“It is not uncommon to see patients undergo permanent psychological trauma in the presence of the Sphere, before the nerve stapler has even been strapped into position. Its effect on the general consciousness of the culture is profound: husbands have seen wives go inside, and mothers their children. Dr. Xynan left the surface of the sphere semitranslucent for a reason. You can hear them in there; you can see them. It is a thing of terrible beauty.”
— Baron Klim, “The Music of the Spheres”
Made possible by Advanced Military Algorithms, the Punishment Sphere completely eliminates drone activity at a base. This is as if the base were permanently nerve stapled, without counting as an atrocity for the purposes of international trade. The downside, other than the opportunity cost of building it, is that it reduces the science output of the base by half. This is a substantial penalty. Were a faction to build one in all its bases, it would be more than twice as bad for scientific output as the Believers’ science penalty when running Fundamentalism.
But that all pales in comparison to the description of the facility as outlined in the quote. Drone control is one of the core mechanics in SMAC, after all. A good portion of the base facilities and social engineering models exist in large part to solve this problem in various ways. And the game rules model the fact that these spheres are even more effective than Chairman Yang’s thoroughgoing Police State, even if his troopers are using the most high-tech non-lethal policing methods.
It is also intriguing that the quote is neither from the Datalinks nor obviously from one of the factions. Based on how the reader has seen quotes attributed before, the implication is that Baron Klim and Dr. Xynan are both people who lived and did their work on Planet. But we don’t have any solid hints as to who, in canon, they’re working for.
I can see two reasons why Reynolds would choose this ambiguity. First, the music of the spheres Klim speaks of is pretty obviously horrific to any player with even a shred of conscience. Whichever faction got tagged with the spheres in canon would be one that the modern player would file under the category of “bad guy”, when a big part of the point of the game is that none of the factions are objectively wrong.
Second, I think the ambiguity is intended to highlight just how far into the future SMAC has progressed. The long-lived faction leaders remain the philosophical core of the factions for the duration of the game. But not everything that happens occurs because of them. A large part of the reason why the technology tree takes the shape that it does is because of the inherent push and pull of technological possibility on philosophy. As the new Advanced Military Algorithms make the Punishment Spheres possible, so do they also provide reasons to believe they’d be a good idea. Or, to put it somewhat differently, the fact that a social engineering choice is available to choose implies that a substantial minority of citizens believes in that choice and is wholeheartedly working to achieve it.
But, if I had to guess, I think that in the canon Baron Klim is a Spartan. From their base names and some of their in-game rhetoric, we know that the Spartans prefer decentralization. And Colonel Santiago has previously spoken of the leadership skills of a prince. This could imply that when the Spartans adopt their favored Power choice, they go through a period of neo-feudalism. And Baron Klim – a leader of one of the bases – decides to build a sphere in his base and advocate for their construction elsewhere.
As we do not hear from Baron Klim again over the course of the game, it is reasonable to presume that his advocacy failed in canon. Thus, the player can conclude that the Punishment Sphere did not become a common solution to the drone problem on Planet. The game rules also support this, making Punishment Spheres useful only in very particular circumstances.