Piracy
Concept art -- Pirates

In a realm where ships are expensive and not ubiquitous, a pirate who establishes a reputation for only being interested in the cargo and leaving the ship and crew behind, has a much easier time getting people to surrender without a shot.

Mercy is not the issue — good business sense is sometimes — a crew who thinks they will live will often not shoot back. Space is dangerous, ship to ship weapons are dangerous, and even a feeble weapon can get lucky and ruin a pirates whole day.

Pirates are pack hunters. If you look at the natural world, pack hunters have a deeply ingrained cost / benefit instinct. Losing half your pack to bring down a full grown moose is much less optimal than waiting a bit longer for a calf to trip and fall.

A pirate with a full on battle cruiser can probably take and kill as much as he wants till the navy shows up — a small operator cannot afford to lose half his ship for what may be 5 tons of recycled batteries. So piracy will run the gamut from berserkers to dashing highwaymen.

You can however bet that the pirate with the battle cruiser becomes a target of priority for every naval ship in that area.

Ships operating in heavy "disappearance" zones assume that crews are being killed and ships taken.

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