in size. Since Planck says the child is "weighs 729 flargons", it could be that 729 flargons is approximately 1 gram.
Oaths and Swears
While it does not appear that the Greys worship any known deities, a number of oaths and swears have cropped up in their speech, most commonly uttered by Drone #3141592 ("Pi").
"Gnarf" and "flargnak" have appeared numerous times and seem to have the same general usage and connotations as many English obscenities. They can be used as an expletive ("Flargnak!"), a noun ("You gnarf!"), or a verb ("I'll personally flargnak you"); there have been no examples of their use as an adjective or adverb yet. The exact meanings of these words are currently unclear, nor is it obvious why these words are not translated into English when the Greys speak in front of humans. It could be that the Greys use some sort of automatic translation device that fails to find a concise synonym for words that have complex, nuanced meanings, or that the author is simply being coy by allowing the Greys to "curse" in an untranslated language as a means of self-censorship.
There have been a few oaths observed referring to the names "Zoron" and "Zolon". Examples include "For Zoron's sake!" and "By Zolon!" "Zoron" appears earliest in the Archives, but both names have seen multiple appearances. It is uncertain who these two names represent; these oaths could be vestigial relics of a now defunct religion, or perhaps legendary figures from Grey antiquity.
- The Supreme Fu
- Protuberance Omicron, or "the Grand Protuberance"
- Skaboola Tau Sigma, or "the Great Skaboola"
- Drone #3141592, nicknamed "Pi"
- Drone #6626068, nicknamed "Planck"
- Drone #2997925, nicknamed "C"
- "Faraday" (numerical designation currently unknown)
- Drone #18883531, nicknamed "Muon"
- Warrior Drone #529177210, nicknamed "Bohr", Skaboola Tau Sigma's chief tactical officer
- Drone #27182818, nicknamed "E"
- Medical Drone #6022140, nicknamed "Avogadro"
- Quartermaster Drone #89875517, nicknamed "Coulomb" (or, by Trudy, "Cologne")