Secret Project: The Self-Aware Colony

“Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind.”

— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “We Must Dissent”

The video begins with a shot of a city at night. Despite the seemingly pleasant shot of the fountain and the public statuary, the place is completely deserted. There isn’t a single sign of life. Or even of human inhabitation, really. Everything is perfectly square and clean.

All the while, we hear Sister Miriam putting voice to her late-game rallying cry. “We must dissent,” she says, over and over again. But she doesn’t shout it to the heavens like one might expect. She whispers it. Softly but urgently, as if her message is both incredibly important and one that must not be overheard by the wrong ears.

As the lights go down in the streets, the camera descends past a fan to a lonely utility passageway. Glimpses of shadows are seen along with the sound of hurried footsteps. Someone is still awake at this late hour, it would seem, and they are up to something clandestine.

The whispers pick up again as the next scene reveals a shot of a blank metallic wall. Behind it is some sort of facility glowing with the same ominous green light we’ve seen before. Upon its clearly illuminated surface is painted Miriam’s urgent call. More shadows and footsteps are followed by the camera panning down slightly to take in a discarded can of spray paint, making the mystery figure’s purpose finally clear. He is trying to rally followers to Miriam’s cause.

The camera cuts to another view of a corridor or street that’s just behind the racing shadow. A mechanical tone and a green light emanating from the floor in the foreground, over where the man whose shadow we’ve been following has presumably just run. Then a gate suddenly slams shut, cutting off Miriam’s echoed whisper along with any possible retreat.

The camera pans around the corner and just up to the edge of gate to build the suspense. Then all the lights instantly cut out, plunging the scene into momentary darkness. The scene is illuminated again by a bright red light that shows a shadow down the hall. This is accompanied by an electronic sound rapidly followed by a pained groan.

The final image is of an incompletely painted copy of Miriam’s slogan, as if the painter were interrupted in the act. Mingled with it are scorch marks that look somewhat reminiscent of a person. Then a pair of mechanical devices come into view on each side of the screen. Red lights emerge from each of them and sweep over the wall, removing any trace of the person and his works, as Miriam concludes with the quote for the secret project.

I absolutely love this video. It does such a wonderful job of getting across the emotional core of where Sister Miriam is coming from without requiring the player to necessarily sympathize with the details of her philosophy. Miriam and her remaining followers see themselves as fighting a beleaguered, desperate, and ultimately doomed rearguard action against the future they failed to prevent.

And it is also a gold mine of insight into the fate of the Believers in the implied canon. Sister Miriam’s faction appears to have lost the struggle for dominance. This probably became clear around the time of Yang’s disappearance. But instead of being completely eliminated, it seems that Miriam’s people were instead driven to the fringes of Planet.

The “We Must Dissent” era for the Believers is thus characterized by extreme weakness and diplomatic isolation vis-à-vis the remaining factions. From her last few bases, Sister Miriam has rebranded herself and her faction as the voice of the drones. The Believers offer succor and defense for those who have been cast aside or crushed beneath the wheels of onrushing progress. They represent the last redoubt of the merely human.

There’s enough hints here to see her end-game strategy. She’s running a Fundamentalist government, of course. And since her last remaining strength is in her faction’s spying prowess, she’s spending her last resources to build a vast organization of spies. One of their major focuses is their attempt to stir up drone activity in the richer, more sophisticated metropoles.

In response to this increased pressure, one of those other factions built the Self-Aware Colony. The gameplay effect, from the drone-control perspective, is that each base is considered to have one free unit for the purposes of policing. This is a clever idea for a bonus because it synergizes with a high Police social engineering rating without directly increasing it.

However, the facility also has another major effect. It halves the energy maintenance cost that the faction is paying to support its base facilities in all its bases. This is almost certainly more important to a typical player than the police bonus. By the time the Self-Aware Machines technology comes around to enable this secret project, chances are that this is worth hundreds of credits a turn.

There isn’t enough canon evidence to determine which faction built this project. This is likely for the same evenhandedness concerns that led Reynolds to obscure the provenance of the Punishment Sphere. But if I had to guess, I’d say that it was probably the University.

It seems to fit pretty nicely. For one, the University is the Believers’ traditional ideological enemy. They have baked-in drone problems and a weakness to spy defense, so they’re probably an easy target. And the solution as depicted just seems like their style, as it uses high-technology to efficiently eradicate the problem.


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