Space Opera with many HardScience Fiction aspects in the 31st century.Named after Schlock, an alien shaped like a pile of crap with eyes and a mouth who joins "Tagon's Toughs", a space-faring mercenary outfit. The cast includes the aforementioned Kaff Tagon, The Captain of the group, Commander Kevyn Andreyasn, inventor of the "teraport" system and all-around Mad Scientist, Ennesby, a former virtual boy band turned ship's AI, and many others.Consistent humor (it is very quotable) and we mean consistent — Schlock has been running seven days a week without missing a day since the 12th of June 2000 - thirteen years. There are moderate elements of social and political satire, but it's never partisan; let's just say it's not for people who think governments deserve sympathetic treatment. This is a world where the only respected authority is the one with the larger gun - in other words, the perfect world for a mercenary company.Howard Tayler has given enthusiastic permission to John Ringo to write about the First Contact days, in a series of novels collectively titled Troy Rising. However, the two worlds have drifted apart and Troy Rising is not currently considered canonical within the Schlock universe. However, Tayler still considers the books a Spiritual Licensee.Now has a Referenced page.The comic can be found right here.
The Pa'anuri. Their response to the invention of the terraport (the use of which is harmful to them) is to blow up the nearest star. They later set up a time bomb to blow up the galaxy, just to be sure.
The Ob'enn, on the other hand, just want to conquer everything. Although it's implied that there's internal friction between their military, which simply wants to own the universe, and their theocracy, which sees all other races as being "inferior."
Absurdly Sharp Blade: Many of the blades in the setting are capable of slicing through heavy armor. Tailor is particularly impressive, as he's able to dismember the hands of three heavily-armored Mooks in a single pass. Tailor was designed to cut, create, and modify body armor, though. There's also the problem of tensile strength versus shearing strength, which is why armor designed for kinetic weapons isn't nearly as good against edged ones.
Air-Vent Passageway: A Running Gag is Schlock hiding in air vents. Since he's an amorphous blob, the air vents don't actually have to be wide. Also, at least once he sneaks into a ship via the sewer. As he possesses an incredible sense of smell and tastes with every surface of his body, he has no pressing urge to repeat the experience.
The no-deadline contract was issued as a very fair punishment for the Collective. When the Collective was introduced, they took a patent case to get our heroes' prototype hyperdrive banned by the Wormgate Corporation. When they were clearly losing in court, the attorneys tried to blow up the defendants' ship with a total conversion bomb that would have, at the least, sterilized the nearer side of the moon.
Taylor started that if the comic got 10,000 votes in a February 2010 Washington Post poll, he'd kill an attorney drone in the "Mallcop Command" arc, and that if he won, he would kill ALL the attorney drones. Sadly, neither came to pass.
Anachronism Stew: The cover of the Schlock Mercenary game has Elf still with her metal legs and shirt from before her body-mod and promotion to Lieutenant. However, she's fighting Partnership Drones (who had largely stopped being a threat by that point), Captain Tagon has his current (green) uniform, and there is a teraport gate behind them all, something not created until later.
And There Was Much Rejoicing: Tagon's Toughs had this reaction to Xinchub's death. He had spent several arcs as the personally nastiest of the Tough's rogues gallery (or, in his own words, "the biggest ace-hole in the game"), and his death caused happy-dances throughout the major cast (not to mention wearing party hats to the funeral).
Anticlimax Cut: At the end of Book 12, Tailor and Ennesby discuss what will happen in Haven Hive after they removed the prior power structure, leaving Shep with a squad of milspec robots to control things. Right after Ennesby predicts some unscrupulous outsider will take charge, it cuts to Shep's mom, in charge, with one of the 'bots holding a tray of lemon bars as she orders the drains vacuumed.
Anti-Gravity Clothing: Among the standard abilities of the Toughs' powered armor, even the low profile kind, is enabling the wearer to fly.
Anti-Hero: The entire central cast. Notable for mostly being played for laughs, instead of Angst.
Anyone Can Die: Throughout most of the series, Death Is Cheap. Characters can be regrown in a tank from just a head, preserved in a nanny-bag to prevent degradation, and Tagon, Kevyn, Elf, Xinchub, and Petey have all come back from far less. Which makes it that much more shocking when characters like Hob, Sh'vuu, Pronto, Doctor Lazcowicz, and Brad, some of whom had been around since the very beginning, were all Killed Off for Real.
Applied Phlebotinum: Nannies, and to a lesser extent gravy. Also the Teraport, although that got kinda nerfed shortly after Kevyn open-sourced it. Mostly because the possible applications were so terrifying—like smashing a planet from across the galaxy—that it created a boom in anti-teraport defenses. Even so, its release started a galaxy-wide set of wars.
Armor-Piercing Slap: Mostly played straight (and since armour has gotten a little stronger in the past thousand years, the slap can be delivered in equally powered armour or by a bullet). Subverted here after a classic setup.
The crimes Kevyn could hypothetically be tried for include: treason, high treason, and grand spamming. However, in the 31st century spammers are held in the same contempt as pedophiles so it's a subversion.
Kevyn: Hey, the only charge they can make stick is the spamming. Ceeta: You need to capture some moral high ground that sits outside of artillery range.
The future equivalent of DUI carries the death penalty because you have to be completely sober to modify the vehicle to make it possible to use manual mode while under the influencenote of anything, up to and including Testosterone Poisoning. In some cases, this requires installing a manual mode. Quite understandable, however, since the consequences of screwing up while drunk are exponentially different when you're piloting a spaceship.
Played straight with a rounding error. Since the current list of crimes includes armed conquest and attempted genocide, rounding pi down to 3 seems like an especially trivial crime, even when you're charged by an AI.
Played with. Tagon likes this trope; whenever one of his men does something stupid (such as blowing up the ship/fleet/planet), they usually get a promotion if they survived.
At least, if they survived and blowing up the ship/fleet/planet did the job it was supposed to.
Tagon himself. He's not the brightest on strategy or tactics (though far from the worst at it, either), but nobody in the company can beat him when it comes to combat. He's extremely sharp in his own way when it comes to the things he's good at (which is, unsurprisingly, hurting people and breaking things), even if a little Book Dumb. He just looks dim next to the hyperintelligent warship AI and one of the single greatest scientific minds in the galaxy.
Played straight with the Pugil sticks... he defeated Schlock (who is three times his weight, five times his strength and can grow extra limbs at will) and Chisulo who is a several-tonne anthropomorphic elephant in hand to hand combat just to show the troops why he's in charge.
Legs: Do you know what we call flying soldiers on the battlefield? Tino: Air support? Legs:Skeet.
Back from the Dead: Several major characters have managed this, including Kevyn (multiple times, even), Xinchub, Petey, and in an extreme case requiring a cosmic Reset Button pressed during Time Travel, Tagon.
Badass Normal: Even non-soldiers like Massey the lawyer and the Rev have their moments.
Tagon: General, let's be clear on this. Working for you will be no different than working for any number of other clients I've personally detested. Granted, I'm growing unfond of you faster than any other fat, fascist warlord I've taken money from, but if the money is good I'm sure I can get over it. Ennesby: Word choice, sir. Word choice.
Bad Omen Anecdote: Kevyn once did remind Lieutenant Ebbirnoth about military anecdotes on how the different branches handle the task at hand. They eventually got their punchline, of course.
The Battlestar: Battleplates, plus Ob'enn Superfortresses and pretty much every ship made by the psycho bears, everything the Toughs fly in after the Kitesfear is destroyed (with the exceptions of Serial Peacemaker and Bristlecone), Petey's Extortionator class ships, and every ship equipped with a fabber.
Behind the Black: The Toughs frequently display their ignorance of the law, never seeming to notice their lawyer is present until Massey sticks his head into the frame.
BFG: Schlock loves them so much that he once actually rejected a far more powerful and efficient version of his plasma cannon because it was dinky-looking. And because it lacked the "Ommminous Hummm".
Body Horror: The Nano Weapons, which often start by using their Typhoid Mary carrier's body mass as raw materials to mass produce more nanobots before forcibly spraying them at anyone nearby. Those of a compatible makeup can then be used to repeat the process. Those who are incompatible instead have their muscles hijacked before their bodies are made to painfully tear themselves apart.
Thurl: The metaphor monitor indicates that Ennesby has vented his virtual bowels. Kevyn: I can see that, but where'd the virtual bricks come from? Narrator: Goodnight, kids!
In another strip, in a conversation with King Xinchub in his bathroom:
Petey: [...] I was going to employ Tagon and company to extract you, but they declined. Apparently they'd rather see you dead. Petey: You look like you're thinking maybe the plumbing in here needs to accommodate flushed bricks.
Black and Gray Morality: Although the main protagonists aren't totally amoral and will generally try to do what's right, they ultimately are mercenaries, and will do a lot for the sake of a contract. However, by and large their opposition in any given story is anything but concerned with "what's right".
Caught in a Snare: When the Toughs land on a planet only to discover it's home to a sentient stone-age race.
Centrifugal Gravity: Credomar and Mel-Onenote Moon-Earth Lagrange point 1 both use Centrifugal force to keep people on the deck. The sheer inefficiency of the design is lampshaded in the former case and the latter is justified by the station pre-dating Terran use of Artificial Gravity, and maintained in such a manner (minus a station crew module given artificial gravity) for historical purposes.
Cerebus Retcon: Subverted. The early gag of the "magic cryokit" modified by the Toughs' former doctor using his illegal research, including dumping his own memories into it, takes on surprising seriousness in light of later revelations about the doctor, his role in certain black projects, and what those projects are capable of. Also related, the apparent throwaway joke at the time that the doctor's corpse was missing unspecified parts when it was brought in for the bounty; it's not until more than six years later that we find out that said illegal research is capable of rebuilding people from parts of their dead body.Subverted in that it's done so subtly and over such a long period that it appears to be less a retcon than incredibly long-range foreshadowing.
Chekhov's Armoury: The Massively Parallel arc has had so many Chekhov's Guns left lying around that the readers have probably forgotten half of them . . . should be fun once said guns all get chain-fired.
Chekhov's Gun: Used repeatedly, without mercy. In fact, any throwaway oneliner can turn out to be Chekhov's Gun 200 strips later.
Excellent example is here, making Credomar a literalChekhov's Gun. One capable of firing across the galaxy.
Yet another rapidfire burst of gunfire: The end of "The Body Politic" arc had the Toughs' collective memories wiped in order to prevent them from being executed by the UNS in order to cover up secrets. The deal also included a complete cutoff from Petey. Two arcs later, near the end of "Massively Parallel", Petey bails them out as mentioned in the above mentioned literal 'Gun', and it's only Schlock's circumvention of the mindwipe rearing its head that makes Tagon listen to anything Petey has to say. Like the Toughs themselves, Howard sure loves his guns...
Then we're given this strip that details what the Toughs found out to have their memory wiped in the above example. This becomes the entirety of the plot of "Random Access Memorabilia."
The surviving gate clones who were freed were given status as legal individuals, including every Gav, who was duplicated nearly a billion times. There were most likely political ramifications, but this didn't affect the Toughs, so it wasn't expanded on.
Averted for everyone on-screen. Duplicated characters are treated as legally and morally equal to the originals, and are usually Put on a Bus rather than killed. An extreme example is "The Gavs": a cameo by the creator of Nukees is duplicated some 950 million times in an instant, and is now a dominant ethnic group and marketing demographic in his own right.
Captain Tagon: Kevyn and, um. . . Kevyn, do you have any suggestions for how I handle paying you? I mean, there are two of you now. Timeclone!Kevyn: No. There is one of me, and one of him.
In Kevyn's case his gate clone replaced him completely, as he'd been killed by his own improvised gravy gun. His time clone (from an alternate future) retired after winning the lottery and apparently some mob-run horse races.
HOWEVER... Uncountable gate clones were tortured and murdered off-screen over all the time the F'sherl Ganni gates were the galaxy's only practical form of transportation.
Cloning Body Parts: Prosthetics are generally temporary and only issued when cloning tanks are unavailable or the HMO doesn't cover them.
Comically Missing the Point : The response of the author in this strip to complaints about how the story is being told doesn't focus on the story telling, but instead on the elaboration of the metaphor "like a hot knife through butter."
Comic Book Time: An early strip is dated at 3096, and it's clearly been a couple years, but it's not clear exactly how long. Even more pronounced in the later books, where it can take years to go through months.
Couldn't Find a Pen: Kevyn uses his blood to write a warning for Captain Tagon, about his antimatter grenade epaulet being armed, as the same injuries that gave him blood to write with also prevented him from being able to speak.
A Degree in Useless: A minor character apparently studied "comparative Gal-West lit, with an emphasis on memetic Terranism" before working fast food, and subsequently becoming cook's assistant for the Toughs.
Later, there's Credomar, a habitat founded on the principles of democracy that was near anarchy with at least six competing factions by the time the Toughs got there. They ended up electing a robot dictator who actually got things done.
Determinator: Howard Tayler, the author. Nothing can stop him from updating every single day. Not injuries, not software glitches, nothing. Even a transformer explosion at the server farm where the comic is hosted that took out two walls, several websites, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment did not stop Schlock Mercenary's update schedule; he just set up a temporary site until they got the main host back up. On one occasion, the comic was up several hours late. Howard apologized, and the strip was up by End of Business that day. One occasion in eleven years.
Seemingly any AI should it gain enough processing power. Lunesby, the accidental offspring of a holographic Boy Band and Luna's millennium-old filing system immediately decides to start streamlining the moon's labyrinthine bureaucracy. LOTA (the Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse) does pretty much the same thing on Credomar. On the other hand, Petey is suicidally insane when the Toughs pick him up, but eventually becomes the core of the Fleetmind, a gestalt of countless Battleship Class AIs into one, big, (kinda) omniscient Uber-AI... that immediately decides to appoint itself guardian of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Deus Exit Machina: Word of God says it's hard to keep Petey's near omnipotence from slicing through a perfectly tangled Gordian-knot plot. This may explain why Petey was given a reason to avoid contact with the mercenaries at the end of Book 9 (they were made to remember him having abandoned them by a UNS rewriting of their memories), and in Book 11 he has to use all his god-like power to fight the Pa'anuri of Andromeda and cannot spare any to act as Deus ex Machina for the protagonists.
One of the most common plot complications. For example, the gang didn't see a rogue Ob'enn hijacking the PDCL coming. Petey didn't see the UNS making the mercs think he'd abandoned them coming. You get the idea.
The narrator goes so far as to say, at one point, that good intel for any non-AI-directed military mission usually amounts to, "Crap, I think they heard us coming."
Disproportionate Retribution: Schlock Mercenary plays with this a lot, although it's often subverted by the fact that in military operations, "overwhelming force" is not at all an unreasonable place to start from. One in-universe saying is "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'I need to reload.'" A few of the straighter examples of the trope:
A planetary legislature hasn't allocated funds to replace their orbital defenses, a couple months after god-like AI Petey defended them from attempted orbital bombardment. Petey finds this irresponsible, and exiles them to the Andromeda galaxy.
The Obenn at one point decide to grind one of the protagonists into sausage. Because he was insufficiently polite during his interrogation.
The Ditz: A number of clients, especially those from the government.
Kevyn: Maxim Three: an ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody.
Double Standard: The standard outcome of an accidental insult or reflexive lechery from a male mercenary to a female mercenary is for her to break several of his bones. There's never any repercussions, and none of the men have ever assaulted any of the women.
It should be noted that assuming you're not in the middle of combat, healing is exceptionally easy to pull off, with several characters coming back from Beheading with minimal (For BEHEADING) amounts of fuss.
Though the Captain did slice Elf's head off with his dorothy-line at one point. She was very much alive and conscious at the time it happened... even if it was for her own good, it certainly left a longer lasting mark than those she inflicts upon her male colleagues.
An annotation notes that of the classic jury-rigging Holy Trinity of baling wire, Bondo, and Duct Tape, "Duct Tape has actually seen the most change during the intervening centuries. For instance, it can now safely be used to fasten and seal duct-work. Just be sure to lose the handy-dandy spool with the built-in tape cutter before it trims the tape just above your first knuckle."
The early strip had a LOT more Fourth Wall humor, with characters frequently having discussions with the narrator and complaining to the artist. After the first few years of the strip that kind of thing faded away, with only occasional uses afterward with Kevyn in The Sharp End of the Stick, and the time immediately before Brad's being killed in the first Credomar arc.
In the first story arc, Schlock feels nauseous after drinking a 4-liter soda. Much later, amorphs are established as masters of biochemistry, able to digest anything short of Grey Goo.
Others who have lost eyes include (but aren't limited to) Andy, Ch'vorthq, Ebbirnoth, Chisulo, Schlock (a special case - he can always go to his home planet and pick some more), and any number of anonymous enemy grunts. Given the state of medical technology, these are almost always either Amusing Injuries or the least of their worries.
It is also one of the few things Schlock has to worry about. As he notes when being shot by a sniper, only a hit to his eyes would even bother him.
Here is a demonstration of what happens when human eyeballs are exposed to the wash from a plasma cannon, courtesy of Danita, one of the modified Gav gate clones.
Beyond a variety of "Race X hates Race Y and is trying to subjugate or destroy it," there's also a few cases of an extremely negative view of artificial intelligences, especially from Reverend Theo. Though he eventually came to terms with Petey (mostly) and had nothing against Lota becoming a supposedly benevolent dictator.
A bunch of Gavs used cutting-edge tech to "diversify" themselves, giving themselves new bodies (even changing sex in some cases) and implanting new personalities and skills into their minds. They did this because they were having difficulty coming to terms with being one of a crowd of identical people. They also are convinced that every Gav secretly feels this way, and look down on "baseliners" somewhat as being in denial. Ironically enough, a baseliner suspects that this attitude was specifically added in to make them like the change.
Kevyn: During this time you [Pi] are not to discharge anything more energetic than a sneeze. Ennesby: Sneezes move at about forty-two meters per second, sir. Kevyn: ...how fast does a fart move? Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!
Faster-Than-Light Travel: The nature and socio-political impact of the Teraport is a major theme of the series. The Wormgates also turn out to have far more plot significance than mere transportation.
The fact that Kathryn is an ex-UNS captain was quite heavily foreshadowed several times, starting with her exceptional competence at planning and subterfuge, along with her adeptness at using firearms while rescuing Karl Tagon.
Here, Tagii says she has “plenty of processing cycles to spare”, to which Ennesby replies that “Idle CPUs are the devil’s workshop”. Over two years later, Tagii is driven insane by being disconnected and trapped in her processor bank with nothing to do.
Fourth Wall: Gets progressively thicker as the series progresses. In the first volume, characters actively try to decide who's going to die on the basis of when they were introduced, who gets punchlines, and whether they're named. By later volumes, the wall gets nudged much more rarely, and fleetingly.
Amorphs use this to exchange memories, to fight, and to reproduce.
There's also an interesting one when Schlock tries to trade memories with a timeclone of himself - the intellectual thought-processes recognize two unique Schlocks, but the biology thinks it's recovered an errant fragment of the same amorph unit. What ensues is described (to give us non-amorphs perspective) as being sort of like trying to resist throwing up, except backwards, and with about the same inevitability of outcome.
Generation Xerox: Played with and ultimately averted in a short storyline. General Tagon looks a lot like his son, which causes the latter to worry at one point that he's going to become his father as he ages, but an AI's projection shows that Kaff will look very different when he reaches his father's current age.
Prime example: Thurl and Tagon are discussing a mission (May 1,2008):
Thurl: I've run a cost-benefit analysis, and it remains profitable even in extreme contingencies. Captain Tagon: Did you just weasel-word your way around saying "What's the worst thing that could happen?" Thurl: Hey, you just now invoked Murphy, not me. Those weasel words are there for our protection.
Good Angel, Bad Angel: As usual for this trope, massively parodied. Tagon shoots his shoulder angel with his sidearm because he thinks it's a mosquito, his shoulder devil tries to dress up as an angel, and his shoulder angel comes back to shoot it in the head for doing so.
Kathryn: (upon viewingcertain spy cams in Dr. Pau's facility) Hmph. Well, the good news is that I can now start killing and not feel in the least bit guilty. The bad news is I'm not going to feel the least bit guilty about the killing I'm about to do.
Godiva Hair: Several times in The Sharp End of the Stick, this is used to hide Elf's breasts, after the Toughs captured by Shufgar were stripped of their clothing.
Ch'Vorthq: Sergeant, you will be drinking a very heavy stimulant cocktail cut with shampoo and inert ultra-tensile carbon. Schlock: I don't drink it. I eat it straight. Ch'Vorthq:(dryly) And I suspect you're addicted to it. Schlock:(drawing his BFG)Step away fromthe tub of happiness.
The Pa'anuri rather outclass them... being made of dark matter, gravity is the only way they can interact with regular baryonic matter. Usually by crushing it, be it a belt-size antigravity device to a city-sized battleplate.
Most notably Brad, who stayed on his crippled shuttle to jury-rig a self-destruct out of ordinance so it wouldn't crash in a city and kill hundreds to thousands of people. In a surprising twist, he actually died. He got a really big statue, though. His last thoughts also "highlight his noble character." This particular sacrifice got all the hero mileage possible.
Not death, but in a similar vein, Tailor agrees to have his personality rewritten (which he is understandably afraid of) to gain the medical knowledge needed to save Tagon.
Ventura: Do you trust me? Tailor: I'm terrified of you. Ventura: But you want me to do this? Tailor: My Captain needs me to be something I'm not.
Hero of Another Story: Quite a few of them but the top contenders would probably be Petey/The Fleetmind, Admiral Breya and Der Trihs (post retirement). The bonus story in one of the print books is all about Petey and Der Trihs being the heroes of their respective stories.
Honor Among Thieves: The Toughs may be sociopaths but they steer clear of outright evil beyond what's Necessarily Evil to get the job done, and are very loyal to each other. Schlock in particular: to hurt someone he likes is not a safe place to stand. Nor, for that mater, is anywhere else downrange or in the blast radius. Case in point: here and here (death spoiler warning if you're mid Archive Binge).
Human Outside, Alien Inside: many of the aliens look more-or-less human, but have subtle or bizarre differences, like Lt. Ebbirnoth, whose species has their brain located in their pelvis and, rather than having a head, has a single giant eye.
Humans Are Special: "Rescue Party" variant; with less than a thousand years in space - a fraction of many prominent species' lifespans - humans have already spread an English-influenced dialect of "Galstandard" far and wide, ballooned to the fifth-largest sapient species and fourth-strongest military power yet seen, rediscovered an order-disrupting technology purposefully suppressed for six million years, and been indirectly responsible for the creation of a godlike AI hivemind. And now that hivemind has decided to express its gratitude... Though we probably can't be trusted to run a project on longevity.
Humans Are White: Averted, in that dark skinned people show up as often as they would in the modern day. Intra-species ethnicity seems to have become a less significant matter compared to the wide variety of sophonts in the Schlockiverse.
Schlock notionally carries his armament inside him, but many others go around fully armed wearing very fitting clothes with no obvious bulges...
'Chelle conceals a pistol about her person whilst [[www.schlockmercenary.com/2005-10-06 wearing nothing but a bikini]]. Bit of Fanservice involved there.
Hyperspeed Ambush: The way wars were fought in the galaxy was completely changed thanks to the invention of the Teraport and related inventions such as the Terapedo. It isn't long before various anti-teraport countermeasures are designed to bring a sense of equilibrium back to transgalactic warfare.
Hyperspeed Escape: Quite common, unless measures are taken to prevent escape via Teraport.
Major Murtaugh: ...Sanctum Adroit is never violent in anger lest we become the evil we behold. (report about Maximilian's team being wiped out comes in) Maximilian: (smugly) Well... well... Major Murtaugh, are you ready to become what you behold? Major Murtaugh: (looking at him with disgust) I'm ready to punch what I behold. Does that count?
If You Die I Call Your Stuff: Schlock pulls this once, after the Toughs discover that two of their soldiers were killed by UNS nanite weaponry. Tagon is not amused, and threatens him with physical violence. Tagon was calmed down when Tailor explained creating armor for Schlock from battlefield scrap.
I Know You Know I Know: Right here, between Petey and Tag in regards to what is known but wasn't discussed in the extradition hearing for the Toughs, following the HTRN building hit.
Michelle: Uh-oh. These teeth are too small. I think we got the wrong shark. Shodan: Elizabeth might take issue with that since this is the shark that was trying to eat her. Michelle: Yeah, but the cops said that the teeth-marks on Monk were bigger than this. Shodan: True. But the cops are also stupid, and think Der Trihs faked that attack somehow. Policeman: I'm standing right here. Shodan: Oh, good. That means you heard me.
Shows up later when Captain Tagon and his father are discussing the woman who used to own the ship they're on.
Karl: Make her a sergeant. Tagon: Are you kidding me? Dad, she's a complete unknown! Murtagh: I'm right here. Karl: She's not UNS intel, and she's not trying to steal the ship back. Tagon: How can you possibly know that? Murtagh: Listening to every word, boys. Karl: I'm old, and I'm smart about a few things. I've got her pegged as a knight errant, a ronin. She's a sullied paladin questing for redemption. Murtagh: Gentlemen, I'm standing between you.
Early on in the series, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl Ganni Gatekeepers, due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the Teraport, a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy stargates that got the F'sherl Ganni their name. Finally, Admiral Breya Andreyasn figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: Release the Teraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy, and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Tagon's Toughs.
Invoked by Petey after the UNS battleplate captain realizes that his intended private discussion with Petey was being transmitted on public channels.
Used during the "Massively Parallel" arc to communicate flashbacks.
Thurl: Okay, perfect. That should do it. Narrator: Rewind: seven hundred hours earlier, berthed at the High Olympus shipyards. Kevyn: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
Again, during "Force Multiplication." Someone steals a villain's visor computer, which doesn't log itself out. She gloats about how he must be stupid, or it must be defective, right before it blows up in her face. Cut to the one who blew it up complaining about how he always suspected it was defective when she lives.
Ennesby: The Tausennigan Ob'enn warlords look like cuddly teddy-bears? Petey: Yes, they do. And they'd cheerfully exterminate your entire race for making that observation! Ennesby: I guess that explains their rich military history, then.
And inverted by the Kssthrata, the velociraptor-like species which evolved in the same system as the Ob'enn. Instead of continuing their counter-genocidal war with the Ob'enn, they just moved.
Law Enforcement, Inc.: Sanctum Adroit, referred to by Tagon as the "haughtiest, most self-righteous mercenary company I know of." In other words the most principled.
Little Hero, Big War: Ostensibly the Toughs' position, being a small mercenary company in a big, big galaxy with lots of conflict. However, they do play a role in many important events and are responsible for some major shifts in the galactic balance of power, including the introduction of the teraport, the formation of the Fleetmind, and the creation of LOTA.
Living Doorstop: Kevyn strapping misbehaving Buranabots to the hull as "ablative armor".
Loads and Loads of Characters: Understandable, since it focuses on an entire company of mercenaries, but there's still a lot to keep track of. And the Big Guys tend to all look fairly similar. Not to mention 950 million Gavclones and assorted Gate Clones. Unless a character is confirmed dead there is a very good chance they'll show up again. This applies to everyone.
Locked in a Room: Dr. Bunnigus and the Reverend are trapped together on the Hellevator as one result of an attack on them by the Attorney Collective.
The mobsters that kidnapped timeclone-Kevyn and general Tagon actually force Kevyn to build a machine that they don't understand.
The original Kevyn turned a mini-wormgate into a gravy gun that splattered the UNS marines about to kill him, though it was fortunate he used it to clone himself first.
Also happens to Lt. Ventura. Her captor tries to be Genre Savvy by not having the innoncent-with-the-big-eyes looking girl guarded by an easily swayed human guard. Instead they locked her in with the robots...
The amorph's creators made themselves immortal and destroyed their civilization as a result. Project "Laz'r'us" attempted to rectify humanity's short lifespans relative to so many aliens.
A plot point is "Project Laz'r'us", which was intended to circumvent humanity's short lifespans in comparison to many other sophonts using hyper-advanced nanotechnology. The nannies are also capable of repairing a clinically dead host and even making internal backups of the brain. The species from whose computer equipment carbosilicate amorphs has evolved already made themselves immortal and ran into several layers of problems. Still, there's a few remaining individuals alive and sane after their twelve million of Terran years, "give or take a little bit".
Loophole Abuse: Presumably, after this strip there's now a company policy regarding air vents, where there wasn't one previously.
Made of Iron: Many of Tagon's mercenaries have various artificially-induced boosts to their strength and endurance, but during the Timeclone Kevyn and Karl Tagon rescue, Captain Tagon was particularly Bad Ass. Bad guy throws a knife and sticks Tagon in the eye with it. Tagon pulls it out of his socket and uses it to kill the bad guy and a Mook.
Mad Scientist: several, subverted in Kevyn. See the Characters page for details.
Magic Antidote: The regenerative tanks, which can rebuild an entire person as long as their brain survives.
Chelle: Why do you think the Barsoom Circus recruits new performers from all over the galaxy each month? People come to see the aliens do weird, alien stuff. Schlock: Are we joining a circus or a freak show? Chelle:[Deadpan]Yes.
Several of the names in the series have gags attached to them (e.g., 'Corporal Oleo' getting sliced in two at the end of an Overly-Long Gag based on the saying 'like a hot knife through butter'; the planet Qlaviql, which appeared shortly after Tayler injured his clavicle in Real Life; the Tohdfraugs; Dr Todd, which stood for 'The Old Dead Doctor', who wasn't given a name until long after he was killed). Finally, Fanon holds that Kevyn and Breya's last name is meant to imply that they are descendants of a certain 21st century computer industry figure - who must have done very well, given that they are nobility back on Earth.
And, most significantly, the oft-injured Der Trihs.
The Reverend Theo Fobius. A comical inversion of "Theophilus" who crops up in both Luke and Acts in The Bible.
The "Mind-Rip," an invariably fatal method of extracting a being's memories. Funnily enough, it's been used by the "heroes" at least as often as the villains.
Elf accuses Petey of having “mindraped” Kevyn, but realizes it wasn’t so bad after calming down.
Mook Horror Show: The 2001 Schlocktoberfest has Schlock regenerating, eating his friends to increase his massnote they were already badly wounded and he made sure their heads got into cyrokits, and then tearing apart what the transcript calls "Diamond Bugs". The Bugs are juveniles and they see Schlock as a "REGENERATING ZOMBIE CANNIBAL".
More Dakka: Used liberally, and forms the basis of Maxim 37: There is no "overkill". There is only "open fire" and "I need to reload".
It's subtle, but the state of the galaxy is influenced a great deal by the Toughs, whether they know it or not. It begins with Kevyn's invention of the teraport, then the gatekeepers siccing the partnership collective on them to suppress the technology. Which leads to The teraport wars, and then the war with the dark matter entities.
There's a second arc at play as well. Project Lazarus started as an even more subtle myth arc, but starting about here a lot of Chekhov's Guns were fired in quick succession, bringing the arc to the fore. The Lazarus arc may not be as vast as the Teraport Wars or the Andromeda War, but it's a lot more personal - and what with Petey having taken in General Xinchub and possibly allied with him, the two arcs are likely to fuse into one.
Never Heard That One Before: In this strip Kathryn Flinders replies sarcastically that "that joke never gets old" when Schlock references an old joke about "military intelligence" being an oxymoron, after she's hired by the Toughs in the "Haven Hive" storyline.
The "older and wiser than everyone" Thurl, of all people, falls victim to this. After figuring out that Para and Tagii might have loyalties elsewhere, he goes and disconnects Tagii. The result? Since Tagii was jamming the Redhack, Gavs started morphing into Super Soldiers all over the place, the Toughs lost overwatch and are in an ill position to fight off anyone else since Ennesby doesn't have Tagii's processing power at his disposal and the Oisri startup sequence is running and threatening to squish everyone around into singularity. Oh, and Tagii goes banshee-insane, and tries to kill the entire crew. Of course he acted in the best interest of the Toughs based on the information he had, but he stands firmly in the Unwitting Instigator of Doom territory.
In a later plot-arc, the Toughs arrive at their new assignment aboard a massive space-borne construct, find that their entrance is blocked with wooden growths and promptly start an equally-massive fire blasting their way in.
Nigh Invulnerable: a number of characters, starting with Schlock and going up to god-like proportions.
Theo: So events like the recent chain of tiny manipulations that destroyed Pi's explosives won't constantly be shattering my illusions of free agency? Petey: No one else figured that out. You're very astute. Theo: Oh no. You knew we'd be having this conversation. Petey: Very, very, astute.
On Three: There is the occasion when a sniper has Schlock in his sights, while Schlock had just fired some grenades at the target. While the sniper tries to get an eye shot, Schlock holds up his fingers to count down from three to zero (ground zero) since his targeting computer told him how long it'll take the grenades to reach their target.
Schlock: The TV-me is putting me-me out of a job. [...] Maybe we can kill another TV network. Is there still money in that?
Orwellian Retcon: "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" used to be "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates," and the "maxims" referred to as "rules" (with the explanation that each "habit" comprised several "rules"). Eventually, the publishers of the real "Seven Habits..." caught wind and made him change it. ("Eventually" here defined as "after over eight years, when the joke had already long since undergone Memetic Mutation...") To soften the blow however, Howard Tayler admitted he was glad for the excuse to make the change, not least because the new title could be used for The Merch.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted; religion is alive and well among many different cultures, and the Tagon's Toughs have their own chaplain (Reverend Theo). In his first appearance, Howard Tayler included an editor's note stating that this trope is what's "foolishly optimistic," not religion.
Outlaw Town: The starport and orbital station of Ghanj-rho are havens for smugglers, pirates, and slavers. It's also where Tagon's Toughs hired most of their non-Terran troops, and it's Sergeant Schlock's homeworld (though he was one of the "primitive natives" and left years earlier as a slave).
Ennesby: Everyone stand by to pour some Serial Peacemaker into a big bowl of "no-problem." Tagon: How long have you been waiting to use that stupid "Cereal" pun? Ennesby: Ever since you let me name the ship, sir.
Powered Armor: Besides the standard stuff, the Toughs are equipped with low-profile (to the point of invisibility) armor built into their uniforms that helps diffuse energy weapons and lets them fly.
The Power of Friendship: A twisted sort of application of the trope. The Toughs can't count on their allies, because they're mercenaries and your allies might be the guys you're hired to kill tomorrow; they can't count on any of their respective home governments, for pretty much the same reason; they certainly can't count on their employers, who are frequently known to try to backstab the Toughs since, well, they hired a band of mercenaries to begin with, so why not add "screwing over those who make a living with violence"? But they know they can count on their friends (which, admittedly, is usually limited to "each other", but the sentiment is there).
Pi's paranoid delusions are sometimes right on the money. It takes someone as crazy as him to think of hyperspace cannons and zombie plagues.
Pi: But the plan is absurd. Suborning Gavcorps would be terribly expensive, and no military will admit to having genocidal nanotech on hand...
Karl Tagon's response to seeing Kaff Tagon's nanite-riddled girlfriend start having a seizure - put his suit-helmet up in case of bio-weaponry. His wife wasn't so lucky...
Psychic Powers: It is stated early on by the narrator that someone with "psychic sight" can see the bullet destined to kill someone. This is dropped in favor of harder sci-fi, but psychic powers such as (radio) telepathy get referenced every once in a while.
Psychotic Manchild: Probably the best description of Schlock's attitude. He does show care and loyalty to his friends despite his status as a sociopath, but enjoys fighting too much to care about the blazing hot maimery he spews from his plasma cannon on anyone but his friends.
Kevyn: If you say "I told you so," I get to say "my sarcasm is more accurate than your paranoia." Ennesby: That's fair.
Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The misfits and more exotic alien members of the team are all assembled in a squad led by Schlock himself. Tagon and his command staff treat them as an elite force they don't so much deploy as unleash.
Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: When M'Conger is boggling at the sheer size of a mere portion of the artificial environment they're exploring, Legs dismisses it as no big deal.
Legs: You weren't with us for the Buuthandi. Engineering feats lose their punch after you've popped the containment system somebody built around a star.
Retcon: Due to trademark issues, the Big Book of War of the series needed to be retitled. Formerly "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates", it is now "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries".
Captain Tagon falls victim to this trope when he starts to badmouth General Xinchub, only to have Massey point out that the general is right behind him.
Captain Gasca tells the admiral how the current intelligence chief is too cautious. And that's when said chief appears to remind him that if her predecessor had been more cautious, he would be less dead.
Kevyn gets this pulled on him with the Gav ambassador aboard the Touch and Go, thanks in part to a "helpful" Tagii.
Karl Tagon gets the drop on one of the Parkata Urbatsu performers, who finds out that Karl resents the "nice" part of "nice old man".
Right Man in the Wrong Place: This Qlaviql ore freighter captain is in command of the only ship able to respond to an attack on his homeworld by a frigate armed with a powerful plasma lance. With guts and a "dream mess" created from the ore mined from asteroids, the frigate is destroyed. This ultimately results in his being declared the leader of the planet.
Right on Queue: A whole story arc is based around this. Luna's bureaucracy was so slow, and the queue so immensely long, only the oldest people in line remembered it ever moving. There were religions dedicated to the idea of reaching the front. The Toughs thought they'd been hired to disperse a crowd of rioters, but found that it was just the line for the bureaucracy.
Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Averted. The alien population is extremely diverse and well worth studying if you'd like to break out of that anthrocentric mold. The title character doesn't even have a head or a bipedal humanoid form. It's even played for laughs sometimes.
Bounty Hunter: Everyone lie down, and put your hands behind your head! Tetrisoid: I can't lie down. Uplifted elephant: I don't have hands. Unioc: I don't have a head. Bounty Hunter: It's times like this I start feeling really, really bigoted.
Rugby Is Slaughter: All sports, from Ballet to Deathball, share a league. One where spiking the ball with high explosives is allowed. Rugby is not permitted.
The most enduring example is that Schlock looks like, well, a giant pile of crap. Nearly everyone who sees him for the first time mistakes him for a moving pile of poop. And when not, they still say it.
Der Trihs ending up as a head in a jar; Kevyn surviving repeated deaths; Schlock crawling, or squeezing, through air vents and pipes; the names of the ships in Petey's fleet; the Toughs killing lawyer drones on sight; the Gavs. In Book 11, the recurring question What Would Schlock Do? Schlock later shows up to deliver a superb "Show Not Tell" answer. "This."
The in-universe Schlock Mercenary TV show, it comes around every now and then to overshadow the protagonists and causes them inconveniences.
There's also recurrent phrases mostly from the "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries," such as "Pillage, then burn" or "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'time to reload.'"
One that was used heavily early on but shows up less frequently in later strips are the use of numerous variations on Open Mouth, Insert Foot.
Sapient Ship: it's a rare exception when a capital ship is flown by a human pilot or even a mobile robot. Almost every armed starship we see is inhabited by its own AI, who "is" the ship and considers the whole structure its body.
Tagon didn't agree with an employer on some important terms. His solution is to quit and then ask Pibald for "his favorite" (which is bound to be colorful) scenario for a potential attack, inducing the employer's security chief into their little Club Properly Paranoid in seconds.
Psycho-Bear Lieutenant: Talking to inferior species beats getting killed by them. Psycho-Bear Captain: Don't let the chaplain hear you say that.
Scenery Censor: gets to ridiculous levels in The Sharp End of the Stick, when the Toughs wind up naked after being captured and stripped of their clothing and armor. Lampeshaded in the note to this strip, where Schlock's arms being spread wide for a yawn cover the lower areas of Elf and Kevyn.
Schedule Slip: Completely and absolutely averted. The strip was a couple hours late—once. Because comic's server farm exploded.
Science Marches On: The Milky Way is consistently depicted as a regular spiral; fortunate, since a barred spiral would have made this strip a bit more blatant.
Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Cheerfully lampshaded: The narrator will go into great effort to describe exactly how big the universe/galaxy/star system is, and how abysmally low the chances of some event happening are, and then the event will happen. A lot of these are Justified much, much later.
Sealed Evil in a Can: This is what the structure the Toughs were defending in "Random Access Memorabilia" (Osiri) is thought to be at first, a Precursor prison containing a dark matter entity. The truth turns out to be a lot more complicated.
Stomach of Holding: Schlock is this. Overlaps with Hyperspace Arsenal, given that he's been known to keep a substantial number of large weapons, and on occasion an armoured spacesuit big enough to fit himself in...
Spy Speak: In this strip,Maximillian Haluska's use of field operative terminology gave away he was more than just a well-equipped thug. The "Aunt Amy" and "Uncle Bob" thing comes up again here, in conversation with Para Ventura.
Starfish Aliens: Schlock is really, really weird. Most of the others we meet at least breathe oxygen, and a lot of them are something vaguely resembling humanoid. But the Pa'anuri are the weirdest of all, consisting of dark matter that can't even exist in this dimension.
Stealth Cigarette Commercial: The in-universe Plasma Cannon Safety Coloring Book, printed jointly by Magic Dreamland Entertainment and Strohl Munitions.
In this strip Dr. Bunnigus tells Schlock to shut up while she's trying to counsel a distraught Para Ventura over her fear about killing others.
Story Breaker Power: Petey could deal with most of the issues the heroes face on a whim. He has purposely done things in a less efficient way just to give them something to do in a few storylines since his ascension to Fleetmind.
President Mancala: I'll send you the full report. This kind of opportunistic militarism cannot be tolerated. The United Nations of Sol and allied planetary Governments will not stand idly by while sovereign galactic powers are overthrown, crushed, or assimilated by the Fleetmind. Ambassador Breya: What's our plan, Mister President? Do I need to deliver a declaration of war, and then withdraw the embassy? President Mancala: Don't be ridiculous. Your job is to lodge a protest, using the strongest possible diplomatic language. Ambassador Breya: Ah. And how is that different from "standing idly by?" President Mancala: If we were standing idly by, we would not be lodging a protest. Ambassador Breya: Wow. We are fearsome.
And just to rub it in:
Note: The League of Galactics is a millennia-old body of diplomats and other ne'er-do-wells representing almost two hundred thousand different governments throughout the Milky Way Galaxy. It has a rich and varied history, liberally garnished with back-patting tales of heroic diplomacy — studies conducted, sanctions administered, statements released, and reprimands served. It has about as much effect on key galactic events as central Asian rainfall has on the mean high tide in the Gulf of Mexico. Brandishing a reprimand from the League of Galactics is only marginally worse than threatening to cut off one's access to the Ron Popeil Shopping Channel.
Talking Your Way Out: Most characters employ this (even the supposedly dumb ones) to some degree, but Kathryn in particular is an artist. No small wonder, considering her background. Case in point here, talking her way out of being held at gunpoint.
Theme Initials: all of the PD Fleet ships have names with the initials 'P.D.' Their fleet of warships contains, among others, ships named Pterodactyl, Perjurious Discourse, Pretentious Drivel, Predictably Damaged (I-VI), Priority Delivery, Painstakingly Defenestrated, Polysyllabic Designation, and more.
The X of Y: All the Ob'enn ship names follow a strict pattern: The [Object] of [Pretentious Adjective] [Pretentious Principle]. If it is a defensive ship, the object will be a piece of armor or article of clothing; if offensive, a pointy handweapon of some sort. Lampshaded when Tagon was told his recently-acquired fabber is of Ob'enn manufacture:
Tagon: Let's slap a drive and crew quarters on it and christen it the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance. Kevyn: Making fun of Ob'enn ship names is like shooting fish in the barrel of circular swimming.
Time Abyss: The Really Old Dude and Very Old Guy, members of the species that originally created the amorphs.
Fobottr Tenant: Are you claiming that your people have been on the surface for over ten million years? Rod: Oh, my people have been down there for much longer than that. No, I was just talking about me, personally.
Unit Confusion: Being reasonably hard SF, it's usually pretty good, but with the occasional slip-up.
Especially early on, "watt" would occasionally be used as a unit of energy instead of power.
Kerchak made this mistake as late as 2010, but that time the author claims it was intentional.
Upon getting his head around that one, Tayler made the different error of using "terawatt-nanoseconds" to mean "an incomprehensibly huge unit of energy"note Power is energy divided by time, so "terawatt-nanoseconds" would have been simply "kilojoules," or about a hundredth of the energy the human body gets from a carrot. He was most likely trapped in the more common mold of "x per second," where, for instance, terajoules per nanosecond would be the extremely large "zettawatts." That said, a few kilojoules of energy correctly delivered is quite enough to kill a human. A bullet from an assault rifle or sniper rifle only has a few kj of muzzle energy, and a terawatt laser performing a nanosecond pulse on a 1mm diameter spot would remove the head or a limb from an unarmoured human..
Gav once refers to the "radius" of a Negative Space Wedgie where the author probably meant "diameter" (a slip-up from him being a bit less plausible than one from Kerchak), since a later strip has it swallowing a ship at a bit over half the "radius" given.
Unnecessarily Large Interior: An employer of Tagon's Toughs is the Oafan, whose current space station is as large as a planet, is big enough to stuff the planet Mars inside, and has a docking area big enough to dock battleplates, the largest spaceships the U.N. has. How many battleplates could dock inside? "All of them."
Pi:Hyperspace Death-Ray. That's what Credomar is. Lota: Correction: "Credomar" is a city-state full of coddled humans who currently reside on a habitable moon of their very own. The remains of their station...THAT is a hyperspace death-ray.
In the original timeline, the galaxy is destroyed because the governments are bickering and fighting over minor intelligence leaks instead of banding together to save themselves. Luckily, things go more smoothly the second time around, though only because Petey first blackmailed them and then assimilated their fleets.
Book 13 (Random Access Memorabilia) involves two different UNS intelligence agencies fighting over the Gav-owned artifact Oisri. Those under the command of Admiral Emm try to capture the artifact by hacking the Gav's backups so that they'll resurrect as loyal soldiers, while the second group tries to stop them.
Book 14 (Broken Wind) has the mercenaries themselves having severe chain of command issues. The Toughs are loyal to Captain Kaff Tagon, the Parkata Urbatsu team is loyal to General Karl Tagon, and the emancipated warship Bristlecone they're riding on is loyal to Para Ventura. Then there's the fact that the former owner of Bristlecone, Alexa Murtagh, is (possibly unconsciously) making a subtle power play by issuing challenge coins to the Toughs. Liz, Nick's girlfriend and the chef's new assistant, is the first one to notice this.
The wormgate system creates a perfect duplicate of anyone sent through it, which is kept for interrogation by the Gatekeepers, who then kill the clone. The first characters who suffer from this problem are Doythaban and his gateclone Haban II, but this later becomes a galaxy-wide problem when billions of these clones are released. However, no-one suffers from it more than Gav, who clones himself 950 million times to escape, leading to an truly epic case of this trope.
Gav: There are still over nine hundred million Gav clones out there. My activities of the last year can only be understood statistically.
At one point the Terran government tries to charge Kevyn with treason for mass-releasing the teraport designs. He points out that it was his now-deceased clone who released that information, not him, and thus he can't be charged with anything.
It also leads to some rather bizarre court cases since there are some legal issues where the gate clones are not always considered separate individuals. In one case, a person had two death penalties against him for Manual Operation under the Influence. When his gate clone turns up, the judge rules that, since the clone was created after the commission of the crime, it is perfectly legal for them to apply the second death penalty to the gate clone.
Judge: Oh, and you used up all your appeals the first time around. Sorry.
In the "A Hand of Acey's" storyline, a gate clone attempts to murder the original version of himself, but instead gets killed by the original acting in self defense. Since the clone and the original are legally the same person in that particular jurisdiction, the final police verdict ends up being attempted suicide.
The Gavs eventually found a way to differentiate themselves from one another, to the point where they are barely recognizable as Gav-clones. Especially the females.
Worst News Judgement Ever: In this strip a Hypernet News Network story item goes into detail about a zoo brontosaur projectile vomiting over 300 people, and then only gives a brief blurb about the possible deaths of millions of people by the collapse of a damaged Space Elevator.
Worthy Opponent: Pranger's Bangers. Much ass-kicking ensues when they team up on a mission.