“At atrociously high energy states, the properties of matter change subtly and new miracles become possible. The Plasma Accretion process is now dangerous and difficult to control, but its products will soon become commonplace in our society.”
— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “The Lord Works”
High Energy Chemistry is a second-level military technology. It requires the Industrial Base and Applied Physics techs, which makes sense if you think about what these technologies stand for and what must be required in order to set up the Plasma Accretion process Sister Miriam speaks of on industrial scales. In game, the primary benefit is the ability to produce units with Plasma Steel armor, which is the next step up from Synthmetal.
The secondary benefit is the ability to equip your troops with the Nerve Gas special ability. This gives them a massive attack bonus at a pretty reasonable mineral cost. The only reason why it’s not essentially mandatory is because the use of nerve gas is considered an atrocity. When used against units defending a base, it causes massive civilian casualties. Nerve gas is against the U.N. charter, which is still nominally the law of the land.
The penalty in the game for committing an atrocity is significant relations penalties with the other faction leaders. This takes the tangible shape of an embargo – your faction loses all economic benefit from treaties of friendship or alliance pacts that might be ongoing for a certain length of time. This penalty can be a pretty big deal: the energy that your bases get from foreign trade is input energy, so it is eligible for multiplication by base facilities.
It’s worth mentioning, also, that Miriam is the one to introduce us to this technology. In this quote, she’s sounding a real futurist note. She reminds me of a Christian version of Ray Kurzweil here as she looks forward to the new miracles that the future will bring, thanks to Plasma Accretion. At the time this technology is developed, they are able to use the primitive, dangerous process to do cool stuff like build lots of super-strong steel. But she’s already looking forward to what the mature process will bring. And she’s right: the techs further down the tree that require this one allow some amazing stuff.
It’s also worth taking a little time to consider just how far the settlers have come in just a short time. It’s quite possible that this technology is discovered in the first twenty years since making Planetfall. That means that by that time they’ve gone from basically nothing to giant, futuristic steel foundries and an extensive chemical industry. That’s a really impressive growth rate!
It’s so impressive that it makes me suspect that there’s something deeper going on here. Either every faction runs way better than any extant Earth society or everybody that was on the Unity was super-talented in their own way. These aren’t exclusive, of course. Both could be true. And the one probably implies the other.
But if I had to guess, I’d say that it has a lot to do with the morale boost that comes from having an obvious, collective mission. Nobody on Planet during the early days needs to spend a lot of time wondering what the point of whatever it is that they’re doing. Everyone came from Earth. They remember the chaos and the despair. And everybody’s involved in building the new project together.