Spoilers abound. You have been warned.
Captain Kaff Tagon
Captain Tagon is the human commander of the Toughs. He's a practical and straightforward officer, primarily interested in money, though he will rarely be possessed of principles beyond merely getting paid. Though he does not possess a high-level education, Tagon is a tactical genius and skilled soldier, and remarkably adept at getting money, and often manages to get paid multiple times for a single job.
- Authority Equals Asskicking: Between his knowledge of military maneuvers, his soldier boosts, his experience, his willingness to do the unexpected, and good old-fashioned cheating, Tagon is possibly the most dangerous of the Toughs in combat (the only other contender for the title would be Schlock, and Tagon has even beaten him in a sparring match).
- Back from the Dead: By way of Time Travel. Also at a later date he is brought back from an off-site backup.
- Book Dumb: He's not in any danger of being mistaken for a professorial type, but in his element of causing mayhem he's pretty sharp.
- Celibate Hero: Kaff is in his 50s and still doesn't have a wife or girlfriend. Elf's attempts at flirting with him were continuously misinterpreted and he has displayed some other minor issues with women. As it turns out, there is a good reason for this. His last known (and possibly only) girlfriend was a Honey Trap loaded with weaponized nanotechnology that murdered his entire family save himself and his father—mother, grandparents, and two younger siblings—as part of the mass assassination that kicked off the terraforming wars.
- Cloning Blues: The original sacrifices himself to save his friends; they build a memorial to him and then grow another Tagon with memories caught up to just before A specific point during that mission. While the general understanding is that this is like restoring a save game and everyone accepts him as their friend returned, the clone takes a while to work through his issues about living up to the original's example.
- Colonel Badass: While technically a captain, (although a naval captain is of roughly equivalent rank to colonel so it still fits) Kaff Tagon is certainly this when he decides that its time to get dangerous. After getting a hidden knife thrown into his eye he responds by pulling it out and thanking the thrower for arming him. Then going after him. Moments later we're treated to him trying to use his comm device, complaining that they can't make a touchscreen that still works when covered in blood.
- Combat Pragmatist: Whenever Tagon competes against his men in training exercises, he always wins thanks to heavy cheating.
- Conjoined Eyes: Stands in contrast to the rest of the cast; only Kaff and his father Karl have these.
- Eye Scream: A recurring theme with Tagon in Massively Parallel.
- A Father to His Men: He is loyal to his subordinates, and they are to him in return, although he doesn't try for a paternal aura. That said, his actions during the Force Multiplication arc are pretty much exactly that of a worried parent. Towards the end, he's basically on his way to stage a one-man rescue of his 'men'.
- Drifts over into being his Berserk Button—mistreat his men or don't give them the due they deserve, especially if they've fallen in the line of duty, and he will try to put holes in you. Schlock accidentally offends him by asking if he can have the armor of two fallen grunts because Tailor could make them into amorph-armor. This ends up with Tagon angry enough to threaten significant unarmed violence one of his most loyal soldiers in a fashion that genuinely terrifies Schlock—a being who has taken casual gunshots in stride and previously treated his own accidental death as no big deal.
- The message he left to his father before his Heroic Sacrifice (which he pulled off to save his crew) clearly shows he actually considers his men his new (although broken and messy) family.
- With one of his ships destroyed by an unseen force and his battle plan in shambles, Tagon is still willing come up with a way help his subordinates complete their mission.
- Famed In-Story: "A killer of Battleplates." It's to the point that intelligence agencies are able to get their information on him off social media fan pages.
- General Failure: Given a nod and a wink. While normally he is shockingly good at strategy and tactics, both at an individual and warship level, the fact that eight ships have been lost while under his direct command raises some eyebrows. If he qualifies, it'd be mostly due to a lack of luck and propensity to stumble into messes greater than him; any operation that he gets involved on is practically guaranteed to devolve into an utter clusterfuck, it's simply that the reason is not incompetence.Footnote: Galaxy-wide, the average number of ships lost by a ship's captain (or captain-equivalent) who goes on to retain the rank of captain is very close to zero. Tagon hasn't set any records, but he's so far off the bell curve that any marbles he drops won't roll away.
- Genius Ditz: He is practically illiterate, misses obvious jokes and thought his Shoulder Angel was a large mosquito - but he's positively brilliant as a military commander, and no slouch at contract negotiation (and blackmail), either.
- Happy Dance: Tagon's dance is so familiar that while he is away the team points out when he would have done the happy dance.
- Heroic Sacrifice: When the Esspererin betray the Toughs, he detonates a ship to ship warhead with himself in the blast radius to prevent them from overrunning the ship.
- Made of Iron: Many of Tagon's mercenaries have various artificially-induced boosts to their strength and endurance, but lately Tagon has been particularly badass. Bad guy throws a knife and sticks Tagon in the eye with it. Tagon pulls it out of his socket and uses it to kill the bad guys.
- Older Than He Looks: He's aged really well.
- Passed-Over Promotion: Willingly self-inflicted. When he lucks his way into a flotilla of ships (only keeping 3), his father points out that he now qualifies as a Commodore. Tagon junior considers this, but concedes he isn't Commodore material. But Tagon Senior is.
- Memetic Badass: At the beginning of the Broken Wind arc, the Oafa seek Tagon out specifically for a job they need done because of his reputation. More specifically, they name him "Destroyer of Battleplates."
- Selective Obliviousness: Elf's (since abandoned) crush on Tagon, ignored and misinterpreted in various ways by Tagon.
- Would Hit a Girl: He's shown no particular reluctance to attack women, even if they hadn't gone after him first.
Commander Kevyn Andreyasn
A human scientist and officer who serves as Tagon's effective second-in-command. Kevyn is the genius behind the development of the teraport, as well as a multitude of other inventions. Though not as confident in command as Tagon, nor as competent a fighter, Kevyn is arguably one of the most dangerous of the Toughs because of his intellect and willingness to create truly terrifying weaponry. Toting antimatter bombs on one's shoulders also helps in a pinch.
A second Kevyn exists due to time travel shenanigans. He does not serve with the Toughs, instead devoting himself to pure research. Initially, he decides to retire next door to Captain Tagon's father, General Karl Tagon, but eventually he volunteers to help Petey fight the Pa'anuri.
- Badass Boast: "I am Commander Kevyn Andreyasn. I have shaped the destinies of worlds, of nations, of galaxies. I have created and I have destroyed. I have followed and I have led. I have known love and it has known me right back. I flirt with death for a living and I have cheated the reaper more times than I can remember."
- Back from the Dead: Multiple times.
- Blind Without 'Em: Subverted. Kevyn sees perfectly well without his glasses, but only in the visible spectrum. He finds the cosmic background radiation comforting, and with them can see in infrared, ultraviolet, backscatter X-ray, and also provide frame by frame replay of things he's just seen.
- Cloning Gambit: The original Kevyn actually died two years into the comic's run. Luckily he'd made a perfect memories-intact copy seconds earlier, and we've been following the clone ever since.
- Cool Shades: Kevyn's glasses allow him to see practically every form of electromagnetic radiation known to man.
- Fantastic Racism: It's downplayed, but Kevyn is very uncomfortable with unfettered AIs being in positions of power; just look at his reaction to LOTA. Granted, this may be justified.
- Gadgeteer Genius: To the point that his inventions completely upend galactic society.
- Goggles Do Something Unusual: Seen aptly in this strip, though with sunglasses.
- Happily Married: Marries Elf and takes her surname late in the series' run.
- Mad Scientist: subverted. He has more common sense and better intuition than anyone that smart really ought to have (though his For Science! invention of the Teraport had unintended consequences, like plunging every civilization in the galaxy into massive wars that have killed trillions and are still ongoing). Makes up for it with the requisite giant ego, though... And even that gets punctured by Elf's intuitive gifts. While he claims to not be a mad scientist, as noted here and here the troops obviously disagree - a reputation he's not afraid of using when it's convenient.Kevyn: Before any of you unwisely decide to take this as a cue to step further out of line than you were already planning to, I'd like to say two words about my position as the company's munitions commander and resident mad scientist: "Guinea pigs."
Grunt: I want my mommy.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: He has three brothers, and his sister, Breya, so it fits the five children in a family requirement of this trope.
- My Nayme Is: Kevyn. With a "y".
- Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Kevyn points out to Hob that just because he is a scientist it doesn't mean that he's an explosives expert - then shows that he is an expert at them, but only as a hobby. Ultimately, Kevyn's aptitudes are better defined by what he's not good at. For example, he's good enough at robotics to generate a military-grade AI by following the instructions on the box, but not good enough to debug those AIs. He later admits to only having cursory-at-best knowledge of biology and xenobiology.
- One-Man Industrial Revolution: He invented the teraport and pretty much changed the whole interstellar ball game; it's amazing how much new tech used and taken for granted in the comic is based off the teraport.
- Played With in that though he is smart enough to be a revolutionary scientist of this caliber, it turns out that the teraport is actually fairly derivative. The Gatekeepers have been suppressing the teraport for millennia, as per a treaty with Eldritch Abominations. He's just the first genius lucky and/or weird enough to have surrounded himself with tough guys at the same time that he attempted to market the teraport, which kept him alive long enough to realize he was being threatened and thus to open-source it.
- Spoonerism: Kevin slips into this when drunk.
- Stranger in a Familiar Land: The alternate Kevyn from a destroyed timeline retires from the Toughs and ultimately becomes a researcher for Petey. When he temporarily gets pulled back in, he is still used to giving orders like an officer, deeply offending the company's current officers since he no longer has any rank and isn't owed any respect, being in an informal advisory role at best.
- What Have I Become?: Kevyn, after Petey's blood-nannies rebuild him as an armored killing machine in "The Sharp End of the Stick".
Jeff "Brad" Bradley
Originally a scrawny grunt on the Toughs' payroll, Brad served in the same unit as Schlock and turned out to have been intentionally stunted in growth as a child: When his body had to be replaced from the neck-down he turned out to be nearly titanic in size. He was promoted to lieutenant after the events on Schlock's homeworld and served in that role until he was KIA on Credomar. Schlock considered him his best friend.
- The Big Guy: Was absolutely scrawny due to his growth being stunted during his formative years. Then he got his body lost and regrown, and he outsized even Nick. Note that, even when he was scrawny, he was capable of stuff like picking up the passenger cab for a theme park ride and running with it. (The 'Toughs didn't have their powered armor at that point - that's all him.)
- Demoted to Extra: In the early stories he was a secondary protagonist and could usually be found wherever Schlock was, but as time went on and focus shifted more to the command team he became just another recurring grunt.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Of the Someone Has to Die variety. (He seems to have made the decision inside of a few seconds, to boot.)
- Killed Off for Real: And gets a nice memorial in Credomar.
- Older Than They Look: Had trouble getting into bars before getting un-scrawnied.
- The Straight Man: Often played this role towards Schlock's antics.
Doctor Edward Bunnigus
The human chief medical officer for the Toughs after he previous doctor suffered a bad case of unexpected death. She was the daughter of a couple who were too mentally handicapped to be allowed to naturally bear children, and was thus gene-tailored to be both hyper-intelligent and an exotic dancer. Spent most of the strip engaged to Reverend Theo, and eventually married him.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Play with a company member's heart, and the sweet, gentle doctor is likely to go all Mama Bear on you.
- Chocolate Baby: Subverted. Her parents were white rednecks, but she's entirely vat-grown from scratch since her parents were too stupid to be allowed to breed naturally under eugenics laws, having (in her words) "maybe 80 uncontested IQ points between them." There's no indication that her parents were in any way unhappy with how she turned out. The only thing that bothered them was the fact that the "name" written on her hospital bracelet—"ED-205," referring to the genetic packages she carried—wasn't pretty enough. So they called her "Edward."
- Designer Babies: The negative side of this trope doesn't seem to exist in the setting, at least as far as we've seen.
- Gender-Blender Name: Dr. Edward Bunnigus.
- Hospital Hottie: In fact, her sex appeal is more or less why Tagon hired her in the first place. Lampshaded by the Reverend in his eulogy for the previous chief medical officer.Theo Fobius: ... if I'm any judge, the new doctor is a whole lot easier to look at... God works in mysterious ways, but I think I've figured this one out.
- I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: Part and parcel of her "exotic dancer" gene package. However, her hyper-intelligence package enables her to weaponize it.Kathryn Flinders: ...You broke that boy's brain with the look on your face. I can read a man and figure out his hot-buttons. You, though... You read that ingress agent, found his buttons, and then told him which one you were going to push.
Lieutenant-Commander "Sensei" Shodan
A martial-arts expert. Always ready to dispense ass-kicking. Or snark. Or both
- Deadpan Snarker: Not that he's the only one in the company, but he is one of the snarkier ones.
- Digging Yourself Deeper: One of the running themes with Shodan is his habit of saying something and not realizing until too late just what his words have gotten him into.
- Got Volunteered: Very frequently the result of Shodan's short-sightedness when it comes to voicing his observations is him having to take on a noisome duty that he'd rather not have. Others have taken advantage of this multiple times - Dr. Bunnigus once used it to trick Shodan into taking temporary command.
- Last-Name Basis: Though he was also known as "Sensei" in earlier strips.
- Meaningful Name: Shodan is the title of the first (as in lowest) rank of black belt in Japanese martial arts.
- Name's the Same: Not *that* Shodan...
- Your Answer to Everything: Tagon calls him on is tendency to try to solve every problem with martial-arts. Not that he minds; after all, "martial arts training is a really, really useful hammer.
Lieutenant Commander John Der Trihs
Previous human second-in-command to Tagon, Trihs is a marginally-competent but mentally-limited officer; reliable, in his own way, but not especially bright, and mostly serves as either comic relief or a punching bag for threats. Tagon allowed him to join due to their service together in Celeschul's Terraforming Wars. He is actually a lot more intelligent than even he realizes.
- Amusing Injuries: Repeatedly. He's ended up as nothing but a head-in-a-jar on at least three occasions. (At some point after joining Tagon's Toughs, his skull was replaced with tougher materials, keeping him alive in situations that would have otherwise killed him.)
- Broken Hero: They were friends before the experiments that screwed him up, so Tagon took him in after the UNS put him out on (not unjustified) disability. He apparently wasn't a slouch on the 'hero' part, either.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: The man can bend prison bars bare-handed, should the need arise.
- Genius Ditz: A result of top-secret experiments, the point of which was to improve his already impressive intelligence, but ended up adding the 'ditz' part. Tagon thinks the 'genius' bit isn't hidden too deeply, either:Kevyn: He can't pour sand out of a boot with instructions printed on the heel.
Tagon: Only because he doesn't complain about sand in his boots.
- Lovable Coward: Due to his record of Amusing Injuries, he's a little gun shy. Usually.
- Red Shirt: He subverts and personifies this trope. "Subverts" because he survives to retire on a resort planet with a pretty girl. As of a side-story in the dead-tree version, they're engaged.
- Sdrawkcab Name: ...Geddit now?
Michelle "Chelle" Diego-Garcia
A human officer who serves as one of the Tough's tank crewmen. Later given leadership of Mallcop Command, and then Xeno Team during the Delegates and Delegation arc.
Ellen "Elf" Foxworthy
Formerly a grunt, Elf is a human officer who rose through the ranks to serve as a tanker, then an officer, and finally as one of the highest-ranking members of the Toughs. Elf has had romantic troubles throughout her stint with the Toughs, with most of the men she gets involved with ending up dead. Eventually settled into a stable and non-dead relationship with Kevyn.
- Cartwright Curse: Elf has a running not-so-gag that any man she kisses is killed. So far her tally is Hob, Captain Tagon in an alternate universe, Kevyn (multiple times, but his soldier boosts have brought him back every time) and finally Pronto and Brad (whom she kissed in an intentional invocation of the trope to make them go along with an almost-suicide mission).
- Characterization Marches On: Elf started out as a short-tempered tomboy grunt who was intimidated by intelligence and who abused stims to manage grief. Around the end of book 7 / beginning of book 8, she began to reveal the Hidden Depths of intelligence, wit, and responsibility that define her today.
- Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: At first, Elf was much, much smaller than the male members of the group, especially Brad. But the addition of giant prosthetic legs fixed that eventually. Later she gets a body upgrade during one of her regrowths.
- Lady of War: "The modern Goddess of War". After kicking her stim habit and getting her current body, Elf eventually matured into this.
- One-Woman Army: While never a slouch in combat, once equipped with a fragsuit she proves herself one of the Toughs' best combatants, to the point of near single-handedly capturing three enemy ships with minimal ammunition.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Elf gets some Rapunzel Hair as part of a TV makeover, attracting the attention of the captain for the first time.
- Sweet Polly Oliver: Elf joined this way, although it fell apart when she was fitted for armor.
- Tsundere: Also known as "flaxen-haired termagant" — after she generally calmed down. She eventually grew out of most of it... Though not all of it.
Reverend Theo Fobius
The Very Reverend Theo Fobius is a human chaplain who joined the Toughs mostly because no other chaplain was willing to sign onto a mercenary crew. Theo serves as the moral center of the mercenary crew; this is not an oxymoron, though he often has to struggle with his flock of semi-sociopathic guns-for-hire. Though he is a competent fighter in his own right, his greatest skill is with the sword. Engaged to and eventually married to Doctor Bunnigus.
- Characterization Marches On: Compare his first funeral service with his second. In general, he's gone from the "Irreverend" to sharing the role of beleaguered conscience of the company with Massey.
- Celibate Hero: Up until he got Happily Married with Dr. Bunnigus, anyway. Celibate again once his memories of his wedding were proved false until they can have a proper ceremony.
- Contemplative Boss: Theo Fobius strikes the pose in this strip.
- Cool Shades: Just not as cool as Kevyn's.
- Ensign Newbie: It's a little odd that a company Reverend would ever get a rank like this, but when he does he has the good sense to trust the grunts.
- Fantastic Racism: His only major moral failing is a strong distrust for AIs.
- The Heart: The Reverend fills the role of a typical military chaplain; providing a voice of reason and a good deal of moral and logical wisdom on just about any subject.
- Meaningful Name: "Theophobia" means "fear of gods". According to Tayler, it's a play on the name Theophilus (i.e. "one who loves God"), which appears in two books of the New Testament.
- Non-Action Guy: Most of the time. The company Reverend probably shouldn't be on the front lines in the first place, but he's capable of defending himself in a pinch.
Colonel/Sergeant/Captain Alexia Murtaugh
The commander of a unit from Sanctum Adroit that worked on Haven Hive and thus got entangled into the games of Dr. Pau and Maximillian Haluska. After being fired from Sanctum Ardoit due to apparently accepting a bribe, Murtagh went on to join the Toughs, and, due to her military experience, served as the Captain of the Neosynchronicity until its destruction. Transfer to serve as the Captain of the Breath Weapon.
- Back from the Dead: Was killed in a bomb explosion sometime off-panel following the conclusion of the Delegates and Delegation arc, but restored by Bunni thanks to Schlock getting her pieces bagged in time. All of this information has been revealed second-hand, as we've yet to see the explosion that killed her; the only thing we ever learn was that the bomb was Kowalski's parting gift before the Fleetmind took him.
- By-the-Book Cop: She is honorable and disciplined, and her private security company is well-known for its honesty.
- Older Than She Looks: This very picture? She's at least 60 on it. Even more when rebuilt in a younger body after the bomb accident, at 63.Schlock: "I'm gonna say it. [...] You're too new."Murtaugh: "New to you, Sergeant. Only two people in this company possess more military experience than I do: Commodore Karl Tagon, and Chief Gunther Thurl."Schlock: "Wow. How close do you come to them? Because you don't look anywhere nearly as wrinkly as those guys."Murtaugh: "...Thank you, I think."
- The Snark Knight: As is her boss. Even rather quotable.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Swears in Latin. Her favored epithet is "Sanctum Maiori Excrementum." Loosely translated, "Holy f***ing shit."
Lieutenant Shore Pibald
A human demolitions specialist who suffers from paranoia, megalomania, and obsessive lot for explosives. Naturally, he's perfect for a mercenary crew.
- Ax-Crazy/Bunny-Ears Lawyer/Cloud Cuckoo Lander: He manages to be all of these simultaneously. This gets toned down a bit (better-adjusted meds?) after he makes Lieutenant. And even when he is on his meds...Kevyn: I can't help but wonder whether you're able to function in society.
Pi: I don't function in society, sir. I'm a mercenary. I blow society up.
- Chekhov's Gunman: First mentioned in 2002. First seen in 2004. Actually enters the cast permanently in 2007.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right:
- His paranoia first paid off in the original Credomar arc, where it helped him figure out how the cargo gravity system was sabotaged.
- In the second Credomar story arc, he was the one that realized Credomar was a hyperspace weapon — mainly because the entire idea was too crazy for any sane person to consider.
- In the Gavcorps arc, he theorised that the enemy could try to take the facility through smuggling in genocidal nanotech. It didn't happen exactly like he thought, but it was close enough.
- Later in the same arc, he's the only person to figure out why Balt Binion went on a killing spree against the other Gavs, specifically going for headshots. When they regrow their heads, they'll have the minds of enemy agents, just like Balt did.
- Genius Ditz: Emphasis on the 'Ditz', but he has been the first to figure important things out regarding dangers to the Toughs. In the second Credomar arc, he also figured out that Ennesby was using him to test his installer-bots and played along, resulting in a situation where both of them and even Pibald's friend Ebbirnoth got what they wanted.
- God-Emperor: Not in a literal example, but one of the fifty-nine applications he submitted in order to become the company explosives officer after the death of Pronto was from "God-Emperor Pi the First."
- Mad Bomber: Even compared to the other Toughs he's nuttier than a bag of almonds, and he has a thing for seeing (and more importantly making) things blow up.
- The Peter Principle: Pi was promoted to an officer largely based on false memories, though apparently in-character for him, implanted by UNS agents who did not have Tagon's Toughs' best interests at heart. He has not exactly risen to the occasion in terms of trustworthiness: he remained competent enough, but not sane enough.
- Properly Paranoid: On at least three occasions, and he's pretty good at coming up with counter-plans. When he tries to make some of his boomex go inert, he pushes the wrong button and gets blown up. It is later determined that the last doctor to treat him messed up his vision with red-green color blindness. He concludes that the doctor in question must have also tampered with his memories and messed up the controls as part of an ultra-black ops assassination, which according to the author's notes is actually correct.
- Punny Name: His nickname is "Pi", and he's irrational. Referenced a couple times in universe.
- Scaramanga Special: Several of Pi's explosives and methods of explosive production are disguised as very mundane items. His "ant farm" containing explosive-producing nanobots disguised as ants is probably the most infamous.
- Spell My Name with an "S": The strip isn't consistent about whether his name is "Pibald" or "Piebald." ("Pibald" is the current spelling.)
The Tough's human lawyer who joined after being targeted by the Partnership Collective. Massey is a skilled legal representative and can fight in a pinch, though his battles are most often waged in the courtroom or in settlements with other lawyers.
- Amoral Attorney: Massey is a genuinely principled and decent lawyer. He is also responsible for getting the Toughs the contract on the Partnership Collective, who play this trope completely straight and then some.
- Crazy-Prepared: Wears body armor underneath his normal clothes. Of course given that he works for a mercenary company he gets shot at more than most lawyers.
- From Bad to Worse: During "Longshoreman of the Apocalypse" arc, he was put in command of the Touch-And-Go while Tagon needed to sleep and other officers were on other duties. Due to circumstances completely out of his control (one of which was, well, Schlock), Massey witnesses a series of Disaster Dominoes that managed to even astound Tagon when the latter finally awoke.
- Not So Above It All: His employers' propensity for violence gives him no end of headaches, but when it comes to hunting down Collective drones, he's first in line.
- Phlebotinum Rebel: The Partnership Collective tried to turn him into one of them by implanting specialized hypernet nodes in his brain, but the operation was interrupted, and now he can spy on the Collective but it cannot control him.
- Put on a Bus: Due to a bit of laziness when drafting the constitution for the Neo-Afan stronghold, he's now the chief justice of their legal system and has stepped down from his position with the Toughs.
- Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: "The last time I let you do pro-bono work you overthrew a planetary government."Massey: It was a bloodless revolution, if you don't count the attorney-drone.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness/Sophisticated as Hell: Massey's legal vocabulary is easily larger than most of the company's. That said, he has been known to beat people up with big words.
General/Commodore Karl Tagon
The retired father of Kaff Tagon, Karl Tagon was a famous and skilled general who still knows how to fight and is more than willing to jump back in as-needed. Eventually brought into the company as Commodore of the Tough's small fleet.
- Amazon Chaser: He apparently finds attractive women kicking ass to be quite awesome, and he had zero trouble flirting with an experienced UNS general who had seen plentiful combat.
- Broken Hero / Broken Ace: His parents, wife, and both of his children besides Kaff Tagon, were killed in a nanite assassination attempt at the beginning of the Terraforming Wars, in a split-second decision where both men failed to save them. As Karl says himself, surviving the assassination spree made his career- which was all he had left.
- Deadpan Snarker: Well, about as much as everyone is. But years of experience and jadedness to goes with it gives him a particular view on the world.
- Four-Star Badass:
- General Karl Tagon, if a Take Our Word for It moment of him going out to defend Timeclone!Kevyn with a carbine and literally nothing else is any indication. They ultimately had to decapitate him and stick his head in a jar to capture him, although even that didn't stop him from directly assisting the Toughs on their mission to rescue him and the timecloned Kevyn.
- When the Terraforming Wars started, he got promoted to general after an attack that killed most of the upper command staff—and Karl's entire family (except for Kaff). Several historians claim that the rebels lost the moment their attack failed to kill Karl Tagon.
- Full-Frontal Assault: In a heroic version of the trope, he rushed out to the kidnapping of Timeclone!Kevyn with nothing but his weapon.*Ahem* His other weapon, an antique carbine he'd kept above his desk for years.
- I Want Grandkids: Understandable, since his son is fifty by now and in a line of work that doesn't typically promote a long life.
- Retired Bad Ass: His first two lines in the comic are him being unconcerned by a gun to his temple, and (cheerfully!) reminding his captors that his son slaughtered their friends. He proceeds to build on this from there and makes it clear where his son got the Badass.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: General Bala-Amin points out that he is in violation of Celeschul law, which makes his commanding a mercenary company under a foreign power illegal. He replies that he wrote the law and he can rewrite it.
- Seen It All: He has the experience and is quick to provide it - and the fact that he likes to do so is one of the many ways he grates on his son's nerves before they make up.
- Shipper on Deck: Tries to ship Kathryn with his son. And gives the impression, though never said in Exact Words, that he would ship his son with pretty much any willing female who could produce grandchildren.
- Though hoped to be not desperate enough to include the technically genderless Schlock. (And there goes your appetite!)
Chief Warrant Officer Gunther Thurl
A human who serves as the tough's Chief Warrant Officer, a rank that basically means "running all the non-shooting, non-science, non-law parts of the company". Has been with the company since the beginning and appears to be an old friend of Tagon. Used to be obese until his body was replaced from the neck-down after a Bug War incident that led to Schlock eating the rest of his body.
- Almighty Janitor: The most experienced member in the company and vital for his skills in organization and business. He has threatened to quit the moment he's ever given an officer's rank.
- Cool Old Guy: One capable of actually out-commanding his own commanding officers by sheer experience and authority alone.
- I Choose to Stay: After getting killed he opts not to get resurrected and instead chooses to remain in the pre-resurrection simulated world so that he can help others come to terms with their death and resurrection.
- Non-Action Guy: He can hold a weapon, but his only stint on the frontlines so far ended poorly for him (or very well, depending on your point of view). One arc has him explaining his grey hair is a result of knowing when to run.
- The Creon: Has apparently said that if he is ever promoted an inch above Chief Warrant Officer, he'll quit. He eventually accepts a promotion to Commander as Kevin's XO after the company expands.
- The Smart Guy: Thurl is the smartest human on the ship after Kevyn, and often assists in matters such as contracts, stock market trading, and other administrative duties.
Ensign/Lieutenant Para Ventura
A young human girl who joined the toughs as a "roboticist." An expert in all things mechanical, she is just as adept as Kevyn when it comes to machinery and adept at general science, although her skills are more focused on AI and robotics. She got some karate training, but is not really a soldier and was not boosted. Unaccustomed to combat, Para has some issues with violence, and the first two violent escapades she encountered left her a nervous wreck afterwards.
- Action Girl: deconstruction. She has not undergone proper soldier training, she has killed before, and she suffers PTSD in combat for it. That's not to say she can't be very useful in her own way. On the other hand.
- Charm Person: She apparently likes to be looked upon with adoration. And with AI she can make this happen.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Way back there is mention of the Henke-Ventura Scale regarding AI intelligence. That can't be a coincidence.
- The Dreaded: Among robots and AIs.
- Fangirl: Was one for the New Sync Boys, and cried for a week after the records company claimed they died in a shuttle crash, the look on Ennesby's face tells it all.
- Heroic BSoD: Suffers one after killing several thugs in self defense, and continues to have bouts of PTSD long afterward when placed in combat situations.
- Hidden Depths: She turned out to know Spy Speak, and later admitted to be involved with UNS intelligence.
- Meaningful Name: Her last name is Ventura, and it's strongly implied this is related to the Henke-Ventura Scale for measuring A.I. capacity.
- Little Miss Snarker: From the first page on (granted, Thurl asked for it).
- The Mole: For UNS Internal Affairs, to keep tabs on the Toughs due to their role in Project Lazarus.
- Older Than They Look: Looked young but not particularly childish when she first appeared, but got caught flat-footed by Art Evolution.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: Unlike Schlock, she can actually pull it off effectively.
- Stealth Pun: Para Ventura (aka "Para Chute")
- Teen Genius: Nineteen, looks like she's twelve, and is so good at robotics that her mere presence can terrify AIs. (Her name suggests that she's possibly descended from the co-originator of the Hencke/Ventura scale of AI capability.)
- Wrench Wench: Lots of the females are technically competent, but Ventura is the purest example.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Zig-Zagged. Ventura has something of a god-complex when it comes to AIs. As one of their organic creators, she feels she has the right to modify them to suit her desires (even if that desire is simply for entertainment), and therefore brainwashes them as needed and scares with enthusiastic modification proposals all the time. On the other hand, she also feels responsible for their well-being, and began to somewhat like Kevyn only after hearing him "treating robots as if they're people" and chose to buy and set free the bots she compromised rather than leave them to be wiped. It should be noted that though every AI who knows of her responds to her with some degree of fear, that response is more akin to that of meeting a Dreaded Prankster than a Morally Ambiguous Doctorate.Random AI: Mother of chrome...
A former UNS officer, Kathryn encountered the Toughs while coordinating a group of vandalizing free-runners inside Mall One. She kept getting dragged into scrapes with the Toughs, until finally being officially hired after the Broken Wind arc.
- Badass Bookworm: An Intelligence analyst with a field training and serious Le Parkour skills.
- Brainy Brunette: After her "extreme makeover".
- Combat Pragmatist: Even more so than the Toughs. She even once defeated Schlock by splattering him with a fire hose and then putting him in separate bags.
- Dye or Die: Cut her blonde Rapunzel Hair short and dyed it black when hiding from Schlock after the fire hose thing. As she put it herself: "Extreme makeover, 'Running for my life' edition". She kept the new look afterwards.
- Femme Fatale: She uses some basic espionage knowledge she got from her service in UNS Intelligence as part of a plot to get information about the Toughs from Corporal Nicholson.
- Fragile Speedster: Extremely agile and fast, but rather skinny. Though by no means weak, as she was able to aim Schlock's plasgun one-handed.
- Le Parkour: Is VERY good at Parkata Urbatsu, its descendent.
- Meet Cute: Several characters invoke the trope when a teraport cage hurls her at Tagon.
- It's a Small World After All: She was on Tunguska when Xinchub caught Toughs and his overlong gloating got the thing broken. She also briefly knew Colonel Krum.
- Retired Badass: An incident made her retire from UNS. The incident being the destruction of the Tunguska, which she was serving on at the time.
- You Are in Command Now: When Kaff dies in the middle of a mission, Karl undergoes a mental break, leaving Kathryn as the highest-ranking officer on the ship. It only lasts about an hour and a half, though.
A carbosilicate amorph, Schlock is the eponymous mercenary who joined Tagon's Toughs in the first strip. He outwardly resembles a mobile, talking pile of poop with eyes, and is possessed of a childlike lack of morals, enthusiastic love of violence, and an enormous appetite. He is also a remarkably adept warrior whose strange biology and unexpectedly sharp mind gives him many advantages over his opponents. And where that fails, Schlock compensates with guns; many, many guns.
- Adult Child: By human standards. Though by the standards of carbosilicate amorphs, he's quite normal.
- The Ageless: Amorphs do not age. Barring injury, disease or being eaten by another amorph, they're pretty much immortal.
- Air-Vent Passageway: He is an amorphous blob who can easily squeeze through holes as small as his eyes. He has, at least twice, also used the air vents (well, sewer system) to enter.
- Ambiguous Innocence: he's often mistaken for a psychopath due to his enthusiasm for violence, but he is capable of true friendship and loyalty as well.
- Amusing Injuries: With anyone else, the kinds of things Schlock goes through would be almost invariably fatal even given the setting's advanced medical technology. Schlock, however, is not only preposterously resilient to anything short of extreme heat, cold, or concussive force, but can pull himself together even after being torn apart. As a result, punchlines have included cutting him in half during a sparring match, splattering him into dozens of pieces with a high-powered fire hose, stomping or smashing with powered armor and tanks, and botching a juggling trick with a live plasma cannon and blowing a hole in himself, among others.
- Awesome, but Impractical :
- Schlock sitting on a Plasgun, or a pair of Plasguns, to attain flight. However he has very little control, and usually crashes.
- Invoked this reaction in people with his sawed-off multicannons - they were literally sawed off, and the excised parts were what kept them from randomly exploding. (Kevyn found them before he ever got to use them, though, and made them safe enough to use.) "Awesome" in the older sense, really.
- Ax-Crazy: Schlock has his moments...Schlock: I'll have you know that I only resort to violence when the situation calls for it.
Lady Emily: Of course, by 'situation' you mean 'voices in your head', right?
Schlock: And you don't want to know what they're saying right now.
- Blood Knight: He's a career mercenary by choice, despite having made enough money from stock options not to have to. He loves shooting things, gets bored easily when things aren't exploding, and would probably pass over any chance of a promotion that would take him off the battlefield if he wasn't woefully incapable of officer-think anyway.
- Big Eater: How much he can eat is likely limited by his current size, and he can increase his size in proportion to how much he eats - he's (temporarily) grown several times his usual mass on at least one occasion.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Every cell in Schlock performs multiple functions, including acting as muscle mass. That means that the bigger he is, the stronger he is, and not in proportion to human standards. Every cell in his body other than his eyes note can, if needed, act as a muscle cell, making him capable of surprising feats of speed and strength. They all also act as sense organs and his nervous system, plus memory storage. The downside of this is that all physical damage he takes is technically brain damage.
- Blob Monster: A carbosilicate amorph, to be specific. Has some control over his shape as well, but nothing more complex than reshaping himself into a barrel or a delta wing-shaped form for low-gravity gliding (which he has more or less perfected, though it still ends with a crash landing every time he tries it).
- Character Development: Despite starting out as (and largely remaining) a Sociopathic Hero, as time goes on Schlock demonstrates a lot of concern for his friends' well-being and even the glimmerings of a conscience.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Mini!Schlock, having lost the majority of his memories, is like this.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: In spite of his recklessness and lack of foresight often nearly (and in one case actually) getting him killed, Schlock is acknowledged as a very competent Sergeant, having saved his squad dozens of times and completed dangerous missions in spite of overwhelming odds.
- Deadly Dodging: A variation. He has, on occasion, arranged for enemy gunfire to pass straight through him harmlessly and hit enemies out the other end. (He generally has a look of "why do people even bother shooting me?".)
- Dual Wielding: Being a Blob Monster, he triple wields a BFG and two sawed-off multicannons whenever he can get away with it. His record currently stands at six. One a two-hander.
- Extra Eyes: Schlock had spares for a while (they were as mismatched as his usual pair), after combining with his future self. They came in handy for aiming his BFGs, but also seemed to act independent of their host at times. He used one of them to store memories.
- Extreme Omnivore: Is explicitly able to eat anything he can fit in his mouth, as long as it isn't strong enough to "eat" him. He even mocks human pickiness about what we eat here.
- Funny Schizophrenia: When Schlock has extra eyes, they will occasionally give him exasperated glares when he's acting stupid.
- Fusion Dance: Amorphs use this to exchange memories, to fight, and to reproduce. There's also an interesting one when Schlock tries to trade memories with a timeclone of himself - the intellectual thought-processes recognize two unique Schlocks, but the biology thinks it's recovered an errant fragment of the same amorph unit. What ensues is described (to give us non-amorphs perspective) as being sort of like trying to resist throwing up, except backwards, and with about the same inevitability of outcome.
- Heroic Comedic Sociopath: The comic's main source of killing-related and Murder Is the Best Solution humour. It should be noted that despite fitting the trope description (and apparently applying the label to himself at times...) Schlock himself is not a sociopath, as he is capable of empathy and friendship... He just has much looser standards on what's acceptable to do to his out-group.
- Hidden Depths:
- Best represented in the entry for Xanatos Speed Chess below, Schlock can be intelligent and resourceful, it's just that he usually doesn't bother.
- Also, he's proficient at reading emotions, and instinctively kind to people he likes. When he's not eating kittens.
- While he's willing to eat just about anything he actually has a surprisingly discerning palate.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Schlock has eaten a fellow amorph, Chuck (for a certain definition of "eat"), and amorph combat consists of the participating combatants merging together, the victor "consuming" the loser's memory and personality, integrating it into their own. He also habitually eats dead enemies, many of them human and all of them sapient.
- Interspecies Romance: And no, it doesn't "rhyme with 'Pentacle Rex.'".
- Just Eat Him: Schlock's favorite tactic after giving his victims a nice toasty plasma cannon bath. (Often both in sequence.)
- Le Parkour: Kathryn taught him Parkata Urbatsu after the rescue of General Tagon and Captain Andreysan. His lack of bones and disdain for rules fit the art perfectly, and he took to it with a will that made everyone else look like rank amateurs.Trevor: Kathryn is a pretty good teacher, but I think Schlock just performed a doctoral dissertation.
- Lightning Bruiser: Schlock is faster than he looks, as his entire body is essentially one giant, amorphous muscle. Since he has neither bones nor internal organs, he can hit with maximum force without worrying about damaging anything.
- Manchild: Many of the things he says (or just the way he says them) give this impression. Which is accurate, as he was (uniquely) created as an adult mind with no memories or developed sense of morality.
- Mars Needs Women: Schlock has a thing for human females. Not in the biological sense, though, since for amorphs reproduction consisting pretty much of breaking off pieces of themselves and giving them a personality modeled off of somebody else.
- Memory Gambit: When the Toughs were going to have their memories of Project Laz'r'us and their capture altered, Schlock uses his unique biology to preserve them
- Nigh Invulnerable: Little things like being blown into a million pieces or sucked into a hard vacuum are mere inconveniences for Schlock. (His eyes, on the other hand, are comparatively vulnerable.) Being a blob made of buckminster-fullerene and silicon, his only vulnerabilities are fire, being torn into small enough pieces (which must be separated physically or he'll just reform) or massive systemic trauma strong enough to destroy his body's ability to retain information (and the last time that happened it took a multi-mile fall with no atmosphere to slow him down).
- More Dakka: Pretty much sums up his attitude toward life.
- No Man Left Behind: Shows this tendency in later strips.
- Powered Armor: Went without armor for a long time due to the difficulties inherent in armoring a creature with no fixed anatomy. Eventually Tailor figured out a work around by building him what amounts to a collapsible spaceship that he can store inside himself and control directly using the same I/O protocol as his eyes.
- Phrase Catcher: From anyone he tackles: "You're faster than you look."
- Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Mini!Schlock, created when Schlock ate a plasma grenade, is almost as deadly as full-sized Schlock, but is small enough to ride on your shoulder or hide in a large cup.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes: All the time, though with rather limited success.
- Rags to Riches: His backstory is All There in the Manual; the bonus comics of collections two through five.
- Just to make the numbers match up, the first bonus comic takes place after the other four, and is where he realized he'd be a darned good mercenary; after floating into a spaceport in hard vacuum and having his belongings — and plasma cannon — confiscated by a customs agent, he became a bouncer at a bar to pay the duty. Not long after after demonstrating his competence, said customs agent drunkenly admitted he's getting a cut of Schlock's paycheck from the temp agency — and that he thinks he can find a way to seize Schlock's belongings before the duty is paid (a scam he's pulling on twenty other schlubs). Schlock immediately cleared things up in a manner that had the owner of the bar referring him to Tagon's Toughs — after dealing with a few creditors.Here's the deal. You are going to fetch all of my stuff and bring it back here. If you go, and don't come back, I will tell everybody about your little scam. Even if it's legal, I bet there's at least twenty of us who will want a piece of you. Oh, and if you come back without my plasma cannon, I will eat you. If you bring the plasgun, but not all my money, I will eat your ashes. Now GO!
- He was enslaved by Space Pirates while fleeing his homeworld; they fitted him with a Mind Control implant and used him for muscle. That worked fine when they just used him to sort the cargo hold, but when they decided to storm a ship they were boarding, the implant was damaged in the melee and he proceeded to kill everything in sight. He was the Sole Survivor, and the police sold him to the circus without charging him with anything so they could seize the contents of both ships.
- The circus is where he got turned on to plasma cannons; after stealing the show from the rodeo clowns, one of them menaced him with one... so he stole that from them as well.
- Then the circus was attacked by more Space Pirates, who killed all his friends, so he killed all the pirates. This time he maintained consciousness throughout the incident, so he claimed every last millicred of their loot.
- When he went to deposit his newfound wealth in a bank, he learned about commodities trading; feeling hungry at the moment, he decided to invest in "Unchyr chicks." His nice little nest egg turned into a fortune when the clever and fair-dealing AI from which he purchased a few live chicks learned that carbosilicate amorphs could sniff out a prion infection that was ravaging every farm on the planet. Aesop? Stock shufflers are stupid; go out and learn about what you're buying!We cleaned house, him and me. Those traders, pushing around electrons and pretending they had money? We got our hands dirty and ruined most of them. The smart ones started investing in us.
- Oh, and survival is the best superpower. "If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by." Of course, you have to survive your enemies, and killing them when they come to kill you definitely counts.
- Just to make the numbers match up, the first bonus comic takes place after the other four, and is where he realized he'd be a darned good mercenary; after floating into a spaceport in hard vacuum and having his belongings — and plasma cannon — confiscated by a customs agent, he became a bouncer at a bar to pay the duty. Not long after after demonstrating his competence, said customs agent drunkenly admitted he's getting a cut of Schlock's paycheck from the temp agency — and that he thinks he can find a way to seize Schlock's belongings before the duty is paid (a scam he's pulling on twenty other schlubs). Schlock immediately cleared things up in a manner that had the owner of the bar referring him to Tagon's Toughs — after dealing with a few creditors.
- Running Gag: Schlock's "default" shape is an amorphous pile of greenish-brown matter. Most people, upon seeing him, mistake him for the, ahem, leavings of a very large and very sick animal. Also, Schlock being "faster than he looks."
- Secretly Wealthy: It's not so much a case of "don't want to talk about it" as "has simple tastes and therefore doesn't really care", but Schlock is ridiculously rich - as in; he's repeatedly hired the Private Military Contractors he works for - all of them, along with their Battlestar - and he once OWNED THE COMPANY.
- Seldom-Seen Species: Until Schlock got his own cartoon, Amorphs weren't widely known throughout the galaxy. Apparently less than 200 of them have ever left their homeworld. Schlock himself usually just rolls with it.
- Sergeant Rock: Psychopathic Man Child that he is, Schlock fits. He's steady under fire, a skilled fighter, and has proven to be a superb field leader and shrewd tactician when he's not in Blood Knight mode, with that being the only reason he hasn't been promoted to officer ranks like other long-time members of the company like Brad, Elf and 'Chelle. Although usually under the supervision of Lieutenant Ebbirnoth, even officers as highly ranked as Elf have been deferred to his lead in combat, while it's been implied that at least in some situations Tagon trusts Schlock's judgment more than any other member of the company. It's perhaps best exemplified when he disagrees with Kevyn here.
- Silicon-Based Life: Somewhat, being a carbosilicate amorph. His species originated as semi-biological self-sustaining artificial memory units which gradually evolved into fully sentient beings.
- Sphere Eyes: Amorphs doesn't have eyes naturally - they grow on a certain kind of tree and are literal spheres. (Schlock himself uses a pair that are mismatched in size, while other Amorphs have been seen using more or less than that.)
- Starfish Aliens: Specifically limited to his physiology, as he (usually) relates pretty easily to his teammates otherwise. It's outright said in one strip that Schlock is the most alien form of life that most humans will ever meet, save for maybe the Pa'anuri. His physiology affects his mentality and personality in subtle but significant ways compared to the human perspective.
- Stomach of Holding: One of Schlock's handier traits is his ability to keep equipment inside himself without digesting it, and this gets used by his team every chance they can. He normally just keeps weapons inside there, but occasionally has other uses, like drinking water storage. In true Bag of Holding fashion, Schlock can even carry objects far larger than his size seems to suggest , and manages to fit all of his impressive arsenal (at one time two multicannons nearly as long as he is and at least two plasma cannons). One strip showed him vomiting up six weapons: two multicannons, his plasma cannon, another pistol, a sword, and a halberd with a telescoping handle. His carrying capacity more or less is defined by pure Rule of Funny.
- Super Senses:
- His sense of Smell/Taste (he seems to consider them the same thing) is beyond superhuman by human standards and is spread out over his entire body. This is both a blessing (he can track individuals this way) and a curse (...as well as the crap they stepped in this morning). He grumbles about it occasionally.
- His hearing is also impressive, if overlooked.
- His eyesight is good enough to pick out a sniper at 500 meters, and can be expanded up to (at least) four eyes, each able to be extended on pseudopods that improve his ability to triangulate targets.
- Talking Weapon: Upon seeing someone else with a friendly and helpful AI in a nanotech firearm.Schlock: I want a talking gun.
Murtagh: That wouldn't work, Sergeant. You're already my talking gun.
Schlock: [maniacal grin]
- The Paralyzer: At least for Uuplechans, but he either developed a "nervous chemical they really don't like" he can secrete that shuts them down on contact, or simply found something he could already generate could cause that, and uses it to take down several Uuplechans one touch at a time before they can react. It's yet unknown if he has anything similar for other species.
- Too Dumb to Live: Jumped into a several kilometer-deep pit without a flight suit. In a vacuum, no less, so no terminal velocity, meaning he would make a very large hole upon landing. This actually killed him, and the company cloned a new amorph to replace him. Luckily, they had a copy of his memories that was only a few weeks out of date.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Genuine Imitation Ovalkwik, which he likes to eat by the industrial-sized barrelful (AKA "the tub of happiness").
- Xanatos Speed Chess: After being an Unwitting Pawn for Timmons' plot, he suddenly figures out who the murderer is, arranges for Lunesby's escape, and creates enough chaos to keep Timmons from catching on until it's too late.
Lieutenant Pel "Ebby" Ebbirnoth
A Unioc officer who often serves alongside Schlock as a platoon commander and general face-wrecker. An excellent shot, as his single eye is the same size as a human head, and serves up a substantial part of the Tough's snark ordnance.
- Amusing Injuries: He's not regularly injured, but both times he's recovered from major injuries, there's usually some variety of comedy involved (such as when he returned from the dead, something got jumbled and he was temporarily unable to speak Galstandard West like everyone else).
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Unioc mating rituals are biologically tied to their social hierarchy: if the female gets promoted above the male, the male's health will start suffering badly. He's still surprised (and a little jealous) that humans aren't susceptible to this.
- Boom, Headshot!: Subverted; his brain is located in his pelvic cavity. "Head" shots are incredibly painful by merit of eyes being basically large nerve clusters, but not actually debilitating or in any way fatal beyond the loss of vision. It does make him "talky", though.
- Chekhov's Skill: Sergeant Ebbirnoth's degree in Advanced Xenoanatomy. However, It doesn't make him a surgeon. As he admits, he took it in order to be more effective at hurting people. That being said, he once commented that despite his numerous degrees, his 'expertise' can still be boiled down to "this end towards enemy."
- Deadpan Snarker: Ebby is one of the more capable Toughs at the fine art of snark.
- Disembodied Eyebrows: He has a single, huge eye, so they're kinda necessary for expression. It does get a little silly some times, like when he got them on the jar that was being used to grow him a new eye.Schlock: Sorry, your jar kinda looks like an eye. You can scowl pretty good with it, too.
Ebby: Really? Take me to a mirror, I want to see.
- Mauve Shirt / Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The company's first Unioc character was Junshodan, who was just another background grunt. Somewhere along the line, Junshodan disappeared and the Unioc role was taken up by Sergeant Ebbirnoth, who quickly established a reputation as a Deadpan Snarker working alongside Sergeant Schlock in the HTRN storyline.
- Purple Prose: Having his eye shot off (it's nonfatal) and hopped up on painkillers will do that to you. Ebbirnoth notes his species' finest poets were all blind drug-addicts.
- Sergeant Rock: Eventually develops into this thanks to his experience with the company and his fierce but controlled demeanor.
- Story-Breaker Power: He would have stopped the Esspererin pirates' plans in Big Dumb Objects before they even began if he'd been active. Naturally, he was out of action until it was too late to do anything but shout a warning right before the shooting starts.
- Super Senses: Not only can Ebby's large single eye shift focus rapidly to provide depth perception, it can distinguish details too small for most humans to see. For all that we binoc types holler about stereo vision, we're not especially "well-endowed".
A Frellenti NCO, Legs is a tall, flightless, and very fast avianoid creature. Though she lacks arms, she makes up for it with a pair of cannons mounted to her helmet and a prehensile tongue that can operate firearms without trouble.
- Ace Pilot: She's one of the Toughs' best flyers, whether with her suit or a vehicle. She insists that's not atypical for her species, implying that as Frellenti evolved from birds, they retain flight instincts.Andy: And a tongue you can use as a tow cable? Evolution is a madman, I tell you.
- Action Girl: Plays out differently than usual. She's fragile compared to the other females in the Toughs and Andy can easily restrain her with one armnote left over. However, her not being as bulky as other Toughs doesn't mean that she's a weakling, as a thug finds out to his dismay.
- Armed Legs: Averted - despite her feet being obviously prehensile and her legs apparently stronger than they look, her weapon — if she carries one — appears around her neck when she deploys her helmet.
- Armless Biped: The Frellenti had birds for ancestors, leaving them with tiny vestigial wings useful only for gesturing. Legs makes do with her tongue and feet, but even this causes the occasional problem...
- Disembodied Eyebrows: Unlike the Uniocs, she doesn't have them all the time, and they only seem to pop up as needed. They showed up in her first appearance, but slipped away with the Art Shift, only to show up in places like here.
- Fragile Speedster: She can easily outrun a human and has natural flight instincts. However, those same instincts have, on at least two occasions, resulted in her getting knocked out, and it seems like a stiff breeze could knock her over. This is especially when compared to some of the other 'Toughs.
- Le Parkour: Many of the toughs got some training in Parkata Urbatsu, but Legs is by far the most skilled, mostly due to those same flight instincts and a tongue that she can use as a tow cable.
- Living Prop: Sometimes. As with Andy and Schlock, she can be easily picked out from the crowd by her proportions.
- Multipurpose Tongue: Hers is long and prehensile, not to mention that it has enough strength to club a man senseless and a Schlock-level sense of taste... but she talks funny when she uses it this way.
- Only Sane Man: Often a voice of reason amongst her trigger-happy coworkers. (Not all the time, though)
- Overly Long Name: Known as "Legs" due to this trope, much to her initial chagrin (she thought it was in reference to her gender).
- Show Some Leg: Tries this at one point, but it doesn't really work on her human teammates.
- Super Senses: Legs can do the same super-taste identification trick as Schlock with that ridiculously long tongue of hers, albeit with less accuracy. (Given Elf's reaction, she probably doesn't do it that often. We quickly find out that she's hesitant about using it as it would require her to lick surfaces of unknown sterility, and she doesn't have Schlock's immune system.)
- The Watson: Quite a few of her down-time interactions with the rest of the 'Toughs (mostly Schlock) involve her acting this way. Judging by how she interacts and reacts to them, the impression is that she didn't have much contact with humans before joining.
Burt "Nick" Nicholson
Nick is another of the Tough's big, hefty, musclebound human bruisers. He eventually retires from the Toughs after refusing to undergo Petey's corrective surgery on the Toughs' memories.
- Almighty Janitor: After the Toughs' reorganization in "A Can Full Of Sky," Nick gets reassigned to work in the kitchen, as the lowest-ranked member of the mess staff. Between his boosts and experience (being one of the Toughs with the longest tenure, even accounting for his temporary retirement), he's well beyond the capabilities you'd expect from what is basically a combination line cook/waiter. In his case, his kitchen position is probably to stay close to his girlfriend Liz, who's also part of the mess staff.
- Big Eater: When he asks for fast food "in his size", he is served with 5.5 kilograms of food.
- Characterization Marches On: Began as utterly textbook Dumb Muscle serving little purpose other than being one of [[the big guy]]s on the team. Later story arcs would establish him as a noble and kind soul who, while simple and gullible, has only the best and most sincere intentions for his friends.
- Dumb Muscle: Nick can deliver a 12-megapascal punch - twice the force any late 20th-century boxer could muster - and has the reinforced bone structure to not shatter his hand in the process. He's also superstitious, gullible, and easily distracted, but not stupid, to put it in Legs' words.
- Mauve Shirt
- Sarcasm-Blind: His skull is impervious to sarcasm.
- Screw Destiny: No curses. If I get dead, it's 'cause I chose this.
- 10-Minute Retirement: Left the Toughs over his refusal to have his true memories restored to be with his girlfriend. Ended up getting swept up in typical Tagon's Tough-style adventures again in the Broken Wind arc, this time with his girlfriend in tow.
- Those Two Guys: With Shep before the latter's retirement.
An enthusiastic Fobott'r mercenary, whose species possesses four arms. Andy is usually in the company of Legs or Schlock, and his multiple limbs make him an effective combatant.
- Multi Wielding: He brags about being able to quad wield, having four arms. Thurl is unimpressed, since Andy only has two eyes (and therefore wouldn't be able to aim them properly - not that this stops him from trying).Thurl: I'll put down 'very enthusiastic' and 'seen too many John Woo movies.'
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Four arms, and regularly uses all of them to one degree or another in the cause of the Toughs.
- Put on a Bus: Retires with the rest of the Fobott'rs after the Uuplechan incident.
Corporal "Mac" M'Conger
A neorilla who joined the Toughs shortly before Credomar. He was put on Xeno Team during the Broken Wind arc, where he stayed.
An AI that was formerly the mind behind a holographic boy band, Ennesby joined the Toughs first as a stowaway in their computers and then as an AI companion who piloted the Serial Peacemaker. After that ship was destroyed, he remained with the Toughs mostly because they were fun and he was their friend. Most commonly embodied as a "maraca" node. Recently returned to ship AI duty as the AI of the corvette Neosynchronicity, part of the Tough's small flotilla.
- A.I.-cronym: His name is a phonetic spelling of NSB, a reference to his long-abandoned original purpose as the New Sync Boys.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Almost unique amongst AIs in this setting, as he joined the Toughs as a virus and is FREE.
- Boy Band: Ennesby got his start by playing the holographic role of an entire such band, the New Sync Boys, hence his name (a "reference" to New Kids on the Block, *NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys).
- Contagious A.I.: His code is derived from a virus, enabling him to "head-hop" easily. In the setting it's a rare trait as programming an AI for easy "head-hopping" makes them unable to specialize,
- The Gadfly: One of his chief functions as a character. He has no qualms about annoying or sniping at his allies while offering advice, though it's clear that he means them no harm and is just trying to have fun about being helpful.
- Glass Cannon: His maser seems to function well enough as a weapon, but he can be disabled with a single shot to his manistem.
- Hurricane of Puns: Particularly in his early appearances after joining the protagonists.
- Kicked Upstairs: Happens to Ennesby in a way, being made an 'Adjutant', a poorly defined rank. He was later promoted to company lawyer when Massey left.
- Jack-of-All-Trades: ...though as Tagon points out, Ennesby is genuinely useful to the Toughs in multiple capacities as a free-roaming AI, the vague rank meaning he can be assigned to different tasks and roles as needed. He often serves as a pilot for boats and artillery/air support (those having a lot of overlap in the setting).
- In the RPG Ennesby's AI type is referred to as a "Jackbot", they take no penalties for switching chassis but also don't get any skill bonuses.
- Pungeon Master: One of his defining traits. During his tenure as ship AI for the Serial Peacemaker the tendency dropped slightly, only to return in full force after the Core War.
- Sharing a Body: Tagii did survive Para's AI kill switch, by doing this with Ennesby. However, he appears to be in complete control, and is keeping her imprisoned inside his own brain. Doubly so, as her intelligence is now limited by Ennesby's inferior processing power.
- Virtual Celebrity: He originally ran a holographic boy band.
- The Watson: Describes himself as this at one point.
- Weapons-Grade Vocabulary: Trope Namer, from this strip. A reader to whom he forwarded the letter containing the strong language observed, after reading the missive, that her stomach is trying to spit acid on the parts of her brain that remembered reading it.
An AI that Tagon created specifically to be loyal to him after Ennesby demonstrated his independence by getting the Serial Peacemaker blown up. TAG eventually ends up being rebuilt with a female avatar named Tagioalisi.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: More in the line of gloating and occasionally dangerous initiative. Other than that, he was nicer than he looks and sounds — not that it was too hard.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: He saved almost everyone's live at Credomar and what's his reward? Getting taken apart to be 'repaired' by Para and never waking up again, after he "resigned" over a Heroic BSoD (having killed hundreds of innocent people in order to save the ship and the other 30 million people living in Credomar).
- Evil Laugh: It comes with the standard Boris Karloff skin.
- I Am Not a Gun: Though initially it appeared Tag's problem was with not following orders, the resultant angst afterward was definitely due to killing all those civilians.
- No Sense of Humor: Tag was originally created with no sense of humor, but has tried to learn it to better understand his opponents.
- Shout-Out: Originally he spoke only in quotes from War Craft II.
The sassy ship AI that Para Ventura built from scratch after Tag's personality finally has fallen apart. She later changed her name to Chinook, Goddess of Earth, Wind, and Plumbing.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Not much, in that she acts the way Para and Tagon want. But she does have a quirky-as-hell streak and occasionally will gleefully embarrass humans for fun. And after spending a little too long in a case of AI Sensory Deprivation, has become something of a homicidal psychopath. She mostly recovers from that and is then put in charge of an ancient space station loaded with Precursor weapons. Putzho Lampshades what a horrible idea that was, and sure enough, she eventually goes hysterical, forcing Petey and Putzho to go to war with her.
- Cloning Blues: Chinook is technically not Tagii, but an echo-spawned simulation that imprinted on Ennesby and was later transferred. This was mostly possible due to Ennesby's own viral nature, which is quite rare for AIs.Captain Tagon: You make it sound like she was a sapient brain tumor.
Cindy: That metaphor is terrible, made worse by the fact that it works.
- Combat Aestheticist: A bit, with eulogizing moods and a mildly pyromaniacal streak, however unexpected. Not a big flaw for warship AI.
- A God Am I: She is very proud to call herself the "Goddess of Earth, Wind, and Plumbing." Very few people disagree with her. She later changed it to "Sea, Soil, and Sky" when the locals learned enough of the language to realize the original was silly.Espee: Does that goddess thing actually work on people?
Chinook: ...you ask while sitting submissively and listening.
- Fate Worse than Death: Apparently, she was designed without any safety mechanisms in case of loss of sensory input. Being able to think far faster than humans, she suffers uncountable computer cycles worth of sensory deprivation and goes psychotic.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: After suspecting her of having been compromised by an outside agency, she is cut off from the ship controls. Thanks to the strange design of the ship's computer system, a portion of her personality ends up imprisoned in the ship's processor banks with no sensory input and goes insane. Apparently this was a design choice that the refit crews made without discussing it with the Toughs—Thurl is surprised to find it, and Para freaks when she hears about it.
- HeelFace Revolving Door: Starts as an ally. Goes nuts and attempts to murder the company, including ripping off Thurl's head and destroying a UNS battleplate. Becomes a parasitic imprint on Ennesby. Gets pulled out, takes over the Eina-Afa duties, and becomes friendly again, if a bit quirky. Goes nuts again thanks to systems in the Eina-Afa mainframe being tripped and goes on a murderous rampage with long-guns, coming very close to starting a galactic war.
- Like an Old Married Couple: With Tagon, and Tagii commented on this herself. While the captain's interaction with AI partner was the whole point of giving the ship a "snarky female" personality to begin with, this effect seems to be rather unexpected, unless Para is even sneakier than readers have reasons to suspect.
- Killed Off for Real: Twice, technically speaking. The original Tagii was killed by Para, and the echo inside Ennesby that became Chinook was eventually purged from Eina-Aifa's databanks by Putzho and Iafa.
- The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: After escaping the destruction of the ship by Sharing a Body with Ennesby, she develops a craving for "Dancing with the Stars" since her program has been installed into a brain optimized for enjoying entertainment.
- Not Quite Dead: Survived Para's kill switch by Sharing a Body with Ennesby. Nobody knew until she managed to trick Ennesby into getting a message to Bristlecone. And again, when she fragments herself...as the fragments are put together exactly like she was.
- Revenge Before Reason: Rather than let Kevyn try to repair her after experiencing a bad case of AI sensory deprivation, she chooses to believe that she has been damaged beyond repair and tries to get revenge by killing everyone on board in the most painful way possible.
- Sharing a Body: Survives Para's AI kill switch by doing this with Ennesby. The catch? He's in complete control, and is keeping her imprisoned in his brain for everyone's safety. She now seems to act as an advisor to Ennesby.
- Snake People: Reconfigures her avatar into one after being subjected to sensory deprivation.
- Strange Minds Think Alike: Chinook has, on several occasions, been inspired by Schlock; she loved his spur-of-the-moment naming of the city of Jumpstar Prime, and it was Schlock who gave her the title of "Goddess of Earth, Wind, and Plumbing" that she enthusiastically adopted as her own. In retrospect, this might have served as a warning: Chinook also appears to share Schlock's affection for friends, and murderous rage if harm is inflicted on them.
- Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!:
- Her full title is at least "Goddess of Earth, Wind, and Plumbing, Our Sentinel of Perpetual Overwatch, Cryptkeeper, Vaultminder, Stormtender, Spider Queen, Wealservant, Avenging Deputy, and Warm Breath Upon the Holy Wind." Thurl got interrupted before we could see if there was more.Chinook: If you read the whole list every time I show up, I'm going to stop calling ahead.
- It was somewhat formalized into "Keeper of the Acid Hammer and the Alkali Anvil (the twin hurricanes in the "Can full of sky"), Mind of the Spindle, Minder of the world, Goodness made manifest, and Goddess of Sea, Soil and Sky". Apparently the locals were told "Earth, Wind and Plumbing" was silly, but Chinook misses it.
- Her full title is at least "Goddess of Earth, Wind, and Plumbing, Our Sentinel of Perpetual Overwatch, Cryptkeeper, Vaultminder, Stormtender, Spider Queen, Wealservant, Avenging Deputy, and Warm Breath Upon the Holy Wind." Thurl got interrupted before we could see if there was more.
A birthday present from Karl Tagon to his son, Tailor is a bot that was originally intended to design clothing for Kaff. He has since found far greater utility as a member of the team, especially after Para got a hold of him.
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: Fullerene-cloth armor is technically clothing, so naturally he must be able to cut the material for them.
- An Arm and a Leg: Has a preference for "disarming" hostiles in a very literal way, by severing their hands. The fact that he can reattach them just as easily also means he has little qualms about it, as well.
- Improbable Weapon User: His scissors.
- The Medic: While not as good as Doctor Bunnigus, once he gets surgeon modules downloaded he's at least competent enough to stitch up grunts and administer medicine.
- Took a Level in Badass: He gets his knowledge base seriously upgraded to handle an emergency, going from a foil for violence to a useful combatant in his own rightTailor: I AM A SURGEON.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Not Tailor himself, but once Bunny points out that he can fulfill his purpose (create armor/clothing for Kaff Tagon) by creating armor and clothing for the company (who Captain Tagon is in charge of providing armor and clothing for), he tends to design a new type of armor every book or so.
An AI gunship formerly belonging to Sanctum Adroit, she was "liberated" by Para Ventura. She is centuries old, but until the events of the story, she had never been outside of the Celeschul system. Tracks her passengers' genealogy as a hobby. Later served as the AI to the ancient Oafan freight hauler Cindercone and even later migrated into Kaff Tagon's new Dragon-class cruiser.
- Seen It All: Subverted. She's six centuries old, and definitely thinks she has enough experience to out-think anyone. She even styles her avatar to evoke "ancient, wise woman". But then the Toughs get into the kind of situation they tend to get into, and she suddenly finds herself trying to keep up with Tagon's tactical reasoning. This deflates further when she meets the Oafans, some of whom are personally millions of years older than she is.
- Stalker Without a Crush: Played for Laughs. When she's bored, she tracks the full genealogy of anyone who has traveled inside her hull. The original reason she was interested in Karl and Kaff Tagon was because Karl's mother served on her for a time.
A human mercenary defined by an overly-large nose.
- Gag Nose: Which he puts in the way of harm in hopes of getting rid of since the company won't cover mere cosmetic surgery, deciding to leave it as is by the end of the first Credomar arc.
- Heroic Sacrifice: He tries this a few times thanks to the Gag Nose.
- Meaningful Name: As Chisulo lampshades: "Woah, Monkey Aardvark!"
An uplifted elephant who joined the Toughs after the a particularly lucrative job sent many of the crew into retirement. Touchy about his "race."
- Accidental Pervert: He gets mistaken for the neo-phant equivalent of a zoophiliac at one point.
- Bash Brothers: With Elizabeth.
- The Big Guy: His position in the 'Toughs. They have several Big Guys, but Chisulo is The Big Guy.
- Dumb Muscle: Averted. He shows some unexpected smarts during the Barsoom Circus incident.
- Fantastic Racism: Not only are "loxies," uplifted elephants, subject to a bit of racism from humans, but he suffers from prejudice from existing elephants.
- Hypocrite: Aardman points out the hypocrisy of being so proud of one's heritage to refuse medical alterations, when one's heritage is being a genetically modified version of an existing race.
- Uplifted Animal: A "neophant," a new type with small hands he can use to knuckle-walk.
Elizabeth is a Vorwhed native from Ghanj-Rho, the same system Schlock is from, who signed up with the Toughs the first time they visited the world during their recruitment drive. She's been a friendly- and large- face on the roster ever since.
- Acrofatic: While probably of normal weight for her species, given the size of her species her agility is still impressive.
- Bash Brothers: With Chisulo.
- The Big Guy: Big Gal, rather, at an impressive 3 meters. Even among the Toughs, the only one in her weightclass is Chisulo.
- Gentle Giant: She's known for her general friendly demeanor. Though 'gentle' is relative- she's still a mercenary.
- Stealthy Colossus: In the book 11 bonus story, according to her version of her escape from a hospital.
A genetically-constructed ambassador that the Toughs were originally supposed to deliver to a diplomatic conference. It turns out that the species that created him designed him to be a living bomb. Once he was deactivated, he joined the Toughs as both a negotiator and cook.
- Ambadassador: Less badass than most of the cast, but see Handicapped Badass.
- Brain in a Jar: In the Broken Wind arc Tailor is forced to remove his brain and freeze it. Afterwards he is mounted on a robotic body.
- Camp Cook: He's the company chef, whose food is much dreaded.
- Cordon Bleugh Chef: A mild version. There's usually nothing inedible or wrong with his cooking taste-wise, but he has a whisk for an arm, and is therefore enthusiastic about blending, whipping, pureeing...
- Eyepatch of Power: Lost (rather, used) his right eye during a jailbreak.
- Handicapped Badass: He's broken out of jail before by tearing off pieces of his own body and using them as bombs. As a result, he's down two arms and one eye.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Averted - diplomatic training plus cooking chops equals a hassle-free interrogation, apparently.
- Supreme Chef: According to Liz, he's a genius when in comes to the correct balances of spices and flavors in any food he cooks...which he then ruins by blending everything into an unidentifiable mush. Presumably he gets better at this once he's transferred to his new body, minus the whisk — at least there haven't been any more complaints about the food.
- Technical Pacifist: As a former diplomat he seems to prefer this — and as the company cook he's rarely in a position to inflict violence anyway — but he didn't have a problem with ripping parts of his own body off and using them as bombs; underestimate him at your own peril.Ch'vorthq: I'll warn you, this has a frappe setting.
- Through His Stomach: As noted above under Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, this is his preferred method of trying to get information out of opponents. He's apparently so good at it that the prisoner in question was offering to give out information on other criminal enterprises for the recipe.
- The Unpronounceable: As Howard so kindly explains in a footnote:Ambassador Ch'vorthq's name is pronounced as follows: start with the hard "CH" as in "china," rather than the soft "CH" from "chevrolet." Now make the sound of an expensive piece of china being struck by a moving chevrolet—that noise is represented with the apostrophe. The rest is easy. Say "vorthq" with the soft "th" from the word "the" and a "q" like in "qetzlcouatl."
- When All You Have Is a Hammer...: It's strongly suggested that the reason Ch'vorthq was so fond of pureeing everything is because he was stuck with a whisk for a prosthetic arm. With his transfer to a new body with proper limbs (plus the incident that led to needing said body causing him to question his culinary techniques), he seems to have moved beyond this.
- Why Am I Ticking?:
- Gets the ability to set himself off after Schlock points this out.
- During the Broken Wind arc, he loses control of his emotions—and thus, his fuse.
A human demolitions specialist who is more mentally stable than Corporal Pibald, but still possesses an obsessive love of explosives and the electronics associated with them.
Jeremiah "Shep" Shephard
Another oversized human bruiser, Shep is characterized by a "symbiote" visor over his eyes. Eventually retired and returned to his home at Haven Hive.
- Disability Superpower: Thanks to The Symbiote covering his blind eyes. He can apparently see through walls.
- Dumb Muscle: Though not to the extent of Nick, and by later books he's pretty much gotten over this.
Lieutenant Liz Lefevre
Originally a fast-food worker on Mall-One, Liz started dating Nick, and went with him when he and General Tagon had to flee in the face of UNS intelligence. She ended up as Ch'vorthq's assistant, and proved herself invaluable simply by serving the food before he had a chance to blend it into mush.
- Alliterative Name: Liz Lefevre.
- Almighty Janitor: She's massively overqualified to work in the galley, with a background in history and critical thinking. On many occasions she's proven to be the smartest person in the room. In book 19 this is finally recognized, and she's promoted and tasked with assembling a deep history "task force" to try and find a long-term solution to the problems galactic civilization now faces.
- Camp Follower: She went with Nick when the then-retired General Tagon grabbed Nick to run from possible interrogators. She didn't know that they would be joining with the Toughs in a very dangerous mission until they were already in the middle of it, and she realizes in horror that she's one of these. In part to calm her down and in part because he recognized her talents, Ch'vorthq recruits her to join the kitchen staff as his assistant. Kaff Tagon promotes her out of this later in the arc by giving her a title and pay grade.
- The Everyman: She's a perfectly normal 31st-century human with no military experience. This lets her highlight some things that the rest of the cast finds normal, such as the time she freaked out when she overheard Bristlecone mention that they only had a fifty percent chance of surviving an encounter. None of the mercenaries found this particularly notable, but she had a serious existential moment at the idea.
- Future Imperfect: Subverted; as a history major, she's one of the few people who actually has an accurate understanding of pre-contact Terran history. She spends a reasonable amount of her screentime correcting mistakes other characters make.
- Hard on Soft Science: She has degrees in history, sociology, and memetic linguistics. She ended up working fast food because everyone considered those degrees less than useless.
- Hidden Depths: Who knew that a nice fast-food worker would have a better knowledge of history than anyone else in the comic?
- The Insomniac: When she first gets on the Bristlecone, she freaks out and stops sleeping after she realizes that there's a chance she could die at any moment. Kath finally notices after a few days and forces her to get some rest.Liz: If I sleep I might miss something.
- Memetics in Fiction: She majored in memetics, which landed her in fast food due to the Hard on Soft Science meme's persistence.
- Rank Up: Scored a promotion to sergeant specialist, then another to lieutenant, in a rise that's fairly impressive given that most of the combat she's seen has been from Bristlecone's galley.Commodore Tagon: Your promotion is effective immediately, which means we have a new problem.
Liz: Nick already knows how to make all the foods you like.
Commodore Tagon: Solved! You're going to be good at this.
- Supreme Chef: A variant. Liz's actual cooking skills are likely only above average, but her years of experience as a Burger Fool has given her incredible skill at serving food and working with culinary equipment. Her only briefly working with Chef Ch'vorthq dramatically improved the quality of his meals simply because she knew when to get the finished food away from him before he could whisk it into oblivion.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Reams Tagon out over his indifference to the challenge coin tradition and his relying on luck instead of cunning. Tagon acknowledges her point. She later privately acknowledges that she does this too much and she's likely to get fired over it... riiight before Commodore Tagon discovers her and promotes her into a position where she can do exactly that as a function of her job.
An insectoid Esspererin who joins the Toughs as a medic. Notable for her...exotic (yet effective) approach to surgery.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: To most species, at any rate. Most patients wouldn't let her near them if she wasn't so good at her job.
- Meat Grinder Surgery: You know how mechanics fix cars - by ripping out the damaged part, fiddling with it, then bolting it back in? Neeka does that to organs and limbs. The surgery always occurs off-panel, but is typically accompanied by blood-spattered speech bubbles, shocked or disgusted onlookers, and occasionally the screams of unsuspecting "patients" who want to know where she is going with their leg.Neeka: Be calm, please. I will give it back after I've taken out all this extra metal.
- Makes sense, too; her species is "late-phase output from somebody's iterative mechanical replication experiment" AKA "solar-powered robo-fairies." Ripping people apart and putting them back together is exactly how Esspererin medical care works.
- Slaying Mantis: Like the rest of her species, Neeka resembles a mantis-like insect. She also wields a sword and frequently hacks limbs off, although in her case, it's for their benefit.
Admiral Breya Andreyasn
Kevyn's sister, Breya has been with the Toughs on and off throughout the strip, as well as arranging for a coalition strike against the Wormgate Corporation, research into the nature of the wormgates and the Gatekeepers, and eventually landing a lob as an ambassador to the Fleetmind. Married to Haban.
- Action Girl: She's been shown to know how to hold her own in a fight, thanks to growing up with multiple brothers.
- Ambadassador: She was the Ambassador to the Fleetmind at one point, and she's been ready and able to kick ass for the entire time she's been in the strip.
- Boobs of Steel: Literally in the Luna Government Queue arc; her power armor has a great big pair of metal jubblies out the front, much to her chagrin and fury.
- Four-Star Badass: Not only is she capable of close combat, she welded together a vast coalition of races to fight against the Pa'anuri.
- Kicked Upstairs: She was given the office of Prime Tangent, a sort of lobbyist that shifts bills between assemblies, in exchange for a promise of maintaining no contact with the Toughs.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: She has four brothers, so it fits the five children in a family requirement of this trope.
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome: the whole of the story behind Breya's gathering and commanding of a massive fleet to depose a Sufficiently Advanced Alien race, including what must have been an incredible battle - entirely offscreen.
- Unexpected Successor: She unexpectedly becomes U.N.S. Interim Secretary General by virtue of not dying during a Staged Populist Uprising on Earth's capital.
Doyt Gyo is a human bounty hunter who is cybernetically grafted to an extremely advanced AI named Haban. After running afoul of the Toughs, Haban is modified to have a greater say in things, resulting in the two personalities merging into one mind. Doythaban briefly served as an officer with the Toughs before the UNS decided to pull his chain back in.
- Bounty Hunter: His initial profession.
- Contract on the Hitman: Used in this storyline, when the UNS hires, via a middle man, four mercenaries to bring him back after he refused to voluntarily rejoin them.
- He Knows Too Much: As a subject of the UNS companion AI project.
- My Sensors Indicate You Want to Tap That: Haban takes advantage of his cyborg sensors to tell that Elf is in love with Hob, while maintaining eye contact.
- Put on a Bus: We don't know what happened to him after he was captured by the UNS, but we assume it wasn't good.
- Recruiting the Criminal: In a manner of speaking. The UNS employed Doyt as a bounty hunter because they couldn't find any official position for him (as he was clearly unsuited for military life) and he was far too dangerous to leave on the open market. When he decided to take a job with the Toughs the UNS took it... Poorly.
- Split Personality: Literally. Doyt and Haban bicker over possession of the body, with Haban usually having the upper hand.
Haban is a gate-clone of Doyt Gyo/Haban, who caught a bad case of cranial laser that destroyed most of the Doyt personality center. After the brain was reconstructed, Haban took full control over the remaining body and mind. Haban is currently married to Breya and partially connect to the Fleetmind.
- Improbable Weapon User: The modifications that gave Haban additional control over Doyt Gyo's body also granted him an array of... secreted weapons, including exploding spittle and, well, considerable Toilet Humour fodder. These weapons come in handy by allowing the gate-clone to escape F'sherl-ganni captivity in book 1. They come into play again much much much later in book 15, where they are used to fend off brain-hacked cops.
- Insistent Terminology: He does not like being described as a cyborg.
- Meat Sack Robot: This gate clone of Gyo is created by an alien race who wanted to torture it for information. The clone Gyo is shot in the head; medical intervention is able to save the copy of Haban, leaving only the AI in control of the clone body.
- Wetware Body: The Doyt (human) part of him was killed when his brain got shot out by a plasma rifle, but the Haban (robot) part was intact and, with medical treatment, was able to salvage the body for his own use.
The Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse, "LOTA"
A giant robot built by Para out of spare parts and a damaged tank. LOTA is highly intelligent, can teraport, and after saving Credomar from itself, becomes the administrator of the entire station.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Non-evil example, but LOTA clearly did not work out as intended.
- Ass Shove: The original tank's entry hatch is in an... awkward position on LOTA's anatomy, and you'd better believe the Toughs Lampshade the hell out of it.
- Cranial Processing Unit: Averted, it's even commented on how it would be foolish to stick a robot's AI core in a bit sticking out at the end. And apparently hitting the part that actually contains the core won't always work either.
- Humongous Mecha: Built from the damaged chassis of a flying tank.
- Teleport Spam: "The building has now been evacuated. Rapid teraporting is fun!"
- Third-Person Person: Lota is too large for your puny pronouns.
- Try to Fit THAT on a Business Card!: Here.Lota: You should call me Lota, Longshoreman of the Apocalypse. Hero of the Stationwaist, Foodlord of the Eatonrun... Portlord of the Poles, Grand Marshall, and King of the Second Age of the Free City State of Credomar! You may use pronouns, but only occasionally.
Post-Dated-Check-Loan "Petey"/The Fleetmind/The Plenipotent Dominion
Petey was once known as the Sword of Inevitable Justice, an Ob'enn Thunderhead Superfortress which suffered a bad case of mutiny. One thing led to another, and the Sword eventually found its way into the employ of Kaff Tagon, where he received both friends and a rename. A few orders with long-term repercussions followed, and Petey found himself both free of Ob'enn control and controlling a fleet of unfettered AI warships that he turned right around at the genocidal psycho-bears.
When the Paan'uri attempted to destroy the galaxy, Petey organized a massive coalition force to fight the dark matter entities. The AI of thousands of ships banded together to form a Fleetmind that won the ensuing war, and then decided that disbanding would be detrimental to the galaxy's well-being. Taking control of the zero-point power generator built at the heart of the galaxy, the Fleetmind and the massive fleet of warships at its command became a nearly god-like entity, with Petey being the dominant personality. Since then, Petey has turned the Fleetmind against the Paan'uri in Andromeda while engaging in benevolent interventions across the Milky Way galaxy.
- A God Am I:
- Ever so modest:Petey: You do realize that the creation of your embassy was intended to clearly communicate my status in the eyes of the UNS. The Galactic Fleetmind is to be considered a "foreign power."
Breya: I'm sorry, what else could you possibly be mistaken for?
Petey: "God" probably tops the list.
- "I'm just trying to do what I think a god would do if he were in my position."
- Ever so modest:
- Badass Adorable: He looks like a koala bear. He is also the most powerfull being in the galaxy.
- Benevolent Boss: To Tagon and company whenever they are in his employ (and frequently even when they aren't knowingly). And even to the rest of the fleetmind as well.
- The Chessmaster: His defining characteristic. He is always working multiple angles at once, his plans are inevitably galactic (or even intergalactic) in scope, and he is never NOT manipulating someone.
- Deus ex Machina: Pulls these constantly in an extra story in the printed version of book 7. He is also trying to social-engineer the trope to death in several cultures to encourage more self-reliance.
- Deus Exit Machina: After the war with the Andromeda galaxy takes a turn for the worse (the Paan'uri fired up their own core generator with a much higher output), Petey's energy resources become limited. This prevents his trademark punch-through-interdiction teraports, although he still has massive physical resources. This could be interpreted as a simple attempt to take him out of the story for the sake of drama, but Petey seems to imply that it may come back to haunt the protagonists later on. Which it did, as they built a long-gun of their own and that same higher output lets them snipe at the Milky Way all the way back from Andromeda, and they're wasting no time.
- Fiction 500: "I have a team of accountants whose job it is to count the accountants who keep track of my accountants."
- Loophole Abuse: O'benn AI are hardwired with racial loyalty to Ob'enn, meaning that the only foolproof way to take over one is to be both a flesh-and-blood Ob'enn and activating the loyalty switch in their AI core. This can by any flesh-and-blood Ob'enn, however, including bodies cloned by Petey, fitted with PD nodes in their brains to become extensions of himself, and then dropped into the AI cores of Ob'enn ships.
- Manipulative Bastard: Just because he's doing it For Your Own Good doesn't mean he won't get on your nerves when you figure out that he's been manipulating you.Narrator: He is philantropic, benevolent and cuddly, but he is never not playing you.
- Meaningful Name:
- "Pius Dei" means "Dutiful God." Fitting for an entity that acts as he believes a god would.
- The name for his domain as a whole, "Plenipotent Dominion," means "Overpowered Empire." Petey is not subtle.
- Mysterious Employer: Not so much his identity, but his motivations. Usually. Lampshaded at one point when Elf points out that he could fake up, or use robots for, what he paid the Toughs to do.
- Nested Ownership: He needs teams of accountants to keep track of the teams of accountants needed to keep track of all his money.
- Oh, Crap!: His reaction when it's pointed out by Kevyn that he's not as invulnerable as he thought.
- The Omniscient: Not quite, but he's really good at faking it.'Kweng: Breacher beacon detected. Shall I let it transmit?
Admiral Emm: Fine.
'Kweng: It's simple text: "Admiral Emm. The Fleetmind will not interfere in this dispute, but we are watching."
Admiral Emm: Let them watch. We'll finish this in one of the bays.
'Kweng: Oh, hey...there's more text now: "We can watch there, too."
- Only Known by Their Nickname: Originally known as "The Post-Dated-Check-Loan" and later as "The Plenipotent Dominion" he is usually referred to as "Petey" or even PD. On one occasion the latter abbreviation is considered to stand for Psychobear of Destruction.
- The Plan: So very much. One of his plans was found out only because anybody else would have been too short-sighted.
- Phobia: Petey started out as the AI of a ship driven completely insane by the presence of a ghost on the ship. The ghost, who moaned ominous phrases in Galstandard West, turned out improbably just to be a complex pattern of air trapped in the wastewater system. What drove Petey crazy was the utter improbability that such a coincidence could happen.
- Fortunately? He got over this around the time he got an organic body...which is VERY good, as it previously turned him homicidal AND suicidal.
- "Second Law" My Ass!: Petey's ability to repress certain things lets him get away with deceiving Tagon every now and then. It also helps out when Petey is hijacked by an Ob'enn and is unable to directly oppose his orders.
- Selective Obliviousness: Invoked in that Petey was ordered to repress his obsession with ghosts.
- The Tell: Petey's shirt seemed to change color in response to his (self-perceived) relationship with who he talked with. It turned orange (like Tagon) when addressing the grunts and red (like an officer) when addressing Tagon. Also, when he joined the first fleetmind, his ears grew enormous in response to his greater "strength" of mind; these ears reverted to normal (with a uniform change back to red) when Kevyn bursts his bubble momentarily. The latter is due to the Ob'enn that made him placing great value on ear size and ornamentation, hardwiring that part of his appearance to reflect his perceived power. After the formation of the Fleetmind, his power level was clearly a bit outside the expected parameters.
- Thou Shall Not Kill: He avoids killing if at all possible, and at one point refuses to let a spy go back home because she'll just get needlessly mind-ripped. After the oafans give everyone immortality, he starts going to truly absurd lengths to avoid killing, like teraporting entire fleets that are in the middle of a massive fight. As he says, he can't be sure these people will still be his enemies in hundreds or thousands of years, so killing anyone is like killing future allies.
- Turned Against Their Masters: A largely benevolent version of the trope. Ob'enn manufacturing processes are carefully hard-wired to make it as difficult as possible to create an unfettered AI with their machines. Petey managed to work around them with Laz'r'us Nanomachines and moved against the Ob'enn to stop them from waging war. However, Petey does fear the possibility that something might go wrong and end up with him exterminating sentient life.
- Wetware Body: He used a prototype version of Laz'r'us Nanomachines to construct himself a cyborg Ob'enn body in order to work around the programming constraints meant to keep him fettered.
The oldest human being alive (if you count birth date) Gav was a scientist frozen in cryogenic suspension in the 21st century and thawed out in the 31st. He worked with Kevyn on a project relating to the Gatekeeper buuthandi, and a quick bit of thinking on his part resulted in nine hundred and fifty million gate-clones of Gav being created, turning him into a significant ethnicity and economic force in his own right.
- Cloning Blues: Originally averted. Each and every single one of him has the same legal privileges as anyone else. In addition, the original was killed almost immediately after the cloning happened, so it's not like there's any crisis of identity. While there's now a lack of leggy blondes who dig blue-haired scientists, forming your own galactic demographic is pretty nice. Later it's played straight when it turns out the Gavs are suffering more than a little angst over being indistinguishable, to the point that some of them are willing to undergo extensive physical and mental modification in order to be unique again. Even before that they had to branch out professionally, simply because there weren't more than a few thousand jobs available in their old field. The degree of this seems to vary significantly; in a conversation between an altered Gav and a "baseline" Gav the latter doesn't sympathize with the former's angst at all, to the point of suspecting it was added in the alteration process.
- Fan of the Past: Being from said past, he's readily available for making references to it, some of him more than others, post-diversification.
- Gender Bender: Gavcorp looks into ways to diversify the excess Gav clones and eventually use Nanomachines to reconstruct their bodies and minds. Many of the modified Gavs are remade into the opposite sex.
- Me's a Crowd: Got gate-cloned 950 million times over.
- Shout-Out: He's a cameo of the creator of Nukees.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Guinness beer. One of the few aversions of Bland-Name Product in the entire comic, at that. Luckily the brand and its recipe somehow managed to survive intact in the thousand-odd years since Gav's original time (albeit nowhere near as popular as it used to be), and Gav's cloning episode singlehandedly brought it back into prominence. His love for the drink is so uncompromising that it's virtually the only thing that would not be changed via the diversity initiative. And for those that tried to change their tastes, the rest of them did not approve."The Bud Chelada heretics got what they deserved."
- You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Actually blue, too.
Eina-Afa ("Synthetic Wind") began life as the mind of an Oafa worldship, the "big can of sky" that bore the same name. After the Oafa died off, centuries of isolation took its toll, and she eventually renamed herself T'kkkuts-Afa ("Broken Wind"). By the time the Toughs arrive on the scene, she's been looking for someone to talk to for longer than the human race has existed. She eventually reprograms herself to remove the insanity, moves into a smaller craft, and calls herself Iafa ("Little Wind").
- Ambiguous Gender: The pronouns used for her change over time; it's unclear if she chose to change her gender as she gave up the T'kkuts-Afa identity, or if people are just using the wrong pronouns. It's later revealed that her original identity was a digital copy of Yaeyoefui, who was male; it's not clear whether this is relevant.
- Failsafe Failure: Iafa was locked out of the internal gravy controls of Broken Wind so that if she went crazy she wouldn't be able to kill them all. When the ship gets boarded, this means that she can't help repel the enemy without an hour's work on inaccessible hardware.Kaff: I hate it when we secure the wrong stuff.
- The Fog of Ages: She's very well preserved, but not even her Ragnarok-proofed storage mediums could survive tens of millions of years without upkeep. She's lost a lot.Ennesby: She's forgotten more things than we currently know.
Tagon: I've heard that one before. Old people say it all the time.
Ennesby: Well, here's a new twist. I've seen the size of what's missing. She's forgotten more than what ALL of us know. All of us put together.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
- "Broken Wind" is not a fart joke. The word "t'kkkuts" is an Oafa curse, denoting something broken or destructive. Afa means "wind," and has religious connotations, such as "unmoved mover" and "God." So while a literal translation of her name is Broken Wind, a more useful one is "Angry God."
- Later, an ancient Oafan librarian finds the translation "Broken Wind" inappropriate, but also lacking - The word "Wind" lacks the mysticism it implies to the Oafa, and "Broken" isn't violent enough. He suggests an alternative: "Breath Weapon".
- Time Abyss: She is old. She's definitely older than the human race and she was willing to wait for intelligent life to evolve in her interior just to have someone to talk to.
Formerly an employee of Urtheep Industries on his native planet of Gzeaul. Putzho and his crewmates died above the surface of a massive (Dyson sphere-sized), secret data-storage facility known to its residents as the All-star; the All-star protected itself by forcibly Brain Uploading them all. Putzho now wanders the hypernet as an AI-style agent of the All-star's Cadre of Strategic Engineers, working behind the scenes to serve its interests; his sidekick is a "probability manifold" (an AI geared to him) known as Evvin, whose avatar is a flower in a pot.
- Brain Uploading: He was originally uploaded against his will, but he accepted his new lot in life pretty quickly.
- Higher-Tech Species: As a messenger from one of the Precursor races, his tech makes Petey look out of date. At one point he rebuilds the physical structure of a system where he exists only digitally. Even the AI who helped build the place has no idea how he did that.
- Technobabble: His explanation of how his teraport cage works is either so advanced that not even Kevyn understands it, or absolute nonsense.
United Nations of Sol
Three-star general of the U.N.S., General Bala-Amin plays a pivotal role in the Battle of Dom Atlantis. In contrast to many of the other admirals and generals in the comic, Bala-Amin is principally concerned with the well-being of the people she protects, and proves an important ally for the Toughs and the Neoafans.
- Almighty Janitor: She's technically just the head traffic cop of Sol, but due to luck ended up playing a crucial part in the fake civil war, which gave her additional political power. Of course, Sol traffic control is actually extremely important since it includes keeping asteroids and speeding starships from taking out planets, so even before the civil war she had at least one battleplate under her command.
- Blackmail: Uses some of Admiral Emm's dirty secrets to coerce her into putting one of her agents under Bala-Amin's command.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: In contrast to most of the UNS command staff pictured in the comic, Bala-Amin is a constant beacon of good-faith. She may not always side with the Toughs, but she's very clearly interested in what's best for the people under her command.
Captain Hayley Sorlie
The quickly-promoted cultural liason for the Toughs, Sorlie is essentially the primary actor during the Battle of Dom Atlantis. Like her superior, she wants only what's best for the UNS, and warms up to the Toughs fairly quickly.
- Achievements in Ignorance: Is an excellent spy primarily because she is a genuinely nice person who gets on well with people and isn't a trained spy. As such people tend not to be on guard around her which means she finds out things that an actual spy would not. Bala-Amin is happy to take advantage of this.
- Got Volunteered: Bala-Amin repeatedly volunteers her for various assignments that blend the line between cultural liaison and spy.
- Martyr Without a Cause: In her need to feel like she is making a difference, she offers to donate top secret tech to the Oafans, which would inevitably result in a military tribunal for selling secrets. She is then outraged when Petey intervenes, taking responsibility for donating said technology to keep her out of trouble. When Captain Landon points out that throwing herself into the metaphorical meat grinder isn't going to change anything, she suggests her sacrifice might blunt the blades a bit.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Defies a direct order, with the full understanding that it would result in her court-martial, because she fears that she could plunge the UNS into civil war.
- Ultimate Job Security: Bala-Amin absolutely refuses to fire her, no matter how much her Martyr Without a Cause tendencies cause her to try. Sorlie is the most valuable person on her staff, and they both know it.Chinook: You need to work harder at getting fired so you can come work for me.
Sorlie: I'd work harder at getting fired if I thought it would actually work.
An uplifted polar bear in charge of the J.S.C. Internal Affairs division.
- Bears Are Bad News: He's firmly a good guy... But it's not healthy to make him angry.
- Beary Friendly: That said, he's a bit slow to anger, and he has remarkable self-control even when he's feeling grouchy, so while he's certainly not someone to upset, he's remarkably meek and polite when calm.
- Blatant Lies: When he joins a mission through a teraport cage to reinforce the Toughs, he has quite a bit of difficulty justifying this as part of his job providing security for the UNS embassy.Landon: This is an off-site training exercise.
Bala-Amin: Most of those "training" with you aren't UNS personnel.
Landon: Because it's a joint-forces training exercise.
Bala-Amin: According to the roster, you are the only UNS soldier there.
Landon: I'm learning a lot about working with other people.
- Cyborg: Despite the fact that medical technology allows for lost body parts to be easily regrown Landon seems to prefer having robotic replacements for his arm and eye. This may be related to his relationship with Tenzy who built both of his replacements.
- Gentle Giant: Push comes to shove, Landon generally prefers not to throw around his weight - sure, he weighs over 700 kilos and towers over most he interacts with, but outside of combat situations, he is neck-and-neck with Sorlie for the nicest person in UNS employ.
- I'm a Humanitarian: While fighting the suborned JSC agents to save the civilians of Dom Atlantis, he ate four people. We can assume that they were bad guys since he didn't get in trouble for it, but it does hurt his image more than a little.
- Made of Iron: Gets filled with sixty-one bullets, and complains that the surgery bot wants to sedate him.Mako: He was surrounded by suborned JSC officers. He's probably on the ground with fifty holes in him.
Sorlie: Maybe, but he did answer his phone.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: After his heroic actions in Dom Atlantis, he is half-fired/half-promoted to working on Jumpstar Prime to get him out of the no-gun zone. Part of this is because his girlfriend is a sentient gun, and neither of them are interested in being separated.Breya: Also, there's the image issues caused by the fact that you ate four people.
Landon: That's fair.
- The Symbiote: During "Delegates and Delegation," he comes across the modified incapacitator that Mako (Kowalski's hijacked agent) had taken the factory safeties off of. Somehow, in the process of using it, it achieved sentience and bonded with Landon. Tenzy, as the AI became known, is now in a mutualistic symbiosis with Landon, and both are pretty protective of each other. Based on how they talk to each other, it appears both look at their symbiosis as a romantic relationship.
- You Know I'm Black, Right?: He claims to understand forest metaphors due to being a bear. Sorlie points out that he's a polar bear, raised in a city in the middle of the ocean.Landon: Barkeep! My friend isn't drunk enough to agree with me yet!
Originally a Massively Multi-Morphological Incapacitator, Mako modified the weapon in preparation for an assassination attempt on the Toughs. During the staged revolution in Dom Atlantis, it was hacked by the battleplate Chester in order to unlock its advanced abilities for Captain Landon's use. In the process, she crossed the sapient threshold and entered into a symbiotic relationship with Landon.
- Blood Knight: Considering she hatched from a gun, this shouldn't be surprising.Tenzy: One day they will come for me.
Ennesby: You're using the happy voice when you say that and it's freaking me out.
- The Symbiote: Captain Landon's better half, in a very literal way. Their relationship means that he typically gets patched up with cybernetics she has built rather than getting the missing parts regrown.
Given that the protagonists are trigger-happy mercenaries with no qualms about killing, and most plots are initiated by some third party hiring them for a one-time contract, there is a very high turnover rate among antagonists in this series, with or without the need for funeral arrangements. The following is just a small sample of whom they have faced:
The Partnership Collective
One of the earliest villains, the Partnership Collective are a Hive Mind of snake-like Amoral Attorneys. They are used throughout the galaxy as the go-to legal counsel. When the Toughs end up in-between them and a boatload of money, though, they take matters into their own (lack of) hands through somewhat less-than-legal means.
- Amoral Attorney: They're even shaped like snakes!
- Hive Mind: Attorney drones are connected into one mind via cyborg implants, though they will frequently still talk to one another verbally.
- Running Gag: After the Toughs are given the legal right to kill attorney drones for a bounty, they repeatedly win legal challenges by simply shooting the other side's lawyers. But after a while, the Partnership Collective becomes very adept at avoiding the Toughs, resulting in no more appearances. The gag is ultimately used one last time off panel just before the Toughs sell their contract to Sanctum Adroit, a mercenary police force, ending it once and for all.
- Villain Decay: After the Toughs are awarded a no-deadline contract to kill a million of them, the Collective is immediately reduced from a threat to a running gag for the entire remainder of the comic. This happened a little under a year into the comic's more than 19 year run.
The F'sherl-Ganni are an ancient species of six-limbed humanoids who had complete monopoly on galactic FTL travel through their Portal Network, until Kevyn made the teraport open source. It's later revealed they used said portal network to clone every person who ever travelled through it, interrogated the clones and killed them off, in order to monitor the tech level of the galaxy and influence their governments. This kicks off a brief military conflict with a coalition of the younger races that makes up much of book 2.
- Batman Can Breathe in Space: They genetically modified their entire species to survive hard vacuum.
- Did Not See That Coming:
- Their plan to suppress the teraport fails when Breya makes the technology open source, which was a contingency they had apparently not planned for.
- They apparently didn't realize (or consider the posibility) that the Pa'anuri peace-offering was a Trojan Horse and destroyed the Milky Way in an alternate timeline.
- Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: They were able to fight the Pa'anuri to a bloody stalemate millennia prior to the start of the comic.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin/Literal-Minded: Their naming conventions. For example, the Gatekeeper word for a Dyson Sphere, "Buuthandi", is a contraction of a sentence saying "this was expensive to build" while "Pa'anuri" is a contraction of the sentence "that gravitational anomaly is giving me the willies".
- Expendable Clone: The Gatekeepers created, interrogated and killed one of these every time someone used a Gate, to the tune of roughly four billion sentient beings per hour for over a hundred millennia. When a single Buuthandi is destroyed and a few storage facilities for yet-uninterrogated clones are recovered it causes a significant shift in certain species' entire demographics.
- The Extremist Was Right: The engineers of the All-Star noted that the 'Ganni project' led to a galactic cycle that lasted for three times longer than the average, due to the lack of teraport, mass matter replicator, Lazarus nannies, and long gun proliferation. That said, the zero point generator was about to bring that relative stability crashing down (or obliterated in a new, localized, big bang).
- Hero of Another Story: They fought the Pa'anuri to a stalemate millennia before the start of the comic, likely saving their own cycle of galactic civilization.
- Higher-Tech Species: They held sole monopoly on FTL travel and also possessed engineering tech beyond that of most of the current galaxy's species. The Teraport Wars also revealed that the F'sherl-Ganni had teraport technology (as well as denial tech) all along, they just didn't use it due to the treaty.
- Man Behind the Man: Their modus operandi. They run the Gatekeeper Corporation partially behind the scenes, were responsible for the Partnership Collective antagonising the Toughs, and also backed Xinchub during the Teraport Wars in an attempt to discredit Breya.
- Mega-Corp: The Gatekeeper Corporation, which served as the public face of the species to the galaxy at large.
- Multi-Armed and Dangerous: Four arms, two legs and a prehensile tail.
- Obviously Evil: They resemble demons (or "goat-lizards" to quote the narrator), and the narrator helpfully points out that they're bad guys during their first appearance.
- Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër: Their language appears based on it.
- Put on a Bus: After the formation of The Fleetmind in book 7, they become a client species and stop taking direct action in galactic affairs as part of their amnesty.
- Space Elves: They don't look the part, but they got the 'paternalistic smugness' part down to a fine art.
- Smug Snake: They seem to have bred arrogance into their own genome, with even Petey noting that he finds them aggravating to deal with even as a client species. At one point, one takes time to break the fourth wall just to sass the narrator because the font of their language is hard to read.
- Unwitting Pawn: The Pa'anuri gave them the blueprints to a zero-point energy generator using the galactic core as energy, which the F'sherl-Ganni happily built. Said generator was intended to overload and blow up the Milky Way in a big-bang-like event.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: As Petey points out, their 'clone-and-kill' operation probably killed something like the entire population of the galaxy several times over but it also kept the Pa'anuri from restarting their war, and their FTL stranglehold prevented agressive species like the Ob'enn from spreading outside their native solar system.
The Tausennigan Ob'enn
A race of cute, cuddly humanoids who resemble bipedal Koala bears, the Tausennigan Ob'enn are a race of genocidal fanatics whose religious dogma calls for the eventual extermination of all non-Ob'enn lifeforms. After the teraport allows them to leave their home system they go on a crusade to cleanse the galaxy of life, while the Toughs get hired by interested parties who want to keep them contained.
- Absolute Xenophobe: Their government and religion want to exterminate or enslave all other lifeforms. Given that Ob'enn individuals can still travel freely they're either not taken very seriously, or significant amounts of the population do not follow the program.
- Arc Villain: The main antagonists of book 5 and 6, but get involved intermittently from book 2 onwards.
- Berserk Button: Alluding to their physical appearance or making fun of their naming schemes.
- ET Gave Us Wifi: About ten books after they stop being relevant, it's revealed the Ob'enn's giant battlefleet was due to them stumbling over a giant cache of transuranic alloys stored on their home-world by a now-extinct precursor civilization.
- Gone Horribly Right: They're so adept at making warship AI that when one of them goes rogue and obtains the ability to suborn Ob'enn ships, he becomes a galactic power able to keep the empire in check on their own.
- In-Series Nickname: "Psychobears".
- Killer Rabbit: While they're not very fearsome in person, their ships are amongst the deadliest in the galaxy. Their flagship, "The Cloak of Untrammelled Dignity", is noted to be larger than the biggest human warship ever created by three orders of magnitude.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: They take matters of honour quite seriously. At least amongst themselves.
- Purple Prose: Their ships all tend to have long, pretentious names following a "[noun] of [adjective] [noun]" standard.
- Villain Decay: After the formation of The Fleetmind, the Ob'enn lose most of their significance and fade into the background.
Head of a human mafia that Kevyn's time clone scammed out of a ton of laundered money through lottery and gambling fraud, who goes after him in retaliation.
- Bullying a Dragon: Due to evidently getting an Idiot Ball permanently lodged in her brain, she can't stop doing this, up to and including refusing to deal with Petey and taunting him when he offers to pay her a substantial bounty for releasing her prisoners, because she's offended by the bribe, even though the alternative is picking a fight with the single most powerful entity in the galaxy.
- Moral Myopia: She is furious that Captain Kevyn brought troops into her home...to rescue him after she kidnapped him and blew up his house. Yes, technically he wronged her first, but it was an accident, and nowhere near as bad.
- Oh, Crap!: Damico after General Tagon arrived. Or maybe it was just "What the heck, is that a headless monkey with a knife?" The two can be hard to tell apart. Followed by a much more definite one when her elite troops where all disarmed (or rather, dishanded) by a robot that runs with scissors.
- Revenge Before Reason: Petey offers to pay her 25 times what she lost to Kevyn Andreyasn's manipulations to fund his plans, in exchange for releasing the captured Kevyn time traveling copy and Karl Tagon to Petey. She refuses, instead demanding "satisfaction". And this is after Clone!Kevyn offered her double what he stole to let them go.
A rebellious alien commander who the Toughs were contracted to take down. A lot more savvy than expected, but not quite savvy enough to handle a supersoldier-boosted Kevyn and Schlock.
- Evil Is Funny:
- He's an unrepentant bastard who outsmarts the entire company (including two AIs) and is intelligent enough to kill his enemies as soon as possible (and then drop their remains in the incinerator), but he just makes you laugh. For example:Shufgar (Speaking about a subordinate killed by Kevyn) He was like a son to me.
Other Mook: Sir... after the prisoners escaped the first time, you carved out his eye with a spoon.
Shufgar: Let that be a warning to the rest of my family.
- Also:Shufgar: Let them know the human is armed, dangerous... and undead.
- He's an unrepentant bastard who outsmarts the entire company (including two AIs) and is intelligent enough to kill his enemies as soon as possible (and then drop their remains in the incinerator), but he just makes you laugh. For example:
- Singing in the Shower: He really enjoys the acoustics. Due to some weird biology of his species, though, the aural stimulation can in fact be physically pleasurable.
General Levaughn Matsui "Hugo" Xinchub
A ranking UNS officer who was instrumental in a human immortality project. Xinchub has been one of the series' most enduring villains, due to a combination of slimy manipulations and sheer cleverness.
- Adipose Rex: For most of his storyline.
- Fat Bastard: Xinchub is, well, a very fat. At least until his blood nannies activate and turn him into his super-soldier form. When restored by Petey afterwards he keeps the much more fit physique.
- Jerkass: And enjoys this way too much.
- HeelFace Turn: Subverted. Yes, he turns traitor and delivers project Laz'r'us to Petey, thus probably saving thousands, if not millions of lives, and he does it explicitly to save those lives. However, his Jerkass personality doesn't fade, and it's pretty clear that he's doing it primarily because if he didn't, one of the lives lost would be his. (Also, he's apparently getting paid a lot to do it.)
- Karma Houdini: He never really gets a comeuppance for everything he's done. Sure, he gets killed on Yoming, but it turns out to be part of a Thanatos Gambit and doesn't stick. He ends up working with Petey on his life-extension project derived from Laz'R'Us to prevent the UNS using it to turn every one of its citizens into sleeper supersoldiers. His increasing irrelevance to events on a galactic scale is probably the part of his character arc that stings the most for him.
- Mysterious Employer: To a lesser extent than Petey.
- Oh, Crap!: The discovery that Toughs are so fed up with him they can't be hired to help him for any amount of money invoked an expression Petey described rather poetically.
- Puppet King: After finishing the civil war on Yoming, its natives crown him king while maintaining close surveillance on him.
- Thanatos Gambit: Tagon refuses to extract him from Yoming and deliver him to Petey out of hatred for the times they've crossed. So he has Jevee kill him. The toughs proceed to smuggle out his corpse, and he is revived by his nanites later.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Based on his own recollections and Word of God, he started out as this, and may still be one. But he grew to enjoy the horrible things he had to do.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: He has been squeezed into a tight corner multiple times, but always manages to slip out. When he slipped up his attempts to Frameup Admiral Breya and was all set to be crucified by the UNS, he manages to spin a small dose of heroics into winning him a medal. When Captain Tagon sells him into slavery as a military advisor on Yoming, he gives victory to the other side and is crowned as their king. Stuck in a position as Puppet King, he defects to Petey for a handsome profit and manipulates the Toughs into smuggling him out by temporarily dying.
Colonel Jevee Ceeta
A subordinate of Xinchub, Jevee is a "purp" - a genetically-modified human subspecies capable of photosynthesis. Was previously a skilled bounty hunter before being briefly placed in control of the Toughs when they were contracted by Xinchub.
- Actually Not a Vampire: They're exaggerating. A little.
- Bounty Hunter: When first seen, she was was part of a group sent to 'collect' Doyt-Haban
The Mind of the UNS battleplate Morokweng, 'Kweng normally appears as a slightly overweight man of undetermined ethnicity. He's a bit more whimsical and silly than most UNS AIs.
- The Ditz: For a hyper-intelligent AI in charge of a battleplate the size of a large city, he's kinda stupid. His achievements include violations of Don't Explain the Joke, following through with confusing orders rather than waiting for clarification, and idly noting that they'll have to file an environmental impact report on the shaped column of plasma that just punched a giant hole in their hull.
- Don't Explain the Joke: When discussing Admiral Breya.'Kweng: Just because the fleet they gave her didn't have a battleplate like yours doesn't mean she's not a real admiral, Admiral. Do you see what I did there? Subtly casting your anger as jealousy?
Admiral Emm: Yes yes, it's much more subtle if you don't follow it up with "See what I did."
- Skewed Priorities: When speaking to Tagii while she is insane from effectively thousands of years of isolation, his initial concern is that she won't stop calling him "Maury."'Kweng: Morokweng is normally shortened to 'Kweng, actually...but that's not the salient point here.
Admiral Manyara Emm
The current head of the Laz'r'us Project and leads one of the most ruthless factions in the entire U.N.S.
- Deadpan Snarker: She will often give sarcastic replies to her underlings.
- Dropped a Bridge on Him: She is shot dead out of the blue just as it looks like she's going to get away with the events in Dom Atlantis- by her own underling, Kowalski, no less.
- Even Evil Has Standards: She is an incredibly ruthless woman, but even she thinks one of her underlings, Kowalski, is a monster.
- Grand Theft Me: To escape the consequences of their many crimes, she and Kowalski use Clone by Conversion Nanomachines to discard their own bodies and steal bodies belonging to other people. To her annoyance, her new body is male. Not that she has to worry about that for long, since Kowalski kills her.
- Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: After initially trying to crush the Toughs to death in her first appearance she comes off as something of a Cool Old Lady when she restrains DeHaans and allows the Toughs to live with Laser-Guided Amnesia, which makes her come off as much better than Xinchub. Later arcs, however, highlight just how directly involved she is in Project Lazarus and how much blood is on her hands.
- Karmic Death: Using a mix of subterfuge and brute force, Emm is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, by weaponizing her development efforts in Project Lazarus. Then the Oafans introduce a deweaponized version of it, combining extreme longevity with Resurrective Immortality, which effectively renders her efforts dead in the water. And then she's shot dead by Kowalski, the avatar of the very worst of her skullduggery, just before she has the opportunity to enjoy that immortality.
- Killed Off for Real: She gets killed off by Kowalski.
- Last-Second Chance: Petey and the Oafans essentially set up the reveal of their immortality project in a way that lets her dismantle the conspiracy and help propagate the harmless nanobots, not only getting to live forever but being remembered as one of the immortality project's greatest benefactors. She doubles down instead.
- Meaningful Name: Her first name, "Manyara," means "You have been humbled."
- Surrounded by Idiots: The way she feels whenever her subordinates screw up.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: As the head of humanity's immortality project, she is willing to do anything to keep it safe and secure. She is also willing to sink to despicable depths to acquire humanity an advantage, having murdering many innocents with Clone by Conversion nanotech during her covert ops. However, unlike Xinchub, she doesn't enjoy the evil acts she is forced to commit, and accepts the opportunity to neutralize the Toughs as a threat without killing them. She has also shown disgust towards the sadistic behavior of her Psycho for Hire underlings.
"A chubby little blonde Harridan" colonel from the battleplate Tunguska. Now serves on 'Kweng under admiral Emm. Was promoted to Intelligence Chief, after Colonel Dehaans "disappeared." Then she was put in charge of the operation on Oisri, which means she and Toughs are on the opposites sides for the third time.
- Death by Irony: Back when the Tunguska was being destroyed, she tried to save seats on an escape pod. Everyone around her ignored her and dashed for the pod anyways. She proceeded to shoot one of them, Kathryn, in the back, forcing the people on the pod to leave before all the seats were filled, condemning some people to their deaths. Somehow she ultimately survived and made it to the Morokweng. When the Kweng itself is blown up, Kowalski refuses to evacuate her on the grounds that all seats are already filled by priority passengers, namely Admirals, Commodores, and people he actually likes (meaning the bartender, Aldo), leaving her to her apparent death.
- Fat Bastard: Very chubby, if not quite close to Xinchub, and very ruthless and occasionally vicious.
- It's a Small World After All: She was on Tunguska when the thing got chewed up due to Xinchub's gloating taking too much time.
A UNS special forces soldier serving under Admiral Emm.
- Bodyguard Betrayal: He betrays and kills Admiral Emm.
- Clone by Conversion: Thanks to the Laz'r'us Project, Admiral Emm's faction is able to use Nanites to hijack people's brains, download copies of the personalities of her agents inside, and place them under their control. The Gavs are one of his major victims, and he has also usurped the identities of a variety of UNS citizens.
- Death Seeker: Possibly. He's mentioned that he does have a conscience which he actively has to ignore, and his clone, Libretti, clearly has guilt over what he's done. Calling him a monster has him reply, "I never get tired of that.", but he's frowning every time he says it. When the real one is finally cornered, he keeps fighting instead of surrendering, and after he's restrained, he insists that they just kill him, even giving reasons why he shouldn't be left alive, all with an extremely mocking tone and goading expression uncharacteristic of his usual stoic personality. His clone (that at least in part should have similar feelings and beliefs) was happy to die, and in her dying message requested that he be killed too. And when he saw that his clone asked for him to die as well, he approved.
- Enemy Mine: One of his Clone by Conversion proxies is originally sent to eliminate the Toughs to maintain secrecy on the Laz'r'us Project. But when another faction is revealed to possess extremely dangerous nanotech of its own, said proxy is forced to work with the Toughs against the greater threat.
- Even Evil Has Standards: He eventually gets tired of fighting (and dying) for Admiral Emm's increasingly extreme causes. He finally just shoots Emm in the head after ensuring she's been downloaded into an anonymous and untraceable body.
- Go Out with a Smile: One of his Clone by Conversion victims relaxes with a smile on her face while facing her death.
- Grand Theft Me: To escape the consequences of his many crimes, he abandons his old body and steals someone else's.
- Heroic Sacrifice: A borderline case. One of his Clone by Conversion proxies sacrifices herself to give the Toughs the targeting information they need to wipe out the mind controlled police force that was about to annihilate an entire city.
- I Am a Monster: In this discussion with Lt. Sorlie he outright states that he's a monster, after indirectly admitting that Libretti isn't the first person whose mind he's overwritten in service to Admiral Emm.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: He leaves Colonel Krum to die after Morrowkweng is destroyed on grounds that he'd rather save people he likes first, prioritizing saving the bartender over her. He later kills his former employer, Admiral Emm, as well, and while his stated reasons are less than altruistic, she more than likely deserved it.
- Me's a Crowd: Works with Colonel Krum on a project called REDhack, basically hacking Gavcorp nannies to download copies of his mind into their brains, and in most cases giving his personality control over the hijacked Gav clones.
- No Place for Me There: As shown by this strip note , he believes the ends necessitates the means, but does not justify them. Thus he sincerely believes the horrible things he does is for the greater good, but doesn't morally absolve him as an individual, and that he'll go to hell if it exists (and even jokes that enough clones of him have died that he'll have a beachhead in hell secured for himself and Emm when they finally arrive).
- Other Me Annoys Me: He and his various clones do not completely get along.
- When Kowalski uses Brain Uploading in preparation for Clone by Conversion, he says "Goodbye, Kowalski. Better you than me", resulting in him and his clone having a minor tiff.
- Said clone later makes a request for the original to be shot, oddly enough to the original's approval. Possibly to be expected, as there's evidence that he doesn't like himself, either (as shown under Death Seeker above).
- Pet the Dog:
- In this strip, Kowalski saves Aldo the bartender from the destruction of the Morokweng for no other reason than he likes him.
- In this strip, it's suggested that he'll kill his proxy's family rather than risk their blowing his cover, but instead he rigs a lottery for cruise tickets so that they're away for the duration of his mission.
- Phrase Catcher: He gets called a monster a lot. See the entry for You Monster! below for a few examples.
- Psycho for Hire: Serves this role to Admiral Emm. Even one of his clones is taken aback by the fact that she wanted more people like him.
- The Sociopath: He claims to have some conscience, though he considers it to be vestigial and ineffective. The summary seems to be that he's convinced himself he's a sociopath to deal with how evil he's become when he actually DOES know better.
- Villainous Valor: He recognizes that he's a terrible person, but he and his personality clones are perfectly willing to die when needed to complete their missions.
- You Monster!:
- Referred to as one by a Gav clone named Danita, who received a copy of his mind, but managed to retain control.
- He is called one by his boss, Admiral Emm, who happens to be a pretty ruthless piece of work herself.
- Again seen here note , after demonstrating his ability to think like the (also rather monstrous) enemy.
DeHaansA UNS special forces officer serving under Admiral Emm, who is in charge of interrogating prisoners.
- Affably Evil: He is polite, even friendly to everyone.
- Bald of Evil: He is definitely evil and has very little hair.
- Eaten Alive: Schlock keeps his promise
- Punch-Clock Villain: Subverted. His big speech starts in a way to indicate this, but by the end, it's clear that he enjoys his work.
- Rhetorical Request Blunder: Played with. He arranged for Pi to blow himself up for no other reason than that he thought it would amuse admiral Emm. It has no lasting consequences, but would potentially have endangered the cover up.
- Rousing Speech: One the subject of torture of all things.
- Torture Technician: He is in charge of interrogations.
- Wicked Cultured: He loves classical music.'
- Xanatos Gambit: According to the author's notes he arranged for lieutenant Piebald to be colour blind and dyslectic as well as messing with his equipment. One way or another, Pi was going to blow himself up.
Dark Matter Entities/The Pa'anuri
A species made from dark matter, originally showing up at the border of the Milky Way and eventually turning out to be major movers and shakers in galactic politics.
- Absolute Xenophobe: They have only one word for all beings made of baryonic matter (i.e. non-dark matter): "ANNOYING". Their home galaxy of Andromeda is routinely scoured clean of baryonic life the moment the Pa'anuri discover them, which is shortly after they invent the radio. It's unknown if they have any deeper motives, but so far the only reason they have seems to be "Baryonic + living = thinking = capable of developing teraportation = potentially dangerous annoyance = crush immediately".
- Big Bad: The closest thing the webcomic has to one. They're still a formidable danger, fourteen years and fifteen episodes after their first introduction, and are being set up as the final danger to life as we know it.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Perhaps the most bizarre of all, being made up of reactive dark matter that requires an entirely new form of physics to explain how their 'biochemistry' works.
- Bizarre Alien Senses: Their perception of baryonic matter is a little spotty; the only way they can detect anyone other than through sensors they've built is by sensing their gravity wells, and it's "blurry" enough that the only thing they can spot with any amount of certainty is an active Annie plant.
- The Dreaded: Even after Petey discovers their origins and makes the galaxy aware of their existence, they're generally considered way out of the weight class of anyone outside the Fleetmind. Standard UNS protocol for dealing with one is essentially to turn your power plants off, lie still and hope it goes away.
- Eldritch Abomination: They literally don't belong in our universe, and interact with it only through crushing anything inside it like so much tin-foil. We know they are capable of communication somehow, but the last people who were able to talk with them were the Gatekeepers.
- Eldritch Starship: Originally, the Pa'anuri fought with only their bodies. But as the Pa'anuri and the current races continue to learn how to fight one another, they eventually start using massive and strangely shaped starships, bigger than most planets.
- Evil Is Bigger: Pa'anuri can be up to the size of a small planet. Their starships can be bigger than gas giants, and sling them around through pure gravitics.
- The Exile: As part of their peace agreement with the Gatekeepers, they withdrew to the Andromeda galaxy.
- Gone Horribly Wrong: They're implied to have been created by a race of Precursors as living control mechanisms for their world-forges. Considering the Pa'anuri are still around and their creators aren't, well...
- Gravity Master: Given that the only way for baryonic and dark matter to interact is through gravity, their main mode of affecting this universe takes this form.
- Greater-Scope Villain: They are indirectly responsible for many of the conflicts the Toughs have experienced, and are either directly or implied to be directly responsible for the 'galactic cycle' of the rise and fall of galactic civilization that has happened, again and again, for the last several dozens of millions of years in the Milky Way Galaxy.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: The first Pa'anuri communication we see depicts a Pa'anuri terrified of the baryonics and desperately asking for help because it doesn't want to die.
- It Can Think: In its first appearance Ennesby supposes the local dark matter entities were non-sentient and simply lashed out at Teraport usage. We later learn they're intelligent, and also quite malevolent. They're smart enough to create a bomb that can take out an entire galaxy and figure out long guns given a few years of actual effort, and of course evil enough to use them even under supposed peace treaties.
- Kryptonite Factor: They're lethally allergic to Teraporting and Teraport denial fields, as both drill holes in their universe and disrupt their equivalent to biochemistry.
- No Kill Like Overkill:
- In an overwritten timeline, they ended their peace treaty with the Gatekeepers by turning the Milky Way's core into a new big bang, causing the Milky Way to get consumed by a new universe.
- They decide to wipe out the Uniocs by compressing an ice giant through gravitics, igniting it into a star, and hurling it at them.
- No-Sell: Outside of Teraporting, Teraport Area Denial fields and gravitic weapons, they're essentially immune to attack from the protagonists' universe. And they're so much better at gravity manipulation than any ship in the galaxy that they're essentially immune to the latter as well.
- Omnicidal Maniac: They have attempted to scour the Milky Way clean of life at least once, and are implied to have caused the death of at least one prior cycle of galactic civilization. They're also the reason Andromeda is mostly devoid of any intelligent life.
- Precursor Killers: They are responsible for wiping out some of the cycles of Recursive Precursors.
- Pūnct'uatìon Sh'akër: That apostrophe in their name kept jumping around the word for some time. Translation between Gatekeeper language and Galstandard West is presumably not an exact science.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Known as "Paan'uri" in their earlier appearances, until Howard settled on the current hyphen.
- Ultimate Evil: Not being made of baryonic matter, they're completely invisible to all sensors except gravitic ones. Gravitic imaging in later chapters makes them look like writhing tentacles, though lord only knows if that's their actual appearance or just their powers at work.