Pirates appear only once in FreeSpace, in the Silent Threat mission Cloak and Dagger.
Alpha 1 is assigned to guard the Talus Mining Station while the GTI evacuates important warhead materials. The pirates had already attacked the station and inflicted 90% losses on the garrison, but were destroyed when a few of the warhead containers were ruptured (which created massive explosions). After several Seraphim bombers and Manticore fighters attack the station, the pirates arrive in two wings, Ryu (two Hercules and two Valkyries) and Zen (two Seth and two Horus). If the difficulty level is at least medium, Shi wing (two Apollo and two Anubis) will arrive also. The pirates are all set on Colonel AI.
The pirates also snuck onboard a few Chronos freighters. They attempted to hide among the freighters heading to evacuate the weapons cargo. Alpha 1 scanned the freighters and found the ones that the pirates were using. Alpha 1 and his/her wingmen were able to destroy the pirate freighters before they escaped with the valuable weapons cargo.
Pirates in User-Made Campaigns
It is widely assumed within the FreeSpace community that there are no pirates in canon FreeSpace, and that pirates are an entirely non-canon invention. With the "discovery" of pirates in this mission, though, we know that this is not the case. Pirates in user-made campaigns share a few similar traits not found in this Silent Threat mission:
- They are normally assumed to be horde of dumb bandits. This contradicts historical experience; in the past and in the present, pirates have worked independently, in small groups, and were few in number compared to a military force like the GTVA. This contrasts with Derelict's endless waves of respawning pirate wings flying obsolete craft. In Cloak and Dagger, on the other hand, pirates are set at Colonel AI (smarter than most GTA pilots) and are flying what was top-of-the-line military equipment in FS1. They only arrive in one wave.
- Pirates in user-made campaigns normally attack for no apparent intelligent reason. The goal of a pirate force is to win loot or ransom, but little or no reference is made to this during user-made-campaigns. In Cloak and Dagger, the pirate's goal is clear; destroy Alpha 1 and his wingmen so that the pirate freighters could make off with the loot. By contrast, the first mission in ITHOV features pirates making a tactically suicidal attack on a massive and well-guarded cruiser convoy. Rather than attempting to capture the cargo, they try to destroy it. No mention is made of ransom demands anywhere in the campaign.
- Pirates in user campaigns seem to be unusually heroic, spawning in wave after wave after their comrades had already been blown to space dust. There is one Derelict mission where waves of Ulysses attempt to kamikaze the GTC LoneWolf. How did the pirates get so many ships? Why would a greed-driven pirate want to do something so suicidal? What financial gain would the pirates get from destroying a single cruiser?
Usually, not much thought is put into pirate strategy or motives. This is fine; pirates are normally used for "filler missions" for a while before a more interesting enemy presents itself. However, FREDers seeking to create realistic pirates have several options.
The most obvious is to have the pirates capture cargo. This would be difficult to make a mission out of, however. Intelligent pirates only attack if they are absolutely certain that they will get away with it. They will probably warp away from a convoy once they see it has fighter escort, especially if that escort includes Alpha 1. Pirates look for loot, not posthmous medals, and historically have tried to avoid combat.
Another, perhaps better, option is to have the pirates seek to inflict damage on civillian equipment and ask for ransom. This is used by most modern pirates, such as those that prowl the coast of Somalia. When you have 5 guys in a motorboat armed only with an RPG and a few AKs, you can't really go through the trouble of hijacking a passenger liner, so you seek to fire a few rounds at it, damage it, and make the operator pay for the expensive repairs. Eventually, the passenger liner company will cave in and pay some ransom. In FreeSpace, pirates have no need to blow up your Argos. If they can inflict damage on them, the freighter company will decide that it's cheaper to pay ransom.
Lastly, pirates, or rather common criminals, may have an interest in harassing the local police forces to cover up whatever illegal activity they are performing.
Whatever you decide, remember that a logical pirate would only do things in his financial interest. A spontaneous mass kamikaze attack on the GTC LoneWolf just wouldn't happen.