Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ultimate Pirate Ship

I was watching "Last Exile" yesterday, and it occurred to me that all these great and massive pirate ships (e.g. The Black Pearl) suffer a complete lack of logistical support.  I mean, seriously - who on Earth builds a ginormous pirate ship?  Do the pirates go up to the dockyards and trade in some gold and buy themselves a ship?  I don't think so...

This leaves two options.  Either (A), the great big ships are stolen, or (B), ordinary hardworking sailors and legitimate sailing ships feel the necessity to loot and plunder instead.

Okay, both are plausible - pirates can get a ship.  But then there's a second problem - how the heck do you get a giant ship, the kind of ship that comes out of nowhere and turns the course of a naval battle, as in Episode 2 of "Last Exile"?  I mean, anyone who's watched all of Battlestar Galactica knows just how hard it is to capture an entire freakin' ship, especially a military ship with troops and guns and this strange thing called loyalty.
Okay, so here's what I'm thinking: big military ships like this require government sponsors.  And governments only build ships like this if (A) they are prosperous superpowers or (B) if there's a massive war going on.  And if it's (A), there's no way in heck anyone's gonna steel a ship like that.  (seriously, forget Under Siege.  No way in heck those Navy boys would let a bunch of terrorists take control of a battleship, even if only for a couple hours.)
So here's what I'm thinking - the only way pirates would rule a ship like that would be if they got hold of it during the upheaval of a falling empire during a disastrous war.  And who says these people would start as pirates?  Maybe it's the original crew - or what's left of the original crew, after all their supply depots were overrun, their nation ceased to exist, and they've discovered that they have atomic fuel for years and years of travel but only enough food to last through the end of next week.
Okay, so far so good - this seems vaguely plausible. Now fast forward a decade or so. There's some turnover in the crew - may they impress villagers from the places they plunder, maybe they actually do get overrun by real pirates at some point. Lots can happen. Now it's a bona fide pirate ship - no mercy, no prisoners, but a heck of a lot of mayhem everywhere they go.

Now consider the plight of those who have to face these pirates.  The entire world order has been overturned, and all that's left are these hamlets of prosperity.  City states, maybe.  They're busy clawing their way out of the ashes of last generation's holocaust.  And then every so often this ginormous pirate ship shows up, stripping everything it can from the surrounding communities.  (and we're talking about a grazing ship - this thing is too big and has too many crew to stay in one place for long.  So it has to keep moving.  But it can't move that fast.  So when it shows up somewhere - the Mediterranean, let's say - you know it'll be there a while.  Long enough to strip the place clean, at any rate.  After it leaves, it may be a year or two or five before it comes back, but you know it will come back.  Eventually.  Assuming you don't die of starvation before then.

That means the truly prosperous people - the ones who have recovered enough to construct metal ships once again - will be faced with either tribute payments or annihilation or - we hope - some form of defense.  Fortunately, as writers, we can go with all three at once: some citizens believe in peace at all costs, some are convinced that they're all gonna die, and others will be offstage building trebuchets in the offhand hope that a brick flying through the air would actually hurt a battleship.

At the very least, it would be a fun battle to watch, don't you think?

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