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Literature / The Cobra Trilogy

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A series of books written by Timothy Zahn, which analyse and deconstruct the idea of Super Soldiers in a Space Opera setting. The original trilogy was written in The '80s. Twenty years later, a second trilogy "Cobra War" was written, followed by a (current) third, "Cobra Rebellion". The books are:

  • The Cobra Trilogy
    • Cobra (1985)
    • Cobra Strike (1986)
    • Cobra Bargain (1988)
  • The Cobra War Trilogy
    • Cobra Alliance (2009)
    • Cobra Guardian (2011)
    • Cobra Gamble (2012)
  • The Cobra Rebellion Saga
    • Cobra Slave (2013)
    • Cobra Outlaw (2015)
    • Cobra Traitor (2018)

The series opens with the alien Troft having conquered two worlds from the Dominion of Man. Young Jonny Moreau volunteers to join the army, with a particular interest in organising guerilla resistance on the occupied worlds. Recognising his aptitude for this, he is shifted into the experimental Cobra programme, which equips soldiers with such wonders as implanted weaponry, unbreakable bones, servos that grant Super-Strength and a nanocomputer that allows them to pull off complex moves and auto-target enemies. Crucially, none of this is obvious from the outside, allowing the Cobras to blend in with the general populace.

Only a part of the first book is devoted to the actual war. After the Trofts are defeated, suddenly humanity has to try and deal with the Cobras as they struggle to reintegrate into normal society. Sooner or later, accidents happen, and Moreau is responsible for the solution: creating colony worlds spearheaded by the Cobras on the other side of Troft space. Some years later, the "Cobra Worlds" are cut off from the Dominion of Man and must rule themselves. The later books follow the adventures of Moreau's Badass Family descendants as they deal with threats from the Troft and the lost human colony world of Qasama.

Not to be confused with Space Adventure Cobra.

Contains examples of:

  • 2-D Space: The Dominion's original peace settlement with the Troft includes settlement rights to a corridor of habitable systems through their space to the far side, which the Cobras are used to help settle. Otherwise the Dominion cannot expand any further because all the space near it is already occupied. At no point does anyone bring up the fact that the main disc of the Milky Way galaxy averages approximately 1,000 light-years thick: realistic space nations would almost certainly be three-dimensional, so the Dominion could probably have gone "over" or "under" the alien empires bordering it.
  • Always Someone Better: In Cobra Slave, the Cobras finally meet their match when Dominion Marines with more advanced technology are able to outfight them in a Curb-Stomp Battle. They are forced to resort to more subtle techniques.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Early on in the Cobra Worlds, Jonny Moreau had to prevent a coup by some Cobras who believed this trope gave them the right to rule. Even later on, a compromise is reached by which Cobras have a double vote in Cobra Worlds elections.
  • Attack Animal: The mojos, trained to defend their owners from (almost) any attack. Intelligent enough to pick up on weapons they haven't seen before, even Cobra implanted weapons, after seeing them in action once.
  • Back from the Dead: Played With in two different ways. When Challinor begins his Cobra coup on Aventine, Cobra MacDonald is killed in the opening skirmish. Jonny comes up with a plan, and MacDonald's girlfriend Chrys wires his corpse with computer controllers, allowing his dead body to start shooting up his own funeral, giving Jonny a distraction to more accurately put down Challinor and his followers. Later, in Cobra Strike, Cobra Winward is shot point-blank by the Qasamans. His unbreakable bones keep the bullet from being lethal, though it did knock him unconscious and injure him. He wakes up, waits for the right time, then indulges in a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Badass Boast: Jin, sick and tired of dealing with Qasaman sexist bull:
    Jin: Women die approximately as often as men do. Once per customer. I'm ready to take my turn at it if need be. How about you?
  • Badass Family: The Moreaus. Many of them are Cobras, and those that aren't are still badass in their own right.
  • Bedouin Rescue Service: Jin, being the Sole Survivor of her shuttle getting shot down over Qasama, has made her way through its dangerous jungles to a road. She's injured from the crash and Qasama's predators, and unbeknownst to her poisoned by some of them, when a car happens upon her, hustling her inside just before she passes out. They treat injuries and help her recover.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: When Cobras don't want to kill enemy combatants, they'll use their target locks to blast their weapons.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": The humans call grav lifts, well, grav lifts. The Troft call them floatators.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Spine leopards, which from their description are not actually that much like leopards.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Subverted. While the Qasamans call Cobras "demon warriors," they're aware they just have access to technology in advance of that of Qasama. Moff is insistent that it's not magic or pacts with demons that allow the amazing things they've seen, like a man rise from the dead or a consciousness split between two bodies. It's science, science the Qasamans can learn and implement for themselves.
  • Clean Food, Poisoned Fork: An especially indirect method is used by the Qasamans. After the expedition from the Cobra Worlds has arranged for the release of some of their party taken hostage and safe passage offplanet, the captives are offered food. They decline to eat it for fear of poison, and then see the hand retrieving the tray from their cell was gloved. The food wasn't poisoned, but the tray was. . . and not with a poison, but with a disease meant to infect who the Qasamans believe are hostile invaders.
  • Cool, but Stupid: The "backspin," where a Cobra throws himself spinning onto his back, bringing both his fingertip and leg-mounted anti-armor lasers into play. Everyone comments that it looks ridiculous, but the fact it can cut down an entire room of enemies in a whirling hail of laserfire makes up for it.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!: Played for Drama. Cobra nanocomputers allow them to target lock an object, location, or person, and then their next laser blast (from fingertip or antiarmor lasers) will go to that object, location, or person. Even if, during the time between establishing the lock and pulling the trigger, the Cobra has found something much more important that needs to be shot at. More seriously, the nanocomputer includes preprogrammed reflexes and combat maneuvers, and threat assessment software, all designed to keep the Cobra alive in hostile territory. When the war is over and the Cobras go home, the nanocomputers, and thus their programming, remains. And the nanocomputer has no capacity for recognizing that a "threat" is just, say, two teenagers playing a prank.
  • Deadly Upgrade:
    • A side effect of the Cobra procedure is that Cobras suffer from premature arthritis, anaemia and other health issues, and this shortens their lifespan.
    • Taken to extremes by Fadil Sammon, who submits to drug procedures that briefly turns him into a war-winning human supercomputer, at the cost of permanently being left a quadriplegic...or he would be, had not Cobra conversion allowed him to walk again.
  • Death World: Caelian, largely because of the way its flora and fauna gang up on any unwelcome intruder. To a lesser extent, Aventine and Qasama, both home to fairly dangerous wildlife. Aventine has Cobras to keep the settlements relatively safe, Qasama has walls, mojos, and every single adult citizen packing heat.
  • Deus ex Machina: How the Moreaus escape being put on trial for treason at the end of Cobra Gamble (though an example of the trope on paper, it doesn't really feel like one due to how the twist is set up).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: When Jonny comes back from the Troft war, he has a lot of trouble re-integrating into his sleepy hometown on his backwoods colony world. Not all of his Cobra equipment could be safely removed, so he still has his unbreakable bones, Super-Strength, fingertip lasers, and nanocomputer with all its programming. His dad asks him to use his lasers to help out at the auto body shop, but Jonny doesn't feel up to using his lasers yet, the memories of the war are too fresh. The only jobs he can find are manual labor exploiting his cybernetic strength, and Jonny can't bring himself to stay in them for more than a few days at a time, which causes friction between him and his girlfriend (who'd been seeing someone else while Jonny was away). And people are afraid of him because they don't know what he can or will do, to the point where his brother even warns him against pointing his fingers at people (even though the fingertip lasers are in the pinkies, not the forefingers). Finally, some kids give Jonny trouble in a nightclub, and when he leaves, two of them try and run him over with their car (though they were just playing a variant of "chicken.") Jonny's nanocomputer includes combat reflexes and analysis programs, and determines that Jonny is under attack and responds by firing with the fingertip lasers, wrecking the car and killing the two teens inside in the crash. While punched up for the setting's science fiction setting, all this is clearly allegorical for the problems veterans returning from war have to deal with in trying reacclamate to civilian life. Given the first novel was written in the early 80s, it's likely referencing Vietnam veterans, though the allegory is just as valid for veterans of The War on Terror.
  • Double Entendre: Daulo Sammon mentally compares "Jasmine Alventin" to a Gordian Knot, a mystery that won't unravel. As he tries to figure her out with some Fantastic Drug use, he's still not getting anywhere, and realizing that, despite all the reasons not to, he's starting to like her.
    Just what I need. Something else about Jasmine Alventin that won't unknot.
  • Entertainingly Wrong: The Sammons pretty quickly realize "Jasmine Alventin" (AKA Cobra Jin Moreau) isn't exactly who she claims to be, that her story doesn't add up, and that there's something off about her. . . but they think it's because she might be part of scheme by a rival family, not because she's a "demon warrior" from their hated enemy world Aventine.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Caelian's biosphere.
  • Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong: Apparently all animal life on Qasama (or at least, mojos, tarbines, and bololins) reproduces this way. The sexual organ is a biological hypodermic needle which injects a viral package into a specific reproductive partner species (mojos use tarbines, tarbines may use bololins, no one knows what the bololins use) which rewrites cells into an embryo which hatches from the other's flesh without seriously harming it.
  • Fantastic Drug:
    • The Qasamans have this as a secondary hat. The Qasamans routinely use a variety of drugs to enhance their intelligence and allow them to learn things rapidly. They work, but have negative side effects: overuse leads to premature ageing and in at least one case, quadriplegia.
    • Muninn (another lost colony world, enslaved by one of the Troft demenses) has bersarkis, made from a poisonous plant called bersark. Depending on how its refined, it can increase strength and endurance, send the user into a berserk rage, or do a few other things.
  • Fire-Forged Friends:
    • Merrick Moreau Broom and Carsh Zoshak. Especially interesting, since Merrick (possibly) outwitted Carsh in a battle of wits, then later lasered his car causing it to crash. A few battles against Trofts later, and they're thick as thieves.
    • To a lesser extent, Qasama and the Cobra Worlds after the Troft invasion.
  • Five-Man Band: As of Cobra War, the Moreau/Broom family becomes this:
    • The Leader: Cobra Jasmine "Jin" Moreau Broom, main character from the previous book, tends to be impulsive and intuitive.
    • The Lancer: Cobra Merrick Moreau Broom, eldest son, tends to counter Jin's impulsiveness with logic and reason.
    • The Big Guy: Cobra Paul Broom, Jin's husband, an older and more experienced Cobra who isn't suffering quite so badly from the age-induced side effects (yet).
    • The Smart Guy: Jody Moreau Broom, the only non-Cobra in the family, with a few college degrees under her belt. The Guile Hero in a family of guile heroes.
    • The Heart: Cobra Lorne Moreau Broom, empathetic and caring.
    • The Obi-Wan: Uncle Corwin Moreau, retired politician, who hosts the family's "war council" meetings over dinner at his estate.
  • Full-Name Basis: Qasamans tend to refer to each other thus way, sometimes even among close family. With outsiders, their paranoia leads to Only One Name.
  • Fun with Acronyms:
    • "Cobra" is actually an acronym for "Computerised Body Reflex Armament". The third word is important—Cobras rely on their nanocomputers giving them quick reflex responses to threats, which leads to tragedies when they try to rejoin civilian society.
    • Isis, Integrated Structural Implantation System.
    • Dominion of Man warships don't have a bridge, they have a Command Nexus/Coordination Hub, or "CoNCH."
  • Gambit Pileup: The result of both the Cobras and Qasamans having access to Chessmasters.
  • The Ghost: The first book mentions a second alien race, the Minthissti, who Jonny Moreau's father fought in an earlier war—we never get to see them.
  • Guile Hero: Every single Moreau. Seriously, every last one of them.
  • Hand Signals: The Cobras learn a military-style sign language. After a few generations on the Cobra Worlds, it's sufficient to hold at least short conversations.
  • High-Altitude Interrogation: Jin questions a Qasaman in this manner, tying wrists and ankles to a chimney and letting the tension barely keep him from plumetting off the edge of the roof.
  • Hufflepuff House: Of the Cobra Worlds, most of the action takes place on Aventine, and we hear much about Caelian's lethal ecology before we actually get to see it. Palatine is only ever mentioned, and that sparsely, along with later Esquiline and Viminal. Among Moreaus, Joshua Moreau and whatever branch of the family he might be responsible for vanishes from the story after Cobra Strike, while Justin and Corwin continue to be important.
  • Humans Are Divided: Come Cobra Slave, the Dominion of Man seeks to avert this trope. The Cobra Worlds would prefer to play it straight, thank you very much.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Cobra Bargain introduces the Jects (short for Rejects), the Cobra trainees who received the surgery but washed out of the programme due to psychological issues and still have the sucky results of the treatment but none of the weapons or powers. Understandably they tend to fall under this trope.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Downplayed. Radig Nardin stops one of his guards from slapping a captive Jin, as his father wants her body unmarked. He then notes she should be grateful she's not bear signs of "other activities," or else they'd postpone her execution for a few hours. Jin retorts that they "would have found it surprisingly unrewarding."
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The Cobras nanocomputers and optical enhancers together can lock onto a target, which can be pretty much anything a Cobra looks at for long enough to establish the lock (multitarget capability was installed in the First Cobras for the Troft War, removed when they went back to civilian life and then shipped off to Aventine, then reinstalled on Cobras undertaking the various Qasama missions). Once a target is locked, the first laser shot the Cobra makes will go to that target, even if it's left the Cobra's line of sight, as the nanocomputer takes over the muscle servos to make sure that target gets hit (and with multitarget, the second shot hits the second target, and so on). Allows Blasting It Out of Their Hands, but sometimes causes Damn You, Muscle Memory!.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The Troft, with their beaks and throat bladders, look somewhat like humanoid chickens.
  • Jackie Robinson Story: Jin Moreau, the protagonist of Cobra Bargain, is the first female Cobra. A subversion of how this trope usually goes—she's also the last female Cobra as of the current series (set thirty years later), the experiment having been judged by the military establishment (somewhat unfairly, for political reasons) as a failure. As of Cobra Outlaw, her daughter, Jody, has also become a Cobra.
  • Le Parkour: Cobra combat reflexes have a number of maneuvers like this in their repertoire. Notably the "ceiling jump," where the Cobra jumps up to the ceiling, turning halfway around in midair, jumps off the ceiling to the floor (ideally behind whoever else was in the room), turning around to be back on their feet when the land and prepared to shoot people in the back. There's also the "wall jump," a quick way of navigating from a rooftop to the ground between two closely-spaced buildings (or, as Merrick finds out, trees), jumping from one wall to another while mostly upside-down, putting the antiarmor laser in the left leg in prime position to fire at whatever was chasing you off the roof.
  • Let Me Get This Straight...: Used a few times to sum up lots of boring exposition for the audience, and sometimes to slant it towards one character's viewpoint.
    Jonny: (regarding Qasama) Let's see if I've got this all straight. We have a society whose members all regularly carry firearms, whose population is largely spread out in small villages, whose light industry is also solidly decentralized and whose heavy industry is buried deep underground, and whose exact technological level is still unknown. Does that pretty well cover it?
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Qasama" is derived from the Arabic word that became "kismet" in English, reflecting the fact that its people regard the fact that their colony ship went off course and reached the planet as being an act of fate.
    • Qasama's "Mangus" project. It's a mispronunciation of "mongoose." Mongooses kill Cobras. And the Qasamans don't know the "Demon Warriors" are called Cobras. . .
    • Jin's nickname is this on Qasama, since it sounds like "djinn."
    • "Muninn" is a variation on "Munin," the name of one of Odin's ravens in Norse Mythology, meaning "Memory." Not only do they have a strong Norse flavor, they have long memories.
  • My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels: Played with in Cobra Bargain when Jin is tutoring her younger sister in speaking Troft. According to Jin's Internal Monologue the potential mistake is actually fairly innocuous and she's playing it up to hold Cari's interest.
    "Again—and remember the aspirated-p in pierec'eay'khartoh this time. You pronounce it the wrong way to a Troft and he's either going to fall over laughing or else challenge you to a duel."
  • Mushroom Samba: Merrick has one with a side of Psycho Serum when he accidentally gets poisoned with bersark on Muninn.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Discussed. Jonny and his wife are musing about the various hypotheses advanced for why all life in this area of the galaxy is biologically similar. While they admit that it's pretty convenient they can eat Cobra Worlds native flora and fauna, the reverse is rather inconvenient.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Jonny plays a heroic version of this at one point. Trying to get a ride back to the Dominion capitol of Asgard through the soon-to-be-closed corridor through Troft space, Jonny informs the equally-obstructive bureaucrat in charge of the ship that Aventine's colonial charter allows the requisitioning of a berth on any ship heading back to the Dominion to represent the colonies on sufficiently important matters (such as an impending second war with the Trofts), no exceptions. When the bureaucrat tries to claim an exception anyway, Jonny explains the three-to-five day legal process he'll have to go through to do so. When the other says he'll ignore this stalling tactic and launch anyway, Jonny adds a starport official to their phone call, and informs him that the Dominion ship won't be leaving for a few days. The bureaucrat tries to countermand Jonny's order on his Central Committee authority, but Jonny just says that the Dominion ship leaving constitutes a charter violation. All launch preparations are suspended immediately, and perfectly legally.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Jasmine Moreau is known to everyone as Jin.
  • Outrun the Fireball: Of the "activating ship's engines" variety, and played fairly realistically. The goal is to get to cover before the ship throttles up, not outpace the exhaust after it's done so.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • Qasama and paranoia. Partly cultural, partly the effects of their mojos. They also have quick learning and Fantastic Drug use (the former possibly due to the latter).
    • One of the few sci-fi settings where an alien race (the Trofts) have a better claim to the hat of "infighting factionalism" than humans themselves.
    • Muninn and slavery.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Justin and Joshua Moreau. Identical twins, but always distinguished by the fact that Justin is optimistic to the point of naivete while Joshua is more cynical.
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Trofts are revealed to be this, as the audience gets to know them outside of "at war with humanity."
  • Punctuation Shaker: Troft names. Even the race's name itself would more accurately be transliterated "Trof'te".
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The mojos. . . sort of. They don't strictly control their hosts, but exert a great deal influence, especially over aggression, irritation, and the like. This makes the Qasamans a very focused society with effectively no internal strife, and thus a threat the Trofts consider it worth hiring the Cobra Worlds to deal with.
  • Put Their Heads Together: Justin does this to two Qasamans in a blind panic when they try to grab him.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Interestingly, given their strong Arab flavor, the Qasamans don't seem to have this. They're perfectly willing to turn on their Cobra Worlds' guests when the first mission is only suspected of spying, and the Sammon family keeps Jin close more out of the suspicion she's part of a plot from a rival family than out of any concerns of hospitality. Jin, however, plays it straight, coming to realize that she can't allow the Sammons to come to harm, through her action or inaction, after they treated her injuries, gave her food and a place to stay. Though it should be noted, as much as the Qasamans aren't above abusing or discarding hospitality as it suits them, up until that point, there seem to be clear rules of honor involving the treatment of a guest (up until you decide they no longer count as a "guest," at least). The head and heir of the powerful Sammon family insisting on personally attending to Jin (even in the middle of the night when she can't sleep and decides to "go for a walk" may be more out of interest in "keeping their enemies closer," but the fact they believe her to be Qasaman at that point and don't want to rouse her suspicions indicate this behavior is at least plausible in Qasaman culture.
  • Scaramanga Special: York carries one of these, a Marine-issue palm mate made from his calculator watch, pen, and star sapphire ring, in Cobra Strike. By Cobra Bargain the Qasamans have reverse-engineered them and issued them to their secret agents.
  • Sexy Secretary: Come Cobra Bargain, Corwin has an assistant, Thena, who considers quite lovely and very pleasant company through the political machinations of the Cobra Worlds. They're married by Cobra War.
  • Shameful Strip: Downplayed. Jin bluffs her way into Mangus wearing Qasaman male clothing, and is promptly given "appropriate" female clothing. As her and another's gambits collide and come unraveled, she's forced to change back into the male clothing she wore when she arrived. . . in front of a bunch of guards. It's not done for prurient reasons, but that doesn't mean the guards can't enjoy the view. Jin does her best to ignore them.
  • Ship Tease: Jin has some with both fellow Cobra Mander Sun and Qasaman Daulo Sammon, the later nearly reaching Star-Crossed Lovers territory.
  • Shout-Out: In Cobra Gamble:
    "You can drive one of those vehicles?" Rashida asked, sounding doubtful.
    "Sure," Jody said. "I mean, how hard can it be?"
  • Snake Versus Mongoose: The titular Cobras are actually Super Soldiers, and the project devised to counter them is called "Mangus", which sounds like "Mongoose".
  • Space Romans: The Qasamans are descended from Arab colonists and another lost colony appears later which seems to be descended from Scandinavian colonists.
  • Stay in the Kitchen:
    • While the Qasamans, being Space Muslims, are quite patriarchal in general, interestingly even the mainstream Dominion of Man seems to take this attitude to the military, not allowing women to serve even in non-combat roles. This isn't just societal change, because militaries were already more open than this in The '80s when the first book was written. It may concern the later history of the Dominion, but has never been explicitly explained.
    • In Cobra Slave, the Dominion of Man military visits the Cobra Worlds after a hundred years, and some of its members are contemptuous about the more prominent role women play in Cobra Worlds society.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: [The Trofts, they talk like this. The noun, they place it first].
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Why the Cobras find themselves heading out to the colonies after the war.
  • Super-Soldier:
    • Besides their Super-Strength, unbreakable bones and computer-aided reflexes and targeting, Cobras are armed with two antipersonnel lasers in their little fingers, a heavy antiarmor laser in their left shin that fires out of the bottom of their left foot, a sonic weapon and an electrical arcthrower.
    • Later the Qasamans attempt to create a counterpart to the Cobras, the Djinni. Though limited by the Qasamans' inferior technology (no nanocomputer reflexes or unbreakable bones) they wear suits made of the native krisjaw hide which provide armor and house servos and lasers with the same capability as the Cobras'. They are also implanted with filters in their noses which allow them to throw around gas canisters with abandon and not suffer the ill effects.
  • Technology Marches On: In-Universe.
    • It's subtle, but you can tell the first trilogy was penned in The '80s, such as references to magnetic tapes. The more recent ones by contrast are influenced by more modern technologies, such as the Troft using unmanned reconnaissance drones.
    • In the Cobra Rebellion trilogy, this is reflected in-universe, with the Dominion of Man being a hundred years more advanced than the isolated Cobra Worlds, and 'new' Dominion technologies being more influenced by what is current now, such as augmented reality implants in eyes.
  • The Bus Came Back: Cobra Slave finally lets us catch up on Jame Moreau's descendants.
  • Theme Naming:
    • The Cobra Worlds are named after the Seven Hills of Rome: Aventine, Palatine, Caelian, Esquiline and so on.
    • Most members of the Moreau family have names that start with J; the few that don't, such as Corwin, tend to be the non-Cobras in the family.
  • Torpedo Tits: Discussed with a side of sexism. Jasmine "Jin" Moreau becomes the first female Cobra trainee. While discussing potential new weapons after their initial surgeries, one of the trainees makes a comment the instructor asks him to repeat. It was, that if they're considering new weapons, Trainee Moreau could be implanted with a pair of turret guns. (Note that Jin has not been described as particularly buxom, and is even able to pass as male among Qasamans with proper clothing.)
  • Twin Switch: On the first mission to Qasama in Cobra Strike, they plan to do this with Justin and Joshua Moreau, one of whom is a Cobra and the other isn't, in order to conceal the existence of Cobras from the Qasamans—they can scan the non-Cobra one, and then he'll be replaced with the Cobra. Fails epically because the Qasamans put a fake bomb on one twin with concealed cameras, meaning they see the switch happen.
  • The Unpronounceable and Overly Long Name: Troft names. They recognise this and generally go by descriptive aliases when dealing with humans. Their demense-names as well; what we see are just the first three parts, sufficient fir humans to tell them apart, and even then we get such tongue-twisters as "Baliu'ckha'spmi."
  • Unfinished, Untested, Used Anyway: The Cobras themselves. Jonny and his fellow recruits are warned point-blank that as First Generation Cobras, they'll bear the brunt of any design flaws in the system the designers didn't get worked out. And indeed, by the time he's in his forties, Jonny is suffering from anemia and arthritis thanks to the bone laminae interfering with blood cell production and the servomotors damaging his joints. He also has immune system trouble as his body starts rejecting the implants. Interestingly, the same fate befalls the next generations of Cobras in the Cobra Worlds, either because they don't have the technology to refine the process, or the politicians don't care enough to allocate the necessary funds for research.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played almost painfully straight. Whenever the characters discuss a plan on-page, it's almost assured it will fail miserably. If they discuss a plan off-page, it will almost certainly work without a hitch. Since the villains are almost never seen discussing their plans on page, their plans work almost flawlessly, and the heroes only succeed by out-gambiting them.
  • We ARE Struggling Together:
    • The Trofts operate as loose coalitions of their constantly-infighting desmense groups, and even when allied are always jockeying for position, not always showing weakness or sharing information with their allies.
    • The Cobra Worlds themselves, and Qasama, after the Troft invasion.
  • Worthy Opponent: The Moreaus' opinion of Qasaman Magnificent Bastard Moffren Omnathi.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: As one of Timothy Zahn's favorite tropes, this appears in just about every single conflict, whether it's personal, military, or political.

Alternative Title(s): Cobra