Beriv’s Privateers (Filk)

When you think filk, you also think folk. Or I do, anyway. And recently, when I think folk, it’s been because my random writing music playlist has been bringing up Barrett’s Privateers more often than one might expect. (If you don’t know the song, you can hear it performed here.)

And when my mind wanders back to filk, it recalls that few, indeed, are the science fiction universes for which I haven’t seen at least some attempt made to produce a localized version: Star Trek, Wars, Traveller, etc., etc.

So this one is mine, the tragic story of a young Magen spacer who, back when much travel in the Worlds was still relativistic, signed up with Half-Captain Beriv’s ill-fated Khadara for the promise of an easy cruise, a bloodless victory, and a fortune at the end. Needless to say, it did not work out that way.

Naturally, to the tune of Barrett’s Privateers, by Stan Rogers. © Fogarty’s Cove Music 1976.


Oh, the year was 4178¹
How I wish I was on Sardion² now!
A letter of marque under manager’s ring³
Sold t’ the scummiest ship I’ve ever seen


Suns⁴ damn them all! I was told
We’d cruise the deep for the Star’s red gold⁵.
We’d lay no beams, spill no tears.
But I’m a broken man on a Sardis pier⁶
The last of Beriv’s Privateers


Oh, Half-Cap⁷ Beriv cried the halls⁸
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
For sixty brave sophs, all spacers, who
Would make for him the Khadara‘s crew



The Khadara‘s hull was a sickening sight
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
Her gyros tumbly⁹ and her bottles cracked¹⁰,
And her plating half patches from front to back



When the Suns aligned we made for the black
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
We were nine years to Sagori Light¹¹
With a thousand glitches in the wakeful night¹²



In the eleventh year we sailed again
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
When a bloody great Impie hove in sight
With our juiced comm lasers¹³ we made to fight


Now the Impie lugger¹⁴ was laden high
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
Her drives burnt low¹⁵ as she clawed for way
But to catch her took Khadara sixty days



Then at length we stood two seconds¹⁶ away
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
The beam caps¹⁷ charged with a howl and a whine
But with one lead head¹⁸, the Imp broke our spine


The Khadara snapped, laying open her side
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
Beriv was smashed like grav-juggled eggs¹⁹
And a main bus short vaporized my legs



So here I lay in my fortieth year
How I wish I was on Sardion now!
It’s been twenty-two years since we flew away
And I just made Sardis yesterday


Historical and explanatory footnotes:

  1. Around forty years after the First Interstellar War. The Reunification was complete at this point, but lighthuggers were still in use carrying supplies to and from the outer worlds.
  2. Sardis (Magen Exodus), one of the secondary systems of the Magen Corporate, is a trinary system. Sardion is one of the inner planets of its primary star.
  3. i.e., from the Corporate, which was pursuing all means to fight its trade war with the Empire at this time.
  4. See (2). This is a common form of oath among Sardis natives.
  5. By “red gold” the speaker means orichalcium. The Magenites had lost access to it with their parting of ways from the Empire, leaving them with only inferior substitutes. A cargo of orichalcium or orichalcium-based components was the most valuable cargo a Magen-sponsored commerce raider could capture.
  6. “Pier”, in this case, means the first deck inside docks and locks on a major drift; a common place to find ships’ suppliers, dockside cargo sales, mechanics, spacer’s bars, brothels, flophouses, and other startown appurtenances.
  7. Indicates the rank of “Half-Captain”, a Magenite equivalent to “first mate”. Were he less blinded by profit, the speaker might have taken this as a warning that his captain had never commanded his own lighthugger, but at the time the Corporate were offering letters to anyone who could raise the capital for one.
  8. Spacers’ hiring halls, another fixture of the pier area of major drifts.
  9. i.e., a worn or defective attitude control system.
  10. i.e., engines desperately in need of maintenance, and quite possibly recused from a wreckyard.
  11. A communications relay and replenishment station in the Sagori (Magen Exodus) system, between the Corporate and Imperial space.
  12. “wakeful night”, among relativistic ship crew, indicates the repeated need to come out of cryo to make emergency repairs or otherwise handle the ship.
  13. Why buy actual weapons for your privateer, after all? To be fair, you can put a lot of juice through an interstellar comm laser.
  14. A heavy freight lighthugger, operating at relatively low accelerations.
  15. i.e., the lugger was so heavily laden that it had to operate below its maximum acceleration in order to avoid structural damage.
  16. Light-seconds.
  17. The rapid-discharge hypercapacitors used to buffer power to the lasers.
  18. A nuclear-tipped weapon; given the period, presumably a Casaba-Howitzer.
  19. “We juggle priceless eggs in variable gravity.” As a general rule, NEVER DO THIS.

Trope-a-Day: Space Pirates

Space Pirates: Type I is occasionally possible, thanks to the constraints of economically favorable trajectories, refueling stations (around gas giants), and the stargates themselves making it at least possible to lie around in somewhat-disguised- bearing in mind the constraints covered under Stealth in Space – ambush for merchant shipping to show up.  That, and raiding isolated colonies (which is actually substantially easier).

In their more stupid and brutal (“Yarr!  Kill – or enslave – everyone gratuitously unpleasantly, then takes their stuff!”) forms, seen occasionally out in the lawless backwaters of the stargate plexus – but even then, only occasionally, because everyone hates these guys, and even if they don’t run into anyone’s regular navy, mercenaries, bounty hunters, and heavily armed “free traders” – and a lot of star nations out there have, shall we say, a relaxed attitude to what a merchie bearing their flag can bolt onto his ship by way of insurance – have no particular problem making an extra exval or two by reducing them to inventory.  Especially since their business model is rarely profitable enough to let them buy decent ships until after they’ve given people plenty of chances to whack ’em, unless they start out as renegade naval units or some such.

Played somewhat straighter by people with more complex business models involving tangle-enabled insider trading, commerce raiders, privateers, and mercenaries hired to be commerce-raiding privateers, mostly because either due to better business models or access to thinly-disguised naval auxiliaries, they can afford decent ships, or have someone backing them up who can.  Generally also less stupid and brutal, since they want to live to spend their earnings and/or have a patron who will clean them up himself, lest he be held responsible by someone who finds their casus belli just the thing he was looking for.

Marque and Reprisal

To all to whom this shall be presented, be it known that this warrant entitles the bearer:

Rhadam Sinyéren Daemar

Owner and master of the armed merchant cruiser IS Gloriously Acquisitive;

To subdue and to seize goods and citizens, to destroy goods that cannot be taken, and to destroy military assets, belonging to such enemies of the Empire of the Star that Their Divine Majesties shall deem to exist from time to time, states, private sovereignties, or sovereign individuals, armed or unarmed, fixed or mobile, as designated in such separate Imperial proclamations as Their Divine Majesties shall see fit to issue, or by any pirates or brigands at any time;

And to bring the same to a starport, naval base, or roaming fleet base wherein a Court of Admiralty is empaneled, for adoption as prizes, condemnation for sale, or payment of bounty;

And to retake any vessels, goods, or citizen-shareholders of the Empire captured by such aforementioned enemies;

And to bring the same to a starport or naval base within Imperial territorial space, or to a roaming fleet base, wherein a Court of Admiralty is empaneled, for payment of due reward.

Furthermore, this warrant entitles the named bearer and vessel to apply for whatever assistance, whether monetary or not, that Their Divine Majesties shall deem fit to provide from time to time, and to seek succor and resupply at bases and depots of the Imperial Navy, subject to payment of expenses and the exigencies of war.

In the course of these privileges here granted, the named bearer and vessel are required to conduct themselves in all ways in accordance with the Ley Accords and the Imperial Rules of War, and to give such assistance as may be requested and required of them by captains and flag officers of the Imperial Navy; and should they attack and seize goods or citizens of any polity, howsoever constituted, that is not a thus designated enemy of the Empire, they shall be subject to such penalties at law as if they had carried out such an attack against the Empire itself.

Given under my hand and seal this day, 4045 Cálíath 14,

Kynéä Valentarios Tentáren, Constellarch of the High Verge


“We issued a letter to Rhadam Daemar?  The man’s a loose cannon, and his crew are worse.”

“Actually, he’s four loose cannons.”  The constellarch’s military aide flipped the associated documentation back on screen and off again with a gesture.  “And six loose missile racks, four loose launch tubes, two loose armed cutters, and one loose… ‘electromagnetic pulse-projecting xenowidget we picked up in a breaker’s yard on Méklish’.  But he’ll get the job done.”