“This unusual specimen is not so much a classic particle as a connector–a kind of string attaching two particles. As distance increases the connective power becomes attenuated, but if it is cut the power vanishes: forever.”
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”
The final three substantive tiers of the technology tree (the thirteenth through the fifteenth) consist of two narrow chains that do not have any interdependencies between each other. One of these is based off of the insights provided by Graviton Theory and ably explained by Zakharov in the associated quote.
The ability to permanently cut these cords leads directly to the development of the last chassis type: the gravship. Gravships are considered air units, so they have the typical base movement speed of eight, but they have no maximum range. The idea is that their antigravity drive requires very little energy to remain aloft. That’s why they don’t need to return back to base to refuel.
It also makes possible the Antigrav Struts special unit ability. When applied to a ground unit, it increases the unit’s speed by one and enables it to ignore all terrain-based movement penalties. So it’s possible to design super-fast Hovertanks and infantry squads that levitate through the air.
They can also be applied to air units. When that’s done, they add a number of movement points to the unit equal to twice the reactor value. So, for instance, if a Gravship with a Quantum Reactor was sporting Antigrav Struts in addition to the standard antigrav drive, it would get fourteen moves a turn instead of just eight.
Finally, this technology also allows units with drop pods to perform orbital insertions anywhere on Planet’s surface. This is the same bonus as the one that comes from having built the Space Elevator secret project, though obviously it comes much later on the technology tree.
But, as is the common refrain for these late-game technologies, all of these bonuses would naturally be a lot more exciting if they didn’t come at the very end of the game. Even a very slow, epic game will almost assuredly be wrapping up before gravships can make a significant difference in the outcome. That’s probably even true for the canon timeline, in which the University is fielding them against the Gaians in a bid to eradicate what they see as the Mind Worm menace from the face of Chiron.
I think the most interesting thing about this technology is actually the nature of its prerequisites. On the one hand, it relies on the twelfth-tier Quantum Machinery technology that could plausibly end up yielding these nigh-magical antigravity breakthroughs. And on the other, it relies on the much older sixth-tier Mind/Machine Interface, which is there to ensure that the faction actually has the infrastructure necessary to operate an air force.
But the thing I find shocking about this is that it’s actually possible to get as deep into the tree as Quantum Machinery without already needing the MMI technology for something before now. This may not be as surprising to players who, unlike me, commonly played without the standard Blind Research option. But under Blind Research there is almost no chance to beeline so deeply without having researched all the early-game and many of the mid-game technologies. Inspecting the tech tree carefully, Quantum Machinery is at the end of a pretty narrow chain of mid-game technologies that rarely pull in dependencies from the other parts of the tree.
This leads to a couple of factoids worth pondering. For instance, it’s theoretically possible to unlock orbital insertions at Graviton Theory without ever researching a single spaceflight technology. This implies that it’s not possible to launch a Planet Buster or a satellite using antigrav alone. For whatever reason, a drive built along these lines can’t move enough mass high enough or quickly enough to duplicate the effect of a large chemical rocket like the 1960s-era Saturn V.
Or how Graviton Theory represents the highest level of technical sophistication that it is possible for people still recognizable as Homo Sapiens to achieve. The handful of technologies at a higher tier all require Homo Superior, Digital Sentience, or both. But, intriguingly, it would seem that Graviton Theory can be developed by mere cyborgs.