A Space Opera series by Elizabeth Moon.Kylara Vatta gets forced out of her naval academy for a scandal she accidentally helped create. Her family runs a powerful trading business and she's sent to captain an outdatedtrade ship to a planet where it's to be sold for scrap, not quite aware that it's a Secret Test of Character from her father and brother to see how she'll rise up to danger and hold up in the family business. They get more danger than they bargained for however, as a criminal conspiracy threatens to violently bring down the corporate structures that space currently relies on... including the Vatta family.The series includes the following books:
Trading in Danger
Marque and Reprisal, titled Moving Target in the UK, New Zealand and Australia
Engaging The Enemy
This series contains examples of:
Absent Aliens: Instead, the galaxy is populated by wildly divergent cultures of humans, with various degrees of Transhumanism in effect.
Action Girl: Kylara Vatta, The Captain. Knows her way around both space and hand to hand combat due to her military training.
Anyone Can Die: In Victory Conditions, almost the entire crew of Ky's ship is killed unexpectedly in the midst of a battle scene.
Appeal to Force: InterStellar Communications tells one mercenary company, when one of their ansibles is damaged in a fight, that they will collect a deposit from them and then hold an inquiry into the incident, and collect the fine out of the deposit if the mercenaries are found responsible. When the mercenaries object and ask the representative about a trial, they are informed that InterStellar doesn't resort to the courts, they arbitrate their own disputes. Since all interstellar communications run through them, they can pull this off.
Arms Dealer: Ky must deal with both Gun Shop Owners and Space Shooter Sellers, and finding one of the latter that won't screw her or hasn't been bought by the enemy is a difficult job. The better ones, in both cases, are often slightly less than legitimate.
In the later books, the politeness obsessed and slightly silly Cascadia System throws in their lot with Ky's anti-pirate Privateer flotilla, giving her some legitimate backing and some not-insubstantial military and industrial resources. The same overly polite people also arrest and execute one of the villains for being rude in court.
Bio-Augmentation: Used for thing ranging from making it easier to install implants, to alterations that make the subject seem downright alien.
Black Box: The hyperdrive and the Ansibles. The crew does not know how to service or repair either of them, as the manufacturers of both are very protective of their design secrets. This becomes a plot point when the hyperdrive breaks down in the first book And when the Ansible network begins to fail. Also applied to various components on the ship that Ky does not know the workings of. Usually she doesn't get an explanation, so she and the reader both move on while more specialized characters work on the equipment.
Black Sheep: Osman Vatta, a former member of the Vatta family who becomes a pirate. Has a form of Pater Familicide done to the others as part of their plans.
Subverted with Rafe who thanks to the bad guys is made to look like this, but ends up the Prodigal Hero when he returns to rescue them.
Bling of War: Ransome's Rangers when Ky first meets them are decked out in this.
Call Back: Stella's backstory becomes very relevant again when she ends up a temporary guardian of Toby's girlfriend who did pretty much the same "reveal a family secret to a lover" thing Stella did at her age, only in her case it's her father who was the bad guy, not Toby. And of course, they're both daughters of Space Pirates, though Stella was adopted young. Stella reflects how lots of things they say to each other are word-for-word Meaningful Echoes of her own thoughts and things she and her mother argued about.
Chekhov's Gun: The model kit and the fruitcakes from Trading In Danger.
Partially deconstructed as the kit was intended for an entirely different use.
The armored command pods from Victory Conditions.
Chekhov's Skill: Kylara learns how to shoot the equivalent of a dart-gun in the first book. She later uses this skill to put down a mutiny. Justified as the reason she learned in the first place
Cool Old Lady: Aunt Gracie. She dotes on other family members, insists on giving largely inedible fruitcakes and was a pain in Ky's side, but she turns out to be the company spy and has an Expansion Pack Past, and the fruitcakes turn out to be specially formulated to hide things like documents and diamonds.
Cool Ship: The Gary Tobai (nee Glennys Jones), the Vanguard.
Depraved Bisexual: Osman Vatta, family blacksheep and pirate, who, according to Ky's one crewmember who knew him, "liked pretty faces, didn't matter what gender".
The Ditz: In her youth, Stella gave a lover family codes that enabled him to steal from them, and got cursed with a reputation as "the idiot Stella" for years after, but Aunt Gracie took Stella under her wing and Character Development ensues. Now she uses the beautiful ditz personality as a facade to charm people for favors and info.
The Dulcinea Effect: Happens to at least a few of the male characters towards Ky. Very nearly gets her killed on the first occasion, after a crewmember ignored Ky's orders to the crew to stand down when they were boarded by a team of mercenaries. After a while, she begins to become very frustrated at the tendency for men around her to cause additional trouble trying to protect her.
Family Business: Kylara Vatta enrolled in the Slotter Key Military Academy specifically to avoid getting roped into her family's shipping company. She ended up getting shanghaied into being a ship captain within days of being forced to resign from the Academy within weeks of graduation.
Felony Misdemeanor: In the Cascadian system of the Moscoe Confederation, where Ky travels in Engaging the Enemy, the Cascadians have the death penalty for being rude and in contempt of court, but you can set clandestine bugs on someone's dock with the correct, easy to obtain permits. (If the person you're bugging is a citizen you have to politely inform them of your intent, which kinda defeats the purpose... But permits for bugging anything "public" don't require any notification. And yes, police can ask for any such data.) Politeness and protocol are Serious Business.
That said, they are also remarkably lenient in enforcing this rule on outsiders, who they understand aren't used to their unusual social norms. One antagonist still manages to get himself killed for being contemptuous in court, despite numerous repeated warnings from the judge.
Fighting for a Homeland: From Marque and Reprisal onward, Ky fights to get the scattered remains of her family and Vatta Transport back together and restore the ansible network, including that to her home world.
Those same security forces employ a Batman Gambit where they take serious losses to defensive fire trying to close the range and engage the Space Pirates' warships at close range... once the Pirates lower their shields so they can employ all of their firepower, the security ships open up with all of the weaponry they had been holding back, causing disproportionate damage at a high cost in their own ships and lives.
Honor Before Reason: Generally averted in the earlier books (note that their slogan is "Trade And Profit". You don't get paid much if you get yourself killed.) In the later books, Stella becomes concerned that Ky is falling victim to this.
Humiliation Conga: Kylara suffers one of these when she is forced to resign from the Slotter Key Military Academy due to a scandal she unwittingly helped cause, when she had been one of the top students in her class (her boyfriend was the top student in the class). Through the course of the first book, she is tricked into helping cause the scandal, forced to resign from the Academy, ends up being put to work captaining the oldest ship in her family's fleet on a one-way trip to get it disposed at the junkers, and on the way the aforementioned ship breaks down, leaving her stranded in the midst of a local civil war. After she comes out on top in the whole crisis, she gets a Dear John letter from her boyfriend telling her she's disgraced the Academy and the armed forces and that he's leaving her because he's ashamed of ever loving her.
Towards the end of Victory Conditions, Ky's ex-boyfriend gets a very karmic one after Rafe calls him out publicly and Kylara, now being the fleet admiral dismisses him as insignificant, his shipmates defend their admirals honor. Rather than explain what happened or why, he tells the medics that he "fell down a ladder". The medics deduce that he must have really pissed off the ladder first. He is also like Kylara forced to resign his commission, due to the scandal, and joined Mackensee Military Assistance to disappear.
Hyperspeed Ambush: Generally limited to some of the better equipped space navies; most civilian and commercial-grade equipment just isn't designed for that sort of thing. That said, limitations in sensors and communication (limited to light-speed within a star-system, given that the FTL communications arrays are space stations unto themselves) preclude this strategy from being used in most circumstances. Until someone develops a FTL communications rig that can easily fit aboard a starship. Then it becomes the standard tactic.
Hyperspace Lanes: Hyperdrive allows ships to travel to any nearby system they choose, but if they travel to systems marked on their charts as off limits, they run the risk of running into all sorts of unknown hazards. Less scrupulous starship captains occasionally use these off-limits star systems as meeting locations off the beaten path to conduct illegal business.
Indestructible Edible: Aunt Gracie's fruitcakes, which are generally considered inedible and dense enough to block X-rays. A few of Ky's crewmembers love fruitcake, though, and would have happily taken them from her if she had only mentioned having them. The part about blocking X-rays? Not Hyperbole. Gracie often sends valuable or sensitive items in her cakes, knowing that they'll get through most security checkpoints without comment, and that no-one not in the know will cut one up unless the situation is well beyond salvaging.
Apparently this is a Vatta family tradition. Kylara's father and uncle reminisce about their generation's "Uncle Evar's Homemade Sausage", which was "hard as a rock" and at one point used to bludgeon a pirate to death.
Insignificant Little Blue Planet: References are made to "Old Earth" but not its fate (which would determine whether this should really be Earth That Was); if it's still inhabited it's far from the major center of this part of the universe.
At one point Ky considers retreating to "the Old World where we came from" and rebuilding Vatta Trading there which may or may not mean Earth has some kind of different interstellar civilization running.
The Mole: There are at least a few in the Vatta family, as well as in various other interstellar organizations. Various moles either end up revealing themselves by making a move against Ky, or are revealed by other means.
Morton's Fork: Aunt Gracie gives Ky several of her infamous fruitcakes, which Ky dislikes greatly. Ky has to decide between taking the unwanted gifts with her (forcing her to leave something else behind due to strict weight allowances in space travel), or disposing of them before leaving home (which her aunt would inevitably learn about, causing unwanted family drama).
Neural Implanting It's not instantaneous, but most education is reliant on implants, with Slotter Key Military Academy being one of a few places where you must "learn to learn" without relying on the implant.
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: For Ky this is practically a character trait. She's forced to resign from her homeworld's Military Academy because she thought she was helping another cadet find a minister of his religion - the guy she helps breaches confidentiality and starts a public relations scandal. She takes on some stranded spacers of her home planet into her crew: one of them disobeys orders when they are boarded by mercenaries for inspection, dies and almost gets Ky killed. Her family knows she has a reputation for this.
Noodle Incident: Passing reference is made to the first run that Ky's father and uncle went on, which is later detailed in one of Elizabeth Moon's anthology collections. Later books indicate that the Vatta family may have quite a few of these they'd rather outsiders not know about.
No Transhumanism Allowed: Played with, a few religions feel that any modification of the body is a sin, but in the galaxy they are a general minority. In later books it's implied that anti-humod worlds are funding the Space Pirates. This is further supported by their refusal to join the alliance that now funds Ky's new Space Navy.
Oblivious Adoption: Some bastard children of family turncoat Osman Vatta were tracked down young and quietly adopted into better Vatta families. One of them turns out to be Stella, who doesn't take the discovery well.
Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Fresh food is a limited resource on long space trips, the puppy that the crew adopts is a novelty (but not to the one from the backwater system where animal labor is used a lot). In the Moscoe Confederation, where dogs are both rare and expensive, young Toby Vatta earns a tidy sum selling the dog's sperm for breeders.
Papa Wolf: Ky's father has a moment of this with a Captain that dislikes her.
Privateer: Ky Vatta becomes a spacefaring privateer in Marque and Reprisal. Due to a company policy of not doing business with privateers, this causes Kylara to lose the protection of the Mackensee Military Assistance Corporation's forces that she had been enjoying until then. Starting with the third book, privateers from several different worlds begin to band together to try and fight against the Space Pirates.
It is worth noting that in this universe, not everybody makes a clear distinction between privateers and pirates (just as in Real Life). Some particular mention is made of the fact that Ky's homeworld of Slotter Key has a sizable privateer force, which has an effect on how people deal with her when she starts to travel off the beaten path in later books.
Private Military Contractors: Mackensee Military Assistance Corporation, and others. Interestingly enough, the MMAC is portrayed as a very professional force, very picky about who they do business with, and going out of their way to avoid the negative trappings of this trope. They join forces with Ky's Privateer force and several system defense forces in order to stop the Space Pirates from sacking Nexus.
Protocol Peril: Being in contempt of court on Cascadia carries the death penalty...and the thick manual of politeness protocol that Ky, her crew and other visitors to Cascadia have to learn is a daunting obstacle.
Ramming Always Works: Invoked by the riggers who semi-accidentally end up crewing the newly-commissioned battleships at Moray. Averted when almost all of them die before the real battle commences, since they have no military training and base their tactics on television shows.
Red Herring: Much foreshadowing is dropped towards the end of one of the books regarding the military liaison on another Slotter Key Privateer that Kylara's ship has been accompanying. Every implication is given that this liaison will be Kylara's ex-boyfriend from the academy, who rather scornfully dumped her via Dear Jane letter. Cue the beginning of the next book where we meet him... and he's someone she has never met before.
Secret Test of Character: Ky's trip in the Glennys Jones was supposed to let her father and his brother see how Ky will take inititive; they don't actually expect her to scrap the Glennys Jones without trying to buy it for herself. They went through much the same thing when they were her age. Getting stranded in a war in Sabine wasn't part of the plan however...
Subspace Ansible: A key feature of the series is the pirate disabling ansibles to cripple communication.
There Are No Therapists: Averted, the aversion Subverted, and then finally averted properly. Rafe and his sister were given therapy after Rafe was forced to kill a would-be-assassin sent after them as children. Turns out the Therapist was working for the bad guys and proceeded to intentionally mess them up worse. After Rafe returns home and begins cleaning up house in his family's company, he gets his sister a new therapist who isn't in his enemies' pockets.
These Hands Have Killed: Ky shoots and kills a pirate who was attempting to take her ship, she ends up angsting over it in particular because she realized that she enjoyed it.
Thieves' Cant: The pirates have their own language.In the last book one of the younger Vattas realizes the enemy language is quite similar to the "family code" used by one of his classmates; her father turned out to be a spy but she didn't know and actually helped translate for the coalition.
Transhuman: As pointed out by a therapist in Victory Conditions, most of the setting's population are technically genetically modified cyborgs, even if they tend not to think of themselves that way (as long as enhancements don't involve extra limbs or something else easily visible.)
Tuckerization: Many of Moon's real life friends get cameo appearances in Victory Conditions as they die valiantly in battle.
Unusual Euphemism: "Heavy Machinery" for "Big Honkin' Spaceguns". Leads to some awkwardness when a young, naïve captain tries to make deals for agricultural machines.
Used Future: The Glennys Jones, some of the more backwater planets, but not the whole universe.
We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: While some robots seem to exist, most general labor is done by humans. The people of Gretna Station use a scam of charging high rates for use of their station's air and docking charges while The Mark is resupplying, then attack them on their way out. The end result is they get back what you bought, your ship gets turned over to Space Pirates and they sell you as indentured labor on trumped up charges while keeping your money.