Category Archives: Secret Projects

Secret Project: The Ascent To Transcendence

“No longer mere earthbeings and planetbeings are we, but bright children of the stars! And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning.”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Conversations with Planet”

The Ascent to Transcendence marks the end of the game. If the player sees this video, he has won. Which means that Reynolds has to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the entire gameplay experience. To accomplish this, it needs to serve as a fitting coda to the human era. But it must also be a happy ending. The player just triumphed; there’s no way Reynolds can end on a dark note.

That’s worthy of comment given that the canonical game was shaping up to end much like the player was told Earth ended. The technological level was higher, of course. But Reynolds went out of his way to sow the same the same sense of fear, economic dislocation, growing strife, and impending ecological collapse that we saw in the first half of the introductory video all throughout the last third of the game.

So this ending video begins with what appears to be some sort of religious ritual. Seven figures are each standing in a circle located in a barren plain. It’s critically important that there are exactly seven brought together in united effort now, as the game opened with the image of humanity fracturing into the seven disparate colony pods. We know that in canon these cannot all be the seven original faction leaders. But, here, these seven represent all the threads of humanity coming back together into a unified whole.

Each figure is on their own small, raised platform and facing a strange sphere. It rises up into the air before them and hovers momentarily before exploding in a white-blue flash. This causes a rapid bloom of xenofungus to radiate out of the circular ritual structure in all directions. The camera shifts to show that this fungal bloom sweep over entire continents before shifting again to show a side view of the bloom racing over the plains, spreading as fast as the bolt of lightning that’s skimming just above the surface. The fungus, which the player knows is the stuff of the Planetmind, has been spurred to cover every inch of the planet’s surface.

Then we see that same lightning arcing into tall skyscrapers and domes, where the humans live. Lines of lightning draw straight lines between buildings in a city before the camera zooms out and shows similar lines radiating out between points at a continental scale. These link the bases together, psychically, just as the individual people had been linked within the cities. Meanwhile, the fungus in the background finishes covering the planet.

The camera then cuts to encompass the entire planet as it glows brightly with this blue-white aura. Then the quote goes silent. The player is then left to contemplate what has just happens as he regards the last twenty seconds of footage. These echo the image of space that opened the game. But this time, instead of the story of the expulsion from Eden, these images of space just have a minimal instrumental accompaniment intended to evoke a feeling of profound awe at the possibilities inherent in transcendence.

The quote explains what, exactly, is happening here. All of humanity has abandoned their remaining attachment to their physical form and their individual existence. Instead, they’ve joined together with each other and with the Planetmind to become a brand-new entity. It’s presumably similar to Planet’s previous existence, but the combination takes place at the psychic level rather than a physical one, using the newly dense fungal relays as the computational substrate.

In canon, I presume that the Gaians won the race. Deirdre has always had the closest relationship to Planet. We know that the Gaians were a Great Power. And the quote is generally attributed to Deirdre’s collected “Conversations With Planet” because it’s spoken with the Planet’s voice in the same vein as the others, though that is omitted from the final video.

But that leaves one last question. Why was there the great race at the end, anyway? Winning the game doesn’t mean living forever. Nor does it mean transcending. It looks like everyone who makes it to the ritual is welcome in the new collective consciousness.

No, the reason why there’s a race is because it matters whose values get written most deeply into the heart of the new godlike being. And thus the physical universe. Not to mention whatever might come after when the stars burn out. Literally everything was at stake. Because in the end, the real legacy of the human era, the only one that could possibly still matter to the transcended post-humans millennia from now, is our set of values: the seven distinct philosophies.

Secret Project: The Voice of Planet

“Imagine the entire contents of the planetary datalinks, the sum total of human knowledge, blasted into the Planetmind’s fragile neural network with the full power of every reactor on the planet. Thousands of years of civilization compressed into a single searing burst of revelation. That is our last-ditch attempt to win humanity a reprieve from extinction at the hands of an awakening alien god.”

— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “Planet Speaks”

The construction of the Voice of Planet secret project is supposed to represent the climax of the game’s narrative. Ever since the mid-game bled over into the late game, SMAC’s technology tree has been set up to hand out powerful rewards as if they were candy, making manifest the nigh-infinite promise of the future and greatly accelerating the player’s faction’s forward progress.

Simultaneously, though, the game’s lore has been sounding several ominous notes. In particular, Sister Miriam got a substantial amount of spotlight in which to decry and eventually attempt to escape what she saw as the oncoming, hopelessly immoral future. Several otherwise excellent late-game secret projects are delivered as poisoned pills in this sense.

Reynolds has also gone out of his way to amp up the menace from Planet, as well. The quote from Sentient Econometrics warns that Planet’s attempted metamorphosis into a sentient being inevitably wipes out what may as well essentially be the entire ecosystem in a massive cataclysm. The destruction of Lab Three and the implied war between the University and the Gaians should definitely best seen as the first salvo in that conflict.

The game mechanics are intended to support this by making severe ecodamage likely. This should be even worse if the planet has been filled up by large bases working many mines and boreholes, amplified by factories granting 100-150% multipliers. All this ecodamage is intended to cause late game fungal pops that are usually accompanied by massive stacks of mind worms. Which are often the much scarier Locusts of Chiron instead of the less difficult to deal with standard variety.

And, in fact, from this perspective the increased tile yields for fungus can easily feed the problem. Matter Transmission makes fungus tiles yield two minerals, which is as good as a forest. Then making it all the way to the Threshold of Transcendence so that the Voice of Planet can be built makes them yield three. Recall that a mine on optimal terrain only yields four minerals.

The upshot of all this is that fungus pops don’t actually shut down mineral production like they used to in the mid game. The old mechanism was supposed to be something of a negative feedback loop. Too much industry leads to a local reaction from Planet, which then forces and/or encourages the player to moderate that base’s mineral output.

But the player will naturally be working the terrain that’s available to him. So when fungus starts yielding good output – and especially good mineral output – the ecodamage response stops reducing base production. In fact, it can actually increase it if fungus starts replacing farms and forests. The feedback loop could theoretically enter a runaway state.

Enough of this is then supposed to trigger the global warming rule to start flooding out coastal terrain. This will quite likely kill lots of people all over the globe. And, overall, just make it feel like the planet really is in the process of rising up to cause imminent Armageddon.

And it seems like this is how things went down in the implied canon. I wouldn’t be surprised if the University opened up on the Gaians with Singularity Planet Busters after their Singularity Laser drop troopers and Gravship-supported Hovertanks didn’t prove immediately decisive against the heavily psi-focused Gaian armies. The use of these weapons would have counted as a massive atrocity, which would have increased global warming and thus the intensity of the endgame apocalypse.

After a few years of this, Zakharov has run the numbers and decided that he can’t win his war. And, at this rate, humanity is certainly doomed. So he orders the construction of the Voice of Planet. His description of the act as a last-ditch effort and his characterization of Planet as an alien god make it seem like this is more of a surrender than anything else. For all the miraculous technology at his disposal, his faction is somehow virtually helpless before the power of the awakening gestalt Planet-being.

Thematically, Zakharov was the perfect choice for the faction leader to build this project and deliver the quote. See, he’s arguably the most aggressively secular leader. If he stands for anything, he stands for humanity’s quest to gain the power of the gods through the scientific project. And he’s not exactly subtle about his Promethean ambitions. I mean, he named his series of educational texts “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”, and I’m sure he meant the allusion as a dig at Sister Miriam and everything she stood for.

Now just take a moment to imagine what it must be like to be in his position. Here he stands at the end of time. He’s an immortal cyborg superhuman. He possesses all the secrets of the universe. He’s created at least one universe to help bend this one to his own ends. He may as well be a god himself. And after everything he has accomplished, after learning every last secret Reynolds has hidden on the technology tree, he still has to humble himself before an alien god and beg to be spared.

We’ve already seen how he values the acquisition of knowledge above all else. It’s literally baked into the game as his favorite Social Engineering choice. It is thus perfectly fitting that when he is finally forced to make his prostrations, his offering is the sum total of the datalinks themselves. This is a beautiful image; it works on every literary level.

The associated video depicts this act as a bunch of rapidly cycling images. They’re all actually from the previous secret project videos. Which is a brilliant way to represent the sum total of human knowledge at the end of the game. The Secret Projects are intended to represent humanity’s greatest accomplishments, after all. And by virtue of being evocative video clips instead of mere text, they likely represent the player’s most vivid memories of the canon, as opposed to his own gameplay experiences. So this video calls back to the entirety of the SMAC era in a way that would remind both Zakharov and the player of the best parts of the time they’ve spent on Planet.

Once it’s actually built in the game, the Voice of Planet only does two things. First, it grants a final lifecycle bonus to any alien life built by the faction, which is perhaps the most pointless mechanical bonus in the whole game. Second, it then opens up the Ascent to Transcendence project for construction. Since the faction that ascends first wins the game, and since any faction can try to build it as soon as the Voice of Planet goes up, the idea is that the Voice of Planet is supposed to kick off an in-game race. This last struggle serves as the game’s short denouement before its ultimate conclusion.

Secret Project: The Singularity Inductor

“What actually transpires beneath the veil of an event horizon? Decent people shouldn’t think too much about that.”

— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”

The video for the Singularity Inductor invites the player to continue the train of thought that Miriam began in the quote for the Controlled Singularity technology. Why would a perfect God create a universe at all? But instead of popping the stack to consider Miriam’s plight in the broader context of her being a character in a video game, it encourages the player to ask what happens if we push the stack down a meta-level?

It has been a fairly popular cosmological theory that our universe might be inside a black hole. As such, it’s a sci-fi theme that the player is expected to have some rough familiarity with. The logical extension of this theory is that black holes in our universe might potentially contain entire sub-universes within them.

Now recall that this project represents the ability for people to create and manipulate a persistent black hole. In this light, then, Zakharov has constructed an entire universe. He is literally their creator-god. And he brought forth their universe in a great Big Bang for industrial purposes. In essence, eons of pain, suffering, and evil were brought into being as a side effect of getting a free Quantum Converter at every base.

This line of logic almost assuredly applies to the Singularity Laser weapon and the Singularity Engine as well. Which means that Zakharov’s University is building entire universes on an assembly-line basis. And he’s doing it all so that his Gravships can more efficiently roast Gaian bases at the end of the game.

He dismisses any concerns like these with what amounts to a verbal shrug. We already know that he has a refined philosophical disdain for what others might consider pressing moral concerns. For him, the fierce moral urgency is located entirely in the quest to most quickly find the best answers to entirely practical questions. What is this phenomenon? How is it best described? What possible use does it have?

So Zakharov would clearly maintain that it just doesn’t matter what scale of horrors might take place beneath the event horizon. It’s no different in principle than the old Bioenhancement Centers, in which row upon row of brains were grown in jars to develop better direct brain implants. And generations of people have lived and died on Planet in the time it took to progress the eleven tiers of the technology tree since then.

So the objective Ethical Calculus does not necessarily to give a strong weight to the well-being of sentient beings in general. Nor does it seem to require any particular concern for any being who exists on a meta-level distinct from one’s own. If a simulator need have no concern for those whom he simulates, it follows that a god need not have any care for the universe he brings to life.

If you’re a decent person, Zakharov grants that the thought of all that suffering probably bothers you. He’d say it’s an irrational preference, of course. But he’ll generously grant that it’s not necessarily altogether unworthy. So his advice to someone plagued by such an overabundance of conscience is to just try not to think about it too much. Not when there’s still so much science to be done.

Secret Project: The Bulk Matter Transmitter

“And what of the immortal soul in such transactions? Can this machine transmit and reattach it as well? Or is it lost forever, leaving a soulless body to wander the world in despair?”

— Sister Miriam Godwinson, “We Must Dissent”

Judging from the video, The Bulk Matter Transmitter is a much more impressive facility than its gameplay effects would imply. It just grants two free minerals to each base in SMAC. This is essentially equivalent to two extra Nessus Mining Stations, but without any of the limitations of the satellite economy.

This isn’t really a very good deal. When you consider that it is one of the very last secret projects, based on the thirteenth-tier Matter Transmission technology, the deal gets worse. It’s both very expensive and has very little time to pay back its cost. So only a massive endgame empire will find this to have a positive return on investment.

This is fine, though, since at this point the game is no longer competitive. A player who’s still enjoying the builder game this late is almost assuredly more interested in making cool stuff than he is in scraping out every possible advantage from micromanaging his faction. And this secret project definitely delivers on that.

There does not appear to be much of a limit on the scale to the matter transmission technology. So it turns out that the Bulk Matter Transmitter is the most boring name imaginable for a real, live stargate. Through which people are flying actual starships.

Since all the action takes place on and around Planet, it’s easy for the player to forget the level of sophistication that SMAC assumes for space travel technology. Until he’s forcibly reminded by seeing a massive spaceship flung instantly across the stars. This is the kind of feat that typically only shows up in sci-fi stories about ancient, galactic-scale space empires. So it serves as an excellent benchmark for the sheer scope of imagination Reynolds has exercised in SMAC.

And, of course, it would not be SMAC without some philosophy to go with the technological wonder. Here, we are treated to Sister Miriam taking the contrary position to CEO Morgan’s pronouncement on the discovery of Matter Editation. Recall that it was Morgan’s firm belief that the value of anything cannot escape its smallest parts. Therefore, a reassembled person on the other side of the stargate must have the same moral value as the original.

But Miriam seems to believe that continuity of a person’s path in space-time is key to anything we’d rightly consider identity. Which, if she’s right, would leave the resulting teleported person bereft of his link to his past. If not abandoned by God all together.

It’s certain that whichever faction actually built this project in canon took Morgan’s side of the argument. But knowing what we know now about Miriam’s eventual fate, it’s especially poignant to see her express doubts over the fate of the soul during teleportation. She’s not really sure what going through the portal actually means. This makes her choice of death a profound final statement of her faith in the face of deep empirical uncertainty.

I cannot help but gush again over how wonderful I find it that Reynolds was willing to play fair here. He didn’t have to give Sister Miriam anything resembling this tragic depth. His players would have been more than satisfied if he had just made her an angry, monochromatic antagonist in a black hat. That’s all most of them saw anyway, judging by many of the comments I’ve seen from SMAC players since the game came out.

But this is another instance of the true genius of SMAC. Reynolds has crafted a game that rewards the player in proportion to the effort he brings to it. If the player wants a fun war game, the game can provide that in spades. If he wants a futuristic SimCity experience, he can spend all his time carefully building up his bases just so. If he wants the joy of crushing his philosophical foes into the dirt until they grovel before him, SMAC delivers.

And if he’s willing to drill down deep into the lore, as I have here, he’ll find that the whole edifice stands up to scrutiny. Reynolds has built a futuristic world that actually works. It’s simultaneously epic in scope, self-consistent, fair-minded, fascinating to contemplate, expressed powerfully to the player, and laden with distinctive flavor. Any one of these would have made the game worthwhile. Crafting a game that manages them all at once makes this a masterwork.

Secret Project: The Telepathic Matrix

“From the delicate strands,
between minds we weave our mesh:
a blanket to warm the soul.”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “The Collected Poems”

The Telepathic Matrix secret project is much more important to the SMAC narrative than it might appear from the video alone. The gameplay context is critical for understanding what’s going on here and why it’s critical to Reynolds’s vision of SMAC’s far future. So let’s start with the brute facts.

The Telepathic Matrix is an application of the twelfth-tier Eudaimonia technology. It has two gameplay effects for the faction that possesses it: it improves Probe Team morale significantly; and it prevents drone riots in all of the faction’s bases.

It’s hard to overstate the effect that this blanket prevention of drone riots has on the player’s experience of the game. Up until now, the player has been forced to check each one of his bases every turn in order to ensure that they have not become unhappy, lest he is punished with a drone riot that costs him an entire base-turn’s worth of production.

There are many important mechanics in SMAC that are enforced largely in the background so as to keep the game running smoothly. The ecodamage rules are a good example of this pattern. But the drone riot rule isn’t one of them. Nullifying the drone riot mechanic after the game has painstakingly taught the player to follow it has a dramatically liberating effect on the way the game feels.

But it’s worth noting that this doesn’t pacify drones directly. If it did that, it would turn drones into content workers like police units or Recreation Commons do. Instead, it just overrides the rule that causes drone riots if the number of drones exceeds the number of talents in any given base. This distinction is made relevant through the interaction with the Golden Age mechanic. Even though drone riots are now impossible with the Telepathic Matrix, a base can’t go into a Golden Age as long as it has any. This means that happiness management and Psych energy spending aren’t rendered entirely pointless.

This has obvious implications for the player’s subsequent Social Engineering choices. Recall that the earlier Cloning Vats made Growth-focused choices inherently less attractive by enabling the maximum possible growth rate at every base. In much the same way, the Telepathic Matrix makes authoritarian, Police-focused social models less useful by providing the main social control benefit for free.

Given all of that, it is quite suggestive that Reynolds chose to make the other advantage of building the Telepathic Matrix a faction-wide spying bonus. Now there’s also less need for Probe bonuses. The net effect is that Thought Control, which provides large Police, Probe, and Morale bonuses, is a significantly less attractive social model than it would otherwise be.

This makes the peaceful tone of the video worth some contemplation. It certainly serves as a sharp contrast to the earlier Self-Aware Colony, which provided a similar police benefit in a much more disquieting, dystopian fashion. The Telepathic Matrix doesn’t appear to operate by forcing compliance out of the drones. Instead, the poem and the visuals lead the player to conclude that it operates by enabling powerful empaths to psychically comfort the poor and disaffected drones.

Stepping back a moment, we can see that ever since the mid-game got going in earnest, Reynolds has seemingly gone out of his way to refute or twist the classic images of ethical progress in SMAC. The future has grown increasingly inhuman. And it’s done so in ways that are intended to unsettle or disconcert the player. Consider that both of the future society choices that have been made available until now – Cybernetic and Thought Control – are much more likely to parse as different flavors of dystopia rather than as an ideal state of being to the typical player.

Only now, with the discovery of Eudaimonia and the Telepathic Matrix, do we see a significant reversal of that trend. The overall effect of this video is to grant some measure of hope for the future. At the very least, it finally seems like a place in which the typical player might actually want to live.

One of the common tropes in older futurism is the notion, a la Roddenberry or Carl Sagan, that futuristic people would necessarily have to be what we’d see as more morally evolved in addition to merely having cooler toys. Part of the point of SMAC is that this is certainly not true in the naïve sense.

And yet, we see here that the structure of the technology tree sets up something resembling teleology. The utopian Eudaimonia – with the radical freedom enabled by the Telepathic Matrix – is set up as the last word in the inherent philosophical back-and-forth that takes place over the course of the game. This is not dispositive, of course. Reynolds has been scrupulously careful to be fair. And just as in any fair debate, the side that gets the last word is not assured to be the winner on that account alone.

Secret Project: Clinical Immortality

“And the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man is become as
one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth
his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and
live forever, we must send him forth.’ Therefore the
Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till
the ground from whence he was taken.”

— The Conclave Bible, Datalinks

The fifth-tier Longevity Vaccine would deliver what most people would think of as clinical immortality. It greatly retards the aging process. And, by doing so, it allows people to functionally enjoy eternal youth while having no expectation of death by what would traditionally be considered natural causes.

The Clinical Immortality secret project, based on Matter Editation and demonstrated in this video, means something rather different. It is now possible to be literally, physically immortal. With this technology and enough energy at one’s disposal, a person’s pattern can always be perfectly regenerated. That holds even if the atoms that currently make up a person are completely obliterated in an antimatter reaction or tossed into a black hole. As long as CEO Morgan is right about nothing being able to transcend its smallest elements, then as long as society continues to exist, this project really does represent the final conquest of death.

In that light, it’s worth considering the fact that the video isn’t edited so as to treat this as a purely positive advance. It would have been easy to have this video show a person die and then be miraculously reassembled and arise from a pod. Then everyone celebrates and it would be obviously a wonderful thing.

Instead, we get a Bible quote whose most straightforward reading is that God, for whatever reason, explicitly did not want humanity to eat from the tree of life. All the while, the visuals are of a futuristic facility that looks something like a temple or refuge. At the very least, the hallways have no obvious purpose. But then, in the inner sanctum, we do not see anything we’d recognize as a person. Instead, we see a brain, a pair of eyes, and a spinal column sitting largely inert in a jar, complete with ominous red lights and a disconcerting sound effect.

According to the comments on the linked YouTube video, it is clear that many people are misreading this video. In the full context of SMAC, the attentive player will know by know that having brains in jars and feeding them arbitrary sensory experience has been possible since the fourth-tier Bioenhancement Center. And uploading minds to computers has been possible at least since the invention of Digital Sentience on the tenth tier of the technology tree.

I believe the best interpretation of this video is that this facility has just begun the process of regenerating a person. The best evidence in favor of this theory comes from the screen readouts in the background. One of these appears to show a rough image of a person’s upper body in an X-Ray style. And when the red light comes on, almost all of the background details are obscured save for this image on the lower left, which proves that it was important.

Presumably the change to the red light indicates that the active copy of the person in question has just been terminated and a replacement is required. For speed and convenience, base copies of the brain, eyes, and spine are built early and kept in a suspended state. Now the process is about to begin, in which a brand-new body will be assembled around the cached components along the lines of the nearby readout. Once it’s done, it will be sent back out into the world from this individual’s personal temple, retracing the camera’s path down the hallway.

The primary gameplay effects of this advance are to double the faction’s votes in U.N. Council elections and grants two free talents to every base. It’s interesting to note that this is reminiscent of the Peacekeepers’ factional bonuses. Thematically, this echoes nicely when we recall that Lal was the Chief Medical Officer aboard the Unity. Medical advances have consistently been tied fairly tightly to the well-being of the populace. And this effect stretches to the very end of the profession of medicine, itself.

The mechanical effect of all these bonus talents is quite substantial. With few exceptions, the only previous source of talents had been Psych spending. But now, in the late-game, it’s possible to get a bunch of talents for free. When that’s coupled with the better value on specialists that produce Psych (compared to the early-game Doctors), this makes Golden Ages much more common at the end of the game. Which, among other things, lightens the tone of the late game. From the player’s perspective, if the population of all of his bases are wildly happy, things can’t be going too badly.

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.