“And so we return again to the holy void. Some say this is simply our destiny, but I would have you remember always that the void EXISTS, just as surely as you or I. Is nothingness any less a miracle than substance?”
— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “We Must Dissent”
The previous Orbital Spaceflight technology represented the reclamation of 1960’s-era capacity for space travel on Planet. Except instead of building giant rockets to explore Chiron’s moon Nessus, they were used to launch and assemble very large satellites in orbit – satellites so extensive that they could each feed perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of people a year.
The next-level technology Advanced Spaceflight represents the final replication of the capabilities of Earth. In conjunction with Organic Superlubricant (and the Fusion Power it requires), it would now possible to rebuild the colony ship Unity and fly off to colonize another world. But this is not Civilization. The future is hurtling forward too quickly in SMAC for another spaceship to have the opportunity to extend the game. Humanity’s final fate will necessarily be decided here on Chiron.
So, instead of allowing the creation of a colony ship, Advanced Spaceflight unlocks several other powerful abilities. First, it unlocks the thirteen-strength Plasma Shard weapon. Which is very powerful. Plasma Shard troopers have more than twice the base strength than any available lower-tier defense. And they just tear through anything that’s relying on Silksteel or worse armor, regardless of any unit abilities or defensive modifiers that might get piled on atop that low base strength.
This means that once one faction gets Advanced Spaceflight, there are very few alternatives available to their rivals other than matching or exceeding their technological progress. Which makes the other main benefit of this technology a real problem for those who aren’t first to this technology. Advanced Spaceflight also allows the creation of Orbital Power Transmitters, which are a new kind of satellite that deliver raw energy to the surface in the same way that Sky Hydroponics Labs deliver nutrients.
The effect of this large, empire-wide injection of raw energy into the system is that the average tech rate will accelerate significantly. Unlike nutrients, energy inputs are subject to infrastructure multipliers. So even a small bonus to raw energy easily leads to a huge amount of effective energy spent on research per turn.
This is not an accident. Reynolds has gone out of his way to thickly layer the end-game in SMAC with first-to bonuses and powerful Secret Projects. So the leader heading into the end-game – which is almost assuredly the player – tends to see his lead naturally accelerate as he approaches the exciting conclusion of the game.
So it’s intriguing that Reynolds chose to introduce this technology with Sister Miriam’s musings on the nature of the void. The link to space travel is obvious. But her fierce insistence here on the metaphysical existence of empty space is fascinating. She sees God’s hand in the nothingness just as much as she sees it in any of the substance of physics or the building blocks of life.
To Miriam, the stars are separated by the vast expanses of nothing for a real, important reason. God did it. But for no facile or accidental reason. He laid out the universe as he did for a purpose. And at least part of that purpose was to give mankind a second chance.
So His mercy was not simply that he delivered the Unity’s precious cargo safely across the light-years to their new home. It was just as much in the fact that this refuge was even here in the first place. And, even more than that, it was found in that they were held apart by the void until the time came for deliverance.