A persistent hobby, or culture, or polity on Ember are the Sky Pirates. This whimsical group of modosophonts operate assorted large winged aircraft, with a number of supporting bubble hab "sky ports." The Sky Pirates are (currently) organized into several dozen pirate "squadrons", which may be interpreted as "teams," "fleets," or "clans." Sky Pirate rules, such as they are, emphasize the voluntary nature of this sport, requirement for participants to be backed up and insured, and exclusion of bystanders ("civilians" or "land lubbers").
The main pirate "ships" are usually large, slow, baroque winged aircraft that may have thousands of crew. Battles rarely involve the grand pirate ships, which are fragile compared to each other's banks of scorn cannons, and instead are handled by duels and brawls between small fighters, wing packs, and more exotic aircraft carried by the ships. Some squadrons, not all, make permanent bases inn sky ports, typically large lighter-than-air vessels able to dodge Ember's turbulent dawn and dusk wind storms. In the current era, ships and sky ports are the target of daring boarding actions, which differs from past eras where they were prime targets for sabotage or direct fleet battles.
A key part of the artificial Sky Pirate economy is "booty" seized from participating surface municipalities and sky ports. Surface wind yachts, oases, and farmsteads may be raided by autogyros and winged pirates for food, furnishings, and objects d'art. Some "land lubbers" are enthusiastic participants, building "land pirate" vehicles to assorted aesthetics (sail-only, hydrocarbon combustion, pre- and post-gunpowder, etc.) and offering commodities or other aid to the sky pirates. (In truth, the largest part of the Sky Pirate economy is not discussed among sky pirates because it offends their ideals: donations of energy and mass from individual sky pirates. Bonfire has a post-scarcity economy where modosophonts have generous energy and mass stipends from the system government.)
The land and space participation in Ember's pirate "culture" has never been particularly sustained, with few land lubbers or space dwellers being involved for longer than several years. (Ember is a hyperxeric world, and has rarely seen waterborne pirates.) Most residents of the system prefer to stay aloof from the "silly and wasteful" sport. And thanks to the planetary Angelnet, accidental attacks on non-participants are rare. The Sky Pirates, though, are entering their 300th year, with the oldest League being 112 years old. Generations of future participants grow up on the big ships and sky ports. Special care is taken to protect the children, who cannot legally participate in any Leagues until reaching a majority (the definition of which varies by clade, League, and system government laws). Most of the Leagues accept temporary participants, be they tourists, part-time hobbyists, or other short timers.
Individual squadrons gain social stature in their "League" by varying means: simple conquest and seizure of the most "booty," military defeat of rival pirate ships, adhering authentically to some current Sky Pirate aesthetic, adhering to a common pirate storyline, or making some popular media experience (such as a movie) of the squadron's exploits. Some Leagues have organized battles, semi-finals, and final battles between squadrons, while others are more freeform. At the end of a year, decade, or some other period, awards are granted in some Leagues to the best overall squadron.
Scoring and stature of squadrons is obtuse to outsiders for several reasons: Sky Pirates make it a point of pride not to discuss Sky Piracy with outsiders; the rules of the game change on a near annual basis; as anarchists, the pirates' adherence to rules vary from rigid adherence, to adherence the word but not the spirit, or to lip service only). There are at least five separate Leagues managed by four different Sky Pirate "Councils of Captains," and squadrons typically participate simultaneously in two to three Leagues at a time.
Sky Pirates Beyond
The Sky Pirates of Ember have turned the media potential of their sport-lifestyle into profits across the Known Net. Some viewers were not satisfied with recordings or virch games and have attempted to start their own Sky Pirate leagues. There has been understandable interest from bubble habitat civilizations in gas giants, but many To'ul'h colonies have also dabbled in the sport.
Sky Pirates of Ember: Events & Personalities
Argabast "The Bodyless" Dolchis: Captain Dolchis currently runs a smallish bubble habitat festooned with numerous scorn cannons. Captain Dolchis gets his nickname because his neb body has crossed into the path of large caliber fire seventeen times (to date), at least three of them from his own crew.
Crimson Flaming Oracles: The CFOs rarely involve themselves in fleet battles, but their ships are found near sky ports and mother ships of other pirate fleets where they trade, exchange booty for monies in widespread use across Terragen Space, and are sometimes caught manipulating booty markets and League standings. When they do engage in aggressive auditing (battle), their battle chants are thematic: "Crew the spreadsheets! Batten down the accounts! Prepare to audit their treasure holds!"
Flying Sharks: The flying sharks started as shark splices on amphibious planes stationed at Ember's polar lakes, but few Sky Pirates involved themselves in the aquatic story lines. However, the splices proved to be popular rental bodies for tourists participating in Sky Piracy because of the rampant nautical themes that remain in pirate lore. As they are used by tourists, the Flying Sharks can be found in almost any pirate fleet and league. Most of the splice bodies now include gliding membranes between arms and legs, turning the clade name into a retronym.
Ghost Pirates: There are numerous ghosts in Sky Pirate lore and storylines, but one fleet currently uses the name "Ghost Pirates." They are virtual pirates who assault and loot other pirates' computronium. They are close allies of the Killer Skwirlz who often help them establish links into isolated pirate data systems. Most Leagues require physical ships so the Ghost Pirates do operate ships, but the Ghost Pirates favor camouflage and ECM that can thwart the limited sensors of most pirate ships and enable them to evade the heavier, better armed threats of their physical opponents.
Golden Hook, The: A crude prosthetic made of carbon-alloyed iron and plated with flaking gold, the Golden Hook started as a costume piece for an unremarkable Sky Pirate (Superior Lieutenant Red Mane the Most Magnificent, a.k.a Larry Smithron of Potato) who only participated in the sport for a few weeks in 10353AT. It changed owners several times before being placed in a false treasure trove that wasn't discovered until 10418AT. The worthless baubles were facetiously embraced by the victorious pirates (the now-defunct "Golden Horde"), and the Golden Hook was upheld as the mark of the captain in the Horde. This, of course, made the Hook a target for rival pirate fleets and its value has only grown in subsequent decades.
Ironbeak: A provolved, subsophont macaw that was once a pet and guardian of a pirate, Ironbeak received a cybernetic intelligence enhancement from a new owner. Sophont Ironbeak subsequently accumulated large amounts of social credits for high levels of authentic pirate behavior, guiding and training new crew members in Sky Pirate ways. Ironbeak was a member of the Caribbean League of pirates, one of the few Leagues to arrange offworld franchises in the early 10500s, and eir teaching tour has been immortalized in the Known Net virch saga, "The Plunder of Nine Worlds." Ironbeak returned with so much wealth that e was able to purchase eir own ship. Ironbeak abruptly retired from Sky Piracy in 10592 to Smoke where e is creating a colony of sophont macaw provolves.
Killer Skwirlz: A ' ' spore clade fork that had embraced Sky Piracy, this pirate clan uses bodies resembling 0.25-meter flying squirrels with fan cloth between their limbs. The Killer Skwirlz are notorious for their quiet infiltration of sky ports and mother ships, but are generally tolerated in most Leagues because their massed boarding swarms making for entertaining, difficult target practice.
Night Wings: A collection of vampire and other nocturnal clades, these adhere to a theme of windowless, black ships and night attacks. Like the flying sharks, they are currently common across many pirate fleets, but have formed their own fleets in the past.
Pentucker: No longer even in the Bonfire system, Pentucker is one of the posterchildren for a rules-breaking pirate. E always pushed the rules to win every aspect of every Sky Pirate scenario e participated in, such as building ultratech rotary massdriver cannons when others built scorn cannon, using rocket-assisted hypersonic fighters when others used propeller-driven aircraft,firing on accorded neutral ground and other off-limit targets, hacking electronic monetary reserves rather than seizing physical representations like treasure chests, deliberately targeting non-participants like children to distract opponents, and so on. E was last seen departing Bonfire on a Grape Ship, leaving behind a 112,000-word screed explaining how e was the only true pirate in Bonfire. Most pirates who served with Pentucker has since left the sport due to social ostracism, or spent years digging themselves out of social debt with the Leagues.
PlunderBot 5000 & The Merry Vecs: PlunderBot 5000 runs a tight fleet of vec-crewed airships. Except for a handful of cyborgs and bionts kept as mascots, the fleet is vec only. They are notorious for looting every distinct piece of computronium and personal metal (e.g., belt buckles) from defeated foes. PlunderBot 5000 is one of the more popular and gregarious of the Sky Pirate captains, but is known to have a hatred for the Ghost Pirates. The Merry Vecs have known to take unsporting actions against the Ghost Pirate's sky ports and their ships.
Royal Navy: Not currently in operation, the "Royal Navy" is a fleet that appears in some eras. Twice it was generated by Ember's Angelnet to bring more rambunctious pirates under control, but it is generally created as a threat and challenge by pirate leagues to liven story lines.
Treasure Hunts: Buried treasure has been a staple of Sky Pirate culture and lore since its inception. Within a few years of Sky Piracy's founding on Ember pirates were accumulating sufficient booty to need to store it, and others were interested in pirating the treasure. However, unpredictable and often secret treasure troves of wealthy pirates were less fun in the context of a sport than planned events where treasure would be deliberately buried and cryptic maps to the treasure distributed. These planned treasure hunts are often arranged by Sky Pirate Leagues, but practice has varied over the centuries. There have been periods where Sky Pirates were more bothersome to civilians and the civilians reacted by planting treasures far from civilization. 212 years ago, at least one civilian group tried to plant a large amat weapon to eliminate several annoying pirate fleets but were thwarted by Angelnetting. Currently, Ember's Leagues only accept treasures planted by recognized authority figures - League Councils, Ember's planetary governor (who is involved in Sky Piracy for ceremonial purposes), and some of Ember's transapients.