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Piracy in 3200

This essay is a piece of fiction, but it is based on a recognisable premise: that the scientific military dictatorships, through central planning, will always repeat a certain formula. Expressed as a wave of time, it is fractal in nature, and its peaks and troughs represent recognisable phenomenon: battles, wars, political friction, economic struggles - basically, the ebb and flow of novelty observed in written human history. So there you have it: more 'expansionist' knowledge into the Braben's Frontier universe. For economic and military aspects, refer to Economics and Navies respectively.

Communication started to become electronic in the 19th century. The superpower of the time deployed wireless networks across the oceans to aid in the conquest of the world. It became digital in the 20th, abstract in the 21st. Each time it was the military elites, passing messages between each other and issuing directives; For the sake of vanity, they sought ever more higher technologies of trans-system communication. By the 33rd century, as a show of solidarity with the technologically adrift frontier colonies, certain high-ranking diplomats resumed the process of written correspondence, and thus reversed the process. They considered abstract communication to be decadent. Especially so if psychedelics or the advanced electronics which work in tandem with brain chemistry were involved. They wrote letters, and sent them via a courier to their destination. But now the bad news: such is the state of physical storage, that it is not as infallible as data, abstract or otherwise. The central archives have been ravaged many times, and physical copies are rare in the colonies: not even one man in an alliance of twenty settlements may have a copier, machine press, 3D printer or otherwise. The following manuscript came to me incomplete, but to judge by the nature of it - the text was small, and it was printed on cheap Imperial government paper stock - it was simply a copy of one in a series of letters sent from an occupant of Sol, across the border, to an occupant of Achenar, then the Imperial capital. Simply for egotism was print still employed. The message could easily be relayed, in a perceivable instant, via beacon, and or even beforehand, with the aid of telepathine. Yet, it appears that a certain commander, his rank and status often varying, preferred the glory of personal delivery, and no doubt employed a young pilot to carry it out. And for the Imperial man, writing the reply? He sent, by way of Imperial Courier, this single manuscript: his answer. Most of it has been lost. The bulk of the file containing it was, like all copies contained within the Imperial Archives, destroyed, not by invading barbarians, but by successive governments. Ideally, they like to maintain that the common man has never been literate, in all of history. Despite this, even the lowliest plebeians of Imperial Achenar are shrewd, psychic and wholly self-aware. And yet, the destructive reach of their dominator government didn't even extend as far as Vequess (-1,-4), for entire warehouses existed in that duplicate system, and the fire set to destroy them burned out shortly after the officers hyperspaced away. Sadly, the names of the men involved have not survived. The manuscript begins abruptly with:

I am always amazed how many pirate ships that I shoot down. Sometimes there are four to five even in a core system! In a place like Riedquat, there can be 50 or more upon hyperspacing into the system. Even deserted systems like Veareth (0, -5) (i.e. just south-west of Facece) can have three to four pirate ships with little hope of encountering someone for them to shoot at.

Ah, you touch it with a needle. That the frontier systems are a desolate wasteland of empty space is one of the most common misconceptions in the time of Late Modernity, such as we see it now. The students of the various Mars academies are at one with their counterparts working for and under the auspices of the ancient Duvalian Dynasty, in that they both agree that their respective collection of planets are the centre of all that was and ever will be technologically supreme, and radiating out is a wave of progress which dims with each passing light year, until, beyond the farthest reach of Imperial scouts, you reach a system known as Riedquat. They assume it to be empty, for what could possibly maintain such vast populations of pirates? A rookie pilot hyperspaces here at least once a week, and each time the outcome is the same. In fact, Imperial Navy scout ship HIMS Drusilla sailed beyond its patrol boundary, just to observe the most popular of the hyperspace exit points. The new computer system aboard this comparatively small vessel was able to calculate with high accuracy, based on all known variables of time and space, what would happen, and it was usually this. [The following is the intercept of a typical 'last message', to be transmitted to the nearest receiver[1]. The pilot is mildly surprised to find himself under attack. Presumably he selected a pulse laser due to severe financial restraints, or, as the case may be, in confidence of his encountering no danger.]

My dear friend! I must write to you quickly, for I am receiving an attack warning. Not one, but five! I only have a pulse laser - so much for dream time. I figure I'll try and take one down with me, and then it's Goodnight Vienna! I always loved you. Promise me you won't sleep with my wife? Oh! What the hell, promise nothing!

The system aboard the Drusilla predicted, with 95% accuracy, the type of vessels and pilots the man encountered, and how many of them he destroyed: two, one by laser shot with 25% accuracy for twenty shots fired, and one by ramming.[2]

So, why are there so many pirates in systems such as Riedquat? The civic virtue of a 33rd century citizen of Earth, Mars or Topaz, is much the same as it was in the 23rd, the 13th and even the 3rd centuries. They are not willing to fight for their freedom, and as a result, are not able to fight the battle-hardened veterans to whom piracy is a way of life. These veterans, taking the euphemism upon themselves, have taken over the most prosperous of the Federal Outer Colonies; where by force they failed, with trickery and diplomacy they did inveigle. The men of the core; the indolent, the entitled and the rest of the plebeians, well? They were sick with religious servitude; to maintain a high standard of living without fighting, nor working more efficiently, they instead leant on the historic authority of the Earth and Mars Governments. The persuasion of Sirius, for example, to furnish the core systems with free hydrogen and military fuel[3]. The rest of humanity has to pay for this reserve, as legal mandates forbid refining on any planet outside Sirius[4]. Naturally, the Imperial Navy has its own supply, and cross-border fuel transit is so rare as to be unrecorded (hydrogen fuel, as you know, is in fact ubiquitous and the equipment to scoop it can be acquired at no great expense). Indeed, the man of 33rd century Earth is not unlike the Roman of the 4th century: He meditates on his beliefs, and has devolved upon a supreme power the reverence of a God, with responsibility for his conduct in this lifetime and the next. There is no need to fight and struggle in this life, for paradise awaits us in the next! Well, the result is the same. As density of connection increased, so did this tendency and yearning for peace. The men of the core laid down their arms, and ceased to dominate their females. The barbarians, however, have once more reached the gate. Centuries after the defeat of the Arachnid Race and in the middle of a respite against the Thargoids, the greatest threat now to Federal dominion of space is the veterans they used to colonise it. These are powerful and worthy men, determined with the spirit of Terran to seize human history and build it up to the plane of immanence. Using their power and lust for technology, they have developed many squadrons capable of far-ranging strategic operations, a so-called blue space fleet[5]. But back to the nub of the matter: What is piracy and why is it apparently so common in 3200?

We need to disregard the nature of the definition, and agree that piracy is wholly negative and destructive, and yet pause to bear in mind that to the veterans themselves, and even to the dirtiest independent scoundrels, the government navies are the most aggressive pirates of all. The written versions of history currently on offer, even in the ancient library at Alexandria[6], do not explain the true course of human colonial progress. To hide the shame of defeat, the farthest extent of Federal and Imperial space lies comfortably within what used to be called, some seven hundred years prior, the Inner Colonies. The strains of grain grown today in Egypt are known to a few secret societies to have been imported from Roku San; it was once the grain basket of humanity, lost long ago in an arachnid swarm. To the masses, and the research students kept artificially busy, the origin of these hybrid crop breeds remains the source of entertaining speculation, some of it much stranger than the truth itself. And what is that truth? The truth is that by the definition of the governments, a citizen in possession of an armed vessel is a potential pirate. To the pirate himself, everyone else is either a pirate, or a victim. To me and you? Well, surely the bastard firing his beam laser in our direction is the pirate. Remember this, though, my dear friend, not that you aren't already extremely well-versed in the art of electronic execution. Not-firing-first may be your intention; once you were too afraid to hyperspace to the star of Barnard; how far you have come! In time you gathered up the courage to take a jump into Leesti or Lave. Then a pirate attacked you, but you defeated him. Eventually, you realised, as I did, that it is safer to shoot first and contemplate later, such is the speed and surprise by which pirates operate. It has become an aspect of survival nature to act in this way. So accustomed do you become to firing for your life, that the finger-upon-trigger action is no longer a conscious response. In time, you killed an innocent man. It was an accident; his pattern of flight looked menacing, you may tell yourself. But the moment you scoop up his fuel pods you cross the line that divides pirate from civilised man. You are now a barbarian; only by enlisting in the Navy can your skill for slaughter and passion for theft be rewarded.

How did this lawlessness come about?

To explain in historic terms how there came to be a pirate majority in certain outlying Independent systems, we must understand that the wave of prosperity promised by the advent of nanotechnology and machine printing was soon washed away once the patrol vessels departed. Whereas in the Federation, the transport companies maintain a monopoly on long-distance travel, and therefore do not allow the non-peaceful to travel, the Imperial system is markedly different. As I explained in our last exchange, the Empire is a bankrupt and dastardly beast. It uses its new colonies first for resource extraction - a rape of the land - and then as a springboard for further acquisitions. Once it is exhausted, and ensconced within their lines, they use it as a dumping ground for the criminals, the slaves and the rebels to whom recruitment is not worth the investment. So fierce are these men's minds, and their knowledge of the military method strong, that they would rather put up a fight than join. Now also, bear in mind that the central government controls all convoys setting out for the colonies. Rather than be strict with admittance, as the Federal system is, they allow anyone to board the cramped vessel, providing he brings his own food, and does not mind communal bathing. A certain amount of space is kept vacant in the vessel, because on the way the transport is required by law to stop at certain planets en route, to gather the criminals the prisons aren't able contain, nor navy to transform into useful fighting men.

But, I hear you cry, why doesn't the navy just mind-patch or drug these men, and recruit them perhaps as labourers or even slave workers? The answer is complex. The Imperial authorities, as I have stated elsewhere, cannot or do not want to afford protection to their many colonies. Yet, they do not want anyone else to posses effective dominion over these colonies. So, they ship their surplus population there, and seek to ensure it is made up of the most violent and restive elements of society. The advantages are numerous: such men are productive on their own terms, and within single generations can take to the sky in ships formed of salvaged parts, to plunder what lies beyond. For their planets are already mined out, as is the Imperial custom. These pirates patrol their system, and save the Navy the job of doing it. When they become too numerous, and encroach beyond what is an acceptable buffer zone, well - target practice is the order of the day. Imperial officers all maintain two kill tallies: Federal and Pirate, and the latter is by far the larger of the two.

What of the families, and the poor souls merely seeking to escape the rigid concrete life of the Imperial core? Well, it is a case of toughen up, or die. Although the passenger ratio is in their favour, landfall is an entirely different scenario. A planet in a distant colony, beyond the reach of navy and police, has no need for the weak and feeble. Pretty girls are different: chivalry is not what it once was. The men of the 33rd century, even the pirates, do not dare to rape and bespoil any freeborn girls. Slaves are a different matter, naturally. Their poor bodies soak up the shame and degradation, saving the freeborn women the horror. It is still, nevertheless, a hostile and unforgiving environment for any young woman, since they are left to their own devices as soon as the Imperial transport departs. If she is lucky, a burly strong man will offer to protect her; an even stronger, and more handsome one it is to be hoped, may offer to serve her too, and honour her as his wife - as all women are inherently entitled to be honoured. The reason is simple: pirates do not plunder for the sake of it; their goal is succinct. To father sons, and to create their own powerful dynasties. Many private colonies are little more than ex-Imperial bases. Rumour exist of mutinous frigates, stripping their ships of Imperial insignia and taking up an Independent cause. The Imperial News Service reports that no ship in the Navy has mutinied for over four hundred years, but this surely cannot be the case! An Imperial officer of the middle and lower ranks - that is to say, a men not of noble lineage - is well aware of the balance of power beyond the frontier colonies. An Imperial ship is feared, but an Imperial uniform is not.

It is sad that none of these systems, which the governments and police have abandoned, developed peacefully. Well, that is not the case. Many did, but they were easy targets. Utopian idealists today tend to venture even farther out than Riedquat - these areas are in fact notorious to the elite, as you my dear friend will be aware. The partnership society may be the ideal, but centuries of conflict have made it impossible for certain men to put aside their arms and devote their life to higher learning. Perhaps it is in their DNA? A colony known as Agrippinensis Majoria lived for three generations without any offensive weaponry, and the citizens there conducted their daily business unarmed, and often shook hands, in the old style[7]. When the pirates had finally figured out the correct co-ordinates (they do not have access to government starcharts) and hyperspaced in, they were met with a fully functioning psychic society, which worshipped its women, and based its entire productive capacity on the concept of giving. Men made things, and gifted them to one another. The women were honoured and lived very long lives. The pirates at first did not know what to do, for there wasn't much to destroy, and less still to hold hostage or bargain with. And such was the sanctity and graceful bearing of the matrons, they were overcome with superstitious sentiment (a pirate's weakness). At this point, a solar eclipse explicably occurred. Although it had been calculated by the natives, the pirates were not in the habit of calibrating their gauges, and their systems warned them that it was, in fact, a terrible omen to attack this settlement. They paid tribute to the local temples, leaving behind gold coins but smirking that the temples inside were furnished without regard to monetary value: in fact, simple wooden carvings were the extent of their offerings. Such is the modesty of the peaceful Gods.

Yet, the Agrippinensis is an example from history. It didn't last long. The great grandsons of those pirates one day returned, and did not allow anything to blunt their hostility. When the elders of the society asked the pirates, "By what right do you bespoil our peaceful society, and enslave our people?" the reply was "All things belong to the brave who carry justice on the point of their lasers!" thus explaining their mentality for you. And so, the place was razed down to the last hut, the pirates angered by the lack of plunder, and the inhabitants were sold into slavery. Yet religious feeling is returning among the pirates. Many of them today will find ample reward and guidance in worshipping their local star, and taking the name of it as their own. This name they pass to their sons. But to conclude the point, that piracy came about because the government abandoned the colonies when they were still infantile, unaware that guidance and protection was still necessary, as even by this late century, a small pirate army can do substantial damage to the human enterprise. And when a society must arm, fortify and invest the resources of each year's surplus in defence, then development of all kinds is stymied.

Why is it still allowed to exist?

The Federation cares more about protecting its vulnerable colonies, and as such bizarre societies flourish within their realm. YZ Canis Minoris is a system which has evolved a system of government close to the communist ideal, and van Maanen's star is a backward religious society. They care more because their mighty trading corporations are now no longer able to fight such increased pirate numbers. And naturally, piracy interferes with trade. The prestige of the Federal government also suffers when their colonists come fleeing back, seeking refuge, claiming themselves to have been abandoned. So it is not really a case of it being allowed to exist. Both governments do not allow it, but it happens anyway, and their efforts to combat it are mixed and irregular. They take a nomothetic approach, and under the authority of this legal framework, proceed to greater measures, such as raiding the main pirate cities, and targeting their best pilots and bravest leaders.

Can and should the galactic super powers do something about it?

Yes. They can undertake military operations to combat the pirates. Such expeditions are quite common in Federal zones, but they do not use their navy, so information is scarce and classified. Instead, they employ picked forces of infantry, highly mobile, equipped with reinforced armour and high-calibre weaponry. Private contractors are hired to fly them to their landing zones, and their exploits are often spoken about with awe. They make landfall on a planet, far from the area of settlement, to avoid detection (pirates do not often patrol the entire atmosphere of a planet). They then, using conventional military tactics and utilising their superior training, proceed to take by force the base, executing all, torturing ringleaders and destroying everything of value they cannot carry with them. These men maintain a thin alliance to the Federation; it is maintained only pay cheque to pay cheque. Often, if they find the climate and atmosphere amenable, they will stay and become the next pirates. Rarer still, they will encounter as their target people of their own lineage, and choose instead to join them. Thus, even in this way, a Federal mission to stamp out piracy can end up reinforcing it.

Why not use the navy? Simple: cost. They could assemble squadrons; commission a cruiser or two, perhaps even send a handful of frigates. But the operating cost would be a burden on the tax payers, and if this was not reason enough, the pirates set up their defences in expectation of an assault from air and hyperspace. They are skilled marksmen, and better pilots. They can easily take a toll on the inexperienced Feds, flying antiquated Kestrels, sent against them. For the best Federation pilots fly Hawks, and they do not waste their time on the frontier, unless they have disgraced their rank.

The Imperial Navy, as stated, is much more tolerant of a lawless frontier, as it provides not only a perfect buffer zone but also a chance for live-fire training. Imperial expeditions against pirate enclaves are common. The Imperial Navy is huge, and eager for experience. A novella I wrote in the sixth year of this century, entitled HIMS Industrious, details a campaign against the veteran pirates of the Anayeth system.

How did systems such as Riedquat and Leesti become so lawless?

Riedquat and Leesti, as we know, are notorious. Lave, and to a lesser extent Diso, are also part of what calls itself the Lave Collective; a harmless enough name, it has to be said, but a dangerous misnomer, for nothing is collective, save bloodlust. The Earth-like planet of Lave is their home, and it has reached a level of affluence and development comparable to a system such as Ross 154. However, it is a militant society. Though not acknowledged in Federal reports or Imperial Fact Books, it is the practice to take male children from their mothers breast at the age of four, and after indoctrination, military training begins at seven years. By seventeen years of age, if a boy is not already plying his dirty trade with the utmost skill, seizing plunder enough to sustain him and his ship, then he is sent to toil in the mineral mines, the fuel scooping vessels or the plantations. Campaigns were waged for many years by both superpowers, but operating far from their bases robbed their strategy of surprise. The pirates, veterans themselves, were eventually surrounded within the cluster of star systems in this area, and chose to fortify the planets. Now, the lawlessness outside the fortified plants is nothing short of obscene. Within the forts, life is relatively peaceful. The women of the society are not without morals, and hold in contempt any external force seeking to rob them of their husbands and sons. For, the defence of his system, be it Leesti, Lave, Riedquat or Diso, is a pirate's objective, and the plunder he may take is turned over to his tribal leader. How else could they maintain such vast fleets and training schools, without an organised system of distribution?

Should Elite commanders like you and I travel to such systems to 'mop them up' up? Does this action really make a difference? In the case of Riedquat I would have to say, no! But I do feel I am doing a service by eliminating these pests in those systems.

It is wise to address pirates in a formal manner, as they consider themselves to be highly civilised. To fly into Riedquat, guns blazing, assuming your mission to be one of 'galactic pest control', is to display woeful hubris. Contrary to popular belief, pirates do not always shoot to kill. When they are operating within space they claim as their own, their mission, as stated, is plunder. That means you, your ship and its contents. Military fuel is most sought after, for they cannot easily refine it. If you are able and fit, they will enslave you. They do not condescend to beat you, if you put up a respectable fight. If you are meek and cowardly, they will likely kill you for bloodsport. Should you be female, then you are immediately transported to the tribal chief, and though custom varies across systems, a pirate is forbidden to harm a female prisoner. The chiefs rarely sell captured women into slavery. The ones capable of bearing children are offered as wives. The hardy may work the plantations, but their treatment won't be too degrading. Of course, pirates do not all fly with surveillance systems, and likely many choose to disregard their own laws should their libido or lust for violence overpower their conscience.

Is it a service to kill pirates? Well, you'd have to kill a lot to make a difference, and the law of natural selection does apply here too. You may kill pirates, but likely you are killing their slowest and least well-armed, relieving the pirates of fuelling and arming their least capable forces, thus aiding the strong. But it is true, they cannot afford to keep losing men, and their losses are substantially lower the older in age the pirate is. A pirate with a family is more cautious, obviously, but once his son is of fighting age, his own usefulness diminishes. To die in combat is highly honourable in pirate society. Often the elders will take their most antiquated vessel and, as a show of skill and in deference to their replacements, fly off to die. In this way, you are bestowing favour upon them. Each death is further proof of the pirate's sacrifice to their cause. To grow old and die in infirmity is no life for a pilot. And believe me, their numbers are such that you and I cannot hope to make a difference, unless we ourselves sacrifice our lives to try and achieve what two galactic superpowers could not! I do not mean to imply we are inferior pilots, but we are both men of the civilised world. We may also seek guidance from our tribal leaders and our shamans, but we do not, as a rule, condone slavery. Although I myself, in my younger and more vulnerable years, flew an Imperial Courier along the Vequess corridor[8], I did not prey upon the freeborn travellers of our hyperspace corridors as the Thargoids once did, nor did I seek to claim an area of space as my own, attacking all I deemed to be trespassing upon it. To you I say, cool your lasers off, and show restraint. The pirates form their own society, and have proven to us their capability to defend their own destiny. We must respect their arms, as we respect one another. At least in theory. In the meantime, should you return to these forlorn systems, feel free to kill. The pirate expects you to, and he is ready to die. Once you engage, it is no longer an issue of doing service to humanity by eliminating pirates - it is between you and him, man against man. To not fight, to attempt to flee, well, that will only arouse the contempt of the pirate. In this way, their mentality is similar to police pilots. Of course, you may be fighting purely for the bounty. Your monetary concerns are your own, but for my part I do enjoy a good scrap, though it has been many years. And I do not like to collect bounties, because I do not wish to inform the central authorities of my whereabouts at any given time. Finally, before I close, bear in mind that if you are known to spend a considerable amount of time within pirate systems, the authorities will note your vessel's registration and consider you a pirate. Pirates fight amongst themselves, you know. If you hyperspace in there, fully aware of what awaits you, does that not make you a pirate yourself? A bounty hunter? A worse kind of pirate; one that does not even settle on a planet to raise children, but instead flies from system to system, 'picking off' pirates, pocketing the plunder, and, by not settling down, murdering his own posterity.

Here the manuscript breaks off. The following notations will hopefully shed further light on the subject.

[1] In the late 31st Century, a delegation was sent from Olympus to the City at Duval. The delegation was warmly received, considering the historic tension between these two powers, and with tact delivered a plan, to be jointly funded three ways by the governments of Sol, Achenar and Alioth, for a system of relay beacons. An entrepreneur had drawn up plans by which a small device could be manufactured easily and quickly, and propagated, based on arachnid technology, across all of human time and space. A small quantity of plasma was sealed within and it was of sufficient energy content to propel and power the device beyond eternity. All that was needed was the laying of a legal code to urge all users of space, both militaries, the lawless and the independents (the law abiding citizens do not need laws; they are governed successfully by their own conscience) to offer respect to the beacons; to not seek out nor destroy them, but merely to set their own transmitters to low, thus conserving fuel, and allowing this new system to do its work. It did work. Achenar poured money into the scheme, not wishing to be out-done, and keenly aware that with this alternate system in place, their trading convoys need not use the military network. The 'law' requiring all humans not to tamper with the system was actually a directive, issued in the name of Duval, that any ship observed even near a beacon would be subject to decimation. By the dawn of 3201, it was possible to speak clearly from one end of human space to the other, for free, with a delay in time the speed of light could only dream of. Such is the power and awe of Arachnid technology, that it must be hidden from man, and doled out in miraculous cases to serve as propaganda for the scientific dictatorships.

[2] It is worth noting that it is Imperial Government policy to equip all of their vessels with these systems, within a twenty year period. All information is currently fed into Central Command, and their predictive AI is now a force to be reckoned with. The man in this example flew by the name of Nakajima in a Constrictor, and the ships he destroyed were, in order, an Eagle Mk. III and a Moray Starboat.

[3] By persuasion, it presumed that diplomacy achieved a favourable result before an escalation was required. Bear in mind that Sol is identified as the spiritual home of humanity, whether it really is or isn't, and within Sol you will find Mars and Earth, the seat of Federal government.

[4] Mining takes place on a commercial scale in every solar system. The distinction here is purely economic, since it is in that realm that such decisions are made. If you are in the Federation, and live outside Sirius, by law you cannot refine hydrogen into fuel. You can buy a ship and do it in space, but you cannot build such a facility on a planetary surface, breathable or otherwise. In this way, we see how Sol angered the rest of humanity, particularly those within the Federation, when it lavished upon its citizens an eternal respite from labour; that free fuel could and should be afforded to all was conveniently forgotten. Humanity cared more that those who aren't paying, should! Instead of questioning the example, by which even the sum of all people incurs no burden on technology.

[5] Thought to be a reference either to the term blue water navy or a display glitch, by which the viewscreens of many antique ships render the colour of space blue instead of black. Blue is, of course, the colour of the Imperial Navy.

[6] This is not the original library at Alexandria, and in fact refers to a facility built in its honour. Located on a neutral planet in Delta Pavonis (-0.9, -1.7), there is a vast archive of data; every so often, at approximately thirty three light year intervals, humanity proceeds to build upon barren rocky planetoids such hubs, which are powered by their suns, and not only act as storage mirrors of what has come before, but also relay beacons for what is to follow (they share a part of their network with the aforementioned beacon system).

[7] This is the only known source to record the revival of handshaking as a custom within human society.

[8] The author here is referring to the infamous and extremely lucrative Vequess-Facece slave trade; presumably his fortune was made in this way.