First Mention: To Thine Own Self...: Chapter Three (February 13, 2006)
First Appearance: To Thine Own Self...: Chapter Seven (August 4, 2006)
The term "Physarics" refers to race of sapient extra-terrestrial slime mold like creatures originating from a star system somewhere within the outer spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy. The Physarics currently control a vast collection of star systems, primarily by using a form of touch-based interspecies telepathy that converts "lesser" species into "puppets" they can mentally control. Although it is currently unknown what the Physarics actually call themselves (no Physaric has actually used a self-descriptive term for their species within the comic), the term "Physaric" was coined by their mortal enemies, the Greys, and has since been adopted by most humans with whom the Greys have had contact.
Fred, who was originally believed to be an ordinary Earth slime mold that had gained sentience in the squalor of Fooker's apartment, has since been revealed to be a Physaric. Naturally, this makes Persephone a Physaric as well. Although their exact nature and identity had not been revealed at the time, the Physarics of the "Negaverse" played a significant role in the To Thine Own Self... mega-arc. The interstellar war between the Physarics and the Greys became part of the central focus of the Scylla and Charybdis mega-arc.
Physiology and Society
Physarics are macroscopic single-celled organisms biologically similar to terrestrial slime molds, although their DNA is unlike anything found on Earth. Like slime molds, they move primarily by oozing from one place to another, although Fred has been known to occasionally leap short distances if he has a chance to coil himself up first.
Physarics prefer to live in locations that favor bacterial growth and decomposition. Fred initially found shelter in Fooker's messy apartment, and in later years had to make special arrangements with Nick and later Dexter to separate his and Persephone's living space from the humans. They feed like amoeba, enveloping their prey within their cytoplasm and slowly dissolving and absorbing any nutrients they can. Fred frequently used the trash bins in and around GPF Software to find food and occasionally relax away from the (relatively) antiseptic nature of the office.
To date, the only Physaric reproduction we have actually witnessed is the "birth" of Persephone. Assuming that Persephone's "birth" is typical, Physarics appear to reproduce via a form of mitosis, or simple cell division. However, this does not rule out the possibility of other asexual or even sexual reproduction methods that we simply haven't encountered yet.
Physarics do not possess technology as we understand it. Instead, all of their "technology" comes from biological sources, mostly other alien species subjugated by them. Even their interstellar "spacecraft" consist creatures that are native to the vacuum of space.
The Physarics' most unique attribute is their ability to communicate telepathically. This telepathy takes two distinct forms, although different circumstances actually create three distinct use cases.
In their most natural state, Physarics can communicate directly by physically joining their bodies and literally sharing their internal structures and thoughts. This can be likened somewhat to Myxogastria slime molds forming a plasmoidal state. Although the exact mechanisms involved are still not understood, two or more Physarics joined in such a fashion can freely exchange information among themselves, yet will still remain distinct individuals once they separate. Larger joinings of Physarics can actually form a sort of neural net or "hive mind" in which individuals contribute to the overall intelligence of the whole. On the Physaric home world, the largest such gathering is called the Syncytium and forms the governing body for their entire civilization. Smaller, local "syncytiums" (lower case) also exist, forming the controlling body of individual colonies and "ships".
In a surprising display of adaptability, Physarics can, to various degrees, apply their touch-based telepathy to other species. When a Physaric makes physical contact with a compatible species, it can use the unique qualities of its external slime to form a direct connection to the host's nervous system. If successful, the host is rendered highly susceptible to the Physaric's thoughts, allowing the Physaric to gain direct control of the host's bodily functions. In this state, the Physaric can use the host much like a "puppet", allowing it to control the host's movements and, in the case of sapient species, even surreptitiously impersonate them. This "controlling telepathy" is surprising broad in its adaptability, allowing the Physarics to control species from vastly different planets and biospheres. (Creatures that cannot be controlled for whatever reason are either used as standard beasts of burden or potentially processed as food.) This ability, however, is not completely compatible with the native Physaric-to-Physaric telepathy, and comes with a dangerous caveat. (See "The 'Pure' and the 'Tainted'" below.)
The second form of telepathy is a more "traditional" form, allowing Physarics to communicate via unspoken thought over varying distances. This form of telepathy allows Physarics to sense each other's presence, even when one or both may be disguised while controlling a "puppet". This mode of telepathy is a learned ability, however, and does not come instinctively like the touch method. It can be amplified by joining with other Physarics (syncytiums have greater power and distance than a single individual, with the main Syncytium having the greatest distance of all), and can be limited if a Physaric becomes "tainted".
The "Pure" and the "Tainted"
The caveat to using their telepathy to control non-Physarics is that a Physaric becomes "tainted" once this occurs. The exact reasons for why this occurs are unknown, but it appears to be quirk of the Physarics' unique genetic profile; once they apply their surprising adaptability to interface with a non-Physaric, they lose the ability to interface with their own kind. Once "tainted", a Physaric can continue to control non-Physarics and may change hosts multiple times. However, they will no longer be able to join with a "pure" Physaric or join a syncytium, and their non-touch telepathic range becomes diminished. While it is unknown how this is related, they also lose their ability to reproduce via mitosis.
This division between the "pure" and the "tainted" quickly becomes the Physarics' primary weakness. Being relatively small, weak, and fragile, Physarics have become dependent on their legions of "puppets" for their survival. From beasts of burden to skilled laborers to powerful soldiers, Physarics require their "puppets" to maintain their vast empire. However, since the "tainted" can no longer breed, a contingency of "pure" Physarics must be maintained to ensure that their civilization as a whole can continue to grow and thrive. This also means that the "tainted" cannot directly participate in their government, which rests solely with the syncytiums and thus with the "pure". The divide between the "pure" and the "tainted" has caused various internal conflicts within the Physarics over the centuries, although this has been kept in balance primarily by their mutual conflict against the Greys.
The War Against the Greys
The genesis of the war between the Physarics and the Greys is outlined in the third chapter of Scylla and Charybdis. First contact between the two species was a disaster, with multiple misunderstandings resulting in the mutual annihilation of their two "landing parties". Although both species can use non-touch telepathy, the two methods are incompatible, and after first contact the Greys quickly engineered a genetic immunity to the Physarics' touch-based control (and thus communication). From that point on, neither side seemed either willing or capable of communicating. The Greys saw the Physarics as "mostly vermin" and "a semi-sentient virus" with no technological means of communication, while the Physarics took their inability to communication telepathically with the Greys as a signal that the Greys were unwilling to talk. With their opposition seemingly unwilling or unable to come to a compromise, both sides resorted to combat, resulting in a war lasting for approximately 475 years.
Although the Physaric "empire" compasses hundreds of star systems, a number of common "puppet" species have cropped up in their various appearances:
- "Walkers": Towering multicolored creatures that stand on two long, spindly legs and sport several tentacles surrounding tube-like mouths. A single large, lidless, pupil-less eye sits in the middle of the front of the head/body; there is evidence this eye may be a weak point that can be easily targeted. They breathe through gills on the side of their bodies and have suction-cup-like pads on their feet that provide incredible mobility. They are impervious to "blaster" fire but susceptible to heavier weaponry. They fight primarily by kicking with their powerful legs, squirting corrosive digestive juices from their mouths, or lashing out with their prehensile tendrils.
- "Tanks": Large, hulking, crab-like creatures with two large pincers for forelimbs and a scorpion-like tail. Three lidless eyes, one large and two smaller ones on either side, peer out from under its carapace. Like the "walkers", "tanks" are impervious to blaster fire and most piercing and slashing attacks, but may be susceptible to heavy artillery. They attack primarily by swiping or crushing with their pincers, crushing enemies beneath their bulk, or showering opponents with a highly-directional spray of corrosive acid from their tails.
- "Star Beasts" or "Warships": These are not constructed space craft but subjugated space-born creatures that normally live in the interstellar voids. They are massive in size, with a diameter of several hundred yards (or meters). Their shape is not unlike a large Paramecium with a hard outer carapace and several fleshy, glowing orbs attached. They are capable of interstellar travel, presumably at faster-than-light speeds (although it is unknown whether this is an innate capability of the species or one added by their invader masters). They are capable of firing powerful directed energy blasts of an unknown composition, similar to a very powerful laser.
History in the Strip
They Physarics made their first appearance in the strip during To Thine Own Self..., although they were never mentioned by name or seen in-panel. Known only as the "alien invaders", the Physarics followed the Greys to Earth after the Greys formed an alliance with—and were eventually subjugated by—Emperor Nicholas the Puissant. When Emperor Nicholas proposed an alliance with the Greys to cement his dominion over the Earth, he inheried their conflict with the Physarics. The Emperor confessed to Nick that his advisers projected an inevitable surrender in six weeks, although it is unknown whether the Emperor was being truthful with this estimate or attempting to persuade Nick to help through lies.
The Physarics of the "Negaverse" appeared to have no qualms with using subterfuge against their enemies. Both Governor Duncan and Butch Kilgore were "taken over" by Physarics, allowing the invaders to spy upon and influence both the Imperial and resistance forces. Through these two contacts, the invaders were able to destabilize Earth's sociopolitical climate, keeping the two sides fighting against each other long enough for the Physarics to amass their invasion fleet in orbit.
The "Negaverse" Physarics referred to all creatures other than themselves as "meatlings", including the Greys, likely indicating their feelings of superiority over other species.
At the end of To Thine Own Self..., the invaders had nearly blasted the empire's capital to ruin and were attacking the Emperor's palace directly. An armada of Grey motherships soon arrived, engaging the invaders and targeting "anything that [moved]". Unknown to either side, however, the palace's main reactor was set to explode in a "fireball the size of Kansas". Our heroes escaped to their home universe in the nick of time, so whether or not either side of the alien conflict survived is unknown.
During the story, only Fooker actually saw a Physaric in-panel. When Sharon attempted to see the invader Fooker killed, he blocked her attempts until they are distracted by another attack. Fooker's realization of what the Physaric was resulted in him almost shooting Persephone and later led to him giving Fred the cold shoulder, assuming that Fred was an alien spy sent as a prelude to another invasion. (While Justin tracked another Physaric to an air vent and witnessed its trail of slime, it escaped before he saw it.)
The "Prime" Universe
After To Thine Own Self..., several clues began to surface indicating that the war between the Greys and the Physarics had an analog in the "prime" universe as well, and that the war was not as far off as anyone believed. The culmination of these events eventually became the foundation for the third GPF "mega-arc", Scylla and Charybdis.
In a surprising twist, we learned that "Mister Inertia", the gargantuan former member of C.R.U.D.E. incarcerated in a secret U.G.A. prison, was actually a "mech" used by the Greys to spy first on C.R.U.D.E., then the U.G.A. While the circumstances behind "Inertia's" initial capture and replacement are another story, the Great Skaboola eventually left drones #3141592 and #6626068 in place to continue their research on the spy organization. During this time, they learned of a potential compromise of the U.G.A. and other organizations by an unknown party, which the two Greys strongly suspected were the Physarics.
In a seemingly unrelated series of events, Nick and Trudy narrowly escaped being "inducted" by mysterious agents led by the "Smoking Man" at the Lakatos resort. Separated from the rest of the resort guests, the two discovered a gymnasium converted to a makeshift warehouse where tons of frozen unknown cargo was being stored. After being captured and witnessing FBI agent Nikki Ronat being "inducted", Nick and Trudy escaped, eventually wrecking their car in the process and sustaining sufficient injuries to be taken to a nearby hospital. Police Lieutenant Mark Stone, apparently working for the same mysteriously organization, attempted to kill the comatose Nick to prevent him from revealing what he saw at Lakatos should he awaken. Stone was interrupted by none other than than "Nega-Nick", or Emperor Nicholas from the "Negaverse". "Nega-Nick" killed Stone, but not before he was "taken over" by an unknown creature hidden in a hospital food tray. After conversing with Agent #18 and Dr. Melanie Granger, who were also "taken over", the three decided that "Nega-Nick" would impersonate Nick and take his place, just as the "real" Nick mysteriously vanished in a flash of light.
Several of "Nega-Nick's" mental conversations with his "controller" revealed that the creature was indeed an alien, which "Nega-Nick" recognized as the same species he fought in the "Negaverse". A chance accident while the two were attempting to reverse engineer the MUTEX resulted in "Nega-Nick" regaining control of his body while leaving his Physaric controller fused with him but still conscious, able to speak into his mind. The pair also discovered that their "fusion" granted them the ability to communicate telepathically with Trudy via touch. It remains unknown whether or not this ability is restricted to just Trudy or if "Nega-Nick" has simply not been in skin-to-skin contact with anyone else since.
Eventually we learned that Colonel Lionel Barker, in a unique position due to his affiliations with the U.S. military and other covert government organizations, came to know of the existence of both the Greys and the Physarics, and of their last-running war. Barker was present when the "pilot" was recovered from the "ship" that accidentally brought Fred and Socrates to Earth and, through a brief attempted "take over" attempt, Barker was able to telepathically sense the Physaric's past and intentions. With the help of his aides and others present, Barker was able to separate from the Physaric and kill it. Now aware of the Physarics capabilities, he sought out additional information about them, eventually discovering that both the Greys and Physarics were scouting out the planet, likely assessing its potential for invasion.
Concerned that Earth was about to be embroiled in an interstellar war that it had no chance of surviving on its own, Colonel Barker devised a scheme that he felt would allow the human race to continue. Finding that his previous encounter with the Physaric pilot left him "immune" to further "take over" attempts, Barker helped scientists devise a costly method to grant "immunity" to others, but not in sufficient quantities to protect the entire planet. He then helped them devise an ultrasonic device that emitted a sound at a frequency that the Physarics found uncomfortable and, with sufficient power and volume, could force a Physaric to let go of its host. Barker then approached the Physarics directly, offering to help them covertly infiltrate Earth's governments, corporations, and other institutions to ensure a quick but silent and successful invasion. Assuming that this would eventually trigger the Greys to retaliate, the humans under Physaric control would be able to combine the Physarics' vast interstellar resources with Earth's technology to repel and defeat the Greys. Once the Grey threat would be neutralized, Barker would use his ultrasonic weapon to turn the tables on the Physarics, freeing all Earth creatures under their control and eventually driving them from the planet.
Barker's plan was nearly successful. Using criminal elements such as Esther Matusevitch's underground empire, Barker was able to infiltrate various governments and corporations with ease. The events at Lakatos were part of this scheme, as was Barker's "sacrifice" of the U.G.A. Before Barker was able to finish his plan, the gang from GPF Software reunited with the "real" Nick, who had been beamed aboard the Grey ship before the Physaric-controlled "Nega-Nick" could replace him. Given plans about the Colonel's ultrasonic device by Dexter, Patty, and Trish, Nick was able to hook Fooker's cell phone into the MUTEX and Velociraptor and broadcast the Colonel's signal to all of Earth's phone networks, forcing the Physarics to disengage. When the Greys seized this moment of confusion to initiate an attack, Nick then used the MUTEX/Velociraptor combo to transport Earth into a "pocket universe", cutting off either alien fleet's invasion efforts. With Earth supposedly "destroyed", both the Physarics and the Greys agreed to leave the solar system since there was nothing left of interest to either side. Nick was able to broker an uneasy truce between the two parties, bringing about the first cease fire between them in nearly 500 years.
During these events, Fred and Persephone both learned of their true alien heritage. Fred had been genetically engineered using the Greys' own scientific methods with a "cure" to the "curse of the tainted" before being accidentally marooned on Earth with no memories of his origins. Socrates had been assigned as Fred's guardian, but had been separated during the crash, winding up on the opposite side of North America. Fred was able to cure Socrates before the two were brought aboard a Physaric ship. Persephone, who presumably also bears the cure, remained hidden in Trish's purse and was also brought aboard, although surreptitiously. At the end of Scylla and Charybdis, Fred was given an opportunity to rejoin his brethren but declined because he was afraid of losing is individual identity and because Earth was the only home he ever knew. Fred and Socrates agreed to withhold the cure to the "curse of the tainted" from the Syncytium, under the assumption that giving it to them would potentially cause an imbalance in the truce, granting the Physarics the ability to breed at will and thus outnumber the Greys. They also agreed, along with Persephone, that her existence should continue to be a secret, as well as the fact that Socrates had also been cured. The three elected to stay behind aboard the Grey ship with the remaining humans as "ambassadors" between the Physarics and the Greys.