The Pfhor

...he Pfhor are sla``vers.

On the final terminal of "Bob's Big Date" there are two terminal messages. The 1st (unfinished) message is not normally seen since most people will have achieved their mission objective long before reaching this terminal. The graphic accompanying the 1st message is odd and as Brandon Loberg <> points out it has never been adequately discussed on the Story page. You can see the terminal message here.

The picture is of Tfear surrounded by the bodies of Nebulons. We know this from Jason Jones' credit screen on "All Roads Lead to Sol..." He holds what looks like a helmet with three red eyes characteristic of the Pfhor. No surprise here since Tfear is a Pfhor fleet admiral, indeed he has a third eye on his forehead. What puzzles Brandon is why the figure is so humanoid like?

If one remembers back to Marathon the Pfhor's features were very insectoid like. Even the Enforcers had these features. While there were some changes in Pfhor features between Marathon and Marathon 2 they still retained their overall Marathon look. So why does Tfear look almost human like?

Matthew Grieco <> writes:

Regarding Admiral Tfear's human-like appearance: on "Defend THIS!" Leela tells you:

I have received a preliminary report from some members of the science staff who have finished post-mortem examinations on three kinds of Aliens. They report that by modern genealogical standards the different Aliens belong to different SPECIES.

(Defend THIS!: Terminal 1)

As anyone who has played through the Tycho-dominated levels of Marathon Infinity knows, Pfhor society, or at least Pfhor military society, is highly stratified, with each "species" of Pfhor receiving a certain "rank" presumably based on its birthright ("Attentive," "Willful," etc.). The Enforcers, for instance, are probably the "Willful" rank, as they are whom we must destroy on "Rise Robot Rise," the level on which Tycho (posing as Admiral Tfear) commands:

Any units of willful rank or higher are hereby open to execution.

(Rise Robot Rise: Terminal 3: 1st message)

Logically, there must be fewer and fewer Pfhor of each rank as you ascend through the echelons of power, and therefore fewer and fewer of each species. The highest levels would have only a handful of brethren who resembled them. Perhaps the Pfhor are not as unlike humans as you would like to assume, but evolved in such a way that their lower species are more insectoid, and their upper species more evolved. Tfear is, I believe, the highest-ranking Pfhor described to you, and certainly the highest-ranking Pfhor of whom you see a picture. Therefore, it is not so surprising that he looks substantially different from his subordinates. Perhaps a clue lies in Tycho's statement:

Bugs are so obedient.

(Rise Robot Rise: Terminal 0: 1st message)

Tfear is anything but obedient, so perhaps he's something greater than a bug. He possessed, after all, the trih xeem, an awfully potent toy for a "mere" insect to control, don't you think?

Forrest Cameranesi <> writes:

So, what are all the Pfhor ranks, and what castes/species correspond to them?

...I've gone through Infinity (which is the only place Pfhor culture is ever really discussed, other than Durandal's comment about Pfhor religion in M2 and Leela's observation of different 'species' in M1) and compiled a list of all the ranks I could find, plus the individuals to whom they refer in each instance. But first, a summary of my impressions of each rank.

Command: Highest (?) rank, some members in direct contact with the Hindmost Creche. Apparently not involved in manual combat, an entirely command-oriented rank (hence the name).

Imperial: Unknown. Only mentioned once. Apparently higher than Attentive rank, but as Command rank is spoken of in extremely high terms, I have placed this between the two.

Attentive: An AI, a station commander, and two science officers are known to be of Attentive rank. Apparently similar to Command rank in that in that units are non-combatant.

Willful: Units of this rank are seen in command of units of Aggregate rank, but under the command of Attentive ranked unit. Enforcers and/or troopers have been reffered to as 'Willful', suggesting that unlike higher ranks, Willful units do engage in combat. The name suggests that they have influence in command decicions, as do the commands from Wilful unit Hrled to all Aggregate ranked units on "Acme Station". However, they do not seem to be very powerfull in the command chain.

Aggregate: Hunters, perhaps Juggernauts and Troopers as well, plus a Quartermaster, a science officer, and a Combatant Unit have all been reffered to as units of Aggregate rank. This is apparently the greatest populated rank of Pfhor (discounting slave races). The name and actions of this rank suggest that many units engage in combat situations; however, as a science officer and a quartermaster are both reffered to as Aggregate, then Aggregate units are not entirely mindless, or powerless in the chain of command. However, they do appear to be the lowest rank occupied by the common Pfhor.

Conditioned: Members of Pfhor slave races are all of the Conditioned rank. S'pht compilers, Human cyborg tanks, the player in Pfhor-dominated timelines, and potential human slaves are all refferd to as Conditioned. However, in one instance there was a mention of demotion to Conditioned rank, suggesting that some actual Pfhor also occupy this rank.

And now, the list...

The 'Command' Rank:

Command (High Admiral Tfear) Commanding Rank (unknown: One Thousand Thousand Slimey Thins, Terminal 3, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "The Hindmost is of an intelligence so vast, it encompasses the span of the Pfhor, and to those privilege to server Her, appears insane. That is the final function of Commanding Rank, the thought that we keep forever in our minds, that we deny out selfish, willful needs, so that the Empire will survive.")

The 'Imperial' Rank:

Imperial Rank (unknown: Son of Grendel, Terminal 5, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "All garrison units below Attentive Rank and hereby restricted from contact with Alien Artifact pending deep level probe and arrival of Imperial Ranked Extraction Unit.") willful (Science Officer 2nd Class, I'ii'ich)

The 'Attentive' Rank:

Attentive rank (Tycho Machinate Mercenary) Attentive rank (Science Officer 1st Class W'rrl) Attentive (Perimeter Station 7AF Commander 5th Class Re'eer) Attentive (Science Officer 1st Class Uuhr'm)

The 'Willful' Rank:

Willful units (?enforcers?troopers)
Willfull unit Hrled (unknown: Acme Station, Terminal 1, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "Aggregate Station Units. origin: station willful unit Hrled. destin: Aggregate station units. ref: scheduled cycle demotions. stamp: enforcement.)
Willful rank (unknown: Where Some Rarely Go, Terminal 4, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "Personnel of Willful Rank or greater are advised to limit activity in the Riverine area until completion of Hostile Reduction Directive 11 and the waterway is sterilized of the bipeds.")

The 'Aggregate' Rank:

Local mid-units aggregate 3 to 1 (hunters)
Aggregate units (unknown: Poor Yoric, Terminal 1, Unfinished 1st, #PICT screen, "The Enforcers are pinned down on the bridge, and they won't cooperate until I can successfully forge their encrypted stamp. I'm working on it, but it may be a dead issue, as most of the Aggregate Units have come over and are preparing to blow the ship seals.")
Aggregate station units (unknown: Acme Station, Terminal 1, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "Aggregate Station Units. origin: station willful unit Hrled. destin: Aggregate station units. ref: scheduled cycle demotions. stamp: enforcement.)
Aggregate Tenstcel fourth class (unknown; Acme Station, Terminal 1, Finished, 1st #PICT screen, "Anonymous Notice. origin: aggregate Tenstcel fourth class. destin: station willful unit Hrled. ref: scheduled cycle demotions. stamp: postponement)
Aggregate supply units (?juggernauts)
Aggregate units (unknown: Post Naval Trauma, Terminal 2, Unfinished, 1st #PICT screen, "Enforcement Units {?unyoked?}, all Aggregate Units warned {due process>} comply.")
Aggregate rank (unknown: Where Some Rarely Go, Terminal 3, Unfinished, 2nd #PICT screen, "As field observations and several post-mortem examinations of fallen combatant members of Aggregate Rank indicate, the creatures attack with one favored foreclaw.")
Aggregate (Quartermaster 5th Class Ssh'uph)
Aggregate (Combatant 3rd Class Jrr'z)
Aggregate (Science Officer 3rd Class Yyr'hy)
Aggregate units (?juggernauts?hunters)
aggregate patrol units (?troopers)

The 'Conditioned' Rank:

Conditioned unit (player)
Conditioned ranks (S'pht)
Conditioned rank (unknown: Where Some Rarely Go, Terminal 2, Unfinished, 5th #PICT screen, "Alternate Footpath Project as been completed without use of functional cutterays. Substitution of garrison personnel demoted to Conditioned Rank (ref: psychiatric) into work detail increased efficacy of project.")
Conditioned rank (compilers)
Conditioned ranks (potential enslaved bobs)
Conditioned units (unknown: Son of Grendel, Terminal 5, Unfinished, 2nd #PICT screen, "Following unproductive probe of area, Science Officer 3rd Class Yyr'hy (Aggregate) determined with use of team of conditioned units location of internal power source, run awash in teh subatomic fields detains in prior survey reports.")

Aaron Davies <> writes:

I noticed you referred to Tfear as the highest-ranking Pfhor we've ever encountered. What about the cyborg-pfhor (or whatever it was) that we killed in M1?

Similarly Graham Benedict <> writes:

What about the mutant cyborg from Marathon, that we encounter on the ship? Where does he land in the Pfhor caste system? I would think commander, for obvious reasons. He never engages in combat (and we are all oh so familiar with his guards) but he also was in chief command of all the S'pht on the ship. Food for thought...

Yes indeed.

Aaron Snyder <> writes:

In Marathon, we're told that the reason that the S'pht fight us is that they're being controlled by a Pfhor cyborg that we need to kill to free the S'pht. Well, where's the controlling cyborg in M2 and MI? S'pht attack us in those games, too.

Just a thought.

Tim Savard <> writes:

After reading the discussions around the Cyborg Pfhor's rank, it seems to me a least that the cyborg would have a rank somewhere closer to attentive or willful. I say this because often times in Human history (since Human-Pfhor relationships have popped up so much recently), slave drivers were people who had the responsibility of carrying out the orders of a higher commander, not necessarily their own ideas. And the Cyborg to me was more of Slave Driver as opposed to a commanding officer. And the guards can be explained when you realize that there was only one of the cyborgs so if it was lost, the S'pht were basically free, only to be controled by fear.

Actually the S'pht were never controlled by fear only force. On "Welcome to the Revolution..." (Terminal 1) we read:

The rebellion has begun. Please do resist the temptation to
fire on any S'pht you see, as they will assist you in your
battle with the Pfhor. We are attempting to win over as many
of the other client races as possible, but as they have been
subjugated by fear, instead of by force like the S'pht, this
is proving to be a difficult process.

But yes once the cyborg was killed the S'pht were essentially free. Obviously the Pfhor didn't consider a back-up necessary. ;-)

Also on "Come and Take your Medicine" we read:

I am F'tha, S'pht-compiler, your deeds
reached far into the S'pht consciousness.
The vile (?ugly) Pfhor slave us to more
powerful (?painful) machines, but we resist

So the Pfhor were using machines (cyborgs?) for controlling the S'pht in Marathon 2.

Matthew Grieco <> writes:

On "Beware of Low Flying Defense Drones...", Durandal tells us:

The S'pht and myself have come to an understanding. They are controlled through their mechanical exoskeleton by a cyborg Pfhor onboard the Alien ship. This mutant Pfhor is able to direct the actions of thousands of S'pht simultaneously.

If you can kill their master, they will revolt.

(Beware of Low-Flying Defense Drones... [Terminal 3])

And yet, when we reach "Pfhoraphobia" and destroy the cyborg, the S'pht continue to attack us for the rest of that level. Indeed, if you launch a missile down at the cyborg (which is sufficient to destroy it), about a half dozen S'pht immediately rise up to the ledge and attack you. Granted, the Marathon program is limited in that it cannot have an enemy suddenly become a friend during the course of a single level, but if we are assuming a coherent storyline (rather that a Bungie oversight), there must be a reason why the S'pht still attack us after the cyborg is destroyed. Durandal's pact with the S'pht seems to suggest that their actions are directly and robotically controlled by the cyborg, and that they should turn on the slavers the instant the cyborg is gone. A weak explanation might be that there were some residual orders left with the S'pht, but my reading of the above terminal is that this wouldn't be the case.

So I see only three immediate possibilities:

  1. Some residual control of the S'pht remained after we destroyed the cyborg.
  2. There actually was an element of fear involved in the control of the S'pht, but they quickly surmounted it via their unified racial consciousness, an advantage not afforded to the Drinniol, etc.
  3. Bungie forgot to take this issue into account, didn't care, or realized the limitation in the program and hoped nobody would notice. My guess would be #3, but I'd like to believe it's #2, as I hate to chalk anything in Marathon's Story up to sheer error.

Charlie Olson <> writes concerning a reference to "unyoked" found on "Post Naval Trauma":

About the references to "Enforcement Units {?unyoked?}", could the term unyoked be related to what Thoth was talking about when he said "casts a [?papyrus] yoke upon the marsh"? the terminal text in brackets are said to be guesses at translations, and much of what Thoth said was the same, could 'yoke' refer to some sort of conditioning process?

Or it could mean that these "Enforcement Units" were no longer enslaved. There is some discussion on the Thoth about the origin and meaning of the phrase [?papyrus] yoke.

Nic Carrott <> writes concerning the level "God Will Sort the Dead":

...why are there Pfhor Hunters and Troopers. Isn't there a Pfhor kill virus in the human base?

Interesting point. On the first terminal of "This Side Toward Enemy" Robert Blake tells us:

There's a virus down here which kills Pfhor
in a matter of hours; our S'pht say it was
bio-engineered by their ancestors during
the war against the Pfhor a thousand years
ago. Whatever; it's saving our butts.

And then on the last terminal of the same level Robert Blake says:

The rest of the AI will have to wait,
though: our base has been infiltrated by
Pfhor androids. The machines are disguised
as humans and packed with explosives.

When we arrive at the base ("God Will Sort the Dead") we find it packed with Simulacrums but as Nic points out there are also Pfhor Hunters and Troopers. How could they survive the S'pht virus? Did Robert Blake lie to us or did Bungie make a mistake?

But wait that's not all. At the beginning of "Kill Your Television" we received the following recorded message from Robert Blake:

The Pfhor have traced our communications
and our base is under attack by their
cyborg slaves who are immune to the ancient
S'pht virus. We're retreating deeper
underground now.

After we activate Thoth the S'pht AI sends us to save the remaining humans:

Humans of yours are near [?death],
but by your dead construct's
to [?save] them I will send you;
while I seek [?perception] of this
     new world.

When we arrive on "Where the Twist Flops" we find Simulacrums again but also Pfhor Hunters. If the virus is down here how do the Hunters survive? Was this a suicide mission?

Concerning the appearance of Pfhor Hunters and Troopers on levels that supposedly contain the deadly "S'ct'lac'tr" (S'pht virus) Tim Branin <>, Terrence Nowicki <>, Devin O'Reilly <>, Forrest Cameranesi <>, Charlie Olson <>, Chris Butcher <>, Sam Morris <>, and Sean Savage <> all point out that Hunters and Troopers are vacuum-enabled so they would be protected from any airborne virus.

Dan Rudolph <> takes the discussion further:

Troopers and Hunters are both vacuum-enabled units. Perhaps the virus is airborne, so they are not affected.

This leaves the question of why the S'pht would develop a virus that was useless against a good deal of the Pfhor's forces. It seems like kind of a stretch, but maybe, one thousand years ago, vacuum-enabled soldiers were not commonplace for the Pfhor, so the virus could kill all unfettered. Now, it's usefulness is limited.

If the Pfhor Hunters and Troopers were immune to the virus as a result of their vacuum-enabled suits why did Robert Blake say:

There's a virus down here which kills Pfhor
in a matter of hours; our S'pht say it was
bio-engineered by their ancestors during
the war against the Pfhor a thousand years
ago. Whatever; it's saving our butts.

How could it be saving their "butts"? The heavy boys of the Pfhor contingent (Hunters, Troopers and the 'tank' Cyborgs) would still be down there. The only Pfhor affected would be the Pfhor Fighters and Enforcers. The way Blake describes it ALL the Pfhor were dying.

Nic Carrott <> makes another interesting observation:

Blake declares that the Pfhor's cyborgs were attacking their base. So why don't we see any of those 'tank' cyborgs while we're down there? It is true that the cyborgs are immune to the virus. In "The Hard Stuff Rules" the S'pht tower was infested with the virus; therefore we only see 'tank' cyborgs, Yetis and ticks.

True. On "Bob's Big Date" we read:

We, the Olders of S'pht, united finally but
doomed, have released the S'ct'lac'tr in
the citadel.

Let these aliens enter here and they will be destroyed.

So the S'ct'lac'tr had been released in the Citadel. The fact that the only Pfhor we meet on "The Hard Stuff Rules" are the 'tank' cyborgs would therefore make sense in terms of the story. The cyborgs were immune according to Blake.

Tim Branin <> writes:

Here's something strange, In Marathon 1 the Pfhor have their eye pattern pointing down, and as we know in Marathon 2 and Infinity they have it pointing up. We know why this was changed, from the Marathon Scrapbook (to give them mouths). But strangely enough the Juggernauts in Marathon 1 have an upward eye pattern. And in Marathon 2 the Hunters seem to have a helmet that would cater more to a downward eye pattern (see attachment). This could be further evidence to suggest that the Pfhor do indeed have different castes that have different appearances (e.g., Tfear's more human-like physique).

You can see what Tim is referring to here.

Armored Pfhor or something more? Brandon Loberg <> makes the following interesting observation:

I was reading over the "The Pfhor" section, and it seems amazing to me that everyone refers to the Hunters as living Pfhor ?species. On the level "We're Everywhere" (M2), Terminal 1 (first message) states:

Have you tried your new fusion gun against the armored Pfhor hunters yet? My S'pht rebuilt it with the sole purpose of short- circuiting Pfhor-built machinery.

This would mean that the hunters are simply robotic fighting machines. When you shoot them with fusion bolts they short out and explode. Of course there is always the question regarding the goo left behind by the dead Hunter. The Hunter Minor results in greenish-yellow goo (like Pfhor blood), but the Hunter Minor results in green goo and a Mother of all Hunters results in blueish goo. This can mean only one thing: the goo is actually some sort of mechanical fluid such as lubricant or fuel.

Are Hunters armored Pfhor or Pfhor-built machinery? Theories welcome.

Thanks to Dan, Mauro, Tim, John, Devin, James, Michael, Chadd, Anhaya, Martin, Ben, David, Luke, Richard, Virtu, and Forrest who all wrote in regarding the Brandon's observation above. The general concensus was that Hunters were Pfhor either wearing powered armor or cybernetically enhanced using armor. It is this armor that is short-circuited with the Fusion Gun and the resulting explosion kills the Pfhor inside. Hence the yellow Pfhor blood seen in the both minor and major Hunters from Marathon 1.

However this neat little theory falls down somewhat with the introduction of different colored goo in Marathon 2. Is the goo actually blood or some form of mechanical fluid? Or perhaps the colors were changed without considering the consequences on the earlier Marathon plot?

Chadd Nervig <> and Luke Bassett <> both point out that we find what look like deactivated Hunters on a number of the Pfhor ship levels. How many people remember emptying their clip into this group of Hunters on "Pfhor Your Eyes Only..." before realising that they are inactive?

Also note the arrangement of the shoulder mounted weapons. Some right some left.

Chadd Nervig wrote:

In response to Brandon Loberg's message about Hunters being machines, I agree with him. Further evidence is available as well. I don't remeber which one, but in one of the Phfor levels of Marathon 1, you could get to a room with a bunch of Hunters in it, but they just stood there. They were scenery items. It would follow that perhaps this is just a Hunter stockpile, Hunters that haven't been activated.

However Luke Bassett felt that these Hunters were simply empty Pfhor armour.

Jon Chang <> writes concerning the word Pfhor:

I was searching on another obscure word and this came up as a suggestion based on the other word which it couldn't find...not exactly pfhor but...


phthor \Phthor\, n. [F. phthore, Gr. ? to destroy.]


How appropriate. :-)

Origin of the name Pfhor revealed? Nathaniel Olsen <> writes:

i get a word a day delivered to my mailbox. this is the one i got today:
WORD:    furtive    \fehr-'tiv\    (adjective)

: done by stealth
: expressive of stealth, sly
: obtained underhandedly, stolen

EXAMPLE SENTENCE: Acquiring the priceless rare painting was a furtive act that required Brandon's expertise.

WORD WISE: From French or Latin; French furtif, from Latin furtivus, from furtum - theft, from fur - thief; from or akin to Greek phor - thief; akin to Greek pherein - to carry. Date: 1612. Someone who is furtive 'carries things away like a thief.' The word comes via Old French furtif; from Latin furtivus - 'stealthy, hidden,' a derivative of furtum - 'theft,' which in turn was based on fur - "thief." This was either borrowed from or related to Greek phor - 'thief,' which came ultimately from Indo-European "bher" - carry (source of English bear) and thus meant literally "someone who carries things off." A ferret is etymologically a "furtive" animal.

Look closely at the wordwise section above. it says: akin to Greek phor - theft. not quite the same, but close. One could certianly argue that a slaver steals one's freedom. Perhaps this is what bungie were thinking when they named the pfhor?

On Story forum Aaron Freed writes about Pfhor gender. I've reprinted it here.

Pronouns and genders of the Pfhor
Posted By: Aaron Freed <>
Date: 5/14/21 12:19 a.m.

When going through Infinity's terminals, I noticed that the Pfhor's
bureaucratic terminals studiously avoid using pronouns anywhere. As a
result, it's almost impossible to ascertain the gender of any specific Pfhor
(assuming that it is even possible to analogise the Pfhor's genders to
ours). I was able to find references to the genders of the following Pfhor:

That's all I was able to locate; although several other Pfhor are named and
even, in some cases, given individual personalities, their genders are a
complete mystery. (It's possible that I missed one or two, of course.) The
only reference I could find to the gender of any Pfhor in any "bureaucratic"
terminal is this forgery by Tycho, and I suspect this was done deliberately
as a sign that it is a forgery.

Of course, characters in Marathon having no defined gender is hardly
restricted to the Pfhor. Pthia's gender is never once mentioned in any of
the three games, and although some players may assume that all the Bobs
are male, there's really nothing explicitly confirming this anywhere.

Anyhow, a number of people in the Discord appear to have believed the
Hindmost Creche was a group, which is not correct. As a result, I felt
compelled to document the known genders of Pfhor, only to discover that
the list is extremely short. It may be of interest to others, so here it is.

Go Back to Marathon's Story Home Page

Page maintained by Hamish Sinclair
Last updated May 18, 2021