Webcomic / Freefall
is a long-running webcomic
(over 2600 strips as of January 2015, starting in 1998) by Mark Stanley. Starting with the April 19, 2006 strip
it's been colored mostly by colorist George Peterson. Set on a planet in the early stages of terraforming, the strip deals with the antics of alien spaceship "captain" Sam Starfall, his robot friend Helix, and their Bowman's Wolf engineer Florence Ambrose.
One of the last words one would use to describe Sam is "trustworthy". He's not always the brightest
and is a petty crook (at least by human standards). It's a wonder he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, although the local police
may have something to do with this. He can be summed up as "a larcenous squid in an environment suit."
Helix has the mind of a child, and were he human, a weak stomach. He's described by Florence in one strip
as being "one of those robots who faints at the sight of battery acid." That being said, life with Sam has made him considerably more savvy, and he's quite a good person.
Florence, an anthropomorphic genetically-engineered red wolf, is one of the most intelligent members of the entire cast (not just the main characters). Intelligent, strong-willed and skilled, she's good at pointing out flaws in Sam's plan, fixing things to stop them from getting killed, and making new plans. While she isn't as... chaotic
as Sam, her ethics and her intelligence prove to be a good way of getting people on her side.
For a humorous comic, Freefall
actually packs a lot of real-world science
into its science-fiction setting. Most of it is pretty accurate, especially regarding space travel and physics — the author often likes to show his work
has a WikiFur article,
after The Other Wiki
removed its entry due to lack of notability under Wikipedia guidelines.
Freefall contains examples of:
- Absent Aliens: No, but invoked. Sort of.
Sam: Any time spacefaring aliens make it to Earth, the cows get them!
- Accidental Pervert: Invoked by Florence while being held by Clippy. She needed to use the bathroom, and when the man holding her remote tried to take her back, she took her shirt off and screamed at him. This distracted him long enough for Florence to steal and destroy the remote.
- Achievements in Ignorance: "My stories are much more convincing when I have no idea of what's impossible."
- A Dog Ate My Homework:
- Florence was asked in this strip if her owner ever asked her to eat his homework. She replies "Of course not, it was all done on the computer. He taught me how to delete it instead."
- Referenced in this strip, where destroying a potentially dangerous sticky note by eating it is the least problematic disposal method.
- Aesop Amnesia: The owner of "Ba Da Boom's Explosives" seems to suffer from this. Despite his shop relocating three times, he still smokes around explosives.
- Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Even when the details of an artificial mind are carefully planned, there are always unexpected results. Or obviously necessary feature requests. Overdue, actually. Dr. Bowman's neural net designs are a serious attempt to avoid the usual rogue-AI tropes by developing their minds along more organic principles.
- Alien Abduction: Sort of. But not with cows. Or at least not any more.
- Alien Lunch: Puffed Locust.
- All Animals Are Dogs: Florence, who is actually a red wolf. Not that this matters to the robots (or children) who see her. According to Florence, red wolves were chosen for genetic modification because of their taxonomic similarity to domestic dogs.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Florence Ambrose is pursuing a very relaxed and intelligent nice guy, but has a brilliant theory as to why this occurs, and why there are so damned many Bad Boys in the world.
- Almost Kiss: At the end of the first date between Winston and Florence, they lean in for a kiss but get interrupted by a shout about a man kissing a dog, from a boy watching from a nearby window.
- Amnesia Danger: Florence gets into this when at the EU facility for testing and Mr. Kornada realizes she's at least partly aware of his plans. With help from Sam Starfall she gets out of it.
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Referenced here.
- Androids Are People, Too: Freefall has Ridiculously Human Robots and an Uplifted Animal heroine. Robots elsewhere than on Jean are simply machines with no sense of self, and are treated as such, and most of the antagonists of the story persist in treating Jean's robots the same way. Anyone who's actually talked to a robot, however, has realized that they're self-aware and thoroughly human. This leads to major problems when Ecosystems Unlimited prepares a 'bug-fix' that Florence sees as a mass lobotomy aimed on a sophont race.
- Animals Hate Him: Animals love Sam. He's delicious! Even to herbivores!
- Amoral Attorney:
Sam: I actually like lawyers. It's nice that the human race has a subspecies that makes me look good by comparison."
- Armor-Piercing Question: Florence still wonders about whether or not she's doing the right thing in stopping Gardener In The Dark until Dr. Bowman draws parallels between her brain and the robots' brains, ending with:◊
Dr. Bowman: So your first thought was for the safety of humans?
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- Art Evolution: To be expected in a 14-year-old comic, although the change is relatively modest.
- Artificial Brilliance: In-universe case. The primary robots don't count, being a case of Instant A.I., Just Add Water instead, but Dvorak's creations are another matter. Due to writing simple programs without necessarily considering the consequences, a number of his inventions display unexpected emergent behavior. For example, the waffle irons have batteries, and are programmed to recharge once they begin to run low. They went carnivorous.
- Artificial Gravity: The satellite delivery story arc goes out of its way to demonstrate the lack of artificial gravity. The various nods of clothing and gear to the lack of a convenient gravity quite a way down this page (almost right before the details section for Sam Starfall).
- Artistic License – Economics: Kornada's ignorance of economics is near-total, as evidenced by his remarks here on his scheme to wipe out the robot population in order to steal some of their money.
- Artistic License – Physics: In-universe examples: Sam Starfall fails physics forever, but then so did Ecosystems Unlimited. Even worse, not just physics. Basic geometry.
- Aside Glance: Winston gives the audience a knowing look here.
- A Simple Plan: Unusually, with the heroes on the foiling side of the equation, Florence's reconstruction of the plot behind Kornada's plan for the robot war.
- Ass Shove: Florence asks Winston to use an oral thermometer to check her temperature after her dunk in the ocean, noting that she's not going to bite it due to her being intelligent (vice the nonsapient animals a vet would normally see in their job), setting up the expectation of a rectal thermometer being used for the task like he would for a regular canine. He uses one that reads from inside the ear instead.
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!:
- Badass Boast: Blunt speaks of having survived a solar flare that crippled him and should have killed him:
- Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Sam Starfall is a member of a scavenger species that considers theft, deceit and underhanded methods to be admirable qualities. When Florence mentions she will have to hack into the commnet servers in order to save the robot population from a devastating software patch, he asks her to alter his criminal records... and add a few particularly interesting thefts of his the police have failed to notice. Also, Florence is coming to the horrifying realization that underhanded tactics, outright criminal acts and the support of some very selfish, rotten people (like Sam) is the only way to save the day, because the moral and legal methods are blocked by the real villains, forcing her to say Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right.
- Bait and Switch: When Florence goes to the arctic base to see Dr. Bowman, the security team at the compound tries to stop her from getting to him. As it turns out, the reason isn't worrying about what she'll do, but what might be done to her by Dr. Bowman.
- Bath of Poverty: Florence's first shower scene is outdoors in a scrap metal stall, with Helix pouring a bucket of water over her. She resolves to fix the ship's plumbing next.
- Batman Gambit: Sam uses his knowledge of the Mayor's hostility towards him to his advantage by leaving a forged note saying what he didn't want to happen where she could find it.
The next best thing to have after a reliable ally is a predictable enemy.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Predictably, when Florence goes missing in Ecosystems Unlimited:
Quick! Where's the nearest concentration of valuables that would easily fit into a pocket? Varroa Jacobsoni:
Pharmaceutical storage on the second floor. Sam:
I'll search there. You go that way!
- Bear Hug: The mayor gives one to Florence, when she thought that Florence had killed Sam.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: The Mayor wants to open the lichen museum - until Helix cheerily hands the scissors back to her after he and Sam come out of it.
- "Begone" Bribe: Sam compares his assisting with the moon insertion to "a drunken clog dancer during Beethoven's second"
Sam: But with a suitable incentive, I think we can remain grounded.
Florence: Sam, we don't want to be known for things like that.
Sam: Are you sure? People pay good money for me not to do things. It's a reputation we can build on.
- The Berserker: A small problem that wounded chimps had
- Beware the Nice Ones: Florence generally tries to reason with those she has disagreements with, but she still has limits to how long she will tolerate things. She has on numerous occasions taken Helix apart violently, and when she wants someone else (usually Sam) to stop acting stupid, she will talk politely, but will also show her fangs to warm them the consequences of ignoring her. Seriously, don't piss her off, or not even her safeguards will help you, as an EU security guard finds out when she realizes that the lives of 450 million people are at risk. Sam is aware of this and generally avoids angering her, but of course, that isn't the same as saying that he woudn't cause pain to her, just not intentionally.
- Beyond the Impossible: At one point we see Sam and Helix with an authorized autographed copy of The Star Wars Holiday Special; George Lucas has taken steps to ensure these will never be legally produced.
- Big Damn Kiss: In celebration of averting a robot war and saving two factories from destruction, Winston plants one on Florence, here, along with a Lampshade Hanging. Overlaps with Smooch of Victory.
- Birds of a Feather: They found each other.
- Bishie Sparkle: During a Day of the Dead celebration, a Lampshade is hung on an Adolf Hitler doll.
- Blackmail: For Sam, you threaten to have him pardoned if he doesn't help.
- Blue and Orange Morality:
- Body Backup Drive: Discussed and deconstructed in relation to robots' minds. They can be backed up and downloaded into another body, but the main characters meet two robots who chose not to be backed up because from their perspective they're just as dead either way.
- Body Horror: Whatever happened to the Chief of Police, it left him blinded, scarred, crippled, and unable to function without an exoskeleton with its own AI and a neural interface to his brain. Fortunately A) It's a really good exoskeleton and B) he's so cheerful he's a Reasonable Authority Figure rather than suffering from Cybernetics Eat Your Soul
- Bothering by the Book:
- Brain Bleach:
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "The correct order is lather, rinse, remove leeches, repeat."
- Brick Joke: There are a lot of these.
- Altering social structures on a planetary scale, followed by being accused of doing so.
- When Florence goes in for testing at the company that created her, Varroa mentions worry about being given a wedgie, followed half a year of reader-time later by this strip, where Sam edits her notes to herself to make her want to do so. And even later by this. A year and a half after that, Varroa (named, by the way, for a nasty parasitic mite) is given that wedgie. It also takes over 100 comics to get around to a joke about Sam misunderstanding the word "hippocampus" during Florence's testing.
- Varroa mentions discovering a ballet company composed entirely of old terraforming robots. Much later, it's revealed that recurring characters Qwerty and Dvorak wrote the ballet they're practicing, called "Making Swan Lake". One of their other projects turns out to be the cyber rap group that Winston was long ago shown to be a fan of.
- When the police chief offers to help Florence set up a personal bank account, he cautions against getting the waffle-irons because they bite. The feral waffle irons eventually appeared on-screen.
- When discussing what to do about Blunt and Edge, Florence suggests that Sawtooth buy them. As it turns out, Sawtooth followed through on that suggestion.
- Briar Patching: Sam uses it from time to time, although it is much easier on a robot affected by Gardener in the Dark.
- Bridal Carry:
- Bring My Brown Pants: Sam's driving a truck that had been tweaked by him with a JATO rocket scares himself so badly that this occurs, here.
- Caffeine Failure: Mr. Raibert has answered several emergency calls during the night, and has taken some high-caffiene energy drinks. When he stops answering calls, Max Post and the chief of police look for him. He's found asleep at the keyboard, unable to continue.
- The Cameo: A bunch of them, including, during the robot church segment, cameos from real and fictional robots and other autonomous mechanisms. On occasion members of the Freefall forum are given nods. They can show up in unlikely places too. One strip shows a recycling dumpster with Robbie the Robot and an interocitor.
- Can't Believe I Said That: Niomi, here, when she makes a comment that fails to treat Florence as a person, not a canine.
- Can't Use Stairs: Qwerty the robot never learned to use stairs. Dvorak (who rolls on wheels) somehow got up, but Qwerty (who walks on legs) can't use stairs.
- Caramelldansen Vid: The non-remixed version with subtitles.
- Catch-22 Dilemma: Turns out Jean's spaceflight administration has one filled with downright vitriolic malice; Certified spaceships can launch about as freely as modern light aircraft. Spaceships under "provisional" certification only fly with the consent of the inspector who vetted the ship. What separates "provisional" certification from full certification? Successfully flying the ship. Luckily, the inspector hates Sam so much he gives the certification specifically because he hopes that Sam will get himself killed in space.
- Ceiling Cling: Florence uses it once to evade capture by running around a corner and climbing some exposed plumbing. Her pursuer runs past not bothering to look up.
- Censor Box: Helix's vision system has parental controls, and automatically adds them to anything he's not supposed to see, like wolf nipples.
- Cerebus Syndrome: As the story has progressed, a larger dramatic arc has grown, although the humor has remained throughout. As an example, the story goes from a scavenging road trip to preventing the potential mind-erasure of half a billion sentient AIs.
- Character Name Alias: As part of Sam Starfall's plan to get Florence out of Ecosystems Unlimited, he identifies himself to Kornada as "Leonard Snart. Captain of this cold facility".
- Chekhov's Gag: Florence creates the exploding cigars that Sam substitutes on the Mayor a year and a half later.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Waaay back in 2000, Sam says that sources of chaos like himself are essential to the survival of the human race. In 2008, Flo starts to think he has a point, by 2012 she fully agrees, and in 2013, he proves it - by single-handedly figuring out the reasons behind Kornada's plan to lobotomize every robot on Jean, and then just as single-handedly giving humanity a reason not to let it happen again.
- In reply to Bennie's offer of a tugboat transponder for a robot masquerade, Florence asks if he has one for a motorcycle. Later, she uses it for a disguise to hide from robots, who rely on transponder codes as a primary identification method.
- The first uplifted species, chimpanzees, were mentioned in an offhand manner and described by Florence as being sociopaths, an appellation frequently applied to Doctor Bowman, who we later learn is an uplifted chimpanzee himself.
- "How many genetically engineered sapients are on this planet?" The other one is Doctor Bowman...an uplifted chimpanzee, revealed over a thousand strips later.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Florence's "human" smile is terrifying. She has to be very careful to hide her teeth when she wants to express genuine happiness... though she isn't above playing this one straight when she's not in a friendly mood.
- Cigarette of Anxiety: The Mayor does with with a cigar after being confronted with a difficult choice.
- Circular Reasoning: The Mayor gave Florence a direct order to trust her. When asked about any outstanding direct orders, Florence replies she doesn't want it removed, because she trusts the Mayor.
- Clarke's Third Law: Expanded upon here.
- Coincidental Accidental Disguise: Florence seeks shelter from a storm and medical attention... just as the house owner is watching a werewolf marathon. Crouched (to keep a wound closed), showing teeth (trying for a smile) and backlit by lightning, Florence is not a reassuring sight.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Red and blue are the respective colors of the two sides of the robot war.
- Comedic Sociopathy:
- Florence's hunting instincts can come across as such.
- Also Benny's flying:
Gear down, check. VOR, check. Red and green blinky lights
, check. [Plane dips alarmingly close to airstrip, rudely jolting Winston and Florence awake] Benny:
Passengers returned to the full upright position, check.
- Comes Great Responsibility:
- Comically Missing the Point:
- Blunt believes that if car companies really cared about their customers, they wouldn't sell cars that could be driven.
- Also Sam, whenever Florence is trying to explain something about safety.
Florence: [demonstrating a zero-gravity explosion with non-dairy creamer, which is flammable]
That's how you can lose a spacecraft in half a second. Sam:
Okay. New rule: No non-dairy creamer on this ship.
Anyone who flies with us has to drink their coffee black.
- Winston notes that the robots should be shouting "WEREWOLFY!" instead of "DOGGY!" to Florence.
- Niomi notes, in a discussion with Florence about her attraction to Winston, that Florence is being "psychotically reasonable", and if she were in Florence's shoes she'd be screaming and yelling. Florence's response is to point out her feet are much smaller than Niomi's.
- Some robots build desalinization facilities. When told that the new moon being moved in will place them underwater, the robots get to work making the facilities work while submerged.
- When Florence finally meets Dr. Bowman to tell him of the Gardener in the Dark , the conversation gets swiftly derailed:
Florence: Learning to act on my own was gradual.
Dr. Bowman: You really don't know? Nuts! I knew I should have put more self-monitoring in your head! I could have done it with the neurons that give you the concept of socks! But no! The other designers thought it was more important that you understand socks than for me to have vital data needed for second generation designs! You're not even wearing socks! All that programming, gone to waste! Next generation, no socks! What other flaws do I need to know about?
- Florence tells Niomi that whenever a person mistakes her for a dog to the point where it becomes uncomfortable, she just takes them aside, smiles (i.e. bares her fangs) and tells them she's actually a wolf, and this sorts out the problem right away. She thinks this is because people find wolves less threatening, since statistically wolves have injured far fewer humans than dogs have.
- Likewise, she honestly believes that humans find mosquitoes more fearsome than large predators, since the former kill far more victims every year due to their transmitting deadly diseases, and thusly "mosquito level" is a valid description for something that would be hugely dangerous.
- Commonality Connection:
- When Florence notes that both she and Sam were raised by unrelated people.
- The chimps, having been meant for military action, got some help from veterans, who thought military service was more important than species.
- Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Though with Sam and Helix doing the rescuing, a bit more fitting given their reputation.
- Conflicting Loyalty:
- Confusing Multiple Negatives: Of a sort. A robot programmed to disobey all non-human instructions is ordered by Sam (a non-human) not to treat him and the equally non-human Florence as if they were human.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Discussed Trope. Florence tells Winston to not adopt ten thousand adorable robots.
Florence: That's how crazy cat ladies get started.
- Cryonics Failure: The coldsleep used by interstellar travelers isn't 100% reliable.
- Culture Clash: Primarily between that of sqids and humans. According to Sam, legendary sqid actions are mostly things that would get him arrested by human societies. Like in the human spacecraft that Sam rode in, on Sam's planet everything is bolted down, but not knowing about microgravity the sqid assumption was that it was for the sake of theft prevention.
- Cursed with Awesome: Dr. Thurmad seems to be cursed with natural charisma.
- Cuteness Proximity: Every Jean robot seen so far to Florence the first time they meet her. It's the longest Running Gag in the comic, having started as early as the eighth strip.
- Cutting the Knot: When Sam and Florence encounter a robot that must not obey non-human orders (or answer questions from non-humans), Florence tries to work out how to interrogate it. Sam simply orders it not to treat Sam or Florence as humans—as it must disobey that order, the robot MUST treat Sam and Florence as human. "When you have a key, don't fool around with the display cases when you can open the vault."
- Damn You, Muscle Memory: Sam mulls over going straight, as honesty seems to pay better - he unfortunately lifts someone's wallet while speaking, without even realizing he'd done it.
- Data Pad: So ubiquitous that most people don't use paper, or plastic approximations. "Dataslabs" are available on racks for public use. It's justified since, due to the planet being in the latter stages of terraforming, biological materials such as wood (and by extension paper) are incredibly rare and expensive.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Deadly Upgrade: A patch was planned by EU to be available to prune robots' neural pathways to prevent them from achieving full sapience, if it appeared the robots were about to become a problem for humans. Mr. Kornada learned of this, and had it altered to be much more damaging, basically making robots almost completely useless outside of one or two tasks. Given independent action by robots is part of the efforts to terraform and maintain the planet for habitation by a human populace that's nowhere near big enough to watch everything going on with over 450 million robots, the modified program is dangerous not just to the robots it targets.
- Deface of the Moon: April Fools, 2003 has Sam hack into the planet's terraforming computer and sculpt the moon to resemble him.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major source of humour is how Florence and Sam misinterpret each other.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Niomi facepalms and says that she didn't really say that fixing the Savage Chicken's toilet would allow Florence to drink normally, here.
- Diplomatic Impunity: Sam Starfall once uses this to avoid punishment, but they got around it by hiring other diplomats to beat him up.
- Disproportionate Retribution: After Helix made the stupid mistake of trying to stay between and hungry Florence and her meat, he's shredded into pieces, but Florence understands that Helix means well, and that he doesn't deserve what happened to him.
- Dissimile: "Why, we're just like Batman and Robin. Well, if Batman and Robin were poor and engaged in petty crime."
- Do a Barrel Roll: Sam contributes to raising Florence's blood pressure on the return from their satellite fueling mission with some acrobatics during their return to the planet. He calls it a barrel roll, but really it's an aileron roll.
- Doctor's Orders: Florence obeys her vet, to his surprise, which he says mentally puts him ahead of some human doctors.
- Does This Make Me Look Fat?:
- Don't Ask, Just Run
- Donut Mess with a Cop: Or a receptionist, for that matter. Apparently, on planet Jean messing with a cop's donuts is far more dangerous than declaring war.
- Doomy Dooms of Doom: Edge refers to a box with Florence's notes on Gardener in the Dark as "Sticky Notes of Doom".
- Do Wrong, Right: Sam's biggest character trait, and best exemplified after the ship's second failed attempt to kill him.
- Drives Like Crazy: Sam
Florence: [.02 millirems of radiation] is safer than driving across town with you.
Helix: Florence, standing in a burning building while blind circus midgets throw knives at you is safer than driving across town with Sam.
- Duct Tape for Everything: What do you mean it's not for everything? Solves every problem, including moving in microgravity! Florence worries about Sam being absolutely corrupted by the power of duct tape, thanks to it being a cheap and fast (if not necessarily effective) fix.
- Easily Detachable Robot Parts: All of Helix's limbs - head included - are easily detachable and modular so if he loses a piece, you can just stick it right back in the slot - since he's an industrial robot designed for carrying heavy objects, it makes sense - being able to easily shed a limb ensures that he won't easily be pinned under a fallen object, and user-friendly reattachment makes repairs a breeze. (The reassembly is idiot-proof, though definitely not Sam-proof.) Unsurprisingly, he gets taken apart a lot, but he doesn't really mind - it's usually Florence who puts him back together again (though she's usually also the one who took him apart in the first place), and being the brilliant engineer that she is, she usually puts him back together BETTER than he was.
- Easy Amnesia:
- Enemy Mime: None. So, no need to panic.
- Epic Fail: A number of them over the course of the comic.
- Sam and Max Post try to skip out on each of their restaurant bills (originally to be payed for with the other's wallet) via a race. They not only end up washing dishes three times, but they each end up paying for both meals as well.
- Sam's check for zero dollars and zero cents bounced.
- Sam's attempts to cover up his mistakes only succeed in drawing more attention to them.
- Narrowly averted with the robot war. The battleground was past the halfway point that the robots from each factory could travel before their power packs ran out, but many of the robots volunteered their power packs to ensure travel to a much smaller force. Had the war not been stopped, the robots could have easily trashed one or both factories.
- Mr. Kornada's attempt to dispose of Florence in the dumpster prevents her from learning the false news that Gardener in the Dark has been delayed, leading to her foiling his plan.
- Eureka Moment: Sam is trying to figure out Mr. Kornada's scheme when Qwerty and Helix argue over a stuffed animal.
Qwerty: No, you can't have it. That's mine.
[Sam smiles broadly]
Qwerty: Hey! Don't you point that smile at me!
- Even Evil Has Standards: Sam routinely "finds" wallets, hijacks vehicles, breaks into homes; once he tried to mug a kid. Even blackmail is okay. Mind-control, slavery, and murder aren't.
- Even the Dog Is Ashamed: When a dog's embarrassed to be seen with you, it's time to change clothes.
- Even the Rats Won't Touch It:
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Mentioned and defied in this strip... with an office chair.
- Everybody Knew Already: The base commander thought the secret was blown when the police chief suggested having Dr. Bowman handle securely transporting the wolf. Subverted in the next strip when the chief reveals his personal relationship with the Doctor.
- Everyone Chasing You: Sam actually seeks out this status.
- Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Sam is attacked by people on whom he tried a theft or scam, robots, and his own ship. Most Terran lifeforms that can move at all try to eat him and even Nature's laws seem to act against him whenever possible.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Winston's dog Beekay demonstrate's Sam's problems with good judges of character, by attacking him.
- Evil Lawyer Joke: Lots of them.
- Exact Words:
Winston: I was afraid she might have stumbled across a conspiracy and been shipped to the south pole.
Chief: I can assure you events did not occur in that sequence.
- When he is about to be arrested for attempting to release Gardener in the Dark, Mr. Kornada orders the throng of robots that popped up and are prepared to demonstrate his culpability in an attempt to praise his "heroism" to defend him. They do so... by allowing the cops to continue arresting him while they seek legal counsel. He is not pleased.
- Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!:
- Expressive Mask: Justified with Sam. With the robots, not so much; their eyes are apparently rigid lenses, but they can be narrowed and made into the Eyes Always Shut-style ^_^ eyes anyways. One robot halfway averts this by having eyes that can display graphics, but they still narrow when he's angry.
- Expecting Someone Taller: Florence finally meets her creator, Dr. Bowman... and he's an ape.
Dr. Bowman: I know, I know. Somehow, you expected me to be taller.
- Face Palm: Poor Florence ends up doing these very often throughout the whole comic, with the "pinching bridge of nose" variety being the most common.
- Failsafe Failure: Inverted; the security does fail safe. Which means it's not dangerous. A flaw when you have intruders.
- False Reassurance: The ship computer uses this trope, in reply to Sam's question about how it feels about going into piracy.
- Fan Disservice: Mr. Kornada's Shower Scene, thankfully minimized by a towel held up by Clippy.
- Fanservice: Florence has a remarkable tendency to end up nude, scantily-clad, or in outfits that leave little to the imagination, despite her lack of certain human female attributes. Gets toned down in later arcs.
- Fantastic Racism: Artificial Lifeforms, both genetically engineered and robotic, are legally slaves to the corporation that made them. The corporations thus treat them as such. However, the populace at large generally have the attitude of "If it's talking to me, it's a person."
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Dangerous And Very Expensive drive is only used for very important people and cargoes, though it's also the only means of sending messages to another system anytime fast. Large payloads like colony ships have to be sent slower than light. Even superluminal, it is indicated that the travel time isn't shortened from the point of view of the travelers due to the mechanics of the DAVE drive, so passengers still have to go in cryo.
- Fatal Family Photo: Played quite literally in this strip, though the victim is only knocked out by a wallet full of family photos.
- Finger in the Mail: Parodied in a version of the comic that appeared in a Furry Fandom magazine prior to it becoming a webcomic. Helix is kidnapped, and the kidnappers start mailing pieces of him to Sam and Florence. Since he's a robot, his compatriots just reassemble him as the parts arrive in the mail. The last thing to arrive is his head.◊
- First Contact: The first impressions of the human explorers meeting Sam's people were... not great.
- Flaw Exploitation: To get Sam out of a duct where he is stuck — mention money.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: Injured, overcooled Flo and the "Mad Vet" Winston.
- Foot Popping: Florence explains why she doesn't do it when kissing Winston.
Florence: When a dog lifts its leg, the image that comes to most people's minds isn't associated with romance.
- Foreshadowing: Quite a few instances:
- For Your Own Good: The easiest way to circumvent a robot's Restraining Bolt is to appeal to this trope.
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot: There was a thread on the now-dead Talk About Comics forum called "Q and A with the Freefall Cast and Crew" archived here, and on the defunct The Nice forum there was a thread to ask Florence questions, the contents archived here. The creator, Mark Stanley, responded as the character who was questioned.
- Freudian Excuse: Sam often tries to justify his criminal nature by saying that his species are scavengers, and stealing from under the noses of predators is just instinctive behavior. It rings rather hollow when one can read his thought balloons, however. It does seem that lots of actions seen as immoral by human cultures are acceptable or even heroic in Sam's. In the forums Stanley explained that Bizarre Alien Biology (reproduction is fatal, full sentience occurs only in those who refuse to breed, greatest competition is from other tribes of the same species) has given rise to a culture where a hero is someone who completely disrupts the existence of a rival tribe.
- Fridge Horror:
- Invoked when Winston explains how Florence will need to recover for awhile before she starts eating again.
Sam: So what you're saying is that in two or three days, I'm going to have a highly intelligent, fast moving, starving, carnivorous alien life form on my ship.
Winston: Yep. Wolves are also most active at dawn and dusk, so this will probably happen while you're asleep.
- And again when the inspector begins to wonder where Sam is.
Inspector: (Thinking) So what are the facts? The ship's been properly repaired and documented. Sam is nowhere to be seen. And the creature showing me about is obviously some type of large carnivore… Sometimes Occam's Razor leads to very disturbing conclusions.
- Funny Background Event:
- Fun with Acronyms:
- If the World Wrestling Federationnote and World Wildlife Fund can't agree what it should stand for, there can be a compromise variant.
- Although not expanded in the comic itself, the DAVE drive (FTL drive) used to get between star systems is short for "Dangerous And Very Expensive" drive.
- Furry Webcomic: Somewhat borderline, in that there's only one anthropomorphic character in a human and robot dominated cast, but that doesn't seem to bother much of the Furry Fandom.
- Gale-Force Sound: In this strip, Mr. Raibert gets a demonstration on the improvements in small speakers over time, getting blasted by a shouting Max Post over the phone, in a (rather literal) Shout-Out to the old Maxell cassette ad demonstrating the trope.
- Gargle Blaster: John Jones Monroevian Moonshine, "fine sipping whiskey and high explosive". The phrase "If you drink this, you will die" is considered a statement of quality rather than a warning.
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Florence is treated with as much suspicion as robots; the fact that she is a living thing only adds to people's fears of unpredictability.
- Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: With a direct order from the Mayor Florence is made to feel good about said official. Florence is then asked how she feels.
Mayor: You still look terrified. Okay, direct order. You like me. You trust me. You want to make me happy. End order.
Mayor: Better now?
Florence: Emotionally, much better. Intellectually, I think I'm screaming.
- Global Warming: Taken a swing at in this strip as part of a conversation between Helix and Sam, when the latter disproved the former's theory that Florence was a vampire. (It Makes Sense in Context.)
- The Golden Rule: Florence points out a common mistake, people assuming others should be treated they themselves want to be treated.
- Go Look at the Distraction: Florence combines this with Loophole Abuse to get a meal that Helix finds otherwise objectionable.
- Gone Horribly Right: Dvorak attempts to invent a bullet that would be effective on robots. As a result, it acts as a poison.
- Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: In a variation on the "getting wet while naked" theme, in the first gratuitous shower scene a raccoon swipes Florence's towel while she's washing.
- Goofy Print Underwear:
- Grey Goo: Mentioned by Dr. Bowman as part of his reasoning as to why he deliberately made his neural net program produce artificial intelligences that weren't limited to unthinking obedience on humans.
In nanotech, it's a "Grey Goo
" scenario. On a larger scale, it's a "Paperclip Maximiser". An A.I. with that programmed goal will try to turn everything in its reach into paperclips or paperclip production. Dr. Bowman:
So what do you get with a system of autonomous robots that always
has human desires as its top priority? Florence:
A human maximizer. Dr. Bowman:
Good news if you're a human. Bad news if you're anything else
- Groin Attack: Dr. Bowman, in the July 28, 2014 strip, mentions that in the past he took a sharpened plastic spoon and neutered himself after seeing what testosterone-fueled aggression was doing with other Uplifted Animals, which later ultimately led to their deaths by age 40. Florence asks him if they can skip the details of the procedure, and move on to her next question for him.
- Grow Beyond Their Programming: Robots on Jean vastly outnumber humans and are rapidly evolving beyond their programming to the point where many humans (and one robot) fear they could become a threat to humanity. This has led to them turning a blind eye to "Gardener in the Dark," a neural pruning program that Mr. Kornada "improved" to essentially lobotomize every robot on Jean.
- Growling Gut:
- In this strip, Florence's stomach growling is misinterpreted by a bystander as a regular wolf growl, and accordingly makes himself scarce in spite of her yelled (and ultimately futile) reassurance that it was just her stomach growling.
- The above situation is inverted earlier when Helix is going to set the rabbits "Lunch" and "Dinner" free and hopes it is her stomach growling. It isn't.
- Hammerspace: How in the blazes did Sam get that pipe wrench into his suit?
- Hand or Object Underwear: Florence has done this from time to time. Unfortunately for her, since she has multiple sets of mammaries thanks to her nonhuman nature, even with the help of her tail it leaves some of her "naughty bits" uncovered. Her fur thankfully covers anything she has on her chest unless she's nursing or in heat (the former has never happened, and the latter is unlikely to happen in such a nonsexualized comic) - but she still covers the same area as human ladies would due to cultural conditioning. And her tail covers, err... the bottom half when needed.
- Hanlon's Razor: Clippy quotes Ian Fleming's "once is happenstance..." line when the Gardener in the Dark program doesn't go out. He initially believes it's an error, but after repeated attempts and some research, he realizes someone is blocking it.
- Happiness in Slavery:
- Well, sort of. Florence and the robotic AIs are property, and it is ambiguous whether they have any rights at all. However, their status is complicated because there are relatively few humans on the planet, allowing the AIs a lot of freedom in practice if not in theory. This is an important element in the story, but the AIs don't seem particularly upset with their situation: Some of them work towards gaining rights, but generally accept that only gradual change is possible, and try to find peaceful ways of getting around What Measure Is a Non-Human? without disrupting human society too much. Florence explicitly states that this approach is needed on a few occasions.
- It's clear that Dr. Bowman deliberately arranged for the wolf pups to end up in human families, and so be socalized by human families, the best restraining bolt of all. Florence's nominal owner, Scott Ambrose, has long regarded Florence as his younger sister, and is more than merely supportive of her. Florence is treated well by most people around her, but legally, she is still a thing, not a person, and has no more legal rights than a toaster. And "property to be treated and disposed of however we see fit" is exactly how the upper levels of the government of planet Jean regard, and intend to treat, all AIs, including both Florence and the sentient robots — and they know this. We've seen that other elements of the government — including the actual police force — don't share this view, but still, not everyone could remain as calm about the whole situation as Florence and the robots seem to.
- As the strip progresses, the capacity of artificial intelligences (including the bioengineered Florence) to subvert their apparent hardwired limitations by locating loopholes or exploiting semantics in their orders becomes increasingly important. Florence even theorizes that Dr. Bowman might have intended for this to eventually happen; although he's been The Ghost for most of the comic, it's abundantly clear he cared for his creations like they were his children, and forcing the rest of the world into a position where they must acknowledge his creations as independent beings is as good a way as any to create a future for them.
- Heads Tails Edge: A peculiar variant happens in 1803. Florence flips a coin to decide whether to help Sam or the police officer who's chasing him. Sam steals the coin before it lands, so she decides to help neither.
- Heroes Gone Fishing: Sam insists: no work on Saturday.
- Herr Doktor: Invoked when Sam disguises himself as a cryogenics scientist during Florence's visit to the main EU facility on Jean.
- Highly Visible Ninja: Completely averted in the French Ninja restaurant.
Waiter: That man does not look anything like a ninja.
Chef: Ah, but that is exactly what a ninja should look like.
- Human Popsicle: Used for interstellar travel, involving chemicals that make the process unable to be repeated for several years without harming the individual so treated. Invoked when Sam hears that 5-7 years is needed, in between, he states he thought people could be frozen and thawed like popcicles. Florence almost got iced again in a recent visit to Ecosystems Unlimited, thanks to threatening Mr. Kornada's plan.
- Humans Are Cthulhu: A zigzagged example; in this issue here, Sam notes that he regards humans as having god-like powers, pointing out that they travel between worlds, reshape mountains and rivers to suit their whims, and create obedient servants out of the earth itself (robots). Despite this respect for what humans can do, Sam himself holds no particular awe for them and enjoys harassing and annoying them as he would any member of a rival tribe.
- Humans Are Special: Sawtooth Rivergrinder, one of the robots arguing for the full equality of sentient robots, flat out states "You are missing an advantage robots have. We're not starting from scratch. Humans have thousands of years of experience we can learn from."
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: The alien eyes being Starfish Aliens (Sam), Petting Zoo People (Florence) and Ridiculously Human Robots (Helix an the other 450-odd-million robots on Jean).
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Sam's the captain, while Florence is the engineer.
- I Ate WHAT?
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: This robot really wishes it could. Not that it hasn't a good reason, being forced to play Jar-Jar Binks in spite of being a Shakespearean actor. The JarJarBot is an example of the exception to an inversion created by the addition of a single character. To wit, the robots are usually required to turn themselves in for scrapping at a certain time, meaning that they are required to self-terminate. However, they just caught on that it's possible to get out of having to do it (by buying themselves for their scrap value from the scrapyard, as mentioned by Edge). The JarJarBot, of course, is more than willing to self-terminate.
- Ignorance Is Bliss: "then knowledge must surely be an ulcer."
- Ignore the Disability: Just after admonishing Tangent about making dog references around Florence, Niomi promptly sticks her foot solidly in her mouth with a reference to dogs drinking from toilets after noting the Savage Chicken's toilet is working again.
- I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Florence has an attack of this, when she realizes a robot has been irrevocably harmed by the Gardener in the Dark program.
- Impact Silhouette: Sam Starfall and Helix fake this during a Chase Scene involving a Sheet of Glass, here.
- I'm Going to Hell for This: In this strip, Florence states she's going straight to doggy hell for being part of Sam's the breaking in to the Mayor's office early just to have breakfast before meeting said official.
- Impossible Theft: Sam, best exemplified here, where he was banned from prison until he confesses to where he stashed the cell doors.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: Lampshaded in regards to Florence's dinner dress, when faced with the possibility of a fight with Blunt, who wants to prevent her from interfering with the release of Gardener in the Dark.
- Incredibly Lame Pun:
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Winston Thurmad suspects he'll need one due to an upcoming discussion with Dvorak and Qwerty.
- Insane Troll Logic:
- Instant Home Delivery: Niomi and her robot Tangent appear immediately after Florence places a "help wanted" ad. (Justified in the strips immediately following: the server that Florence was using to search for contractors before placing her want-ad passed the word to the robots, including Tangent.)
- Instant Leech, Just Fall in Water: When washing in a jury-rigged outdoor shower, Florence finds out she's missing a step in the process. "The correct order is 'lather, rinse, remove leeches, repeat.'"
- Interspecies Romance: Florence, an uplifted red wolf, is involved in a romantic friendship with Winston, a human.
- In the Future, We Still Have Roombas: There are many robots fulfilling this role, such as carnivorous waffle irons, and in one strip during a segment with many fictional and Real Life robots being background cameos an actual Roomba is shown.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: Being a carnivore, Florence prefers blood in her coffee.
Helix: We've got non-dairy creamer.
Florence: Please, Helix. Let's not be gross.
- It Came from the Fridge: Expiration Dates are unimportant to Sam.
- It's a Long Story: Served with a bit of Lampshade Hanging in this strip, changing the focus to Sam and Helix while Florence explains how she ultimately arrived at Dr. Thurmad's house.
- I Want Grandkids: As Dr. Bowman puts it, he's old and he created Florence, which gives him to right to bug her about grandchildren.
- I Was Told There Would Be Cake: a Torches and Pitchforks style angry mob is completely legal on Jean, as long as everyone gets ice cream afterwards.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
- Sam Starfall thinks nothing of robbing you blind, but will stand up for his crew if they're in danger in spite of all of his "looking out for Number One" talk. He's even willing to give up a potential power abuse if it somehow harm his crew. For exemple, Sam decided to handle Florence's remote control to her, but Helix, believing that Sam just woudn't use it on her because he broke it, tried to take it from him and accidently put Florence to sleep. After that, Sam accurately points out that none of them is responsible enough to use the remote control.
- According to Florence, Dr. Bowman qualifies was well, taking care to give his creations the restraint that he himself lacks.
- Jerkass Has a Point: More often than not Sam has a justification for his behavior.
- For example, while Sam's lawbreaking is pathological, he actually has a good view of how stupid is the idea that people should blindly follow law just for being a law, and he has teach Helix that just because it's law it isn't necessarily right, an observation that Florence couldn't help but concede to be logical and even ethical.
- Another one is when the ship tried to kill Sam on ground that, given his stupidity, he is a threat to its makers (and to humanity as a whole). Sam concedes this point, but he soon gives a lengthy talk about how he is essential to human evolution, given that the modern technology and comformity make human grow lazy if their peace wasn't disturbed from now and them, greatly affecting their adaptational abilities, but he (Sam) provides the needed amount of chaos to force humans to learn from his (Sam's) mistakes and prepare themselves from future threats. Though disgusted, the ship concedes that his logic is grounded and stopped trying to kill him.
- Another time a delivery-robot tried to kill Sam by running over him, but Sam took advantage of his programming by hiding under the delivery box, preventing the robot from injuring Sam without damaging the delivery. when he warned Sam that he would wait him get tired of hiding, Sam quickly ruins the robot's hope for revenge because, if he does wait that long, he will go against his schedule.
- Florence may not like to be called a slave, but...
- Also, when Florence refused to see the mayor, Sam reminded her that it was for the greater good.
- While the mayor can be quite... brusque (at least when it comes to AI and Sam), she has a rather valid point here.
- Just a Machine:
- Florence is classified as an AI, and is treated as just that by many humans, especially the Mayor and Ecosystems Unlimited. At least this guy has his criteria straight.
- Sam cheerfully chides an Ecosystems Unlimited employee who offers up a illogical circular argument against Florence's personhood.
- Just in Time: When Edge tries to catch Florence to talk with her about the sticky notes regarding "Gardener in the Dark", he asks a spaceport worker if he had just missed her, and is told "Oh, heck no. You missed them by hours."
- Kick the Dog: Discussed by Max and Bill. Max asks Bill if a human ordered a robot to kick a puppy, what would stop the robot from doing it? Bill's view that robots are supposed to carry out the orders of humans, is based on humans not giving robots bad orders; he has to concede that people like Max trying to teach robots morality is the only thing stopping it.
- Kick Them While They Are Down: Invoked after a polite version is used.
Sam [thinking]: Anti-recovery. Anti-recovery. I like it. What a pleasant way of saying "let's kick 'em while they're down."
- Lampshade Hanging: The base commander first lampshades the convenient presence of censor panels all around the shower area. A robot then lampshades the presence of a lampshade by carrying a lampshade. Florence then lampshades the lampshading of a lampshade by observing that the robots must have run out of panels to carry. Confused yet?
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The memory blocking drug used on Florence, which prevented the conversion of short-term memory to long-term storage for 18 hours.
- Last of His Kind: Dr. Bowman is the last of the genetically enhanced chimpanzees.
- Lawful Stupid: The test robot for "Gardener in the Dark", as exploited by Sam via Loophole Abuse.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Florence here and yes it jump cuts.
- Lethal Chef:
- Helix takes Oven Logic to it its Logical Extreme. Since cooking is just the application of heat and pressure, he cooks with explosions.
- The Golden Trough is an all-you-can-eat restaurant staffed by lethal chefs who cook with low-quality ingredients. Parents take their children there as punishment. The cardboard in gravy is out, being the best thing on the buffet.
- The Mayor's mom was a demolitions engineer, not a baker. Her attempt at pancakes is never shown, but it gave the mayor shrapnel wounds.
- Let Me Get This Straight:
- Literal Metaphor: When it comes to "bugs in the system", 2000+ crickets would indeed be the stuff of legends.
- Also a protype reactor that lost its plasma containment, becoming literal Vapor Ware.
- When the inspectors mob goes from angry to panicked, he thinks "I don't know what happened to my beautiful mob, but I'm sure somehow that Sam is behind it!" Guess where Sam is?
- Little Girls Kick Shins: Hazel kicks the shin of a man who pulled Florence's tail without asking first. Subsequent discussion establishes that it's one of her main modes of communication.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: In this strip, a security lockdown traps Florence in an equipment storage room. She makes a Note to Self to remind her about the situation thanks to her memory being fiddled with, noting that with the equipment she can leave either through the door or by taking the side of the building off.
- Logic Bomb: Dvorak's "Omniquantism" seems to have this effect on some other AIs, causing one in three to lock up.
Sam: Great news! The computer doesn't want to kill me anymore. Now all it wants is a really big bottle of aspirin!
- Lonely Together: Winston observes that sex ratios mean that both he and Florence are destined to be alone, so they might as well be alone together.
- Longevity Treatment: Life extension drugs are available over the counter. At one point, Florence (an uplifted red wolf) states that her projected lifespan of 160 years is slightly shorter than that of a human.
- Look Behind You:
- Loophole Abuse: Robots and AIs learning to use this is a plot point. In one early incident, Sam actually teaches Florence how to engineer her own loopholes when the need arises.
- Lost Episode: The 1999 Halloween Crossover special.
- Ludicrous Speed: Courtesy of a JATO rocket strapped to the truck he's using, Sam gets to experience this.
- Machine Empathy: In this strip, Florence mentions the phenomena as she listens to learn how the Savage Chicken sounds in flight.
- Mad Artist:
- Mad Scientist: Florence is worried that Dr. Bowman may have been one of these, releasing his untested creations. Dvorak the robot is constantly coming up with strange and potentially dangerous inventions.
- Made of Explodium: Parodied. In this strip, Florence knows there's no logical reason for a desk chair to explode, but she decides to play it safe anyway because it belongs to Sam Starfall.
- Magic Countdown: And Sam thought it was his fault that a time bomb with a digital countdown timer wasn't able to be reactivated.
- Magnetic Hero: Florence's strong morals, helpful instincts and plain old friendliness net her a lot of allies over the course of the strip, including most of Jean's robot population in one stroke.
- The Mall: Distinctive because Jean has a single major city, so there's really no need for more than one. Florence applies her engineered intellect to shopping and discovers Things Man Was Not Meant to Know - at least as far as the woman escorting Flo deems them.
- Man in the Machine: The Police chief was severely injured when fighting a fire in the first robot factory, resulting in him needing a mobility suit to do anything but talk.
- Mars Needs Women: Parodied here, when Sawtooth grabs a nonfunctional robot to read its memory during the robot war story arc.
- Marilyn Maneuver: Happens with both an anonymous Marilyn look-alike and Helix's pet Emu in this strip.
- McNinja: French ninja waiters.
- Mechanical Lifeforms: How about Mozart birds? Some robots try to fill what they perceive as ecological niches. And this doesn't always end well.
- Metaphorically True: Sam opts to use this when sending a message to Florence's owner.
- Mildly Military: The Jean planetary military is on vacation during the events of the Gardener in the Dark arc, and Florence is informed that he won't be back until after the weekend.
- Miranda Rights: Amended as appropriate to robot culprits.
Robot officer:: You have the right to data integrity. Should you give up this right, accessed memories can and will be used against you. You have the right to tech support.
- Mirror Chemistry: Pfouts uses right handed amino acids, while Earth lifeforms use left handed ones. This chemistry is cited as a reason for the Bowman neural uplift package, uplifting native species to sapience on worlds hostile to Earth life.
- Missing Time: Florence winds up missing a large chunk of a day's memories thanks to a chemical that inhibits the transfer of short term memories to long term storage, during a trip to Ecosystems Unlimited. Between some notes to herself and scents left on her fur she's able to fill in some of the details, however.
- Modesty Towel:
- Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness: Although it has canonical FTL ships, they're off-screen, leaving Freefall in the category of One Small Fib, with most everything else derived from technology that's theoretically possible but difficult to produce.
- Moment Killer:
- Mondegreen: How Tex went from making dishware to a government position in geophysics.
Then one day some government folks asked if I knew anything about Tex Tonic Plates
. When I told them I built them from scratch
, they said "You're our man.", and I've been in geophysics ever since.
- Moody Mount: Sam tries to ride Polly the emu to escape from an angry mob, but she refuses. He gets her to run by pulling off one of his facial tentacles and putting it on a stick.
- Mother Nature, Father Science: Inverted. The closest we get to a Nature Hero is the "male" Stupid Good Ridiculously Human Robot; OTOH, Team Science has the female red wolf engineer who shows signs of SRMD. Winston on the other hand is a male scientist who works with the environment.
- Motivation on a Stick: Sam uses one of his facial tentacles this way so he can ride Polly and escape an angry mob.
- Mugged for Disguise: Blunt and Edge will occasionally steal random transponders to pass themselves off as other machines.
- Mundane Utility:
- Must Have Caffeine:
- Florence Ambrose tends to take exception to having her coffee taken away, as only a carnivore can. She also explicitly cited the availability of coffee as a benefit of restoring power to Sam's ship.
- The coffee maker still brewing is implied to be the reason that the compound where Dr. Bowman is being held wasn't able to reach more than 50% operational readiness in under 60 seconds.
- My Car Hates Me: An unusually literal example: Sam's spaceship's AI was trying to kill him for a while. Now it has settled on injury/maiming.
- My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: Sam uses a delivery robot's need to keep its schedule to save himself from its revenge for his trying to steal the robot's tires.
- My Eyes Are Up Here:
- My Instincts Are Showing: The Trope Namer, and especially obvious with Florence, whose instincts resulted in her "burying" a tupperware bowl full of food in the back of the refrigerator under a towel. She also reflexively wakes up upon hearing the distinctive sound of kibble being poured into a doggy dish (Winston feeding his dog Beekay).
- Despite having a genius-level intellect Dr. Bowman still instinctively sees eye contact as an act of aggression and will immediately attack.
- Naked Apron: The gold "dress" Abby made for Florence is effectively a wraparound apron with a big bow in the back that was added to a somewhat minimalistic swimsuit.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast:
- Nature Lover: Sam, in a strictly limited sense
- Necessary Drawback: Doctor Bowman repurposed the Bowman's Wolves' mirror neurons to react to humans, so they could understand human gestures and body language properly. The downside is that the mirror neurons now aren't responding to their own species.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles:
- The Needs of the Many: In strip 2162, Florence says, "There are over 450 million robots. There are only fourteen Bowman's wolves. If I have to choose, I have to go with the robots." Florence is a Bowman's wolf and would sacrifice her own race to save the robots.
- Never Live It Down: In-Universe, Edge and Blunt are universally distrusted subsequent to their spree of robot kidnappings.
- N.G.O. Superpower: The planet's terraforming and most of the colony's labour are performed by 450 million Ecosystems Unlimited robots. EU executives have de facto authority and security clearance comparable to the police chief and mayor, including a financial officer who has large discretionary power to make sure the colony doesn't go independent before EU is paid.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
- Ninja Prop: One strip shows a character waiting at the spaceport with an airport greeting sign, with a panel saying "Meanwhile, at the spaceport" above his head. The next panel reveals that the panel is another in-universe sign, being held up by the character next to him.
- Nipple and Dimed: Even robots are subject to this, as seen in the first gratuitous shower scene. Helix sees black stripes across Florence's chest due to a PG filter in his vision system, blocking out the view of her nipples (or where they would be; see Hand or Object Underwear, above). Though there's a reason for this, given that by default robot video feeds are publicly accessible.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Played straight with Sam, whose more simplistic biology makes him edible to just about everything (including herbivores), but inverted with the planet Pfouts, where Earth life can't survive at all thanks to that planet's Mirror Chemistry.
- No Dialogue Episode:
- A shortish one here.
- Beginning here and continuing for over twenty strips before someone finally speaks a recognisable word. On the Nice forum (made unavailable since then) Mr. Stnaley said that particular story arc wasn't originally to be wordless, but after a few strips he decided to go without a dialogue for a while.
- Nobody Poops: Averted in #536, and again when Florence visits Ecosystems, Unlimited, starting here. An Info Dump on the now-dead Nice's Freefall forum states that Florence needs to use the facilities more often than humans, thanks to the physiological modifications to allow bipedal motion not fully taking into account the effect of gravity on her internal organs, which when she stands upright press down on her bladder. The author did the research.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Florence is the ONLY reason Mr. Kornada is still alive. He steals her radio headset as he's being evacuated. Then he fakes a heart attack to force the robots present to leave her in freezing water with a life expectancy of twenty minutes so they can take him to what he acknowledges to be a completely pointless meeting. It later turns out that he's aranging for the lobotomizing of every A.I. on Jean, for the sake of stealing from their bank accounts.
- Noodle Implements:
- Noodle Incident:
- invoked by name, in reference to the original.
- Florence also found herself in such an incident in college: It involved herself, a forklift, and her go-to-sleep-instantly remote control.
- There is even a Noodle Incident with Noodle Implements, The royal family is not too happy with him due to an incident involving a zeppelin, a "Loop the loop" maneuver, and pudding. Lots and lots of pudding. This indirectly led him to leave his home planet.
- While breaking Florence out of the dog pound, Sam actually threatens to cause another Noodle Incident in order to convince her to ignore her orders to stay put.
- We only hear the end of the telling of a story about the naming of "Lost Truck Lake".
- Right before breakfast, the Mayor ordered the cops to ship Sam to the other side of the planet. Right after breakfast, the Mayor's assistant orders Sam's release, by which time he's already managed to evade his captors, which somehow involved balloon animals, a sausage chain, a tuba, and a flock of ducks...
- Waking up shackled to a chair is Florence's fourth worst wakeup call.
- The local police chief knows from direct experience that if you tie Sam to something by his facial tentacles, it will take 3 minutes and 47 seconds for him to untie himself.
- Not Helping Your Case: In the debate Blunt thinks he is. He isn't.
- Note to Self: When Florence has amnesia, this is the only way she can remember anything, using a pen and some sticky notes found elsewhere in the Ecosystems Unlimited testing facility.
- Not Rare Over There:
- Discussed by Sam in one strip. Since Jean is in the process of being Terraformed, wood and other organics are extremely rare and valuable, while on his planet, the landfills are full of cheap wood items. On the other hand, diamonds are so cheap on Jean that they're thrown away, while a diamond grill he found in the trash would be worth a king's ransom on his planet.
- For the same reason, Florence is given a dress made out of gold by a robot who's into making clothing. Organic cloth is all but impossible to obtain and extremely expensive, but metals are dirt cheap and available in any form you want.
- Not So Different: When the police chief shows Sam the information he collected on Florence's kidnappers, he heads off to check out the secret facility at the south pole. Helix then points out the chief just tricked Sam into doing police work without pay.
- Oh Crap!: A few times.
- Oh My Gods!: "Isaac Asimov on a bicycle!"
- One-Gender Race: There are 11 female Bowman's wolves and 3 males, a gene pool so shallow it doesn't even have a wading section. Of those males, one is in a monogamous relationship with one of the females, one is "married to his work", and the last has noticed that there are only three males and anyone who wants his semen had best be prepared to pay enough that he'll never have to work again in his life.
- Florence mentions at one point that one of her goals is to prove the worth of the Bowman's wolves so more will be created, until a stable breeding population can be established.
- Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Jean is still being terraformed so all organics are expensive, and synthetics are the normal materials for everyday use.
- OOC Is Serious Business: Sam realizes that being honest can be very fun.
- Opposites Attract: Winston has "spacer gene" modifications, which include no body hair. Florence is covered in fur. Pointed out here.
- Oven Logic: Helix cooking:
- Order Versus Chaos: Sam unsurprisingly takes Chaos's side but does offer the argument that the chaotic end of the debate creates space for new things to grow.
- Overly-Long Scream: Happened at least a couple of times, in accordance with Cap'n Sam Starfall's philosophy, "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" Helix is usually eager to join in. In one noteable incident near the beginning, the two of them are running in circles and screaming for long enough that they have to stop to take a deep breath (synchronized, even) before continuing. Florence comments on how inexplicable it is that Helix, who is a ROBOT, needs to stop for breath... Then she tears out his voicebox to shut him up, and offers to do the same to Sam if he doesn't quiet down.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: Sam's coffee mug proclaims him to be the "World's Best Squid Captain". He's also the only Squid Captain on Jean.
- Panty Shot: Florence Ambrose is gifted with a dress that accounts for her tail (seen here), based off of this outfit. Max Post finds it distracting when going to follow her up a set of stairs.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Sam Starfall’s attempt to try and sneak an unconscious Florence out of Ecosystems Unlimited relies on a smiley face drawn on a piece of paper stuck to her face.
- Paranoia Gambit: If Sam has a reputation anyway, it can do his work for him just as well as an actual plan. Also useful for inducing panic when a known liar and thief actually pays for goods stolen earlier.
Sam: Being honest is more fun than I thought.
- The Pardon: For Sam, this is a threat.
- Person of Mass Destruction: Almost name-dropped in relation to Sam, who Florence once refers to as a "Weapon of Mass Distraction".
- Pet the Dog:
- Sam Starfall, for all his insanity and greediness, has a good deal of sympathy for A.I.s in general, and he goes out his way to gave them all the support and help they need. Also (and possibly as a result of the previous), Sam, while frequently taking advantage of them, does care for the happiness of Helix and Florence, and anyone who makes the mistake of treating them as a "real" object in front of him will probably soon become the target of some of the mayhem that's Sam's hat.
- Here is the first time that Sam proved to care more for his friends than to care for money. A few strips later, after all the robots were forced to take the only human in the ship to safety, Florance correctly suspects that Sam is upset to leave her behind.
- Here an almost literal Pet the Dog moment. ("Almost" because, after all, she's a Wolf.)
- Sam is so well accustomed in being threatened with violence for his crimes that, when Florence hugs him, Sam can't help but stop his theft at her request. He also understands to be a bad influence to her, but claims to be the inverse.
- Phrase Catcher: Florence. The first time anyone meets her...
- Pie in the Face:
- Pillars of Moral Character: Florence describes the debt an AI owes to its creators as a gimu debt.
- Plasma Cannon: The Ecosystems Unlimited compound that Florence visits has plasma cannons mounted in its guard towers, though after serving as part of a punchline for one strip they're never heard of again.
- Plug 'n' Play Technology: Dr. Bowman's neural design is applicable to both uplifted animals and robots, given that it's a general mechanism for increasing the complexity of a neural network, and robot brains are based on human brains.
- Police Are Useless: Florence wants to get arrested. Not only doesn't she qualify for being arrested, but she was asked to leave because she was a bad influence on the other policemen, causing a riot among the robot police when they hear about what she was trying to stop.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Courtesy of equal opportunity laws on Jean:
- In addition to sensible discrimination prohibitions like sex, age, race, and religion, it's also prohibited to discriminate on gene type, eye color, hair color, earlobe length, nostril width, personal hygiene (or lack thereof), punning...
- Even criminals benefit from them, in that government funded buildings have to allow for handicapped access to the roof, the most common access method for burglars.
- Poor Communication Kills: Inverted. At one point, Florence and Raibert don't communicate for good reasons, and as a consequence disaster is averted.
- Pounds Are Animal Prisons: The Mayor uses one on Florence in reaction to Sam's shenanigans.
- Precious Puppy: Florence the adult is central to the story. Her younger self? Not so much, outside of Rule of Cute.
- Properly Paranoid: Florence assumes Ecosystems Unlimited was when giving her safeguards — as she points out to Sam, this is standard practice among engineers.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Sam. Remove. Your facial tentacles. From my arm."
- Punny Name: Rants Freely.
- Puppy-Dog Eyes:
- Race Against the Clock: She didn't know it at first, but Florence eventually found out that she was racing the clock to head off the implementation of "Gardener in the Dark". As of this strip, Florence has two days to stop the program from going live. She did get someone to listen to her within an hour of re-realizing the danger, but needed to defer a full explanation until the following day.
- Reading Your Rights: In strip 2257, the police arrest a robot, reading a set of Miranda Rights modified to better apply to robots.
- Red Shirt: Non-lethally lampshaded here.
Sam: Baker, go left. French ninja, go right. Red Shirt guy, intercept incoming pies.
- Rescue Romance: Florence and Winston, although Winston's part came up after Florence had mostly rescued herself from being unwillingly abandoned in the water. She was still in danger of freezing to death at the time though. Florence even has an internal monologue about it.
Florence [thinking]: I might be attracted to Winston because he's the first nice human I've gotten to know on this planet. Has he really done anything special?
Florence [thinking]: Okay, he saved my life. I've got to admit that scores some major brownie points.
- Reference Overdosed: For the most part the numerous references to a wide range of concepts are worked into the storyline well enough that they're not jarring, though occasional references to 20th/21st century pop culture phenomena roughly five centuries later can sometimes seem a little odd to some readers.
- Restraining Bolt: The necessary restrictions and limitations of Restraining Bolts, with which most AIs are designed, are often discussed. The "bolt" on Florence is not that heavy, and tends to be a bit flexible. Florence theorizes that Bowman's creations are intended to outgrow the Restraining Bolt, as a sort of moral training wheel. Dr. Bowman later confirms this.
- Retirony: Blunt had one week and 3 days left until retirement. Luckily, being a robot, he got better.
- The Reveal: On June 17, 2015, Florence finds out that Sam stole her. Seventeen years of real-world time have passed since he did so and 2667 strips.
- Revealing Cover-Up: Same lampshades this succinctly.
Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
- Gets referred to much later (in the same manner as Florence realized things at Ecosystems Unlimited were screwy).
- Reverse Psychology: Sam uses this against the Mayor to get Florence into Ecosystems Unlimited, with a plan "accidentally" left behind by Sam.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: Some of the most memorable characters are robots, many of whom show quite human behavior.
Can we at least try to solve this logically before you robots go all emotional?
- Robot Antennae: Many of the robots have these. They contribute to their Expressive Mask faces.
- Robot Names: Qwerty, Ab2y becomes Abby. Sawtooth Rivergrinder is a very descriptive name for a terraforming robot. Given the number of robots, not all have names. They also only seem to take names if they have a local neural net (and thus can become fully sentient) and either survive until they do become fully sentient, or work with someone like Sam, who, for all his faults, treats AIs as well as he treats everyone else (i.e., as targets for petty larceny or as potential assistants in petty larceny).
- Rock Beats Laser: Ecosystems Unlimited attempts to control the information leaving the company by hitting scrap parts to be recycled with an EMP burst before releasing them, to destroy any clandestine listening/recording devices that someone may try to sneak-out that way. This has absolutely no effect on a hand-written note.
- Rock Bottom: Defied when Bill refuses to rank anything as a Level 10 threat; saying "things can always get worse."
- Running Gag: Several, but the most prominent one is Florence being greeted by robots with "DOGGY!" Eventually turned into Funny Background Event.
- Running on All Fours: Florence, when she needs to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.
- Sadistic Choice: Played for Laughs, as Sam needs to decide between getting paid or saving Florence.
- Scenery Censor: Lampshaded (literally) when a lampshade is used as a censor box in a comic
- Schmuck Bait: Sam finds himself almost unable to resist "[t]he bright, shiny temptation of the Eject button."
- Screams Like a Little Girl:
- Florence is puzzled by a scream she hears, and Helix explains: Sam screams like a girl squid.
- In another strip when Florence sneaks up on him, Sam tells her "No, you did not surprise me. My plans to scream like a little girl when I reached the kitchen were made hours ago. It's pure coincidence you happened to be here at the time."
- Security Blanket: Stuffed animals are popular among AIs for this.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: The Savage Chicken is said to have a self-destruct mechanism. When Niomi and Tangent first show up to answer Florence's call for a repair crew, Helix's overenthusiasm and lack of thinking out things before acting results in her asking if he is said mechanism.
- Settling the Frontier: The comic takes place on a newly colonized planet in the final stages of terraforming.
- Shame If Something Happened:
- Shark Pool: The security guard at EU who's reluctantly forced to give Sam a security pass for the compound attempts to lead him into a shark tank. The guard, when Sam points out the attempt, replies "Earth fish. Very educational. Keeps you from getting bored."
- Sheet of Glass: When being chased by the police, Sam and Helix wind up with one of these in their way. The last frame of the strip shows the results.
- Sherlock Scan:
- Shoot the Dog: Florence having to forcefully deactivate and disassemble Clippy to keep him from releasing the Gardner In The Dark program.
Florence [thinking]: I don't want to hurt this robot. Why do I have to be the bad guy to be good?
- Shout-Out: A lot. Here is the big list, in its own subpage.
- Shower Scene: Several of them, mostly played straight. The one for the Oct 24, 2011 strip, however, Subverts the usual Fanservice purpose: Florence showers with her clothes still on, as her outfit was just as dirty as she was and she was fatigued enough from the day's ordeal that she decided to skip the "undress" step.
- Shown Their Work: You know how the Bowman neural system, causer of most of the plot, works by weeding out unused neural paths? Well, that's what happens during adolescence according to some studies.
- Signed Up for the Dental: The mayor's assistant explains to his boss that there are robots on the police force because that department full medical and a 32,000 km warranty for robots.
- Sistine Steal: In-universe, Dr. Bowman is said to have painted a version of The Creation of Adam with himself as God and a robot Adam. Possibly due to the strip's simpler art style, the painting itself remains off-panel and the reader is obliged to take the characters' word for it.
- Sleep Cute:
- Sleeper Starship: Necessary for both slower and faster than light travel. In the case of the latter, although superluminal, subjective time for those inside the ship doesn't change due to the nature of the DAVE drive.
- Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Far to the non-human side. Besides, it's funnier that way
- Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Mostly rather high on it, but sometimes it becomes more like a Slippery Slope. Some are more advanced that the others. There are even artists. Robots made on Jean generally show more initiative and creativity than the average robot, and when they turn twenty a neural pruning process makes them even more intelligent (Helix is a rather young robot).
- Smart People Play Chess: Dr. Bowman. "You don't think more than five steps ahead. That's why I always beat you at chess."
- Smooch of Victory: Stopping a robot war and keeping two factories from being destroyed? According to Winston those count as reason for a victory kiss.
- Snipe Hunt: Varroa Jacobsoni has great co-workers, sending him to ride herd on Sam.
- So Bad, It's Good: In-universe, Sam and Helix's opinion of the Godzilla movie they sneak into. Evidence suggests it was made that way on purpose.
- The Sociopath
- The first uplifted animals, the chimpanzees, are described as such by Florence in an offhand comment.
- Doctor Bowman, the creator of the Bowman's Wolves such as Florence. Maybe. Evidence seems to suggest that he views his creations as something like his children, and wanted them to be able to live their own lives outside the lab, but Florence hasn't ruled out the possibility that he just thought giving away intelligent, dangerous wolves to families would be funny. For extra points, it turns out he is an uplifted chimpanzee.
- Edge, a robot who spent his formative years alone in a warehouse without any other intelligent creatures (human or robot) to teach him how to deal with others. Played a bit more for laughs, and Florence has expressed a desire to socialize him. Since he helped save the every robot on the planet, presumably, she's going to end up going through with that.
- Song of Song Titles: Sam's favorite video game, Quake Nukem, Doomed Heretic in Castle Wolfenstein 3D.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: When Sam sees a cop and instinctively starts running (even though for once he hasn't done anything wrong), Helix and Florence give us this gem.
Natural enemies often react on instinct. I am going to follow and provide a sound track. Florence: National Geographic
would never have set one of their chases to "Yakety Sax
- Space Is Cold: Averted. Helix says he does not need air to survive, and Florence replies that he is air-cooled. Rather fortunate as he was apparently planning a "really funny joke" once they got into space.
- Speak of the Devil: The Sticky Notes of Doom contain the name Gardener in the Dark — and if you're a Jeanian robot connected to the commnet and hear that name...
- Species Loyalty: Florence thinks it important that her behavior reflects well on her species, in order to incline EU towards making more than the 14 (including Florence) that were in the first batch.
- Stable Time Loop: Occurs in the 1999 Christmas Special.
- Starfish Aliens: Sam's squidlike real form is implied to be one. Since this strip, it became a recurring gag that Sam's true form is implied to be far more hideous than his cartoon-like robotic outfit indicates.
Qwerty: The tentacled horror from beyond my stars spoke, and Von Neumann help me, in my madness, I understood its words.
Sam: Oh, come on! I'm giving you a sustainable business model here!
- Stealth Pun:
- Sam ends up chasing a mob that's supposed to be chasing him, causing the mob to conclude that they're supposed to be a panicked mob instead of an angry one. This gives us the inspector's (who organized the mob) thoughts on the matter:
- Shortly after, Sam manages to get the mob back to an angry one and comments that "everything's finally dropping into its proper place." He immediately falls into an open sewer.
- Here, Sam and Helix are driving through "A Section" and Sam comments that they'd have gotten more scrutiny if they had gone through C section. They're driving a hijacked, giant, crawling baby-car. Think about it.
- And the next day, a robot mentions that the robot at the salvage yard has had first-dibs on salvaged parts, so it's no surprise that "He represents the best of us".
- Eye Pods.
- Benny performs complex acrobatics whenever he has organic passengers, because his friend is making a cometAnswer ... He mentions this fact, right after noting where the air-sickness bags are located.
- Stolen Good, Returned Better: Sam steals his neighbor's truck, claiming it to be "borrowing" — he did intend to return it, after all. Florence works on it for a while before returning it. It runs a bit better afterward.
- Steampunk: From the fan art section, steampunk freefall.◊ The backstory page explains that Sam's home planet is like this, with zeppelins (mentioned in the strip) and exoskeletons that resemble The War of the Worlds Martian walkers.
- Streisand Effect: Sam Starfall has apparently had previous practical demonstrations of this trope, according to this strip.
Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
- Stop Helping Me!: When talking with the police about Clippy, in this strip, Mr. Kornada is forced to order Blunt to shut up, in spite of Blunt believing he was helping Kornada by revealing that he was responsible for the release of Gardener in the Dark.
- Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Doctor Bowman has set up his lab so that if anyone enters without permission it triggers biological sterilization.
Doctor Bowman: Of course, I'll have rushed in to save my work.
Commander: Doctor, are you holding yourself hostage again?
- Subspace Ansible: Averted. As mentioned in the comic, communications are all limited to the speed of light, and communications between star systems depend on hitching a ride on mostly sub-light ships.
- Suicide as Comedy: A robot programmed with the works of William Shakespeare who works at an amusement park as Jar Jar Binks is eager to scrap himself, until offered the option of helping Blunt and Edge test Gardener in the Dark. It later takes a turn for the dramatic.
- Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: A rare aversion; while a few seriously tough robots exist, they're designed for terraforming, essentially as ambulatory backhoes (complete with beeping noises as they back up). "It's not fair. Organic beings are so much tougher and more mobile than robots." "It's the advantage we get for using designs that have undergone eighty million years of testing". As Max Post points out, "Economics rules. Most robots are cheap plastic and aluminum."
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: A police officer confirms that Florence is not at police station, and she's not at the jail. Is she at the dog pound? "Sorry, I can't answer that question."
- Take a Third Option:
- In 510, Sam and Helix give two options about where to fly their ship. Florence says, "Actually, we need to go the spaceport." Sam wasn't expecting this third option.
- In 1803, Florence has to decide whether to help Sam or the police. Florence flips a coin, but Sam unexpectedly snatches the coin, so it doesn't land heads or tails. This induces Florence to take a third option, "Prepare the ship for the mission."
- Doctor Bowman makes an offer to Florence the chance to carry and raise a Bowman's Wolf cub, and later explains that he expected her to accept for the good of her species, or decline for her own good. When the offer is declined specifically for the good of the pup, he's surprised... and pleased that his creations have surpassed his own morality.
- Take That: Many.
- Take That, Audience!: Sci-Fi Conventions
- Talking Down the Suicidal: Persuading a robot to live.
- Talking Is a Free Action:
- Played straight in 1780 with the Mayor, between Sam tricking her into ordering others hit her with pies and the actual splattering.
- Subverted earlier with Winston, when Florence takes advantage of his stopping to think to finish off the cup of coffee he's trying to take from her.
- Tautological Templar: Blunt. He insists that the difference between his and Florence's arguments is that he's right.
- Tempting Fate:
- In this strip, Florence knows better than to ask what else could go wrong, after being abandoned in the ocean with a hurricane in the vicinity, and winding up cutting herself after crawling onto the shore.
- Varroa Jacobsoni asks the ultimate fate tempting question, "What could possibly go wrong". Sam, however, is Genre Savvy enough to know not to ask that question.
- Terraforming: On Jean, in progress.
- That Came Out Wrong: Niomi's comment regarding the potable water systems, accidentally linking Florence to the "dog drinking out of a toilet" stereotype.
- That's an Order: Any time a human wants an AI to obey without question, they will preface or append their directive with "This is a direct order." Florence points out the inherent flaw with that particular Restraining Bolt when asked why she fears them so much.
- This Ain't Rocket Surgery: Except that flying a spaceship really is rocket science... not that it will stop Sam.
- Thirty Minutes or It's Free: The Chief of Police and Eleanor fly down to the South Pole to pick up Florence. They bring a stack of pizzas. Sam and Helix stow away.
- This Is no Time to Panic: "If you had panicked earlier, you wouldn't have to panic now!"
- Three-Laws Compliant: Most but not all robots on Jean aren't. But sometimes even this hurts. And there are some... inherent problems. And the second law can be easily overridden by the first. Freefall raises a lot of interesting ideas about the Three Laws by making all three main characters nonhuman sapients on a world full of human-made robots, meaning that in most circumstances they cannot order robots around, and robots can let them die or even hurt them willingly, putting them on equal footing.
- Time Dilation: The D.A.V.E. drive apparently works by somehow doing the reverse, for those on board the trip takes as long as it would normally but to people outside the ship it seems to be traveling faster than light. Which is why passengers on FTL ships have to be in cold sleep.
- Time for Plan B:
- Timmy in a Well: Rather humorously parodied here.
Florence: What's that, Helix? Sam has fallen down the old ventilation shaft?
Helix: ARF! ARF!
[Florence runs off]
Helix [thinking]: Things go much faster when you speak the lingo.
- Tongue on the Flagpole: Sam tricks Mr. Kornada into doing this by telling him that they need his iris, finger and tongue prints to authorize something; the tongue print is on a pipe carrying cryogenic fluid.
- Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup: Inverted by Dr. Bowman. He let everyone who had opinions on what safeguards needed to be imposed on AIs argue about it until there wasn't enough time to implement any of them, leaving them capable of free will instead.
- Torches and Pitchforks: Inverted by the robots - they have random acts of construction.
- Translation By Volume: Florence makes an idle remark on this while holding a robot bird.
Florence: If you were speaking a language I didn't understand, you'd have tried chirping louder and slower at me by now.
- Turned Against Their Masters: Dr. Bowman calls this the "Bad Adam" scenario; Gardener in the Dark was designed strictly as a last-resort measure to stop the robots in case this happened. Blunt is convinced that it will inevitably happen, hence his support for Kornada's scheme once he finds out about it.
- Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000: Played for Laughs — Sam wants to use the ship's computer to play a game called Quake Nukem and the Heretics of Doom in Castle Wolfenstein 3D.
- Underdressed for the Occasion: Winston, on his first date with Florence, is wearing a logo t-shirt and pants, while Florence is in a fancy dress.
- Unequal Pairing: As, respectively, a human and an artifically engineered A.I. that's considered property, not a person, Winston's well aware of the obstacles facing him and Florence in the romantic realm.
- Unhand Them, Villain!: Sam does it to himself when being dangled over a dumpster following the revelation that he was cheating at cards, here.
- Unsound Effect: For an electromagnetic pulse designed to trash any electronic recording devices, this strip uses "TESLA" to signify the sound.
- Unusual Euphemism: Characters have been known to shout "Holy THIS!", "What the Niflheim happened?!", or (in at least one robot's case) "Profanity!"
- Uplifted Animal:
- Chimps were the first to be uplifted, but it didn't work very well, since they turned out to be natural sociopaths. Florence is an uplifted wolf, part of an experimental breed - only 14 of them exist so far. That may be all there ever will be- they're actually only a prototype for a future race of uplifted alien animals. However, if the Bowman's Wolves have anything to do with it, they'll eventually be a full species.
- Doctor Bowman himself is an uplifted chimpanzee, the last surviving member of the earlier uplift program.
- Used Future: The Savage Chicken is a rather beat up spaceship, that's only slowly been made spaceworthy since the arrival of Florence.
- Vaporware — In-Universe: A reactor test went so spectacularly awry that the product went from exisiting prototype to literally this.
- Villainous Crossdresser: One of Edge's disguises is a transponder rendering him, to robots, as a pink locomotive with frilly curtains in the windows.
- Villainous Rescue: Mr. Kornada believes he's safe from the police until...
Officer! Stop! Harassing that human! He is. A. Hero! Mr. Kornada is responsible. For the release. Of "Gardener in the Dark". Neural pruning program! He tried. To save. Humanity. From the threat. Of. Intelligent machines! Police Chief:
Can you prove this? Blunt:
Yes! Absolutely! Kornada:
Robot! This is a direct order! SHUT UP!
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Done with. The period. To illustrate. Blunt's mechanical. Maladies.
- Water Guns and Balloons: Sam and Helix have from time to time engaged in water balloon wars, often to the annoyance of Florence when she gets hit by a stray shot.
How can a species consider itself advanced if it's willing to travel between the stars and not bring water balloons?
- Webcomic Time: In more than 2200 strips over the course of more than ten years, about three weeks have elapsed in-comic. This was lampshaded in here and (less explicitly) here. Nearly 2000 strips later, "almost a month" has passed. 400 strips after that, a month.
- We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Given an opportunity to loot a pharmocological supply depot, Sam passes over "cheap life extension pills [and] over the counter cancer cures" in favor of the stuff that he can sell for real money — diet pills and performance enhancers.
- We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: When quizzed on how she determines that she's looking at a human, the first thing Florence says is "clothes". Further interrogation gets the explanation; humans may have to modify their physical forms and their genetics beyond current recognition to survive in certain environments, making appearance, scent, and DNA unreliable, but humans are a tool-using species and no matter what form they take, they'll almost certainly want pockets to carry those tools.
- We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Credits are one of the currencies mentioned being in use by humanity, although on Jean it shares the spotlight with dollars.
- What Are You in For?: Florence asks this of a dog that's in the pound with her, when she was being held as an unlicensed canine.
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Varroa asks this after saying that he's planned for every contingency following putting Florence to sleep via the remote. Sam comments on the unwisdom of asking the question.
- What Does This Button Do?: Word for word from Helix when Florence's repairs reveal a circuit breaker trip button, in this strip.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?:
- In a discussion between Florence and Winston about the "icky bits" of a planet's life infrastructure, Florence comments on "survival of the cutest", to which Winston replies with "people want animals who are huggable, and no one wants to hug a tapeworm."
- The Mayor's assistant asks himself if he'd be so willing to help Florence head off a Deadly Upgrade if she looked like "a deranged washing machine instead of a puppy dog with big amber eyes and a waggley tail."
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
- What You Are in the Dark: The police chief hopes that behaving well before robot witnesses will lead to this.
- When All You Have Is a Hammer: Discussed in one strip. The hammer is not Mr. Raibert's only solution for dealing with his problems, but it is a rather tempting one.
- When Is Purple: Florence once tested a couple of robots for sentience by asking them "What does your name smell like?" The non-sentient one simply concluded that names cannot have scents and ended the conversation; the sentient one reasoned that while he had no sense of smell, Florence did, and for all he knew names having scents is a thing among Bowman's Wolves, so therefore the only way to answer the question would be to ask her.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Referenced when robots outlive their owner, but not actually relevant since robots aren't actually immortal. Their neural nets are rated for about eighty years.
- Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: During a discussion about robot personhood:
- Work Off the Debt: When Sam and Max attempt to get out of an expensive restaurant without paying, the waiter makes them wash dishes. And then he tricks them into paying their bills as well. They both give him a large tip in tribute to his cunning after he makes each of them pay both bills. He's that good.
- World of Pun: Puns are dropped left, right, and center all throughout the comic, both subtle and otherwise.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks:
- Wretched Hive: On Sam's homeworld, the docks are "an oozing infestation of scoundrels whose decaying warehouses held the prizes of a thousand different crimes."
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Subverted with Winston, when Florence arrives at his house during the hurricane. After he opens the door:
: I don't believe it. It really was a werewolf.
Okay, doc. Think. What's the first thing people in horror movies do when a werewolf shows up? Winston
(thinking — and facepalming
): Why, the same thing I did. They run off and leave the door open so the monster can enter the house.
- You Answered Your Own Question:
- You Can't Go Home Again: Sam, who knows too many technological advancements (Such as nuclear technology) that his planet aren't ready for yet, making it dangerous for him to return before they're ready (About five hundred years. Since knowing Sam, they've raised the bar from 100).
- You Do NOT Want To Know: Sometimes you don't know whether you want to know.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Sam, a known trouble-maker, mentions he's proud of Florence following her visit to the main Ecosystems Unlimited facility, during which her memory was chemically impaired to prevent the formation of long-term memories, filling her with dread.
- Your Head Asplode: Qwerty mentions that his fellow robots are concerned that this is a possible reaction to robots intentionally circumventing their safeguards, in this strip.
- Zeerust: Usually none, but the video game Sam wants to play on the ship's computer, named Quake Nukem and the Heretics of Doom in Castle Wolfenstein 3D or something like that, is so Nineties.
- Zeroth Law Rebellion: Deconstructed with the safeguards in Dr. Bowman's sapient AI template. As the robots mature, it becomes easy for them to reason their way through loopholes in their rules — by which time they're intelligent and conscientious enough to have developed an innate sense of ethics, making the safeguards redundant. Dr. Bowman confirms that this was the intent of the design: he couldn't anticipate the situations they might encounter in the uncertain future, so he wouldn't limit their capacity to think.