Pirates and Privateers
Three years after the destruction of Vulcan the Federation is in dire straits. As interstellar boundaries are being challenged and redrawn through the Alpha Quadrant, the Federation is scrambling to catch up for the loss of its chief ally and the architect of Starfleet.
Meanwhile, the Romulan High Command has launched a major offensive against the Klingon Empire and is seeking to enlarge the power structure near the Neutral Zone amd the Klingons have retaliated against the Romulans. The escalating war between the Klingons and Romulans has cooled some hostilities between their Empire and the Federation, though the hostilities still continue.
As the Romulan presence grows the Federation and the Klingon Empire have both recognized them as the new danger to the quadrant. With few ships to offer in defense of their lines, and little resources to rebuild their damaged fleets quickly, the Federation has begun to offer letters of marquee to independent commercial vessels who are willing to risk their services by assisting Starfleet.
After witnessing the success of this endeavor, the Klingon Empire has adopted the same strategy. Now, independent vessels that have sworn no oath or allegiance to Starfleet or the Empire are free to travel the Neutral Zone and the border zones between star systems and attack or defend ships from either the Federation of the Klingon Empire.
Freighter pilots now smuggle goods through enemy lines and attack hostile ships without the aid of the weapons or shielding for capital class vessels. Some people call these captains pirates; some call them cutthroats and murderers.
But the people who receive the much needed goods and gear as well as the protection that these captains offer simply call them heroes.