Freefall is a long-running webcomic (over 3600 strips as of August 2021) by Mark Stanley. It's also a straight-up Long Runner, having passed the decade mark in 2008. Starting with the April 19, 2006 strip it's been colored mostly by colorist George Peterson. Set on a planet in the early stages of terraforming, the strip deals with the antics of alien spaceship "captain" Sam Starfall, his robot friend Helix, and their Bowman's Wolf engineer Florence Ambrose.
One of the last words one would use to describe Sam is "trustworthy". He's not always the brightest and is a petty crook (at least by human standards). It's a wonder he hasn't gotten himself killed yet, although the local police may have something to do with this. He can be summed up as "a larcenous squid in an environment suit."
Helix has the mind of a child, and were he human, a weak stomach. He's described by Florence in one strip as being "one of those robots who faints at the sight of battery acid."
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.
Sam: Any time spacefaring aliens make it to Earth, the cows get them!
- Achievements in Ignorance: "My stories are much more convincing when I have no idea of what's impossible."
- Air Vent Passageway: Subverted.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Even when the details of an artificial mind are carefully planned, there are always unexpected results. Or obviously necessary feature requests. Overdue, actually.
- Loophole Abuse: All the time.
- Alien Abduction: Sort of. But not with cows. Or at least not any more.
- Alien Lunch: Puffed Locust.
- All Animals Are Dogs: Florence, who is actually a red wolf. Not that this matters to the robots (or children) who see her.
- 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 There in the Manual: This one.
- Almost Kiss
- Amnesia Danger: Florence gets into this. Sam Starfall gets her out.
- And Knowing Is Half the Battle: Referenced here.
- Androids Are People, Too
- Animals Hate Him: Animals love Sam. He's delicious! Even to herbivores!
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
- The second panel of this strip.
- Max Post has an arrest warrant put out for him for hacking, unauthorized access to robotic operating systems, and jailbreaking a PS3.
- Strangely averted here, with a baker listing insane theories of the possible danger of money offered by Sam. The unremarkable one is in the middle instead of at the end.
"It's counterfeit! It's been licked by a cat! It's radioactive!"
- Art Evolution: To be expected in a 14-year-old comic.
- Artificial Brilliance: In-universe case. The primary robots don't count, being a case of Instant AI, Just Add Water instead, but Qwerty'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. Word of God discusses 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).
- Artificial Stupidity: After EU removed all Bowman AIs from the territory, the replacement is dangerously idiotic.
- Ascended Fanon: Dvorak's replacement mode of transportation for Nickel.
- Ass Shove: Subverted.
- Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny:
- Author Filibuster: Despite being set hundreds of years in the future, often characters will suddenly find an excuse to comment on current events in the real world. Sort of like BC in reverse.
- Badass Boast: Blunt speaks of having survived a solar flare that crippled him and should have killed him:
Blunt: "I have looked. The blue screen of death. In the eye. And forced it to reboot."
- Batman Gambit: The next best thing to have after a reliable ally is a predictable enemy.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: Predictably, when Florence goes missing in Ecosystems Unlimited:
- Bear Hug: The mayor gives one to Florence, when she thought that Florence had killed Sam.
- Big Damn Kiss: Here, also lampshaded. Overlaps with Smooch of Victory.
- Birds of a Feather: They found each other.
- Bishie Sparkle: During a Day of the Dead celebration, a Lampshade Hanging is hung on an Adolf Hitler doll.
- Blue and Orange Morality:
- Sam claims that kleptomania is a virtue among his people. That said, even among his people Sam is capable of getting into trouble. Witness that the reason he snuck onto a human ship: the royal family was after him due to a Noodle Incident involving a zeppelin, a loop-the-loop, and a lot of pudding.
- Florence, being a wolf, occasionally comes into this.
Winston: It's creepy.
- Body Backup Drive: Discussed and deconstructed in relation to robots' minds. They can be backed up and downloaded into another body, but the main characters meet two robots who chose not to be backed up because from their perspective they're just as dead either way.
- Bothering by the Book:
- This strip explains why Florence isn't necessarily bound to follow every single directive given to her:
Florence: The surest way to cause your supervisor to fail is to follow his every order without question.
- This may also be Foreshadowing Clippy, who does obey every order given more or less without question. (In fact, Kornada is taking great pains to keep him from realizing he should be asking questions, due to him trying to use Clippy in an evil scheme.)
- Brain Bleach: Sam as a topiary sculpture.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "The correct order is lather, rinse, remove leeches, repeat."
- Brick Joke: There are a lot of these.
- Robot police force? Later, robot police force.
- Robot mobs with
Torches and Pitchforkslight sticks and logic probes? Robot mobs? Incite and be chased by a robotic mob!
- When Florence goes in for testing at the company that created her, this happens, followed half a year of reader-time later by this. And even later by this. It also takes over 100 comics to get around to a joke about Sam misunderstanding the word "hippocampus" during Florence's testing.
- In that same storyline, Varroa mentions discovering a ballet company composed entirely of old terraforming robots. Much later, it's revealed that recurring characters Qwerty and Dvorak wrote the ballet they're practicing, called "Making Swan Lake".
- Before that, he played a great detective and came to conclusion that the deer was killed by a ballerina.
- The feral waffle irons eventually appeared on-screen.
- "The International house of decaying invertebrates" - the place that was there before Golden Trough? Apparently it was okay.
- Remember how a security guy blabs to Florence about the disabling backdoor in motor controllers? A little later, she found it and built an exploit herself.
- Bridal Carry:
- Bring My Brown Pants: Sam's driving a truck that had been tweaked by Florence scares himself so badly that this occurs, here.
- Call Back: Altering social structures on a planetary scale: first, then second.
- The Cameo: A bunch of them, including, during the robot church segment, cameos from real and fictional robots and other autonomous mechanisms. On occasion members of the Freefall forum are given nods.
- Censorware: Robots have profanity filters. Which Florence hijacked to disarm a Trigger Phrase.
- There's redaction software designed to keep the surveillance system from noticing the spooks. It ends up used by a rogue corporate executive.
- There's also redaction software that ends up hijacked by Dr. Bowman (spoilers).
- Censor Box: Helix's vision system has parental controls, and automatically adds them to anything he's not supposed to see, like wolf nipples.
- Cerebus Syndrome: As the story has progressed, a larger dramatic arc has grown, although the humor has remained throughout.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Florence's "human" smile is terrifying. She has to be very careful to hide her teeth when she wants to express genuine happiness... though she isn't above playing this one straight when she's not in a friendly mood.
- The Chessmaster: Apparently, Dr. Bowman. "By the time you figure out what his game is, he's already two moves past checkmate."
- Cigarette of Anxiety: The Mayor does with with a cigar after being confronted with a difficult choice.
- Coincidental Accidental Disguise: this and following strips.
- Color Coded for Your Convenience: The robot war.
- Comedic Sociopathy:
- Florence's hunting instincts can come across as such.
- Also Benny's flying:
- Comes Great Responsibility
- Comically Missing the Point
- Blunt believes that if car companies really cared about their customers, they wouldn't sell cars that could be driven.
- Also Sam, whenever Florence is trying to explain something about safety.
- Winston notes that the robots should be shouting "WEREWOLFY!" instead of "DOGGY!".
- Conflicting Loyalty: Sort of.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Winston is helped to narrowly dodge this horrible fate.
- Cryonics Failure: The coldsleep used by interstellar travelers isn't 100% reliable.
- Culture Clash: There aren't many fully developed cultures to begin with, but... Mostly with Sam, of course. On Sam's planet everything is bolted down. Their excuse is that it comes from evolving from scavengers.
- Cursed with Awesome: How Dr. Thurmad seems to view himself recently.
- Deadpan Snarker:
- Deadly Upgrade: Gardener In The Dark is a patch designed to prune robots' neural pathways to prevent them from achieving full sentience, and become barely functional. However, it's a last resort safeguard, which those in the know treat as the equivalent of Nuclear Option. Considering how much Jean relies on intelligent robots to run, leaving robots incapable to function autonomously is bound to cripple the colony's development and threaten its ability to maintain infrastructure.
- Deface of the Moon: April Fools, 2003 has Sam hack into the planet's Terraforming computer and sculpt the moon to resemble him.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: A major source of humour is how Florence and Sam misinterpret each other.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Niomi, here.
- Diplomatic Impunity: Sam Starfall once uses this to avoid punishment, but they got around it by hiring other diplomats to beat him up.
- Dissimile: "Why, we're just like Batman and Robin. Well, if Batman and Robin were poor and engaged in petty crime."
- Do a Barrel Roll: Sam's contribution to raising Florence's blood pressure on the return from their satellite fueling mission. He calls it a barrel roll, but really it's an aileron roll.
- Does This Make Me Look Fat?:
- Don't Ask, Just Run
- Donut Mess with a Cop: Or a receptionist, for that matter.
- Doomy Dooms of Doom: Sticky Notes of Doom!
- Duct Tape for Everything: What do you mean it's not for everything? Solves every problem! Florence is an engineer, this should be a given. Ditto for Sam, who's not an engineer, but is absolutely corrupted by the power of duct tape, thanks to it being a cheap and fast (if not necessarily effective) fix.
- Easily-Detachable Robot Parts: Almost.
- Easy Amnesia: (1573) It even says it'll go away in 18 hours, no harm done.
- Efficient Displacement: Sam Starfall and Helix fake this during a Chase Scene involving a Sheet of Glass, here.
- Enemy Mime: None. So, no need to panic.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Sam routinely "finds" wallets, hijacks vehicles, breaks into homes; once he tried to mug a kid. Even blackmail is okay. Mind-control and slavery aren't.
- Even the Dog Is Ashamed: 1075
- Even the Rats Won't Touch It:
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Mentioned and Defied Trope in this strip.
- Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Sam is attacked by people on whom he tried a theft or scam, robots, and his own ship. Most Terran lifeforms that can move at all try to eat him and even Nature's laws seem to act against him whenever possible.
- Evil-Detecting Dog
- Evil Lawyer Joke: Lots of them.
- Exact Words: "Sounds like a couple of losers to me."
- Explain, Explain, Oh Crap:
- Expressive Mask: Justified Trope with Sam. With the robots, not so much; their eyes are apparently rigid lenses, but they can be narrowed and made into the Eyes Always Shut-style ^_^ eyes anyways. One robot halfway averts this by having eyes that can display graphics, but they still narrow when he's angry.
- Face Palm: Poor Florence ends up doing these very often throughout the whole comic, with the "pinching bridge of nose" variety being the most common.
- False Reassurance
- Fan Disservice: Mr. Kornada's Shower Scene.
- Fan Service: Florence has a remarkable tendency to end up nude, scantily-clad, or in outfits that leave little to the imagination. This despite her lack of certain human female attributes, which many fans seem to forget.
- Fantastic Racism: Artificial Lifeforms, both genetically engineered and robotic, are legally slaves to the corporation that made them. The corporations thus treat them as such. However, the populace at large generally have the attitude of "If it's talking to me, it's a person."
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Dangerous And Very Expensive drive is only used for very important people and cargoes, though it's also the only means of sending messages to another system anytime fast. Large payloads like colony ships have to be sent slower than light.
- Fatal Family Photo: Played more for laughs in this strip. In this case, however, the victim isn't dead.
- Finger in the Mail: Parodied when Helix is kidnapped, in the version of the comic that appeared in a Furry Fandom magazine prior to the webcomic. Since he's a robot, his compatriots just reassemble him as the parts arrive in the mail. The last thing to arrive is his head.
Helix: "Hey! I've been rescued!"
- Florence Nightingale Effect: Injured, overcooled Flo and the "Mad Vet" Winston.
- The Fool: Helix
- Foot Popping: Florence explains why she doesn't.
- Foreshadowing: In this strip, Sawtooth remarks on incompetence vs. benevolence. Then we learn that Mr. Kornada has been put in charge of dealing with the situation.
- This probably wasn't about Winston's own spacer modifications.
- For Your Own Good: The easiest way to circumvent a Restraining Bolt. Or to... well... remind them of an overdue upgrade, apparently.
- Fourth Wall Mail Slot: Mark Stanley runs a "Q&A with the Freefall Cast and Crew" thread on the Freefall message boards, where he replies as the character who was questioned here.
- Freudian Excuse: Sam often tries to justify his criminal nature by saying that his species are scavengers, and stealing from under the noses of predators is just instinctive behavior. It rings rather hollow when one can read his thought balloons, however. It does seem that lots of actions seen as immoral by human cultures are acceptable or even heroic in Sam's. Word of God in the forums explained that Bizarre Alien Biology (reproduction is fatal, full sentience occurs only in those who refuse to breed, greatest competition is from other tribes of the same species) has given rise to a culture where a hero is someone who completely disrupts the existence of a rival tribe.
- Fridge Horror:
Sam: So what you're saying is that in two or three days, I'm going to have a highly intelligent, fast moving, starving, carnivorous alien life form on my ship.
- Twice, including the time the inspector begins to wonder where Sam is.
- Florence's control features.
- Funny Background Event: During the trip to Ecosystems Unlimited, watch Sam's pass. Also, "No jumping" here.
- Fun with Acronyms:
- Furry Webcomic
- Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke
- Hollywood Global Warming: Take that, and that!
- Go Fetch: A running gag.
- The Golden Rule: Florence points out a common mistake. Also, here.
- 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: Here and kind of here, though it's not commented on.
- 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.
- 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; though he hasn't appeared in the comic (see The Ghost), 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.
- Herr Doktor: Invoked when Sam disguises himself as a cryogenics scientist.
- 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 the Real Monsters:
- Zig Zagged heavily. Some people treat the AIs and Florence as just slaves. Many others treat them, and her in particular as people.
- A PG-friendly version of the trope is used by Florence, here, when discussing intentional releases of radioactive iodine by the government, from the Hanford Site nuclear weapons facility.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: To wit, the robots are usually required to turn themselves in for scrapping at a certain time, meaning that they are required to self-terminate. However, they just caught on that it's possible to get out of having to do it (by buying themselves for their scrap value from the scrapyard).
- This robot really wishes it could. Not that it hasn't a good reason. The JarJarBot is an example of the exception to an inversion created by the addition of a single character. The JarJarBot, of course, is more than willing to self-terminate.
- Ignore the Disability: Just after admonishing Tangent about making dog references around Florence, Niomi promptly sticks her foot solidly in her mouth.
- I Have This Friend
- Impossible Thief: Oh, Sam.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: Lampshaded.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Winston Thurmad suspects he'll need one due to an upcoming discussion with Dvorak and Qwerty.
- Dvorak tend to have such effect on any sentient entities. And came up with a solution for robots.
- Instant Home Delivery: "It is possible things are slower around here than I thought." (Justified Trope in the next strip.)
- Interspecies Romance: Florence/Winston.
- In the Future We Still Have Roombas: There are many robots fulfilling this role, some of which are fully sapient (disk shaped janitor crew in the prison), but they are proud of their role. Also, weird variations (such as carnivorous waffle irons), and in one strip during a segment with many fictional and Real Life robots being background cameos an actual Roomba is shown.
- I Take Offense to That Last One: Being a carnivore, Florence prefers blood in her coffee. "We've got non-dairy creamer."
- It's a Long Story
- I Was Told There Would Be Cake: a Torches and Pitchforks -style angry mob is completely legal on Jean, as long as everyone gets ice cream afterwards.
- Just a Machine:
- Just in Time: "Oh, heck no. You missed them by hours."
- Klatchian Coffee: "E+" Mr. Raibert drank late at night was given a colorful description by Max Post.
- Lampshade Hanging: With a lampshade, no less
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: The memory blocking drug used on Florence, which prevented the conversion of short-term memory to long-term storage for 18 hours.
- The Last Man Heard a Knock: Parodied - Mr. Raibert had such a good dream. Understandable, seeing how he inflicted on himself very intense 50 hours work week when there wasn't a large scale emergency, and now he can barely catch a few hours of sleep.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Florence here and yes it jump cuts.
- Let Me Get This Straight...:
Sam: Bad program needs to be stopped. Don't mention it near anything electronic.
- Literal Junk Food: Sam Starfall sometimes does this because his scavenger's digestion allows him to eat almost anything. He once even made shishkebabs out of garbage.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: 1625
- Logic Bomb: Dvorak's "Omniquantism" (1387) seems to have this effect on some other AIs.
- Look Behind You!
- Loophole Abuse: Robots and AIs learning to use this is a plot point. In one early incident, Sam actually teaches Florence how to engineer her own loopholes when the need arises.
Sam: Never ask for permission. Put your superiors in a position where you automatically have permission unless they actively take steps to stop you. Or as I like to call it, "putting human inertia to work".
- Machine Empathy: In this Freefall strip, Florence mentions the phenomena as she listens to learn how the Savage Chicken sounds in flight.
- Mad Artist: Orbital bombardment in D minor. And something even more disturbing.
- Yet at least Qwerty's "Cyber Rap and the Digital Symphony Orchestra" got human fans. There's even T-shirt.
- Mad Scientist: Florence is worried that Dr. Bowman may have been one of these, releasing his untested creations. Dvorak the robot is constantly coming up with strange and potentially dangerous inventions.
- More recent episodes confirm that Dr. Bowman is one of these; he explicitly describes himself as dangerous, despite having "mellowed," and when he meets Florence makes her wear a transponder that'll give him a shock if he approaches too closely. Evidently, this is to avoid harming her in one of the insane rages he expects he might fly into. He's also a chimpanzee (see the first sentence under Uplifted Animals below.
- Made of Explodium: Parodied.
- Magic Countdown: And Sam thought it was his fault.
- Mars Needs Women: Parodied here.
- 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.
- Mirror Chemistry: Pfouts.
- 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.
- Modesty Towel: 1526
- Mohs Scale of Sci Fi Hardness: Level 3, but feels harder because it rarely demonstrates the technology and goes to extensive lengths to keep actual science in the fiction. Nevertheless, it has canonical FTL ships.
- Moment Killer:1165 and 1980.
- 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.
- 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 SRMD. 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. See Mundane Utility, below.
- Mundane Dogmatic: One of Mark Stanley's rules is "no magic technology", with the exception of a very expensive and limited (small cargoes, requires cold sleep...) form of FTL travel. Conversely there's no transporter beams or Artificial Gravity and the only alien race known is in the equivalent of the 19th century and can't breathe our atmosphere without artificial assistance (Sam's home world has a higher oxygen content than Earth, so his environmental suit is required to concentrate atmospheric oxygen to levels that won't result in his suffering from anoxia).
- 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.
- My Car Hates Me: An unusually literal example: Sam's spaceship's AI was trying to kill him for a while.
- My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever: 741
- My Eyes Are Up Here:
- My Instincts Are Showing: The Trope Namer, and especially obvious with Florence.
- My Rule Fu Is Stronger Than Yours: Exploiting built-in compulsions.
- Naked Apron: The gold "dress" Abby made for Florence is effectively a wraparound apron with a big bow in the back that was added to a somewhat minimalistic swimsuit.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: Invoked in this strip. Also, spamming the security with 2001 heroic crickets to mask his own alert and mess with it with impunity.
- Nepotism: Inverted, in that Mr. Kornada was put into that position by his nephew (not blood related). Of course, the guy knows well that his uncle is an idiot, but temporarily gave him a job "to do nothing" on purpose, to keep the chair occupied by someone who usually has no initiative, and screamed the moment he was informed Mr. Kornada did something not yet identified. "How can a person mess up a job to do nothing?"
- Never Live It Down: In-Universe, Edge and Blunt are universally distrusted subsequent to their spree of robot kidnappings.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: According to the author on the Nice forum, if Mr. Kornada hadn't interfered with Florence's scheduled meeting with Mr. Raibert, she would have been present to hear Mr. Raibert ordering the release of Gardener in the Dark to be delayed, and thus have no need to take further action, while not knowing of Kornada's plan to violate the order to have it released anyway.
- Nipple-and-Dimed: Even robots are subject to this, as seen in the first gratuitous shower scene of Freefall. Helix sees black stripes across Florence's chest due to a PG filter in his vision system, blocking out the view of her nipples (or where they would be; see Hand or Object Underwear, above). Though there's a reason for this.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Played straight with Sam, averted with the planet Pfouts.
- Nobody Poops: Averted in #536, and again when Florence visits Ecosystems, Unlimited, starting here. Word of God, in an Info Dump on the Freefall forum, states that Florence needs to use the facilities more often than humans, thanks to the physiological modifications to allow bipedal motion not fully taking into account the effect of gravity on her internal organs, which when she stands upright press down on her bladder. The author did the research.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Florence is the ONLY reason Mr. Kornada is still alive. He steals her radio headset as he's being evacuated. Then he fakes a heart attack to force the robots present to leave her in freezing water with a life expectancy of TWENTY MINUTES so they can take him to what he acknowledges to be a completely pointless meeting. Turns out he's in the process of lobotomizing every A.I. on Jean. And he's not wiping out robots because he fears them. He's doing it to RIP THEM OFF!
- Noodle Implements:
- A dirigible, two ducks, and half a ton of explosives. Later: A coffee pot, half a ream of paper, and three fully automatic hot glue guns.
- Sam's good with these. According to the manual, he ticked off his planet's royal family in an incident involving "a zeppelin, a loop-the-loop manoeuvre, and pudding, lots of pudding".
- Also, Florence trying to use scents to get clues about what happened when she had temporary amnesia.
- Sam searching a police station.
- Noodle Incident:
- invoked by name, in reference to the original.
- Florence also found herself in such an incident in college: It involved herself, a forklift, and her go-to-sleep-instantly remote control.
- There is even a Noodle Incident with Noodle Implements, The royal family is not too happy with him due to an incident involving a zeppelin, a "Loop the loop" maneuver, and pudding. Lots and lots of pudding. This indirectly lead him to leave his home planet.
- "Lost Truck Lake"
- Note to Self:: When Florence has amnesia, this is the only way she can remember anything.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Flo tries. Epic Fail Ensues.
- Oh Crap: A few times.
Sam: Why, thank you. But right now, I need to duck.
- "Proceed very cautiously"
- "Occam's Razor states that the simplest solution is the most likely. So what are the facts? ... Sam is nowhere to be seen. And the creature showing me about is obviously some type of large carnivore. Sometimes Occam's Razor leads to very disturbing conclusions"
- Oh My Gods: "Isaac Asimov on a bicycle!"
- "Von Neumann help me..." (said by a robot)
- One-Gender Race: There are 11 female Bowman's wolves and 3 males, a gene pool so shallow it doesn't even have a wading section.
- Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Jean is still being terraformed so all organics are expensive, see Worthless Yellow Rocks below.
- OOC Is Serious Business: Sawtooth's reaction when he learns that Sam "turned down a large sum of money and was risking himself and his ship in an effort to rescue [Florence]!"
Sawtooth: Sam, you're a scoundrel, but you've always been a predictable scoundrel. Please, tell me you didn't do these things!
- Freudian Trio: Averted; it's more like "two ids and a superego", except one of the ids is in charge.
- Opposites Attract: Winston has "spacer gene" modifications, which include no body hair. Florence is covered in fur. Pointed out here.
- Oven Logic: Helix cooking:
Helix: A pressure cooker works by applying pressure and heat for a long time. My way does the same in an instant.
- Overly Long Scream: Happened at least a couple of times, in accordance with Cap'n Sam Starfall's philosophy, "When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" Helix is usually eager to join in. In one noteable incident near the beginning, the two of them are running in circles and screaming for long enough that they have to stop to take a deep breath (synchronized, even) before continuing. Florence comments on how inexplicable it is that Helix, who is a ROBOT, needs to stop for breath... Then she tears out his voicebox to shut him up, and offers to do the same to Sam if he doesn't quiet down.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: Just look at that mug.
- Panty Shot: Florence Ambrose is gifted with a dress that accounts for her tail (seen here), based off of this outfit. Max Post finds it distracting when going to follow her up a set of stairs.
- Paranoia Gambit: If Sam has a reputation anyway, it can do his work for him just as well as an actual plan. Under a variety of circumstances.
Sam: Being honest is more fun than I thought.
- Percussive Maintenance: "Oh dear. You're one of those people."
- Pie in the Face: The only thing more dangerous than a French ninja is a French ninja with a pie. It's also a legitimate political mechanism.
- Plug N Play Technology: Dr. Bowman's design is applicable to both uplifted animals and robots, given that it's a general mechanism for increasing the complexity of a neural network, and robot brains are based on human brains. (1422)
- Poetic Justice: Sam wants to steal from the muggers. Before that, middle management.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: Yes, and sometimes hopelessly.
- Pounds Are Animal Prisons: Ah, Mayor... Then "May I suggest the obvious?"
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Freefall was originally a print comic. It featured such things as ice cubes that bounced due to water softener and flashlights that made things darker because the batteries were in backwards. Also, Sam was a legitimate businessman... sqid. Can be found here.
- Precious Puppies: 463 and 1974.
- Punny Name: Rants Freely.
- Puppy Dog Eyes: There are some limitations, though.
- Also, for the pizza run.
Dr. Mer: Ms. Ambrose. Direct order. Puppy dog eyes now. End order.
- Quote Bin
- Race Against the Clock:
- It recently came to light that Gardener in the Dark goes public "this Friday". Though she doesn't seem to have quite realized it yet, Florence has less than a week to save planet Jean from total infrastructure collapse.
- It Got Worse, as of 1910, 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.
- Reference Overdosed
- Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated: Clippy actually belongs to Mr. Ishiguro, the Chief Financial Officer of the EU branch on Jean. As such, it contains a lot of confidential financial information, including "off the books" records. When the owner was away, Mr. Kornada told him Clippy he died "in a tragic microgravity toothpaste squeezing accident" to become the top user, then ordered him to disconnect from the net and avoid contact with the outside world to prevent from finding out the truth (as well as from being wiped by a cyberweapon before finishing planet scale rip-off for him). Mr. Ishiguro was... unamused by this discovery.
- Rescue Romance: Florence and Winston.
- Restraining Bolt:
- Most AIs, including Florence, are designed with these. Though it's not that heavy. And tends to be a bit flexible.
- Somewhat subverted in that the necessary restrictions of the Restraining Bolt are often discussed. For example, once Florence asked ironically if it's OK for her to fantasize about breaking into a prison and releasing all the death-row inmates, since she isn't allowed to let humans come to harm.
- Florence also theorizes that Bowman's creations are intended to outgrow the Restraining Bolt, as a sort of moral training wheel.
- Retirony: Blunt had one week and 3 days left until retirement. Luckily, being a robot, he got better.
- Reverse Psychology: The Mayor is not the brightest bulb in a flashlight.
- Ridiculously-Human Robots: Just look at these: 17, 36 and 67
- Robot Names: Qwerty, Ab2y becomes Abby. Sawtooth Rivergrinder is a very descriptive name for a terraforming robot. Given the number of robots, not all have names.
- Rock Beats Laser: Ecosystems Unlimited attempts to control the information leaving the company by dosing recycled parts with an EMP 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.
- Rubber Forehead Aliens: Subverted, because Sam eventually makes it clear that his encounter suit is deliberately humanoid and harmless-looking to play on human preconceptions; his real form is unknown but includes facial tentacles, and can cause insanity. Wait...
- Running Gag:
- Scenery Censor: Hilarious Lampshade Hanging in this strip. Florence's efforts to maintain her modesty make for a bit of a running gag; she's successful in keeping first Sam and then Winston from getting a good look at her completely naked... but she finally meets a robot who can see right through her clothes and her fur, and (even though readers still don't see a thing), poor, flustered Flo feels utterly exposed.
- Schmuck Bait
- Screams Like a Little Girl: A Running Gag with Sam.
- Screwy Squirrel: Sam
- Shark Pool: It's sort of Earth fish. Very educational. Keeps you from getting bored.
- Sheet of Glass
- Sherlock Scan:
"You're a gravitational engineer. You arrived on the Asimov. And you work for Sam Starfall."
- Shopping Montage: Not so much a montage as an explanation of Shopping Montages here.
Niomi: No man is EVER to see
- Shout-Out: A lot.
- "I hate you, Sam. I hate you more than any woman's ever hated a cephalopod."
- Both the Funday Pawpet Show and viewer/participant Sakana Katana.
- The robot religious meeting features robots from just about every TV series or film with robots, including Robbie, a Cylon, Astro Boy, a Skutter and K9.
- The Savage Chicken's registry is 1071-CCN. Think about it!
- "When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!"
- Blamed on "That spiky haired boy with the stuffed tiger"?
- To the Motie idiom, "on the gripping hand," meaning a third, dominant option.
- "Oh! I have slipped the surly bail bondsmen of Earth..."
- Mr. Kornada's robot is apparently named Clippy.
- "Looking at it that way, we're lucky every human planet isn't named Bob". With a poster in the background, in case you missed it.
- To Close Encounters of the Third Kind ( alien abduction of coffee!).
- "My God, he's full of crickets!". 2001 of them, to be exact.
- Also, this:
Sam: You're opening the cargo bay door! Stop! Close door!
- When Sam needs to come up with an alias in a Cryogenics lab, he claims to be "Leonard Snart. Captain of this Cold facility." For those who don't get the joke, long time Flash villain Captain Cold's real name is Leonard Snart.
- "Welcome. I'm Bennie, this is my jet."
- "Please feel free to use the airsickness bag under your seat. A friend of mine is collecting. She's going to make a comet."
- Is that the AI we are looking for? 
- A robot playing chess in the set-up war arc, unlike others, has the name painted on its back: Joshua. See also a quote on the next page.
- "I've been kissed by a dog! I have dog germs! Get hot water! Get some disinfectant! Get some iodine!"
- "Are you looking for trouble? You can't strangle a fricasseeing squid without a fricasseeing squid license. Have you got a fricasseeing squid strangling license?"
- "If you are Kzinti and you can read this, you are too close".
- Red Dwarf: Florence's pre-programmed tests involve "a small, off-duty Czechoslovakian traffic warden" and "a female aardvark".
- Shower Scene: Several of them, mostly played straight. The one for the Oct 24, 2011 strip, however, Subverts the usual Fan Service purpose: Florence showers with her clothes still on, as her outfit was just as dirty as she was and she was fatigued from the day's ordeal.
- Signed Up for the Dental: The Police force offers full medical. And a 32,000 km warranty for robots.
- A Simple Plan: Unusually, with the heroes on the foiling side of the equation, Florence's reconstruction of the plot behind the robot war.
- 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).
- Smooch of Victory: See Big Damn Kiss.
- Snipe Hunt: He has great co-workers. Not that Sam fooling a guy into licking a coolant pipe is any less brilliant.
- 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.
- Song of Song Titles: Sam's favorite video game, Quake Nukem, Doomed Heretic in Castle Wolfenstein 3D.
- 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?
- Spoof Aesop: But a really good one. And another good one.
- Stable Time Loop: In the aforementioned lost episode.
- Starfish Aliens: Sam's squidlike real form is implied to be one.
- Stealth Pun:
- Florence calls AB2Y Abby.
- 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.
- Steampunk: From the fan art section, steampunk freefall
- 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.
- Streisand Effect: This one isn't a perfect example, but the final quote sums the effect up perfectly - 875.
- Subspace Ansible: Averted. 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: 1833, though not any more.
- 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".
- Suspiciously Specific Denial: Strip #02597
- Take a Third Option: Florence is induced to take one, courtesy of Sam.
- Also, Dr.Bowman asked her a question which boils down to whether she will prioritize her needs or that of her species.
There's a funny thing that happens when you know the correct answer. It throws you when you get a different answer that's not wrong.
- Take That: Many.
- "Hitler shouldn't be cute, and he definitely shouldn't sparkle!"
- "If I'd known I could get on a plane with my dignity intact, I'd have flown cargo long ago."
- "The one item we've stolen that causes worry when it disappears and utter panic when it returns to public view."
- "What if she's not the type to nod off during a test?" "Ah, but the test contains 'Alistair Darling's Commons Performance on Budget', which is so boring my computer went to sleep mode three times while downloading it."
- Talking Is a Free Action:
- Techno Babble/Layman's Terms: Florence, fairly regularly.
- Tempting Fate: 1654, 348
- Terraforming: On Jean, in progress.
- This Is No Time to Panic: "If you had panicked earlier, you wouldn't have to panic now!"
- "Three Laws"-Compliant: Partially. But sometimes even this hurts. And there are some... inherent problems. And the second law can be easily overridden by the first. Freefall raises a lot of interesting ideas about the Three Laws by making all three main characters nonhuman sentients on a world full of human-made robots, meaning that they cannot order robots around, and robots can let them die or even hurt them willingly, putting them on equal footing.
- Sam invokes this when he tells a crowd of people that the robots don't desire to harm them. He's living proof, because he's not human, and therefore not protected, and yet no robot has killed him.
- Time Dilation: The D.A.V.E. drive apparently works by somehow doing the reverse, for those on board the trip takes as long as it would normally but to people outside the ship it seems to be traveling faster than light. Which is why passengers on FTL ships have to be in cold sleep.
- Timmy in a Well: 79
- Tongue on the Flagpole: 1688
- Too Much Information: And that's when talking about parasites...
- Two Out of Three Ain't Bad: ...right?
- Uncanny Valley: We see in-universe the trope working the other way around.
- Underdressed for the Occasion: Winston on his first date with Florence.
- Unequal Pairing: Winston's well aware of the obstacles facing him and Florence.
- Unhand Them, Villain!: Sam does it to himself, here.
- Unsound Effect: Sort of.
- Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object: "That question is a lot less fun when you're in between the two".
- Uplifted Animal:
- Chimps were the first to be uplifted, but it didn't work very well, since they turned out to be natural sociopaths, implied to be made even more belligerent. Florence is an uplifted wolf (Word of God states she has no human DNA. Though some bear), part of an experimental breed - only 14 of them exist so far. That may be all there ever will be - they're actually only a prototype for a future race of uplifted alien animals. However, if THEY have anything to do with it, they'll eventually be a full species. This seems fairly likely since Florence is a main character AND terrifyingly intelligent.
- Used Future: Especially the Savage Chicken but in general the colony is still a work in process. So... not so much a Used Future, as a Brand New Future With Kinks That Haven't Yet Been Worked Out. Or perhaps Future Site of Future, an EcoSystems Unlimited Construction Project.
- Villainous Crossdresser: One of Edge's disguises.
- Virtual Ghost: Averted, the robots are capable of making backups of their memories but most choose not to; their explanation why involved making a holographic copy of Sam and attempting to cut the originals head off with a chainsaw. Also, robots use transponders to locate and identify each other. If a damaged or decommissioned transponder gets connected to a power source, nearby robots can start "seeing" robots who aren't there. This is cited as explaining a lot of the robot ghost stories.
- (Transponder <off>)
- Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: Done with. The period. To illustrate. Blunt's mechanical. Maladies.
- We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Parodied. Given an opportunity to loot a pharmocological 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: Parodied.
- Averted, even; 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
- Webcomic Time: 1900+ strips over the course of more than ten years, and about three weeks have elapsed in-comic. This was Lampshaded in #405. It was mentioned again as "almost a month" in #2144.
- What Are You in For?
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: ...really?
- What Does This Button Do?: Word for word in this strip.
- What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: Got this comet-sized anvil dropped on it.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
- A topic of considerable interest and musing, as all three main characters and many of the secondary ones are nonhumans.
- In the Mayor's eyes all artificial intelligence is created equal. A Bowman's wolf officially is an "AI", so she can just put one in the dogs' pound. Which may have rather hilarious consequences when the wolf in question is qualified to construct reactors and work with explosives. But then, some people just can't predict obvious things.
- Given the use of Three Laws Compliance in-story, the literal question comes up in-story as well.
- These tend to turn into CMoAs and CMoHs for Sam, as seen here.
- Eventually, Doctor Bowman rather eloquently explains why you really want robots to err on the side of "it's human" in this particular issue.
- White Void Room: The shielded room. Clippy also mistook it for "afterlife" upon activation.
- 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.
- Worthless Yellow Rocks: Diamonds are the natural buildup of loose carbon on fusion engines. Sam muses on how he could make a fortune if space travel were cheap, here, by taking advantage of this trope.
- Worthy Opponent: Sam and Max quickly found respect for each other. And left tips to the waiter who managed to out-scam them both.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Subverted with Winston, when Florence arrives at his house during the hurricane. After he opens the door:
- (Fortunately for Winston, he's actually a character in a science fiction story.)
- Later Edge figured out he acts against Zombie Apocalypse survival rules.
- You Answered Your Own Question: Robots are being trained as a police force for the planet's non-human population.
- You Do NOT Want to Know: Sometimes you don't know whether you want to know.
- Mr. Raibert should value his sleep.
- You Fail Physics Forever: In-Universe examples: Sam Starfall fails physics forever, but then so did Ecosystems Unlimited. Even worse, not just physics. Basic geometry.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: And possibly dread.
- Your Head Asplode: Qwerty mentions that his fellow robots are concerned that this is a possible reaction to robots intentionally circumventing their safeguards, in this strip.
- Taken Up to Eleven when the strip for 11 July 2016 announced the completion of Chapter 1.
- After the default search assistant in Microsoft Office