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Literature / The Last Chancers

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Meet the Suicide Squad of the 41st millennium. Left to right, top to bottom 

Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

The Last Chancers is a trilogy (later tetralogy) of novels set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe written by Gav Thorpe. The novels in the series are named 13th Legion, Kill Team, Annihilation Squad and Armageddon Saint, and concern the titular 13th Penal Legion of the Imperial Guard, informally known as the Last Chancers. Led by Colonel Schaeffer, the Last Chancers are drawn from convicts in Imperial service, other penal legions, and anyone else with a criminal history with skills that might be made useful. Schaeffer leads them on a quest to redeem themselves in the eyes of the God-Emperor, either by making a difference in the Imperium's perpetual conflicts or by dying in His service, whether the convicts seek redemption or not...

The novels are told from the point of view of Lieutenant Kage, a convicted ex-guardsman with a determination to survive his time in the legion, a short temper, and a disregard for almost all other life. He and the rest of the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits that are the Last Chancers are put through every kind of battlefield hell Schaeffer can drag them through, both to redeem them, and to find the strongest, toughest, and most useful soldiers ever to be convicted before an Imperial tribunal.

Tropes seen in The Last Chancers include

  • The Ace: Moerck, ex-commissar to a storm trooper company, cited for acts of bravery ten times, wounded in action seven times, turned down three offers for honorable discharge and retirement to a training job, and jailed after carrying out some bad orders he was given that lead to his company targeting a friendly encampment, and those who gave the orders saddling Moerck with the blame. Schaeffer had him transferred to the 13th Penal Legion before the mistake could be uncovered and Moerck exonerated. He is practically the "ideal" of an Imperial soldier, but unlike most examples this is not Played for Laughs so much as it is to show him as a Foil to the rest of the "scum" in the Legion. Kage hates him on a personal level, but respects him on a professional one. Given the nickname "Hero".
  • Ace Pilot: Strelli was a former space pirate until Orks invaded his home system, at which point he joined the Imperial Navy. Served first as a shuttle pilot, then as a thunderbolt interceptor pilot for a total of eight years. Took the traditional Interservice Rivalry between the Navy and the Guard a bit too far when he strafed a friendly tank column. He was sentenced to death by hanging, before the Colonel had his sentence changed to life imprisonment with the 13th Penal Legion. Nicknamed "Flyboy".
  • Action Girl: There are few women in the Last Chancers, but any woman who survives any significant length of time in the Legion is necessarily one. Lorii and Tanya are two prominent examples.
  • And This Is for...: After earning his freedom at last, surviving where nearly four-thousand others did not, Kage finds himself Drowning His Survivor Guilt in an officer's bar when one of the Blue Blood officers overhears him mumbling to himself about his time in the Last Chancers. The man starts a verbal altercation, telling Kage that he should have died like the rest of the scum in his legion. Angry words are exchanged and steel ends up getting drawn. Kage winds up running the man through, stabbing his body repeatedly, dedicating each stab to one of his fallen comrads. This of course violates his probation, and the Colonel just happened to be very close by...
  • Anti-Hero: Kage. He's a Sociopathic Hero, who cares little for other people's lives, will kill someone if given half a reason, and is diagnosed as psychotic In-Universe, but stops just short of Ax-Crazy. He is occasionally shown to have some vague misgivings about causing unnecessary death, or briefly lament the loss of a friend, but he prefers not to let himself think about it. In his own words:
    "I'm a murdering, cold-hearted bastard, I don't mind admitting. But now I'm one of the Emperor's murdering, cold-hearted bastards, and He has a use for me again."
  • Asteroid Thicket: While the Last Chancers are in a ship approaching planet Armageddon, the bridge crew discovers a previously unknown field of asteroids in orbit, and the captain decides to use the field as cover to slip by the Ork forces assaulting the planet. Unfortunately for them, those Were No Asteroids. They were (the then new innovation) Ork Rok forts, and it did not take the Orks long to open fire...
  • Bar Brawl: While in the alien quarter of a city on a Tau border world, the Last Chancers end up in a bar patronized by many sentient species, some of whom take issue with the presence of humans. Kage throws the first punch, reasoning a bar fight was inevitable, so he might as well be the one to get the first attack in. Unfortunately, he neglected to account for many species there having it in for humans, and the fight is only ended in their favor by the entry of a kindred of Kroot who aid them. The Kroot warn that things could have gotten lethal for the humans, to which Kage, in a moment of Wrong Genre Savvy, protests that things would not have gotten so bad in a mere bar brawl. The Kroot have to explain that the Absolute Xenophobe policies of the Imperium make humans rather unpopular among other galactic races. Kage is confused why xenos should find this inspiration for hate.
  • Back from the Dead: The premise of the fourth novel Armageddon saint which involves Kane now being hailed as a Imperial saint after somehow coming back from being burned alive during the last book.
  • Beard of Evil: Inquisitor Oriel typically sports a well-groomed goatee described as making him look sinister. He is not opposed to shaving it off when he needs to adopt a new identity. Considering his line of work, this may be part of why he grows a beard in the first place.
  • Bazaar of the Bizarre: The Last Chancers, posing as mercenaries, have to spend some time in the alien quarter of Tau military outpost city. The place is populated by creatures of a variety of different races, many unrecognizable to them. The buildings themselves are Tau-built, but decorated and modified to suit the wide spectrum of inhabitants. Many vendors have stalls set up in the streets from which they hawk their wares from dozens of different cultures. The humans of the Last Chancers are understandably uncomfortable around so many xenos, both their biology and their technology, though some are more facinated by it all than others.
  • Blade Enthusiast: Kage considers himself "a bladesman at heart", and would rather slip a knife between someone's ribs than shoot them, considering death by gunshot to be impersonal and somewhat insulting to the target. Kage typically carries several combat knives, but he will not take unnecessary risks to use them, and will not hesitate to shoot a target if that seems like the most likely way to survive an engagement.
  • Boredom Montage: Given whenever Kage is put back into a cell, or otherwise being kept away from some active duty. Such monotony drives him even crazier, and is indeed responsible for the incident that landed him in a penal legion to begin with. Most of his escape attempts are made not when he is in the field, but when he is locked up. As much as he hates the Colonel for putting him in positions likely to get him killed, Kage will still go through extreme effort to join him on a Suicide Mission rather than be kept boxed up for an indeterminate length of time.
  • Brother–Sister Team: Loron and Lorii, a pair of albino twins. Lorii refused an order to retreat when it meant leaving an injured Loron behind, and was charged with insubordination. Loron punched an officer in the face just so he could get jailed with Lorii. They are both expert soldiers, but keep to themselves at first. Together they form a duo, though no one is inclined to make catcalls at Lorii after she makes her displeasure at unsolicited advances clear. Calling either of them "freak" is a Berserk Button for them.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Kronin, after he got buried under a pile of Tyranid corpses in an Imperial chapel, can now only speak in quotations from Imperial scriptures. He can still understand other people and his own situation, and is a good fighter, but he is literally incapable of speaking anything that is not a religious tract. This sometimes frustrates him as much as it does those trying to understand what he is saying, but being one of the the better soldiers in the Last Chancers means he is still reliable in battle, just so long as no one asks him to report on the situation.
  • The Caligula: Imperial Commander Herman von Strab, planetary lord of Armageddon. Disappeared years ago during the Second Armageddon War and returned three years ago, leading the Orks back to Armageddon. He has begun recruiting an army of humans titled the "Army for the Liberation of Armageddon". A physically unfit man with an augmentic eye, he holds court in the ruins of an old palace in Acheron Hive. He hunts the most dangerous game, often without a taxidermist to properly preserve trophies before displaying them, enjoys having people drugged and thrown into a pit of ravenous rats, resolves disputes between supplicants by having them fight each other "like women" followed by castratation, and refers to himself as "Emperor" Von Strab. A mob of Ork boyz lead by a nob named Urkug inhabits his palace to keep check on him. It is a serious question if he has truly betrayed the Imperium, or is being coerced under threat by the Orks, which the Last Chancers are sent to Armageddon to answer.
  • Cold Sniper: Sniper First Class Tanya Stradinsk used to be a highly decorated one, earning several medals and commendations, until an unfortunate Noodle Incident that left twenty children dead (including an Imperial commander's heir) defrosted her previous detachment. She was exonerated, but has since been unwilling to pull the trigger with a living target in her sights and subsequently jailed for insubordination. Nicknamed "Sharpshooter".
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Inquisitor Oriel explains to Kage that the reason he, as a member of the Holy Imperial Inquisition, has absolute authority is because the Inquisition has absolute responsibility.
  • Corporate Warfare: Kage credits his skill in close quarters combat to his years as a factorum worker in a Hive City. More specifically, from the inter-factorum wars where workers from one factorum break into another factorum to beat up the other workers and sabotage their equipment. Kage was both aggressor and defender in said wars many times.
  • Covered with Scars: Kage is described as being covered in scars, most obviously a large one on his face (the result of being near a Tryanid spore mine detonation) but also numerous other ones on his torso and limbs. He admits that he would hardly have been winning any beauty pagents even before all of these, and he seems not to particularly care.
  • Dance Battler: Kage describes Inquisitor Oriel as moving with a very fluid, dance-like form when fighting in close quarters. In his mind, this is in contrast to Colonel Schaeffer, who has a more precise, structured fighting style.
  • Demolitions Expert: Oynas Trost, a man who looks completely average and unremarkable, except for his dead, emotionless eyes. Agent of the Officio Sabatorum, and has the highest bodycount of anyone in the 13th Penal Legion, which is saying something. Made a mistake that ended up poisoning three Imperial admirals and their families, which is why he is in the Last Chancers. Used to operating on his own, he Talks to Kage's Fist often as Kage tries to instill a little team discipline in him. Nicknamed "Demolition Man".
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Kage uses this as a "stick" as part of training others. He likes it as a teaching technique because it is "short and sharp", getting seriousness across quickly without doing more serious damage to trainees or interrupting their other schedueled training.
  • Designer Babies: Loron and Lorii were the product of a cabal of Tech Priests Playing with Syringes over centuries to create "perfected" soldiers via splincing the genes of Lord Commander Solar Macharius into altered fetuses. Grown in Uterine Replicators, subject to Neural Implanting of combat doctrine, five-hundred heathy babies were created, out of fifty-thousand attempts. Those were organized into five companies, all of which were annilated save for Loron and Lorii, making them the Last Of Their Kind. This is why calling either of them "freak" hits their Berserk Button.
  • Determinator: Kage is convinced that the reason he has survived so long in the Last Chancers is because he is absolutely determined to not let the Colonel kill him by dragging him through battlefield after battlefield, he does not want to give Schaeffer the satisfaction of it.
  • Dilating Door: When arriving on a Tau diplomatic ship, Kage is surprised when a section of the wall simply expands open to provide an exit from the shuttle bay. He looks carefully at the edges of it as he passes through, concluding that the Tau do not in fact have technology to make walls deform, it was just an iris-style door, but one they manufacture very precisely to fit so flush as to be almost unnoticeable unless you were actively looking for it.
  • Dying as Yourself: Kage, now almost completely lost to Demonic Possession, is allowed to reassert control over his own body when Oahebs gets close to him. Seeing his own hands already mutated into talons, his teammates about to be executed, and the knowledge that even if he were to get out alive he would no longer be himself, grants him an epiphany. He finally embraces the Martyrdom Culture of the Imperium, and the concept of self-sacrifice for survival. He grabs Von Strab and throws the two off them off a cliff together, bringing his story with the 13th Penal Legion to a close.
  • The Engineer: Adept Gudmanz was a tech-priest of the Cult Mechanicus, until he was discovered to have been selling supplies from his Forge World to Space Pirates. All the implants that could be removed were removed, and he was condemned to be made into a servator until Schaeffer pulled some strings to bring his skills along on a Suicide Mission with the Last Chancers. Gudmanz considers himself to have gotten off light, considering the alternative. As many of his implants were responsible for maintaining his biological frame to live to the age of two-hundred and eighty-six, he suffers from increased lethargy and physical wasting as his age catches up with him.
  • Every One Calls Him Barkeep: Colonel Schaeffer is just refered to as "The Colonel" by most everyone in the legion, which is understandable considering that he is likely to be the last and only commander they ever serve under.
  • Explosive Decompression: The Last Chancers, while in transit to theater, have their ship boarded by Dark Eldar, intent on taking prisoners. After taking severe casualties among the Last Chancers and crew, they decide that the best option is to fall back to the bridge, seal the bulkhead, and vent the cabins. Kage thinks that this is a horrible way to die, not even being given a chance to fight.
  • Farm Boy: Franx, a large guy who cannot be kept down, is originally from an agri-world. He enjoyed life on his homeworld, with abundant food, clean air, healthy women, and honest work, but ended up in the Imperial Guard when his family's name came up on the tithe. Reached the rank of sargent before some bad interaction with a few Armchair Officers ended up with his squad rebelling and he got charged with allowing insubordination. Kage befriends him due to his reliability and fundamental decentness.
  • Finish Him!: Something Kage does when training soldiers to Knife Fight. Apparently he considers having a soldier who will obey an order to Stab Their Mate more important than having another live soldier...
  • Flashback Nightmare: Something Kage is prone to. His nightmares focus on his memories, and all the comrades he has lost along the way. While awake he might seem to care little for others lives, while asleep the loss of those lives haunt him. While on a ship traveling through the warp, those nightmares get even worse.
  • Forest Ranger:
    • Hans Iyle, bald and bearded, spent eight years in a recon company. Has combat experience in desert, forest, jungle, and urban warzones. Deserted from picket duty while fighting on Tabrak II and evaded capture for eighteen weeks. Nicknamed "Eyes".
    • Lieutenant Golder Fenn, Armageddon native, raised in the jungles. His grandfather fought the Orks during the Second Armageddon War, and he has years of experience patroling the jungles and fighting the feral Orks descended from that earlier wave. He has been fighting considerably better equipped Orks ever since Third Armageddon War began. Has something of an independant spirit which grates on his commanding officer...
  • Freak Out: While training a squad, Kage gets a terrible headache, and begins to hallucinate. He feels something cold in his jaw, and does not know what it is. He later wakes up in a medical bay with his jaw wired shut and several stitches in his scalp. Apparently there was a build up of fluid in his skull, pressing on his brain which caused mental disruption, leading him to try and stab himself in the jaw. He is not happy that doctors have been tinkering around beneath his skull to correct this, as he does not perceive the experience as having gone mad himself. His mental state was already suspect before this, and people are even less inclined to trust him not to go crazy afterward. While subtle at the time, this begins a slow chain of increasingly obvious changes that happen to Kage.
  • Furo Scene: A western example. While on an ice world, the Last Chancers are given a rare moment of luxury by being allowed to make use of an indoor communal hot bath. The relaxing atmosphere gives them a chance for some Bathtub Bonding, eventually transitioning to playful naked roughhousing.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: When the Last Chancers are assaulting a Tau battledome, Kage and Quidlon pass through a hanger of unused Tau Crisis Battlesuits, and Quidlon thinks he can figure out how to operate one... Unfortunately for Quidlon, the Tau build rather lethal electrical anti-theft devices into their battlesuits.
  • Here We Go Again!: When Kage wakes up in a back ally from a murderous drunken bender after earning his freedom to find the Colonel standing over him, slowly tearing up Kage's signed pardon, smirking that he knew Kage would be his again.
  • Heroic BSoD: Tanya has a brief one after accidentally shooting Stroniberg in a friendly-fire incident during a training exercise.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Gappo, a former Imperial preacher who lost his faith. He now doubts the existance of the God-Emperor, thinking it is a lie to keep the wealth flowing into the Ecclesiarchy. Considering The Fundamentalist values of Imperial culture, his views make him unpopular with other Last Chancers, but Kage considers him something of a friend as he is "not as much of a meathead as the others."
  • Hope Spot: One the Central Themes of the trilogy is hope, the force that allows someone to cling to life despite impossible odds, and its ultimate futility. As the author said, "This is 40K afterall."
  • Icy Blue Eyes: An often noted characteristic of Colonel Schaeffer. Described as being piercing, very few are willing to try and stare him down. He often spends time sizing people up by looking at them for several minutes, which makes others feel like he can bore into their soul.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Inquisitor Oriel's justification for bringing a genestealer (sealed in a stasis chamber) to Coritanorum.
  • Immediate Sequel: Booth Kill Team and Annihilation Squad takes place a year or so after the prior book. Armageddon Saint meanwhile (published 15 years later mind you) takes place a week or so following the end of Annihilation Squad with the group still in Hive Acheron on Armageddon.
  • Implacable Man: Colonel Schaeffer has a reputation for being unkillable. It is not so much that he is Made of Iron as it is that he just never seems to get hit, and there is hardly ever even a scratch in his uniform after a big fight, and he will fearlessly lead troops on a suicide mission with every expectation that he will succeed. Described by Kage as "Unflappable, unlovable, and unkillable." In all his life, he has never failed to see a mission through. Kage is taken by surprise to find the Colonel lost an arm while fighting in Coritanorum, and then even more surprised to see him again later with his arm whole and functioning. This only serves to reinforce the Colonel's reputation.
  • Insufferable Genius: Vandikar Kelth, a ship's Navigator. Like many from the Guild of Navigators, he has little involvement with those not on retainer to the Guild, considering himself to be above them. Proficient with a laspistol, but only ever used it while dueling. Stranded on Armageddon with the Last Chancers, he considers their trek beneath him, but has little other option than to go along with them. Can weaponize his Third Eye in a pinch.
  • In the Hood: While posing as part of a diplomatic delegation, Kage is disguised as an Administratum scribe, wearing a scribe's traditional heavy hooded robe. He is given this disguise primarily because it is the one that best hides the many scars covering his body which would otherwise hint his history as a soldier.
  • It's Quiet… Too Quiet: Kage's impression of the inside of a Tau ship. He is used to ships having their own set of sounds, from the soft whir of air circulation to the distant rumble of the engines, that its absence, especially onboard a xenos vessel, is quite unnerving to him.
  • It's Raining Men: Festal Kin-Drugg, once part of the elite 33rd Kator Gravchute Regiment. Led his squad in an unauthorized drop to loot a town already cleared in the wake of an Ork attack. Trained to scout and use guerrilla tactics.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Inquisitor Oriel uses this as a psychic power while he and Kage are Playing Dead to convince a squad of Tau Fire Warriors not to investigate their bodies too closely, giving only a cursory inspection before moving on.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Discussed between Fenn and Lorii, when she asks him why his squad carries autoguns on long jungle patrols instead of lasguns, which would involve hauling less ammunition over long distances. He says that it is a psychological thing when they are fighting Orks, who do not register a gun as a proper "shoota" unless it leaves a chunk of projectile inside its target.
  • Lost in Translation: The Four Fingered Tau make a joke that the Emperor must love his subjects so much he has blessed them with an extra finger. This is apparently a very clever play on words. Likewise, Oriel expresses a desire to toast the Tau captain during dinner. The Tau translater is horrified at the thought of immolating the ship's captain.
  • Mage Killer: Gideon Oahebs, a soldier transfered into the Last Chancers just prior to their mission to Armageddon. He keeps to himself, no one wants to interact with him, does not volunteer why he is in the unit, and people tend to feel disgusted by his presence for reasons none of them can really articulate. He is a Soulguard, a "blank" trained by the Inquisition keep daemons from possessing people near him. He was sent into the Last Chancers by Inquisitor Oriel to keep an eye on Kage.
  • Meaningful Name: His name is Kage. He is a prisoner. Subtle.
  • The Medic: Pieter Stroniberg was a field surgeon who became addicted to a homemade chemical mix of stimulants and painkillers. It affected his job performance, losing five times the usual number of patients. He eventually began giving out his chemical cocktail to other soldiers in exchange for money and favors, resulting in his eventual imprisonment. He has been detoxed, but suffers from long-term symptoms of withdrawal. Considered a trustee for good behavior, he has acted as a prison surgeon for over a year. Has a nervous tic in his eye and cannot sleep more than four hours a night. Nicknamed "Stitcher".
  • Mundane Luxury: Kage reflects on this a bit when describing how Last Chancers on a ship are fed only tasteless protein slop without even any utensils... and a glass of orange juice. He knows it is more about pragmatism on their jailer's part: conditions like scurvy take medical resources to treat which are just not worth spending when half a pint of reconstituted fruit juice a day will prevent the worst of it.
  • Necessary Drawback: Discussed by Kage with Gudmanz, when he gets his hands on a Fractrix-pattern assault laser, which has a much greater rate of fire than typical lasguns and is equipped with an advanced target recognition scope. He asks Gudmanz what the catch is, reasoning that if such a weapon did not have a drawback then everyone would be using one. Gudmanz explains that the focus crystal needs to be changed every few hundred shots, which is particularly delicate and requires a qualified tech-adept to do, making it impractical for most battlefield uses.
  • New Meat: Kage runs into a green company of Modians outside Coritanorum while wearing a Mordian uniform he stripped from a corpse. He tries to get away from them all when the fighting starts, but seeing as he is an officer (albiet one in a penal legion) the FNGs end up following him when the chain of command breaks down, which keeps them from getting shot up in a suicidal charge. Kage is not happy they have latched onto him. They do repay him by saving his life later when the Colonel finds him, and they threaten to shoot him if he follows through on his intention to execute Kage for desertion.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Colonel, in a rare moment of shared reflection, laments to Kage that repelling the Tyranids from Ichar IV (the first major engagement Kage's generation of Last Chancers was put in) only served to break the hive fleet off in different directions, making it harder to marshal a defense against them. If the Imperium had held back, let the Tyranids devour Ichar IV, it might have bought the Imperium enough time to ready a stronger force to encircle the Hive Fleet Kraken and defeat them in detail before the hive fleet had a chance to spread to other worlds.
  • The Nicknamer: Kage, though he does so as part of a training methodology, assigning labels to each squad member and forcing them to answer only to those labels, in an effort to get them to conform to their specific mission role. It works.
  • Noble Fugitive: Linskrug, a noble who was subject to a nasty piece of politicking by the rival houses on his home world which ended him up in prison, then into the Last Chancers. One of their better combatants due to the training and education his upbringing imparted. He has been with the Last Chancers long enough that there is little tension between a man born to privilege and the self-admitted scum of a penal legion, as he slogs through the worst of it with the rest of them.
  • Non-Action Guy: Armoror-Scribe Erasmus Spooge, armory quartermaster of the ship the Last Chancers travel to Armageddon on. Has a auto-quill servo-skull made from the cranium of his father which he keeps with him at all times, even when its grav motor gives out. Stranded with the Last Chancers when they make planetfall, he is pressed into service as an ammunition loader for a heavy stubber, being familiar with the function of common Imperial manufactured weapons, if not proficient in their operation. Brownie gives him the nickname "Razzy".
  • The Pardon: The promised reward. Every one that dies gets, which not only has implications for their families, but is deemed efficious in the afterlife.
  • Plant Aliens: The "God Plant" located in the Heart of the Jungle on the planet False Hope is one giant organism which feeds on the bodies of other creatures which wander into its center.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: A stasis chamber in which a very dangerous xenos is being kept for future study seems to have opened at a very inopportune time, at a very inopportune place, in a room that happened to have an air vent leading to the rest of the very large facility. This kicks off the plot of 13th Legion.
  • Power of Trust: Averted by Kage, who goes to great lengths to ensure his trainees learn that they cannot trust him or each other, and that the only one they can trust is themselves so they better toughen up and learn to be self-sufficient and expect anything. Quidlon points out the Epimenides Paradox of him telling them to trust him about not trusting him, which Kage says is the entire point.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: Since the Last Chancers are a military unit, their imprisonment necessarily includes daily calisthenics, and sometimes combat drills, especially when aboard ship in transit between theaters. Even when not on active duty, wardens are expected to keep inmates in good shape should Schaeffer have need of them. Kage is an exception to this, since his past history shows that when he is off duty he is most likely to go nuts and try to make an escape. After killing another inmate who wanted a turn at the punching bag and making an escape attempt with a spoon, Kage is restricted to solitary confinement where he is kept perpetually chained to the wall and denied exercise to keep him manageable.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Last Chancers are heavily inspired by virtually every military fiction ever to include this trope.note  They are composed almost entirely of convicts with experience in Imperial service, particularly military personnel with some years in the field, so they do have somewhat of a professional edge over penal legions composed of civil convicts. According to the foreword, part of the reason the Last Chancers were added into the setting was to help move the image of penal legionaries away from the stereotype of being explosive-collar wearing, frenzon doped Cannon Fodder, and show a somewhat more human angle on their lives.
  • A Real Soldier Is A Killer: Kage certainly seems to think so, and will go to great lengths to ensure those he trains think that too.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Colonel Schaeffer, surprisingly enough. Kage notes in 13th Legion that while Schaeffer does despise the Last Chancers for being criminals, there doesn't seem to be anything personal in it, and he honestly does want them to earn that last shot at redemption. He also doesn't engage in verbal or physical abuse of them; as far as Kage has seen, the only time Schaeffer hits one of the Last Chancers is if they try to hit him first.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Fundamental to the 13th Penal Legion. Rather than being used as a dumping ground for civil criminals, Schaeffer intentionally transfers in criminals who have useful militarily useful skills. They are usually held in prison until he can get enough together to form a regiment sized force, then whittle them down in warzone after warzone until he has a team of expert survivors.
    • Boxed Crook: While the legionaries are given no choice in becoming part of the Last Chancers, they are not forced to go along on a Suicide Mission once Schaeffer has the experts he needs. Making it through a suicide mission entitles a Last Chancer to a full pardon of all crimes. Refusal to go along results in their sentence being changed from life imprisonment to death, so this is something of a False Dichotomy. Of course, the Colonel rarely tells those to whom he makes the offer what the option is for not accepting...
  • Recycled In Space: This is quite definitely The Dirty Dozen IN 40K!
  • Redemption Equals Death: Another fundamental aspect of the 13th Penal Legion is that anyone who dies in its service is given a posthumous pardon, absolving their crimes in the eyes of the Emperor. Those who are offered the opportunity to go on a Suicide Mission can get a living pardon, assuming that they survive, but then there is a reason such things are called suicide missions...
  • Remember the New Guy?: The Tau were introduced into the 40K setting after the first book in this trilogy was written, and feature heavily in the second book. Kage had never heard of them before. Somewhat justified in that Kage is from one the underclass of a hive city, and like most Imperial citizens, is kept in relative ignorance of the extent of the galaxy, especially specific knowledge of xenos.
  • The Reveal: While camped inside a disused oil pipeline, some of the Last Chancers are discussing the Colonel. The Colonel himself, seemlying asleep moments ago, decides to lay a few things on the table regarding the rumors about himself. He removes his left glove. Underneath is a completely normal human hand. He explains that he was fixed up after he Lost An Arm in the battle of Coritanorum thanks to the Adeptus Mechanius cloning and regrowing him a new one. It was painful, but he had worse when they once had to regrow his spine after he got crushed by a tank. Even his trademark Icy Blue Eyes are not his original ones, having been taken from a condemned criminal. Through this perpetual biological repair he has lived for over three centuries, and as long as he continues to bring victory to the Imperium he will continue to receive such treatments. He considers this to be a blessing and a sign of the God-Emperor's favor, as he has never failed in any mission.
  • Satisfied Street Rat: Kage is "hive scum", growing up in the lower hive levels of Olympas. He was part of a labor gang, serving as juvie muscle for feuding manufacturing houses, raiding each other to break equipment and give an economic edge to one or the other. He wanted to be part of something bigger than that, and so joined the Imperial Guard, and the rest is history.
  • Shining City: The Last Chancers visit a Tau world at one point, and stop by a panoramic window in the local space port to gaze out over the city, taking note of the carefully planned layout of streets and buildings, the quiet order of the way it conducts itself, and the bright lights that keep the place well-lit even at night. Kage finds the Ascetic Aesthetic of it rather soulless, empty, and boring, much prefering the relatively organic development and lived-in Used Future nature of Imperial cities.
  • Shout-Out: Schaeffer is named after Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Predator, according to the omnibus foreword.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Colonel Schaeffer himself, fittingly for a narrative about a special character from the tabletop game. He leads the Last Chancers through hellish battle zones that leave hundreds dead and yet comes out the other side with nary a scratch. He has been running the 13th Penal Legion for longer than anyone can remember, and yet never seems to show any signs of age or the injury common in his line of work. He seems almost unconcerned by field conditions that have others in serious discomfort. There is a lot of speculation about him, but nobody in the legion knows the whole truth.
    • As explained above under The Reveal, Colonel Schaeffer is a 300+ year old combat veteran, whose actions have proven so useful to the Imperium that he is given youth-preserving treatments and has wounds swiftly attended to, up to and including bio-replacements for missing or ruined organs and limbs. Being over three hundred years a soldier, he's grown very good at fighting and reading the battlefield, so it's rare for anyone or anything to get the jump on him. He is supremely lucky, though, which he himself attributes to the Emperor's divine blessing, a sign of favor for the work he does.
  • The Smart Guy: Quidlon, a trooper who could not contain his curiosity about machines, and was fond of tinkering with his regiment's equipment. His explorations and modifications were both innocent and functional, but the Tech Priests who were to oversee it did not appreciate his attempts to penetrate the secrets of their order, and he was jailed for insubordination. Has a Motor Mouth that tends to get him tripping over his own words, and has the "unfortunate effect of making a very smart man sound very stupid". His occasional use of Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness sometimes goes over his comrades' heads. Nicknamed "Brains."
  • Sociopathic Soldier: Kage is both a sociopath and a soldier, though he does have a certain sense of right and wrong which he generally tries to adhere to, though it tends to vary depending on how desperate he is to stay alive. When selecting people for a squad, one of the potential candidates was a sniper jailed for causing too much civilian collateral damage. Kage felt that the man was too trigger happy, even for him.
  • Sole Survivor: Kage is the only one from his group of Last Chancers to survive to be discharged.
  • The Spartan Way: The real purpose of the Last Chancers. Schaeffer gathers convicts by the thousands and throws them into every suitable meat-grinder he can find, just so after a few years he has whittled them down to a handful of the toughest and most determined survivors that he can then lead on near-suicide missions of extreme strategic importance.
  • The Stoic: Colonel Schaeffer seems unperturbed by most things. He speaks in a quiet, authoritative voice, shows almost no signs of fear or pain, and seems composed at all times. The only emotion he displays with any regularity is a quiet contempt for the convicts under his command. When he shows even a hint of stress, worry, or anger (which is usually limited to a tic of his jaw,) that is a sign that things have gotten really bad.
  • Storming the Castle: The Imperial citadel of Coritanorum, capital of Typhos Prime, center of the sector's military administration, built in concentric rings several kilometers wide underneath a mountain, protected by massed gun emplacements, surface-to-orbit missile silos, and artillery, considered untakable by ground forces, resistant to orbital bombardment, and with leadership in rebellion against the Imperium. The Last Chancers are expected to get in and take it.
  • Stripped to the Bone: Tau battlesuit anti-theft devices put an electrical current thought the head of an unauthorized pilot sufficient to char anyone sitting in the pilot seat to ash. The ash remains on the skeleton until something disturbs it, leaving bones behind.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Colonel Schaeffer is the head of the Last Chancers, and a genuine heroic figure in the Imperium, but the books are told from the point of view of Kage, who is one of the convicts in his charge.
  • Surprisingly Elite Cannon Fodder: A non-comedic example, and deliberately invoked by Colonel Schaeffer. The purpose of sending regiments of military convicts into hellish warzones is to seperate the "elite" from the "fodder", in the necessary brutality typical of the setting.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The mood of the Last Chancers in general, to the point that fights quickly break out when they are not in theater and have no obvious enemy to battle. In a more specific sense, this is the undercurrent between Kage and Schaeffer. Kage will fight beside the Colonel, supporting him through the worst conditions, and they will speak to each other cordially and with trust. That does not stop Kage from fantasizing about killing the Colonel for everything he has put him and the other Last Chancers through.
  • Token Minority: Brin "Brownie" Dunmore. Dark skinned, born on Stralia, a planet of islands, he soiled his pants on his first deployment with the Imperial Guard, which earned him his unfortunate nickname. Since then, he has overcome his fear by training himself with the biggest weapons he can find, reasoning that if he has the biggest guns then it will be the enemies who fear him instead. He is an expert with all manner of heavy ordnance, from mortars to machineguns to rocket launchers, though his weapon is a heavy stubber for most general use. He once took a bet that he could not use an anti-armor rocket to shoot down a flying airplane. He won the bet, but unfortunately did not properly check his fire and shot down a friendly plane by mistake.
  • Vague Age: Kage is uncertain of his exact age, given that his early life was spent in an underhive with no seasons to count, warp travel confuses relative and objective time, and the fact that he is given no calendar to track such things. Scribe Spooge, who has access to some more exact figures, places Kage's age at somewhere below thirty Terran standard years, though Kage has seen more battlefields and combat than most soldiers twice his age, and has the scars to prove it.
  • Virtual Training Simulation:
    • The troopship Laurels of Glory, intended for carrying Imperial Stormtroopers, is one of less than a dozen such ships in the Imperium which include training bays of unusual sophistication. These training bays are capable of convincingly simulating things such as a pastoral farmland on a planet's surface, including weather changes. It may involve Holograms, but does not involve Hard Light. Things such as grass are grown in the bay itself, rather than projected, and each bay must be landscaped and have its structures constructed with conventional methods.
    • Tau battledomes are similar to the training bays on the Laurels of Glory, but much more common among the Tau than the human equivalent is among the Imperium. Schaeffer even admits that the Tau's training methods are "practical and laudable" even though they lack appreciation for "the dangers of the over-dependence on technology."
  • Weird World, Weird Food:
    • In Kill Team, Kage and the selection of Last Chancers must pose as a diplomatic delegation to travel to a Tau world. While with the Tau, they are treated as state guests and fed lots of Tau foods. Most of the offerings seem to be various non-terrestrial Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables, blue rice-like cereals, with a kind of grey and blue marbled bread, prepared simply and with a few optional condiments including salt, typically served buffet-style. Dessert is a glass of salty and mildly sour wine. No meat appeared to be served, and Oriel mentions that the Tau apparently do not eat meat. Kage finds the Tau mess halls to be "unnatural but vaguely pleasant."
    • Later in the same book, while posing as mercenaries, the Last Chancers join some Kroot for a barbeque at their camp while on a mission to a Tau world. They are delighted at first, not only to find an unexpected welcome on a xenos world, but also because this is the first time in weeks that they have had any meat since leaving their own ship. Unfortunately, Kroot dietary habits involve the eating of other sentients, and it does not take the Last Chancers long to figure out just what Mystery Meat they have been served... Turns out that the Kroot knew that the humans would find eating the meat of their own kind distasteful. They served them human muscle and some Brain Food as one part Secret Test of Character, and one part Practical Joke.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Discussed briefly between Kage and Tanya. She is upset about her roll in the comming mission, afraid that she will be required to shoot a Tau. Kage has to remind her that Tau are not people, they are xenos. Kage is less concerned that Tanya has a respect for life than he is with the possibility that she might extend that respect to alien life.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Averted by Kage, who most definitely would shoot a civilian (or rather strangle one when trying to stay stealthy.) When called on this, Kage will explain why he felt it was necessary. He will not go out of his way to hurt civilians (and indeed would consider someone who did so to be dishonorable) but if those civilians are going to be killed by the end-result of his mission anyway or he is under orders to do so, there is no sense in trying to pointlessly perserve them.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: A Space Marine is prepared to do this against pursuing Tau forces while the team escapes through a breach in the wall when Moerck lives up to his nickname by insisting to be the one to remain behind. Subverted though when Kage, ever the Combat Pragmatist, slips a timed melta-charge into Moerck's backpack on his way past, collapsing the breach and cutting off the pursuit. When Tanya calls What the Hell, Hero? on Kage for this, he replies that one lone guardsman would not have been able to hold the breach against battlesuits for more than a few seconds anyway.
    Tanya: You're a cold bastard, Kage.
    Kage: I'm not cold. I enjoyed that.