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Webcomic / Drive (Dave Kellett)

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"The story is serious. The characters are hilarious."
Jeff Kapalka, The Post-Standard

Drive is a scifi webcomic by Dave Kellett, author of Sheldon. It takes place a few hundred years in the future, in which humanity has discovered FTL space travel in the form of the Ring Drive, and has a large intergalactic empire, ruled from Madrid, on Earth. They are at war with mysterious aliens, called the Continuum of Makers, who invented the Ring Drive humans "discovered".

The story mainly follows an amnesiac lizard creature, using the name "Skitter", with an impossible talent for piloting ring ships, which even the Continuum can't match. But we're also shown some of the politics of La Familia, who closely guard the secrets of the Ring Drive in order to keep in power, and the history of a certain individual of the Continuum, which for lack of a name will be referred to as the "Rogue Maker".

The comic also routinely brings in guest artists to write and draw collections focused on a mini-story of dubious canonicity. Some are clearly acanonical (such as the weird time/space thing by Zach Weiner) while others could be canonical (such as the story of how the Veetan's beat the Tesskans forever).

This series provides examples of:

  • Abusive Alien Parents: r-selecting species with lethal rites of passage seem common.
    • The Continuum reproduce asexually and rapidly if they want to, treat their progeny as cannon fodder with nothing but a number to identify them, form no emotional attachments to them whatsoever and emotionlessly dispose of them as punishment for transgressions. One in thousands survives the heat of battle and becomes a Maker.
    • Tesskans abandon their offspring to the wild, eventually allowing the survivors to rejoin the pack when they gang up on and kill the pack's oldest member.
    • The Astina have hundreds of pups and then require them to prove their worth to their family. When Orla catches a pup stealing, his father kills him with his bare hands for getting caught.
      Sett: "800 children... and maybe five of them with wits."
  • Abusive Precursors: Most species, like the Veetans, remember the ancient Sill as warlike conquerors who subjugated their ancestors in ancient times.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Attempts to develop strong AI have almost always gone badly, and they are pretty much inherently predisposed towards evil, which is why the humans and the Continuum both have a very strict Ban on A.I..
  • Alcubierre Drive: The Ring "pinches" space, allowing ships to go FTL. Well, not so much "pinch" as "Generate a Singularity close enough to the front of the ship to start dragging us in, but far enough away that we're not instantly spaghettified. Also, keep it at that magic distance until we turn it off or get shot down".
  • Alleged Car: Machito, before the Emperor upgraded it.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Tesskans seem to be this at first, as they're a conqueror race that always leans into violence as their first and favored method of conflict resolution. May instead be a case of When All You Have Is a Hammer… - Tesskans have a hard time focusing on anything and are used to that method just working. In a questionably-canonical side comic, a Tesskan who has been given a hat that rewires his brain to allow him to focus for an extended period of time is shown to be more than willing to steer away from his violent urges - even averting a heist at the Library of Congress by just... properly signing his crew up for library cards.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Ring Drive. Only the Continuum knows how it really works, and they aren't in the mood to explain. The Fillipods have figured it out as well, but only their most important members know this for fear of retribution by La Familia.
  • Artificial Human: The great sin the Rogue Maker committed was to build an android with a full AI, creating a "Spirit that was also a Maker." The Collegium was not happy about it, I tell you what. Said android is still active in the present day.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Why the last remaining Sill monks are not too fussed about dying out and losing all remaining presence on the physical plane. One of them implies that their minds continue to live on in the Great Quiet.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Skitter loses a Continuum ship in one. Subverted in that it's not your typical Space Is an Ocean Asteroid Thicket — they could easily avoid it, if they wanted to, and it's only dangerous because they're crossing it at FTL velocities.
  • Ban on A.I.: One of the Continuum's oldest and strictest laws. Ahmis, one of the most brilliant makers the Continuum had ever seen, was sentenced to death for building one and became The Heretic.
    • Ultimately justified, as several human-designed AI's (or "Fishes", from artiFISHal intelligence) seemed to be benevolent and reasonable... until they randomly started killing people for no reason intelligible to their creators. A.I.s are inherently evil in this setting due to their intrinsic need to calculate out the most destructive possible future and then see it out. Ahmis's AI is no exception, and is responsible for unleashing the Vinn to end all life in the galaxy.
  • Beneficial Disease: The Vinn parasite causes all sorts of neato superpowers to develop within its host: cytotoxic venom, a sixth sense, chromatophores, "Bioelectrogenesis" read: the ability to throw thunderbolts from the palm of one's hands, etc. The only drawbacks? The infested lose all memory, becoming an entirely different person. They also lose the ability to reproduce.
  • Benevolent Precursors: Oddly, while most species remember the ancient empire of the Sill as warlike Abusive Precursors, the Fillipods have a much rosier memory of them. For some reason the Sill never conquered Tesskil, and instead taught the Fillipods art and poetry.
  • Berserk Button: Nosh has a history with the Tesskans, enough to turn everyone's favorite muppet-like pacifistic biologist into a spitting-mad unstoppable grappler.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Nosh, and Veetans in general. An info page lists the Tesskans flash-bombing a Veetan planet as the critical error in the three year Tesskan/Human war. The resultant mobilisation of the Veetan Defence Force resulted in Tesskil being conquered a week later.
    Nosh: Show respect to my captain.
    Tesskan: ooOOooh...whatcha gonna do, pacifist? Punch me?
    Nosh: No... but I am very good hugger. [picks Tesskan up from behind with a "hug"]
  • Big Eater:
    • Veetans. There's an in-universe poem about the sight of a Veetan eating. It ends, "A Veetan eating is not joy, but more like abject fear"
    • The Nyx are adapted to eating exactly one thing: Nestr leaves. Nestr leaves are very low on calories, so the Nyx spend most of their time eating. It's why they have trouble traveling to other worlds, the logistics of feeding them are difficult.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: La Familia won their way into royalty through their monopoly over the Drive. Naturally, this has lead to underhanded power struggles.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The Empire's English-Spanish Hybrid is usually written as plain English, but it occasionally gets peppered with Spanish words.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology:
    • The Continuum reproduce asexually, are born from silica-based cocoons with basic knowledge and motor skills after a 2-day term, and they feel nothing unusual.
    • Skitter's mohawk can detect gravity waves, allowing him to maneuver around obstacles nobody else would notice until too late.
    • Fillipods look kind of like caterpillars, and their legs/feet/stalks have an incredible grip via Van der Waals forces. They have a stinger on their head which injects its target with a sedative, which works even on the Fillipod it came from. Also, they're incredibly "huggable" to the point that pillow companies are trying to make pillows that feel like a Fillipod.
    • The Vinn are actually a number of species infected with a parasite, but this parasite spreads a number of useful genetic traits across each of those species. So most Vinn tend to have "bioelectrogenesis, venomous necrotoxins, chromataphore cells in their skin/hides, sharp vision due to minimal diffraction of incoming light, and shark-like electroreception".
  • Black Box: The first emperor was able to reverse engineer the ring engine, and duplicate it, but he had no idea how it worked. His best guess was that it somehow "pinches" space. It's likened to trying to flick a penny over a heavily clothed table, which could take hours. But if the cloth is pinched in the center, it only takes a fraction of the time. According to the renegade Maker, it was invented by the founder of the Continuum and pinches space by manipulating dark matter to generate a singularity.
  • Blackmail: Amara Till threatens to give out the blueprints for the Grasskan FTL drive if the Emperor doesn't give the Grasskans sovereignty over Saseet as part of their deal, which would end La Familia's monopoly within their own empire.
  • Black Sheep:
    • IndustriaGlobo is a MegaCorp that has tried many times to hock the drive schema. The Empire hasn't shut them down permanently, but they *have* ruined their shipyards and HQ. The main reason they're still in business is because the CEO is a Cousin.
    • The Tres Primos are a trio of Famillia Space Pirates who rob the Empire and give the profits to the citizenry.
  • Buffy Speak: Lots.
    Nosh: A Moebius is figure-eight that goes loopty-loopty-loop.
  • The Clan: La Familia, descendants of the first Emperor and the only ones allowed to work on the Drive, there are thousands of them and they rule the Empire in law and in practice. While Slaughter is ruled by the mafiaesque Five Families.
  • Came Back Strong: Nosh gets cured of his Vinn infestation, but he gets to keep the handy mutations it imparts. As director Steven says, they *could* make him back into a normal Veetan, but everything works better now so they won't.
  • Colour-Coded Emotions: The Colegium's trialroom has a special paint that reacts to the pheremones of those inside, changing color in accordance with their mood.
  • Common Tongue: A trade language named Standard Imperial English-Spanish Hybrid, or "Hybrid", has been mentioned.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Nosh, fairly often.
    Taneel: Wonderful. So they're bigger and faster... and I'm flying the dang car I had in high school.
    Nosh: Wait wait wait wait... you saying your car in high school smelled this bad? I find hard to believe.
    • The royal astronomer-slash-fillipod ambassador constantly heaps praise on the Emperor when they meet. Unfortunately (for the Emperor), it always consists bad pickup lines. Although, this may be the case of stealth trolling.
  • Cool Ship: Machito, after the Emperor has it upgraded. La Invencible, being the Emperor's ship and the most powerful ship in the Imperial fleet. And especially The Spark of Thought, on the Continuum side, the largest warship ever built and capable of cracking a planet like an egg with the backlash of its FTL engines.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: More a Genius Ditz than moron, but Nosh fought off a bunch of mooks on his own.
    Nosh(mid-fight): Maybe you forget why you lost the war, Tesskan. You didn't lose because of the humans... you lost because you made my lovely, joyful, peace-filled people... PISSED OFF.
  • China Takes Over the World: Downplayed; Spain took over the world, since one of its colonists reverse-engineered the Ring Drive. Bejing, however, hosts the Imperial Family's private university.
  • Cryptic Conversation: The leader of the Secret Police uses a conversation about a session of a tabletop roleplaying game to indirectly warn the Royal Astronomer that the Secret Police already knew about the plans he was trying to hide from them all along.
  • Cutting the Knot:
    • The Tesskans, in their city-sized stolen Continuum ship, were attacked by another Continuum ship. The Tesskans still hadn't figured out the weapons systems on their ship, so they just drove right through the attacking ship.
    • The crew of the Machito take their own unique spin on a similar situation when they decide to "test" what happens when a smaller ship engages their ring drive inside a larger ship's drive ring. During a Maker invasion of a human world. The resulting "significant drive event" is so catastrophic is destroys about a third of the Maker fleet while the Machito speeds instantly away.
  • Death Ray: The empire developed a device called the "Neutron Daisy Cutter" specifically to fight the Vinn. It causes a catastrophic breakdown of Vinn parasite cell walls, killing them while leaving the host alive. However, the neural shock tends to kill the host. For this reason, the Vinn call them "Soulkillers".
  • Death World: Skitter's race, the Rhinn, come from a world with predators so dangerous that their ability to detect gravity waves is the only thing keeping them alive. Making matters worse, the Rhinn are small, and despite having some contact with the wider galaxy, the Rhinn themselves are primitives. In short order, the crew witnesses a gargantuan tree crab get eaten by a skyshroud, and the skyshroud get eaten by a boa bird. While that much could be dealt with by their weapons or Nosh's raw strength, they then witness the boa bird get eaten by a swarm of fang flies.
  • Deflector Shields: Mentioned, but averted. Armada ships, at least, only have a sort of energy field which vaporizes small debris. Not nearly enough to be called a Deflector Shield.
    • The Vinn manage to shield their ships from Daisy Cutter particle beams, much to the dismay of the Jynniwei.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • How La Familia deals with anyone who tries to steal the secret of the Ring Drive, because that would put their supreme power in danger. In a guest comic, a stranded captain is forced to activate the Ring Drive's alarms, not even to steal the secret, but due to that being the only means he had to signal the Empire. Indifferent to his plight, they arrest him for prison and possible execution.
    • Sett sentences Orla to Trial by Combat for interfering with one of his 800 disappointing kids' mafia initiation.
  • Disturbing Statistic:
    Nosh: Our armada ships... have a 1-in-600 chance of catastrophic impact anytime we pinch space.
    Skitter: I... I'm gonna die in space.
    Fernando: Nosh, that number is a lie, spread by the royal family. It's not 1-in-600... it's 1-in-400... we lose five or six ships every week.
    Skitter: [slow clap] Wonderful. Awesome. Let's all thank Fernando for clearin' up the math, there.
  • Divine Right of Kings: La Familia's self justification for seizing power. They like to preach to young Familia members that before they took over, humanity existed in a dark age. If they were to give up their monopoly on the drive, their authority would no longer be unassailable. Without La Familia's rule, humanity would inevitably collapse.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Makers crack off a chunk of Tesskil using the Drive's space-folding. Many of the filipods survive thanks to their evolutionary history, while the tesskans are nearly driven to extinction.
  • Easy Amnesia: Skitter woke up on a prison planet with no recollection of who he was or how he got there, and was informed he took a nasty hit trying to protect Nosh. Lampshaded.
    Nosh: ...You are like bad episode of "Gilligan's Island".
  • The Emperor: The current Emperor killed his uncle for the position, and framed Nosh. Meanwhile, Fernando may be the ACTUAL heir to the throne...
  • The Empire, The Federation: It's technically an Empire, but it shares parts of both of these tropes. For example, they formed an alliance with the Veetans, which is a trait of The Federation. But anyone with blood ties to the royal family (La Familia) gets extra privileges, everywhere, which seems to fit The Empire trope more.
  • Empire with a Dark Secret:
    • Due to their desperation to maintain their monopoly on the Drive human civilization runs on, only the Emperor knows the real reason the Continuum is at war with them. Their founder did not invent the Drive himself, but reverse-engineered it from a crash landed Continuum ship, offending an alien civilization with a religious opposition to intellectual theft. To make matters worse, the empire has had several options to alter their drive technology in a way that would stop offending the Continuum, but have chosen not to take any of them because that would require admitting their secrets.
    • The Continuum itself is built on a dark secret, of which no living member besides the Continuum's guardian is aware until Ahmis also learns the truth. Their founder claimed to be the first of their race, that the Drive was the first invention they ever conceived, and that Circle's End is their homeworld. But Ahmis discovers that the accidental birthplace of the Vinn is their true homeworld, and that their founder was not the first of their species, but most likely the last survivor of their previous civilization. The guardian comes to agree that while exposing the truth will pretty much break the very foundation of the Continuum, not doing so will cause its people to end entirely.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: The Enciclopedia Xenobiología, used to provide info-dumps on newly introduced races and institutions. Given it's written from the human perspective in the late 2300s (and the comic takes place largely in 2401 with flashbacks), it is occasionally wrong or at least lacking.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • Offered, but ultimately rejected. The Grasskans stole several spirits (the Makers' term for original technology) from the Continuum and fought bitter wars with them over it. But when the Grasskans get Curb Stomped by the Vinn, they try begging for an Enemy Mine with the Continuum to work against the greater threat to the both of them. While new Maker Prime feels that the Vinn threat is big enough to at least consider it and respects the Grasskans as a Worthy Opponent, the rest of the Colegium prefers Revenge Before Reason and overrules him. Due to being insular and still carrying a grudge, they decide that they would rather take their chances and watch them die.
    • The Emperor considers one with the Grasskans due to them both being enemies with the Continuum over stolen technology and the Grasskans actually being strong enough to fight the Continuum to a stalemate. The Grasskans get crushed by the Vinn before they can even negotiate, but he is still able to take in a few refugees.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep":
    • The Rogue Maker. His real name is Ahmis.
    • "Sett" is both a clan and the title of the male head of the clan.
  • Fantastic Drug: Telepathy can be used to reach a state the Sill religiously refer to as the "Great Quiet". It produces an absolute ecstasy that makes the "noisy" material world difficult to pay any attention to, which has resulted in their race dwindling towards extinction since they barely maintain their bodies or produce offspring. The few remaining monks only keep themselves alive at all to offer this path to others.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: A mix of the first and second varieties. The first Emperor, Conrado I, hypothesized it worked by pinching space together to hop across the top, so to speak. But in practice you still have to worry about running into stuff along the way, suggesting the Drive makes constant little jumps to achieve a warp drive-like effect.
    • "Near-light" drives are known to exist as well, as the Fillipods devised one for the Tesskans from captured Armada sublight drives.
    • The Grasskans have their own FTL drive, but it's apparently much slower and less reliable than Ring/Singularity Drive.
  • Final Solution: The Grasskan homeworld was once hit with nuclear weapons by a race called T'shonn. The Grasskan empress made sure they would never do it again.
  • Find the Cure!: When Nosh gets Vinnified, Orla reveals herself to be a Jynniwei operative. They have a cure to the Vinn parasite that doesn't involve blasting the host with a Death Ray and hoping they can handle the neural shock of their symbiote dying.
  • Gadgeteer Genius:
    • The Fillipod race in general are very good with technology.
      Cuddow: We went from zero manufacturing to space travel in two generations!
    • The Hat of the Continuum is that they invent things. The Rogue Maker is able to fix a completely ruined hover tractor and build an unspecified farm machine within one night.
  • Genius Ditz: Nosh is the science officer of the crew, interested in all types of science, but lacks common sense.
    Nosh: I am researching lung capacity of common earth-wolf.
    Taneel: Good lord... why?
    Nosh: Pique of my interest, mostly. I read in earth story how wolf able to bring down house with massive lung capacity...
    Taneel: ...Did the aforementioned wolf happen to "huff and puff" before he blew said house down?
    Nosh: Yes! Amazing creature, no?...I research the pig construction techniques, next.
  • Genre Savvy: When the crew is investigating a distress signal on an alien planet, Orla and Taneel have their suspicions about what kind of story they just wandered into...
    Skitter: Nobody's picking up. It's just repeating the message.
    Nando: Creepyyyy.
    Orla: This will end with only one of us escaping the planet, won't it?
    Taneel: Bloody and crying in an improvised escape pod, yes.
  • Gentle Giant: Nosh, and apparently most Veetans. It's one of their hats, according to their entry in the Enciclopedia Xenobiología.
    Nosh: Is too much anger in Monopoly... Share the railroads! Everyone benefits!
  • Gilligan Cut:
    Skitter: What? What possible way could that help me defeat these jer-
    [cut to milkshake bar]
  • Godzilla Threshold: The reason the leader of the Secret Police gives the Fillipods for not tattling on them to La Familia that they know how the drive works despite that being her main job? The Empire is about to face some very serious threats that might very well kill them all. May as well loosen the secret so they can get squeeze every advantage they can get out of it.
  • Gravity Master: Artificial Gravity is commonplace. The Fillipods use it to carefully return the orbiting chunks of their shattered planet safely to the ground. However, conventional gravity tech proves insufficient for the largest chunk. After careful research, the Fillipods discover that the Drive itself can manipulate gravity far better and is good enough for their needs.
  • Have You Seen My God?: The Vinn religion revolves around finding the race that genetically engineered them from the local version of Toxoplasmosis.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: When the previous leader of the Jinyiwei commits suicide, her successor becomes a Mole in Charge. She uses an excuse to let one of her co-conspirators hack into the Jinyiwei network. When another member of the Jinyiwei figures it out and reports it to her, she double checks whether said member shared it with anyone else before killing him for knowing too much.
  • Heavy Worlder: Veetans come from a planet with 1.19 Gs, which makes them ridiculously strong and durable, as demonstrated when Nosh shrugs off steel I-beams falling on his head and beats the crap out of a dozen Tesskans. Unfortunately they also suffer from chronic hip and joint problems and live just a quarter-century at most.
  • Higher-Tech Species: The Continuum is one of the most advanced civilizations in the galaxy to still exist, but not by an overwhelming margin.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Tradition and superstition dictate that Prahsitt greenborn live exciting and adventurous lives. In a guest comic, one such greenborn is satisfied and happy living life as a farmer, and disappointed that his parents expect him to travel the stars instead.
  • Impossible Task Instantly Accomplished: The Rogue Maker passed the Test of Tests, which was supposed to take nearly a week, in an hour. Largely out of petulance, no less.
    He could have took another day. Added some art to the design. They told him he would get no sustenance until he was finished. That made him angry. He wanted a sandwich.
  • Inherent in the System: La Familia has taken significant measures to ensure their family will always rule. La Familia's secret police ruthlessly crush insurrections. They carefully maintain a tight monopoly on the Drive, ensuring that all regions must obey them or risk getting cut off from the rest of humanity. They even took measures to ensure that reform could never happen from within. Familia members are taught from birth to believe that the current power arrangement is needed to prevent economic collapse. One popular Familia member who attempted it anyway was executed. Even a reform minded emperor, for all their power, would have to acquire the consensus of the rest of the family to attempt such a thing.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: While they are certainly not this now, the Continuum's technological development is unusual in that, as far as they know, the Drive was the very first creation their kind invented. Kik finds this odd, since the Drive is a very sophisticated device.
  • La Résistance: At the time of the story, the outer colonies of El Imperio are engaged in a full fledged revolution. At first, the military and Secret Police attempt to put it down, but when the war against the Continuum and the Vinn grows very desperate, the Emperor is forced to prioritize and shift his resources towards bigger threats.
  • Lightning Bruiser: By every indication, the Tesskans. They're terrifyingly fast and strong, as well as incredibly sturdy. The logistical advantage the drive imparts may as well have not existed when it came to a direct war between the Empire and the Tesskans, as the Tesskans were overpowering in actual battle — demonstrated handily by those captured by the Continuum, who swept the single largest ship in the galaxy before the Makers could manage even a token defense. The only thing that's stood successfully against them is the Empire-backed Mighty Glacier of the Veetans.
  • Lost in Translation: In-Universe, when the crew worries about a "fish", their Grasskan guest becomes confused, because his translator implant doesn't have the context to realize that they are actually using El Imperio slang for Artificial Intelligence as opposed to the aquatic organism.
  • Luxury Prison Suite: Only high ranking members of the Continuum even get jail as opposed to execution, and as such, Makers that have been charged with a crime are usually made comfortable.
  • Mark of the Beast: Vinn all have black squares around their eyes. It goes away when the parasite dies.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Fekk Dragon, or "Tranquin", is an enormous creature resembling, well, a dragon. The colloquial term "Fekk Dragon" comes from an In-Universe viral video of a human "fighting" one. It consists of the human completely breaking down and running around the arena screaming "Fekk! Dragon! Fekk! Dragon!".
  • Mind Rape: The Rhinn can use Telepathy to forcibly dig up memories, but it's a violation for everyone involved, resulting in reflexive resistance and mass screaming. Even the first willing case results in screaming.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Averted viciously. If the space being pinched by a ring drive is occupied by a planet, then that planet will suffer massive tremors. The bigger the ship, the more severe the quakes. This has been taken to the logical conclusion.
    Maker: Prepare a leap directly above the planet. We shall crack it like an egg.
  • The Mole: Orla O'Malley is actually part of La Familia like Fernando, but only the reader knows this: She's here to keep an eye on the crew.
    • Taneel may be on to her...
    • It's recently been revealed that Orla is not Familia. She's worse: she belongs to the Jinyiwei, the Emperor's Secret Police. When this is revealed, Taneel is neither amused, nor unprepared.
  • Mole in Charge:
    • The Jinyiwei are meant to be the Emperor's enforcers, to ensure even other members of La Familia do not rebel. The previous head however helped Emperor Cruz in his coup.
    • The next head of the Jinyiwei also turns out to be loyal to a faction other than the current Emperor.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    Narration: Evolution is funny. Generation after generation of Fillipods were naturally selected for stalks capable of ever-stronger van der waals forces. Basically, for reasons of diet. The Winter Tilla fruit has an amazing combination of proteins, carbs, and vitamins... but has a tree bark that's glass-smooth, and impossible to climb. Hence the natural selection towards van der waals forces: the Fillipods who could climb... could live to breed. It's an ability that's kept them alive for thousands of years. And, oddly enough, did so again when their planet was cracked in half... and every Tesskan alive was flung 30 meters in the air.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Despite his normal gift with languages, Cuddow's attempt at speaking Maker doesn't turn out too well.
    Kik: "He wants to know why you're propositioning his hat."
  • The Napoleon: The current Emperor Cruz.
  • The Reveal: Orla's actually a Jinyiwei spy, Fernando is the true heir to the throne of the Emperor, The Fillipods know how the Drive works, The Vinn were probably created by the Makers... lotta secrets going around out here.
  • Necessary Drawback: The Famillia-owned ship building firm IndustriaGlobo has to hire non-Familia employees, since 1) once a Member is out of the Drive Corps, they get to be a government official, and 2) there's only +/- 1200 Familia members. This leaves them vulnerable to industrial espionage. The Empire gently chastises them over shenanigans that would see anyone else expelled from the Empire. Note that in this context "gently chastise" means "only bomb your shipyard and headquarters to atoms instead of shut you down completely."
  • Never Mess with Granny: Captain Taneel of the Machito. But don't call her "Granny".
  • Noodle Incident: Nosh has had a....colorful past, by his talk. While we're eventually told what he did while stuck in Russia, he's continually making references to things he's done that aren't exactly what normal people would do. For example, when he comments on the utility of having a xenobiologist on the crew:
    Nosh: Is good to have one! Sometimes hard to tell whether to talk to creature, or eat creature....I have made awkward choices in past....
  • No-Sell: The Vinn manage to re-create the containment field on the weapons specifically intended to fight them, and turned it inside-out to protect their ships.
  • Not the Intended Use: The Ring Drive can be used as a Doomsday Device by pinching the space occupied by a planet to cause an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
    • The guest story arc That Time the Veetans Defeated the Tesskans Forever shows that the Ring can be used to put things Just One Second Out of Sync, making them invisible and invulnerable, but unable to take any action, and use it to cloak Tesskil and convince everyone they had erased it from the timeline.
    • Activating a ring engine while inside another ring engine results in an absolutely catastrophic explosion, big enough to wipe out entire space fleets . Cuddow decides to weaponize this, and begins designing a missile with twin ring engines instead of a warhead.
  • Oh, Crap!: Skitter's reaction when he learns that the Machito has no shielding and the likelihood of them all dying while crossing an asteroid field is very high.
  • Oh, Wait!:
    Fernando: Do you know what my family will do to your people when they find out??
    Cuddow: What, crack our planet in half? Oh wait.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Nosh. Like most of his people, he has an insatiable desire for knowledge of any sort.
  • Perfect Pacifist People:
    • Veetans are taught that fighting wastes the life they could spend searching for knowledge. Zigzagged, as when they actually mobilize they are absolutely terrifying warriors, it just takes A LOT to get them to that point.
    • Fillipods take it a step further, as they're completely subservient to their cousins, the Tesskans, who are belligerent enough for both of them.
  • Planet Killer: Every single Drive-equipped ship can cause seismic events on a planet by pinching too close to it, see the Misapplied Phlebotinum entry above. When a ship is big enough, well...
  • Planet of Hats: every non-human species has a handful of traits that seems to apply to most members of that species:
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally. The language of the Continuum is so complex and nuanced, traditional translator devices can't decipher the whole thing. This leads a Tesskan to decapitate a Maker out of frustration.
  • Precursors: The Sill were the most advanced race the galaxy has ever known and the only one to ever reach a type 2 Kardashev civilization; they ruled a significant swath of the galaxy, and through their trading and wars left profound influences on almost every sapient species they encountered. When they discovered Telepathy and modified themselves to be able to use it, one of them discovered that it can be used as a religious Fantastic Drug and their entire civilization got addicted. Now all that's left of them are some impressive ruins and some slowly dying monks.
  • Properly Paranoid: Standard procedure for all imperial ring ships returning to Earth is that nobody but the captain may steer the ship in to dock, and Earth's coordinates are to be top secret, and never recorded anywhere. This is because before this policy was implemented, the Tesskans captured a ship, and the Fillipods were able to recover Earth's coordinates from it. If not for the Fillipods keeping the secret of the ring drive to themselves, the Tesskans would have won the resulting war.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The hat of the Tesskans.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The Vinn
    • The guest comic Cute Things is a horror-film parody involving the crew getting infested by a race of teddy-bear looking aliens, that forces their hosts to climb to the tops of trees and get eaten by Space Whales.
  • Quest for Identity: Skitter. Fortunately, he's been roped into a hunt for his own home planet.
  • Required Secondary Powers: The Empire and Continuum have FTL, but not Deflector Shields. This means they are vulnerable to micrometeoroid impacts that can destroy the ship (At FTL speeds, kilotons upon kilotons of damage, although Continuum ships are built out of sterner stuff than La Famillia ships). Skitter's people can sense gravity waves through the Mohawk-like comb on their skulls, which lets them pull off Deadly Dodging. The Empire now wants to recruit them as navigators.
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • The Grasskans offer the Continuum an alliance against the Vinn, but the Continuum refuses due to carrying a grudge against them for stealing their technology. They get to have the pleasure of watching nearly all of them die, only for the Vinn to begin a Curb-Stomp Battle against the Continuum too.
    • Likewise, when facing the most brilliant maker of all time, the Continuum sentence him to the most painful death that they can for previous heresy rather than compromise with him to use his talents against the threat on the verge of destroying their civilization.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The Drive is serviced and run exclusively by members of La Familia, though they also take great pains to keep it that way; see Disproportionate Retribution above. Of course, this means La Familia is in fact very large to be able to maintain a multi-species interstellar empire's worth of ships - so large that only a small core has a realistic chance of being anywhere close to the throne, though the rest do still get perks to go with their responsibilities.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Continuum can be friendly under some circumstances, but if you offend their religion by stealing their technology, they will attempt genocide unless and until you give it up.
  • Secret Police: They monitor all your communications for anything La Familia would find of interest. There is also a special branch of them called the Jinyiwei, created to enforce imperial law against dissidents among the royal family itself.
  • Shout-Out: Nosh specifically says that Skitter's Easy Amnesia is "like bad episode of Gilligan's Island".
  • Skewed Priorities: The Fillipods are rather poetry obsessed, and tend to try and break out in overly long poetry if not forced to work on more important things, like dealing with invasions. When their Tesskan masters are mostly killed, and their human masters forced to shift away all forces and oversight, they choose to take advantage of this precious strategic time of autonomy... by hosting a slam poetry contest.
  • Starfish Aliens: There aren't any Human Aliens in this universe. All of the aliens we've seen are still creatures that we can relate to. But most of the aliens humanity has encountered are very different, including things like intelligent trees that communicate through fungi and oceanic creatures that built their industries on water pressure tools. But because they are so different, humanity doesn't have much interaction with them.
  • Starfish Language:
    • The Fillipod language is an extremely complicated, musical tongue that most other species can’t physically speak, since their mouths can’t make the "wild undulations" that the Fillipod language relies on.
    • The Nyx language is even worse. It appears to use future tenses that incorporate quantum uncertainty, meaning that normally binary states like on/off and alive/dead are understood as existing on gradients of possibility. Further, the exact meaning of a statement can change seemingly arbitrarily between sentences or even as it is being spoken. Finally, though their language is constantly changing, the Nyx understand everything they say as being the only thing that could possibly have been true at that moment — and if you ask the same question a moment later, they’ll give a completely different answer that they’ll see as self-evidently the only thing that could have been spoken in that moment. The Nyx find navigating this language as easy as breathing, but other species find it literally impossible to understand it. Even when they speak other languages, they have a strange way to use tenses, often using the future perfect tense at all times, that makes them difficult to understand. The Fillipods can speak it just fine.
    • The language of the Continuum is incredibly information-dense, so much so that it regularly stymies translation attempts.
  • Star Killing: The Grasskans use a Precursor device to kill all the stars in their empire. The device kills them not by blowing them up, but by somehow preventing the stars from continuing to burn via nuclear fusion.
  • State Sec: The Jinyiwei. They've also got more conventional Secret Police.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: The Tres Primos do this to Fernando while he is alone on the Machito.
    Fernando: "MAAAH! HOW'D YOU GET ON BOARD??"
  • Sterility Plague: One of the effects of the Vinn virus, which is in fact driving the Vinn to infect more beings than ever before in a futile attempt to escape their own extinction that will ultimately take everyone else with them.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Suffering a Curb-Stomp Battle at the hands of the Vinn, the Grasskans destroy every world that the Vinn conquer to prevent them from getting anything out of it, in the hopes that this will persuade them that any victory will be a Pyrrhic Victory. While the Vinn do find it mildly disturbing, absolutely nothing will stop them from infecting the galaxy, or at least settling for their corpses.
  • Submersible Spaceship: Until a devastating pandemic drove the few survivors to take shelter on dry land, the civilization of the amphibious Qen was mostly underwater. Including all their facilities for building and maintaining starships, as well as a significant chunk of their actual fleet. Much of it is still sitting perfectly intact on the ocean floor thanks to being designed with underwater operation in mind from the start, suddenly turning a species El Imperio considered to be annoying but ultimately inconsequential primitives into potentially another galactic power.
  • Taking You with Me: The Grasskans get brought to the verge of extinction at the hands of the Vinn. Since the Continuum refuses to help, they kill all of their stars, deciding that its better for all of them to die then let their families be remade by The Virus.
  • Telepathy:
    • The Sill were able to modify themselves with the ability to hear and speak to the minds of others shortly before their civilization collapsed.
    • A surviving Sill discovers that Skitter's species are also telepathic.
  • Teleport Interdiction: The Gannath have a technology unique to them that can generate a gravity wave that wrecks the drive.
  • Terminally Dependent Society: La Familia had the good fortune to recover and reverse engineer a Faster Than Light drive lost by the Continuum and used this to crown themselves the rulers of humanity. They maintained a very careful monopoly to ensure that all of humanity's colonies would have to obey them or be cut off from humanity. But some of the outer colonies are able to rebel thanks to the help of three renegade Familia members. This dependence on the Drive is also the reason for El Imperio's war with the Continuum, since as far as they can tell, the Continuum wants the human race to give up the stolen technology or be wiped out, and the former would mean the end of their interstellar civilization.
  • Throw-Away Country: The Grasskan Empire is barely even mentioned before the Vinn invasion, and once they realize they've lost that war they destroy their own stars.
    • Ultimately subverted. The Grasskans are rebuilding from the ground up, after forcing La Imperia to give them a world in exchange for not sharing how THEIR FTL drive works with the Imperial vassal states.
  • Translator Microbes: Translator implants are implied to exist but are imperfect, shown by a Tesskan poking at the side of his head when he can't understand a Maker, complaining that the translation "ain't comin' through." Poor Communication Kills quite literally when the Maker refuses to speak another more easily-translated language, which angers the Tesskan.
  • Twitchy Eye: Nosh, upon learning the crew's next destination is Tesskil. More so when he finds they're being pursued by a Continuum Dreadnought ship.
  • Unfortunate Name:
    • Skitter wanted to call himself Steve, but...
      Taneel: Well, lessee now... "Skitter" is a ridiculous name that sounds like an 18th century case of the trots... but "Steve" is the name of my jerk of an ex-husband.
      Skitter: ...Skitter it is?
      Taneel: Skitter it is.
  • Uniqueness Decay: A big plot point is that the Fillipods figured out how to make Ring Drives of their own, and a guest strip tells us the Veetans captured a derelict ringship and retooled it into a Cloaking Device.
  • Uplifted Animal: Fekk Dragons are usually barely intelligent enough to learn only a handful of words, and if one of those is "Food" it's all they'll ever say. But the one in the arena on Slaughter is also a Vinn, and is intelligent enough to speak fluently, and recognize Orla and deliberately intimidate her.
  • The Virus: The Vinn aren't actually a single species; they're at least 14 species all infected with the Vinn parasite. The parasite bonds to the nervous system and restructures the brain, resulting in an entirely new, unique mind. Most, possibly all Vinn are trying to spread across the galaxy in an attempt to find their "gods", who developed the parasite as a misguided cure for an unknown affliction, although it's described as a "Cancerous malady". It's implied this is an empty quest since their creators' homeworld was nuked into oblivion in a desperate attempt to wipe out the parasite — possibly by the few surviving creators themselves. Unfortunately, the parasite was already able to spread on its own.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Continuum Makers can live for several centuries but most other species have lifespans comparative to humans. Inverted with Veetans who only live 25 years. The Rhinn, Skitter's species, are also implied to have multi-centennial lifespans given they're only allowed to leave their homeworld in the last 10% of their life and that lasts at least 60 years.
  • Wham Episode: Every now and again, a page will reveal something shocking, even if the consequences of the revelations aren't apparent at the time.
    • The strips detailing the "Rogue Maker's" actions turn out to lead up to the events of the very first strips.
    • The "Tres Primos" came out of retirement recently. Their pilot happens to be the same species as Skitter. Not to mention they strongly hint that Fernando is the previous Emperor's true heir. "Pequeño rey," indeed.
    • Nosh is now a Vinn. "We've lost him. He's gone."
    • When Ahmis finds out that humans reverse engineered the ring drive from his people. He is not pleased.
    • The reveal of why Skitter can't remember his past. He had his memories voluntarily locked away so the trauma he'd gone through wouldn't kill him.
  • Wham Line:
    Maker: Prepare a leap directly above the planet. We shall crack it like an egg.
    • Also: "...we already know how your Drive works."
    • The Tres Primos calling Fernando "pequeño rey." Or, in English, "little king."
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Nosh spent 6 years stuck in Moscow when he ran out of cab fare, and so speaks with a ridiculous Russian accent.
  • When It All Began:
    • "He has never piloted before. But then, he has only been alive for fourteen hours..."
    • On April, 22nd 2011 this came full circle.
  • The Worf Effect: The Grasskans are said to be an old starfaring empire, and one strong enough to fight even the Continuum to a stalemate. As soon as the Vinn are given FTL travel, they completely Curb Stomp the Grasskans and wipe them out.
  • Wretched Hive: Planet Slaughter.
    Taneel: You'll meet 100 species on that planet, and each one is a mob hitman.
  • You Will Be Assimilated: The Vinn are like what you'd get if you crossed the Zerg with the Covenant: a religion of parasite-infested Super Soldiers who constantly evolve and have "Spread our Beneficial Disease" as a form of evangelism.

Alternative Title(s): Drive, Drive Dave Kellet