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Space Cossacks

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"Take my love, take my land
Take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free
You can't take the sky from me…"
Firefly main theme

Cossacks were groups of Slavic professional warriors living on the steppes, proudly being free from a bigger government's influence. Like anything, these people can be put in space, resulting in this trope.

The Space Cossacks are semi-nomadic outcasts that restrict their traveling to the borders of the galaxy and refuse to join The Empire, The Federation, or whatever space superpower is expanding. Unlike their Real Life counterparts, it's not absolutely necessary for them to be a militarized society but it's not uncommon either. In any case, chances are they are Venturous Smugglers, Hired Guns, Intrepid Merchants, or all three. Sharp people living under the principle of Liberty Over Prosperity.

Often, the Space Cossacks are joined by people who fear being forced into slavery, are defectors from decadence, or belong to La Résistance.

Due to all of the above, The Government regards them as outlaws — either they are to be killed/captured on sight or to be regarded as outside of the law and left alone as long as they don't interfere. They are sometimes considered useful because of their economical niche, the fact they screen the Government from external threats, or that living that far away has the advantage to Terraform the fringe planets into something more easily colonised. Their settlements are also a good place to Reassign To Antarctica or exile traitorous scum.

Given the parallels to the Wild West, a Space Western is almost sure to be set amongst such people.

If they persist for multiple generations, they may become Space People. Can overlap with Proud Warrior Race Guy (a member of a species/culture who is a Blood Knight, often because their culture/species says they should be), Proud Merchant Race (a race where everyone is a merchant), Libertarians IN SPACE! (space libertarian fighters), and Space Nomads (a space-based culture who moves around nomadically). Compare it with its Sister Tropes: Space Amish (a race that rejects most forms of advanced tech in favor of an agricultural life), Space Jews (aliens, animals, or monsters based on real-world racial stereotypes), and Space Romans (an alien culture that resembles a historical Earth culture). See also Space Western (the Old West was a frontier, so is Space).

Note that this trope is about groups of people with their own culture, not individual characters.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Armitage III: Many sexually dissatisfied men from Earth massively immigrate to Mars after a Martian-based corporation creates female-looking Sexbots. Most of the appeal is that these robots make for non-feminist partners. When Earth discovers this, The War of Earthly Aggression begins.
  • Starship Operators: The crew of the Amaterasu was a bunch of space cadets on a training exercise when its homeworld was conquered. So they started a guerrilla war funded by filming their fights for a reality show.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman (Charles Moulton): The Green Geni extraterrestrial group present themselves as freedom seekers fleeing oppressive governments who have been imprisoned within their own vessel by the Golden Women who are imposing the laws of those they'd fled on them. They're not exactly lying, but they did leave out the bit where their favorite pastime is bombarding inhabited planets with nukes from orbit, which is why the Space Police aren't just letting them roam as they please.

    Films — Animation 
  • Titan A.E.: After a species of Energy Beings destroys the Earth and a huge chunk of its population takes off in the Titan spacecraft, humanity is forced to scatter around the galaxy doing odd jobs and living in barely small bands. Further justified in that any group that gets too large would become a target of the Drej.

  • C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union:
    • Conrad Mazian's fleet becomes pirates after the Earth-Union-Alliance war ends and the Earth Company abandons them.
    • The Merchanter's Alliance may also count, comprising a number of nomadic merchant families and one station (plus one of Mazian's ships who defected) who got tired of the war between Earth and the Union and formed their own faction.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy: The play Aunt Athena wrote for the Free Traders' Gathering, based on the origin of the Sisu itself, portrayed its first captain as a "saint with a heart of steel" who went into space because of his disgust with the "evil ways of fraki". Since the play was portrayed in-universe as a poorly-written crowd-pleaser, it's safe to say this trope is how the People, a clannish Proud Merchant Race who live and die in their trading starships, think of themselves.
  • Dune: The Fremen, a Proud Warrior Race (er, subculture) of humans, live on the desertic planet Arrakis and thrive off stealing water and Fantastic Drug Spice from Harkonnen patrols. Additionally, according to Fremen legends, they were once runaway slaves.
  • Hyperion Cantos: The Ousters are a splinter human race adapted to living in deep space, making do with scarce resources and unconnected to the Farcaster network. They attack the also-human Hegemony for apparently no reason.
  • Lucifer's Star: Earth is implied to have been destroyed in some unspecified calamity and the human race has scattered across the universe. It happened again with the Great Collapse and subsequent Great Galactic Dark Age where humanity's various tribes were cut off from one another due to a failure of all jumpspace navigation tools initiated by A.I. As such, there are now thirteen sectors worth of several thousand human colonies with dramatically different cultures as well as their own colonies. Humans eventually become Space People who live on space stations or starships full-time.
  • The Pentagon War: Human-Centauri is comprised of Cult Colonists who live inside asteroid mines and use Nano Machines to generate organic materials. In their beginnings, they wanted a chance of freeing themselves from the Solar Federal Government and The War of Earthly Aggression, so they set out to colonize the deep space.
  • H. Beam Piper's Space Vikings: The titular civilization appropriates the remnant of the System States Alliance's navy, takes off to space, and settles on Abigor, a planet too far away that The Federation hasn't even heard of. Once said Terran Federation collapses, the Vikings start raiding its former territories.
    "At the end of the Big War, ten thousand men and women on Abigor, refusing to surrender, had taken the remnant of the System States Alliance navy to space, seeking a world the Federation had never heard of and wouldn't find for a long time. Eight centuries later, their descendants have begun raiding into the territory once held by the now-collapsed Terran Federation."
  • The Starchild Trilogy: In the mysterious, Magical Land known as the reefs of space live the Reefers, aliens who loath The Plan Of Man, an absolutist human government.
  • Poul Anderson's Star Ways: The Nomads roam the space in their starships and are divided into clans. The book's synopsis even states that they are kind of a merge between Vikings and Gypsies.
  • Takeshi Kovacs: The UN sends a huge chunk of Earth's youth as interstellar colonizers on Sleeper Starships. While they are away, the UN devolves into the tyrannical Protectorate. As it's all a calculated move, the people are purposefully enticed by the appeal of adventure and getting to live far from an Earth That Used to Be Better.
  • Technic History: Avalon, a Multicultural Alien Planet, is settled because of the decay of the feudal Polesotechnic League. Its inhabitants, the Avalonians are Warrior Poets who sustain a Soldier vs. Warrior rivalry with the Terran Empire.
  • Isaac Asimov's The Traders: Limmar Ponyets, our protagonist, is part of the Foundation's Trader subculture. He owns a personal shuttle, packed with Atom Punk tech. He's expected to trade his technology for raw materials from interstellar nations beyond the edge of the Foundation.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: The Dendarii Mercenaries are a little like Cossacks, being irregulars in the service of Tsarist Russia Recycled In Space and they contain individuals escaping from social pressure on Barryar including Elena and her husband, and in a different way Miles himself. However, they mostly contain people from any and every world in the Nexus. Also, they play the "screening the Empire from external threats" role.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica: In both the 1978 and 2003 versions, the remnants of the Twelve Colonies flee to Earth in a rag-tag space fleet who Survived the Beginning. On one occasion, the fleet has to ration supplies because resources are extremely scarce when you are running from a Robot Empire.
  • The Expanse: While native Belters are physically incapable of living anywhere else, Earthers and Martians who move permanently to the Belt are often this, especially those living in the cold, unforgiving Saturn. Holden in particular left Earth because, "Everything I loved was dying," and he has little-to-no interest in returning.
  • Firefly: The Serenity's crew is a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits trying to eke out a life for themselves by delivering both honest and smuggled cargo through the space, with planetary backwaters being their preferred routes. All of them seek cut ties with the Alliance for one reason or another, including having previously been abused by it or having belonged to the Browncoats that opposes it. To complement it all, the setting has tints of Space Western as well. The opening theme even lampshades their nomadic, rebellious living style.
    "...take me out to the Black, tell them I ain't coming back. Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me"
  • Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger features a core group of aliens who came to Earth looking for the "Greatest Treasure in the Universe". They all have reasons to hate the Space Empire Zangyack, which has followed them to Earth and has an ever-increasing bounty on them as the series goes on (it gets to the point that Captain Marvelous has an unlimited bounty placed on him... Zangyack will give whatever you want, provided you can bring him in).
  • Lexx: In the very first episode, Giggerota invokes by ordering Stan that, upon gaining control of the Lexx, the fugitives must immediately head for the frontier.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Maquis. Average Federation colonists who found themselves under the Cardassians after a treaty in which they had no say. They won numerous engagements against both the Cardassians and Starfleet, with large numbers of Starfleet officers even defecting to join the 'good fight.'
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Tasha Yar was raised by human dissidents on Turkana IV, where various factions were constantly at war and gang rape was a common occurrence.
  • Uchu Sentai Kyuranger: The titular rangers are a Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits who, like almost every inhabitant of the constellations, found themselves on the wrong end of the Jak Matter Shogunate's tyranny. Together, they jump from one planet to another stirring trouble and accomplishing strategic goals such as collecting the magical Kyutamas and destroying Moraimarz, planet-draining space drills.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Battletech: There are descendant Clans of the old Star League's military who went into exile following the League's collapse. They are an interesting example as by the beginning of the main storyline they have become the dominant power in their own space and hold many systems of their own. Their warrior culture is enforced rather than necessary.
  • Eclipse Phase: The hedonist, nomadic, anarchic Scum faction is this, with an added flavor of Romani. They rove the universe and are violent.
  • Scum and Villainy: You belong to a crew of smugglers, bounty hunters, and other criminals trying to make an illegal living under the thumb of the oppressive Galactic Hegemony and the galaxy-spanning Guilds.
  • Space 1889: Literally Cossacks in space as they form the bulk of the Russian military on Venus. The official governor of the Russian colony suspects that their commander may declare independence the first chance he gets.
  • Traveller:
    • The dissident kimashargur movement advocates a partial relaxation of restrictions on exploration and innovation. By yar 3700, it slowly becomes influential in the rimward portions of the Grand Empire of Stars, aka the Ziru Sirka. They hold resentment against the Vilani mainstream government and even take the Terrans' side during the Interstellar Wars.
    • Although it's been awfully long since they arrived in the Sword Worlds, the Solomani maintain independence in the face of the Vilani Imperium. The "100 Parsecs" sample campaign from the Gurps volume highlights their militaristic side.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Exodites, an Eldar faction, are willing exiles of the first Aeldari empire. They made isolated, primeval planets their home and embraced primitive technologies and a tribal lifestyle, so they are something of Space Amish as well.

    Video Games 
  • Borderlands: Many characters, including the playable ones, are people who resorted to (or just felt like) exiling themselves to the tough, unforgiving Death World of Pandora for different reasons.
    • Mordecai, for instance, is just in for the thrill of looking for alien vaults.
    • Zero, Amara, Fl4k, and Brick don't care as much about the Vaults and just want an excuse to fight, kill and break stuff.
    • Borderlands: Roland defected from the Crimson Lance, the elite military arm of the superpowerful and very far-reaching Atlas corporation after his superiors betrayed him. He moved to Pandora in an attempt to fight back against Atlas, which rules the planet with an iron fist.
    • Axton, who was "not advised" by his boss/wife to move to the Borderlands to avoid being executed by a firing squad for his Glory Hound tendencies.
    • Lilith comes to Pandora trying to run away from ostracism on account of having magical powers, as well as due to rumors of there being another Siren on the planet.
    • Borderlands 2: Maya defected from the Order of the Impending Storm, which ruled the planet Athenas with an iron fist, after finding out she had been raised as an enforcer of oppression and death. She moved to Pandora to find more answers about herself.
    • Salvador is a Pandoran native. He left his hometown to fight Hyperion after the latter declared all the local residents as bandits for not submitting to Handsome Jack's iron fist.
    • Krieg moved to Pandora and started fighting against Hyperion after they twisted him into a raving lunatic mutant. He's looking for the Vault to follow Maya; he fell in love with her and thinks Maya will restore his sanity.
    • Gaige is probably the straightest example in the series: she ran away to Pandora with her dad's help after killing her arch-enemy with her death robot during a high school science fair, hoping that the long arm of her rival's powerful family won't find her in Pandora.
    • Borderlands 3: Flynt is laying low in Pandora in between high-profile assassination jobs.
    • Moze moves to Pandora after being the sole survivor of a suicide mission, which is also the straw that breaks her back after long years of abuse from Vladof's command that was already digging into her sanity.
    • Zane, who came (while calling it a vacation) largely to go under the radar of various corporations with a bounty on his head.
  • Endless Space: The Pilgrims are humans that choose to flee from the oppressive rule of the United Empire. In the gameplay, their faction is distinguished by their research and diplomatic capabilities as well as loyalists who want their people to be happy.
  • Homeworld:
    • The Kushan fleet from the third mission to the end of the first campaign. Their ancestors were exiled to a desolate planet by the Taiidan Empire thousands of year prior, but forgot about the exile and after re-discovering the ship that brought them there they built a new ship for an expedition to their original homeworld. The Taiidan emperor responds by incinerating their planet, leading the Kushan survivors to embark on a guerrilla campaign to overthrow the Empire and reclaim their original home.
    • The Kadeshi hide in a nebula they consider sacred and make sure no other ships ever leave it, either by destroying them or forcing them to join them. After the Kushan defeat them they discover that they were an offshoot of their people whose ship got stranded in the nebula during the exile.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda has the premise of you fleeing the galaxy just a year before the arrival of the Reapers without knowledge you are except at the leadership level. You then find most of the worlds you were going to settle are hellholes and you have to make a deal with the local species, the Angara, to fight an invading one in the Kett.
  • Otherspace: The Fringe is a tough area of space in which planetary governments often agree to do occasional favors for a crime boss in exchange for freedom from joining one of the two superpowers of the era.
  • StarCraft: The Raynor's Riders become this post-Mengsk's betrayal. With the stolen flagship Hyperion as their flying base of command, they defend Terran colonists in need and fight for liberty even when the Confederancy paints them as terrorists.
  • Starbound: Some Apex have fled from their homeworlds to live among other races to escape the totalitarian, science-oriented Apex regime. As a result, they are a fairly common sight in the Protectorate and are at least as numerous as the Hylotl. The former Rebel Leader begs the player to a stolen Miniknog ship and rove the galaxy to recruit allies.
  • Stellaris has multiple randomly-generated versions, but their spawning depends on the presence or absence of certain DLCs:
    • Privateers are a conglomeration of species from past empires who subsist by piracy. If the Apocalypse DLC is enabled, they will be replaced with the Marauders instead.
    • Nomads are the peaceful version who put you in contact with other empires and might sell your empire ships or ask to settle on one of your planets. If the MegaCorp DLC is enabled, they will be replaced with the Caravaneers instead.
    • Marauders, added in the Apocalypse DLC, are more like Space Mongols. They occasionally raid systems or extort tribute but can also be hired as mercenaries until the Great Khan arises. Furthermore, they have no central government and no law other than the "law of the jungle." The only thing that holds the Marauder bands together is a shared contempt for outsider meddling, enforced by the fact that, collectively, they have a hell of a lot of guns.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe
  • Wildstar: The Exiles are composed of four alien races who are allied against the Dominion for driving them off their homeworlds. The two factions wage war over the planet Nexus for control over it, for the Exiles it's their last chance of getting a new home.

    Web Original 
  • DeviantArt user Kurarun designed the digital Flag of the Cosmic Hetmanate of the Martian Host for's Weekly Flag Challenge. It distinctly features a genderless figure in a Powered Armor wielding a blaster and surrounded by artillery motifs. Kurarun's lore says that the Cosmic Hetmanate is an independent (from Earth) state of (Martian) Aero-humans with considerable military strength. Its people are comprised of Soviet exiled dissidents. The Cosmic Hetmanate was founded in the Aero-Cossack community.
  • Internaut Ryeed Hassanni posted a second-person short story in FourChan that was later deemed befitting of the Humanity, Fuck Yeah subreddit. It's about a hardened human telling a young Insectoid Alien why humans are happy being nomads scattered around the galaxy and why we started a war with said alien's species — we are violent and we don't trust each other, so, of course, we aren't going to trust an alien's claim of peace. Plus, unlike when we belong to an organized society, there's always work for us as mistrusted couriers, security guards, or mercenaries. We'll always be there when the galactic civilization crumbles down. You can read it here.
    "Mankind's a scattered mess [after the war] but that's just the way we like it. No population centers, no goddamn capitals, no countries, no cities. Just an eternal frontier and a lot of time. We're fucking nomads again, wandering around odd jobs for the species that like their tinker toys better than their star charts."

    Western Animation 
  • Tripping the Rift: The Rift is a border region between the two superpowers of space that is the only place where anyone can be truly free. The inhabitants, including the main characters, that cling to their freedom by living within the border region are said to be "tripping the Rift."