The Ethereals are an alien race from the X-COM series.
The first appearance of the Ethereals came during the latter stages of the First Alien War of the 20th century. Whilst rarely encountered on the field, there were a number of skirmishes between these alien masterminds as the soldiers of the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit. Eventually, this led to the capture of a number of live specimens and autopsies to be conducted on deceased subjects where the true nature of their threat was realized. Similar to the other alien species, the Ethereals were largely defeated when X-COM assault their Cydonia base and destroyed the alien Brain controlling the hordes.
At some unknown point, a High Ethereal commanded an alien mothership and was leading his forces in the invasion of Earth. This came at a time when the X-Com Enforcer robot was constructed by Professor Able Standard. The robot was dispatched to combat the numerous alien forces that were besieging the planet. This eventually culminated in an assault against the alien mothership in orbit where the Enforcer battled against the High Ethereal's guiding intellect. After killing it, the aliens invasion of the planet was ended and their threat seemed to had ended.
Since the First Alien War, the presence of Ethereals were enough to bring terror into the hearts and minds of X-COM operatives. A century afterwards, during mankind's expansion into space, they encountered the aliens once more as they were exploring the Frontier. These encounters eventually led to confrontation with the Ethereals once more who were now piloting their own space craft and using them against humanity. Such confrontations were different from the earlier planetary warfare as these aliens proved to be extremely adept pilots and more dangerous due to their potent psionic powers.
The origins of the Ethereal Ones were largely unknown except that they had for thousands of years been conducting campaigns of genetic experimentation to find useful traits. Their kind were dying as a result of advanced tissue generation and had sought a cure for their condition among other species. These races they discovered were then promptly introduced into their empire and were needed to find an unknown threat. Their search for the 'Gift' tended to be largely a failure as many races had a single trait but lacked another. Such races included the Sectoids who had the necessary mental power but lacked strong physical bodies whilst the Mutons who were capable soldiers did not the nececessary intelligence so were instead used to replace their former soldiers. Chrysalids were uplifted but were instead used as a weapon designed to breed and Floaters were augmented with mechanical components once they failed in the Ethereal's desired purpose. The Thin Men were deemed capable but also ultimately lacked the necessary traits that the Ethereal Ones desired who continued their experimentation which eventually brought them to the planet Earth in the 21st century. Their abductions and experimentations led to the formation of the Human XCOM project who began to develop psychic traits. This was deemed an acceptable development by the Ethereals who were expecting the arrival of 'the New One' to join their ranks.
Members of the XCOM project were largely unaware of the existence of the Ethereals as they initially believed the Sectoids were leaders of the invasion. However, after the study of the Sectoid Commander, they determined that even this high ranking alien was subservient to a higher power and thus suspicions of a mastermind alien race came to the human race. After the development of the Hyperwave Relay, the XCOM project detected the presence of an Overseer class UFO which, unknown to them, contained an Ethereal commander. After the vessel was damaged, human soldiers stormed the ship and encountered the powerful psionic entity that was guarding a machine called the Ethereal Device. From this machine, they determined that the aliens utilized a telepathic form of communication and thus focused their efforts in developing psionic talents. Reverse engineering of the Ethereal Device allowed the creation of the Gollop Chamber that was designed to allow a psionic human to interface with the machine.
After this event, the alien Temple Ship appeared on Earth which highlighted the large scale threat posed by the Ethereals. XCOM commissioned a project named 'Aether' in 2015 that studied these newly unveiled aliens. In response to the arrival of the Temple Ship, XCOM launched an operation led by their premier psionic soldier to storm the vessel. Once inside, the Ethereal Ones welcomed the presence of 'the New One' to help them against an unknown threat and highlighted their previous attempts at harnessing the 'Gift' amongst their various servant species. This saw a confrontation with the Uber Ethereal that served as the mastermind of the alien forces and its destruction killed all the alien forces. However, its death led to an overload at the Temple Ship which threatened to explode into a black hole that would have consumed the Earth. This saw the premier human psionic soldier used an Ethereal Device to send the Temple Ship into orbit where it exploded and the debris harmlessly crashed onto the surface of the planet.
Despite the attempts by X-COM, the Aliens led by the Ethereal proved victorious in conquering Earth. In the span of decades, the Ethereals ruled Earth where they established ADVENT as the planetary government to enforce their rule. Since the invasion, the Elders had not been seen though statues that glorified them were erected by their followers as the majority of humanity fell under Alien rule. For years, the Elders had not been seen in the field with this in reality being because the Ethereals were dying from advanced tissue degeneration. It was this reason that they created the Avatar Project in order to study humanity as a means of curing their degenerating condition.
These humanoid beings were often shrouded by a cloak that hide their physical features from outsiders. An autopsy report later determined that their bodies were physically retarted to the point that it was incapable of sustaining their life functions. Not only were the muscles atrophied but their internal organs were also underdeveloped and even their sensory organs such as their eyes appeared to not function at all. In contrast, their brains were highly developed and drew a great deal of the bodies blood supply. It was a source of mystery as to how these creatures were able to function and sustain themselves without any form of physical support. (X-Com: UFO Defense)
It was through their hyperdeveloped brains which gave the race tremendous psychic abilities which provided them not only telepathic communication but the capacity to affect the physical environment through telekinesis as well. X-COM was unable to truly understand how the telekinetic powers worked for the Ethereals as they defied the physical laws that were known to Humanity at the time. Whilst their bodies were physically weak, an Ethereal was perfectly capable of sustaining themselves through their mental powers alone. This made them extremely dangerous in any battlefield condition as they made use of their formidable mental powers in combat. Fortunately, they appeared to had rarely taken part in ground missions on Earth and instead relied on the other alien races to pursue their mysterious objectives. Ethereals were a guiding influence for another of the alien hordes namely the Muton foot soldiers who relied on the psionic influences of these telepathic beings. (X-Com: UFO Defense)
Their powers and abilities made them as a source of dread for Human opponents who later came to realize that the race were not engineered for planetary surface operations. Instead, they were designed to serve as pilots and were extremely adept in such a role. In combat situations, they were proven to be fairly aggressive in their attacks though the biggest danger was their psionic powers which allowed them to not only panic Human pilots but even take control of them and thus made them dangerous to those pilots with low psionic capabilities. (X-Com: Interceptor)
In terms of appearance, the Ethereals were taller than humans and were covered in a long red robe that obscured their appearance. Their heads were decorated with a large metallic helmet that masked their faces. Beneath their robes, they had four purple skinned arms with the primary ones being longer than the secondary limbs. Their physical forms were not noted for physical combat and were in fact quite frail. There was evidence of atrophy and muscular degeneration that occured over an extended period of time. Ethereal lifespan allowed them to live for thousands of years with radiocarbon dating of one particular specimen revealed that it had lived for several thousand years. Genetically, there was little evidence that Ethereals were enhanced on the same level as the other alien races under their control. There was, however, a similarity in the synaptic connections between them and Sectoid Commanders. Their psionic talents were considerable with a large pool of energy available to them which explained why the other alien species were subservient to them.
These specimens were seemingly at the highest point of the alien hierarchy and utilized a psionic communication net to control the other species in a form of collective consciousness.
- Uber Ethereal : from the Reboot, this seemingly male member was a powerful Ethereal that was in command of the Templeship that came to Earth.
- Angelis Ethereal : from the Reboot, this seemingly female member was in charge of the Alien base on Earth and attempted to convince the X-COM Commander to join them to fulfil his destiny.
- According to the novel adaptation by Diane Duane, X-COM scientists discovered that the Ethereals were an alien race of the Sectoid species that once lived near a dying red star. In order to survive its effects, they modified their bodies and began replacing them with bionic prothesis in order to increase their psychic powers as well as reduce their dependency on physical needs.
- The same above novel also indicated that X-COM scientist Trenchard at the base in Morroco merged Ethereal DNA with his own body turning him into a hybrid of the two races. However, he became a spy for the aliens though X-COM Commander Jonelle Barrett managed to learn of this and used Trenchard as a tool for misinformation to the enemy aliens.
- Ethereals were expected to appear in the cancelled X-COM: Alliance game.