“Time travel in the classic sense has no place in rational theory, but temporal distortion does exist on the quantum level, and more importantly it can be controlled.”
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”
Temporal Mechanics is a fourteenth-tier economic technology. It is labeled as such because its only effect is to unlock the last armor technology: the twelve-strength Stasis Generator. The name and the quote would make this out to be the ultimate forcefield. Presumably it stops the incoming attack by literally freezing it in place. This represents a rather different approach compared to the traditional attempts to deflect or absorb the incoming energy. It isn’t too hard to see how it could be even more effective than ablative antimatter plating.
Given this effect, though, it has a rather curious pair of prerequisites. On the one hand, we have Matter Transmission. It’s not all that hard to see the logic here. Faster than light teleportation inherently has implications with regard to causality. In a world where physics allows such an action at such large scales, it would make sense that time itself would prove to be a little more flexible than we might otherwise expect. Playing with the one odd physical behavior thus leads to a breakthrough in a related area.
But the other required technology is Eudaimonia, of all things. It seems rather unlikely on the surface that a novel theory of social organization is required to make an engineering breakthrough like this. But, from the name of the Psi Gates allowed by Matter Transmission, it would seem that psionics are somehow required to achieve the effect. This is why that technology relied on access to the ultimate psychics, represented in SMAC by the Transcendi and unlocked with the Secrets of Alpha Centauri.
So achieving the insights represented by Temporal Mechanics would seem to require something unique to Eudaimonia that is not already implied by the Secrets of Alpha Centauri. Other than unlocking the Eudaimonic society, the Eudaimonia technology itself has a couple of other psi-related effects that lead me to believe that the future society is made possible only by the work of advanced Empaths.
Let’s look back further to see if we can’t find some more clues. Examining their prerequisite chains for their highest common ancestors reveals that they both need Sentient Econometrics and Centauri Psi. So either of these techs or any that they recursively require can’t be the answer. The only other chain that culminates in Eudaimonia that fits the bill is The Will to Power, through Homo Superior and Biomachinery.
To sum up, this means that Temporal Mechanics actually represents the peak of psionic technique and understanding. Only here does the traditional, Planet-focused line of psionic inquiry dovetail back in with the new, human-derived psionics that became possible in the mid-game by engineering better people. And it just turns out that the primary application of this is to bend the previously expected rules of physics by fueling time-stopping forcefields.
I find it fascinating that, even this close to the end, the tech tree still contains within it this kind of implied serendipity in the march of technology. This is one of those patterns that Reynolds was careful to establish in the beginning that continues to pay dividends here at the end. Even if almost none of his players peers closely enough to notice this detail directly, the fact that it’s there to be found at all adds a great deal to the player’s feeling that even the distant SMAC future is still a real place.