This page is full of spoilers, so if you're a player you probably shouldn't read them, or you should at least talk to your gamemaster before doing so.
The alien species known as the Factors are unlike anything mankind has encountered so far (see First Contact). Though they are aloof and stand-offish, their willingness and sometimes eagerness to deal with (parts of) transhumanity indicate either a keen interest on their part in transhuman affairs or some hidden ulterior agenda. The various transhuman factions have been similarly wary and cautious but interested. Despite numerous communications difficulties and failures, an uneasy relationship has flowered over the past 8 years, facilitating some trade and exchange of knowledge.
Origin and Evolution
The Factors have remained notoriously tight-lipped about their origins, history, and the location of their homeworld. Though they have also paid visits to some of transhumanity’s exoplanet colonies, no gatecrashing expeditions have yet found any sign of Factor habitation or passing elsewhere in the galaxy. Repeated inquiries by transhuman mediators have been simply ignored or answered in cryptic terms that have yet to be deciphered. The Factor homeworld is in fact an Earth-like planet with comparable atmospheric conditions and a prevalent hydrosphere but with longer periods of darkness (due to slower rotation of the planet and a less-luminous orange giant). While adapted transhumans could find their planet habitable, the abiogenesis (the formation of life from self-replicating, but not-living molecules) of life here took a different route than life on Earth.
The Factors’ primordial ancestors began in their planet’s early geological history as a type of photosynthesizer that ate carbon dioxide and water and released oxygen, also obtaining energy from inorganic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide. Long conditions without direct light on their homeworld, however, spurred the success of organisms that could survive by acquiring energy in other ways. The next evolutionary leap was to a stage similar to slime molds, eating microorganisms from decaying matter. As evolution progressed, they mutated further into a cautious, predatory species that fed on larger, dangerous creatures. Rather than actively hunting such prey, this species developed versatile methods of capturing and immobilizing their competitors (comparable to Earth’s funnel web or trapdoor spiders). Over time, this method of trapping prey spurred basic (practical) intelligence and provided them with the evolutionary advantage that paved the way to sapience, driving Factors to become the highest-developed organisms on their planet and build a civilization.
Like mankind, the Factors suffered through and survived their own singularity event and encounter with the exsurgent virus. Perhaps due to their cautious and calculating nature—and their evolutionary experience in dealing with more powerful and dangerous opponents—the Factors are resolutely determined not to make any similar mistakes as a species.
Since life on the Factors’ homeworld developed differently than Earth and produced neither nucleic acids nor amino acids, Factor metabolic processes and “genetics” are very different from transhumanity’s. While little is known about the exact physiology of the Factors, due to the lack of captured or dead specimens to investigate (so far, no hypercorps or factions have risked an interstellar incident by abducting one to dissect … so far) and their unwillingness to be examined by transhumans, most common knowledge about them is based on observational and forensics research during their encounters with transhumanity.
Individual Factors resemble non-translucent ambulatory amoeba, slime molds, or slugs. Though they “stand” only 0.3 meters tall, their body diameter ranges from 1.5 to 2 meters, they can be up to 2 meters long, and they can shape their body to change these dimensions. Instead of walking, they crawl or ooze from place to place by protruding finger-like structures (so called pseudopodia) that attach to the ground (or wall or ceiling) and which they use to pull and retract their rear forward (similar to cell migration). Due to their malleable shape they are not as strongly affected by gravity as transhumans. Most Factors that have been encountered are dull ocher in color and are made from a gooey, gel-like substance of unknown composition, though yellow glistening patches (which are temporary organelles) and bundles of fibers (some kind of muscular skeleton) often become visible when they move. While all Factors are able to express versatile pseudopodia to manipulate and operate devices (and even attack), some subspecies possess, carry, or are able to develop additional differentiated limbs, cilia, or organs with specialized functions.
Unlike transhumans, Factors rarely act individually—in fact, individuality is a concept somewhat foreign to Factors. Most Factors join together into a collective unit termed a colony. A typical Factor colony is composed of hundreds or thousands of individual Factors that literally physically join together into a mass organism (resembling more a primordial soup than a gargantuan Factor). Individual Factors are indistinguishable from each other when merged into the supra-structure of the colony, though individuals can form and break apart to accomplish different tasks. This colonial merging is mainly possible due to the fact that Factors don’t possess differentiated and specialized organs or cell types that need to be segregated from each other, but instead use an open system of local, temporary gradients for regulation. Neurofilament connections effectively allow the Factor colony to operate with a group mind-state, with supercomputer potential. This also allows for the easy transfer of knowledge and memories to all other factors within a colony.
If dismembered, blown apart, or otherwise separated, individual Factors in a colony can regenerate and reconstitute at a rapid rate without loss of ability or memory.
Factors reproduce when different members of the colony produce gametes that fuse, grow into spore stalks, and emit spores that later hatch and grow clones.
Biodiversity and Design
Factors colonies are known for their high biodiversity, featuring numerous sub-groups (phenotypes) that each have unique traits (cilia, apocrine glands, carapace-like outer membrane) that give them an ecological advantage or a utilitarian aptitude for certain tasks. These traits are not random evolutionary features but are the result of intentional bioengineering. The Factors have a strong grip on their own metabolisms and genetic expressions and can draw on an array of genetic building blocks and biotech techniques to modify themselves rapidly and massively to adapt to special conditions. Whether these modifications might have a purpose beyond function, such as for reproduction or self-expression, is currently unknown.
Factors ships and habitats have transhuman-friendly atmospheres with a slightly higher content of carbon dioxide and less nitrogen that mimics the conditions on the Factors’ home planet. They don’t breathe oxygen via lungs but absorb it via their outer “skin.” Since they can also use oxygen from other sources (minerals, liquids like water, and salts) to fuel their aerobic energy production (i.e., respiration), they can be considered functional anaerobes, meaning they can survive in environments without atmosphere, though they must usually supply themselves with food in order to do so.
During the few ceremonial festivities to which Factors were invited and actually attended, they consumed and processed transhuman organic food by internalization. On the first occasion, dishes and dinnerware were absorbed as well due to misunderstanding, but were excreted unharmed after the organic components the factors could utilize had been broken down. While Factors are omnivores similar to transhumans, they prefer immobilized live prey, which they enjoy absorbing internally and digesting, excreting those parts that cannot be used to fuel their metabolism. As such they can devour biomorphs and nonmetallic components of synthmorphs.
Factors don’t perceive the world as transhumans do. They (usually) don’t possess visual or acoustic organs to see or hear but have a number of sensory organs that grant them a 360-degree awareness of their surroundings and enable them to interact with their environment similar to or in some cases even better than transhumans. Their perception spectra includes the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, magnetoception, a high-resolution chemical-gradient based “sight,” and keen haptic perceptions (including vibrations).
Due to the lack of a vocal system, Factors use different methods of signaling and communication. Factors in physical contact exchange information by juxtacrine cellular, neurofilament interfacing, or by merging for information transfer. Over distance, Factors signal via pheromonal communication using airborne scents or chemical signals with different metabolic components. Nicknamed “Factor dust,” this communication is effective even over great distances (up to 10 kilometers). Factor dust does have an odor perceptible to transhumans, however, that ranges from smelly to unbearable. This dust is also toxic in high concentrations and sometimes used as an offensive or defensive mechanism.
To date, transhumans have failed to develop a device that can analyze the Factors’ chemical effluvia and translate it into something understandable, due to the lack of a conceptual matrix (though certain “moods” have been identified). Instead, all communication between the Factors and transhumanity is mediated through computer interfaces. Certain Factor phenotypes that deal with transhumanity have grown a neurobiological interface (or organ) that enables them to wirelessly mesh with transhuman computer systems.
Long-distance communication between Factors and transhumanity is achieved by normal farcasting. There are strong indications that Factors also take advantage of quantum-entanglement communications, enabling Factor colonies and ships to share knowledge gained in different parts of the galaxy.
Factors are cooperative beings that exist as a collective colonial organization. Though they can operate individually from the colony, they tend to view themselves as part of that collective entity rather than an individual being. Multiple colonies often work together as a higher functional unit (a lattice), like some kind of superorganism. These lattices enable the potential for collective networking and bioinformation exchange on a scope beyond anything of which transhumanity is capable.
These colonies should not be considered the same as the hive mind social hierarchies of insects. Factor colonies do not feature the same division of labor and instead function according to a consensus-based sort of groupthink. Individual Factors have no sense of personal gain or property and share equally with other Factors and colonies.
Factors do not experience emotions in the same manner that transhumans do, though being evolved creatures they are driven by certain instincts. They know and understand many of the same concepts that transhumans do thanks to evolution, such as competition/rivalry and altruism/cooperation. They also enjoy an understanding of basic ideas of philosophy such as aesthetics and metaphysics, though their conception of such topics is likely to differ from transhuman notions.
Art and Culture
Due to their perceptual array, Factor “art” (creations and expressions that are appealing or attractive to their senses) is mostly chemical or tactile-based. It can induce certain “mood” responses from individual Factors and whole colonies, ranging from agitated jittering and release of a Factor dust interpretable as “joy” to a tensing and solidifying of the whole body (and no chemical expulsion) that seems to relate to anger. Since they like and are susceptible to delicate compositions of different chemicals, certain bouquets and fragrances from liquids or volatiles such as wines and perfumes are both appealing and repulsive to Factors. The same is also true for the natural smells of biomorphs, meaning that Factors may respond in a more friendly or hostile manner depending on a particular transhuman’s scent.
Factors do not comprehend most transhuman art, as it is mostly visual or auditory based (e.g., music, painting), though they do seem to have an appreciation for engineering, architecture, and some sculpture. While they have expressed interest in digitalized media out of a curiosity (or plan) to understand transhuman mindsets, they lack the organs and mental structure to access and comprehend it.
Though the Factors repeatedly express dismay at transhumanity’s low level of technology, they have failed so far to produce technology that is exceptionally far in advance. Some believe that the Factors are hiding their advanced technology in order to keep transhumans from stealing or copying it, while others think this may be a posture taken by the Factors to facilitate bargaining. The Factors also claim that their technology would not interest transhumans because of their differences in physiology and mindset, and what little technology they have displayed is certainly specialized for Factor use (specialized neurofilament links, chemical signaling and Factor dust interfaces, etc.) and so unusable to most transhumans. The Factors have traded some technology to transhumans, at expensive cost, though the small sampling provided so far seems to have originated from alien species with physiologies more akin to transhumans.
It is interesting to note that scans of Factor ships indicate their technology level, aside from the drives, is not all that more advanced than transhumanity. Also of note is that no two Factor ships have been alike, spurring some to believe that the Factors are in fact making use of ships acquired from other alien species—perhaps abandoned derelicts that the Factors recovered and restored. Once again this has led some to believe that the Factors are using what to them are primitive craft in order to hide their real technology, while others are of the opinion that the Factors are simply scavengers and opportunists, piggybacking on the developments of other alien species.
One intruiging feature of Factor technology is that they use no artificial intelligences. This stems from their own singularity experience. Instead, Factors use infomorph versions of themselves or the accumulated processing power of their colony mind-states to perform major computerized tasks.
The driving reason behind why the Factors made contact with transhumanity remains unclear and is open to gamemaster interpretation. There is much speculation among transhuman factions. Some think the Factors are social creatures who are glad to make contact with another post-singularity surviving civilization. Others believe the Factors are mercenary traders who somehow acquired FTL travel and use it to their full advantage, fleecing various trading partners who lack such capabilities (thus also explaining why the Factors eschew the Pandora gates—they disdain competition). Still others worry about secret, hidden motivations.
Despite claiming to represent a number of alien civilizations, the Factors have been extremely reluctant to provide any other information on these other species or even to say how many there are. More recently, however, they have expressed a willingness to transport a small number of transhumans to other civilizations, though at great expense and with no guarantee to their safety or ability to return.
So far, the Factors have made no mention of the ETI or the exsurgent virus to transhumanity, though they are aware of their existence. Instead they have issued dire warning and admonitions regarding the development of seed AIs and use of the Pandora gates. The Factors have, in fact, expressed an extreme reluctance to deal with any transhuman factions that are heavily invested in gatecrashing, such as Gatekeeper Corp.
The Factors In Game
Factors should be rarely encountered in Eclipse Phase. Most of their interactions with transhumanity occur remotely and infrequently. It is uncommon for them to risk direct interactions. It should be kept in mind that Factors are cautious to the point of being conservative and view transhumanity as potentially hostile or dangerous, so they are more likely to act with discretion than boldness. Factors are also quite cunning, having evolved from prey-capturing predators, and still design complex machinations (traps in the metaphorical sense) to achieve their goals. In other words, Factors out to achieve something are likely to hatch an elaborate plot to get it and are not against recruiting transhumans. Also, drawing on their abilities to self-modify themselves and technology developed on their own or picked up at other places in the universe, they can adapt to new situations very quickly.
Factors don’t possess Lucidity stats and cannot be driven to madness like transhumans.
Affecting Factors with psi is very difficult, as noted. As of yet, Factors have not exhibited any psi abilities of their own.
Sidebar: Roleplaying Factors
When roleplaying Factors, their alien mindset and lack of individualism should be kept in mind. “I” is a designation that does not exist in Factor terminology. Factors always use the plural when referring to themselves, usually referring to either their colony, lattice, or entire species. It is quite common for conceptual discrepancies to occur between transhumans and Factors due to the different sensory perceptions of each species. Factors do not “see” the way most transhumans do, nor do they “hear.”
Communication with Factors should be challenging for several reasons. While computer-based communication has enabled both species to talk to each other, there is no direct translation and certain concepts held by one species are simply incomprehensible or untranslatable by the other. Conversation should therefore be misleading and provide ambiguous information.
When describing spaceships and habitats, the physiology of the Factors should be considered. The Factors’ malleable form and ability to extend pseudopodial limbs enables them to fit into most places and operate transhuman devices (even pilot a transhuman vehicle by “hand”). The same is not true in reverse, however—most Factor devices are unusable to transhumans, as they lack the ability for chemical signalling.
Detailed rules for handling the Factors in combat, as well as known Factor phenotypes, can be found here.
Due to using completely alien protocols and system designs, Factor computers are essentially impossible to hack. They do, however, employ some devices that emulate transhuman computer systems for communication purposes, and these may be hacked as normal.