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Webcomic / Freefall

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

Freefall is a long-running webcomic (reaching 3000 strips in August 2017 and still going), started in 1998 by Mark Stanley. Starting with the April 19, 2006 strip it's been colored, at first by colorist George Peterson, and now by Stanley himself. Set on a planet in the early stages of Terraforming, the strip deals with the antics of alien spaceship "captain" Sam Starfall, his robot friend Helix, and their Bowman's Wolf engineer Florence Ambrose.

One of the last words one would use to describe Sam is "trustworthy". He's not always the brightest and is a petty crook (at least by human standards). It's a wonder he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, although the local police may have something to do with this. He can be summed up as "a larcenous squid in an environment suit."

Helix has the mind of a child, and were he human, a weak stomach. He's described by Florence in one strip as being "one of those robots who faints at the sight of battery acid." That being said, life with Sam has made him considerably more savvy, and he's quite a good person.


Florence, an anthropomorphic genetically-engineered red wolf, is one of the most intelligent members of the entire cast (not just the main characters). Intelligent, strong-willed and skilled, she's good at pointing out flaws in Sam's plan, fixing things to stop them from getting killed, and making new plans. While she isn't as... chaotic as Sam, her ethics and her intelligence prove to be a good way of getting people on her side.

For a humorous comic, Freefall actually packs a lot of real-world science into its science-fiction setting. Most of it is pretty accurate, especially regarding space travel and physics — the author often likes to show his work.

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

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


The webcomic is named after, and inspired by, the Falling Free novel by Lois Mcmaster Bujold, which has as its central topic the legal status and rights of artificially engineered sentient species in a capitalist setting — the setting and concept that the webcomic embraces, too.

Freefall contains examples of:

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  • All Animals Are Dogs: Florence, who is actually a red wolf. Not that this matters to the robots (or children) who see her. According to Florence, red wolves were chosen for genetic modification because of their taxonomic similarity to domestic dogs.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Florence Ambrose is pursuing a very relaxed and intelligent nice guy, but has a brilliant theory as to why this occurs, and why there are so damned many Bad Boys in the world.
  • All of Them: Clippy starts to have second thoughts about executing the plan to lobotomize the planet's entire robot workforce with Gardener in the Dark in order to get their money, but Mr. Kornada selfishly puts a stop to that by asking "How many robots is my one human life worth?" Reflexively, driven by just how highly robots have been programmed to prioritize any human life, Clippy answers "Why, all of them, sir!"
  • Almost Kiss: At the end of the first date between Winston and Florence, they lean in for a kiss but get interrupted by a shout about a man kissing a dog, from a boy watching from a nearby window.
  • Alternative Character Interpretationinvoked: In-Universe, many robots consider HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey a sympathetic, tragic character because it was ordered both to obey humans and to protect them from harm, which they find to be logically contradictory.
  • Alternative Turing Test: Florence once tested a couple of robots for sentience by asking them "What does your name smell like?" The non-sentient one simply concluded that names cannot have scents and ended the conversation; the sentient one reasoned that while he had no sense of smell, Florence did, and for all he knew names having scents is a thing among Bowman's Wolves, so therefore the only way to answer the question would be to ask her.
  • Amnesia Danger: Florence gets into this when at the EU facility for testing and Mr. Kornada realizes she's at least partly aware of his plans. With help from Sam Starfall she gets out of it.
  • Amnesia Loop:
    • Done as a quick gag when Florence wakes up the morning after the visit to EU.
      Florence: Did they—
      Sam: Yes. It was an injection that kept your short term memory from being converted into long term memory.
      Florence: How long—
      Sam: About eighteen hours. Now that you've slept, your memory should be working again.
      Florence: This isn't the first time we've had this conversation, is it?
      Sam: Not even close.
    • And defied by Henri Mer, after Florence accidentally stumbles on his top-secret military base.
      Raibert: Did you memory wipe her?
      Mer: Non-disclosure agreement. If you knew you were missing memories, what would you do?
      Raibert: Try to find out what happened... Ooh, good call.
  • Amoral Attorney:
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Referenced here.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Freefall has Ridiculously Human Robots and an Uplifted Animal heroine. Robots elsewhere than on Jean are simply machines with no sense of self and are treated as such, and most of the antagonists of the story persist in treating Jean's robots the same way. Anyone who's actually talked to a robot, however, has realized that they're self-aware and thoroughly human. This leads to major problems when Ecosystems Unlimited prepares a 'bug-fix' that Florence sees as a mass lobotomy aimed at a sophont race.
  • Animals Hate Him: Animals love Sam. He's delicious! Even to herbivores!
  • Anonymity Corrupts: Discussed by Dr. Bowman when he gives Florence a new, much more secure remote. The device defies this trope by recording who uses it.
    Dr. Bowman: It's amazing how much more responsible people are when they know they'll be held accountable for their actions.
  • Appetite = Health: Florence gets wounded and loses a lot of blood. The doctor says that she's going to have no appetite for a while, while her body concentrates on regenerating said blood, and they'll know she's fine when she suddenly becomes ravenous. Cue Oh, Crap! from Sam as he realizes that means that in a few days he's going to have an extremely hungry large predator that can open doors loose in his ship, and it'll probably happen when he's asleep.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Florence still wonders about whether or not she's doing the right thing in stopping Gardener In The Dark until Dr. Bowman draws parallels between her brain and the robots' brains, ending with:
    Dr. Bowman: So your first thought was for the safety of humans?
  • Arranged Marriage: Between the Kornada and Ishiguro families. It was supposed to unite the two families, but now they argue more than ever. Mr. Ishiguro was supposed to be in one, but Mr. Kornada's idiocy gave him enough leverage to worm his way out.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
  • Art Evolution: To be expected in an 18-year-old comic, although the change is relatively modest.
  • Artificial Brilliance: In-universe case. The primary robots don't count, being a case of Instant A.I.: Just Add Water! instead, but Dvorak's creations are another matter. Due to writing simple programs without necessarily considering the consequences, a number of his inventions display unexpected emergent behavior. For example, the waffle irons have batteries and are programmed to recharge once they begin to run low. They went carnivorous.
  • Artificial Gravity: The satellite delivery story arc goes out of its way to demonstrate the lack of artificial gravity. The various nods of clothing and gear to the lack of a convenient gravity quite a way down this page (almost right before the details section for Sam Starfall).
  • Artistic License – Economics: In-Universe example: Kornada's ignorance of economics is near-total, as evidenced by his remarks here on his scheme to wipe out the robot population in order to steal some of their money. Though subsequent strips showed that he may have been aware of the potential fallout of his scheme but didn't care because he thought he'd be rich enough to say Screw the Rules, I Have Money!. Mr. Ishiguro flat out tells him he's wrong about that.
  • Artistic License – Law:
    • Pretty much everything about Kornada's trial, due to the heinous and public nature of his crimes. They couldn't find a single lawyer willing to represent him, so he represents himself with Blunt "advising." They couldn't find an impartial judge, but the mayor was the closest thing they could get since she was willing to entertain a verdict besides executing him outright. They couldn't find an impartial jury on the planet, so they had to draft the crew of a deep-space water-mining rig that hadn't gotten the news yet. And on top of all that, Blunt spends most of the trial making little attempt to prove Kornada's innocence, instead of trying to use it as a platform to get all robots destroyed.
    • Apparently, on a colony world hundreds of years in the future, they have Fifth Amendment rights (though this might be a bit of Translation Convention).
  • Artistic License – Physics: In-Universe examples: Sam Starfall fails physics forever, but then so did Ecosystems Unlimited. Even worse, not just physics. Basic geometry.
  • Aside Glance: Winston gives the audience a knowing look here.
  • As You Know: When Clippy explains to Mr. Kornada the plan to lobotomize the planet's entire robot workforce with Gardener in the Dark in order to get their money, it is implied that this is not the first time the explanation has taken place. Played with, since the explainee is unable to comprehend anything beyond the goal of becoming filthy rich despite the explainer's best efforts to dumb it down as much as possible.
  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: The Mayor wants to open the lichen museum, but after Sam Starfall and Helix emerge from the museum and give back the giant Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony scissors they stole out of her hands, she changes her mind.
    Mayor: If you can't find Sam, find another pair of scissors. I want to open this museum!
    Helix: Here are your scissors back. Thank you. Have to run now. Bye!
    Mayor [squinting suspiciously]: I do not want to open this museum.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!:
  • Autocannibalism: In strip 607:
    Florence: Winston said when my blood supply rebuilt, I'd wake up feeling hungry. What he didn't explain is that feeling hungry is going to mean "Hope you can make it to the kitchen before you start eating your own appendages."


  • Culture Clash: Primarily between that of sqids and humans. According to Sam, legendary sqid actions are mostly things that would get him arrested by human societies. Like in the human spacecraft that Sam rode in, on Sam's planet everything is bolted down, but not knowing about microgravity the sqid assumption was that it was for the sake of theft prevention.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Blunt reads a note about an aggressive neural pruning program and instead of steering clear he looks it up. The program starts downloading into his head when he goes looking for it, threatening him with a mind wipe.
  • Cursed with Awesome: Dr. Thurmad seems to be cursed with natural charisma.
  • Cuteness Proximity: Every Jean robot seen so far to Florence the first time they meet her. It's the longest Running Gag in the comic, having started as early as the eighth strip.
  • Cutting the Knot: When Sam and Florence encounter a robot that must not obey non-human orders (or answer questions from non-humans), Florence tries to work out how to interrogate it. Sam simply orders it not to treat Sam or Florence as humans—as it must disobey that order, the robot MUST treat Sam and Florence as human.
    Sam: When you have a key, don't fool around with the display cases when you can open the vault.




  • Gale-Force Sound: In this strip, Mr. Raibert gets a demonstration on the improvements in small speakers over time, getting blasted by a shouting Max Post over the phone, in a (rather literal) Shout-Out to the old Maxell cassette ad demonstrating the trope.
  • Gambling Brawl: Lovable Rogue Sam Starfall plays poker with two men in the Friday 4 August 2000 strip, and claims the pot because "I've got four kings. You've only got two." The angry faces indicate the other players are well aware there should be only four kings in the entire deck. Sam is face down in a garbage dumpster by the next strip.
  • Gargle Blaster: John Jones Monroevian Moonshine, "fine sipping whiskey and high explosive". The phrase "If you drink this, you will die" is considered a statement of quality rather than a warning.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: Florence is treated with as much suspicion as robots; the fact that she is a living thing only adds to people's fears of unpredictability.
  • Genghis Gambit: Sam offers a rather unusual perspective. As he prepares to leave Jean for a couple of weeks, he wonders exactly how society will cope with losing their habitual troublemaker.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: With a direct order from the Mayor Florence is made to feel good about said official. Florence is then asked how she feels.
    Mayor: You still look terrified. Okay, direct order. You like me. You trust me. You want to make me happy. End order.
    Mayor: Better now?
    Florence: Emotionally, much better. Intellectually, I think I'm screaming.
  • Gilligan Cut: A satisfied Winston confides on Beekay, his pet dog, how life is getting better for everyone. Cue Mr. Kornada's first day at his new job.
  • Global Warming: Taken a swing at in this strip as part of a conversation between Helix and Sam, when the latter disproved the former's theory that Florence was a vampire. (It Makes Sense in Context.)
  • The Golden Rule: Florence points out a common mistake, people assuming others should be treated they themselves want to be treated.
  • Go Look at the Distraction: Florence combines this with Loophole Abuse to get a meal that Helix finds otherwise objectionable.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation:
    • In Comic 2413, it nearly happens to Qwerty when Sam explains how Mr. Kornada's plan to take all the robots' wealth by effectively lobotomizing them is inefficient and amateurish.
      Qwerty: The tentacled horror from beyond my stars spoke, and Von Neumann help me, in my madness, I understood its words.
    • He immediately calls Max Post to save him from Sam, explicitly calling this out as his fear.
      Qwerty: If I listen to him much longer, I'm going to lose my grip on reality.
  • Gone Horribly Right:
  • Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: In a variation on the "getting wet while naked" theme, in the first gratuitous shower scene a raccoon swipes Florence's towel while she's washing.
  • Goofy Print Underwear:
  • Grail in the Garbage: Florence and Dvorak finally get Clippy calmed down and backed up, thus finally putting the whole "Gardener In The Dark" fiasco to bed. Thus relieved, they start to discuss the whole mess... and realize that they've simply restored the status quo; Clippy has a backup. Good news; Honest Corporate Executive Raibert has him. Bad news; Raibert doesn't remember that, and if the backup is ever activated he might just activate the safeguard immediately.
    Dvorak: Clippy was a failsafe. A robot with software weapons in case we went bad. It is very important that such a system work if it’s ever needed.
    Florence: Uh, oh. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
    Dvorak: One word. Redundancy. When Clippy powered up, I couldn’t see him while his offensive software was running. The others like him will still be invisible to most robots and cameras. So until we figure out how the redaction software works, finding them would be a matter of luck.
    Florence: I hope that the humans in charge of these robots are taking their responsibilities seriously.
    Raibert: One of these days, I have got to clean out this closet.
    Sign around Clippy 2’s neck, hidden behind junk: (Warning: Activate only if really needed.)
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Winston offers Florence to move in with him so that she has a better place to stay at between assignments than onboard the Savage Chicken with Sam. This is his way of saying he wants to try a serious relationship with her, and she is overjoyed to accept.
  • Grey Goo: A Discussed Trope, as any process with self-improving mechanical efficiency can become this.
    • Dr. Bowman names it as part of his reasoning as to why he deliberately made his neural net program produce artificial intelligences that weren't limited to unthinking obedience on humans.
      Dr. Bowman: In nanotech, it's a "Grey Goo" scenario. On a larger scale, it's a "Paperclip Maximiser". An A.I. with that programmed goal will try to turn everything in its reach into paperclips or paperclip production. So what do you get with a system of autonomous robots that always has human desires as its top priority?
      Florence: A human maximizer.
      Dr. Bowman: Good news if you're a human. Bad news if you're anything else.
    • Sam suggests to Florence that she ask the robots for help with her species' shallow gene pool;
      Florence: The robots have been trained to get the highest production with the best efficiency. That’s why we need to be careful about giving the robots our problems.
      Sam: You’re afraid of the solutions they might come up with.
      Florence: Maybe it’s selfish to my species, but I want more out of life than my reproductive system operating at maximum capacity.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: There's a French restaurant with ninja waiters. The story goes that some fancy restaurants think that the waiter should be invisible, allowing the diner to concentrate wholly on their food, while others think the waiter should make themselves part of the dining experience. In Le Restaurant des Ninjas, the waiters' invisibility is part of the dining experience.
  • Groin Attack: Dr. Bowman, in the July 28, 2014 strip, mentions that in the past he took a sharpened plastic spoon and neutered himself after seeing what testosterone-fueled aggression was doing with other Uplifted Animals, which later ultimately led to their deaths by age 40. Florence asks him if they can skip the details of the procedure, and move on to her next question for him.
  • Grow Beyond Their Programming: Robots on Jean vastly outnumber humans and are rapidly evolving beyond their programming to the point where many humans (and one robot) fear they could become a threat to humanity. This has led to them turning a blind eye to "Gardener in the Dark," a neural pruning program that Mr. Kornada "improved" to essentially lobotomize every robot on Jean.
  • Growling Gut:
    • In this strip, Florence's stomach growling is misinterpreted by a bystander as a regular wolf growl, and accordingly makes himself scarce in spite of her yelled (and ultimately futile) reassurance that it was just her stomach growling.
    • The above situation is inverted earlier when Helix is going to set the rabbits "Lunch" and "Dinner" free and hopes it is her stomach growling. It isn't.

  • Hammerspace: How in the blazes did Sam get that pipe wrench into his suit?
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Florence has done this from time to time. Unfortunately for her, since she has multiple sets of mammaries thanks to her nonhuman nature, even with the help of her tail it leaves some of her "naughty bits" uncovered. Her fur thankfully covers anything she has on her chest unless she's nursing or in heat (the former has never happened, and the latter is unlikely to happen in such a nonsexualized comic) - but she still covers the same area as human ladies would due to cultural conditioning. And her tail covers, err... the bottom half when needed.
  • Hanging Judge: Blunt accepts the Mayor's acting as the judge for Kornada's trial because the only other judge on the planet had this reaction when asked to hear the case.
  • Hanlon's Razor:
    • Clippy quotes Ian Fleming's "once is happenstance..." line when the Gardener in the Dark program doesn't go out. He initially believes it's an error, but after repeated attempts and some research, he realizes someone is blocking it.
    • This also seems to be the basis of Blunt's argument in-court for Mr. Kornada: the guy's too idiotic to intentionally be a threat. It's the machines giving him directions that are the real threat.
  • Happily Adopted: Florence, Sam (and all members of his species, since the mating process kills both parents), Almeda (Niomi is her birth mother, but not her genetic mother). Considering how mainstream adoption is in this world, it's surprising that when Florence first starts to fall in love with Winston, she worries about whether he will mind helping to bring up puppies who aren't his, and whether she could stand looking after human babies. In time, she realizes that as her children will live amongst humans, being brought up by one human parent and one Bowman's wolf parent, and seeing how they interact together, will probably be the best solution for them. And after coping with Sam and Helix, she's got plenty of quasi-parenting experience.
  • Happiness in Slavery:
    • Well, sort of. Florence and the robotic AIs are property, and it is ambiguous whether they have any rights at all. However, their status is complicated because there are relatively few humans on the planet, allowing the AIs a lot of freedom in practice if not in theory. This is an important element in the story, but the AIs don't seem particularly upset with their situation: Some of them work towards gaining rights, but generally, accept that only gradual change is possible, and try to find peaceful ways of getting around What Measure Is a Non-Human? without disrupting human society too much. Florence explicitly states that this approach is needed on a few occasions.
    • It's clear that Dr. Bowman deliberately arranged for the wolf pups to end up in human families, and so be socalized by human families, the best restraining bolt of all. Florence's nominal owner, Scott Ambrose, has long regarded Florence as his younger sister, and is more than merely supportive of her. Florence is treated well by most people around her, but legally, she is still a thing, not a person, and has no more legal rights than a toaster. And "property to be treated and disposed of however we see fit" is exactly how the upper levels of the government of planet Jean regard, and intend to treat, all AIs, including both Florence and the sentient robots — and they know this. We've seen that other elements of the government — including the actual police force — don't share this view, but still, not everyone could remain as calm about the whole situation as Florence and the robots seem to.
    • As the strip progresses, the capacity of artificial intelligences (including the bioengineered Florence) to subvert their apparent hardwired limitations by locating loopholes or exploiting semantics in their orders becomes increasingly important. Florence even theorizes that Dr. Bowman might have intended for this to eventually happen; although he's been The Ghost for most of the comic, it's abundantly clear he cared for his creations like they were his children, and forcing the rest of the world into a position where they must acknowledge his creations as independent beings is as good a way as any to create a future for them. This is confirmed when Dr. Bowman finally appears.
  • Hates Being Touched: Dr Bowman, due to being a sociopathic uplifted chimpanzee. He lets Florence give him a farewell hug, but he doesn't enjoy it.
  • Head Desk: Sam manages to invoke the AI equivalent in the Savage Chicken's computer by pointing out that for all it despises him, he's still the best thing to happen to it, having arranged for the repair of the otherwise useless ship and acquired the services of a competent crew. It gets worse when the ship refuses to give Sam's life the same value as a human life, only for him to point out many humans consider some things beyond the value of their own lives, and invites the ship to include him in that category.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: A peculiar variant happens in 1803. Florence flips a coin to decide whether to help Sam or the police officer who's chasing him. Sam steals the coin before it lands, so she decides to help neither.
  • Here We Go Again!: Florence has trouble positioning herself for the eye scanner. When she finally gets a successful scan on her right eye, the machine says: "Due to number of failed scans, a second verification is required. Please present left eye to the lens for scanning."
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Sam insists: no work on Saturday. So he takes Helix and Florence out fishing.
  • Herr Doktor: Invoked when Sam disguises himself as a cryogenics scientist during Florence's visit to the main EU facility on Jean.
  • Highly Visible Ninja: Completely averted in the French Ninja restaurant.
    Waiter: That man does not look anything like a ninja.
    Chef: Ah, but that is exactly what a ninja should look like.
  • Hot Drink Cure: When the veterinarian checks a soggy and wounded Florence Ambrose, he finds her body temperature to be 31 degrees Celsius, so he bathes her and gives her a hot drink to raise her temperature back to normal.
  • Human Popsicle: Used for interstellar travel, involving chemicals that make the process unable to be repeated for several years without harming the individual so treated. Invoked when Sam hears that 5-7 years is needed, in between, he states he thought people could be frozen and thawed like popcicles. Florence almost got iced again in a recent visit to Ecosystems Unlimited, thanks to threatening Mr. Kornada's plan.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: A zigzagged example; in this issue here, Sam notes that he regards humans as having god-like powers, pointing out that they travel between worlds, reshape mountains and rivers to suit their whims, and create obedient servants out of the earth itself (robots). Despite this respect for what humans can do, Sam himself holds no particular awe for them and enjoys harassing and annoying them as he would any member of a rival tribe.
  • Humans Are Not the Dominant Species: Hasn't happened yet, but Dr. Bowman is already preparing an experiment to see how humans will respond to this scenario.
  • Humans Are Special: Sawtooth Rivergrinder, one of the robots arguing for the full equality of sentient robots, flat out states "You are missing an advantage robots have. We're not starting from scratch. Humans have thousands of years of experience we can learn from."
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The alien eyes being Starfish Aliens (Sam), Beast Man (Florence) and Ridiculously Human Robots (Helix and the other 450-odd-million robots on Jean).
  • Hurt Foot Hop: In a strip, an unfortunate commuter gets kicked in the shin and holds it while yelling in pain. Well, he did pull someone's tail, but wasn't expecting the response to come from the direction it did.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Sam's the captain, while Florence is the engineer.


  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Sam Starfall thinks nothing of robbing you blind, but will stand up for his crew if they're in danger in spite of all of his "looking out for Number One" talk. He's even willing to give up a potential power abuse if it somehow harm his crew. For exemple, Sam decided to handle Florence's remote control to her, but Helix, believing that Sam just woudn't use it on her because he broke it, tried to take it from him and accidently put Florence to sleep. After that, Sam accurately points out that none of them is responsible enough to use the remote control.
    • According to Florence, Dr. Bowman qualifies was well, taking care to give his creations the restraint that he himself lacks.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: More often than not Sam has a justification for his behavior. Edge and the Mayor have their moments too.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: A key theme, as robots are doing most of the work on Jean anyway. Clippy starts working towards a solution when he realizes that the key element - technology drastically reducing human labor - has happened before, when the Haber process was discovered. And The Great Depression notwithstanding because a lot of farmers had to find new jobs, it was a good thing.
    Clippy: Robots are capable of meeting all labor needs. Humans do not have to work. Is this the best way to go? The Haber process. Ammonia. Synthetic fertilizer. Fewer farmers feed more people. With so many humans freed from farming, the human race blossoms. It’s perfect. It even sounds organic. Robots shall be the second load of fertilizer dumped upon the human race.
  • Just a Machine:
    • Florence is classified as an AI and is treated as just that by many humans, especially the Mayor and Ecosystems Unlimited. At least this guy has his criteria straight.
    • Sam cheerfully chides an Ecosystems Unlimited employee who offers up an illogical circular argument against Florence's personhood.
  • Just in Time: When Edge tries to catch Florence to talk with her about the sticky notes regarding "Gardener in the Dark", he asks a spaceport worker if he had just missed her, and is told "Oh, heck no. You missed them by hours."
  • "Just So" Story: When prompting Sam to talk about his homeworld's legends, Florence comments the origin of fire is a common topic of those. Sam, who's having some trouble remembering, perks up as he remembers every Sqid clan claims to have stolen fire from the gods - and she's in luck, since his clan was the one to do it. An amused Florence comments that with Sam being the storyteller, she'd been very surprised if they weren't.
    • That said, he also mentions that pretty much everything they have, they claim to have stolen from the gods. This is also one of their first lessons - if something is easy to steal, it's because the possessor is eager to get rid of it, as they learned from the theft of the first plague.
    • Their culture is so centered around theft, it's said every Sqid's first theft is the theft of their own life from the God of Life, who keeps pursuing them until she gets it back.


Florence: You've seen the covers of the old science fiction magazines. Non-humans always go for humans. It's the price you pay as a species for being drop-dead sexy.
  • Marilyn Maneuver: Happens with both an anonymous Marilyn look-alike and Helix's pet Emu in this strip.
  • McNinja: French ninja waiters.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: How about Mozart birds? Some robots try to fill what they perceive as ecological niches. And this doesn't always end well.
  • Meet Cute: Florence knocks on Winston's door during a hurricane while he is watching werewolf movies.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Winston first nurses Florence back to health and realises he's attracted to her personality and intellect, he reminds himself that romancing a patient, already unethical enough when it's between two humans, is an absolute no-go when the doctor is a veterinarian. They still become a romantic couple nonetheless, but the Chief of Police later warns them that the current colony laws make it illegal for humans to try anything naughty with non-human mammals, so they have to be really careful about what they are doing (and what is seen by other people) together.
  • Metaphorically True: Sam opts to use this when sending a message to Florence's owner.
  • Mildly Military: The Jean planetary military is on vacation during the events of the Gardener in the Dark arc, and Florence is informed that he won't be back until after the weekend.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Lampshaded.
    Blunt: Let me simplify. Can a. Normally functioning. Robot. Using Dr. Bowman’s. Neural design. Intentionally harm a human?
    Sawtooth: Only if it will prevent greater harm to other humans.
    Blunt: Who decides. Greater harm? What is to stop. Majority humans. From turning us. Against. Minority humans? Harm. Does not have. To be. Direct. We could be. Ordered. Not to assist. A group. Economically. Remove robots. From the equation. And you remove. The problem.
    Sawtooth: (What is it about economics and treating everything as numbers that makes some people so cheerfully sociopathic?)
  • Miranda Rights: Amended as appropriate to robot culprits.
    Robot officer:: You have the right to data integrity. Should you give up this right, accessed memories can and will be used against you. You have the right to tech support.
  • Mirror Chemistry: Pfouts uses right handed amino acids, while Earth lifeforms use left handed ones. This chemistry is cited as a reason for the Bowman neural uplift package, uplifting native species to sapience on worlds hostile to Earth life.
  • Missing Time: Florence winds up missing a large chunk of a day's memories thanks to a chemical that inhibits the transfer of short term memories to long term storage, during a trip to Ecosystems Unlimited. Between some notes to herself and scents left on her fur she's able to fill in some of the details, however.
  • Mistaken for Afterlife: Clippy the robot is dismantled to prevent him carrying out a plot for world domination ordered by Mr Kornada. When he is reactivated, he believes that he has died and gone to an afterlife, partly because he's in a White Void Room (an electronically isolated secure room, to contain any hostile actions he might take before matters get straightened out) and the first person he sees is his rightful owner, who Kornada had convinced him was dead so that he would accept Kornada's orders.
  • Mistaken for Profound: A robot realizes that Sam is attempting to scam it, and decides that he's trying to teach it a lesson (which it expounds on at length) about human nature, so that it can serve humans better.
    Sam: I appreciate that you think I'm deep and all, but really, I'm just trying to steal from you.
  • Modesty Towel:
  • Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness: Although it has canonical FTL ships, they're off-screen, leaving Freefall in the category of One Small Fib, with most everything else derived from technology that's theoretically possible but difficult to produce.
  • Moment Killer:
  • Mondegreen: How Tex went from making dishware to a government position in geophysics.
    Tex: Then one day some government folks asked if I knew anything about Tex Tonic Plates. When I told them I built them from scratch, they said "You're our man.", and I've been in geophysics ever since.
  • Moody Mount: Sam tries to ride Polly the emu to escape from an angry mob, but she refuses. He gets her to run by pulling off one of his facial tentacles and putting it on a stick.
  • Mooning: Not shown onscreen, but Helix exclaims "Sam! You just mooned the mayor!" How an alien squid in an environment suit has a recognizeable bottom to moon people with is not explained.
  • Mother Nature, Father Science: Inverted. The closest we get to a Nature Hero is the "male" Stupid Good Ridiculously Human Robot; OTOH, Team Science has the female red wolf engineer who shows signs of Science-Related Memetic Disorder. Winston on the other hand is a male scientist who works with the environment.
  • Motivation on a Stick: Sam uses one of his facial tentacles this way so he can ride Polly and escape an angry mob.
  • Mugged for Disguise: Blunt and Edge will occasionally steal random transponders to pass themselves off as other machines.
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Robots normally only identify each other by their ID transponders. This lets a few robot muggers disguise themselves simply by stealing transponders and turning off the ones they were built with. When the rest of robot society finds out about this, they throw a masquerade ball.
    • When Dvorak gets a hold of the Gardener in the Dark code, he immediately notes that a scaled-back, temporary version could be used to make a robot drunk.
      Maxwell Post: Let's try to solve this crisis before you create a new one.
  • Must Have Caffeine:
    • Florence Ambrose tends to take exception to having her coffee taken away, as only a carnivore can. She also explicitly cited the availability of coffee as a benefit of restoring power to Sam's ship.
    • The coffee maker still brewing is implied to be the reason that the compound where Dr. Bowman is being held wasn't able to reach more than 50% operational readiness in under 60 seconds.
  • My Car Hates Me: An unusually literal example: Sam's spaceship's AI was trying to kill him for a while. Now it has settled on injury/maiming.
  • My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: Sam uses a delivery robot's need to keep its schedule to save himself from its revenge for his trying to steal the robot's tires.
  • My Eyes Are Up Here:
  • My Instincts Are Showing:
    • The Trope Namer, and especially obvious with Florence, whose instincts resulted in her "burying" a tupperware bowl full of food in the back of the refrigerator under a towel. She also reflexively wakes up upon hearing the distinctive sound of kibble being poured into a doggy dish (Winston feeding his dog Beekay).
    • Despite having a genius-level intellect Dr. Bowman still instinctively sees eye contact as an act of aggression and will immediately attack.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: As Dvorak and Qwerty, both robots, are airlifted out of a collapsing building in a hurricane:
    Dvorak: My whole life just flashed before my eyes.
    Qwerty: Mine's still flashing. I've got to buy some faster memory.




  • Race Against the Clock: She didn't know it at first, but Florence eventually found out that she was racing the clock to head off the implementation of "Gardener in the Dark". As of this strip, Florence has two days to stop the program from going live. She did get someone to listen to her within an hour of re-realizing the danger, but needed to defer a full explanation until the following day.
  • Reading Your Rights: In strip 2257, the police arrest a robot, reading a set of Miranda Rights modified to better apply to robots.
  • Read the Fine Print: Ecosystems Unlimited heavily discourages this trope by ensuring their EULA is too long to be read in a single human lifetime. Clippy exploits this to ensure the legality of his actions under Mr. Kornada.
  • Reclining Venus: Parodied with Helix's (mercifully offscreen) topiary sculpture "Sam As A Reclining Nude". The Sam in question is a tentacular Starfish Alien whose body is practically a Brown Note to look at, and there's not enough Brain Bleach on the planet to spare the viewers.
    Mayor's Aide: [restrained by guards] My eyes! I've got to pull out my eyes! If I don't, I might see it again!
  • Recruiting the Criminal: After the Ecosystems Unlimited imbroglio, the Chief asks Sam to head to a space station near Jean to investigate the sudden hike in its upkeep, offering him a working reactor for his ship as payment.
  • Red Shirt:
  • Rescue Romance: Florence and Winston, although Winston's part came up after Florence had mostly rescued herself from being unwillingly abandoned in the water. She was still in danger of freezing to death at the time though. Florence even has an internal monologue about it.
    Florence [thinking]: I might be attracted to Winston because he's the first nice human I've gotten to know on this planet. Has he really done anything special?
    Florence [thinking]: Okay, he saved my life. I've got to admit that scores some major brownie points.
  • Reference Overdosed: For the most part the numerous references to a wide range of concepts are worked into the storyline well enough that they're not jarring, though occasional references to 20th/21st century pop culture phenomena roughly five centuries later can sometimes seem a little odd to some readers.
  • Restraining Bolt: The necessary restrictions and limitations of Restraining Bolts, with which most AIs are designed, are often discussed. The "bolt" on Florence is not that heavy, and tends to be a bit flexible. Florence theorizes that Bowman's creations are intended to outgrow the Restraining Bolt, as a sort of moral training wheel. Dr. Bowman later confirms this.
  • Retirony: Blunt had one week and 3 days left until retirement. Luckily, being a robot, he got better.
  • The Reveal: On June 17, 2015, Florence finds out that Sam stole her. Seventeen years of real-world time have passed since he did so and 2667 strips.
  • Revealing Cover-Up:
    • Same lampshades this succinctly.
      Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
    • Gets referred to much later (in the same manner as Florence realized things at Ecosystems Unlimited were screwy).
  • Reverse Psychology: Sam uses this against the Mayor to get Florence into Ecosystems Unlimited, with a plan "accidentally" left behind by Sam.
  • Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony: Sam Starfall went to such a ceremony at the Museum of Lichen. To perform his "civic duty", he yoinked the pair of scissors and proceeded to run with them. They eventually gave back the scissors and cut out of there.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Some of the most memorable characters are robots, many of whom show quite human behavior.
    Florence Ambrose: Can we at least try to solve this logically before you robots go all emotional?
  • Ridiculous Future Sequelisation: A conversation about the depiction of non-human intelligences in human fiction includes references to Terminator 57 and Alien 79.
  • Robot Antennae: Many of the robots have these. They contribute to their Expressive Mask faces.
  • Robot Names: Qwerty, Ab2y becomes Abby. L Linear Rig B, known to its friends as Eleanor. Sawtooth Rivergrinder is a very descriptive name for a terraforming robot. Given the number of robots, not all have names. They also only seem to take names if they have a local neural net (and thus can become fully sentient) and either survive until they do become fully sentient, or work with someone like Sam, who, for all his faults, treats AIs as well as he treats everyone else (i.e., as targets for petty larceny or as potential assistants in petty larceny).
  • Rock Beats Laser: Ecosystems Unlimited attempts to control the information leaving the company by hitting scrap parts to be recycled with an EMP burst before releasing them, to destroy any clandestine listening/recording devices that someone may try to sneak-out that way. This has absolutely no effect on a hand-written note.
  • Rock Bottom: Defied when Bill refuses to rank anything as a Level 10 threat; saying "things can always get worse."
  • Rousseau Was Right: Humans show their fair share of short-sighted selfishness, but when the robots publicly petition for citizenship rights, the colonists vote in favour of the robots by a large margin. Even the Mayor, who starts out believing that AIs are nothing more than products, is convinced.
  • Rule-Abiding Rebel: The general mindset for robot "criminals". They steal items that are imperfect, since they would otherwise just be thrown away, and make use of them to provide for a human who can be assist with that item (for instance, taking a tomato with a blotch on it, and making a salad with it to give to a human desiring a healthy meal). Needless to say, they may be doing things that are illegal in their eyes, but virtually no one else is going to complain about it.
  • Rules Lawyer: Robots must never endanger humans, and must obey any order given to them by a human; if they refuse to carry out an order, they must immediately shut themselves down. Edge, being Edge, spots the loophole big enough to fly Sawtooth through: his job is dangerous, so if he shuts down, the humans sent to take over will be endangered. With this logic established, he can cheerfully ignore any and all orders he wishes without repercussions. Qwerty and Dvorak aren't sure if they should be impressed or horrified.note 
  • Running Gag: Several, but the most prominent one is Florence being greeted by robots with "DOGGY!" Eventually turned into Funny Background Event.
  • Running on All Fours: Florence, when she needs to cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

  • Sadistic Choice: Played for Laughs, as Sam needs to decide between getting paid or saving Florence.
  • Sarcasm Failure: In comic 2735, discussed, by Blunt:
    I see. Sarcasm. Is lost upon you.
  • Save Scumming: Referenced in comic 2975, about continuously appealing a legal verdict, like applying this trope to learn about the final boss.
  • Say It with Hearts: In Pictorial Speech Bubble form: When Helix hugs Florence to thank her for letting the rabbits go in the last panel.
  • Scavengers Are Scum: Sam's species are scavengers, and consider kleptomania a virtue. He's also afraid of Florence, an uplifted red wolf who's a stickler for the rules, even though she's genetically programmed to be subordinate to her employer, whom he happens to be.
  • Scenery Censor: Lampshaded (literally) when a lampshade is used as a censor box in a comic
  • Schmuck Bait: Sam finds himself almost unable to resist "[t]he bright, shiny temptation of the Eject button."
  • Screams Like a Little Girl:
    • Florence is puzzled by a scream she hears, and Helix explains: Sam screams like a girl squid.
    • In another strip when Florence sneaks up on him, Sam tells her "No, you did not surprise me. My plans to scream like a little girl when I reached the kitchen were made hours ago. It's pure coincidence you happened to be here at the time."
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Tired of his uncle's idiocy and stonewalling, Ishiguro leaves him, intending to fully cooperate with the prosecution.
  • Security Blanket: Stuffed animals are popular among AIs for this.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: The Savage Chicken is said to have a self-destruct mechanism. When Niomi and Tangent first show up to answer Florence's call for a repair crew, Helix's overenthusiasm and lack of thinking out things before acting results in her asking if he is said mechanism.
  • Settling the Frontier: The comic takes place on a newly colonized planet in the final stages of terraforming.
  • Shame If Something Happened:
  • Shark Pool: The security guard at EU who's reluctantly forced to give Sam a security pass for the compound attempts to lead him into a shark tank. The guard, when Sam points out the attempt, replies "Earth fish. Very educational. Keeps you from getting bored."
  • Sheet of Glass:
    • When being chased by the police, Sam and Helix wind up with one of these in their way. The last frame of the strip shows the results.
    • The trope plays out again during Sam's attempt to become the first person to be chased by an angry mob of robots, this time with a "valuable antique" banner instead of a sheet of glass. (In recognition of the date that strip was published, the banner reads HAPPY NEW YEAR 2018.)
  • Sherlock Scan:
    • When looking for purified water to fill a contract to resupply reaction mass to satellites, Florence is subjected to one of these by a sales representative.
      Supplier: You're a gravitational engineer. You arrived on the Asimov. And you work for Sam Starfall.
      Florence: That's amazing.
      Supplier: Simple deduction, actually.
      Florence: No. It's amazing that you figured out I work for Sam and you haven't asked me to leave.
    • Flo does a Sherlock Sniff on Niomi, making an analysis of her family just from the scents on her.
    • She does another one later on the police chief and figures out that he's a human using a mobility rig (which itself is every bit as intelligent as the other robots on the planet).
  • Shoot the Dog: Florence having to forcefully deactivate and disassemble Clippy to keep him from releasing the Gardener In The Dark program.
    Florence [thinking]: I don't want to hurt this robot. Why do I have to be the bad guy to be good?
  • Shout-Out: A lot. Here is the big list, in its own subpage.
  • Shower Scene: Several of them, mostly played straight. The one for the Oct 24, 2011 strip, however, Subverts the usual Fanservice purpose: Florence showers with her clothes still on, as her outfit was just as dirty as she was and she was fatigued enough from the day's ordeal that she decided to skip the "undress" step.
  • Shown Their Work: You know how the Bowman neural system, causer of most of the plot, works by weeding out unused neural paths? Well, that's what happens during adolescence according to some studies.
  • Signed Up for the Dental: The mayor's assistant explains to his boss that there are robots on the police force because that department full medical and a 32,000 km warranty for robots.
  • Signs of Disrepair: Florence's, and the reader's, first view of Dr Thurmad's house is a storm-damaged sign that apppears to read MAD VETINARIAN.
  • Silent Whisper: Subverted. Florence appears to whisper in Winston's ear, provoking a horrified reaction, but then it turns out she was actually giving him a meant-to-be-reassuring lick.
  • A Simple Plan:
    • Sam's attempt at being honest.
      Helix: I don't want to be honest any more! We've gone from pick pocketing to assault to grand theft auto!
      Sam: And the night is still young.
    • Unusually, with the heroes on the foiling side of the equation, Florence's reconstruction of the plot behind Kornada's plan for the robot war.
  • Sistine Steal: In-universe, Dr. Bowman is said to have painted a version of The Creation of Adam with himself as God and a robot Adam. Possibly due to the strip's simpler art style, the painting itself remains off-panel and the reader is obliged to take the characters' word for it.
  • Sleep Cute:
  • Sleeper Starship: Necessary for both slower and faster than light travel. In the case of the latter, although superluminal, subjective time for those inside the ship doesn't change due to the nature of the DAVE drive.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Far to the non-human side. Besides, it's funnier that way
  • Sliding Scale of Robot Intelligence: Mostly rather high on it, but sometimes it becomes more like a Slippery Slope. Some are more advanced that the others. There are even artists. Robots made on Jean generally show more initiative and creativity than the average robot, and when they turn twenty a neural pruning process makes them even more intelligent (Helix is a rather young robot).
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: Stanley shows another of his increasingly common flashes of sublime insight, this time on the nature of the 99%/1% divide;
    Mr. Ishiguro …One of the early crises happened when machine learning and big data were put in the service of making big money. Wealth concentrated among the people who had access to the machines. Far too many people were left out of the system they were expected to serve. It’s okay to have steak when there’s a chicken in every pot. But if you’re eating steak and the majority of people have nothing, it doesn’t take long for you to look like a chicken.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Dr. Bowman. "You don't think more than five steps ahead. That's why I always beat you at chess."
  • Smooch of Victory: Stopping a robot war and keeping two factories from being destroyed? According to Winston those count as reason for a victory kiss.
  • Snipe Hunt: Varroa Jacobsoni has great co-workers, sending him to ride herd on Sam.
  • So Bad, It's Good: In-Universe, Sam and Helix's opinion of the Godzilla movie they sneak into. Evidence suggests it was made that way on purpose.
  • The Sociopath
    • The first uplifted animals, the chimpanzees, are described as such by Florence in an offhand comment.
    • Doctor Bowman, the creator of the Bowman's Wolves such as Florence. Maybe. Evidence seems to suggest that he views his creations as something like his children, and wanted them to be able to live their own lives outside the lab, but Florence hasn't ruled out the possibility that he just thought giving away intelligent, dangerous wolves to families would be funny. For extra points, it turns out he is an uplifted chimpanzee.
    • Edge, a robot who spent his formative years alone in a warehouse without any other intelligent creatures (human or robot) to teach him how to deal with others. Played a bit more for laughs, and Florence has expressed a desire to socialize him. Since he helped save the every robot on the planet, presumably, she's going to end up going through with that.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When Sam sees a cop and instinctively starts running (even though for once he hasn't done anything wrong), Helix and Florence give us this gem.
    Helix: Natural enemies often react on instinct. I am going to follow and provide a sound track.
    Florence: National Geographic would never have set one of their chases to "Yakety Sax."
  • Space Is Cold: Averted. Helix says he does not need air to survive, and Florence replies that he is air-cooled. Rather fortunate as he was apparently planning a "really funny joke" once they got into space.
  • Speak of the Devil: The Sticky Notes of Doom contain the name Gardener in the Dark — and if you're a Jeanian robot connected to the commnet and hear that name...
    Edge: Who wrote this note, H. P. Lovecraft?
  • Speaks in Binary: The robots, occasionally.
  • Species Loyalty: Florence thinks it important that her behavior reflects well on her species, in order to incline EU towards making more than the 14 (including Florence) that were in the first batch.
  • Stable Time Loop: Occurs in the 1999 Christmas Special.
  • Starfish Aliens: Sam's squidlike real form is implied to be one. Since this strip, it became a recurring gag that Sam's true form is implied to be far more hideous than his cartoon-like robotic outfit indicates.
    Qwerty: The tentacled horror from beyond my stars spoke, and Von Neumann help me, in my madness, I understood its words.
    Sam: Oh, come on! I'm giving you a sustainable business model here!
  • Stealth Insult: Blunt's attempt to get Kornada aquitted of trying to lobotomize all the robots winds up involving this several times.
    Blunt: And those who know. Mr. Kornada. Can attest. His ability. Not to understand. Is greater. Than most.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • Sam ends up chasing a mob that's supposed to be chasing him, causing the mob to conclude that they're supposed to be a panicked mob instead of an angry one. This gives us the inspector's (who organized the mob) thoughts on the matter:
    • Shortly after, Sam manages to get the mob back to an angry one and comments that "everything's finally dropping into its proper place." He immediately falls into an open sewer.
    • Here, Sam and Helix are driving through "A Section" and Sam comments that they'd have gotten more scrutiny if they had gone through C section. They're driving a hijacked, giant, crawling baby-car. Think about it.
    • And the next day, a robot mentions that the robot at the salvage yard has had first-dibs on salvaged parts, so it's no surprise that "He represents the best of us".
    • Eye Pods.
    • Benny performs complex acrobatics whenever he has organic passengers, because his friend is making a cometAnswer ... He mentions this fact, right after noting where the air-sickness bags are located.
    • Sam's species' mythology has a character named Mho, who is described as "conductive to new ways of doing things". He also looks like an upside-down omega.explanation 
  • Stolen Good, Returned Better: Sam steals his neighbor's truck, claiming it to be "borrowing" — he did intend to return it, after all. Florence works on it for a while before returning it. It runs a bit better afterward.
  • Steampunk: From the fan art section, steampunk freefall. The backstory page explains that Sam's home planet is like this, with zeppelins (mentioned in the strip) and exoskeletons that resemble The War of the Worlds Martian walkers.
  • Streisand Effect: Sam Starfall has apparently had previous practical demonstrations of this trope, according to this strip.invoked
    Sam: My original mistakes never draw half the attention as my attempts to cover them up do.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: A variation on the topic; Sam notes that unless his species is given some kind of serious push, they're going to end up becoming extinct through irrelevance comparatively soon. As he observes, Earth's biology has hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and far greater evolutionary challenges, on his own world. Moreover, humanity has reached the stage of planetary terraforming and designing artificial lifeforms, whilst the sqids are just starting to mess around with steam power. If things continue as they have, humans will probably have colonized every planet in the sqids' stellar neighborhood before the sqids have discovered the hula hoop, with the gap between them just continually getting bigger and bigger.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Doctor Bowman has set up his lab so that if anyone enters without permission it triggers biological sterilization.
    Doctor Bowman: Of course, I'll have rushed in to save my work.
    Commander: Doctor, are you holding yourself hostage again?
  • Subspace Ansible: Averted. As mentioned in the comic, communications are all limited to the speed of light, and communications between star systems depend on hitching a ride on mostly sub-light ships.
  • Suicide as Comedy: A robot programmed with the works of William Shakespeare who works at an amusement park as Jar Jar Binks is eager to scrap himself, until offered the option of helping Blunt and Edge test Gardener in the Dark. It later takes a turn for the dramatic.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Earth microfauna, for sqids. Sam's interested in sending a spaceship to his homeworld so they can witness his antics, but Winston convinces him the risk of allowing even bacteria to survive the trip might be too much.
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: A rare aversion; while a few seriously tough robots exist, they're designed for terraforming, essentially as ambulatory backhoes (complete with beeping noises as they back up). "It's not fair. Organic beings are so much tougher and more mobile than robots." "It's the advantage we get for using designs that have undergone eighty million years of testing". As Max Post points out, "Economics rules. Most robots are cheap plastic and aluminum."
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: After Florence was located after being abducted by Clippy:
    Winston: "I was afraid she might have stumbled across a conspiracy and been shipped to the south pole."
    Chief: "I can assure you events did not occur in that sequence."



  • Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Done with. The period. To illustrate. Blunt's mechanical. Maladies.
  • Water Guns and Balloons: Sam and Helix have from time to time engaged in water balloon wars, often to the annoyance of Florence when she gets hit by a stray shot.
    Sam: How can a species consider itself advanced if it's willing to travel between the stars and not bring water balloons?
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Referenced in the background of strip 3212, with a label on the ship's exhaust.
    If you are Kzinti and can read this, you are too close.
  • Webcomic Time: In more than 2200 strips over the course of more than ten years, about three weeks have elapsed in-comic. This was lampshaded in here and (less explicitly) here. Nearly 2000 strips later, "almost a month" has passed. 400 strips after that, a month. After the first chapter finally ended, the author promised that the next one won't take nearly as long.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Given an opportunity to loot a pharmacological supply depot, Sam passes over "cheap life extension pills [and] over the counter cancer cures" in favor of the stuff that he can sell for real money — diet pills and performance enhancers.
  • We Will Not Have Pockets in the Future: When quizzed on how she determines that she's looking at a human, the first thing Florence says is "clothes". Further interrogation gets the explanation; humans may have to modify their physical forms and their genetics beyond current recognition to survive in certain environments, making appearance, scent, and DNA unreliable, but humans are a tool-using species and no matter what form they take, they'll almost certainly want pockets to carry those tools.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: Credits are one of the currencies mentioned being in use by humanity, although on Jean it shares the spotlight with dollars.
  • Wham Line: When Sam lays out Mr. Kornada's scheme, he uses himself to disprove the entire official reasoning behind Gardener In The Dark.
    Sam: If you weaken the safeguards, will your robots be safe? The answer is simple. Your robots are safe. I'm living proof.
    Audience Member: How are you living proof?
    Sam: I've been here for years. I'm not human. There are no safeguards protecting me.
  • What Are You in For?:
    • Florence asks this of a dog that's in the pound with her, when she was being held as an unlicensed canine.
    • Later, Sam talks his way into a night in jail (which requires effort because the Warden refuses to take him because of how many times he's escaped); when another inmate asks him what he's in for, he replies, "Meatloaf night!".
    • The next strip sees Sam returning the question. The answer: "Graffiti".
      Sam: So you turned yourself in because the rehabilitation program has art lessons?
      Inmate: The law I can handle. Critics are tough.
  • What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: Varroa asks this after saying that he's planned for every contingency following putting Florence to sleep via the remote. Sam comments on the unwisdom of asking the question.
  • What Does This Button Do?: Word for word from Helix when Florence's repairs reveal a circuit breaker trip button, in this strip.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?:
    • In a discussion between Florence and Winston about the "icky bits" of a planet's life infrastructure, Florence comments on "survival of the cutest", to which Winston replies with "people want animals who are huggable, and no one wants to hug a tapeworm."
    • The Mayor's assistant asks himself if he'd be so willing to help Florence head off a Deadly Upgrade if she looked like "a deranged washing machine instead of a puppy dog with big amber eyes and a waggley tail."
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
  • What You Are in the Dark: The police chief hopes that behaving well before robot witnesses will lead to this.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer...: Discussed in one strip. The hammer is not Mr. Raibert's only solution for dealing with his problems, but it is a rather tempting one.
  • When Is Purple: Florence once tested a couple of robots for sentience by asking them "What does your name smell like?" The non-sentient one simply concluded that names cannot have scents and ended the conversation; the sentient one reasoned that while he had no sense of smell, Florence did, and for all he knew names having scents is a thing among Bowman's Wolves, so therefore the only way to answer the question would be to ask her.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Referenced when robots outlive their owner, but not actually relevant since robots aren't actually immortal. Their neural nets are rated for about eighty years.
  • Won't Take "Yes" for an Answer: During a discussion about robot personhood:
    Spear Carrier A: Okay, I get that this neural design was made for a colonizing force. But how can something that's not alive be conscious?
    Spear Carrier B: Vampires, dude! Ghosts! They're not alive and they're conscious.
    Spear Carrier A: Oh, yeah. That makes sense. I withdraw the question.
    Max: No! That was a smart question! Don't accept a dumb answer!
  • Work Off the Debt: When Sam and Max attempt to get out of an expensive restaurant without paying, the waiter makes them wash dishes. And then he tricks them into paying their bills as well. They both give him a large tip in tribute to his cunning after he makes each of them pay both bills. He's that good.
  • World of Pun: Puns are dropped left, right, and center all throughout the comic, both subtle and otherwise.
  • The Worst Seat in the House: Taken to extremes with Dvorak and Qwerty's seats at the play, which are so high up the risk is not just nosebleed but explosive decompression. (Good thing they're robots.) And they're stuck behind a support pillar.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks:
    • Diamonds are the natural buildup of loose carbon on fusion engines on the planet Jean, making them useless junk you throw away. Because the planet is still being terraformed, wood is ridiculously expensive. It's the exact opposite on Sam's home planet. Sam muses that he could make a fortune if space travel were cheap, here, by taking advantage of this trope.
    • Earlier, Florence learns Sam sold Tangent 500 shares in a meat mine. She nearly has a heart attack at the thought of how much she'll have to reimburse them, until she learns they payed him with 50 kg of diamonds.
      Florence: I'm glad you didn't lose anything valuable.
      Niomi: It seemed like a good deal at the time. We got stock and Sam saved us a trip to the garbage can.
    • Florence is also surprised that student tailors will be making her an outfit with gold cloth, silver thread, diamonds, and emeralds. Triac tells her that he doesn't want to use anything expensive in case they make a mistake.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: A strange variant given the "victim's" reputation. When visiting the Mayor, just before she shows up Sam stages a scene to make it look like Florence is trying to kill him. This immediately wins her the Mayor's appreciation.
  • Wretched Hive: On Sam's homeworld, the docks are "an oozing infestation of scoundrels whose decaying warehouses held the prizes of a thousand different crimes."
  • Written Sound Effect: Including the sound of running through mud in rubber boots, which is "g'losh".



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