By Michael Mikesh
A pirate subculture will form in regions where pirates flourish and also where a 'haven' in established. It might rise on its own or spread from an adjacent sector. In the Rebellion period (1116-1121), it is possible that several new pirate subcultures will appear in scattered places. As their areas of operation change and grow, they'll come into contact with other pirate groups spreading lore and traditions throughout the vast Imperial frontier.
It is actually possible to speak of piracy as a true culture with its roots extending back to the Long Night. Although it's highly fragmented, it has characteristics distinctly different from a culture of any planet. This fragmentation has contributed to the survival of cultural elements, some of which were traced back to the Reaver Warlords.
The center of any pirate subculture are the pirate 'havens'. Subcultures naturally develop here because the havens must remain apart from the mainstream of interstellar traffic.
Pirates are a group at odds with the rest of the universe. The harsh circumstances they face have caused pirate society to place a high value on strength in its many forms. At the same time, weakness is hates and shunned, if not attacked.
There is a strong feeling of fraternity among Pirates. Some may know secrets that could get individuals arrested, have a merchant (pirate) ship seized, or even have havens closed down. This feeling of fraternity is encouraged by traditions and other outward symbolisms, several perhaps borrowed from the ocean-going pirates of Terra. This is not to say that bloody rivalries don't exist among pirates. But the involvement of outsiders (especially aiding the 'legitimate' navies against fellow pirates) can bring complete censure or even a Letter of Death.
Pirates use a particular manner of speech among their fellows, picking it up much the same way as students do at the Ivy League universities. Command of pirate speech is a reflection of experience, which has an appreciable amount of bearing on what crew positions are found.
After a ship new to the haven has gone through the preliminary clearance, the crew is put in a holding 'lounge' while the captain is interrogated extensively. The methods of interrogation are usually harsh, but it's customary for the interrogator to have a drink with the captain afterwards to clear away the hard feelings that might exist.
The crew of the new ship is taken to the main bar, which is at the heart of any pirate haven and is probably owned by the haven master himself. Newcomers undergo a right installing them as true pirates. The rite differs in name and form from haven to haven, but is always elaborate. This is followed by a major celebration incorporating numerous traditions mostly aimed at indoctrinating the newcomers in pirate ways.
Ships that are already known at any other haven have an abbreviated form of this. Newcomers aboard previously established pirate ships go through a variation meant for individuals. The sponsors stay close to their assigned newcomers to keep them from harm long enough for them to handle themselves on their own.
The Pirate Haven
The population of a haven at any given time can usually be divided into four groups: guests, citizens, the residents, and hostages. The naming convention of these groups can differ from haven to haven, and some groups may be absent or others added. For instance, in a closed haven, guests and citizens might be the same. But this division will serve as a model of a typical haven.
Guests: These are visitors, usually pirates or merchants interested in any stolen cargo. Sometimes they are starmen that chose to stay and start a shop or service at the haven.
Citizens: These are the people that operate the haven and answer to the haven master. Occasionally, they take titles and mock the form of any other 'legitimate' government. If the haven is very large, the mocker tends towards reality.
Residents: This is a euphemism for a permanent prisoner, usually pirate wives or captive technicians and engineers. They are allowed general run of the haven and are often the main work force. But sometimes special precautions are made to see to it that none stow away aboard a ship, and revolt is always watched for.
Hostages: These are temporary prisoners, and they generally haven given rise to a job unique to havens: hostman. Pirates usually entrust their hostages to the keeping of a hostman. He sees to their needs and protects them from the haven's denizens. At the same time, he is responsible for their conduct and makes certain they do not escape the haven. If they do, he sometimes must pay a restitution to the patrons or answer to the haven master if the hostage left with knowledge dangerous to the haven.
The hostages are usually kept in a 'hostelry'. This could be a virtual prison, or the hostelry might be more comfortable – being a wing to an inn or a boarding house. In a very sophisticated haven, the hostages might have nearly as much freedom as resident, but wear a collar in constant link to an immobile master robot. The robot monitors the input from the audiovisual sensors in the collar. If the hostage is speaking to someone they shouldn't, they are warned by radio or electrically shocked if they persist.
Booter: Simply, a broker of any stolen cargos. They usually insist on having very thorough knowledge of the goods they buy, primarily because it influences how it could be resold. Booters are often the contacts for the safe warehousing of cargos if a captain is not interested in selling cargo, yet.
Insignor: This is a man responsible for the creating and drawing the insignias (concealed or revealed) for each ship in the haven. Demonic, macabre, or symbols otherwise traditional among pirates are heraldic devices commonly used. Privateers who see their profession as strictly honorable sometimes will prefer not to use symbols such as these. However, custom dictates that at least a small skull and crossbones appear somewhere in the emblem.
The position of insignor is a highly respected one in the haven, but it might be either formal or informal. In one haven, the insignor may be the barkeep. He has a hand for artistry and displays the insignias on the walls of the main bar. In another haven, the insignor may be an old pirate who has turned from piracy to record keeping and writing the histories of the haven, and may also be called upon to preside over ceremonies. In still another, it might be an unprofitable industry. Not only would the design the insignia, they'll produce uniform patches with the design by the gross, and they may even paint the new design on the ship as desired. Some of the more extravagant insignors may even create a communications test pattern, complete with music (like "Flight of the Valkyrie") and animation if desired.
Variety among the havens is the rule. There is little consistency, and to the stranger they seem born of chaos. And yet, there are many and very important consistencies in pirate culture. Though interesting and challenging to a sociologist, they are crucial to the survival and success of would-be pirates.