The Terse Period is a name given to the 20-30 years following the end of the Kamian Succession Wars, categorized by lawlessness and a dramatic rise in space piracy. The era is sometimes romanticized as "the Golden Age of Space Piracy".
Following the end of the war, a very large quantity of weapons, particularly high-endurance warships, made its way onto the black market. Previously, such items were few and far between, with very tight controls especially on weapons, and the rarity of military-grade spacecraft keeping such things in check.
Most of the material came from the Alliance and the larger member worlds, who were quick to disarm once the fighting had ceased. Smaller ships, such as frigates, corvettes, and cutters, were the first to go. Such vessels had been built in huge numbers during the war for scouting and patrol duties, and were comparatively not much needed in peace time.
Spacecraft came into the hands of pirates in one of three ways:
Following the war, many ships were stripped of their armaments and resold on the secondary market. This was a fully legitimate and legal system to dispose of surplus war materials, and indeed small numbers of vehicles had always trickled into the civilian sector this way, to be repossessed as liners, tramp traders, and mail ships. Any number of roles existed whereby a combination of speed, high endurance, or just especially well-made ships were highly sought after for wholly legitimate reasons.
Often, only nominal efforts were made to "de-militarize" the warships before sale. This typically consisted of unloading any remaining munitions, and removal of the high-power components used in energy weapons. Railguns (legal for civilian ownership and use) were left intact and operational, along with the myriad of support systems. The directed energy weapons, which should have been removed entirely, were only stripped of those components considered valuable for resale, which were often sold in lots alongside the ships themselves.
Vessels were typically sold at auction, but aside from registration with the Alliance Space Commission, not much effort was made to track them after sale. This is how most of the smaller ships came into pirate hands.
While a great many surplus warships were disarmed and resold, quite a few were set adrift. Many smaller nations, operating space navies for the first time, did not have the resources to repair damaged craft, and left them. Others, which had challenge crew requirements, were abandoned as uneconomical to return. Officially, such ships were supposed to be "scrapped in place" (destroyed), but in many cases were simply abandoned. In at least the majority of cases, the crews took the precaution of firing off any consumable ordnance (such as missiles and torpedoes) but a considerable number of warships were left fully operational and with partial compliments of very dangerous weapons. In addition to this: every space-battle left wrecks behind: often fully equipped and almost intact, and requiring only a little repair and a new crew. Reclamation of any such ship, and of any component thereof, including unexploded ordnance, was an industry on nearby worlds.
In some cases, these ships were claimed as salvage, but with piracy a common side-hustle for salvage crews, it wasn't much better. Any ship found derelict and towed to a legitimate port (here defined as "any solar system with a habitable planet") can be claimed as salvage. All a crew must do is put a salvage lien on it, at which point the government who owned it had a certain period to claim the ship. There were millions of these vessels officially "owned" by the Alliance, who lacked the resources to retrieve even a fraction of them (more than a few such ships had originally been abandoned by the Alliance).
A salvage crew who claimed such a prize was free to re-sell the ship. Since it was no longer classified as "salvage", this meant there were no restrictions and no registration. It could be sold to anyone, at any price, and the crew legally allowed to profit by it. Some attempts were made to put a stop to such operations, but the resource-strapped Alliance could do very little.
The Gudersnipe Foundation was a bit better in dealing with the problem. Large numbers of ships had been built under license or supplied under lend-lease. Whenever the Foundation received word that a ship of theirs had been claimed, they could respond. Most often a Crimson Blade patrol was dispatched and granted authority to evaluate the claim and deal with it according to their own wisdom. Most often this involved scuttling the ship or otherwise rendering it inoperable, depending on the nature and repute of the salvagers. Called "breaker teams", these task forces succeeded in keeping a large number of ships out of pirate hands, but had limited authority.
Once again because of the rapid disarmament and general post-war chaos, many vessels were simply stolen outright, in some cases even by their war-time crews. Anything smaller than a cutter was easy to sell off and re-purpose for civilian use, but the larger ships, frigates and destroyers in particular, were primarily earmarked to be mothballed and laid up for future use. Destroyers, which had been built in huge numbers, mostly belonged directly to the Foundation, and had only been on loan to Alliance and member worlds. These ships in particular needed to be returned, and so were mostly put into a warm stand-by-mode whereby they could be stored for several years and reactivated as crews became available to ferry them to Crimson Blade reserve fleets.
Under relaxed security, it was not difficult for unscrupulous types to steal such vessels. Destroyers were particularly prized, being the largest of the sub-capitols and the smallest to have significant armor. These were also about the largest ship a pirate crew could easily manage, without cost over-runs. However, it should be noted that larger vessels like cruisers and even one battle-cruiser were left to this fate. These, too costly to operate, were often taken away to secret bases to act as defensive power for short-lived "pirate states".
Destroyers posed a very significant threat. Heavily armed and armored, they were well beyond the threat armed merchant marine ships could deal with, and outclassed the small home guard and patrol ships usually dispatched to deal with pirates. A pirate crew manning a destroyer was effectively invincible, and could raid with impunity.
The railgun had always been legal for civilian purchase and operation. Manufactured civilian-grade weapon systems were expensive, inaccurate, and could typically only fire a few shots at a low rate. This was not due to any regulation (as there was none) but the simple realities of building sophisticated weapons. Revenue service did not have a large profit margin, and civilian arms manufacturers lacked the resources and technological know-how to build more sophisticated equipment.
Most of the ships being sold, stolen, or salvaged were equipped with much larger, more powerful railguns. Ammunition was not an issue as it could be made from any ferric material with little skill and simple tools, and was more than adequate to puncture the hull of a merchant ship.
The kinetic missiles, similarly, were costly to built and good only for a single use, and lacked accurate targeting systems. While they were built to be compatible with military launchers, they were not very useful except perhaps as a show of strength.
The war made available vast quantities of much more powerful missiles, in particular those designed for use with the ships now being operated.
This all changed dramatically with the cessation of hostilities. While during the war munitions had been very tightly controlled, VK Day's aftermath was ignored by the various armed forces. Conscripts were dismissed from service immediately, and many left their posts with little more than discarding their side-arms along the way.
Huge caches of weapons and other equipment was left unguarded, and stolen to be sold on the black market. Some of the more enterprising governments became profiteers themselves, openly selling surplus war material with little consideration for exactly who was buying it. Officially, many items were only legal for resale to foreign allied governments, but the end of the war saw the rise of countless "brokers", who would buy the weapons to resell them later; often less than reputable.
The Foundation was particularly troubled by these events. A significant portion of the materials pilfered had been provided under lend-lease agreements, and were supposed to be returned. In practice, it was unlikely the Foundation would have retrieved much of the equipment, but of serious concern were the vast numbers of N2 warheads passing into disreputable hands. The N2, having a nominal yield around 40 megatons, could easily level a city.
High-power equipment such as capacitors and super-conductive interfaces had a wide array of uses in civilian life, but more importantly were often all that was required to refit the battleship-caliber beam cannons arming the multitude of fast-attack ships now in pirate hands.
The Terse Period
The era following the war saw vast movements in the commercial sector. Soldiers returning home, ex-patriots returning home, refugees, and large quantities of goods being moved to rebuild shattered worlds. There were many cold and desperate people, and piracy seemed like a simple solution.
So, the era saw roving gangs armed with military-grade weapons haunting the outskirts of every major solar system. The most common tactic was to approach and demand the goods be surrendered, but warning shots and outright firefights were not uncommon. Many civilian transport craft had illegally obtained weapons of their own, and full-on firefights were not uncommon. This was, sadly, not wise for the merchants. They were going up against actual warships, in most cases crewed by former soldiers who were very much familiar with their weapons and even more skilled at tactics.
By about A.Y. 6816, the legitimate clearing houses had sold off their weapons and the more brazen of merchant captains had all been killed. This marks the start of what the pirate captains would describe as "the happy times". By then, many had developed fearsome reputations, and trade in valuable commodities had grown more common. The black markets were still flooded with surplus weapons, and a great many pirates grew wealthy.
The various governments of Joint Space had disarmed too quickly, and the ships and weapons they needed to combat the pirate epidemic were the very ones used by the pirates themselves. The Foundation, quite unsurprisingly, had anticipated the rise in piracy and took measures to combat it. It is important to note that they did not intentionally seek to profit from the epidemic, and had done all they could to prevent it. Any areas under their protection were quite safe, as Crimson Blade task forces were well-equipped. The Foundation, unlike the Alliance, had been slow to disarm, and still had a vast fleet. However, operating anti-pirate patrols does cost money, and the Crimson Blade was only able to operate in such regions where the local government agreed to hire their services.
This simple solution was voted down by the Alliance senate, and few of the aligned worlds were willing to pay independently. Many felt the Foundation had deliberately created the problem as a way of extorting money from them, a position the Foundation staunchly denied.
In response, they pointed to many public statements, such as cautions they'd given as the war was winding down, and the simple point that most of the pirate ships were supposed to be returned to them. Few, if any, had been taken from Foundation shipyards, and any vessels of which they had had custody were fully accounted for.
So the problem was allowed to continue.
Rise of Nations
Pirate states were by no means a new problem. The known worlds contain many habitable planets in quiet, backwater regions of space. But with the new arms and armor, these states became much more audacious. Many attracted refugees, and some even posed as legitimate colonies.
Motoro, settled about 30 years before the war, was the most well-known. Being situated near a major trade route, the colony had a legitimate government and membership in the Alliance, making their system sovereign. Pirates would bring stolen goods which could be sold, then claimed as salvage by companies based on Motoro. These could then be resold on the legitimate market at full price, with no attempt to hide it. The government, such as it was, would even sell stolen goods back to their original owners at a hefty markup, and ensure safe delivery.
Worse still, the laws of the Alliance protected Motoro. Because they were a sovereign state, the Foundation could not send soldiers without declaring war on the entire Alliance. The illegal activities, even if they were easily tied to the government, had to be dealt with by the Alliance regulars. Motoro, meanwhile, had stolen and refitted a Crimson Blade cruiser, and backed it with a fleet of hundreds of fast-attack ships. The Alliance did make several attempts to hire the Crimson Blade to police the area, but the Foundation would only accept if they were given the chance to deal with the entire pirate problem, and refused to make arrangements system by system.
Motoro was typical of hundreds of pirate states during this era.
The End of the Beginning
By about A.Y. 6824, things began to change. The various pirate states, having never been particularly stable, began to see diminishing returns. Where governments had failed, private shipping companies hired mercenaries, most frequently of Sevel School or the Crimson Blade, and began traveling in large convoys. The pirates responded by forming powerful raiding parties that would attack the mercenary ships, disable or destroy them, then pillage the convoy.
But that meant more men, smaller shares, and greater expenditure. Even a modest defense from Sevel ships required missiles and torpedoes to overcome. The Crimson Blade's convoys were virtually impregnable, as their ships were more powerful, their crews better trained, and the common tactic of sortie-convoys. This involved an entire battle group (which might include a dozen capitol ships) making a 'routine sortie' along a trade route, conveniently moving at the same speed as a trade convoy that a much smaller contingent had been hired to defend. Not every convoy had such protection, but the Blade made it impossible to predict which ones did.
The pirates, by nature a disorderly lot, were not well-equipped to co-operate on the larger scales required to face the new reality, and many pirate states began infighting. Others became vulnerable to policing actions by the Alliance when their defenses crumbled.
The Battle of Motoro-U
In A.Y. 6839, the Crimson Blade made a move against Motoro. More specifically, they carefully orchestrated a scenario in which they could bring a large force to bear on the system and no one could argue that they had overstepped their authority.
The Walrus, the name given to the battle-cruiser the pirates had stolen and refitted, stood a constant vigil over the system, and protected it from attack by anything less than another capitol ship. The pirates of Motoro, while happy to assualt Crimson Blade-protected convoys, were less apt to go after Foundation-owned cargo knowing it might be forcibly reclaimed.
However, in 6839 a shipment of highly-valuable but nice-usable Giga Collider components came to rest on Motoro. These had been looted from a merchant ship and were thought to belong to a large industrial firm. The firm in question was a front-company for Fairview, Ltd, and the parts were bound (via a strangely circutious route) for their FTL Fabrication Facility.
As was common practice when such a shipment came into pirate hands, Motoro reached out to the owners and offered to "return" the components for a sizable reward. The front-company happily agreed, and said they would send a ship into the system to pick them up.
That ship was G.S.S. Invincible, a super-heavy dreadnought traveling with a full battle group. This consisted of Invincible herself, four carriers, two additional dreadnoughts, six battle-cruisers, and escorts. The entire fleet number seventy-one ships. As an especial treat, the cruisers were of the same type and hull design as Walrus
The attack was carried out very carefully. Under Alliance law, the Crimson Blade could not simply attack a sovereign nation without instigating a war. While it was unlikely the Alliance would actually have gone to war with the Foundation over Motoro, there was still a legal precedent no one was interested in testing. However, there were two important factors.
The first, Walrus, officially registered as C.B.S. Lainy Maru, had not been sold off and was very much the legal property of the Gudersnipe Foundation. As a warship, they were further authorized in the use of force in reclaiming her.
Second, there was a very clear and present precedent regarding self-defense. In the trying times of the Terse Period, right and wrong were most often settled by answering a simple question: who shot first?
When Invincible entered the solar system, the pirates were already out in force. Dozens of ships from the vast raiding fleet, plus their fast-attack vessels, and the Walrus, stood ready. Invincible, in deviance of standard naval doctrine, flew at the head of the formation, which maneuvered very aggressively towards Motoro. Weapon systems fully charged, torpedo and missile ports open.
The standoff was tense. The task force reached orbit over Motoro and spread out in a defensive posture, while Invincible launched drones to retrieve the cargo. The launch necessitated lowering shields, thus rendering the ship marginally vulnerable.
In the after-action report, it was highlighted again and again that the first salvo came from a pirate ship. One of the fast-attack stealth vessels of the common Bounty design. The age of the gun and the state of its repair made it unable to damage Invincible's hull, but this did not matter. They had fired on a Crimson Blade ship, and Invincible responded with the full force of her weapons.
The entire engagement lasted around for hours, owing mostly to an attempt at taking back the Walrus. This was largely done for show, a demonstration that they "had tried" before rendering the warship no longer combat-capable. The honor of decommissioning Lainy Maru was given to her sister ships, who positioned themselves for a single gun strike on the disabled vessel.
The Beginning of the End
The Battle of Motoro-U signaled the end of the pirate states. Similar tactics played out over the next several years, and by A.Y. 6844, about 30 years after the end of the Succession Wars, all but the smallest and most isolated pirate states had been eradicated.
By this time, too, most of the pirate ships, built cheaply and not expected to last long, were in dire states, and their beam cannons were all but inoperable.
With fewer weapons available and mill-spec ships much harder to come by, the "golden age" of piracy came to a close. It still continued, as such things always do; but for the first time since the Battle of Lerma, merchant ships could travel in relative safety.