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A group of space criminals collectively known as the Butchers is gathering enough power to be considered as a serious threat. Although they are nowhere near as powerful as the two major space empires, they are large, heavily armed, and able to be a serious thorn in the sides of the two major space empires.

The Butchers are composed of four separate groups.

  1. Pirates raid other ships that are already in space. They prefer convoys that are already in deep space, and are very adept at capturing valuable ships, repairing them, and either reselling them or using them themselves.

  2. Raiders are similar to pirates, but instead of attacking ships, raiders attack settlements. There they take supplies, weaponry, food, water, and anything else they want.

  3. Outlaws are people or groups that are wanted by either of the other space empires and have decided to live outside of the law. They live with very few rules and tend to be excessively violent.

  4. Slavers either buy captives from the other three, or directly attack ships or settlements on their own to capture people. They turn their captives into slaves for use or sale.

All four groups are ruled by the Butcher King, a former general from one of the space empires that was removed from command because of his extreme brutality. He is personally motivated by his hatred for the rest of civilization, and uses the Butchers to harass the less protected elements of each empire, while also attempting to cause tensions between the two to escalate until full scale war breaks out.

The question here is what holds this group of criminals together? Obviously the threat of violence from the rest of the group would be effective, but it seems like that alone would fall far short of keeping this group unified enough to be a serious threat to two technologically and numerically superior foes. If it helps the Butchers have access to faster-than-light travel, drones, and AI, but all of it is at least slightly inferior to their more civilized counterparts.

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    $\begingroup$ Money is a surprisingly powerful motivator. As sad as it is, crime pays the bills. $\endgroup$ – Jakob Lovern Feb 12 '18 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ We can't come up with this important element of your world for you. If it helps, this sort of thing comes up all the time in other novels, and even shows, so you can research it, and take your pick. For example, why does Tortuga exist in Pirates of the Caribean? Why was it never stamped out by the authorities, even though they could easily find out where it is, and had the manpower necessary to do so? Same deal. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Feb 12 '18 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ "Together" in which sense? They will cooperate for a mutual benefit, but very unlikely will be taking direct commands from the "Butcher King". This king can establish a "criminal code" that those groups will more or less follow, but it would be almost impossible for them to come as a unified force. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Feb 12 '18 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ It's not a believable motive for the Butcher King to be motivated by "hatred of the rest of civilization". It's more likely that he is a very rich member of civilization with a lot of connections who sees the potential profit of making deals with criminals just below him on the crime hierarchy. Running the illegal slave/drug/gambling world is a likely candidate. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Feb 13 '18 at 16:00
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Fuel

As you know, Liquid MacGuffinium (LMg) is the main source of fuel for all space travel in the galaxy. Now, in the space empires, the production and sale of LMg is highly controlled and regulated (after all, if you had enough raw MacGuffinium in one place you could blow up an entire planet). To refine and produce such an important resource requires an entire supply chain for extraction, purification, refining, and acid purging, in order to create the safe, fuel that spaceships need.

Rumor has it, that the Butcher King has a fully functioning, albeit less safe LMg production facility hidden in the asteroid belt of some far off system. This production facility is no doubt heavily guarded by the Butcher King's loyal former legion, and indeed that is where you can find his massive dreadnaught.

Word is, even if some daring crew could gain control of the station, they wouldn't be able to run it. The only refinery engineers out there that know how to operate a facility like that are either part of the Imperial Navy or loyal to the Butcher King.

Thieves, pirates, raiders and vagabounds must either (dangerously) outfit their ships to run on raw MacGuffinium, spend all of their time raiding heavily defended LMg transports, or buy it from the Butcher King.

Fear

The Butcher King watches all. His eyes and ears are everywhere, and he suffers no traitors. The word is out: the Butcher King always gets his cut.

The evidence of those who hid their scores from the King are plain to see. There's the husk of the mighty pirate dreadnaught that was cut in half from space, orbiting that planet like a ghastly moon. Outside of the trading port, there lay a massive pile of heads from the last Raider crew who didn't pay the King his due.

Turn in your crew and you will be rewarded by the Butcher King. Defy him and he'll send every Outlaw, Bounty Hunter, Assassin, and Saboteur in the sector after you. Or sometimes he'll just "accidentally" leak your ship's location to the nearest Imperial Cruiser.

Loyalty

The Butcher King? Oh man, he's the greatest. When you hear him talk, it makes the Butchers feel like they're not the scum of the galaxy. The empire might look down on bounty hunters and scavengers but the Butcher King? He protects them. He loves them unconditionally. He takes the people cast out by the empires and gives them a home. He knows the Empire, inside and out, used to run one of their legions. He knows that the butchers are destined for greatness. He's going to lead the butchers out of this forgotten sector of the galaxy and one day, the butchers are going to take back what's rightfully theirs.

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    $\begingroup$ Pretty much exactly the combination of traits that guys like Blackbeard or Teach used to hold their crews together. I would aslo add "Shared Predicament." in there. The empire? They have a mandatory policy of torture and execution for all pirates they capture. You cant possibly betray your crew without sharing their fate as well. Nobody will talk because arbitrarily applied eccentric and brutal reprisal against anyone captured doesn't guarantee a turncoat any degree of safety. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Feb 13 '18 at 0:58
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Technology

If these assorted raiders are using advanced gear like faster than light, AI and drones they must have access to a relatively high level of technology. Maybe the Butcher King has monopolised the best minds in the sector or simply owns all the power plants and resources. Even if the bulk of the technology is stolen from the empires he could have all the best mechanics to repurpose it for bandit use.

Tribe

The raiders could be unified by a shared ideology, ethnicity or religion. Their common codes could encourage unity or they could simply be so badly treated by the other tribes and civilizations in the area that sticking together and playing nice is the only way to survive.

Friends in High Places

Made less likely by the Butcher King's zealous hatred of the empires but still possible. Maybe some faction within one of the more advanced civilizations has an interest in keeping the Butcher King in place. He could form a handy buffer zone between the two power blocs or be tricked/persuaded into attacking their rivals.

This could work in various ways. They could be directly liasing with the Butcher King or one of his high-ranking lieutenants. Alternatively they might be manipulating him behind the scenes by tricks of espionage or implanted agents.

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Humans are social creatures, that much is for certain. We tend to cluster into groups so we can do more than we ever could alone. With criminal organizations, the goal is usually to make as much money as possible. What you've got here is a combination of star mob and space pirates. Let's take a look at each group in specific:

Pirates

Groups like the pirates would be motivated by the next haul. They'd be inseparable from their crew, but only loosely bound to the butchers in general. Maybe some sort of guild system could be in place, where only those who have sworn fealty are allowed into 'safe' ports where the empires can't get them.

Raiders

They'd probably work just the same as the pirates. Historic pirates generally did what they wanted, whether it was terrorizing sea ports or taking ships at sea. There would be significant overlap between the pirates and the raiders. In the interest of character development, the raiders would have a much more Nordic air to them, while the pirates would be buccaneer-y.

Outlaws

Go watch the entirety of Firefly. Do it. Now.

OK, now then... Take note of the way that the Captain acts. This is pretty typical of the Outlaws. They're not in this for the gold or the glory. Outlaws want to do what they want, and be left alone otherwise. They'll submit to guild membership if it makes them safer, but don't expect them to show up to war parties.

Slavers

These guys need people, both as customers and merchandise. I expect that they'd be the richest of the butchers, and that they would manage the stations and coordinate everything. They're sociable, but they have a drug lord type of cruelty that keeps them ruthless. (as a joke, they should probably execute anybody named Ruth. Gotta stay ruthless!)

All together, the guild is what keeps them functioning. The guild provides safety and is, essentially, a step-in for society. For a price, the guild would provide everything a criminal could need: safe ports, entertainment, fuel, entertainment, quality fences (picket and otherwise,) entertainment, shopping, entertainment, alcohol, and entertainment. In the end, the utility of the guild is why the guild exists.

Welcome to economics 101, class. Textbooks can be bought in the bookstore, or rented in the library.

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Give them Freedom
The major space empires are dystopias where people have no freedom at all. Your butcher provides freedom which all the pirates and raiders want. Once they have experienced freedom, they will never want to return to the space empires again.

Give them a cause
similar to the one above. The butchers could be fighting for a greater cause; freedom, liberty or whatever from the space empires. Perhaps they could be a cult, brainwashed into following the Butcher King. Or, they are part of a rebellion, fighting against the tyranny of the space empires.

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The easiest reason is the Butcher King is the fence or controls the fences/ pirate trading port.

Without a means to sell ill-gotten goods and buy illegal gear and repairing and refueling ships, the butchers would have a very hard time operating.

The Butcher King could quite easily an unknown face and well connected in legal society. He pays bribes for information to feed jobs back to raiders and bribes for authorities to turn a blind eye.

Every so often he sells out people who displease him in return for police favors and keeps the worst excesses under control so authorities don't try too hard to shut them down.

The butcher also does tit for tat favors attacking the other side so both sides can claim their hands are clean while kneecapping their opposition.

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