Schlock Mercenary

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A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.

Space Opera 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 has been running seven days a week without missing a day since the 12th of June 2000 - eleven years. Sometimes it gets 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 under construction on Kickstarter - 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.

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 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.
  • 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...
  • 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:
  • Brass Balls: Petey said "Balls of steel" in this strip.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

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.

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.
  • 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[2] 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.
  • 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.

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".
  • 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: ...how fast does a fart move?
Ennesby: *shocked* Mother of methane! Farts are flammable!

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

  • 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.
    • "Sis, that's long enough that the thing could have flown here from Andromeda." Guess where the wormgate being disucssed goes to?
    • Sunshine is just another weapon.
  • 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
  • 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.

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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Let's Get Dangerous: Theo (he tend to whip out that rapier), Murtaugh made such a speech that even Haban II and Breya gave her concerned looks. Later, the delegate from flechette bugs Hive Mind decides to flex the wings and scout ahead... immediately followed by Scream Discretion Shot from an enemy patrol.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: Ennesby to Schlock, after a particularly unpleasant moment.
  • Little Hero, Big War: Ostensibly the Toughs' position, being a small mercenary company in a big, big galaxy with lots of conflict. However, they do play a role in many important events and are responsible for some major shifts in the galactic balance of power, including the introduction of the teraport, the formation of the Fleetmind, and the creation of LOTA.
  • Living Doorstop: Kevyn strapping misbehaving Buranabots to the hull as "ablative armor".
  • Locked in a Room: Dr. Bunnigus and the Reverend on the Hellevator.
  • Loophole Abuse: Presumably, after this strip there's now a company policy regarding air vents, where there wasn't one previously.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Understandable, since it focuses on an entire company of mercenaries, but there's still a lot to keep track of. And the Big Guys tend to all look fairly similar. Not to mention 950 million Gavclones and assorted Gate Clones. Unless a character is confirmed dead there is a very good chance they'll show up again. This applies to everyone.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard:
    • The mobsters that kidnapped timeclone-Kevyn and general Tagon actually force Kevyn to build a machine that they don't understand.
    • The original Kevyn turned a mini-wormgate into a gravy gun that splattered the UNS marines about to kill him, though it was fortunate he used it to clone himself first.
    • Also happens to Lt. Ventura. Her captor tries to be Genre Savvy by not having the innoncent-with-the-big-eyes looking girl guarded by an easily swayed human guard. Instead they locked her in with the robots...
  • Long Runners: The comic has run continuously since 12 June 2000. Do the math.
  • Made of Iron: Many of Tagon's mercenaries have various artificially-induced boosts to their strength and endurance, but lately Tagon has been particularly Badass. Bad guy throws a knife and sticks Tagon in the eye with it. Tagon pulls it out of his socket and uses it to kill the bad guy and a Mook.
  • Mad Scientist: several, subverted in Kevyn. See the Characters page for details.
  • Magic Antidote: The regenerative tanks and "blood-nannies".
  • Male Gaze: Demonstrated in-unverse here
  • Martial Pacifist: Jurisindependent Security Covenant, which is "more like a religion than an armed force".
  • Mass "Oh Crap": Invoked here:

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.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Overly Prepared Gag: One of the ships the company gets was christened the "Serial Peacemaker."

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.
  • 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."

  • Physics Plus: Gravity manipulation (but not generation—ships are built around spheres of neutronium as sources of gravity to manipulate), a process which is as well developed as electronics, and playing the result to its natural conclusions; ubiquitous Flight, Deflector Shields, traversable wormholes (one example which Justifies a Time Travel storyline), and quantum teleportation. Some find the easy nanotechnology a bit of a stretch.
  • Police Are Useless: Not always, but often.
  • Population Control: Of the eugenic variety.
  • Portal Network: with an incredibly dark secret; It copies everyone who uses it each time they use it. The Gatekeepers then interrogate the copies and kill them. They know everything about everybody without anyone's knowledge. Seven million people every minute. For hundreds of thousands of years. Technically, they meant well - the Pa'anuri made it clear that either the Gatekeepers would prevent the use of Teleporters and Transporters or they'd kill the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Powered Armor: And how. Besides the standard stuff, the Toughs are equipped with low-profile (to the point of invisibility) armor built into their uniforms that helps diffuse energy weapons and lets them fly.
  • The Power of Friendship: A twisted sort of application of the trope. The Toughs can't count on their allies, because they're mercenaries and your allies might be the guys you're hired to kill tomorrow; they can't count on any of their respective home governments, for pretty much the same reason; they certainly can't count on their employers, who are frequently known to try to backstab the Toughs since, well, they hired a band of mercenaries to begin with, so why not add "screwing over those who make a living with violence"? But they know they can count on their friends (which, admittedly, is usually limited to "each other", but the sentiment is there).
  • Private Military Contractors: Well, duh.
  • Projected Man: most of the shipboard AIs; also, Ennesby before he joined the crew and got a body of sorts.
  • Psychic Powers: It is stated early on by the narrator that someone with "psychic sight" can see the bullet destined to kill someone. This is dropped in favor of harder sci-fi, but psychic powers such as (radio) telepathy get referenced every once in a while.
  • Psychotic Man Child: Probably the best description of Schlock's attitude. He does show care and loyalty to his friends despite his status as a sociopath, but enjoys fighting too much to care about the blazing hot maimery he spews from his plasma cannon on anyone but his friends.
  • Punctuation Shaker: The F'Sherl-Ganni typically have three apostrophes in their names
    • And they call a certain enemy the Paan'uri, or is it Paa'nuri, or Pa'anuri?
  • Pungeon Master: Ennesby.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The misfits and more exotic alien members of the team are all assembled in a squad led by Schlock himself. Tagon and his command staff treat them as an elite force they don't so much deploy as unleash.
  • Recursive Ammo: Referenced once, but beam attacks tend to be more common when battles occur.
  • Recursive Canon: The very inaccurate Show Within a Show licensed adaptation of the Toughs' adventures, which inappropriately chibifies the crew and exaggerates Schlock's abilities.
  • Recursive Reality: In the library at Tinth-Pilkra, as part of an Old Media Are Evil joke, on a shelf in the foreground can be found compilations of early twenty-first century webcomics, including Sluggy Freelance...and Schlock Mercenary itself.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Justified. The Toughs are a mercenary company anywhere between several dozen and a few hundred strong, not all of them identified. Introducing a new character can and has been as simple as giving one of them a name and a job that lets the audience know what he does.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent:
    • Played straight with The Partnership Collective, combined with Lawyers Are Abhorrent
    • However, the Kssthrata, neighbours of the cute and furry but genocidal Ob'enn, are much nicer.
  • Retcon: Due to trademark issues, the Big Book of War of the series needed to be retitled. Formerly "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates", it is now "The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries".
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Human in basic emotions, very not human in every other part of their outlook.
  • 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.

  • Serial Escalation: Approaches this at times. How many times can you get paid for a single job? Tagon's Toughs' current record is five.
    • In fact it's technically seven.
    • Also, power escalation leading to "Book 16: Big, Dumb Objects" (the "can full of sky" itself already appeared in Book 14, however).
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: When Kevyn travels back and therefore the Bad Future is erased, this is effectively conveyed with a panel that imitates the look of loading a saved game in terminal.

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

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:
  • Theme Initials: all of the PD Fleet ships have names with the initials 'P.D.'[1]
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

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

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. 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
  3. 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."