|Homeworld (Origin)||Various, generally regions with histories of economic or political sub-optimality.|
Space is a big place. Long-distance shipping and trade is a necessity for survival and a source of great wealth; however, the vast scale of the coldest sea makes it impossible to maintain constant protection of the shipping lanes. Pirates are, as a rule of thumb, the opportunists that have developed to take advantage of the great unpoliced divide, preying on merchants and stealing their cargo. Though a ragtag band in general, there are factions and organisations of varying coherency within pirate culture.
Sundry Pirate Origins
The history of many of the pirates seen in the UTCS era is closely tied to the history of the Sundered and the fates of numerous fallen and less prosperous civilizations. Roughly classed, there are three tiers of groups generally deemed pirates.
- Organised Criminal Enterprise: Organized crime is generally only somewhat organized and somewhat about crime. These groups include such as House Blythe and the Tribe of Eliana, described later in this article.
- Opportunists: The socially or economically downtrodden, most numerous of the pirate groups, enter piracy for a number of reasons. Some seek to leech from the more wealthy. Others are willing to be used as pawns or intermediaries by groups looking for some level of deniability. Pirates in this class often come from or are funded by such powers as LIHW or Forsaken worlds, or indirectly from the organised crime syndicates.
- Neo-Barbarians: Neo-Barbarians who’ve been given or sold spacecraft - usually through less than above-board transactions - often become pirates.
Though not technically pirates, a fourth grouping should be mentioned: the so-called "kleptocracies". In these degenerate governments, corruption, bribery and extortion are so normal that effective highway robbery by the local police or military forces is commonplace. While the actions of these governments are sometimes clearly acts of piracy, they would assuredly bristle at being called pirates.
First tier Organised crime syndicates are both the least and most dangerous, as they are uninterested in random acts of violence – just economic gain – and their visible position requires some modicum of discretion. They are arms dealers, loan sharks, extortionists, traffickers in forbidden goods, and not above killing the odd fellow, but only if he’s proven bad for business. They are, most importantly, reasonable in that they can be dealt with via credits more often than guns. When crossed, however, their resources tend to be the most extensive and widespread of the pirates, giving them the potential to be extraordinarily deadly and relentless.
Second tier opportunists, seeking to profit from theft, destruction, or illegal activities, are local phenomena, cropping up in places of poverty or insufficient oversight. They are generally the most well-to-do of some system or systems’ gangs, rich enough to outfit themselves with spacecraft in the first place, but insufficiently wealthy or powerful to become organized competitors to the first tier. They thrive in systems welcoming, tolerant, or impotent to act concerning their presence.
The most organised of these groups, particularly in Forsaken space, rarely attack local vessels. They are sometimes more akin to local militias, “enforcing tolls” and protecting their home systems from invasion by non-local powers. Unfortunately, pirate groups rarely confine themselves to their systems of origin. Thus, problems with local sources become pandemic scourges. Fortunately, those groups with an eye toward continued existence tend to extract cargo rather than lives or vessels – attracting too much of the wrong attention can lead to Confederation crackdowns, or worse.
Less benign are the true pirate groups operating out of LIHW worlds; pirates are rarely based anywhere else, the major powers being rather better at scrubbing bases of operation out of their own systems, but with FTL capability may be found far from their home systems.
Finally and much more rare, there are the so-called "Neo-Barbarian" groups. Most of these groups have more in common with organised crime syndicates than with opportunistic pirates, though their origin as Sundered colonies tends to limit their range to areas much closer to Sol sector. Neo-Barbs are frequently the most unpleasant of pirate encounters, as they are generally more interested in acquiring one’s ship than one’s cargo.
Specific Pirate Organisations
Though this list is by no means exhaustive, it describes several of the most well-known organised crime syndicates of the Confederation era.
House Blythe’s origins lie with the Sundered colony of Sheltersky, which happened to be very close, only a couple of light-years, from a far less successful colony: Gorky. Gorky, unlike Sheltersky, was actually on the jump network. As the latter colony faltered during the nano-plague, they sent out distress messages: arriving some few years later at Sheltersky, these spurred the launching of an expeditionary force.
The commander of this expedition, one Nidhi Blythe, found the residents of the nearby system already nearly expired upon her arrival - mainly due to overadaptation to their failing technology rather than anything truly insurmountable. With only a few dozen survivors, she set about turning the remains of the former colony into her personal fiefdom. The system had abundant natural resources and viable orbital infrastructure, but no planets with admirable living conditions.
After acquiring jump drive technology through murky, probably illicit means, Blythe maneuvered her way into leveraging the support of Sheltersky for her own benefit, being their only gateway to the outside universe. With this decidedly remote support - a decade long pipeline exchanging personel and luxury resources from Sheltersky for information and external access - Blythe, her lackeys and their lineage were able to control an entire star system against the minor threats of predation present in the pre-SPEC era.
In this time, Gorky came to prosperity during this era as a smuggler’s capital, a port so free as to be thought lawless. Despite this popular opinion, Gorky was always under martial law: as the people being affected weren’t of House Blythe, it likely didn’t happen to be illegal within Gorky’s borders. There were some standards of behavior that fell beneath what House Blythe considered civilized, notably slavery. Following in their mother’s aggressive tradition, the scions of House Blythe set up operations on an expanding number of worlds, mixing both above- and belowboard trades. As they had no interest in shipping bulk goods and dealing with market control, they managed to co-exist with the Cherryh Mercantile Trust, rising to its own power in the same time period.
With the advent of SPEC, Sheltersky became once more somewhat accessible, but by this time, it had been sufficiently infiltrated by House Blythe that it was Sheltersky that was consumed by Gorky and not the other way around. As the SPEC era continued, and power consolidation ramped up, the sort of activities for which Gorky was famous became less acceptable. By the time Gorky joined the LIHW, most of the less reputable operations had been shifted to the less accessible Sheltersky.
Along with the arms dealers of Tribe of Eliana, House Blythe is considered to be one of the most respectable of the criminal groups operating within human space, with a public face, a reputation for honesty in deals that it makes (albeit a keen, hungry, and ruthless eye for advantage in anything not covered by agreement), and an avoidance of more objectionable forms of illicit activities. Their good reputation stems in part from their belief that they are far superior to any common pirates – that they are a civilized organization that happens to operate under their own code of laws, and not those of the Confederation.
The Tribe of Eliana
An odd tale to be sure – the Tribe of Eliana is so called because every member of the group is a clone of the sole survivor, the eponymous Eliana, of an otherwise failed colony. Their homeworld rendered uninhabitable by the internal conflicts that broke out during the nano-plague, the Elianas took up sparse residence on the other worlds, moons, and worldlets of their system. While there had been significant orbital infrastructure surrounding their colony, produced on grand scale before the nano-plague, much of it had been damaged or destroyed. Significant portions of the Elianas’ efforts for several generations focused entirely upon salvage operations performed on the remnants of the orbital infrastructure so that items of value could be retrieved before the chunks in question decayed in orbit and burned up in the atmosphere.
Their salvage expertise would eventually become their trademark, as their post-FTL acquisition undertakings were primarily of the salvage variety. They became involved in many Ancient artifact hunts, but became truly notorious for their “valkyrie” role in stripping wrecks of all valuable systems and subunits. Their criminal tinge comes from their willingness to sell what was formerly anyone’s to whomsoever is willing to pay for it (species notwithstanding), whether it be insured cargo or military grade weaponry. It is the weaponry trade that has proved to be the most profitable for the impoverished Elianas, with many disreputable groups finding them the only, if very expensive, potential suppliers of arms generally not available to civilians.
Policing of the Elianas have proved of limited utility. While deals may be brokered in their home system, such deals are made by individuals, not the government of the Elianas. Thus, responsibility is more difficult to sanction in accordance with the gravity of offense. Moreover, while the deals may or may not take place in their home system, the actual transfer of goods rarely does, so concentrating efforts at policing the home system of the Elianas (though not originally known as such, the Elianas came to call it Gehenna. Unfortunately, as there already existed another system of that name in the Confederation, the official name became Yesteryear) has not proved remarkably fruitful.
Elianas outside of Yesteryear often have a quasi-nomadic existence, moving from salvage operation to artifact dig to mining operation, and so on. There are no permanent Elianas settlements larger than outposts outside of Yesteryear. However, there are a number of Elianas outposts in otherwise lawless or unpatrolled systems, as local aggressive groups tend to leave them alone. They are often a source of business partners for either the acquisition of, or disposal of, goods of "questionably transferred" ownership. The Elianas themselves, however, are not generally considered dangerous unless provoked or interrupted, and the Elianas’ government receives such a substantial portion of its revenue from kickbacks and taxation of questionable earnings that it has no practical choice but to decline to enforce all aspects of LIHW law on its citizens. Such enforcement would be all the more difficult due to the culture of sisterhood which defines their unique existence.
The Order of the Dynast Shrub
The origins of the name of this group are lost to history but generally believed to stem from a mistranslation of some older parable or idiom. They started out as a local family of robber-barons expanding from a business selling fusionable fuels and antimatter to passing starships. Upon expanding outward from their home system, one branch of the family took to collaborating with elements of various criminal organizations with centuries-old roots. The influx of new blood and even murkier ethics moved the investment strategies out of fuels and into the sorts of operations that wouldn’t put them into direct competition with House Blythe or the CMT – namely, operations considered too disreputable for the merely greedy, such as human slavery, vendetta by proxy, kidnapping, and more.
The Order overlaps the first and second tiers of pirates, being at heart a group of violent thugs, but very wealthy thugs hiding behind shell corporations. The Order is known to have engaged in gang-wars with other smaller criminal enterprises, absorbing the, or making them into vassals. The Order and its subordinate groups, is internally fragmented, but powerful. Through luck and sheer callous brutality, it has become one of the larger and more potent criminal enterprises in humans space, large enough to negotiate with the Ulnish pirate cartels for “gentlemen’s agreements” as to what constitutes “invasions of territory.”
Uln Pirate Cartels
Though there are several of them, they are loosly organized and fight internally more as violent siblings than as bitter rivals, coming to actual exchanges of fire only when major assumptions need to be revisited or on the demise of a powerful leader. They can thus be treated as one entity, as they will consider the actions of any outsider in similar fashion even if the actions did not take place in their particular territory.
The Uln pirate cartels are part and parcel of Uln culture: Uln culture expects corruption. It is deemed natural and appropriate that laws will be circumvented, and a sign of personal power that one is in a position to do so without being punished. The Uln pirate cartels intermix their shipping with that of the Ulnish merchants, trading with all of their allies as well as within the Uln borders themselves. Membership in merchant or pirate groups is fluid, and the same Uln may pass back and forth easily between the low ranks of both groups, albeit the loyalty required for the nepotistic cronyism inherent in Uln leadership succession requires few such flip-flops if one wishes to advance. Be that as it may, the fluid low-level membership makes interdicting “known” members of the pirate cartels at the border nearly impossible without squeezing trade to a standstill – which none of the major powers is willing to do, as it would prelude their access to the Ancient artifacts on the Uln homeworld.
Oddly enough, those at the most risk of Uln pirate attack are those seeking to trade with the Uln, as the Cartels believe they have been disrespected and slighted of their traditional cut of commerce by the arrangements made between non-Uln traders and the Ingatwa and ranks of royals. Fortunately, if they are particularly well armed for a pirate group, they are not, in the grand scheme of things, a decided menace outside the Uln borders, as they are generally outmatched by Confederation, Aeran, or Rlaan responses. The Ulnish Cartels have proved more problematic for the less well-off Shmrn, but remain an aggravation and annoyance rather than a threat.