Trading in Danger
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue.
Trading in Danger. Elizabeth Moon.
Original publication: 2003
Current availability: Print (mmpb) and ebook
Shannon Appelcline established a useful goal in his series of reviews that have previously appeared in this section of Critics’ Corner. However, there are only a limited number of books that truly have the sort of direct connection to Traveller that Shannon used in choosing which books to review. I felt that there were more than a few stories that, while having no discernible direct connection with Traveller, nevertheless felt—at least to me—like they could happen in a Traveller universe, even if not the Official one. Trading in Danger, the first book of the five-book Vatta’s War series, is one such book.
Kylara Vatta, ordered to resign from the Slotter Key Spaceforce Academy for unwittingly facilitating a scandal, is sent out as Captain of a Vatta Transport ship on a ‘milk run’ that is to end with the ship being scrapped at Lastway and the crew returning to Slotter Key by commercial carrier. At Belinta, the first stop of the run, Ky exceeds her orders, taking a spec contract that she hopes could ultimately lead to saving the ship from the breakers.
At Sabine, where the contract leads, the ship’s FTL drive fails, stranding them in the system (with apparently insufficient funds to both fix the ship and execute the contract) as a local war breaks out and the system ansibles are destroyed. There is a mercenary company involved, and Ky’s ship is boarded, leading to the death of a crewman, and nearly to hers. The mercenaries had planned to use the ship as a courier, but since it has no working FTL drive, they instead contract with Ky to use her ship as a temporary internment facility for the officers of other ships in the system.
After the mercenaries unexpectedly have to leave the system, some of the interned officers subvert the ship’s drive and comm systems, and attempt to take the ship. Ky and her crew put down the attempt almost instantly, killing the ringleaders in the process, but losing another crewman taken hostage. Regaining mechanical control of the ship proves more difficult, however, and several days go by (putting everyone, crew and interned ‘guests’ alike, on short rations) before they can restore even the most rudimentary communications. The return of the mercenaries and the arrival of ISC (the ansible company) represents rescue, and ISC’s takeover of the Sabine system government leads to getting the ship restored to usable condition essentially gratis—plus a comfortable chunk of change. They then head back to Belinta to finish executing the contract.
Trading in Danger is written from a ‘third-person limited’ viewpoint; the viewpoint character for most of the book is Ky. There are some ‘side scenes’ in the story involving Ky’s Aunt Grace’s fruitcake, a model sent to Ky from a Master Sergeant at the Spaceforce Academy, and the knowledge of Ky’s father and uncle, the CEO and CFO of Vatta, of Ky’s taking the Belinta contract and going to Sabine. While the specifics of Ky’s actions weren’t anticipated or planned, it’s made clear that her attempt to save the ship from the breakers wasn’t unexpected, and that the assignment was in fact a test of some sort, with the initial verdict being that Ky is likely to be one of Vatta’s better captains. (The father-and-uncle scenes also make allusion to the fruitcake, and how for them it was sausage, without actually telling the reader why.) Moon adheres to the “Checkhov’s Gun” rule, though, and by the end of the story, the reader—and Ky—know why she had the fruitcake and the model.
Moon does an excellent job of portraying Ky as the ‘different’ one in the family, the one who elected to try for a military career instead of going into the family business. The various episodes through the story, including Ky’s after-action reflections and some flashbacks when events or conversations remind her of her childhood, show her differences from the ‘typical Vatta’, how truly Vatta she ultimately is, and her growing self-knowledge and reaction to it.
Why is it Traveller?
The technological differences between the setting of Trading in Danger and early ‘stock’ Classic Traveller are essentially irrelevant; the action doesn’t really depend on them. The setting has a frontier-like feel, with no overall government, and interstellar agreements being multilateral and adhered to only to the extent that the signatories feel it’s in their own best interests, with no real enforcement. The adventure that forms the centerpiece of this story could easily have been written as an early adventure module for Classic Traveller—and could easily be used as a framework for an adventure in late-Traveller areas such as Reaver’s Deep, the trailing sectors between the Imperium and the K’kree or the Hivers, or spinward of the Great Rift and the Spinward Marches.
All in all, a recommended read, both for its own entertainment value, and as a Traveller adventure.