Episode 1: A Very Short Pirate
If you ask him, Captain Mayhem will spin a story of his incredible adventures and achievements. It’s at least half a lie. The usual tale goes as thus as Captain Yueh Mii Hym tells it, “He is one of the Empire of Humanity’s most successful – and annoying – small-scale pirates (those which command fleets are not considered small-scale). While he carefully avoids killing, he has few qualms about crippling a target vessel’s engines for long enough to board, incapacitate the crew, and steal everything that isn’t nailed down (although, in a few cases, he has left items of sentimental value, come to the rescue of troubled vessels, or spared cargoes because their owners could prove that they were orphans).
Unfortunately, the Emperor does not react well to being made a fool of or mocked. With the Empire increasingly “hot”, the good (if naughty) Captain Yueh has researched and employed forbidden techniques, learning to channel the energies of Chaos through himself to breach the barriers between the dimensions – departing the star-reefs of the chaos cluster for the curiously-stable realm of Earth…”
This is not totally fictional, but it’s heavily exaggerated and very misleading.
The first point is that it’s not totally clear where he originates. His description of the Empire implies a very large government with potentially trillions of inhabitants. Yet there’s no lasting peace despite its power, as every major power and dozens of smaller ones are constantly squabbling over any available resource, be it useful planets and systems.
It may well be that this is a dream realm of generic “Star Empires”. Then again, once you start playing around with dimensional transference, it’s hard to say where you’ll end up. The Captain might be from a very far-off galaxy or may indeed be from another dimension. It would, at least, be a lot nicer if the billions devoured by war were just the dream-images of a paltry few million mortals – but it frankly wouldn’t be that shocking if some distant cluster really was like that.
Yueh was born a mutant, in a realm where that’s frequently a death sentence. Fortunately, pure-bred or mutant wasn’t quite as big a deal in the vast factory-world that made-up his home planet. When he was a mere eight years of age, however, his parents sold him to the crew of a passing merchantman as a cabin boy.
Sailing the stars is an impossible slow process if you don’t have certain tools allowed by certain greater beings (Luathon, and so on) or are ridiculously powerful or are cheating monstrously. Yueh’s people preferred the latter, and opted to rip dimensional holes open – a feat which is relatively easy for them and uses extremely common technology. The only downside is that, for some reason, they opt to rip a portal into the most nightmarish of Hell realms they can find. In some bizarre and inexplicable rule, that’s just plain easier even if it’s horrendously suicidal.
Yes, common merchants use the Fiery Pit of the Damned as a shortcut.
It’s hard to say whether the fools breaking into Hell’s backdoor sparked the first demonic invassions, or whether the invasions gave people the idea in the first place. Either way, ther’s been a massive galactic-scale conflict between nearly all the sentient species, and several non-sentient ones, for eons on end. It’s not really one conflict – somebody may win locally, but there’s always another locus of war somewhere.
Yueh Mii Hym comes from a rather nasty industrial colony notable for three things: first, having a very high mortality rate, and second, for having very loose naming conventions. (None of his names are properly a personal or family name, and his parents called him any one or combination or order of his names on a whim.)
More importantly, the former means that he was one of a dozen children, all born in an environment of dangerously concentrated biotoxins due to a completely apathetic government. The predominant view among the industrial-scientific-political elite is that most humans are just another industrial input – a raw material to be used and discarded. And since said elite almost entirely controls all means of exit and uses killer robots to enforce their will, there’s not much to be done about it. Yueh was actually one of the luckier ones – his parents bribed passing merchants to take the children away.
This was even more necessary because the high environmental stress meant a dangerous rate of mutation, and the authorities’ frowned on such things even if they didn’t actually go out of their way to wipe out mutants. Yueh had a common metabolic adaptation. It had a wide range of minor side effects and ordinarily would mean a shorter life. But on the balance it was a significant advantage in such a dangerous environment.
The short version is that Yueh ended up on a tramp freighter hopping worlds.
Life on the Imperious Dreadstar of Unending Avenging (the less the ship, the more the name!), or IDUA, was actually quite good. Yueh made a number of friends, the duties weren’t difficult, and at the end of the day he learned a great deal about starships and ended up piloting shuttles before he could legally drive an Earth car.
The great irony of an Imperial ship is that they end up being massively overstaffed, whether it’s a warship, pleasure yacht, freighter or garbage scow. As insane as it might sound, there’s always space to fill, always some kind of halfway-useful work to be done, and always a very large number of worlds with excess population begging to work cheap. It’s a situation that produces ridiculously outsized crews almost by default. Hence even a smaller freighter has the population of a small town with endless chores, while only a handful of engineers and skilled workmen are really necessary to its function. This all boils down to a thousand cabin boys (and girls) on the larger freighters even without counting the odd stowaway or birth during transit.
And when the Idua was boarded by pirates off the Gulf of Mazer Rackhym, he became a marine, too. Or at least a powder monkey. The pirates were a desperate lot, with failing engines and severe damage sustained from another battle. They were after the ship more than the cargo. It turned into a bloodbath inside the freighter’s hull as the pirates tried to seize various critical points.
“Get those grenades, boy!” cried the Second Engineer’s Mate, “We need to keep them from Core Two or they’ll shut off half our defensives!” He began grabbing boxes of ammo, part of the limited supply available. A brief argument broke out between the officer in charge of the armory, but they eventually reached a compromise and bullets and batteries were duly handed over.
Motivating Yueh was harder. “I’m not going out there!” he cried. “They’ve got lots of evil pirates with lasers and things!” Fortunately, they had a method of motivating Yueh: building his confidence and stressing the importance of this in making sure the ship was safe – ha, no, they strapped grenades to him and said he could either take them to the crewmen or they’d pull the pin and throw him at the pirates.
This led to dodging gunfire in the corridor and running through half blind, but he knew the ship well. He hardly returned to the armory before he was called to make yet another run. The armorer handed him more packages and cried, Boy, get in here and get this up to the bridge. They’re under attack now!”
Yueh looked askance at this and asked “The pirates are in the way. How can we get in there?” The armorer (Yueh didn’t know his name) pointed at the garbage chute in response.
Trying to climb up the chute was among the vilest experiences in Yueh’s life, but he did it. A century’s worth of trash, engine runoff, and the resulting mold and bacteria did not make the trip enjoyable. Worse yet, he had to climb up the shaft vertically. The ammunition dangled below by a cable tied to his belt as he held tightly onto the ladder built into the shaft wall. It took over an hour, but managed to climb story after story until he finally reached the bridge.
Finally reaching the bridge station, Yueh pounded on the chute until they finally opened it. Strong arms pulled Yueh up and inside. A stronger voice commented disdainfully on his odor. Yueh just gave them a baleful glare and asked them if they had a better of way of getting more ammunition. “Would you like your next delivery gift-wrapped?” Then Yueh realized he was leaning on a corpse of one of the crew. It was perhaps a sign of how wonderfully the day was going that he just grumbled and sat up.
It took Yueh a few more minutes before he noticed the dead bodies were rather numerous, and seemed to rest at the defense posts… and the living had a great many pirate symbols on their clothing.
“Oh, bugger,” he said.
As it happened, things turned out to be quite fine, as long as you didn’t hold many qualms about a life of brutal piracy. Yueh learned rather quickly (as in, the first time a pirate belted him across the mouth) not to voice any complaints, and the remaining crew elected to do so as well.
Besides, Imperial patrol ships weren’t going to only shoot the bits of the ship which had official pirates in them. They were all in this together the moment the new buccaneering captain ordered the ship to blow the stuffing out of an unsuspecting transport. The one advantage their freighter had was surprise, but that was enough for a couple quick attacks and safe return back to the pirate’s base.
Yueh spent years there, a life not all that different from many others. He spent his time repack loot, moving cargo and stripping guns. It was quite a fine time for him, learning new things every day, such as the best way to gut a man with a laser blast and how to disable someone when you only a had a handheld Ripper knife. Mostly, however, Yueh piloted small craft around the base. This ultimately led to the single event which changed his life.
“Hey, kid!” called Bosun Stefin. Yueh wasn’t quite a kid anymore, but even among killer pirates fifteen was pretty young. He scurried over to meet the older man anyway.
“Yeah, Bah?” Yueh said , using the local slang for boss.
The pirate sniffed and asked, “You wanna join the Intrepid’s crew? You’re old enough to get a share.”
Yueh scratched idly at his long hair and replied, “Is shooting people a requirement if I sign up?”
Stefin said, “No, it’s not a requirement – it’s a perk.”