“Some civilian workers got in among the research patients today and became so hysterical I felt compelled to have them nerve stapled. The consequence, of course, will be another public relations nightmare, but I was severely shaken by the extent of their revulsion towards a project so vital to our survival.”
— CEO Nwabudike Morgan, The Personal Diaries
This is another one of those awesome quotes that demonstrates the extreme economy that, in a just world, Reynolds should be famous for. He tells an entire story in just two sentences. And he does this all the time!
OK, so first let’s tally up the bare facts. We know Morgan is running a research hospital, since that’s the facility that comes along with the quote. The hospital consists of at least two main departments: the place the civilian workers are supposed to be and the place they ended up.
The first, where the civilians work, is presumably a hospital along the lines of what we’d be familiar with nowadays. We already know from the gameplay that doctors are the specialists that yield bonus Psych energy, so that explains why the hospital would serve as a multiplier for Psych spending in the base.
We know precious little about the second. We can start with the fact that they must be research patients because doctors are trying out new therapies on them. We also know that it’s supposed to be secret, given the facts that the civilians weren’t supposed to see the research patients. And, finally, we know that whatever they’re doing in there, CEO Morgan thinks that it’s critical to his faction’s survival. Which means this is where the bonus to the base’s research is coming from.
We can look to the technology tree to find another couple hints as to what sort of research they’re doing. The Research Hospital base facility is unlocked by the Gene Splicing technology, which is in turn based upon the Biogenetics and Ethical Calculus technologies from earlier. So it follows that the research they are doing involves editing the genetic code on living patients and seeing what happens.
If you were to go in and see them, the research patients must necessarily consist largely of the failed experiments. The workers must have seen countless people behind glass with crippling deformities, weird alien growths, and who knows what else wrong with them. It must be a house of horrors in there. No wonder the civilians freaked out so badly the CEO nerve stapled them to get them to chill out and not talk about what they’d seen.
Finally, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the purpose of using CEO Morgan for this quote instead of one of the other faction leaders. From what we’ve heard about the other factions, we’d expect Zakharov to be unapologetically running a facility like this. But, by the rules of the game, we know that any faction can build Research Hospitals. And unless they’re the Believers or running a Fundamentalist government, they all get the same benefit from the research.
Putting this together, we see that in canon, virtually every faction must be getting similar experiments up and running as soon as they can. Echoing Chairman Yang’s prior claim that to renounce genetic manipulation is to deprive oneself of a tool uselessly, CEO Morgan claims here that the project is vital to the faction’s survival. That must be because everyone else is doing it and they can’t afford to fall behind.
But it is also interesting that, in private, Morgan is willing to admit to being severely shaken by the extent of the civilians’ revulsion. I find that an evocative choice of words. All the leaders in SMAC are usually so philosophically certain as they make their various cases. But, in this instance, we see Morgan display uncharacteristic doubt in his choices. He’s thinking that maybe he’s got it all wrong. And, for comfort, he implicitly turns to the reasoning provided by Ethical Calculus to reassure him that he’s doing the right thing.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that in canon, CEO Morgan is almost assuredly running a Free Market economy by this point. In the game, that comes with a substantial police penalty that prevents the faction from using wide-scale nerve stapling to halt drone riots, at the cost of being considered an international atrocity. This is a technology that the colonists bring with them from Earth. The fact that Morgan is able to have a small number of workers nerve stapled shows that nerve stapling must be an accepted form of punishment among all the factions on Planet.
Finally, I find it exceedingly interesting that Reynolds chose CEO Morgan as the character to deliver this quote. The stereotypical cutthroat capitalist is heartless. And to this point, Morgan hasn’t done anything to dispel the stereotype. But here, we get the opportunity to see Morgan display a conscience. It’s not something you’d necessarily expect from a guy who publishes quotes like “Greed ensures the transfer of power from the weak to the strong.”
All told, this is the plot of a great dystopian sci-fi movie. Something Charlton Heston would have starred in had it been made in the ’70s. And the player is getting this as a two sentence aside during his awesome 4X strategy experience!
SMAC is a truly singular achievement.