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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 Her family runs a powerful trading business and she's sent to captain an outdated trade ship to a planet where it's to be sold for scrap, not quite aware that it's a Secret Test of Character from her father and brother to see how she'll rise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
  • Command Decision
  • Victory Conditions

This series contains examples of:

  • Absent Aliens
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Awesome Yet Practical: The armored command modules that ship commanders like to use whenever possible. Not only are they a very effective command-and-control center linking the commander to her ship and the rest of her fleet, but can also survive the sudden and complete destruction of said ship when it strikes a mine.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Ky.
  • 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.
  • Blood Knight: Kylara is afraid that she might be one (see These Hands Have Killed, below)
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: The security firm who hired him out gives a full refund afterwards. For fairly obvious reasons, they don't ask if a new bodyguard is required.
  • Brain-Computer Interface: Many of the characters have multi-purpose implants which allow them to access computer networks and send and receive information.
    • One such implant also acts as a sort of Cyanide Pill, dumping poison into a mook's body when the heroes attempt to interrogate him.
  • Brick Joke: The fruitcakes.
  • Catch Phrase: The oft-repeated "Trade and Profit."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The model kit and the fruitcakes from Trading In Danger.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cool Ship: The Gary Tobai (nee Glennys Jones), the Vanguard.
  • Cyborg Helmsman: Nearly all captains and their crew rely on their implants to pilot ships.
  • Daddy's Girl : Ky shows traces of this.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Ransome's Rangers play this very straight at first, weirding out the rest of the characters. Their hat is sudden and abrupt Character Development; Ransome wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes that he needs to be far more calculating and careful in what he does. He continues to help Ky, but he is far more responsible from then on.
    • Deconstructed as well. Most of the Rangers die (or are implied to have died) in the course of the books due to their adventuring, usually while taking reckless courses of action.
  • 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 (who doesn't know what's going on because it was all swept under the rug) 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.
  • 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.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: "A Mine is a terrible thing to waste!"
  • Indestructible Edible: Aunt Gracie's fruitcakes. They're also good for smuggling things...
    • Brief mention is given of the previous generation's Uncle Evar's Sausages, which were "hard as a rock" and even used as a weapon at one point.
  • 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.
  • Intrepid Merchant
  • Laser-Guided Karma: One particularly Jerkass mole gets himself the death penalty by being rude towards Ky in a Cascadian court, despite being familiar with the local laws and being warned repeatedly.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: In Victory Conditions, the last book in the Vatta's War series, it is discovered that the actual military of Nexus has been gutted out by long-standing corruption because everybody knew that nobody would ever dare to attack them, and so the defense of the homeworld against Space Pirates ends up falling to the corporate security forces of the planet's dominant Mega Corp. They're poorly equipped and not trained for the task, but they do have outside assistance.
  • Loose Lips: Toby's girlfriend mentions that she recognizes some of the code words used by the Space Pirates while reading a rough draft of a sci-fi story Toby claims that he is writing for fun. It turns out that they are part of the company code used by her father's business, implicating him in the conspiracy.
  • Mega Corp: InterStellar Communications Corporation, which operates a stranglehold monopoly on all instantaneous faster-than-light communications in the known galaxy at first.
  • Military Academy: Slotter Key's space force acadamy.
  • 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.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Rafe, particularly when peeling a lime.. He uses this to his advantage on numerous occasions.
  • 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.
  • Non-Idle Rich
  • 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.
  • Not Hyperbole: Aunt Gracie, The Family Spy.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: See The Ditz.
  • 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.
  • Old Soldier: Master Sergeant MacRobert
  • 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.
  • Planetville: Mostly averted
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Retired Badass: Aunt Gracie.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have a Nuke: InterStellar 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 they have nearly full control over hyperspace travel, they can pull this off.
  • 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...
  • Space Is an Ocean
  • Space Pirates
  • The Spymaster: Aunt Gracie.
  • 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.
  • Tuckerization: Many of Moon's real life friends get cameo appearances in Victory Conditions as they die valiantly in battle.
  • Used Future: The Glennys Jones, some of the more backwater planets, but not the whole universe.
  • Wham! Episode: Book 5, chapter 12.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: 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). Politeness and protocol are Serious Business.