The Cortii are mercenaries. As we meet them in the Cortii series, they’re the descendants of a mercenary cult that has existed for more than eight millennia, since the pre-spaceflight era. As far as the humanoid population goes, the Cortii are deeply embedded in the popular consciousness.
'War, therefore, is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.' ~Carl von Clausewitz
The Cortii have been bodyguards, armies, spies, and assassins. They’ve toppled governments, supported rebellions and been hired to support – and prevent – some of the greatest crimes in humanoid history. They’re banned from active recruiting in Federated Planets Alliance space, the Nasdari government is wary of them, and the Atari ignore them unless or until popular opinion becomes vocal on the topic.
Beyond that, all the Cortiian fighters, the deriani, who are the only members of the force that the public has much to do with, have a mandatory minimum telepathic rating. Humanity as a species has a high percentage of members with some minimal extra-sensory talent, but that percentage is still a fraction of the general population, and there is widespread social distrust of those with some extra-sensory ability.
The majority of the humanoid governments embrace a peaceful ethos. FPA and Atari citizens, certainly in the central planets, see violence as anathema. However, at their borders, their armed forces are frequently engaged. Beyond that, information gathering, executive protection, and shipping security are still required, and the majority of central worlds citizens are unable to shake their early conditioning against violence. This means that the Cortii are, depending on cultural background and personal inclination, either a source of covert fascination, a menace to public security and personal privacy, or a necessary evil.
The Cortii are not the only mercenary force in space; there are a number, ranging from informal groups working highly localised missions to organisations that rival the Cortii in numbers, if not reach. Most of the other mercenary forces of note are drawn from frontier worlds and space outposts, and are by and large fully human, which the Cortii are not.
Every Cortiian, whether they meet the requirements to join the ranks of the deriani or not, is physically based on an artificially grown body. The historic intent was to have the Cortiian frontline force be based entirely on clone-type, replaceable fighters. However, despite several millennia of research, limitations on these artificially grown fighters remain. Most problematic from the point of view of the Cortii is a lack of ability to think beyond pre-defined strategy – or, to put it bluntly, they’re deficient in crazy.
The Councils of the magaii, the commanding elite of every Cortiian Base, therefore adapted the strategy. Rather than a fully artificial fighter, they use the artificially grown bodies to ensure that basic standards are met, but overlay those bodies with a partial genetic map and a personality and memory imprint from people showing a promising mix of attributes. Most of the time, the people from whom these imprints are taken are not aware it’s been done, and standard practice is to use children below the age of twelve, both because social conditioning has not yet been fully absorbed and because any stray memories of the process the donors may keep are more likely to be discounted. On rare occasions, the Cortii will accept adult volunteers, who are told that they will undergo genetic modification. However, the same technique is used on those adults, and the original bodies are disposed of.
The Cortii are additionally the only mercenary force also recognised as an independent government. Cortiians are not citizens of whichever spatial sector their Base happens to be sited in, and the Councils function entirely autonomously of local government. Attempts to bring Bases forcibly under the authority of the local government have historically never been met with success. Unsubstantiated rumour indicates that all Base Councils report to a central Council, but if this is the case, the secret of where this Council is housed is one of the best-kept in space.
The Cortii work on a set structure, which is the same on every Base. Each Base is commanded by an Inner Council, composed of five magaii, and an Outer Council of twenty-five. They are protected, and their orders are enforced, by a unit known as the akrushkari, whose numbers are variable but whose role is always the same. Directly beneath the Councils are unit commanders, or Cortiorai, each commanding a Cortia of twenty-four deriani. Cortii are further split into five sub-units known as Cantai, each under the orders of a Cantara, who reports directly to their Cortiora. Canta units can and do work independently of the rest of the Cortia for long periods of time, and solo assignments for individual deriani are not unknown. For those who don’t meet the required standards to join the deriani, Cortiian Bases require specialists in everything from inorganic chemistry to psychology to information infrastructure. These specialists rarely leave their home Bases; however, Cortiian citizenship is irrevocable, and deserters are hunted down until death can be proved beyond all doubt. There is no way to resign from the Cortii.