You’ll no doubt have seen me use the terms ‘reiver’, ‘pirate’ and ‘marauder’ in my novels, sometimes interchangeably. Collectively, they are the lawless scum that prey on honest interstellar shipping, sometimes to the point of taking sentient beings to be sold as slaves on techno-barbarian planets. Crime knows no species boundaries and many groups are of mixed origin, although most organised criminals tend to stick to their own kind. I thought a few definitions might be appropriate.
What the humans call technobarbarians are those non-human sentient species who were still mired in pre-spaceflight civilizations, at times well before having attained an industrial level roughly equivalent to Earth’s nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but who acquired from unscrupulous traders the ability to become FTL travel capable societies without the intervening civilizational step. Their societies remained distinctly crude, even barbaric, but were unleashed on unsuspecting worlds through the magic of hyperspace drives. Imagine 11th century Vikings with machine guns and motor torpedo boats. There was no Star Trek-like “Prime Directive” in the Dunmoore/Decker universe. Perhaps there should have been. The techno-barb worlds are a perennial thorn in the side of the Navy, but can be very profitable to shady commercial interests with high level connections in the Commonwealth government. Thus, there is little appetite for punitive expeditions to root the worst of them out. Many manage, through trial and error, much error, to adapt to interstellar law, especially when the Navy does manage to give them a very bloody nose, but the further from the Navy’s sphere of influence, the less motivation to clean up their act. Of course, the various techno-barb polities provide havens for the various predators who make a living plundering honest spacers.
This form of space scum is generally clan based and often sponsored by various technobarb governments. They are as often human as not, and the better ones can find great favour with technobarb kingdoms. With fixed bases beyond the reach of the Navy, they are almost an embryonic form of what on Earth became the privateer and ultimately the private military corporation. In business for profit and for hire, they often have multi-ship flotillas and can be more or less disciplined. In practice though, they are little different from the garden variety pirate, at least where their victims are concerned. Reivers will impose their presence on more vulnerable societies and establish a permanent presence where pirates would remain transitory and rootless.
Catch-all terms for criminals preying on interstellar shipping, they’re generally single ship operations with no fixed home base. Where reiver clans can become long-lived, multi-generational operations, the average pirate crew has a limited lifespan and even pirate consortiums are nowhere near permanent fixtures. However, it has been long suspected that some pirate operations are actually financed by shady business interests from within the Commonwealth, organized-crime style. There are highly profitable things done beyond the Commonwealth borders that would earn the perpetrators lengthy prison sentences if done within the Navy’s reach. As such, a lot of outlaw starships engage in smuggling drugs and other illegal items into the Commonwealth.
A note on slavers
Slavery is outlawed both within the Commonwealth and the Shrehari Empire. However, it is sill a feature of life on many techno-barb worlds, and there remains a flourishing market for slaves from advances societies, especially those with particular skills and knowledge not readily available in the seamier parts of the galaxy. These command high prices and some pirates will engage in slave taking, even though by law, captured slavers face an automatic death penalty. Most slaving is done beyond the reach of the Navy although newly established colonies at the far end of lightly patrolled starlanes can remain vulnerable.
The Confederacy of the Howling Stars
Imagine a 1%er Motorcycle Club with starships instead of Harleys and you've got the Confederacy of the Howling Stars. They like to call themselves the Star Wolves. Zack Decker and his friends call them the Jackals or the Howlers. The Confederacy skirts the outer edges of the law, always staying one step ahead of overworked and underfunded law enforcement agencies. Even the Navy has a hard time pinning actual crimes on them. It's well known within naval intelligence that the Confederacy often does wetwork (i.e. kidnappings, assassinations, etc) for the Commonwealth's shadowy civilian secret police, which is answerable only to the Secretary General.