Schlock Mercenary

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.

Schlock Mercenary was a Space Opera web comic with many Hard Science Fiction aspects in the 31st century.

Named after Schlock, an alien shaped like a pile of crap with eyes and a mouth who joins "Tagon's Toughs", a space-faring mercenary outfit. The cast includes the aforementioned Kaff Tagon, The Captain of the group, Commander Kevyn Andreyasn, inventor of the "teraport" system and all-around Mad Scientist, Ennesby, a former virtual boy band turned ship's AI, and many others.

Consistent humor (it is very quotable) and we mean consistent — Schlock ran seven days a week without missing a day from June 12, 2000 to July 24, 2020. Sometimes it got slightly political, but never partisan. Let's just say it's not for people who think governments deserve sympathetic treatment. This is a world where the only respected authority is the one with the larger gun - in other words, the perfect world for a mercenary company.

Howard Tayler has given enthusiastic permission to John Ringo to write about the First Contact days. Titled Troy Rising and planned as a trilogy, it consists of Live Free or Die, Citadel and The Hot Gate. Ringo's enjoying himself, so there will be more than three books in this trilogy. However, the two worlds have drifted apart and Troy Rising is not currently considered canonical within the Schlock universe. Though Tayler still considers the books a Spiritual Licensee.

There's an official derivative work in Schlock 'verse - The Planet Mercenary Role Playing Game. This includes extra art, statistics and background bits for various sophonts.

Please see the Characters page for character-specific tropes.

The comic can be found right here.

Schlock Mercenary is the Trope Namer for:
Tropes used in Schlock Mercenary include:
  • Absolute Xenophobe: The Ob'enn and the Pa'anuri.
    • Justified for the Pa'anuri, who are hurt by teraport use; then again, their response to the invention of teraporting when they could manage it was to pulverize the inventors' civilization and then blow up the star for good measure. They later set up a time bomb to blow up the galaxy, just to be sure.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Many of the blades in the setting are capable of slicing through heavy armor. Tailor is particularly impressive, as he's able to dismember the hands of three heavily-armored Mooks in a single pass. Somewhat justified in that example, since Tailor was designed to cut, create, and modify body armor.
  • Acceptable Breaks From Reality: The author notes for this strip gives us an example of why we need this trope in regards toward battles in space.
    • Also done here to explain how to depict the thought processes of the Fleetmind.
  • Accidental Murder: Pi manages to blow up King Lota with his anti-improvised-armor mines.

Pi: I swear, that was an accident.
Ennesby: Congratulations. You just invented "negligent regicide."

  • Accidental Pun: Captain Murtaugh observes that Chief Justice Reynstein is "setting a pretty high bar" for the Eina-Afa judiciary.

Alexia Murtaugh: Sorry. The pun was an accident.
Ennesby: A glorious, wonderful accident.

  • Accidental Truth: "Captain" here. And later in a Flash Back -- see the lightning epaulets?
  • Acting Unnatural: In this strip Brad mishears "act casually" as "act casualty", which does not look very inconspicuous.
  • Alien Abduction: Over-the-top variant: 3.161 billion years ago, the All-Star non-consensually uploaded hundreds of trillions of people to save them from Scary Dogmatic Aliens who wanted to kill everyone else in the galaxy to prevent them from potentially accepting the All-Star's offer of immortality-via-Brain Uploading. Ulaque considers the non-consensual uploading justified; Putzho doesn't.
  • All-Powerful Bystander: The All-Star, while lacking the vast material resources of the Plenipotent Dominion, seemingly has the most advanced technology of any modern civilization and the capacity to intervene in galactic-scale crises, but since the last time they let the galaxy learn about them it caused a galactic-scale crisis, they stopped intervening except to suppress knowledge of themselves, and now have a policy of merely watching with "restraint and regret" as crises unfold. However, when Rogue Agents of the All-Star threaten to start another galactic war, Ulaque breaks with the policy and lets Putzho take one of their warships to go save the day — which turns out to be exactly what the rogue agents had hoped would happen.
  • Alliteration: The Battle of Beggar Bay was brief. Also alliterative.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
  • Air Vent Passageway: A Running Gag is Schlock hiding in air vents. Since he's an amorphous blob, the air vents don't actually have to be wide. Also, at least once he sneaks into a ship via the sewer. As he possesses an incredible sense of smell and tastes with every surface of his body, he has no pressing urge to repeat the experience.
  • All Hail the Great God Mickey: Reverend Theo refers to 'The Gospel of Uncle Benjamin' when confronted with the quote "With great power comes great responsibility" and Greyskull's Power as part of an exorcism rite (the first time was in a dream sequence, but the second was a direct reference of his own).
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Humanity is more varied that at present- the most notable examples are the Purps, a genetic offshoot who have purple skin due to a form of synthetic photosynthesis.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • The Partnership Collective are an entire race of these. The Toughs have a no-deadline, pay-per-kill contract to wipe out a million of them, and generally shoot them on sight. Schlock tends to eat them and take their ties as trophies. For added Anviliciousness, they're literally snakes.
    • Tayler started that if the comic got 10,000 votes in a February 2010 Washington Post poll, he'd kill an attorney drone in the "Mallcop Command" arc, and that if he won, he would kill ALL the attorney drones. Sadly, neither came to pass.
  • Amusing Injuries: Anything at all happening to the above Amoral Attorneys, usually fatally. Also, given the state of medical technology, any injury that doesn't invoke the Chunky Salsa Rule can be made Amusing.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: The Wormgates.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Tagon's Toughs had this reaction to Xinchub's death. He had spent several arcs as the personally nastiest of the Tough's rogues gallery (or, in his own words, "the biggest ace-hole in the game"), and his death caused happy-dances throughout the major cast.
  • Anti-Gravity Clothing: Epaulets, at least in Sol-related organizations. It's even possible to punch the wearer from under them, as Elizabeth demonstrated on one UNS captain. Also, some people like to integrate grenades in these. For those wearing heavy body armor, rank tabs are painted on pauldrons, however.
  • Anti-Hero: The entire central cast. Notable for mostly being played for laughs, instead of Angst.
  • Anyone Can Die: Throughout most of the series, Death Is Cheap. Characters can be regrown in a tank from just a head, preserved in a nanny-bag to prevent degradation, and Tagon, Kevyn, Elf, Xinchub, and Petey have all come back from far less. Which makes it that much more shocking when characters like Hob, Sh'vuu, Pronto, Doctor Lazcowicz (supposedly), and Brad, some of whom had been around since the very beginning, were all Killed Off for Real.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Nannies, and to a lesser extent gravy. Also the Teraport, although that got kinda nerfed shortly after Kevyn open-sourced it.
  • Arc Words:
    • "What would Schlock do?"
    • And in that same arc, "Massively parallel"
    • Also, "Force multipliers/multiplication"
    • Almost each book or story arc seems to have it's own phrase, which is usually the name of the book that arc's strips will be compiled into. Before "Massively Parallel" (also the title of the planned book), there was "Longshoreman of the Apocalypse." Before that, it gets a little hazy. There's also recurrent phrases mostly from the "Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries," such as "Pillage, then burn" or "There is no overkill. There is only 'open fire' and 'time to reload.'"
  • Army of Lawyers: The Partnership Collective.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Mostly played straight (and since armour has gotten a little stronger in the past thousand years, the slap can be delivered in equally powered armour or by a bullet). Subverted here after a classic setup.
  • Art Evolution: The author knows it. He uses the term pretty much verbatim in his commentary on the first strip. Compare this with this...
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    • The crimes Kevyn could hypothetically be tried for include: treason, high treason, and grand spamming. However, in the 31st century spammers are held in the same contempt as pedophiles so it's a subversion.

Kevyn: Hey, the only charge they can make stick is the spamming.
Ceeta: You need to capture some moral high ground that sits outside of artillery range.

    • The future equivalent of DUI carries the death penalty because you have to be completely sober to modify the vehicle to make it possible to use manual mode while under the influence.[1] In some cases, this requires installing a manual mode. Quite understandable, however, since the consequences of screwing up while drunk are exponentially different when you're piloting a spaceship.
    • Played straight with a rounding error. Since the current list of crimes includes armed conquest and attempted genocide, rounding pi down to 3 seems like an especially trivial crime, even when you're charged by an AI.
  • Artificial Gravity: complete with exploration of technological consequences
  • Artificial Limbs: Frequently, and heavily Lampshaded, though when possible they prefer to clone new parts/bodies.
  • Aside Glance: Ennesby is probably the most common source of these, but other characters use them from time to time.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority:
    • Played with. Tagon likes this trope; whenever one of his men does something stupid (such as blowing up the ship/fleet/planet), they usually get a promotion if they survived.
    • At least, if they survived and blowing up the ship/fleet/planet did the job it was supposed to.
    • Tagon himself. He's not the brightest on strategy or tactics (though far from the worst at it, either), but nobody in the company can beat him when it comes to combat. He's extremely sharp in his own way when it comes to the things he's good at (which is, unsurprisingly, hurting people and breaking things), even if a little Book Dumb. He just looks dim next to the hyperintelligent warship AI and one of the single greatest scientific minds in the galaxy.
  • Ass Shove:
    • In the 2001 Schlocktoberfest epilogue, it's stated that the smuggler brought the diamond-beetle eggs aboard the Princess Tyola as a suppository.
    • Action Girl Elf once treated a reality TV host to this trope with one of his own cameras.
    • To handle the toxic atmosphere of Ghanj-Rho when the Toughs were going on a mission to get a new set of eyes for Schlock, they are given with a device to filter the toxins out of their blood. They're not, unlike one grunt thought, to be swallowed...
  • Atop a Mountain of Corpses: The Gatekeeper archive-creature apparently killed all the F'Sherl-Ganni in the habitat that housed him; when the Toughs find him, he's sitting atop an enormous heap of F'Sherl-Ganni corpses.
  • Author Guest Spot
  • Auto Doc: There's one that gets souped up a bit and actually tries to improve its patients, sometimes successfully.
  • Awesome but Impractical: We finally get an explanation for why the Toughs don't use their powered armor uniforms to just fly everywhere.

Legs: Do you know what we call flying soldiers on the battlefield?
Tino: Air support?
Legs: Skeet.

Kevyn: I can't help but wonder whether you're able to function in society.
Pi: I don't function in society, sir. I'm a mercenary. I blow society up.

    • Schlock has his moments, too...

Schlock: I'll have you know that I only resort to violence when the situation calls for it.
Lady Emily: Of course, by 'situation' you mean 'voices in your head', right?
Schlock: And you don't want to know what they're saying right now.

  • Back from the Dead:
  • The Battlestar: Battleplates, plus Ob'enn Superfortresses and pretty much every ship made by the psycho bears, everything the Toughs fly in after the Kitesfear is destroyed (with the exception of Serial Peacemaker), Petey's Extortionator class ships, and every ship equipped with a fabber.
  • Bear Hug: Captain Landon provides a literal (as well as figurative) bear hug to Captain Sorlie, when the latter needs one after Petey shuts down her latest attempt at martyrdom.
  • Behind the Black: The Toughs frequently display their ignorance of the law, never seeming to notice their lawyer is present until Massey sticks his head into the frame.
  • BFG: Schlock loves them so much that he once actually rejected a far more powerful and efficient (antimatter- rather than fusion- powered) equivalent of his plasma cannon because it was dinky-looking. And because it lacked the "Ommminous Hummm'.
    • "Nutcracker" is large, but it have to be, as a plasma / rocket launcher combo.
    • Thus when someone with up-to-date hardware hauls out a tripod mounted gun, you know they mean business.
  • Big Book of War: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Remember kids: Pillage, then burn.
  • Bond One-Liner: When Kathryn freaked out and reverted to her earlier training, she had a good one.
  • Bowel-Breaking Bricks:

Thurl: The metaphor monitor indicates that Ennesby has vented his virtual bowels.
Kevyn: I can see that, but where'd the virtual bricks come from?
Narrator: Goodnight, kids!

    • In another strip, in a conversation with King Xinchub in his bathroom:

Petey: [...] I was going to employ Tagon and company to extract you, but they declined. Apparently they'd rather see you dead.
Petey: You look like you're thinking maybe the plumbing in here needs to accommodate flushed bricks.

Kaff Tagon: Neeka is making me very uneasy. And it's not because she's Esspererin, or mecha-natural. It's not about species. I mean, you saw it, right?
Michelle Diego-Garcia: Yeah, she sliced his foot like it was deli tofu on a shoe-bagel.

Ulaque: The tiny pot provides a long-overdue dose of humility.
Putzho: Is it working?
Ulaque: That voice you can't hear is one of Evvin's other instances begging me to let the flower humbly apologize to you.

Kevyn: Are you killing me?
Howard: No.
Kevyn: Oh, goo-
Howard: Blood loss is killing you.

Theo Fobius: [...] it is far easier to resist temptation if one commits to follow a righteous course long before temptation's arrival and allure.
Kaff Tagon: Did the reverend get more... reverendy while I was dead?
Kevyn Foxworthy: Don't read too much into it. Four months can make a lot of things more... thingy.
Ennesby: My Merriam-Websterbank just threw up in my mouth.

Neeka: You ran into battle without your carapace. Most military doctrines discourage this approach.
Peri Gugro: Really? My bad.

  • Caught in a Snare: When the Toughs land on a planet only to discover it's home to a sentient stone-age race.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Subverted. The early gag of the "magic cryokit" modified by the Toughs' former doctor using his illegal research, including dumping his own memories into it, takes on surprising seriousness in light of later revelations about the doctor, his role in certain black projects, and what those projects are capable of. Also related, the apparent throwaway joke at the time that the doctor's corpse was missing unspecified parts when it was brought in for the bounty; it's not until more than six years later that we find out that said illegal research is capable of rebuilding people from parts of their dead body. Subverted in that it's done so subtly and over such a long period that it appears to be less a retcon than incredibly long-range foreshadowing.
  • Chased by Angry Natives: In Zoojack station, until the natives discover their targets can talk.
  • Chekhov's Armoury: The Massively Parallel arc has had so many Chekhov's Guns left lying around that the readers have probably forgotten half of them . . . should be fun once said guns all get chain-fired.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Used repeatedly.
    • Prime example: Cocked here, fired here.
    • Excellent example is here, making Credomar a literal Chekhov's Gun. One capable of firing across the galaxy.
    • Yet another rapidfire burst of gunfire: The end of "The Body Politic" arc had the Toughs' collective memories wiped in order to prevent them from being executed by the UNS in order to cover up secrets. The deal also included a complete cutoff from Petey. Two arcs later, near the end of "Massively Parallel", Petey bails them out as mentioned in the above mentioned literal 'Gun', and it's only Schlock's circumvention of the mindwipe rearing its head that makes Tagon listen to anything Petey has to say. Like the Toughs themselves, Howard sure loves his guns...
    • Ultimate example, a tasteless April Fools Joke becomes the Plot for over two whole books nearly five years later!
    • Ennesby is seen with an eyepatch in the present day. In a later flashback to the month before, Tagon threatened to poke out an eye if Ennesby's plan goes pear-shaped. The eye is actually lost due to enemy fire when the plan goes up in flames, making this a Red Herring instead.
    • In part 1 of Book 17, Captain Tagon's new Dragon-class cruiser is outfitted with an Awesome but Impractical "main gun". In part 5, Tagon finds himself in a situation in which the gun actually is useful. He and Cindy briefly chat about how firing the gun is something for Cindy to "check off" her bucket list, then Cindy fires — with the Unsound Effect "CHEKHOV!".
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
  • The Chessmaster: Petey.
  • Click. "Hello.": Given the amount of guns floating around, this is a favorite of nearly everyone. Even the AIs, who can sometimes do this with tanks.
  • Cloning Blues:
    • Averted for everyone on-screen. Duplicated characters are treated as legally and morally equal to the originals, and are usually Put on a Bus rather than killed. An extreme example is "The Gavs": a cameo by the creator of Nukees is duplicated some 950 million times in an instant, and is now a dominant ethnic group and marketing demographic in his own right.

Captain Tagon: Kevyn and, um. . . Kevyn, do you have any suggestions for how I handle paying you? I mean, there are two of you now.
Timeclone!Kevyn: No. There is one of me, and one of him.

    • In Kevyn's case his gate clone replaced him completely, as he'd been killed by his own improvised gravy gun. His time clone (from an alternate future) retired after winning the lottery and apparently some mob-run horse races.
    • HOWEVER... Uncountable gate clones were tortured and murdered off-screen over all the time the F'sherl Ganni gates were the galaxy's only practical form of transportation.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: Even the standard low-profile powered uniform practically turns a soldier into a Flying Brick. You should see what the actual armor is like.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: From Ovalkwik to Samsony, several formerly competing companies have merged, as revealed by their portmanteau names.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: In an in-universe example, Lt Shodan suspects that a bunch of new recruits charging ahead and blazing away with their guns were prevented from shooting one another only because they were wearing the same color.
  • Comfort Food: Doctor Bunnigus and Reverend Fobius are shown eating what's most likely chocolate ice cream (given the dialog and the shape of the container) after Bunnigus returns home stressed out from quarreling with Petey and Ambassador Bala-Amin over Petey's benevolent brain-hacking of Vog.
  • Comically Missing the Point : The author in this strip, which probably doubles as Take That at people complaining about how he's telling the story.
  • Comic Book Time: An early strip is dated at 3096, and it's clearly been a couple years, but it's not clear exactly how long.
  • Continuity Drift:
    • Up through book 6, Resident Mad Scientist, the United Nations of Sol is portrayed as just one out of many major galactic powers. After book 7, Emperor Pius Dei, the subject of galactic politics doesn't come up much for a few books, but, when it does start coming up again, the UNS and the Plenipotent Dominion seem to be the only major powers in the galaxy.
      • By book 14, Broken Wind, the Uniocs in particular are demoted from "major power" to "cultural underdogs". (This may even have happened by book 7, in which Ebbirnoth, in "Glamour Assault", was planned to pretend to be a terrorist attacking humans in the name of "Unioc independence".)
    • Before book 15, Delegates and Delegation, the internal politics and organization of the United Nations of Sol were used mostly just for Cryptic Background References and didn't come into the story much, and the structure of the UNS seemed to change between books.
    • In book 1, the top of the UNS military chain of command seems to be the UNS Security Council. In book 7, it seems to be UNS High Command. In book 15, the position seems to be taken by the Penultimate Admiralty (to whom, despite their name, both admirals and generals report).
    • Early on, it's treated as unusual for anyone but a mercenary or pirate to know the Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries; in particular, Captain Tagon and Colonel Ceeta both are surprised at General Xinchub quoting them. Over time, it becomes progressively more common for UNS military service-members to quote the Maxims. In book 14, even one of the peaceful, innocent Neoafans cites Maxim 45.
    • In book 2, the sixth buuthandi was destroyed by a "First Alliance Navy" [1] [2] comprising contributions from "over three hundred planetary governments and the United Nations of Sol". Now, both Captain Andreyasn and Commodore Tagon refer to the buuthandi as having been destroyed by the UNS, with no mention of allies. This fits in with a broader pattern, quietly developing since some time after book 6, of the UNS drifting into being portrayed as the only major galactic power other than Petey, as opposed to one among many.
    • Ulaque refers to the F'Sherl-Ganni as "the Ganni", which, given that Ulaque is very old, implies that the F'Sherl-Ganni once simply were the "Ganni". Back in book 2, Ganni seemed most likely to be the F'Sherl-Ganni word for the galaxy,[2] which, given their formerly-accurate opinion of their "superiority", suggested that "F'Sherl-Ganni" meant something like "Rulers of the Galaxy".
      • It could be a refer to a particular doctrine or culture of their species, which is used for Galaxy in context of its scope, however.
  • Continuity Nod: Captain Tagon has not forgotten how Jumpstar Prime was named in Book 16, and confiscates Schlock's plasgun before answering the sergeant's question as to what Tagon is naming his new Dragon-class cruiser:

Kaff Tagon: I haven't decided yet. But I'm not going to let you burn "I haven't decided yet" into the hull.

    • Much of the action of book 18 centers on the Uuplech system. One easily could think that Uuplech only entered the comic with book 18, but it's been mentioned before — once, in a footnote, over thirteen years earlier. In addition to Uuplech and the Uuplechans in general, the first Uuplechan named in book 18 (in the first line of dialog in book 18) is named Cubbins, the same as the only Uuplechan named in the aforesaid footnote.
    • The other Toughs are not letting Corporal Peri Gugro forget that time she unwisely ran into combat naked in the previous book.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: Four Parkata Urbatsu practicing punks versus one merc captain itching for revenge after the Fork Incident. It was not a fair fight.
    • That the Toughs aren't allowed to kill the Uuplechan Patriot Armada members doesn't stop them from inflicting a humiliating defeat on the very outmatched UPA "battlegroup" sent to stop them from reaching the refinery. First, the Toughs invisibly disable the UPA's missiles. Second, they scare off the UPA flagship's escorts simply by showing off Breath Weapon's superior speed, proving that Breath Weapon — which is larger than all the UPA ships combined — is a warship and not the freighter that the UPA had thought it was. Finally, the Toughs board the UPA flagship, Soulward Honor, and easily capture it, while only firing goober rounds. The UPA are so outclassed that Captain Foxworthy, Commander Foxworthy, and Ennesby agree that, with the Toughs' latest Powered Armor, Commander Foxworthy could have captured Soulward Honor single-handedly.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy:

Kathryn: If this was a monster movie, I'd run away in a panic while you re-assembled yourself...I get to be the monster now.

    • Later, there's Credomar, a habitat founded on the principles of democracy that was near anarchy with at least six competing factions by the time the Toughs got there. They ended up electing a robot dictator who actually got things done.
  • Determinator: Howard Tayler, the author. Nothing can stop him from updating every single day. Not injuries, not software glitches, nothing. Even a transformer explosion at the server farm where the comic is hosted that took out two walls, several websites, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of computer equipment did not stop Schlock Mercenary's update schedule; he just set up a temporary site until they got the main host back up. On one occasion, the comic was up several hours late. Howard apologized, and the strip was up by End of Business that day. One occasion in eleven years. He continued on the entire twenty year run, never having missed an update nor posting guest art. But he's going to take a vacation after that.
  • Deus Est Machina:
    • Seemingly any AI should it gain enough processing power. Lunesby, the accidental offspring of a holographic Boy Band and Luna's millennium-old filing system immediately decides to start streamlining the moon's labyrinthine bureaucracy. LOTA (the Longshoreman Of The Apocalypse) does pretty much the same thing on Credomar. OTOH, Petey is suicidally insane when the Toughs pick him up, but eventually becomes the core of the Fleetmind; a gestalt of countless Battleship Class AIs into one, big, (kinda) omniscient Uber-AI... that immediately decides to appoint itself guardian of the Milky Way Galaxy.
    • This could be Howard's idealistic side shining through the series' prevalent cynicism; organics are flawed, but machines just want to do what they're designed to do - make their creators' lives better. And given the opportunity, that's just what they'll do! More on Fridge Brilliance.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Word of God says it's hard to keep Petey's near omnipotence from slicing through a perfectly tangled Gordian-knot plot. This may explain why Petey was given a reason to avoid contact with the mercenaries at the end of Book 9 (they now remember him having abandoned them), and in Book 11 he has to use all his god-like power to fight the Pa'anuri of Andromeda and cannot spare any to act as Deus Ex Machina for the protagonists.
  • Did Not Do the Research: Parodied. In-Universe, the Show Within a Show has Schlock gaining New Powers as the Plot Demands, which Amorphs can't actually do.
  • Didn't See That Coming:
    • One of the most common plot complications. For example, the gang didn't see a rogue Ob'enn hijacking the PDCL coming. Petey didn't see the UNS making the mercs think he'd abandoned them coming. You get the idea.
    • The narrator goes so far as to say, at one point, that good intel for any non-AI-directed military mission usually amounts to, "Crap, I think they heard us coming."
  • The Ditz: A number of clients, especially those from the government.
  • Don't Explain the Joke: Get it?
  • Don't Ask, Just Run

Kevyn: Maxim Three: an ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody.

  • Don't Try This At Home: Pparodied often.
  • Double Standard: The standard outcome of an accidental insult or reflexive lechery from a male mercenary to a female mercenary is for her to break several of his bones. There's never any repercussions, and none of the men have ever assaulted any of the women.
    • Yeah, breaking of bones would be the merc equivalent of the Armor-Piercing Slap.
    • Also note that 1) there are only six females in the company (two of them not human, and thus of no interest to the guys), and 2) most of the men are a bit chauvinistic (which is one of the reasons they get hit).
      • Though usually the women are given far more leeway to hit men[3] this is interestingly subverted here when Breya learns that flying into a rage and attacking a mercenary is not a good idea.
  • Duct Tape for Everything:
    • Seems to be Pronto's favourite method of restraining prisoners, and is stated as such explicitly:

Kevyn: Does the Serial Peacemaker even have a brig?
Tagon: All I need is Corporal Pontucci and some duct tape.

    • Kevyn apparently took notes, later used when he takes command after Tagon's death:
    • An annotation notes that of the classic jury-rigging Holy Trinity of baling wire, Bondo, and Duct Tape, "Duct Tape has actually seen the most change during the intervening centuries. For instance, it can now safely be used to fasten and seal duct-work. Just be sure to lose the handy-dandy spool with the built-in tape cutter before it trims the tape just above your first knuckle."
    • Even useful for restraining nanomachine-based zombies.
    • "Autopilot."
    • The industry learns. There are purpose made tape-cuffs.
  • Dynamic Entry:
  • Dyson Sphere: Buuthandi are thin "balloons" with habitats hanging on them. The All-Star is a Dyson sphere built as a massive computer — a "Matrioshka brain", as pointed out by Liz. Where the buuthandi eschew the unrealistically impractical quality of being rigid spheres and instead are giant balloons around stars, the All-Star takes the trope in the opposite direction: it isn't "merely" a rigid, hollow sphere, it's a solid ball that looks to have over three times the diameter of the star it encloses. (This means that its volume, not including the star, is over twenty-six times that of the star.) Rather than collecting solar radiation for power, the All-Star seems to power itself off the fire of the stellar surface.
  • Ear Worm: The Macarena has been banned dozens of times since its creation because it's proven to be catchy enough to literally be infectious. Even when you change the words.

Kevyn: Explosive mayhem would actually be safer than some of those showtunes you used, but that's beside the point.

  • Earpiece Conversation:
    • Ventura as the coxswain was coached by a ship AI with lots of practical experience. And also happens to be under her command. As someone who knows what "feedback loop" is all too well, she finds this quite worrisome.
    • Corporal Gugro is issued a bone-phone (an ear implant) linked to Ennesby, who is to coach her through pretending to be in command of Tagon's Toughs to satisfy the requirements of the Uuplechan law that would otherwise prevent the Toughs from deploying to rescue the victims of the refinery explosion. Gugro, a fobott'r, quickly discards Ennesby's diplomatic script the first time they speak with an Uuplechan — the extremely undiplomatic militia leader Shiplord Srabben, who's wearing a tlumnph (a sort of diary of great cultural importance to fobott'r) as a trophy, and is proud of having killed fobott'r to get it.

Benthel Srabben: Last chance, grasshat. Turn away or die in flames.
Peri Gugro: Bring your flames to me, little kitten. I will board your ship, flay that coat from your mange-boiled back, and then, with just one hand, I will personally rip off your only pair of arms.
Ennesby: Connection closed. I don't think the script can be saved.

  • Easy Sex Change: One of the many possible modifications offered by GavCorps Diversity Engineering division.
  • Electronic Eyes: The set of Captain Landon's body parts replaced by Tenzy has expanded to include part of his face, including his left eye and ear, since he lost those while fighting Wing Marshal Takka Besti's forces in Book 16.
  • Egocentric Team Naming
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The Paa'nuri are strange dark-matter creatures that can't be seen and threaten to destroy the galaxy. It takes advanced science and lots of collaboration to fight back.
  • Enemy Mine: Several times, most often with General Xinchub.

Maxim 29: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more. No less.

"One of the best uses of a monkey is to make everyone pay attention to the monkey."

Schlock: Explosive decompression sucks.

  • Eye Scream: Eye injuries are extremely common.
    • Tagon alone has lost at least two over the course of the strip, the same one in the same book (medical cloning).
    • Others who have lost eyes include (but aren't limited to) Andy, Ch'vorthq, Ebbirnoth, Chisulo, Schlock (a special case - he can always go to his home planet and pick some more), and any number of anonymous enemy grunts. Given the state of medical technology, these are almost always either Amusing Injuries or the least of their worries.
    • It is also one of the few things the titular character has to worry about. As he notes when being shot by a sniper, only a hit to his eyes would even bother him.
  • Face Palm: Something of a regular occurrence.
  • Fake Memories
  • Fan Disservice: Oh god.
  • Fan Service:
    • Lots and lots of gratuitous bikini shots while the mercenaries are on vacation, which are hilariously lampshaded here.
    • Chelle's Incredible Flying Bikini, during the Barsoom arc.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Beyond a variety of "Race X hates Race Y and is trying to subjugate or destroy it," there's also a few cases of an extremely negative view of artificial intelligences, especially from Reverend Theo. Though he eventually came to terms with Petey (mostly) and had nothing against Lota becoming a supposedly benevolent dictator.
    • Also, elephant jokes.
    • There are broader criteria, such as Andy's "They're all Terrans. They all look alike".
  • Fantastic Slurs:
    • The Uuplechan Patriot Armada calls fobott'r "grasshats" [4] and "fobos" [5].
    • The Toughs, in turn, call the UPA "kittens". [6]
  • Fartillery: Invoked in one strip:

Kevyn: During this time you [Pi] are not to discharge anything more energetic than a sneeze.
Ennesby: Sneezes move at about forty-two meters per second, sir.
Kevyn: fast does a fart move?
Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!

  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: The nature and socio-political impact of the Teraport is a major theme of the series. The Wormgates also turn out to have far more plot significance than mere transportation.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Referenced in this strip, and ultimately Averted (if barely).
  • Fetch Quest: When Schlock had to go back to his homeworld to pick up a new set of eyes.
  • Fiction 500: After unlocking the riches of Eina-Afa and selling warships to Int-Aff-Int in book 14 and being paid a large amount of Undisclosed Funds to help save the UNS in book 15, Tagon's Toughs almost certainly are the wealthiest mercenary company in the galaxy by far.
    • Back in book 6, the hundred million kilocreds Kevyn spent to hire Pranger's Bangers was impressive even to Colonel Pranger (the galaxy's most renowned mercenary, at least back then) and downright stunning to Captain Tagon. Now, it's treated as no big deal for the Toughs to hire Sanctum Adroit for (hypothetically) ten quadrillion times that amount, and Captain Murtaugh's personal wealth is in the trillions of kilocreds.
  • Field Promotion: Happens a lot due to characters dying off.
  • Flame War: Referenced when Ennesby responds to a terapedo (which he disabled) with a very harshly worded message, using his Weapons Grade Vocabulary.

Ceeta: I have this policy about not starting flame wars with people who ride around in battleplates.

  • Flying Saucer: Ulaque's flashback to the galactic mega-war the All-Star accidentally started 3.161 billion years ago shows the All-Star fleets consisting of these, complete with beams of light that suck people up. Their modern fleets look different, though.
  • Food as Bribe: Dr Bunnigus gets Schlock to produce a bit of amorph-goo containing the ability to speak Galstandard West (for her to graft into Vog's heavily sampled brain) in exchange for the key-codes to one of Jumpstar Prime's locked commissaries, which contains enough food to feed the Toughs aboard for "roughly twenty years".
  • Foreign Queasine:
    • The ape-style rock-a-stack with real termites.
    • Smutto (a mixture of natto and corn smut) would also be a good example.
    • Subverted with chupaquesos. They are delicious.
  • Foreshadowing: The fact that Kathryn is an ex-UNS captain was quite heavily foreshadowed several times, starting with her exceptional competence at planning and subterfuge, along with her adeptness at using firearms while rescuing Karl Tagon. Also, as Accidental Truth.
  • For Inconvenience Press One
  • Fourth Wall: Gets progressively thicker as the series progresses. In the first volume, characters actively try to decide who's going to die on the basis of when they were introduced, who gets punchlines, and whether they're named. By later volumes, the wall gets nudged much more rarely, and fleetingly.
  • From a Single Cell
  • Fictional Document: The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Karl Tagon, when mafia team came for Kevyn's time-clone.
    • After Cynthetic Certainty teraports to the Urtheep Industries returns dock to fight the rogue All-Star agents' Killer Robot while many of the Toughs aboard are still asleep, Corporal Peri Gugro follows Schlock into combat just as naked as he is. Unlike Schlock, however, she's not Immune to Bullets, and Reality Ensues as she gets shot as soon as she steps out from behind cover.
  • The Fun in Funeral: Brightly-coloured party hats and noisemakers are the attire of choice at King Xinchub's funeral.
  • Fusion Dance:
    • Amorphs use this to exchange memories, to fight, and to reproduce.
    • There's also an interesting one when Schlock tries to trade memories with a timeclone of himself - the intellectual thought-processes recognize two unique Schlocks, but the biology thinks it's recovered an errant fragment of the same amorph unit. What ensues is described (to give us non-amorphs perspective) as being sort of like trying to resist throwing up, except backwards, and with about the same inevitability of outcome.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Kevyn; Dr. Todd, inventor of the "magic cryokit".
  • Gale Force Sound: "If you want to really yell at somebody, Doctor, do it from the diaphragm."
  • Gambit Pileup: Both most arcs and the overreaching plot, especially since the Fleetmind formed.
  • Generation Xerox: Played with and ultimately averted in a short storyline. General Tagon looks a lot like his son, which causes the latter to worry at one point that he's going to become his father as he ages, but an AI's projection shows that Kaff will look very different when he reaches his father's current age.
  • Genghis Gambit: On a galactic scale.
  • Genius Loci: Any ship with an AI.
  • Genre Savvy: Everyone.
    • Prime example: Thurl and Tagon are discussing a mission (May 1, 2008):

Thurl: I've run a cost-benefit analysis, and it remains profitable even in extreme contingencies.
Captain Tagon: Did you just weasel-word your way around saying "What's the worst thing that could happen?"
Thurl: Hey, you just now invoked Murphy, not me. Those weasel words are there for our protection.

Kaff Tagon: Crap. I must be dead.

  • Glove Snap: In the second strip. (Expected outcome Subverted.)
  • Gold and White Are Divine: In book 16, Petey is visually associated with gold — his holograms glow gold rather than the usual blue, the silver hexagon pattern in the background of conversations between AIs turns gold when he's in the conversation, and one strip symbolically depicts him with a golden Holy Backlight. However, this bit of visual symbolism doesn't stick — after book 16, Petey's holograms return to being the same color as everyone else's and the hexagon backgrounds are used only sporadically.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: As usual for this trope, massively parodied. Tagon shoots his shoulder angel with his sidearm because he thinks it's a mosquito, his shoulder devil tries to dress up as an angel, and his shoulder angel comes back to shoot it in the head for doing so.
  • Good News, Bad News: All over the place, in every form, including

Kathryn: (upon viewing certain spy cams in Dr. Pau's facility) Hmph. Well, the good news is that I can now start killing and not feel in the least bit guilty. The bad news is I'm not going to feel the least bit guilty about the killing I'm about to do.

Theo: ...mine also have designer frames.

Ch'Vorthq: Sergeant, you will be drinking a very heavy stimulant cocktail cut with shampoo and inert ultra-tensile carbon.
Schlock: I don't drink it. I eat it straight.
Ch'Vorthq: (dryly) And I suspect you're addicted to it.
Schlock: (drawing his BFG) Step away from the tub of happiness.

LOTA: You should now confiscate Lieutenant Pibald's pistol. It can shoot a hole in the world.

Tohdfraug Admiral: (to Petey) We've failed you. We've failed them.

  • Hellevator: Both an escalator to hell and a space elevator on Luna, called the "Helevator".
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In-Universe, Captain Tagon complains about how the statue erected in his(/his previous self's) memory depicts him, inaccurately, as not having had his helmet on during his Heroic Sacrifice in Book 16.
  • Helping Would Be Killstealing: Petey seems to take this stance toward localized disasters such as the Uuplechan refinery explosion, preferring to let mere former-mortals like Dr Gugro and the Toughs handle the little problems while he minds the galactic-scale problems. Chinook questions this policy, but goes along with it — at first.

Chinook: Petey, these interventions... are we doing this right?
Petey: We're saving lives, Chinook. Every day, every hour.
Chinook: We could do it so much more effectively if we just did it. You know, ourselves.

  • Heroic Sacrifice: A couple, despite all the Comedic Sociopathy. Most notably Brad, who stayed on his crippled shuttle to jury-rig a self-destruct out of ordinance so it wouldn't crash in a city and kill hundreds to thousands of people. In a surprising twist, he actually died. He got a really big statue, though.
    • His last thoughts also "highlight his noble character." This particular sacrifice got all the hero mileage possible.
    • Not death, but in a similar vein, Tailor agrees to have his personality rewritten (which he is understandably afraid of) to gain the medical knowledge needed to save Tagon.

Ventura: Do you trust me?
Tailor: I'm terrified of you.
Ventura: But you want me to do this?
Tailor: My Captain needs me to be something I'm not.

Narrator: Don't worry. We're not going to do Lost in Space. This will be ever so much worse.

  • Honor Among Thieves: The Toughs may be sociopaths but they steer clear of outright evil beyond what's Necessarily Evil to get the job done, and are very loyal to each other. Schlock in particular: to hurt someone he likes is not a safe place to stand. Nor, for that matter, is anywhere else downrange or in the blast radius. Case in point: here and here (death spoiler warning if you're mid Archive Binge).
  • Human Outside, Alien Inside: many of the aliens look more-or-less human, but have subtle or bizarre differences, like Lt. Ebbirnoth, whose species has their brain located in their pelvis.
    • (Not to mention the fact that Ebby is a Unioc...)
  • Humans Are Special: "Rescue Party" variant; with less than a thousand years in space - a fraction of many prominent species' lifespans - humans have already spread an English-influenced dialect of "Galstandard" far and wide, ballooned to the fifth-largest sapient species and fourth-strongest military power yet seen, rediscovered an order-disrupting technology purposefully suppressed for six million years, and been indirectly responsible for the creation of a godlike AI hivemind. And now that hivemind has decided to express its gratitude... Though we probably can't be trusted to run a project on longevity.
  • Humans Are White: Averted, in that dark skinned people show up as often as they would in the modern day. Intra-species ethnicity seems to have become a less significant matter compared to the wide variety of sophonts in the Schlockiverse.
  • Hyperspeed Ambush: The way wars were fought in the galaxy was completely changed thanks to the invention of the Teraport and related inventions such as the Terapedo. It isn't long before various anti-teraport countermeasures are designed to bring a sense of equilibrium back to transgalactic warfare.
    • Also, a nightmarish variation on this trope, the Cool Gates used for faster-than-light travel before the invention of the Teraport would make a double of you every time you used it. The double would then be kidnapped, interrogated for any useful information, robbed, and then destroyed.
  • Hyperspeed Escape: Quite common, unless measures are taken to prevent escape via Teraport.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Athens doesn't want to go first.
  • I Will Tear Your Arms Off: When Uuplechan Patriot Armada Shiplord Srabben thoroughly antagonizes "Marshal" Peri Gugro, especially by gloating about having killed fobott'r and taken their treasured tlumnphs as trophies, Gugro ignores Ennesby's coaching and threatens to board Srabben's ship and personally rip off his arms with one hand. Once Gugro captures Srabben and takes the tlumnph he was wearing, she finds that it belonged to a kindly fobott'r leader, Sira Tetlumbrathi, who wouldn't have approved of arm-tearing. Srabben, despite being utterly defeated, keeps taunting Gugro, but she can't bring herself to disgrace Tetlumbrathi's memory by fulfilling her threat — so she has Commander Foxworthy rip Srabben's arms off for her.
  • If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him: Parodied.

Nick: Lemme hit 'im too, sir. I promise not to kill 'im too quick.
Kevyn: I know he murdered our friend, but that will take you into a very dark place, Nick. We are going to turn Shufgar, alive and healthy, over to judges of House Est'll. Then, per ancient tradition, he will be killed and eaten a little bit at a time.
Nick: Your place sounds darker, sir.
Kevyn: It has the advantage of being legal.

Major Murtaugh: ...Sanctum Adroit is never violent in anger lest we become the evil we behold.
(report about Maximilian's team being wiped out comes in)
Maximilian: (smugly) Well... well... Major Murtaugh, are you ready to become what you behold?
Major Murtaugh: (looking at him with disgust) I'm ready to punch what I behold. Does that count?

  • Immortality
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: A supply vessel called "Eatonrun", call sign "MRE S0-7A57Y". The last part is claimed to be "completely unfunny", though (of course, if that's really MRE, it may be).
  • Indy Ploy: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
  • Information Wants to Be Free: Early on in the series, the mercenaries are attacked repeatedly by the F'sherl Ganni Gatekeepers, due to experimenting with (and holding the patent for) the Teraport, a method of Faster-Than-Light Travel that far outstrips the unwieldy stargates that got the F'sherl Ganni their name. Finally, Admiral Breya Andreyasn figures out that there's a way to stop the attacks: Release the Teraport into Open Source, essentially spreading the technology freely across the galaxy, and removing the Gatekeepers' reason to specifically target Tagon's Toughs.
  • Ingesting Knowledge: Carbosilicate amorphs evolved from data storage systems. They can exchange memories directly, by copying whatever information one wants to share in a single lump and giving another amorph this piece to absorb.
  • In Medias Res: Used in the opening of Book 8 (The Sharp End of the Stick. Later lampshaded here.
  • Instrumentality: The Fleetmind, but only for AIs and cyborgs.
  • Insult Friendly Fire
  • Ironic Echo Cut:
    • Used during the "Massively Parallel" arc to communicate flashbacks.

Thurl: Okay, perfect. That should do it.
Narrator: Rewind: seven hundred hours earlier, berthed at the High Olympus shipyards.
Kevyn: Okay, perfect. That should do it.

    • Again, during "Force Multiplication." A spy steals a villain's visor computer, which doesn't log itself out. She gloats about how he must be stupid, or it must be defective, right before it blows up in her face. Cut to the one who blew it up complaining about how he always suspected it was defective when she lives. Followed immediately by someone pointing out to the villain how stupid he was to have been walking around with a defective bomb strapped to his face.
    • This could get ugly and personal.
  • It Got Worse: Usually because everybody's plans crash into each other and burn or because the mercs didn't have enough information going in.
  • I Warned You: Ennesby zings Kevyn hard here.

Kevyn: One word from you and I'm handing you to Lieutenant Ventura for upgrades.

Ennesby (from an armed troop transport to a single guard): You there on the ground. Drop your weapon or be fired upon!
Guard: I'll die before I [THOOM!!]
Ennesby: "...finish my sentence", I think he was saying.

Ennesby: The Tausennigan Ob'enn warlords look like cuddly teddy-bears?
Petey: Yes, they do. And they'd cheerfully exterminate your entire race for making that observation!
Ennesby: I guess that explains their rich military history, then.

    • And inverted by the Kssthrata, the velociraptor-like species which evolved in the same system as the Ob'enn. Instead of continuing their counter-genocidal war with the Ob'enn, they just moved.
  • Last Starfighter: After Maxim 39 is destroyed and Petey teraports Breath Weapon to Eina-Afa to conscript Iafa to fight Chinook, Captain Tagon is left to manage the rescue mission in Outer Uuple with a Dragon-class cruiser and the small number of troops that fit in it. But hey, that's what he had back in 3095.
  • Layman's Terms: Kevyn's learned them. It was that or die because soldiers aren't physicists, and if you can't get them to understand you, you, along with trillions of others, will die because most people don't know the difference between "nonillion" and "bazillion".

Ennesby: The stray breacher round was a nice touch. Good timing. Perfect ironic humor. (Said in the last panel of a comic)

  • Le Parkour: It's evolved into a martial art called Parkata Urbatsu.
    • According to one character, along with influences of urbobatics and "something called You Tubing."
    • In this strip, Schlock actually can be seen using the panel frames as things to push off.
    • After Ulaque takes over Putzho's orientation in the All-Star from Evvin, who had been trying to impress the new uploads with "outdoorsy splendor", Ulaque admits having discarded the scenery in favor of blank backgrounds because "gradient fills save me a bunch of rendering time". Later:

Putzho: Let's say you tell me a story. I like it, but maybe I think the narrative structure is too choppy.
Ulaque: Like an episodic melodrama, or a long-form comic strip?
Putzho: Or maybe I find it too self-referential.

Kevyn: This is where I defecate in sympathetic reflex for every defense planner in the galaxy.

  • Meaningful Name:
    • Several of the names in the series have gags attached to them (e.g., 'Corporal Oleo' getting sliced in two at the end of an Overly Long Gag based on the saying 'like a hot knife through butter'; the planet Qlaviql, which appeared shortly after Tayler injured his clavicle in Real Life; the Tohdfraugs; Dr Todd, which stood for 'The Old Dead Doctor', who wasn't given a name until long after he was killed). Finally, Fanon holds that Kevyn and Breya's last name is meant to imply that they are descendants of a certain 21st century computer industry figure - who must have done very well, given that they are nobility back on Earth.
    • And, most significantly, the oft-injured Der Trihs.
    • The Reverend Theo Fobius. A comical inversion of "Theophilus" who crops up in both Luke and Acts in The Bible.
    • Most of the planets they encounter. And all the Battleplates are named after notable meteorite impacts with the earth. Logically, since they've meant to prevent the near light-speed, weaponized version of that.
    • Then, of course, there's LOTA...

Kevyn: That's the name. LOTA. It's your name. You live in those control systems. You are the Discontiguous Particle Accelleration System.
Lota: Yes, that is a little megalomanicial.
Kevyn: Only now "Lota" stands for "Long-gunner Of The Apocalypse".
Lota: ...and Lota likes it.

Ebby: I need to see if these lieutenant tabs will let me revoke metaphor privileges from a sergeant.
Schlock: They don't. And even if they do, they don't.

Chelle: Why do you think the Barsoom Circus recruits new performers from all over the galaxy each month? People come to see the aliens do weird, alien stuff.
Schlock: Are we joining a circus or a freak show?
Chelle: [Deadpan] Yes.

  • Mechanical Lifeforms: The Esspererin, and their Sosheki "mounts".
  • Memory Gambit: Schlock pulls off one (explained here)
  • Might Makes Right: Despite all the cynicism, this trope is usually Averted. Oh, sure, the strong ones can do whatever they like, but at least no one pretends they have the moral highground.
  • Mindlink Mates: Kevyn likes the idea. Petey doesn't think it's going to work well for humans without related experience.
  • Mind Rape: The "Mind-Rip," an invariably fatal method of extracting a being's memories. Funnily enough, it's been used by the "heroes" at least as often as the villains.
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum: Averted hard. It took all of a few hours after open-sourcing the Teraport for pan-galactic war to break out. A short while later, teraporting missiles were put into service by most warships. On top of this, the bigger and meaner warships can use their staggeringly powerful annie plants to simply rip other ships apart with Artificial Gravity.
  • Montages: Rare, but this one provides the trope's page image.
  • More Dakka: Used liberally.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: The long gun is fulfilling the, to quote Ambassador Bala-Amin in Book 16, "terrifying promise of a return to the dark ages of mutually assured destruction". The UNS Penultimate Admiralty's strategy for responding to the threat of the long gun is to be ready to fire back with their own long gun, while trying to prevent other galactic powers with long guns from acquiring sufficiently precise targeting data to fire on them, which various people [8] [9] [10] note is futile and will lead to galactic society falling apart. Petey disapproves, but fails to persuade the UNS to back down from escalating the threat by resorting to MAD.

Petey: I have moral issues with Mutually Assured Destruction. Its failure mode is terribly unpleasant.
Breya Andreyasn: "Unpleasant." Nicely understated.
Chu: Nobody likes it. That's why it works.
Petey: Eventually you will find somebody who does like it. And then, despite all the very horrible words I may choose to deploy, I will only ever be able to understate the unpleasantness.

Gasht'g'd'g'tang: I'm Gasht'g'd'g'tang. Your gate-copy killed my son. Prepare to die.

  • Myth Arc: It's subtle, but the state of the galaxy is influenced a great deal by the Toughs, whether they know it or not. It begins with Kevyn's invention of the teraport, then the gatekeepers siccing the partnership collective on them to supress the technology. Which leads to The teraport wars, and then the war with the dark matter entities.
    • There's a second arc at play as well. Project Lazarus started as an even more subtle myth arc, but starting about here a lot of Chekovs Guns were fired in quick succession, bringing the arc to the fore. The Lazarus arc may not be as vast as the Teraport Wars or the Andromeda War, but it's a lot more personal - and what with Petey having taken in General Xinchub and possibly allied with him, the two arcs are likely to fuse into one.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The ship Serial Peacemaker. Ironically, it is the smallest and least dangerous ship the Toughs have used as their flagship.
  • Nanomachines: used heavily in-story and played with a lot by the author.
  • Neural Implanting: As a result of technology allowing to back up and modify brain's contents. Gavs used it to add some variety and take all sorts of jobs in Gavcorp.
  • Never Live It Down: Tagon's "cluster-fluffle" did not go unnoticed.
  • Nigh Invulnerable: a number of characters, starting with Schlock and going up to god-like proportions.
  • Night Swim Equals Death: The plot of the Mahuitalotu arc kicks off this way.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: Corporal Neeka continues to be cheerful [11] [12] despite all the death in Outer Uuple, which, combined with Neeka's strange usage of Galstandard West, unsettles Dr. Gugro.

Neeka: The deadness they are enjoying is classified only as Laz-1. They are not very dead.
Dr. Viki Gugro: Your terminology is weird.
Neeka: I should say "mostly dead"?
Dr. Viki Gugro: You shouldn't say "enjoying."

  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: In one strip, the Pi talks about watching Jack-san Robo III, which features a ninja pirate cowboy with a monkey.
  • Nobody Poops: Perhaps a bit too averted at times.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Averted here, among the other cases.
  • No Fourth Wall: More frequently and noticeably in early strips. Nevertheless, recently Kevyn literally "met his maker" during a near-death experience, and instantly recognized him as the cartoonist, which led to this exchange:

Kevyn: Are you killing me?
The Cartoonist: No.
Kevyn: Oh. Goo-
The Cartoonist: Blood loss is killing you.

    • Generally speaking, the fourth wall disappears when someone is dying (usually only for that character). Thus, when the entire galaxy is dying, the fourth wall may as well be nonexistent.
  • Non-Idle Rich: The point is made that, having joined the Fiction 500, Tagon's Toughs "can afford to not work for a while" and go on vacation. Instead, they stay In Harm's Way, mounting expeditions at the behest of Petey and the Neoafan Freehold, to avoid Rich Boredom — especially to avoid Rich Boredom among the grunts, for whom boredom is expected to lead directly to jail.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The tactical uses of this combined with Paranoia Fuel are nicely demonstrated here.
  • Odd Couple: Bunnigus and the Reverend (sounds like a sitcom title), now Happily Married. Except that they've realized their marriage was really just a fake memory implanted in them. And arranged official ceremony. In fact, they were legally married at this time, but don't remember it, because Admiral Emm married them shortly before the mindwipe and they didn't get their old memories back.
  • Oh Crap: Many, once literally.

Kevyn: My sentiments precisely, sir.

    • Der Trihs retains this reaction even when very drunk.
    • Tailor's expression here is notable, just having realized that a gunship is about to shoot his restraints off.
    • The Reverend has a few of these moments, both giving and receiving.

Ebby: What are the chances Credomar's king can be hacked? ...okay, I'm full. Time to go to sleep.
Theo: Sleep? Who can sleep?

    • Para finds out that Ennesby sent a copy of crazy Tagii to infiltrate an absurdly powerful system. Then , of course, Tagon when the happy news reached him.
    • In the Pluto Plaza fight:

Sorlie: We haven't seen any [enemy] air support. I'd like to exploit our good fortune while it lasts.
Murtaugh: It's not "good fortune" when you don't know where the enemy put their air support.
Sorlie: <silently freaks out>

Burana-bots: OY VEY, MACARONI!
Ennesby: This one's kind of catchy. Especially if you have arms to do the moves with.

  • On Three: Page image.
    • And there is the occasion when a sniper has Schlock in his sights, while Schlock had just fired some grenades at the target. While the sniper tries to get an eye shot, Schlock holds up his fingers to count down from three to zero ("...ground zero") since his targetting computer told him how long it'll take the grenades to reach their target.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted: There's an Urtheep Industries employee named Hazz, who was on a mission overseen by one Director Hazz and an aide who might also be named Hazz.
  • Other Me Annoys Me
  • Orwellian Retcon: "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries" used to be "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates," and the "maxims" referred to as "rules" (with the explanation that each "habit" comprised several "rules"). Eventually, the publishers of the real "Seven Habits..." caught wind and made him change it. ("Eventually" here defined as "after over eight years, when the joke had already long since undergone Memetic Mutation...") To soften the blow however, Howard Tayler admitted he was glad for the excuse to make the change, not least because the new title could be used for The Merch.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted; religion is alive and well among many different cultures, and the Tagon's Toughs have their own chaplain (Reverend Theo). In his first appearance, Howard Tayler included an editor's note stating that this trope is what's "foolishly optimistic," not religion.
  • Overly Long Name: The Ot-Skadak hive from which the Toughs recruit is named, in full, Akkroku-Takka Ksatti-Kuts Noaeho-Akfa. Bosun Vaal can pronounce this without trouble, but Captain Tagon stumbles over it, and the Ot-Skadak offer the abbreviation "Akkro-Akfa".
  • Overused Running Gag: In-Universe, this is what Tagon considers Shodan's continuing to bring up the accident during the Mall Cop Command arc where Tagon got a fork stuck in his eye.

Tagon: Clever, but I bet a professional comedian would have moved on to new material by now.

Ennesby: Everyone stand by to pour some Serial Peacemaker into a big bowl of "no-problem."
Tagon: How long have you been waiting to use that stupid "Cereal" pun?
Ennesby: Ever since you let me name the ship, sir.

  • Painting the Fourth Wall: Characters routinely lean on or brace themselves against panel borders.
  • The Paralyzer: Stunners. As often happens with non-lethal weapons, if someone uses them at all it tend to end up in "zap everyone, sort later" tactics. They are also comletely useless if the target has helmet closed.
  • Pass the Popcorn: Putzho joins Petey and Chinook in a park in Eina-Afa, from which they're watching the Toughs fight the Uuplechan Patriot Armada, and Chinook has what looks like popcorn delivered at Putzho's request.
  • Peeling Potatoes: parodied here.
  • Perpetual Poverty:
    • However many times the Toughs get paid, they'll be struggling to make next paycheck before you know it.

Tagon: "This number looked a lot bigger before I started the payroll."

Schlock: Ennesby gave me a shorter word to say all that, Sir. 'Assassineated'.
Tagon: Ennesby needs to stop inventing words.

Pau: Don't worry about me! Worry about that turd-tentacled monster! He's faster than he -
Schlock: Say "Looks."

  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Human in basic emotions, very not human in every other part of their outlook.
  • Right Behind Me:
    • Captain Tagon. "I think he bruised his brain when he put his foot in his mouth."
    • Leutenant Shodan knows the cop is behind him.
    • Captain Gasca telling the admiral how their current intelligence chief is too cautious. And that's when she reminds him that if her predecessor was cautious enough, he won't be discharged due to presumed death in the first place.
    • Captain Tagon expects Ennesby to pop in with a retort.
    • Corporal Neeka flies up from underneath a footbridge on which Corporal Peri Gugro is complaining about Neeka's surgical technique:

Dr. Viki Gugro: Doesn't your company have battlefield medics?
Peri Gugro: Our doctor is alright, but our medic is more like a mobile cutlery station.
Neeka: ...Who saved your life.

  • Right Man in the Wrong Place: This Qlaviql ore freighter captain.
  • Rubber Forehead Aliens: Averted. The alien population is extremely diverse and well worth studying if you'd like to break out of that anthrocentric mold.
    • Especially averted in the title character, he doesn't even have a head or a bipedal humanoid form.
  • Rugby Is Slaughter: All sports, from Ballet to Deathball, share a league. Rugby is not allowed.
  • Running Gag:
    • The most enduring example is that Schlock looks like, well, a giant pile of crap. Nearly everyone who sees him for the first time mistakes him for a moving pile of poop.
    • Der Trihs ending up as a head in a jar; Kevyn surviving repeated deaths; Schlock crawling, or squeezing, through air vents and pipes; the names of the ships in Petey's fleet; the Toughs killing lawyer drones on sight; the Gavs. In Book 11, the recurring question What Would Schlock Do?
    • And then Schlock shows up to deliver a superb "Show Not Tell" answer. "This."
    • Every time Kathryn gets her bus repaired, the Toughs hijack it. Three times.
    • It's almost impossible to keep track of the amount of times when kitties are involved and Schlock tries to eat them. Fortunately for the kitties, he never does.
    • Schlock being faster than he looks, much to the surprise of those facing him.
    • The Vomiting Cop in "A Hand of Acey's." Yes, the Incredibly Lame Pun is Lampshaded.
    • The in-universe Schlock Mercenary TV show, it comes around every now and then to overshadow the protagonists and causes them inconveniences.
  • Sapient Ship: it's a rare exception when a capital ship is flown by a human pilot or even a mobile robot. Almost every armed starship we see is inhabited by its own AI, who "is" the ship and considers the whole structure its body.
  • Scare'Em Straight: Regularly. Such as with Renault clumsily hitting on Elf prompted her to "fill in some key details".
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Implied as the reason behind the Ob'enn's war-like nature.

Psycho-Bear Lieutenant: Talking to inferior species beats getting killed by them.
Psycho-Bear Captain: Don't let the chaplain hear you say that.

Petey: They are also deathly allergic to chocolate, coffee, tea, tobacco, and anything that's been fermented with yeast.
Narrator: Wow. You'd think they were Mormons.

    • And on a more personal note:

Kevyn: If you have an infinite number of monkeys banging on an infinite number of hypernet terminals, for an infinite amount of time, eventually you'll crank out all the great works of Howard Tayler.
Narrator: Note: This can actually be done with three monkeys in fifteen minutes.

>> Your current game will be lost. Reload from previous save? Y/N
 > Y
 >> Loading...

  • Shut UP, Hannibal: LOTA gets to deliver a magnificent one to a "reporter" who actually is named Hannibal, as quoted above under Democracy is Bad.
  • Shutting Up Now:
    • While Captain and Commander Foxworthy argue about the settings on their new "tune-on-entry" teraport cage after it sent Lieutenant Flinders flying into Captain Tagon, Corporal Ventura gleefully comments on how the collision looked like a Meet Cute[5] — until it becomes clear that the argument is more marital than technological, at which point Ventura has "some robots to work on".
    • While watching Commander Foxworthy prepare to board the UPA flagship Soulward Honor, Ventura chats with Aardman, until Chief Thurl steps in with a deadpan remark, which Ventura notes «means "get back to work"».
  • Slasher Smile: Most of the Toughs' officers can do this, notably Tagon (example here). He likes violence and he likes getting paid. If he is smiling, pray you are his employer.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Quite cynical.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness Versus Seriousness: Despite the cynicism of the strip, it rarely takes itself seriously.
  • Smart People Play Chess: AIs play chess for fun. You can tell when one of them is seriously outclassed because his opponent will be able to predict the entire game before the first move is played.
  • Society of Immortals:
    • The Bradicor, but only the semi-retired semi-senile branch survived.
    • Once RED-REO (backup to skin and bones), the Immortality Inducer released to the public in Book 15, has been adopted widely across galactic civilization. One of the main plotlines concerns Tagon's Toughs deploying to a disaster area to provide expert assistance in activating the resurrection feature of the victims' RED-REO nannies.

A footnote on the first page: In the waning days of 3099 the Neoafan Freehold published an amazing suite of life-extension technologies which, taken collectively, promised to extend lives almost indefinitely. [...] The intervening sixteen months have seen numerous non-trivial crises as the widely interspeciated population of the the galaxy increased just a couple of percentage points faster than it used to. Most of these crises were mentioned in Schlock Mercenary only in passing, because "lets build more houses" is less interesting than "oh no we're being attacked by space bugs."

  • Somebody Else's Problem:
    • The characters are mercenaries, after all. Priority number one is to stay alive long enough to get paid. Priority two is to get paid.

Breya: What about priority three? Feel good about yourself?
Tagon: Do what I do: Learn to feel good about getting paid.

    • Petey on the other hand is very much against this philosophy, which is largely why he declared war on the Ob'enn, and eventually the entire Andromeda galaxy.

Petey: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Tagon: I haven't heard that one before.

  • Space Based Weapon Has Cutoff Range: Averted here.
  • Space Elevator: Using gravitics. And since they extend to planet-stationary orbit and "a little" beyond, it takes more gravitics still for elevators to have acceleration allowing reasonable travel time.
  • Space People: The F'sherl-ganni/Gatekeepers, to the point of being able to survive vacuum.
  • Spit Take: Kevyn gets several in a row, starting here.
  • Spy Speak: In this strip, Maximillian Haluska's use of field operative terminology gave away he was more than just a well-equipped thug. The "Aunt Amy" and "Uncle Bob" thing comes up again here, in conversation with Para Ventura. When the latter is revealed to be
  • Starfish Aliens: Schlock is really, really weird. Most of the others we meet at least breathe oxygen, and a lot of them are something vaguely resembling humanoid. But the Pa'anuri are the weirdest of all.
  • Stealth Cigarette Commercial: The in-universe Plasma Cannon Safety Coloring Book, printed jointly by Magic Dreamland Entertainment and Strohl Munitions.
  • Story-Breaker Power: Petey could deal with most of the issues the heroes face on a whim. He has purposely done things in a less efficient way just to give them something to do in a few storylines since his ascension to Fleetmind.
  • Stripperiffic: Parodied.
  • Subspace Ansible: The Hypernet.
  • Suicide Mission: From the All-Star's perspective, their new agent Putzho embarks on a suicide mission by taking a warship to go save the galaxy, because they can't allow him to return to the All-Star lest others find its location by following him back. It's a very long-term "suicide" mission, though — Putzho still gets to be an immortal (type I) superintelligence with one of the most advanced warships in the galaxy; he's just more likely eventually to get killed out there in the outside world than he would be in the safety of the All-Star.

Ulaque: If you leave, you won't be coming back. This is a One-Way Trip.
Putzho: From a thermodynamic perspective, every trip is one-way.

  • Super Serum: Soldier-boosts; illegal if done without a license, but that doesn't stop anyone.
  • Super Soldier: Several, with the Doyts being particularly notable.
  • Tactile Script:
    • The many-leveled glyphs used by the Oafa includes "touchscript". They are jellyfish-like creatures that resemble a hydrogen blimp with prehensile tentacles dangling from one side.
    • The Fobottr have good sense of touch in their big meaty fingers, and use this both for "gripspeak" (silent contact Sign Language) and etched scriptminor spoiler.
  • Take Our Word for It: The artist knows full well that sometimes the readers' imaginations can come up with a far more epic scene than whatever he might've had planned, so he employs this.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Averted, here, due to one character having far less time to chat than he thought.
  • Talking Your Way Out: Most characters employ this (even the supposedly dumb ones) to some degree, but Kathryn in particular is an artist. No small wonder, considering her background. Case in point here, talking her way out of being held at gunpoint.
  • Tank Goodness: Flying Tank goodness for the win.
  • Techno Babble: Rarely. Putzho says that his self-tuning teraport cage is "quantum entangled with the micronodes in the virtual transmitter's cloud", which Kevyn decries as "buzz-word salad".
  • Teleport Interdiction: Teraport Area Denial systems were introduced within days of Kevyn making the blueprints for the Teraport open-source. Removing the Tough's massive tactical advantage.
  • Tempting Fate:

Tarpaulin: Mistress Ventura, please be careful. That soshiko outmasses you by two orders of magnitude.
Para Ventura: Do I look worried?
Tarpaulin: No, but you've only grown back five centimeters of hair since you last asked me that question.

  • Theme Initials: all of the PD Fleet ships have names with the initials 'P.D.' [13]
  • The X of Y: All the Ob'enn ship names follow a strict pattern: The [Object] of [Pretentious Adjective] [Pretentious Principle]. If it is a defensive ship, the object will be a piece of armor or article of clothing; if offensive, a pointy handweapon of some sort. Lampshaded when Tagon discovers his recently-acquired fabber is of Ob'enn manufacture:

Tagon: Let's slap a drive and crew quarters on it and christen it the Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance.
Kevyn: Making fun of Ob'enn ship names is like shooting fish in the barrel of circular swimming.

Thurl: Whoever took him was not subtle.
Kevyn: Broken furniture?
Thurl: Craters.

  • There Was a Door: Petey tends to use unorthodox methods of entering spaceships, seen, for example, here.
  • Three-Point Landing: Tagon here, particularly impressive in that he also did a flip.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: There are some jokes about it. Also, both Petey and Lota are willing to use this tactic. Of course, Petey's version is more a teralock, but still...

Lota: Should you so much as approach those systems Lota will be required to fire you.
Kevyn: Okay, I get it.
Lota: Out an airlock.

  • Third Person Person: Lota not only refers to Lota in the third person, but insists that everyone else does so as well.
  • This Ain't Rocket Surgery: Well, not the rocket half, anyway.
    • One plotline invokes both halves of this in quick succession.
  • Timber!: At the end, when the Toughs and the UNS are relocating the esspererin city of Beskin-Sashik away from Uli-Oa before Petey destroys Uli-Oa, a UNS lieutenant shouts "TIMM-BERRRR" after using a ship-to-ship weapon to sever the esspererin colony-tree from Uli-Oa.

Sato: Lieutenant, did you just make a joke at the expense of the people whose home we are disassembling?
Juab lieutenant: Sir, I just used a gravy-braided plasma lance to cut down a tree.
Sato: So you did make a joke.
Juab lieutenant: No sir. "Timber" is the lumberjack equivalent of "fire in the hole."
Sato: Good save. Carry on.

  • Time Abyss: The Really Old Dude and Very Old Guy, members of the species that originally created the amorphs.

Fobottr Tenant: Are you claiming that your people have been on the surface for over ten million years?
Rod: Oh, my people have been down there for much longer than that. No, I was just talking about me, personally.

Kaff Tagon: This... thing we do. Being "backed up." It's a little immortality. It won't stop death. Since I want to stay alive, I do what all good soldiers do. [gets interrupted by Schlock]

  • Toilet Humor: Characters frequently point out that Schlock looks like, well, crap, but that's only about half of it, to the point of an Overused Running Gag.
  • Tongue Suicide: In book 4, Colonel Ceeta decides to kiss Captain Tagon, before General Xinchub executes both Tagon and his crew killed, Tagon replied, ""I'd sooner bite off my own tongue and bleed out than kiss you, Jevee.", he's presumably being hyperbolic, though he doesn't have a choice when the "fine, gravitic control of the battleplate Tunguska" is fine.
  • Too Much Information
  • Torture Technician: U.N.S Colonel De Hanns
  • Totem Pole Trench: This strip.
  • Try Not to Die
  • Tsundere: Most of the female cast has their moments, but Elf is the most prominent example, especially earlier in the strip.
  • Twin Threesome Fantasy: Referenced, and rejected, here.
  • Unit Confusion: Being reasonably hard SF, it's usually pretty good, but with the occasional slipup.
    • Especially early on, "watt" would occasionally be used as a unit of energy instead of power.
      • Kerchak made this mistake as late as 2010, but that time the author claims it was intentional.
    • Upon getting his head around that one, Tayler made the different error of using "terawatt-nanoseconds" to mean "an incomprehensibly huge unit of energy".[6]"
    • Gav once refers to the "radius" of a Negative Space Wedgie where the author probably meant "diameter" (a slip-up from him being a bit less plausible than one from Kerchak), since a later strip has it swallowing a ship at a bit over half the "radius" given.
  • Unsound Effect:
    • Ommminous Hummmmm, preferably intoned in real life in the style of Gregorian chants.
    • Also teraporting seems to result in a sound of PORT for short hops or TERAPORT if you're planning on staying, although it can vary depending on circumstances.
    • KA-LASE.
    • Ulaque turns Evvin, who had been lording it over the captured Urtheep team as a giant tree, first into a "BONSAI!" and then into a "BLOSSOM".
    • An Urtheep Industries employee checking on Urtheep's inventory of tanks finds that some of them are being stolen by the rogue All-Star agents. As he flees, his Voice with an Internet Connection asks whether he found "some more discrepancies". Before he can answer, the tanks blow up part of the hallway behind him with the unsound effect "DISCREPANCIES!".
    • Cindy fires her new Chekhov's Gun with the unsound effect "CHEKHOV!".
  • Unusual Euphemism: Used rather often, and often to hilarious effect.

Tagon: (discovering he's just been stabbed in the eye with cutlery) Oh, fork.

Kevyn: When you've already been flipped out of the frying pan and into the fire, what do you call it when you get flipped again into something even worse?
Ennesby: I don't know. I'm reindexing "frying pan" for a higher baseline, though.

Pi: Hyperspace Death-Ray. That's what Credomar is.
Lota: Correction: "Credomar" is a city-state full of coddled humans who currently reside on a habitable moon of their very own. The remains of their station...THAT is a hyperspace death-ray.

Ceeta: My stomach is in my throat right now. It's trying to spit acid on the parts of my brain that remember reading his message.

Kaff Tagon: Well, it was a really good threat. It'd be a shame not to deliver.

Tagon: Vog, you're about a zillion years old. What you don't know can probably be written on the back of your hand.

Karl Tagon: I want stars off the starboard bow in ten minutes.
Kaff Tagon: Dad, what kind of shows have you been watching lately?
Karl Tagon: It's a great line, and our client is paying for melodramatic levels of haste.

Petey: I know I've hit a rough patch when a violent, amorphous sociopath is my best character reference.
Tagon: He's the only reference I'll trust. What's that say about me?

  • Your Mom: ...weighs six tons and kisses with two meters of muscled trunk.
  1. of anything, up to and including Testosterone Poisoning
  2. From its use in the phrase from which was derived the word t'okjith (note the placement of the expletive cho)
  3. with reasons ranging from being in danger to the men making chauvinistic remarks to Tagon simply not realizing that Elf is coming on to him
  4. That's "species" in the plural, to be clear.
  5. specifically, in our terms, a Crash Into Hello
  6. Power is energy divided by time, so "terawatt-nanoseconds" would have been simply "kilojoules," or about a hundredth of the energy the human body gets from a carrot. He was most likely trapped in the more common mold of "x per second," where, for instance, terajoules per nanosecond would be the extremely large "zettawatts."