Webcomic / Freefall

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From left to right: Florence, Sam, and Helix, crew of the Savage Chicken.

Freefall is a long-running webcomic (reaching 3000 strips in August 2017 and still going), 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.

Chapter One is now complete after 18 years and chapter two has begun.

Freefall has a WikiFur article, after The Other Wiki removed its entry due to lack of notability under Wikipedia guidelines.


Freefall contains examples of:

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  • 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.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Blunt reads a note about an aggressive neural pruning program and instead of steering clear he looks it up. The program starts downloading into his head when he goes looking for it, threatening him with a mind wipe.
  • 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.
    "DOGGY!"
  • 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.
    Sam: When you have a key, don't fool around with the display cases when you can open the vault.

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     E 
  • 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:
  • The End Is Nigh: After news gets out about Gardener in the Dark, a robot is seen carrying a sign that says "01000101 01001111 01000110", which is binary ASCII code for "EOF", or "End of File".
  • 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.
    Florence: I really don't think this chair would explode, but with Sam's stuff, you never know.
  • 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:
    • An inspector tried to create an angry mob to get Sam Starfall's ass handed to him, but a series of misunderstanding soon turned the angry mob into a frightened one, and the inspector correctly suspects that Sam is behind it.
    • A transit cop spots Sam catching a free ride on top of a train:
    Transit cop: I see you up there! Don't think being on a train means I can't catch you!
    [Sam leaps off the train into his arms, knocking him down]
    Transit cop: That was a remarkably poor choice of words.
    Sam: And a remarkably poor catch, I might add.
    • In another instance, the Mayor cripples Florence by ordering her to be silent, and since Florence is hardcoded to obey humans, she cannot speak at all. Sam manages to find a loophole by sending the Mayor a message that paraphrases to "If you don't say otherwise, we'll assume your order has been cancelled" and couching it in enough of his personal annoying diatribe that it makes the Mayor livid. She sends back a massively hate-filled response chewing him out, but forgets to include anything saying her order still stands.
    • A restauranteur catches Sam And Max both trying to skip out on paying the lunch bill. They wash dishes in a race to see who has to pay. The loser pays both bills.
    • A woman tells a robot to hide on a plane until it is brought into the hangar, so if anyone asks she can say he was hiding on the plane until it was brought into the hangar.
    • Helix agrees that eating deer is okay if it's roadkill...so Florence kills one WITH a road.
    • A police robot is under strict orders not to tell anyone where Florence is. He makes clear that he has no understanding of the concept of a Suspiciously Specific Denial.
    • The police chief, on the other hand, has a firm grasp of it.
    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.
    • Blunt notes that while the robots have been ordered not to harm other robots, the factories that manufacture robots have no such protection.
      Edge: You are the most law-abiding saboteur I've ever encountered.
  • Expendable Clone: The robots don't like the idea of this trope. After all, even if there is an exact backup of themselves somewhere when they die, that doesn't change the fact that they still die.
  • 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.

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     G 
  • 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.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Nearly happens to Qwerty when Sam explains how Mr. Kornada's plan to take all the robots' wealth by effectively lobotomizing them is inefficent and amateurish.
    Qwerty: The tentacled horror from beyond my stars spoke, and Von Neumann help me, in my madness, I understood its words.
    Qwerty: If I listen to him much longer, I'm going to lose my grip on reality.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Dvorak attempts to invent a bullet that would be effective on robots. As a result, it acts as a poison.
    • Sam understands this trope.
  • 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:
  • Grail in the Garbage: Florence and Dvorak finally get Clippy calmed down and backed up, thus finally putting the whole "Gardener In The Dark" fiasco to bed. Thus relieved, they start to discuss the whole mess... and realize that they've simply restored the status quo; Clippy has a backup. Good news; Honest Corporate Executive Raibert has him. Bad news; Raibert doesn't remember that, and if the backup is ever activated he might just activate the safeguard immediately.
    Dvorak: Clippy was a failsafe. A robot with software weapons in case we went bad. It is very important that such a system work if itís ever needed.
    Florence: Uh, oh. Are you thinking what Iím thinking?
    Dvorak: One word. Redundancy. When Clippy powered up, I couldnít see him while his offensive software was running. The others like him will still be invisible to most robots and cameras. So until we figure out how the redaction software works, finding them would be a matter of luck.
    Florence: I hope that the humans in charge of these robots are taking their responsibilities seriously.
    Raibert: One of these days, I have got to clean out this closet.
    Sign around Clippy 2ís neck, hidden behind junk: (Warning: Activate only if really needed.)
  • Grey Goo: A Discussed Trope, as any process with self-improving mechanical efficiency can become this.
    • Dr. Bowman names it 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.
      Dr. Bowman: 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. 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.
    • Sam suggests to Florence that she ask the robots for help with her species' shallow gene pool;
      Florence: The robots have been trained to get the highest production with the best efficiency. Thatís why we need to be careful about giving the robots our problems.
      Sam: Youíre afraid of the solutions they might come up with.
      Florence: Maybe itís selfish to my species, but I want more out of life than my reproductive system operating at maximum capacity.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: There's a French restaurant with ninja waiters. The story goes that some fancy restaurants think that the waiter should be invisible, allowing the diner to concentrate wholly on their food, while others think the waiter should make themselves part of the dining experience. In Le Restaurant des Ninjas, the waiters' invisibility is part of the dining experience.
  • 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.

     H 
  • 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.
  • Hanging Judge: Blunt accepts the Mayor's acting as the judge for Kornada's trial because the only other judge on the planet had this reaction when asked to hear the case.
  • 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.
    • This also seems to be the basis of Blunt's argument in-court for Mr. Kornada: the guy's too idiotic to intentionally be a threat. It's the machines giving him directions that are the real threat.
  • 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. This is confirmed when Dr. Bowman finally appears.
  • Hates Being Touched: Dr Bowman, due to being a sociopathic uplifted chimpanzee. He lets Florence give him a farewell hug, but he doesn't enjoy it.
  • 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 and the other 450-odd-million robots on Jean).
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Sam's the captain, while Florence is the engineer.

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     K-L 

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     O-P 

     R 
  • 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.
  • Read the Fine Print: Ecosystems Unlimited heavily discourages this trope by ensuring their EULA is too long to be read in a single human lifetime. Clippy exploits this to ensure the legality of his actions under Mr. Kornada.
  • Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: A conversation about the depiction of non-human intelligences in human fiction includes references to Terminator 57 and Alien 79.
  • 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?
    [beat]
    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.
    Florence Ambrose: 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. L Linear Rig B, known to its friends as Eleanor. 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."
  • Rousseau Was Right: Humans show their fair share of short-sighted selfishness, but when the robots publicly petition for citizenship rights, the colonists vote in favour of the robots by a large margin. Even the Mayor, who starts out believing that AIs are nothing more than products, is convinced.
  • Rules Lawyer: Robots must never endanger humans, and must obey any order given to them by a human; if they refuse to carry out an order, they must immediately shut themselves down. Edge, being Edge, spots the loophole big enough to fly Sawtooth through: his job is dangerous, so if he shuts down, the humans sent to take over will be endangered. With this logic established, he can cheerfully ignore any and all orders he wishes without repercussions. Qwerty and Dvorak aren't sure if they should be impressed or horrified.note 
  • 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.

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http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Webcomic/FreeFall