Sidhae (singular: Sidh) are a race of transhuman cyborgs, an offshoot of Mankind descended from the first human interstellar settlers. The entirety of their race resides in the Imperium of Sidhae, one of the three great powers of their home universe.
Visually, Sidhae are largely indistinguishable from humans at first glance, in no small part because they are or at least originally were human. They share the same basic body plan and anatomical layout and structure, but that is where the similarities end, for Sidhae are synthetic lifeforms, a seamless fusion of organic flesh and machine. "Cyborg" is perhaps the best description of what Sidhae are, although their true nature is far more complicated than merely cyber-augmented humans. Sidhae represent a principially new form of sapient life, being neither fully-organic, robotic or synthetic, yet being all of the aforementioned at the same time.
Sidhness is as much an ideological and philosophical concept as it is a physical matter of being a kind of augmented human. In order to qualify as a Sidh, it is not enough to be an augmented native-born resident of the Imperium - one must also possess and demonstrate a certain mindset and personal qualities to be considered a true Sidh, and it is not unknown for Sidhae to disown those who fail to demonstrate these qualities from their species. In their own words, "Sidhae aren't born, but become".
As explained before, Sidhae are difficult to distinguish from humans, save maybe for being marginally taller on average and universally athletic and attractive (at least by Western standards). Their most obvious racial trait is the "eyeshine", faint luminiscence of their eyes in the dark caused by a reflective layer in their retinas that endows them with good night vision, similar to that found in dogs and cats. Those Sidhae who have optical implants in place of organic eyes will likewise have them made luminiscent for aesthetical purposes, as well as for providing practical illumination - even a small light emission will readily make the difference in a combat setting. A perceptive observer can also tell a Sidh apart from ordinary humans by the way they move, Sidh movements being nimbler, more deliberate and precise, and seemingly naturally endowed with an otherworldly beauty and grace.
Although Sidhae have a diverse ethnic background, most of them have more or less Europeid features due to the majority of their ancestors hailing from Western nations. While Sidhae can range through the full spectrum of skin colours found in the human species, they tend to distinctly range in the fairer side, having skin shades typical of Europeans, ranging from pale white to olive brown. Most have dark hair, but uncommonly many have unusual eye colours (i.e. other than a shade of brown). Many Sidhae are pale in complexion simply for a lack of exposure to sunlight, with their conservative dress codes and life inside enclosed hive cities and starships. Representing a race of their own, most Sidhae look more or less similar, distinct racial traits being a sign of one being a convert or an immediate descendant of converts, distinct traits usually disappearing after just three or four generations in the Imperial eugenics program.
For aesthetic reasons, Sidhae usually prefer to retain a thoroughly human form, though augmentations that eschew appearance for extended functionality are not unheard of, more moderate forms actually being quite common. Mechanics and technicians often have mechanical extra limbs grafted on themselves on at least a semi-permanent basis, soldiers often replace one of their eyes with blocky targeting and fire-control units, lost or injured limbs may likewise be replaced with visibly-mechanical prosthetics which often contain additional features like built-in weapons, and so on. Most, however, prefer their enhancements inconspicuous.
Another obvious mark of Sidhness is one's Codex - a bar code tattoo on the back of one's head and on one's right wrist. While superficially resembling a tattoo, the Codex is actually a microchip with it's circuits lasered directly into one's skin. The Codex contains an individual Sidh's entire personal information including training and education certificates, medical files and financial accounts, and is used as a personal ID, door key and bank card among other things. Humans look down upon the use of Codexes as dehumanizing, but Sidhae view them with pride, regarding their Codex as a mark of affiliation and community membership. Those Sidhae whose work requires discretion (such as Judicators) will have their codexes removed or rendered invisible to naked eye, a sacrifice made to protect their fellow citizens.
Sidh body is fundamentally human, albeit genetically-enhanced for superior strength, endurance, performance and efficiency in order to withstand the rigors of further augmentation. Various parts of Sidh body are then enhanced through diverse means ranging from fairly straighforward surgical implantation to nanotech infusions and synthetic biology. Sidh mind is likewise a composite of organic human and machine sentience, combining the best of both worlds and integrating things like empathy, emotion, creativity and intuition of a human being with the high-speed high-capacity processing power, precision and analytical capacity of a computer.
The genetical upgrades and extensive augmentations that are chiefly aimed at improving survivability make Sidhae effectively ageless and free of disease. While Sidhae do age over time, the process happens much slower than in humans, the natural lifespan of a Sidh likely exceeding five centuries in the very least - how much exactly, nobody really knows, since a number of the first generation of Sidhae are still alive and well, and fairly few Sidhae survive for longer than two centuries, dying by accidents, war or simple suicide. With periodic rejuvenat sessions, however, it is possible to extend that lifespan virtually indefinitely while retaining a youthful appearance.
For this reason, it is very difficult to estimate a Sidh's age just from appearance alone. A young-looking Sidh who meticulously follows his rejuvenat schedule can easily still be many centuries old (the Empress being a prominent example), and an old-looking Sidh can likewise actually be no older than a few decades, such as a human defector who converted at an old age. Rejuvenat can stop aging for some time and repair damage accumulated by aging, but it cannot restore an already lost youth, so humans who convert retain the appearance they had at the time of conversion. Oftentimes, many Sidhae will deliberately skip a few rejuvenat sessions to age and appear older and more respectable, taking advantage of the instinctive tendency to associate aged appearance with wisdom and authority.
In principle, a Sidh is meant to be a perfect (super)human, engineered for survivability and adaptibility. Along with extensive augmentations that increase physical attributes and bolster physiological processes like immunity, regeneration and radiation resistence, Sidhae receive an extensive mental conditioning before activation as well. This often highly-traumatic process repeatedly exposes subjects to various terrors, desensitizing them to their own fears and forcing them to overcome their weaknesses. Many go insane and must be put down during the conditioning process, but those who survive emerge as fearless individuals with an indomitable will to never quit and always move onwards. Naturally possessed with a near-sociopath level killer instinct and further universally given military training, Sidhae consequently make the race of formidable warriors they are known to be.
For optimum efficiency, Sidhae have abandoned natural procreation in favour of more efficient methods, namely progenitories. These massive biotech factories produce Sidh bodies on what are essentially human (or rather, Sidh) assembly lines, literally manufacturing new citizens no differently from any other mass-produced goods. Growth accelerants are used to speed up the process, Sidh tissue itself being redesigned for faster growth and regeneration, allowing an adult Sidh to be completed in just under 8 years. In the centuries since its introduction, artificial procreation has become an innate part of Sidh culture and identity, and Sidhae consequently take great pride in being products of science and deliberate engineering rather than a random genetic accident, and derisively refer to ordinary unaugmented humans as "cunt-borns".
For the newly produced citizens to be fully functional immediately upon activation, their maturing minds are subject to imprinting and conditioning in virtual reality, Sidh bodies being designed with an array of neural interface ports. Consequently, directly interfacing with technology and feeling it as extensions of one's body and mind is as natural to a Sidh as breathing. This also provides the added benefit of making much of Sidh technology unusable to outsiders, or at least usable at a much-reduced efficiency and functionality.
Various artificial enhancements are not just a functional part of all Sidhae, but an innate aspect of their culture. Word of the Emperor, the holy scripture of the Sidh faith, commands all believers to constantly strive to "improve themselves" among other things. Sidhae interpret this commandment quite literally, various performance-boosting grafts, implants and therapies that physically improve one's body and it's capabilities being deemed just as much an improvement as more conventional personal improvements through study and training. Augmentation in Sidh society is not a voluntary procedure, but is enforced by law, every Sidh receiving a standardized set of augmentations at "birth" (i.e., activation or conversion), and regularly subject to upgrades afterwards, although being given considerable discretion at choosing the said upgrades. As a rule, an individual must be augmented to certain specifications in order to qualify as a Sidh.
Sidh augmentations are broadly classified into 10 tiers, which serve as a means to gauge an individual's augmentation power. There are dozens of augmentation classes that adapt an individual for a particular set of roles in society, and usually correspond to a set of professions or professional specialities. Most augmentations can be removed or altered, but some are permanent and impossible to remove without extensive and often irrepairable damage to one's body.
The tier system is also used to reward accomplishment in Sidh society. In civil and military lives alike
Belonging to a higher augmentation tier does not necessarily equate to superhuman abilities in everything. Given how augmentations generally become more and more specialized with every increasing tier, high augmentation level usually translates to superhuman abilities within a certain set of skills while only marginally improving performance in others. For example, a Sidh specializing in analytical skills will be able to process complex mathematical equations and detect patterns with the speed and efficiency of a supercomputer, but gain no improvement in one's creative faculties or physical attributes whatsoever. For this reason, most Sidhae tend to "multi-class" their augs, combining elements from more than one standardized augmentation package. These combined sets are oftentimes officially standardized and proclaimed new standard classes on their own. A drawback of "multi-classing" is that there is only so much room in Sidh body to accomodate various augs, so those going with a broad-spectrum generalist approach risk denying themselves top-tier specialist augs in either of their chosen classes. The evolution of Sidh augmentation classes is a constant and ongoing process, few Sidhae sticking purely to standards in customizing themselves.
Lower-tier Sidhae aren't markedly superior to humans physically, simply having the physique of an extremely well-conditioned human, such as an Olympic athlete, the main difference being in the amount of effort required to attain it. Where even the most talented human will typically require years of regular training to build and constant exercise to sustain such a physique, a Sidh is designed to be athletic naturally and only requires a minimum effort to stay at peak fitness. Same is true for intelligence, the average low-tier Sidh only being comparably intelligent to a well-educated human. Again, while their problem-solving capabilities are only marginally better than those of the average human, the main difference here is the speed at which Sidhae pick up new knowledge and skills. The most superhuman aspect of low-tier Sidhae is also the least obvious one, namely, the resilience of their bodies - even a Tier One fresh out of the progenitory can comfortably shrug off injury that would incapacitate the average human, and completely regenerate even major wounds in a matter of days or a few weeks at most where a human would take months to recover and likely suffer some degree of permanent disability afterwards.
This is generally the case up to Tiers Five to Six, with a selection of abilities being elevated to superhuman levels while others generally remain within human capabilities (albeit extremely well-conditioned human). However, starting with Tier 7, Sidh capabilities in every respect begin to enter the superhuman realm, a low Tier 8 being able to single-handedly push over a car without extreme exertion and having the intellect of a super-genius. Tier 9 goes even further, being effectively unbeatable by anyone lower than a mid-level Tier 8 in an open confrontation, while the abilities of a high-level Tier 10 can appear almost godlike to even a Tier 9.
Sidhae generally enjoy a considerable personal discretion in choosing their own augs, the only exception being in cases of mutually-incompatible augs. Some types of augmentations, however, are compulsory for all within a certain profession, or exclusive to that profession. Members of the military generally enjoy access to the finest all-around augs, so most Sidhae will do a term of service at some point in their lives, if only to earn access to coveted augmentations. Augs that are required at one's work or are bound to contribute directly to increased work performance are often installed at employer's expense, while discretionarily installed augs are paid for by citizens themselves.
For someone to call himself a Sidh, one must demonstrate a certain mindset and personal qualities to be eligible. Above all else, a Sidh is expected to demonstrate an unrelenting drive to succeed, thrive and improve, but never at the expense of his conspecifics. He is likewise expected to demonstrate courage, integrity and selflesness in the face of adversity, and keep going regardless of personal end outcome. In short, a proper Sidh is to display the mindset of a survivor and adventurer. For the past six centuries, Sidhae have been consistently selectioned to manifest these personality traits and further conditioned to develop them.
A Sidh must value ideals above self-preservation, especially things like personal freedom, honour and dignity. Someone who would choose enslavement or life in humiliation over a dignified death is unworthy of being a Sidh. At the same time, a Sidh should not waste sympathy on the unworthy - if they are too weak and cowardly to defend themselves, then they deserve what's coming to them. In a way, Sidh mindset reminisces the pre-Christian heroic ethos of the Norse.
Possessing these qualities and mindset, Sidhae generally come off as ruthless, haughty and arrogant to an outsider, a perception not helped by their deeply-ingrained xenophobia. Suspicion and distrust of everything alien has also made Sidhae rather paranoid even while they recognize that only a handful of powers that could realistically challenge them exist. However, the simple fact that such powers do exist is seen as both a personal affront to their racial pride and a source of abject fear.
Sidhae are also known for their borderline-obsessive perfectionism, their habit of treating even the most trivial things they do as an art. While this no doubt accounts for their exemplary work ethic and high aesthetic standards, it can also manifest itself negatively as they grow easily upset and irritated whenever something or somebody doesn't meet their standards and expectations.
Another characteristic of Sidh mentality is a constant desire for challenge and danger, manifest to a point where Sidhae will readily create or introduce challenges and danger in the absence of any. In their belief, having to constantly watch over the shoulder keeps one sharp, an easy, safe and comfortable life breeding complacency. Without a challenge to overcome, a Sidh cannot better himself, and thus loses the very purpose of his existence - to constantly evolve, adapt and become better, to attain perfection.
The original Sidhae are said to have been rather idealistic in their quest to secure a glorious future for Mankind. The grim realities of life and especially the massive collective trauma left by the age of war, however, has set the Sidh race on a much darker path than their ancestors had hoped to walk. Contemporary Sidhae tend to be brutally pragmatic, bleak and cynical, struggling to suppress their overwhelming sense of despair and pointlesness under liberal amounts of ideological fanaticism.
While the eugenics program and it's numberless progenitories are the primary means of procreation in Sidh society, Sidhae do not shy away from converting human defectors as well. The conversion process entails a thorough alteration both physically and mentally, something that not every individual can even survive.
In order to become a Sidh, a human must have his entire genome altered to the specifications of a standard genetic template. The said template is essentially a standardized genetic configuration on which all certified Sidh augmentations are 100% guaranteed to work as intended. Around 20% of humans possess sufficient genetic abberations to disqualify them from conversion, rewriting their genome to SGT specs being likely to cause genetic instability with potentially fatal consequences. Hereditary deformities, even ones repairable with Sidh technology, usually disqualify one automatically, although progenitors are known to make rare exceptions if the individual in question possesses other highly desirable and exceptional traits. That said, such individuals are still unlikely to be included in the eugenics program to produce future Sidh generations out of concern for potential latent aberrations lying dormant within one's genome.
If found genetically-healthy and compatible, the subject's physical and mental health status is thoroughly verified, not so much to avoid potential disease or genetic contamination as to make sure the individual in question will even be able to survive the grueling conversion process. At times, unscrupulous progenitors will greenlight unviable converts anyway in order to procure raw material for constructing cybs - those converts who die or go insane during the agonizing conversion process are utilized like any other commodity.
If found compatible and physically and mentally fit, the subject is further examined on his motivations, a test that usually starts already when one arrives to apply for conversion. Sidhae in conversion centers deliberately treat applicants with scorn and contempt to weed out the weak-willed ones early on, those who take offense and quit over a bit of banter (which they as lowly humans ought to be accustomed to in any case) evidently never having been serious about conversion in any case. An applicant must demonstrate his commitment to converting before being considered eligible. Applicants are expected to demonstrate something that would make their conversion worthwhile for the Sidh community, be it valuable skills or education, exceptional talent at something useful, or simply an iron will and determination. Conversion can never be bought with money, everyone having to endure the same procedures regardless of their former wealth and status, and someone who had the mind to try and buy his way into Sidh ranks would probably be rejected out of hand for demonstrating his base character by making such an insulting proposition.
Contrary to enemy propaganda and persistent rumors, conversion is never forced. Sidhae have no qualms about doing a lot of things to their human subjects by force, but conversion is the one thing that is expressly never forced. This isn't out of respect for one's right to choose, or even because of forced converts being poorly motivated, but rather because forcing the gift of Sidhness upon someone unwilling would defeat it's very essence and purpose. Sidhness is a choice that one must make by oneself, a deliberate and conscious decision to evolve, to become something greater and better - one cannnot be made a Sidh, only become one.
Only when all the said is done can the conversion process begin in earnest. First, the convert is subject to a series of gene therapies that alter his genome to standard genetic template specs that make all the following augmentations possible. Then he receives his very first Sidh augmentation - direct neural interface ports, which will allow him to connect directly with various pieces of Sidh technology later. The subject is then hooked up to the Dreamtime virtual reality via these ports and subjected to intensive and highly-traumatic mental conditioning much like born Sidhae are. While undergoing conditioning in a barely-conscious dreamlike state, the convert undergoes the necessary surgeries that fit him with the appropriate implants. Nanite seed populations are seeded in various areas of his body to form artificial organs that are too delicate and complicated to implant by crudely-invasive surgical means. The process of growing these artificial organs inside the living body is often extremely painful, and the subject must endure the agony without any anaesthetic in addition to constant mental torment that tests and conditions his fear and stress responses. Many die or go insane during this phase. However, subjects are also instructed how to manage, control and overcome their pain and fear, and those with sufficient strength of mind can indeed learn to conquer their pain, it no longer registering with a distressing emotional response but merely as an information feed on physical damage, still uncomfortable but hardly unmanageable.
One of the most painful aspects of conversion is un-learning everything one knew and believed in before, and re-learning and embracing the same from a Sidh viewpoint. To foster a proper Sidh mindset, the convert must among other things renounce the memories and loyalties of his past life, everything that ties him down to the past. One of the ways to accomplish this is to subject the convert to repeated simulations where one is expected to betray everything he used to held dear. For example, a family man may be repeatedly subjected to the simulated task of killing his family, or a rape victim subjected to gang rape over and over again, the illusion and sensation being indistinguishable from real in all cases. The purpose of these simulations is to desensitize the subjects to their past affiliations and traumatic events, train them to disregard and renounce their old memories and feelings, a torturous but necessary step in the process of conversion. At this point, many beg to quit, but quitting is no longer possible, since disconnecting one from the simulation without successful resolution would merely leave one trapped within his own mind, the same tormenting illusion that one sought to escape from. This nightmarish state is known among progenitors as "locking in", and those who lock in are usually dispatched of quickly to put them out of their misery.
Failed converts are recycled and used as construction material of cybs and lobo-serfs, a fact not widely advertised by Sidh progenitors for obvious reasons, and the attrition rates tend to range anywhere between 40 and 95%, depending on the quality of each individual batch of converts. The ones who succeed, however, have the mental strength to keep going and retain their sanity in spite of even the worst trauma and setbacks, the exact quality desired the most of a prospective Sidh.
If the mental conditioning phase is completed and the physical augmentation is complete without incident, converts receive an additional memory wipe to mitigate the traumatic effects of their time in the conversion chamber, and only recall the conversion process very vaguely afterwards. The finished converts are then examined again for any signs of malfunction, and if cleared, are assigned to their new roles in Sidh society after a brief period of adaptation.