Technology: Centauri Psi

“The Mind Worms are the natural defenses of the living Planet–the white blood cells, if you will. In a world in which unassimilated thought represents danger, the Mind Worm seeks out concentrations of sentient mental energy and destroys them, ruthlessly and efficiently.”

— Commissioner Pravin Lal, “Mind Worm, Mind Worm”

In the game, Centauri Psi is an eighth-tier exploration technology. It requires Advanced Ecological Engineering and Centauri Genetics, which between them represent all of the technologies that previously had anything to do with understanding Planet, its ecology, and the new psionic effects discovered after Planetfall. It’s fair to say that this is the capstone technology for that technological line.

The technology itself only does a couple of things. First, it increases the nutrient tile yield for fungus to its maximum value. As the player has undoubtedly learned by now, even a single additional nutrient changes the growth calculus substantially. At this point, fungus is a legitimately useful tile for every faction. It provides at least break-even nutrients along with some mineral and energy yield. The remaining improvements as the player goes through the top of the technology tree just further increase these secondary yields, making working fungus increasingly attractive.

Second, it unlocks the artificial psionic weapon module. This means that it is now possible to build non-native units that attack like mind worms. They still defend like traditional units using their conventional armor, they use normal unit morale instead of the native lifecycle bonus, and they can be customized with special abilities.

Back when I was first playing this game, I couldn’t figure out what the point of this module was. It seemed like psionic attack was almost always worse than putting on a strong weapon. If I wanted to use psionic attack, I’d just build native units. And this came late enough that if I had the option, I was in a position where I could choose the way I wanted to win, and bigger weapons were a more obvious choice.

Now, looking back, I think I finally understand what the real design purpose of this ability is. See, the player cannot use the unit designer to customize native units. They’re always the same built-in design. Which wouldn’t be so bad in the late game, except for the fact that those designs always assume the base fission reactor.

And, as we’ve seen, the HP levels that come with the reactor upgrades are extremely important in the combat calculation. So that means that the only way to make psionic units with competitive HP levels in the mid-to-late game is to give human units psi attack. Then the now-traditional human-cultivated mind worm boils can be largely replaced by fusion psionic infantry.

So this technology represents the colonists coming to such a complete understanding of the mechanism behind the worms’ terrifying psionic attack that they can replicate it artificially. It is therefore fitting that the accompanying quote would dispel the final mystery behind their origins and natural purpose on Planet.

The player has enough information by now to roughly piece together what Planet is. It’s a gestalt planetwide entity that is best envisioned as the entire ecology. It regulates its various constituent parts by psionic influence exercised from the fungal stalks (where the Planetmind is hosted) to the various creatures on Planet. This is why Deirdre noticed way back when that the Razorbeak was so unnaturally particular about the way it groomed the fungus.

So Brother Lal tells us that the Mind Worms fill the niche that our white blood cells fill in our bodies. They detect thought patterns that don’t resonate with the broader Planet’s. A rogue fungal patch, say, or an animal that is no longer responding to psionic directives. Then they swarm over the defective component and devour it, ensuring that the whole can continue without undue interference.

This is an amazing revelation. The final explanation makes total sense as long as you’re willing to grant that something like psionics could exist. After all, if the planet’s ecology really were akin to a giant being, as postulated, it would have to have some mechanism like this to continue working.

But it also perfectly explains why the mind worms serve the gameplay role of the barbarians. When they land, the humans are obviously and necessarily extremely large and unassimilable concentrations of sentient thought. Of course the worms are going to swarm the colonists in large numbers. And it’s only when it is clear that the worms can’t eradicate them that the Planetmind starts reaching out to try to contact the most prominent minds in each of the factions.

That’s all fascinating. But it turns out that this quote is pivotal for yet another reason: this is Brother Lal’s last quote. If we’re reading the tea leaves correctly for the implied canon, that means that Brother Lal’s Peacekeepers are out of the running for final victory. Their dream of reassembling the U.N. into a functional world state along modern liberal lines never came to fruition. The future proved to be a far stranger place than Lal could have imagined when he made Planetfall.

However, I suspect that Lal’s faction is not eliminated like Yang’s likely was. I base that on a couple of points. The small reason is that Lal continues to be referred to as Commissioner in all his quotes. This could mean nothing – in the game interface, the dominant power on the Council is called the Planetary Governor – but I suspect that Lal used his power to get and retain these powers while investing them in the traditional office of the Commissioner.

The more salient reason is that Lal’s last two quotes were both from his work “Mind Worm, Mind Worm”, which appears to be his mid-game manifesto arguing for the fierce moral urgency of Green economics. If he’s loudly taking up the Green banner, chances are he’s allied himself with the Gaians. And they seem to be doing quite well for themselves, given that they seem to have pretty much swept the Planet-focused Secret Projects up until this point.

So here’s what I think happened to Lal in the canon. The Peacekeepers and the Gaians formed an alliance early on. AI Deirdre tends to prefer Democracy and Lal usually likes anyone who’s willing to run it. They found themselves up against Yang’s Hive, Lal’s mortal enemy from the first day after Planetfall.

Lal won the first election once the Council was reconvened with Deirdre’s help. From then on, he used his population bonus, his alliance with the Gaians, and his political skills to remain governor and continue to push for his vision of human rights in each of the other factions’ internal operations.

His interpretation of human rights clashed in particular with Santiago’s, as evidenced by his deep concern over the way she used the new cyborg technology to build her unstoppable army. At the same time, the Spartans’ increasing tensions with the Gaians spilled over from covert sniping into open war. After building the Cloning Vats, the requirements of war and geopolitics pushed Santiago into adopting a Police State and openly allying with the Hive against the Peacekeeper/Gaian alliance.

The Peacekeepers took the brunt of the final Spartan/Hive combined offensive. With the aid of the Gaians, they were able to stabilize the front and then push the Hive back into extinction. But this war effort crippled the Peacekeepers, leaving them the decidedly junior partner in their alliance with the Gaians. In exchange for eagerly adopting Green economics – probably moving from what I would expect would be his more natural preference for a Planned economy – the Gaians agreed to keep supporting Lal for Planetary Governor. But Lal was no longer in any position to make a bid for global primacy.

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One thought on “Technology: Centauri Psi

  1. ramblog

    It makes some sense considering the total destruction of the Hive, and the capitulation of the Spartans (it sounds like Spartans survived the Fall). As powerful as peak Spartans are, if the Gaians really did achieve their goals, then peak Gaians could bring Planet down on both factions. And Planet, I am guessing, might perceive the Hive as a similar organism to itself which means it would probably consume it whole.

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