Cuilco are not a popular species. They have a reputation for being heartless, brusque, and mercantile; even when they are indulging in fun, which is rare in the presence of strangers, their tastes run toward the vicious and callous. While their societies do largely obey the rule of law, and keeping to one’s word is considered an important virtue, they nonetheless have a reputation for untrustworthiness – they may avoid breaking contracts where possible, but don’t ever expect a cuilco to stand by your side out of friendship, and if there’s a loophole or an ambiguity to let them weasel out of an inconvenient arrangement, they’ll find it. They’re generally regarded as honourless, amoral, and prone to stabbing people in the back (though only metaphorically – in person, they’re usually very peaceful and don’t fight unless they have to, or unless they’re sure to win).
It also doesn’t help that many species view the Orders with suspicion, either for their superstitious, religious nature or simply for the unpredictable ways in which they can warp cuilco behaviour (long and arduous negotiations with one cuilco company may be thrown out the window in moments once an Order notices them… and the Orders themselves work in unfathomable ways, particularly as regards ecumenical relations). And then there’s the issue of slavery: not all species and societies object to slave ownership, but enough do (either in general or specifically regarding their enslavement of their relatives) that the issue is somewhat diplomatically noxious.
The other reason for hostility toward the cuilco is simply their power. Cuilco are numerous – with populations on several planets before they even (re)discovered spaceflight, they had something of a head start, and although their breeding rate in a state of nature is not prodigious, their long fertile lifespans translate to healthy growth rates in a state of plenty – and cunning and technologically inventive, and are older, even in their current ‘incarnation’, than many other species, giving them both a technological and a political advantage (several species ‘owe’ obligations to the cuilco that were established at a time of greater technological disparity). It also helps that cuilco as a species like being busy – they’re not generally a species to sit around contemplating the wonder of the universe with simplicity and grace when they can be making money building things (e.g. warships). The cuilco therefore represent one of the most powerful species in the known galaxy, and arguably the most powerful within their neighbourhood. Nor are they shy of their power – although they see themselves primarily as a trading people, they are not ashamed to use military force to ‘encourage’ deals.
Two things constrain the cuilco from greater dominance than they already possess. One is their own disunity. The Orders attempt to impose some structure onto cuilco diplomacy, but they struggle to keep their industrious and ambitious people in check, and often find themselves having to deal with incidents initiated by particular private corporations, rather than proactively setting policy. As a result, the cuilco war machine, while theoretically intimidating, is in practice rather rusty and slow to get going. The other factor is the local political situation: the cuilco are a core member species of the Nlawul Registry (indeed, a leading member). The Registry began simply as an information resource storing knowledge about species and polities, maintained by the highly technologically advanced (though not numerous, and generally isolationist) nlawul; however, over time it has come to serve as something of an interstellar trading forum, enforcing norms and standards for commerce, with member polities subject to sanctions or suspension for violating these rules. The Registry operates only by goodwill and mutual consent, and does not precisely outlaw war – but it does help in keeping armed conflict to a minimum. Its members would all prefer the long-term benefits of trade and cultural exchange – and of not being singled out as a common enemy – rather than the short-term benefits of full-scale war. The cuilco are one of the leading species in this strategy, further enhancing their power and prestige.
Despite all this, however, not everybody dislikes cuilco. Some admire their relative lack of hypocrisy, their openness to argument, their lack of xenophobia, their ‘freedom’ from disruptive fleshy impulses toward power and procreation and dominance that many species struggle greatly with. People may not trust them with their money, but they’re rarely turned away from a trading port – and it’s not only slaves who comprise the alien population on cuilco-majority planets. What’s more, those who get to know the cuilco more closely find them among the best friends it is possible to have – they are loyal and affectionate (and fun!) to their friends, and if any alien is fortunate enough to find themselves in a cuilco’s inner circle (which is far from impossible, cuilco take almost as easily to aliens as to other cuilco), they’ll find them devoted and expressive companions.
The cuilco homelands are far from humanity’s colonies, so there has been no direct diplomatic contact between the two species. However, diplomatic envoys to the Nlawul Registry, before the rise of the Protectorate, encountered and described the cuilco, finding them worthy of caution but fundamentally sound. Since the Exile, around twenty thousand humans have come to live on cuilco planets, largely adopting cuilco cultural norms, as much as that is possible.