Return to TIM Island

By Shamus Posted Sunday Jun 3, 2018

Filed under: Random 123 comments

I’m sure most of you remember that one time I did a massive, 50-part retrospective / critique of the Mass Effect series. As part of that critique, I had an entire entry dedicated to tearing apart the notion that a terrorist organization could recruit, train, equip, and deploy a fully mechanized military force capable of waging war on a galactic scale, and furthermore that doing so in secret wasn’t just implausible, but laughable.

Imagine my surprise when I ran into this video, detailing how the US Government did exactly what I said was impossible. From 1942 to 1945 they hid an entire city of 75,000 people – the fifth largest city in Tennessee – and used it to build a superweapon in complete secrecy.

Link (YouTube)

To be fair:

  1. This was done by a world superpower, not a terrorist organization.
  2. The city wasn’t COMPLETELY secret. I mean, people knew it existed and knew how to get there, it’s just that the goings-on inside the city were secret.
  3. This secret city was only secret for 3 years, not a generation.
  4. They only needed to build 2 weapons, not fleets of tanks, ships, or supplies for tens of thousands of space marines.
  5. The people signing up were serving a country they loved and fighting against a regime they hated, and not joining a sketchy mass-murdering megolomaniac with no coherent goal that would appeal to the masses.
  6. While the US government did many things that would be considered sketchy or “renegade” by today’s standards, they didn’t casually kill their own people by the hundreds for trivial reasons.

So while this doesn’t exactly excuse the limitless power of Cerberus, but it does make it very slightly less comically implausible.

But now I’m wishing we could have gotten more details on Cerberus. Previously I’ve said they should be excised from the Mass Effect series. Now I’m thinking you could tell a really cool story about some sort of alternate version of Cerberus that was like a scaled-up version of Oak Ridge: The government deliberately makes a secret project and then looks the other way, leaving the (sigh) Illusive Man free to tackle some sort of galactic-level Manhattan Project without much in the way of supervision. Nothing could justify the way Cerberus stole so much of the limelight from the Reapers, but you could tell a really cool story about a secret city with a doomsday weapon and an “Ends Justify the Means” mindset.

Still, interesting bit of history. I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life without hearing this story.


From The Archives:

123 thoughts on “Return to TIM Island

  1. Chris says:

    I’ve been thinking a long time on how they could make cerberus less stupid. These are some ideas

    1) cerberus doesn’t just refer to the chiron relay, it also refers to that it was set up as a triumvate, with TIM being one of 3 leaders. He would be the “good guy” and sad that the other cerberus cells broke off and became more radical than he was. The bad cerberus cells you find are just the cells the other cerberus head honchos set up.
    2) To fund their massive operation they secretly activated a mass relay in some far off, pirate infested part of the galaxy. From that relay they then created a web of human only planets. The most loyal get recruited and allowed to leave this pocket of human only planets and help cerberus in the rest of space. This could explain their massive amounts of money and resources, while at the same time be so big that it would make them a superpower/empire in the galactic power relations (which seeing how much money they have isnt that strange actually).
    3) instead of cerberus picking shepard up, they just tip off the alliance and then use their plants in the alliance to revive shepard. Miranda is then assigned to you by the alliance and she reveals over the course of the game that she actually works for cerberus and wants you to accept TIM’s help. You then have the option to turn it down.
    But I guess that was too subtle. It really feels like bioware wanted to make a darker second act, and decided that the only way they could show the player this would be by killing shepard, forcing you to work for the bad guys, and then fight a reaper that suddenly became personally invested fighting you.

    I’m still angry. Angry about videogames

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Im angry about the wasted potential.Wasted potential always infuriates me.

    2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

      I like the idea of Cerberus having several planets behind some obscure mass relay, but it doesn’t really make sense on a time scale. Humanity only got onto the galactic stage very recently, so to kickstart that project Cerberus would need a serious colonization effort.

      Especially for such a small race tied to a single planet, you can’t hide the people and equipment necessary to colonize several planets to the degree that you can use them to recruit armies and build entire navies. That requires a lot of people, and a lot of infrastructure, and they would have had less than a century to set it all up (assuming Cerberus was already a thing during the First Contact War)

    3. Sannom says:

      I’ve been thinking that they should have just made TIM into an expy of Zorglub from Spirou : all of his men are brainwashed human robots (except for some of the higher ups), all of his base of operations are protected by an automatic “please go away” field and he gets his funds through massive “please go buy these items” using the same technology.

    4. Zekiel says:

      Tangent – was it ever established how you could stop random people activating mass relays? You didn’t need an access code or anything did you? So what was to stop lots of unethical people going off and activating mass relays in the hope that valuable resources would lie behind them?

      Maybe you can monitor open mass relays from the Citadel, that would make sense.

      1. Chris says:

        I dont think the citadel would be able to see. Because if they could they could immediately see humanity popping their chiron relay and fly over to congratulate them. Instead of running into humans halfway and starting a war. Which also shows that you can only see a relay get activated when youre around, which is how the war started in the first place, turians running into humans that were opening relays.

        Which raises some interesting questions, how do you activate relays? What prevents people from activating relays? Are there space bases around each relay? Why are they dormant in the first place? i think you found another plothole.

        1. Zekiel says:

          Good point, they can’t have been monitored from the Citadel then.

          I seem to recall there was some explanation for why they started off dormant, but I can’t recall what it was. (I mean, I’m pretty sure the Reapers reset them after every reaping cycle, but I can’t recall why they did that.)

          From a (meta) plot point of view, I suppose they were dormant in order to explain the Rachni War and (particularly) the First Contact War.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Because reapers wanted species to have the tech to activate them before they went to the citadel.It has something to do with eezo.

            As for what stops some rando from doing it,I think all of the known relays are monitored precisely so that this would not happen,because of the rachni.Its not perfect,of course,because not every relay in the known space has been discovered.

            1. Sleeping Dragon says:

              The fact that you have literally no idea what could be on the other side and it is public knowledge that waves of murderbugs capable of washing over the galaxy are a valid possibility is probably a pretty good deterrent even for those who do not think too highly of the Council and its regulations. On the other hand I’m sure there’d still be people who’d do it if able and Cerberus have shown the suicidal stupidity combined with disregard for sentient life (human or otherwise) to be prime candidates (and still claim this somehow advances the cause of human supremacy even as eldritch energy entities devoured their limbs).

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    To be fair:

    Additionally,this was back in the day when only one country had actual effective radar coverage,and that country was both the ally of the usa,and the radar net they used was very limited.

    This was also back in the day when communication was still rather slow,with radio and tv signals having small ranges.

    And most importantly,this was in the day when there was not a single spy satellite that could peek into any corner of the earth with a plethora of various sensors.

    So yeah,technically it IS possible to hide a massive project like that,if you have the funding of one of the largest(if not the wealthiest)superpower in the world,and account for all the different means of communication and detection that are available now and werent back then.But its still rather ludicrous to believe it.

    And hey,me2 could have a secret facility like that on some remote planet just fine.But not by cerberus,someone we encountered earlier and were shown to be rather crap at keeping secrets and keeping their researchers alive.Having a secret salarian installation,Id totally buy that.Those guys are known for being master spies.But even with them,having a rogue secret salarian terrorist base?That would be a stretch.

    Though I already read about this some years ago,its still a cool video.

    1. Liessa says:

      What you said. No spy satellites, no Internet, plus it happened during wartime when there would presumably have been reporting restrictions on the news media… and most importantly, it was set up by the government, so didn’t really have to be totally hidden. I mean, even today there are ‘secret’ US military bases and installations where we know they exist and are doing Secret Stuff, just not the details…

      1. Jay says:

        Yeah, the biggest reason it worked was that, for the duration of the war, American law and nearly every American was willing to grant the government the right to keep secrets. Whether the government should have that right now is much more contentious, but during WWII it wasn’t.

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      Well, comparing situation to ME, we could suppose that it’s not possible to cover all galaxy with scanning network, or even it’s too hard and expensive to cover a large part of “controlled space”.

      Also we have “rogue” space (Terminus, Attican Traverse) in ME, while all parts of the Earth were explored and claimed (except Antarctica) by the time of XIX century. And I can’t find a good example of completely uncontrolled territory in Earth history, well maybe in Early Mediaeval Period only, but it’s not relevant. So rules for this part is a bit different.

      And with unexplored space, funding isn’t a problem. Cerberus could claim uncharted planet with element zero, mine it and sell through legitimate “offshore” mining companies, then funnel finances into its operations. In modern history there are examples of similar doings by terrorist organizations and corrupt officials both, with the difference that they use facilities established by local governments.

      But yeah, that’s require a different and consistent writing and Cerberus shouldn’t turn incompetency on/off multiple times through the games.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        While the galaxy is too large to monitor,it still has plenty of choke points that can be constantly under surveillance.And moving such large numbers of people and equipment needed to make such a huge armada would definitely be noticed by someone(or more likely,EVERYONE).

        1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

          Well, I agree. If we talking about ME3 Cerberus, it should be a quasi-state at least, but not a “secret” organization.

    3. Viktor says:

      Just look at the recent use of Fitbits to locate secret military bases if you want a perfect example of why you can’t hide any sort of major installation in the modern day.

      1. King Marth says:

        Even during WWII, the editor (John W. Campbell) of the most popular science fiction magazine at the time (Astounding Stories) definitely knew something was up when a huge chunk of his subscriber base moved their subscriptions to Los Alamos over a relatively short timeframe. The Extra Credits team had a piece on that, apparently the magazine was investigated by the FBI once they did a what-if story about nuclear weaponry, leaving them scrambling to convince feds that they were just using public information.

    4. tremor3258 says:

      Also this was during war, there was a lot of OTHER materiel moving around at all times. Weird guarded trains full of explosives all over the place, soldiers going to training camps in remote parts of the country that didn’t have the sort of service industries around them that would coalesce in the next generation, etc.

  3. Liessa says:

    The thing about Cerberus is that it was originally supposed to be a rogue Alliance ‘black ops’ group. It’s right there in the codex and quest entries for ME1, although they’ve all been removed from the ME wiki as they flatly contradict the portrayal of Cerberus in the later games. In the original game they were basically just a bunch of mooks, with a sidequest chain which ended with you destroying them and exposing their operations (those which hadn’t already been destroyed by their own incomptetence and stupidity). I have no idea who decided that they should replace the Geth and Reapers as the main bad guys for ME2/3, or why.

    Either way, it would certainly be much more plausible if Cerberus (or an offshoot / replacement of Cerberus) actually had government backing in the later games. Maybe there’s sections of the Alliance military who don’t agree with the official “let’s make nice with the aliens” policy, and covertly decide to take matters into their own hands. With the knowledge that a bunch of space Cthulhus are coming to wipe out all life in the galaxy, suddenly doomsday weapons and an ‘end justifies the means’ attitude seem a lot more reasonable. Of course, that would rely on the Council actually acknowledging the existence of the Reapers, like they did at the end of ME1

    1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      If I remember correctly, there were some subtle hints, that Cerberus was backed by corrupt politics and officials, some people in Alliance military, large corporations, etc. At least in ME 1 and books. Or is it my headcanon to justify Cerberus existence in later games?

      1. Liessa says:

        Well, presumably they must have had some sort of backing to get set up in the first place, but the implication was that they ‘went rogue’ and started doing their own thing. I don’t remember the exact details as it’s a long time since I played ME1, but I do recall that they kidnapped and murdered an Alliance admiral who was investigating their activities, so clearly they weren’t getting any ‘official’ military support at that point. I don’t remember any mention of political or corporate backers (at least in the game) and there was never a hint of there being more than a few dozen people, or at most a few hundred, in the entire organisation. I’m not sure about the novels; that may well be where they started to play a bigger role.

      2. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        The Admiral who you meet in the Council Chambers openly states that they are an Alliance military outfit of some type. When you meet the survivor of the Thresher Maw experiment, he explicitly states that they were ordered there by the Alliance. Everything in ME 1 is that Cerberus was an Alliance Black Ops group. I got the impression that what our host suggests was exactly the original idea.

        The Alliance set them up as an equivalent to STG (TIM says something similar), and ignored them on the grounds of plausible deniability. They started doing their own mad-scientist experiments, which lead to a recon team being wiped out by a thresher maw. A second time. This tipped off the admiral, who began investigating. At that point, the Alliance either disavowed them, or they went on the run because they knew what the Alliance would do them.

        At that point, I assume the survivors sought out TIM for support.

        That’s my head canon and I’m sticking to it. ME3 still suffers horribly from the stupidity of the Cerberus plot.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          I would be more inclined to believe Cerberus is a Black Oops organization.

    2. Nesssus says:

      My very strong impression while playing ME2 back in the day was that the new writing team actually wanted to have Shep working for a teen/YA fiction-style “cool and edgy” organization (y’know: those underdogs who heroically Get Shit Done while the authorities are too busy being slow and petty). Cerberus was a ready-made, already-in-the-lore solution, but had been inconveniently cast as a villain in the first game.

      I think if the ME2 writers had fully had their way, Cerberus would’ve been a 100% unambiguous cookie-cutter “chaotic good” organization in ME2, and the only reason they weren’t was because the writers were stuck (they might’ve said “saddled”) with ME1 continuity they couldn’t just retcon away to the cornfield.

      So they spent ME2 trying to do an awkward balancing act where they’d hard sell the “Cerebrus am edgy sekret heros!” thing to new players, while dropping the occasional tiny vague reference to their “old” villainy to (unsuccessfully) keep the returning players from being too weirded out.

      I think this was probably the entire reason for both Shep’s death/resurrection, and the Collectors as a new enemy. Shep’s death was just a klugey way to get him/her out of the Alliance and into Cerberus right at the start without having to write an actual character-based loyalty shift. The Collectors were an enemy that could be tied to the Reapers, but which could also be something covert and human-centric that the council could make a show of blowing off, setting up the “Cerberus has to Get Shit Done because the Alliance won’t” dynamic.

      *There’s some private enterprise vs. government political subtext to be had there, which doesn’t feel that implausibly deliberate given the views that seem to be common in the tech industry, but I won’t go there here.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        But even that was poorly done.A much better thing to do would be to have shepard be given missions by miranda at first,as a proxy,and only somewhere in the middle have her fess up that she is working for cerberus,and have you decide whether youll join them properly,or operate as a rogue cell.Dropping the name cerberus from the beginning was a major mistake.

        1. Nesssus says:

          Oh I’m not saying it was in any way well handled. I think it was a deeply misguided idea, motivated by disdain for the existing IP and its fans, and executed with the maximum practicable laziness.

          I’m just saying that’s the front-and-center impression I got of what the writers were thinking. I think in the writers’ minds the whole thing of Cerberus being something the player would peel conflicted about at all was something they didn’t want, and were only dragged kicking and screaming into including by continuity they couldn’t completely recon or ignore.

          An even better solution (for what they wanted) would’ve been it invent a totally new “chaotic good” organization instead of using Cerberus, but like I say: lazy, bad ideas seemed to be the flavor of the day.

      2. Cradok says:

        Unfortunately, part of that continuity was from the second book, Ascension, that TIM oversees experimentation on children, and has in the past deliberately exposed colonies to exotic materials like Eezo, along with more ‘mundane’ crimes like political assassination and terrorism. TIM is a monster and Cerberus never did anything without his involvement. Mass Effect as a series lost me at the start of ME2 when I was expected to happily work for him without the option of shoving a Mako up his ass. I never regained respect for Joke and Chakwas either.

      3. Daimbert says:

        I think if the ME2 writers had fully had their way, Cerberus would’ve been a 100% unambiguous cookie-cutter “chaotic good” organization in ME2, and the only reason they weren’t was because the writers were stuck (they might’ve said “saddled”) with ME1 continuity they couldn’t just retcon away to the cornfield.

        Except they had the perfect answer to those sorts of issues: Miranda’s oft-quoted “rogue cell”. The problem wasn’t with the parts of Cerberus that TIM wasn’t directly overseeing, but with the parts of the story where he WAS directly overseeing the cell and they STILL did horrible things. So either they wanted TIM to be ambiguous or they were trying to use those cases to show that TIM would ruthlessly do the things that needed to be done, even if he had to break a few eggs. Neither was established properly in the series.

    3. Smith says:

      There was one ME2 alternate universe fanfic where this turned out to be basically the case, but you would have to play the hypothetical game more than once to find out. Of course, I just spoiled the ending, but it’s worth reading anyway.

  4. Kathryn says:

    I’ve gained much more appreciation for history as an adult – in school, even my best history teachers focused too much on names and dates and forgot that history is, ultimately, stories. I did well in class, of course, but I didn’t have any passion for the subject (although I did love my art history class). As an oldster, though, I can be found reading nonfiction on a routine basis, and it is about history 75% of the time. It really can be fascinating.

    I hope I can get my boys interested in history. Toward that end, I’ve got all of the Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales books just waiting for the boys to be old enough to read them. (At least, that’s what I told my husband when I bought them all.) (I definitely recommend those books, by the way. They are basically very well-researched comic books about history. Funny and clever and do a great job of making history accessible and interesting to kids.)

    Did anyone else dislike history or another subject in school but come to appreciate it later? I think Shamus said once that he felt somewhat similarly about geometry when he saw how applicable it was to his work.

    1. Joshua says:

      Well, part of the reason is that the way history is taught in (U.S.) schools is utter crap. Too much of it can get political, so you only get a very sanitized version of the facts that focuses on details like names, places, and dates. I remember taking my first history course in college (Western Civilization II) and being blown away about how much there were reasons for the things that happened: X because of Y, Y because of Z, Z because of A, etc. Whereas, in Elementary and High School History classes, things tended to just spontaneously happen.

      There was a good book on this written in the 90s called Lies My Teacher Told Me. It’s a little political, but the author’s main gripe was how boring and incorrect the current teaching method is.

    2. Preciousgollum says:

      I sometimes think the *opposite* is becoming true for me.

      I LOVED history, and also had a VERY TOUGH teacher that a lot of people were sort of afraid of.

      Over time, however, I begin to realise that history is as you said – Stories. Narratives that allow people to inject ‘meaning’ into a series of stuff-happenings. “What does it all mean!?” people ask.

      And then there is journalism. Which will BECOME our sources for history. So, I know NOW that some Newspapers are more useful for the litter box than for useful information, but because history was ‘like-a long time ago, man’, it means I personally don’t have a reliable way to check the facts – a lot of it is based on faith and trust. Writers can cut corners and make value judgements.

      History is written by the victors – so it is like being awash with successive waves of propaganda, that which one would be disinclined to challenge.

      Remember the Simpsons Episode: Lisa the iconoclast. Is he Jebbediah Springfield – town founder, or Hans Sprungfeld – notorious pirate? Should people know both aspects?

      1. BlueHorus says:

        So it’s not that you’re wrong, but…
        …how else do you plan to document the past, if not through the interpretations and records of fallible human beings?

        There are similar probems with almost every field of study. Scientific theories have been dismissed – or suppressed – because it didn’t suit the Powers That Be of the era. Philosophers and religious thinkers put to death, or exiled, because they said things people don’t want to hear. Inventions destroyed because they were a threat or invented by the wrong person. And so on and so on.
        But when all you’ve got to work with is people, what can you do?

        In answer to your question: yes, people should know both aspects of Jebediah Springfield – any serious historian should, anyway. Could be other people don’t want to hear it. So it goes.
        A lot of time and effort is put into properly verifying a source/reading between the lines to try to get at close as possible to the truth. That’s part of what makes a Historian different from Just Some Guy saying stuff about the past.
        (Well, as far as I remember from history class, anyway.)

        1. Preciousgollum says:

          Hmmm…. History is Herodotus’ equiry.

      2. Kathryn says:

        Ultimately, you are dealing with people, which means you can’t really know The Truth (TM). Take Katherine of Aragon for example. Whether she was, as she claimed, Henry VIII’s true queen, or whether she just didn’t want to let go of her position depends on whether you believe her account of her betrothal to Arthur. There is no way at this distance of time to know whether she and Arthur consummated their marriage. (And the kicker is, you also couldn’t know the truth even if you actually lived during that time, unless you had somehow personally witnessed Arthur putting it to her.)

        (Personally, I believe her, but there’s no proof one way or the other.)

  5. Vinsomer says:

    I have to say I disagree that it’s beyond Cerberus’ means to have a huge fleet in ME3.

    First off, ME2’s codex tells us that ‘Counterterror experts speculate Cerberus may have changed leadership with its recent shift to stockpiling ships, agents, and weapons.’ – that suggests that Cerberus’ armada has been in the works for a long time. Hell, it also says that TiM’s ‘manifesto called for an army’ – they’ve been militaristic since day one. That they were able to not only build the most advanced warship in the galaxy (Normandy SR2) but improve it hugely shows that they have both vast resources and shipbuilding capabilities. It would make less sense if they didn’t have a fleet.

    I think it’s a case where because we didn’t see it, we are surprised when it appears, but Cerberus’ cell structure deliberately obscures both its true power level and its plans, from outsiders and Cerberus personnel alike.

    You can argue that this isn’t how they were in ME1. And that’s fair. But we barely knew anything about them and, for me, it’s an acceptable retcon to increase the power level of a shadowy organisation with vague power levels anyway. With that in mind, Cerberus in ME3 are not inconsistent with Cerberus in ME2.

    Second, well we’ve seen real life terrorist groups like ISIS mobilise armed forces powerful enough to take huge swathes of territory from sovereign nations, and that was without the funding TiM has, or the huge lawless zone he can freely act in to further increase Cerberus’ influence. ISIS were, at their height, easily on the same level as a sovereign nation in terms of land, resources and military power – hell, they actually exceeded many nations in that regard.

    Third, the only time we see Cerberus’ fleet in ME3, they get their asses handed to them by the Alliance. Cerberus HQ was never meant to fight the combined fleets of almost everyone and they get flattened. It was, at best, meant to defend against opportunistic Terminus warlords, mercs, and perhaps to provide cover while the HQ escapes. Similar to the coup, which was never meant to take over the Citadel but to destabilise it.

    I also have an issue with point 3 (it’s a lot easier to hide in an entire galaxy) and especially point 5 (the mission on Horizon confirms that Cerberus recruits aren’t willing, and are indoctrinated/mind controlled and implanted refugees, and Cerberus has a very coherent plan: use the crucible to control the reapers. Everything they do is towards that aim.)

    And finally, the US government did do a lot of unethical MK Ultra style stuff which did cause the deaths of many innocent Americans, the syphilis study they conducted by deliberately infecting unsuspecting black people is an example.

    1. John says:

      I still don’t buy it. Cerberus can’t have a “cell-like structure” and simultaneously run a state of the art shipyard, operate a space-navy, and field a space-army. Any one of those things is too big to run as a cell and the idea that they can all be run as cells beggars belief. If you’re going to any of those things you need a large group of highly and hierarchically organized people to do it–even to do it poorly. For Cerberus to do what it does, it has to be a state, even if only a small one. And states are findable, especially states that are attracting large numbers of immigrants and buying a lot of scientific and industrial equipment. In other words, I can accept Cerberus doing what it does–well, almost–but I cannot accept it doing what it does with anything like the degree of secrecy or success with which it does it.

      I think Cerberus’s actions and resources would make the most sense if the game portrayed them as a state, perhaps one that splintered off from the Systems Alliance early in the history of human space-colonization. Everyone would know where they were and at least some of what they were up to but political considerations and a general reluctance to go to war without a compelling reason would (a) give them the latitude to run their unethical, poorly-managed, and inevitably doomed experiments in something like peace and secrecy and (b) explain why they have a navy and an army.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        The issue is you’re forgetting how the paradigm of space exploration and colonisation changes the political definition of words like ‘state’, and also how it affects what’s feasible.

        In our current world, a state is not simply a political concept but a geographical one, i.e a state must have land which it rules, with some sort of constitutional government.

        In the world of Mass Effect, a state is essentially any collection of planets, asteroids and other celestial objects, stations, outposts, facilities etc. All of which can be spread over an entire galaxy, all of which can be anywhere.

        Which makes them a lot less detectable than a modern state. It’s not on a map where all the space has been filled in. It’s a galaxy where anyone can make anything and hide it anywhere and finding it’d be like playing pin the tail on the donkey though a keyhole on top of a needle in a haystack. You really can’t find anything in space unless you already know where it is. There are thousands of stars Cerberus could be hiding in at any given time.

        And, of course, the Alliance does find out where Cerberus HQ is during ME3. Based on intel gathered through Horizon. The point being the drive towards recruitment actually forces them to abandon their cell structure in this single small way and that tiny mistake gives the Alliance the window they need to get them.

        Not only that, but Cerberus have an affinity for AI (EDI is a great example – Cerberus HQ is also an AI development facility) so the bureaucratic nightmare that would be managing so many cells would, again, be different to our world. And yes, ISIS have a cell-like structure, and they have a standing army. Militaries can have unconventional structures – hell, the base structure of any military (which goes back to the Roman Legion) is already cell-like, again to limit the amount of actionable intelligence that can be gained from capture. When you consider that Cerberus troops are mobilised in either guerilla style attacks, security, capture or assassination missions and not ground wars, their structure doesn’t hold them back or make their military might unbelievable.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Sure,anyone can hide anywhere in the big galaxy.But moving from point A to point B undetected is kind of tricky,because the relays are the choke points that people monitor.And the more stuff you move,the more noticeable you become.Thats why saren was operating solo for most of the time,instead of tugging that huge geth fleet from the end with him.And cerberus is shown to have moved a large amount of stuff and people.

          1. Vinsomer says:

            That is precisely why Cerberus limit most of their operations to the Terminus systems, far from Citadel oversight, where they’re either the biggest dog in the yard, or they can easily pay their way to secrecy. Similar to the Shadow Broker.

    2. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      About fleet and army. It would make sense, if Cerberus had a big fleet of small multipurpose vessels with a few frigates as main battleships. It perfectly fits secret organization. But cruisers and larger ships? I doubt it, the second someone spotted one of those Cerberus stops being secret.

      You mentioned that they built Normandy SR-2, and we remember that SR-1 costs as much as heavy cruiser, so Cerberus have funds to build cruisers, but it was built on the Minuteman Station as part of the Lazarus Project. So according to ME 2, we know nothing about Cerberus shipbuilding facilities capable of constructing larger ships and we know, that Lazarus Project costs a lot for Cerberus and took 2 years to complete. I bet that construction of new Normandy wasn’t minor part of it.

      Also there is some thoughts about numbers of ships that different galactic powers have. Based on codex entries and books, it seems that all Alliance Navy had roughly under 100 cruisers, so I doubt that rogue organization could have more than a few, for defense purpose only.

      And about indoctrination, in ME Retribution (6 months before ME3, novel is canonical) Cerberus began experimenting with Reaper implants. They start with broken addict as the subject and it went wrong. So I doubt that they could build an army with unwilling people that fast (also I dislike entire concept). And they need a lot of people who act consciously too, at least to capture people and implant them.

      1. etheric42 says:

        The problem with space navies based on American navel nomenclature is that in our history we have referred to things in a lot of different ways. At one point a frigate could be the size of a ship of the line, just designed/built for speed. Also, the early US navy was considerably outnumbered by various pirate groups such as the Barbary pirates and had to go on a considerable (and contentious) shipbuilding campaign in order to project power and deal with them.

        I didn’t get more than halfway through ME2, but from the viewpoint of ME1 and what I played of 2, it seemed like age of sail / early US was a good touchstone for Earth in the setting. New kids on the block. Dealing with pirates in an unclaimed part of space. Fledgling fleet. Ships in general are kind of small things and not 120-gun ships of the line.

      2. Vinsomer says:

        OK, about fleet and army. Let’s get into it.

        At the beginning of Mass Effect 2, Cerberus build the SR2, twice the size and 3 times the power of the SR1.

        From this early information, we can attest that Cerberus are capable of:
        1. Acquiring top-secret schematics for the most advanced warship in the galaxy.
        2. R&D which vastly improves the most important aspects of the ship, that being power/speed and stealth technology. The SR2 is now a perfect stealth machine that can drop from warp undetected.
        3. Outfit it with the most advanced war AI ever made.
        4. All of this, and building the warship, in under 3 years.

        But wait, there’s even more to consider.

        The SR1 is said to cost the same as a heavy cruiser. However, with the huge improvements the SR2 made no doubt push the cost far higher, possibly more comparable to dreadnought levels.

        Now, we can speculate about building large ships vs small ships or the speed of shipbuilding but I’d wager that scaling for size, especially to the cruiser level (requires less shielding and armour) and not dreadnought, is less expensive than adding the most advanced features of any non-Reaper ship ever.

        The scary thing is this: Cerberus outfit the SR2 with the Thanix cannon, a reaper-style weapon that is comparable in firepower to a Reaper’s main gun. It’s essentially a dreadnought-calibre weapon. Why is that important? Because who can have dreadnoughts is literally the law which holds up the council’s status quo. But the Thanix cannon doesn’t have the crazy recoil of a dreadnought battery and therefore its ships can be manoeuvrable and require less shielding and armour. And Cerberus are out there arming frigates with them. Only the Turians have been implementing the same upgrades, and they don’t want Thanix cannons to catch on because, again, any equalizer like that will inevitably threaten their dominance by undermining the Treaty of Farixen.

        Basically, Cerberus can build dreadnought-strength stealth frigates capable of cyberwarfare. And that’s at the start of ME2. Saying that they don’t have the capability to build fleets, despite, yes, the codex telling us that they are doing so before the events of ME2 begin, despite literally going on a mission to a Cerberus shipyard, is just ignoring everything the game tells us and instead basing everything on inattentive notions of what Cerberus’ power level should be because of the word ‘terrorist’.

        It’s OK to dislike the concept, but if the argument is ‘Cerberus in ME3 is inconsistent with what’s established’, then falling back to ‘I don’t like it’ isn’t really making a point any more. We can all talk about our preferences but when you’re talking inconsistency, there has to be evidence in the text.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Thats not the defense of me3,thats just showing that cerberus was impossible from the beginning of me2.

          1. Vinsomer says:

            Given that Cerberus were deliberately vague in both aims and power level in ME1, it’s not as though we can conclusively say the faction in later games is inconsistent with the actions of one single cell. Cerberus was always bigger than the few facilities we interacted with in ME1, even the first game told us this. The only question was ‘how big?’ and given the ample room and freedom for expansion in the Terminus Systems, it’s not exactly impossible for them to be really quite powerful.

            It’s also troubling to begin to criticise what is and isn’t impossible in a sci-fi universe that does not play by our rules. In our world, terrorist groups can become entire nations and topple governments. Who is to say what they could or couldn’t do in a universe where advanced ftl space travel, advanced aliens, psionic powers, super-intelligent AI etc.? You can only really judge the game by the rules it sets, and I’m yet to see any concrete rules set in 1 that suggest Cerberus in ME2 are impossible, improbable, or even unlikely.

            It really seems less like the criticism is ‘this thing is inconsistent’ and more ‘this thing is not the thing I wanted’. Which is fine, as an opinion. But useless as a criticism.

            And, even if they are a retcon, the retcon is pretty acceptable to me at least as retcons go. There’s a lot worth criticising in ME2 and 3 but (Kai Leng notwithstanding) I don’t think Cerberus’ role is one of them. I see them as a necessary humanised villainous faction and TiM is a perfect renegade mirror to paragon Shepard/Anderson. It wouldn’t be worth harming the underlying themes of the trilogy by reducing their significance, or removing them.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              and I’m yet to see any concrete rules set in 1 that suggest Cerberus in ME2 are impossible, improbable, or even unlikely.

              Sure,if you ignore that:
              In 1,cerberus is shown a few times,and not a single one of those times does it even begin to match the power it has in 2.Maaaaaybe it can rival the power of one of those corrupt corporations we see in 1,but not one of those is able to infiltrate the council,outspy the spy race,outmilitary the military race,outpsionic the psionic race and outtech in ai the race who invented the ai that terrorizes the whole galaxy.
              In 1,ai was shown to be not only outlawed,but requiring heavily regulated stuff thats next to impossible to get your hands on,yet cerberus not only manages to build TWO of them,but the second one they build even has a body that would pass for human.Worse,even though we are shown THREE examples of VI(less sophisticated than AI)going rogue in 1,because it was so easy to mess up,cerberus manages to make BOTH of their AIs perfectly loyal.
              In 1,everyone knows at least of the shadow broker,a major source of information,yet no one knows of cerberus,who somehow rivals the shadow broker in that field?
              In 1,it takes combined effort of TWO whole government,having resources and manpower pulled from a bunch of worlds in order to create normandy.And even then,having it be stealthed was a major issue requiring an uber powerful engine for such a small ship.Top of the line.Cerberus manages to make A BIGGER,STRONGER version of it in just two years,IN SECRET,and then as a cherry on top PLASTERS ITS LOGO ON IT.Worst of all,NO ONE CARES WHEN THEY SEE SUCH A SHIP,which is even more unique than the unique ship you get in 1.
              (even better,even though its specifically stated in 2 that normandy is too massive to land on a planet,the very first thing it does in 3 is land on a planet)
              Then there is the whole issue of tim being a massive morron,as seen in a bunch of missions.Especially the collector ship,as Shamus has explained at length in his series.

              But if you ignore all of that,I can see how nothing established in 1 contradicts the actions of cerberus in 2.

              the retcon is pretty acceptable to me at least as retcons go.

              And Im happy for you.For me,its not an acceptable retcon because I think it was done poorly.But thats just a matter of differing opinions.

              It wouldn’t be worth harming the underlying themes of the trilogy by reducing their significance, or removing them.

              During the Shamus’s articles on the game I have mentioned a bunch of ways in which these two couldve been made better while keeping the games mostly the same.My personal favorite:Make kai leng the protagonist of me2,then have you fight him in 3.This way,you get a much more sympathetic villain than what we got.There was zero reason for shepard to be the protagonist of all the games.And have tim operate as an actual terrorist in 2,with limited/stolen resources and from shadows,not with tech surpassing everyone in the galaxy and plastering his logo on everything.

    3. etheric42 says:

      I had heard about the Tuskegee Experiment before, but not about the US government intentionally infecting people with syphilis. I know it’s off-topic and tangential to your post, but could you drop me a link? I’d like to read about it.

      I think the comparison between Cerberus and ISIS is apt on some levels, but ISIS didn’t build their own weapons (aside from things like IEDs), they acquired them from either various states or sources who had acquired them from those states.

      Would it be interesting to have a sci-fi setting where you could 3d-print nearly everything and with a bit of effort get a military-grade (or starship-grade) 3d-printer. Maybe everything is printed out modularly and just assembled. Although there does seem to be some kind of fab technology in Mass Effect, it doesn’t seem to be to this extent. Would be an interesting setting though.

      1. Vinsomer says:

        I don’t know too much about the experiment other than it happened and was very unethical. I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you much beyond a simple google, but yes, governments doing awful things to their own citizens is nothing new and certainly not beyond space terrorists of the lawless future.

        I also don’t think Cerberus built everything they use. They have more manufacturing capability, because there’s a lot of dark space with either resources for the taking or hiding places for important facilities.

        Andromeda confirms that fabrication technology exists. They’re able to convert raw materials to functioning weapons without the need for factories.

      2. Viktor says:
        It’s questionable, though undoubtedly people ended up infected with syphilis who wouldn’t have if the US hadn’t lied to keep their subjects untreated.

        And you can already 3D print most of a drone. Or a gun. Once metal is easy, SOMEONE will figure out how to print a car, one panel at a time. And if you can print a car and a gun, you can do a tank.

      3. cassander says:

        That’s not what happened at tuskegee. Tuskegee recruited people who were infected with a disease at a time when there weren’t any really effective treatments for it, then monitored them as the disease got worse. 15 years after the experiment (experiment was a misnomer, really they were just monitoring people over time) started, effective treatments were developed, but the people in the experiment weren’t told about them. That’s clearly extremely unpleasant, and unethical for the doctors involved, but it’s worlds away from deliberately infecting people with a disease.

        1. Viktor says:

          Except that, of course, their wives and children ended up infected because the men were never treated. That sounds deliberate to me.
          Here’s a list of some of the other unethical medical experiments that we know about.

          1. Shamus says:

            We’ve gone WAY off topic here.

            The point I was making is that Cerberus routinely kills their own people. The experiments linked in this thread, while shocking and unethical, can’t hold a candle to what Cerberus did:

            * More often
            * To a vastly smaller population.
            * With more consistently catastrophic results.
            * With even more dubious scientific merit.

            The Cerberus equivalent of the Tuskegee study would be them deliberately giving it to an entire colony, watching it kill EVERYONE, then having the disease break free and kill the research staff, and in the end it’s not even clear what they wanted from the experiment even if it had been a success.

            Vinsomer offered these historical evens as a justification for Cerberus, but it doesn’t work because of the vastly different scales, which leads back to my original point that a fringe group can’t operate in the same weight class as a superpower.

    4. Daimbert says:

      That they were able to not only build the most advanced warship in the galaxy (Normandy SR2) but improve it hugely shows that they have both vast resources and shipbuilding capabilities. It would make less sense if they didn’t have a fleet.

      The problem is that Cerberus being able to build the Normandy SR2 itself strains credibility, so using it as an example to prove that they have to have the ability to build an entire fleet doesn’t really make things better. Shamus’ post in his Mass Effect series was about how hard it would be, on Earth, to build a simple DESTROYER class ship secretly and how much infrastructure and how many people that would take. Now, you can use the advantages of space to handwave them being able to build the Normandy SR2 in secret — although the more advance the technology the harder that is going to be because you’ll need access to specialized and likely rare components that lots of people keep track off — but that’s a far cry for having full-on shipyards that can produce lots of ships over a relatively small time period while keeping those facilities a secret.

      As for the comparison to ISIS, most groups like that get weapons by acquiring leftovers from governments or other sources. Even if Cerberus could do that without getting attention from Earth, buying old ships or acquiring them through other means still won’t work that well because in ME there’s another group that pays attention to that: the Quarians. If they suddenly noticed they had a lot of competition for ships, they’d try to figure out who was doing that, and would find Cerberus right away, and certainly would let anyone who wanted to go after them know about it, if for no other reason than to eliminate the competition.

      And Cerberus’ fleet didn’t seem to be of that sort anyway.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The worst thing about normandy is that it was a ship made by both humans and turians.So not only do they need advanced materials to make it,they need secret schematics from turian military as well.

        And its not that they focused only on building the second normandy,they developed a full ai AND resurrected shepard at the same time.So they did THREE impossible things IN SECRET,in the span of TWO YEARS.

        1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Cerberus considers aliens their enemies. More specifically, they would be ESPECIALLY distrustful of the three main Council races. Having spies in their operations would be a day one task. The Normandy SR2 actually points to something very specific: one of the human leads on the Normandy project was a Cerberus plant. If this was true, they would basically get all the information from both groups AND most likely have data from the SR1’s maiden voyages, which would be used to make the improvements later on. It would have been neat to have this be a discoverable fact (perhaps in the Shadow Broker DLC), but it logically checks out.

      2. Vinsomer says:

        In the ME universe, people can definitely build huge and advanced ships in secret.

        You know why? Who has the biggest fleet in the galaxy before the events of ME3?

        The Geth. Not humanity. Not the Turians. The Geth.

        The Geth, who haven’t been seen beyond the Perseus Veil in centuries, who only left the Veil (and, by extension the Terminus Systems) in the events of ME1 to attack humanity, and that was only half of them. They built the biggest fleet in the galaxy without anyone knowing. I’m pretty sure, if that’s the case, Cerberus can build a fleet without anyone knowing either (even though counterterrorist agents do, in fact, know that they’re amassing forces).

        The Terminus Systems are not Earth. They are not like Council space. They are a lawless land with no oversight. It’s established in ME1 that it’s a place where mercs, slavers, warlords, mad scientists, and yes, terrorists, flourish precisely because they can conduct whatever shady business they want to undetected. The Alliance wouldn’t actually want to build warships in secret because violating (or being seen to be violating) the Treaty of Farixen would lead to, at best, becoming political outcasts, a fate similar to the Batarians and something Anderson and Udina are eager to avoid pretty much from the first time you speak to them on the Citadel in ME1. At worst, it could lead to war, a war in which Humanity is vastly outgunned.

        1. Daimbert says:

          The Geth had centuries to build up their infrastructure, were immune from attack by the Veil, had advantages in generating new technology, and had access to a large number of natural resources because they could likely get them from the Veil or the planets to do it. They also had, once their infrastructure was established, an almost infinite amount of labour, and a labour force that had no interests other than doing what was best for the Geth. Cerberus didn’t have that natural place to hide, didn’t have a centuries established infrastructure, didn’t have as much time to build that fleet, and didn’t have access to as large a labour force as the Geth. The Geth are not a good example to use to explain what Cerberus might be capable of. The Geth, in the Veil, are easily self-sufficient; Cerberus is not.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Plus Sovereign was helping the Geth in ME1. They were his disposable army to help him lay the groundwork for the Reaper invasion.

            He indoctrinated/fooled them them, took them out to the middle of nowhere where other races coudn’t/wouldn’t go and spent centuries building up their forces.

            1. Vinsomer says:

              Sovereign helped half of them.

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Geth also dont need to eat,dont have families tying them to a planet from a council race,dont require years in raising and educating new workers,arent prone to getting ill or dying on a plethora of planets,dont require entertainment,…………

          3. Vinsomer says:

            ‘The Geth, in the Veil, are easily self-sufficient; Cerberus is not.’

            Why aren’t they?

            There are plenty of places to hide, plenty of planets with resources to mine or exploit, places where they can make food, and advanced artificers mean that weapon or ship production doesn’t have to rely on buying parts or dealing with other companies – and for everything else, there’s Illium. Cerberus has its own scientists and engineers who develop weapons such as the Talon. I mean, the Tempest in Andromeda can fabricate weapons, and it’s far smaller than even the Normandy SR1. You absolutely could, if you already had the resources and connections of TiM, set up a mostly self-sufficient, secretive operation in the Terminus Systems for whatever reason.

            It’s not like ships are handbuilt, either. They’re going to be produced my machines which are very similar to the geth. Cerberus have a knack for AI and a surprising amount of human colonies actually do like Cerberus. They aren’t hurting for recruits.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Why aren’t they?

              Because of all the reasons listed above.Primarily time.The availability of resources is not enough,you still need time to exploit them.Also,unlike geth,humans require nutritional resources as well,meaning food,clean water,and breathable air.All of those require a shipment of a lot of resources.All the startup colonies we saw in me1 required a lot of resources for just a handful of people.And cerberus had much more than just a handful.So they either couldve gotten all of those quickly by shipping it from somewhere else,which would not be secret,or they couldve gotten all of that stealthily,which would take decades.Neither of those two options is consistent with what was presented in me2,and especially me3.

        2. INH5 says:

          Forget centuries, the Geth started out with the leftover infrastructure of Quarian civilization, which had presumably been built up over millennia. Sure, there are mentions of WMDs beings used during the Morning War, but the mere fact that Rannoch is inhabitable in Mass Effect 3 indicates that a lot of stuff must have survived.

          If Cerberus had found an entire homeworld plus a bunch of off-world colonies and space stations that had very recently been abandoned by their former spacefaring inhabitants, and had been able to maintain exclusive control over them for two centuries then, yes, them building a galactic fleet and army would be pretty plausible. But nothing like that is even hinted in the games.

          Okay, there is the Collector Base, but Cerberus has an army and fleet in ME3 even if you destroy it.

  6. Tohron says:

    Now I can finally post an article link that the last thread was too big to draw attention to:

    Eric Prince is possibly a real-life inspiration for TIM, and the article details his attempts to create an (illegal) private air force by attaching armor and weapon mounts to a type of crop duster plane, then claiming to anyone who pried that since there weren’t weapons attached, they weren’t military planes (the plan had been to mount the weapons after moving them to whichever country they’d been hired by for mercenary work). The courts didn’t buy it.

    1. etheric42 says:

      Did that finally get resolved? Last I heard was in 2017 that it was still under consideration. I’ve been meaning to follow up but I haven’t seen any more recent links/coverage. It’s certainly a fascinating/weird story.

  7. Christopher Wolf says:

    Considering the size of the galaxy, and potentially unknown resources Cerebus’s reach is unlikely, but possible.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      And the fact that there’s Reapers rampaging around the galaxy as a massive distraction. In peacetime, Cerberus would have been found out and reduced to doing small-scale, idiotic experiments as in ME1* – but any organisations with the means to find them out are a bit busy trying to not be wiped from existence.

      – Also, another factor that can explain Cerberus’ reach and power is that they are just pawns for the Reapers, knowingly or not.
      How are they getting resources? The Reapers are flat-out handing them resources from the battlefield. And indoctrinated troops. Military intelligence. Helping transport them through space other races can’t venture into. Etc.
      They’re part of time-honoured Divide & Conquer tactics. Add in that TIM is to thick/indoctrinated to see that he’s being tricked – he genuinely think’s he’s tricking the Reapers, but he doesn’t know that the Crucible’s a trap as well.

      (If you like/know Warhammer 40k lore: think Genestealer Cults and the role they play in helping Tyranid Hive Fleets out, often as dupes.)

      Of course, this is well into Headcanon territory, and doesn’t make several other aspects of the game’s writing less shit…

      *To quote one of my favorite Shamus summaries: ME1 Cerberus feeds soldiers to a giant space worm to test the effects of feeding soldiers to a giant space worm.

      1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

        Cerberus seemed pretty well established by the time the Reapers invaded though. They were throwing entire fleets of warships and mechanized divisions around. There is just no way they managed to set up most of their infrastructure and build their ships and equipment that quickly.

        Maybe if they already had all their infrastructure established (and even then, you don’t just rush-build capital warships), but then that just moves the question to “how did they set up massive shipyards and arms factories without anyone noticing?”

        1. BlueHorus says:

          It also doesn’t explain how they built the new Normandy in secret, or set up the Lazarus project either – both expensive, difficult projects done well before the Reapers were around to help out.

          …does this mean Warhammer 40k fluff is better written than Mass Effect?

          1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

            Yes. Unfortunately.

  8. There’s also an excellent book on the subject, The Girls of Atomic City. Worth a look if you want more/some first-person accounts of what Oak Ridge was like.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      My uncle worked security there from the mid-seventies until the 2000s. I got to go visit in the 1990s. It’s a very interesting place. For the open house they let me play with some of the smaller robots, and they showed off the laser measuring device they use for extremely precise leveling. (They demonstrated how it could pick up a drop of ink on a ball bearing, and then they measured the distance between Lincoln’s arms on the back of a penny.) Didn’t get to see the nuclear stuff directly, but they talked about the research.

      According to my uncle, it’s a fairly normal place to work, it’s just filled with geeky researchers who periodically lose their keys -and given the classified nature of some of the research, that’s more of a problem than usual.

  9. Mr. Wolf says:

    Slightly disappointed this article was not about The Incredible Machine.

  10. Nesssus says:

    Sooooo… Wouldn’t that idea make Cerberus and TIM himself an overarching “rogue cell”?

    Rogue cell-ception?

    I mean, I guess you could argue he already is anyway, once you start wondering how much oversight/guidance/awareness his backers are implied to not have over him.

    1. TheJungerLudendorff says:

      Rogue Cell: Chaos Theory

  11. Retsam says:

    I didn’t comment at the time (though I think others made the same point), but I always thought that the argument in the original “TIM Island” was flawed, as I think it hinged on the argument: “you need a workforce on site to build the fleet, and it’s hard to keep a workforce like that secret”.

    But what if you didn’t need the workforce on site? When we build something in space, we’re not likely to ship a bunch of welders up to space (not with at our current prices for getting stuff into orbit, at least), we’re going to send drones up and have people controlling them remotely. It’s much harder to do over distance (as time-delay becomes a factor), but Mass Effect relays allow for FTL communication, so it’s not impossible. You don’t need to bring your workforce on site and deal with things like sanitation or wifi or anything else mentioned in the the post.

    And what if you didn’t need the workforce at all? We’re already hitting a point at our society where were starting to wonder whether “skilled labor” as a concept will still be relevant in a few decades, and we know that the Mass Effect universe has much more sophisticated AI than we do. Perhaps you can just fire an AI controlled drone at a planet with rich resources and it starts playing singleplayer Factorio until it’s able to spit out a working starship.

    This isn’t really a defense of this specific plot point of the Mass Effect 3 story: it was on the writer to give a satisfying explanation of where Cerberus’s fleet came from, and they (at least as far as Shamus is concerned) didn’t. But the specific TIM Island illustration itself seemed like it missed the mark, to me.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Except nothing of those was shown in Mass Effect universe.And we did see colonies that are in early stages of development being populated by flesh and blood workers.

    2. Shamus says:

      Well, if you’re willing to come up with post-hoc justifications for events in the story, then I don’t think you’ll ever have a problem with plot holes in any story.

      Like I said in the follow-up post:

      “If you want, you can absolutely make a universe where ten people can build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Just make up some science-magic and make it part of your world. Make sure the audience knows what the rules are.”

      The original game knew that travelling faster than light was a fantastical idea, so they made up this stuff called “Eezo” and built all their science-magic around it. But the ME3 writer never explained to us how a small group of people were able to exert military power on a galactic scale. Worse, they didn’t even realize this was the sort of thing that required lampshading. “Where are they getting all these ships?”

      1. Retsam says:

        I’m not defending Mass Effect 3’s writing here. Like I just said, “it was on the writer to give a satisfying explanation, and they [apparently] didn’t”. (My hedging there is because I haven’t played or watched ME3)

        But if you’re already going to go as far as to entertain a hypothetical TIM Island as a possible “post-hoc justification”, then I think in the context of the established technology of the Mass Effect universe, a realistic version of TIM Island includes automation, which makes the whole situation a lot more plausible.

        Perhaps the disagreement is that you consider automation to be “science-magic” (i.e., something necessary to be explicitly introduced into the setting), but I see some level of automation to be an inevitable part of space infrastructure. Setting up a thought experiment in which a future society builds a space ship without automation felt a little like a thought experiment about building a car without assembly lines or interchangeable parts. To me, automation and advanced construction techniques is just something that I assume comes with the territory of a space-faring civilization, just like oddly colored drinks and questionable fashion choices.

        Again, I don’t think it addresses the fundamental point of “the game doesn’t explain any of this”, but speaking within the constraints of the thought experiment, I feel that automation should have been on the table as a possibility.

        1. Viktor says:

          Let’s dial back the detail here. Cerberus is smaller than the Alliance, right? Every human is a part of the Alliance, not every human is part of Cerberus. And even as an employer, if Cerberus has vacuumed up anywhere near as many workers as a military force, the economists would take notice. The Alliance gets its money from taxing every human in the universe, Cerberus is funded as a pet project for wealthy racists. So the Alliance has more money than Cerberus. And Cerberus has to operate in secret, on unexplored worlds far from mass relays or by paying bribes to local govts to ignore them, while the Alliance as a government has massive negotiating power.
          So how does Cerberus have any ability to build on the scale of the Alliance? They have less money and stuff is more expensive for them. Sure, maybe automation means that 10 dudes and a robot can make a frigate, but if that’s the case, the Alliance would have roughly a million frigates, so Cerberus would still be much smaller and weaker than them.
          Fundamentally, there’s no way a secret terrorist organization should be fielding an army. Yes, non-nations have built armies IRL, but they’ve done so publicly, and even then their equipment is generally the stuff that any member of the public could buy, such as armored jeeps, assault weapons, and explosives, but not F-16s or aircraft carriers. Because those are difficult and obvious to build, and governments pay their intel agencies a lot of money to keep weapons like that in as few hands as possible.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            In Mass Effect 1 and 2, Cerberus does not have an army, they have highly trained operatives in small numbers. In 3, where their army appears, it is revealed in that game that the source is a mix of their existing operatives and unwilling civilians, both of whom were controlled with horrible Reaper tech. Their “fleet” is defeated in a single battle by ONE of the THREE Earth battle fleets, so I don’t think its size is ridiculously overblown either.

        2. Xeorm says:

          I’d think as well any explanation for Cerberus would need to both explain why they have ships and explain it in such a way as why others don’t. Automation making shipbuilding easy and straightforward enough that even a covert organization can build them is possibly believable. That the other militaries don’t have mass numbers of ships from easy automation is the next issue.

          1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

            Established governments are following Council laws to only build a certain amount of ships to prevent a Cold War situation. Rogue terrorist groups would obviously not follow these laws (and their fleet isn’t that large to begin with, see comment above).

  12. Miguk says:

    They may have kept Oak Ridge secret from the Germans, but not from the Soviets. It really says more about the ineffectiveness of the German intelligence services than anything else. I don’t know off the top of my head if the Soviets had any agents inside Oak Ridge itself, but they had several at Los Alamos who at least knew that there was another facility that was using gaseous diffusion to produce uranium-235 for a bomb. The security at Oak Ridge might have kept the details of exactly how the process worked secret, but it failed to hide that the facility existed.

  13. GoStu says:

    I’m willing to forgive Cerberus a lot of things in the name of being interesting bad guys. I think a lot could have been explained/set up in Mass Effect 2 had there been more human colonies beyond the traverse. My favourite idea is that Cerberus helps found a lot of those colonies because it closes a lot of holes.

    > What does Cerberus stand for?
    Cerberus advances humanity’s interests. They found a lot of these colonies ‘off the grid’ because they disagree with aliens telling humanity not to grow or settle.

    > Where does Cerberus get their support?
    Human groups who believe in that mission. As Cerberus has helped found these colonies, a lot of their newer recruits come from Cerberus-founded ‘off the grid’ colonies. Many feel very loyal because “without Cerberus, I would never have been born”

    > Where does Cerberus get their stuff?
    Some of these colony worlds are a couple decades old. Not only are they producing adults who grew up in Cerberus worlds, they’re starting to build up to heavier industry. Because the Council doesn’t know exactly where they are, they’re hard to stomp out. Decades ago, supplies for settlers were logged as passing through various relays, but from there they went to points unknown.

    1. Trystan de Lyonesse says:

      The problem is, that in your scenario Cerberus turns into quasi-state and can’t be secret anymore.

      “Off the grid” colonies are founded by people who want to get away from government, bureaucracy and big politic. Why should they support some radical organization and especially serve in its military? Whole population of the colony should be idealistic and have the same political ideology to support Cerberus, it’s possible for one colony, not for multiple. And more than that, children of original colonist should be the same, that possible even less.

      And about supplies. I believe there is such thing called customs. All equipment and supplies bought somewhere should pass it. And while farming equipment, basic building materials and other common goods hauled to random_planet_name won’t bring law enforcement interest towards them, military grade items and industrial equipment will do. Even if not, there are still logs where vessel goes and crew that can be questioned. Yes, officials can be bribed, or supportive towards Cerberus, so a few or even a lot of shipments will reach their destination, but location won’t be secret.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        This literally happened in the US before Independence (I live in a city that proudly boasts a founding date that means we were totally an illegal settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains.) And they were, by and large, fond of any organization that would tell the British to shove it. And later, anyone who would tell the USA to take their whiskey tax and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

        This renders Cerberus roughly as secret as, say, the Sons of Liberty and the Jeffersonian Republicans.

      2. Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Keep in mind, when you reach the lawless regions of space you go through in ME2, Cerberus ISN’T particularly a secret. Shepard often namedrops them in conversation and the person you’re talking with will go “oh shit” or they’ll accuse you of being with Cerberus right from the start of the conversation.

      3. GoStu says:

        Re: Customs

        Well, some kind of supplies are heading towards Cerberus… but where, exactly? After they pass the last relay on the trip, it’s basically “somewhere within reach of conventional FTL in some direction”. As far as the setting goes, that’s hard enough to find to be plausible to remain unfound.

        As far as ‘industrial’ equipment: any colony is going to need it to be self-sufficient. Anything to shape and form metals, and possibly some electronics. While I’ll agree on general principle that they shouldn’t have warship-constructing drydocks or anything, it’d makes sense for the infantry-heavy operations we see Cerberus do. They fly civilian-pattern ships to deliver people in secret, but small arms/infantry equipment somewhere, and then do their business.

        Eventually, I think they should manage maybe some second-rate bombers and the like. Something that won’t stand toe-to-toe with the Alliance’s best, but that can bombard lightly armed/armoured targets.

        Re: Anarchy

        Oh I’m quite sure you could persuade a quasi-captive population to serve in your military. They grew up on a Cerberus colony, out of contact with humanity as a whole. If they know anything, it’s that the Alliance “wouldn’t have let them be born” and “would side with aliens” or a whole generation’s worth of propaganda.

  14. wswordsmen says:

    I actually mentioned this on the TIM island post, knowing about this. The biggest difference isn’t the size of the operation or the time frame, it is the fact the government does it, because as you mentioned in TIM Island the tax man will always follow the money. It isn’t illegal to fudge numbers on your tax forms if the government you are paying taxes to is the one ordering you to alter them.

  15. Sunshine says:

    One significant difference for the “to be fair” mitigations: the TIM Island post depicts COBRA rolling up to an uninhabited island and building an industrial economy without anyone noticing, even though they’re of great interest to law enforcement and intelligence. This is the US government building a town in the US for government business, which is far less suspicious and easier to pass as mundane.

  16. INH5 says:

    Like someone said in a comment to the original TIM Island post, considering that the backstory of the Systems Alliance had it being set up as a literal alliance jointly funded by multiple independent countries on Earth, a good backstory for Cerberus would have it as a sort of Shadow Alliance, covertly funded by some of those countries who weren’t totally onboard with the Alliance’s public goals and wanted a deniable asset to pursue their own secret agenda. Real life human governments do this sort of thing all the time, and it would easily answer questions like where their money comes from (it is collected as tax revenue and sent to Cerberus cells through various forms of money laundering), how they can recruit highly skilled personnel (they’re recruited and trained on Earth and then sent out into space under various cover stories), and how they get their hands on military hardware (anything that they can’t make themselves or buy on the black market is secretly manufactured on Earth/in the Sol System by their sponsors and smuggled to Cerberus bases).

    For a real life example of this sort of thing, Hezbollah has tens of thousands of soldiers, more rocket artillery than many countries, thousands of anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship weapons, multiple (admittedly several decades old) armored ground vehicles, and even several UAVs. Compared to that, the armament of the Cerberus troops that you fight in Mass Effect 3 actually seems pretty reasonable.

    But all of that being said, a full-scale space navy is still pretty implausible under this scenario. Capital warships, in both the ME universe and real life, are really expensive to manufacture, almost impossible to smuggle unnoticed, and for a non-state actor would draw more attention than they’re worth. If I was writing it, I would have Cerberus’s “navy” mostly consist of civilian ships with hidden weapons bolted on. Not enough to stand up to the navy of any government, but enough to perform hit and run attacks on remote colonies and other soft targets. The sort of thing that modern pirates would probably use if the existence of satellites didn’t require their “motherships” to be camouflaged as unarmed civilian ships at all times.

    A lot of other stuff would still have to be changed to make Ceberus work, of course, but I think the basic concept is salvageable.

  17. Robbert Ambrose B. Stopple says:

    Ah yes Cerberus, to me the core problem with them is that they’re supposed to be human fringe organization in a universe were humans are supposed to be relative newcomers. As such the decision to elevating them to such a status were they outperform the established powers when it comes to technology and intelligence is a very questionable one.

    Ironically Mass Effect could have made the point that humans are special as an excuse for all the stunts Cerberus pulls. Within the context of the established universe that would be a valid, if very lame explanation. And as for why the Alliance doesn’t quite make it Cerberus level of omnipotence, well they’re conforming to much to the Aliens so they aren’t able to realize humanity’s full potential.

    As amazingly dumb as the above reasoning is, it could potentially have been a valid excusee for all the antics TIM and Cerberus pull in second and third games. Actually some of this is allready present in the games, hidden in of TIM’s dialogue lines, particularly towards the end of the third game. Going all-in on this Humans are special might have paradoxically actually made things better than they are now.

  18. Craig Kingsley says:

    Another one you might look up – the Taffy group in the Battle of Samar, a naval battle in WWII.

    To sum up, a very large Japanese battle group fooled a very large US battle group into thinking they’d gone another way, so that the only thing between the Japanese fleet and the US forces landing on an island nearby, who would have been sitting ducks, were three small task groups, called Taffy 1, Taffy 2, and Taffy 2.

    The Japanese had four battleships, eight cruisers, and eleven destroyers, versus six escort carriers, three destroyers, and four destroyer escorts. Escort carriers carried few planes, and were pretty well intended to only for antisubmarine patrols, and none of the US ships were equipped to fight against surface ships, much less battleships – one of which was the Yamato.

    Here’s the wiki page. Long story short, the Taffy 4 went all Mama doe on the Japanese ships, and managed to drive them off.

  19. PPX14 says:

    I was surprised when I saw just how many people were involved in the project a little while ago. It is now my go-to example of how ridiculous the premise is in films of one person inventing and creating weapons or technology on this level. (Which was why I looked it up in the first place!)

    Since then I have seen Black Panther which has informed me otherwise. A whole country’s R&D and engineering can indeed be led and implemented by one 15 year old.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Even in black panther,she is just the head of r&d,with a bunch of underlings and a plethora of advanced tech available to her.Its far more implausible that tony stank managed to make a nano suit for himself,with tech far inferior to what wakanda has.

      And depending on the tech itself,its not that ridiculous for a single person to invent and design an advanced piece of tech.Its getting the correct tools and materials thats the biggest hurdle.Especially if the tools you need arent already available but have to be made from scratch as well.In the case of the manhattan project,plants for enriching uranium did not exist,so they had to be built from scratch before any bomb couldve been built.Those alone were cutting edge at the time.

      1. PPX14 says:

        That’s sort of what I mean – I don’t deny that the theoretical or even lab scale design is beyond individuals, but the practical implementation. (Edit: I take your point on the level of fabrication tech available, I guess we can 3D print guns nowadays) And gosh yes, it’s that image of someone like Tony Stark fabricating such a suit in his lab from basic materials. (I haven’t read the comics at all, I’ve just seen the recent Black Panther film which seemed comically to show she was a one-woman Q-branch as well as the entire industrial sector of wakanda haha, I’m sure that’s not what it meant. Or maybe Vibranium is just that great)

        On a vaguely related note, I feel I have to present the Wakanda challenge:

        Come up with 5 better names than Vibranium within 60 seconds.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But vibranium sounds so cool.Why would you want to rename it?And it vibrates,so its an apt name.

          Or maybe Vibranium is just that great

          Vibranium IS just that great.Basically it allowed wakanda to leave everyone else way behind technologically.Though it still required more than just one person to build all of the stuff they have.And its not a finished thing,because they are still inventing and building new things.

        2. SKD says:


        3. TheJungerLudendorff says:


  20. Lyoker says:

    Hey All! Long time reader, first time poster.
    Just re read the great series on mass effect, and I have an experiment that might only slightly be off topic here: (wall of text incoming, beware)

    How would mass effect 2 change, if Harbringer was working against the other Reapers?
    Specifically, by wanting to control them.

    He could have come up with the idea of the crucible, but he had problems. Despite working for millions of years he couldn’t make it work on a purely synthetic basis – he, found he needed the right organic parts. While he was doing his dayjob reaping, he started collecting his first experiments: the protheans. They were an intriguing study but not quite right, they even deteriorated into the collectors under him.

    But when the other reapers went back to sleep, he stayed behind to continue his experiments and to lay a trap for his brothers. He helped the protheans sabotage the citadel so the Reapers would arrive late, tired, disoriented and easier to control. Experiment wise the first race were the asari, who were barely developed then but remember him in their religion, even enshrining his first scanning beacon (that was searching for the right biological makeup) in a huge statue and worshipping it. He continued with other races, but they were evolving, becoming nuisances, and if combined, even a threat for a lone reaper. He needed to move in the shadows and wanted to continue his experiments on the newest race: humans.

    Enter TIMmy – a leader of an aliance black ops unit looking to advance humanity – at any cost. Their alliance is mutually beneficial – Cerberus helps and even conducts Harbringers seemingly unfathomable experiments and they get technology undreamed of (reaper and prothean combined). They quickly establish themselves through indoctrination and overwhelming technological advantage (though very few know of the real source) and TIM even finds out Harbringers real plan: complete the crucible and control the reapers. He likes this idea immensely – he just wants humanity to be the one in charge.

    There are only two things in the way: Harbringer itself and the main person looking to stop the reapers from even getting here (thereby preventing the dominance of humans) Shepard. He convinces Harbringer that the perfect candidate for a biological part of the crucible is Shepard – he is the only one who had extensive contact with prothean tech and it merged well with him- the other parts might merge as well. He only needs “slight reconfiguration”. The collectors attack the ship and get their target – he is reconstructed into one of the main parts of the crucible – the one that understands and relays orders. Some of the reanimation team on lazarus do find out they’re working with reaper tech and revolt, but they are quickly put down when shepard awakens.

    Harbringer is still not certain, he needs to test whether his changes deteriorate Shepard like the Collectors, but the results are promising so he starts collecting more test subjects. TIM assures him he will send Shepard after the Collectors, so Harbringer can see him in action. Any time Shepard is on the field Harbinger assumes control and bombards him with questions – Do you feel pain Shepard? Are you scared?

    It is time for Harbringer to collect Shepard: he lays his trap and orders TIM to have Shepard walk into it – but when the trap is about to spring he finds that TIM has laid his own – Cerberus strike teams had boarded on stealth ships, disabled him and are heading in for the kill. The collectors fight them off, but in the confusion Shepard and his team escape.

    Harbringer tries one more time to capture shepard on the normandy – only to fail. He is enraged and scared: he retreats and orders TIM to send Shepard and ONLY his ship to him. Others he won’t let through the relay.

    Though this is plan B, TIM has been preparing even this in advance. He made the best ship he could, took pains to fill it with the best crew(though some did get abducted), and an AI made from Reaper tech. He knows Harbringers layout, he has selected the perfect team that fits on the normandy but is so small in number to seem non threatening. He has prepared a trial run – he sends them to a “dead reaper” that he constructed to look exactly like a Reaper internally and filled it with opponents. It also gives them a fig leaf excuse why this would let them get through the relay without revealing his plans.

    Shepard goes through the relay and Plan B succeeds. Shepard defeats the new experiments (even the reaper-human hybrid Harbringer would have had to become to control the Reapers) but when EDI scans Harbringer she finds human compatible equipment and messages from Cerberus explaining everything including the crucible.

    (It definitely wouldn’t be the cthullu mistery, but dumb “drama first” action schlock)

    Wall of text over.

    To link back to the post above:

    I believe this TIM might have better recruitment:
    It is the apocalipse, and your leaders don’t have a clue what to do!
    We offer you superior technology!
    We offer you a goal to not just survive, but come out on top!
    We offer you the hate and blame figures of all aliens (aliens are killing us, we hate them, join us!)
    We have charismatic leaders (indoctrination)!

    Thank you for your time, and I am interested in the responses of the community.

  21. Jabberwok says:

    I always assumed that Cerberus was comparable in size (though perhaps better funded) to the various other mercenary groups we faced in the games, and it was just a series of very lame coincidences that we ran into them so much.

    I never ever understood why the third game dropped Harbinger from the story almost completely. The second game clearly set him up as the main villain going forward. Maybe they just needed to get their money’s worth out of Martin Sheen.

    1. Zekiel says:

      A series of lame coincidences? In a Mass Effect game!?

      I too find it rather frustrating that Harbinger just vanished (up until the very end of ME3). I guess it is probably that they decided TIMmy was a more charismatic and interesting villain (which to be fair I suppose he was).

      1. Jabberwok says:

        I definitely preferred Harbinger, and not only because he made sense as the story’s villain. TIM got a little unsettling toward the end, but never had the oomph that I want from my villains. The reapers were fun because they were inscrutable. And Harbinger was a weird mix, because he was like the head of a pantheon of omnipotent gods who didn’t give two craps about humanity, yet he somehow still had a personal vendetta against Shepard. That worked pretty well for me by the end of 2. Seems like they could have done some more interesting stuff with that and the mechanics of indoctrination.

        Maybe a couple super-assassins channeling Harbinger’s hatred of Shepard, instead of that stupid Cerberus guy with the sword.

        The Illusive Man was like the Jabba the Hut of villains. Harbinger was a Vader or an Emperor Palpatine.

        Also, they clearly thought it was a good idea to have a face-to-face showdown with a reaper in the third game. But they also figured it should be a rando, instead of our actual self-declared nemesis?

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Harbinger gets my vote too, just because he lacks the ‘author’s pet character’ vibe I get from TIM.

          Remember,TIM is the super-genius leader of a terrorist organization – who’s default response to any situation is to send in armies of cannon-fodder mooks to shoot everyone.
          They go in shooting, in order to help capture civilians alive for indoctrination.
          They use spies to infiltrate the Citadel and then murder said spies during a messy, unsuccessful coup attempt.
          They regularly send scientist to die/get ghoulifiacted while researching at reaper tech.
          Etc. He is just not as smart or cool as the game wants you to think he is.

          Meanwhile, Harbinger’s a big dumb bully with terrible dialogue* – but his plan was simple, straightforward, and fit the already established story. And he was never portrayed as anything other than a big, dumb Bad Guy.

          *THIS HURTS YOU

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Hmm. So ‘Awaiting Moderation’ means ‘we’ll hide your response long enough for you to write it out again and then post both’?

            Good to know.

            1. Shamus says:

              “Awaiting moderation” means it won’t show up until I manually approve it. I check the site pretty regularly during the day, but if you get sent to moderation jail while I’m asleep or otherwise occupied, then you’re in for a long wait.

              And of course, your comment had no reason to be placed into moderation. Meanwhile, a commenter with a link to a piracy site left this comment…

              “There is certainly a great deal to learn about this
              issue. I like aall of the points you’ve made.”

              …on an ancient post, using text I’ve previously marked as spam, and the moderation logic let it through.

              It’s really frustrating how BAD the spam detection is.

              1. BlueHorus says:

                Fair enough. We’re in different time zones, so…

                Either way, either one of these comments (the one above yours or the one above that – preferably the one above – could stand to be deleted, since they say the same thing.

          2. Jabberwok says:

            Mr. Btongue made the point in his ME video that the reaper’s worked because they were simple. They had an obvious goal, and didn’t need complex motivations. They’re evil because they’re evil. Harbinger embodied that pretty well, even in his goofier moments. On the other hand, TIM seems like a guy they stuck in the series cause they wanted a mysterious guy (probably watched too much X-Files), but they didn’t actually know what he was for.

            I can imagine a much worse version of Return of the Jedi, where we get a bunch of lengthy conversations where the Emperor tries to justify taking over the galaxy and blowing up planets with some lame philosophizing. But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted maniacal laughter. It’s a space opera. Save the conflict for the good guys, not the world-ending force of nature they’re up against.

            1. Zekiel says:

              Yes – the Reapers goals were simple AND their motivations were mysterious (until the end). While that was true, they were reasonable adversaries. Once the Star Child revealed their motivations, they fell apart.

              1. Jabberwok says:

                I’m pretending the third game doesn’t exist.

              2. BlueHorus says:

                I’d disagree with that. I think the Reaper’s motivations, while being dumb, stupid, and badly told, do hold together.

                Once upon a time, there was a race of creatures (who were idiots) that were obsessed with the problem of Synthetics ‘inevitably’ killing the Organics that made them. So they made an AI* to try and solve it.
                The AI, being written by idiots to solve a non-problem, promptly broke and decided that killing all organics periodically was the ‘solution’. It started with its own creators; cue the cycle.

                In better hands, this could have been portrayed as a tragic, self-fulfilling prophecy:
                the race created the very problem they were afraid of and destroyed themselves.
                (Consider the bit in ME1 where you find the Vigil VI – a section where you find the last record of a race that knows it’s doomed itself through its own obsession could be quite touching, done well.)

                Sadly the writers gave the Reapers an annoying superiority complex and condescending manner, implying there was some grand plan when there…just wasn’t.
                Imagine if the talk with the Star Child just featured it glitching out and repeating ‘no, this is the solution’ or ‘ERROR’ to every argument. The player would think ‘oh, I need to shut this thing down’ rather than ‘fuck you and the shit you’re talking, you condescending ghost.’

                It’s still a stupid story, badly told. But as Shamus said at some point: I’ll take ‘tired cliche’ over ‘utter nonsense’ if I have to.

                *Why an AI of all things? See ‘idiots’, above.

  22. Daimbert says:

    I think that Cerberus can’t be all three of these things at the same time: powerful, secret, and hated.

    If they were more clearly entwined with the Alliance, then a number of problems go away. If the Alliance was willing to secretly send them some weapons and plans, then how they get those things secretly is easier to understand. If high ranking Alliance officials were on their side, then they wouldn’t have to keep things as secret because those high ranking officials could discourage investigations into them. As long as the Council say them as mainly an internal human threat, they weren’t going to be likely to make any kind of move on them or send Spectres to figure out what they’re up to. And starting from a base of resources from the Alliance would allow them to build up some extra, secret resources, which would help explain why they could end up with a strength greater than the Alliance anticipated, which would make them a larger threat than anyone knew, as they could then simply pick up extra troops and industrial capacity from “off the books” colonies and the like.

    But if they were hated, everyone would be out looking for any sign of them. If that was happening, then it would be far too difficult for them to build up to the level of technology and power that they had. Sure, the Reapers could be supporting them, but the game never establishes that, and so we are left with no explanation for how Cerberus got to be what it was in ME2 and ME3.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      A Cerberus that was supported by indoctrinated members of the Alliance could have been interesting. Maybe that could have helped tie the Cerberus and Reaper sections of the game together into a single finale with both enemy types, instead of just finishing off one plot before heading to the other.

  23. Redrock says:

    I think I wrote something to that effect under the original TIM Island, but the way I see it, most space sci-fi works have a problem with scale. That’s one of the things we suspend our disbelief on. Why do most planets have only one settlement? How many people live in the galaxy? And the old favorite, what do they eat? Or, perhaps, what exactly are the existing planet and system scanning capabilities and countermeasures? In most space sci-fi settings, including Mass Effect, the galaxy isn’t as easily and tightly controlled as the planet is today. The relative size of a naval dreadnaught to the planet Earth isn’t comparable to the relative size of a space dreadnaught to the Milky Way. At least, that’s the impression I usually get. I feel like in most cases comparative resources are very poorly established in such settings. So singling out Cerberus always seemed weird to me. Cerberus is a narrative mess in many ways, but this particular aspect gets a pass in my book.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I think it’s a matter of Plot Collapse: if you trust the writer/like the story, you’ll let this kind of stuff slide. We didn’t need to see the farms on Eden Prime or Zhu’s Hope; there’s a whole functioning galaxy out there, the ships and food and anything else are just made…elsewhere. I don’t think about it, but I assume the writers have.

      And then Cerberus just happened to take the limelight at the same time as the writing changed.
      So much of what they do is just implausible or contradictory. It’s a secret terrorist organization, but someone’s still stenciled the Cerberus logo onto the Normandy Mk2 and the back of Jacob’s jacket. TIM’s a super-genius, but he acts like he got his CEO training from Umbrella Inc.
      Sure, you can ask the same difficult questions about other aspects of the game’s setting, but you might not think to until the problems are thrust into your face.
      Cerberus are one of the biggest signs of the writers in ME2/3 no longer thinking anything through/giving a shit.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Unlike many other space settings,mass effect has controlled choke points that everyone has to use if they want to move anywhere in a reasonable amount of time.So while it is possible to be secretive while doing some small scale shady stuff,as long as you grease the right wheels,amassing an army to rival the council races would be easily spotted and crushed.Otherwise,why would saren have had to smuggle geth in boxes instead of whizzing around with their fleet following him?

      1. Jabberwok says:

        I always thought those were sort of a bad idea. Seems to cause all sorts of conceptual problems in any science fiction setting, once you start thinking about the implications of jump gates/points. How could anyone in ME3 have avoided the Reapers while needing to use the relays to get around? The Normandy, maybe, being some sort of crazy stealth ship, but I’m not sure how they managed to assemble an army of any size.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Bad writing is how they managed to do anything.

        2. TheJungerLudendorff says:

          Because the Reapers were holding a Poker Night at Earth for most of ME3 and went on a drunken rampage around the galaxy.

          When they woke up from their hangover, they just ganked the Citadel in a slightly embarrased manner.

  24. Hamilcar says:

    Huh. You’re the second internet person I’ve found who never heard of Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project. I always thought it was common history knowledge. Guess I’m the odd one out. I was homeschooled, so my knowledge base would be different from most people’s anyway.

    About large amounts of people keeping major things secret:

    One thing I often hear as a counter-argument to conspiracy theories is “There is no way that many people can keep such a thing secret for that long!” Two problems with this: 1. We’re already talking about it, so the possibility that you are correct and it was diviluged is there. 2. Government and military keeping things secret happens all the time. This secret city is probably the biggest example. Think of it this way: Military bases are literally cities. They have their own zip-code and the base is the city in a mailing address. These places are huge. On any one base, are thousands of soldiers with security clearances and doing classified things. And you will never know about it. Another good example: The Sr-71 Blackbird still holds the record for the fastest airplane. This was back in 1976. Do you really think we haven’t topped that yet? Another example: The X-37B. It was in orbit for two years, and nobody knew. And now it has landed been secreted away again. Nobody knows what it does or what it was doing in space. We don’t know if it’s just surveillance or not. For all we know, this thing could be a space based weapon. The military and government are REALLY good at keeping secrets.

  25. JBC31187 says:

    I don’t think more details would have saved canon!Cerberus. The only way to salvage this mysterious NGO superpower with bullshit plot powers is to re-write them. So, my take:

    Cerberus is an actual government: Maybe not the actual ruling power, but a black-ops group created by non-Systems Alliance humans. Now they have a budget, and bases, and cannon fodder. Where do they get their wonderful, better-than-everyone-else’s toys? Still a little bullshit, but you could say that Cerberus’s is running a Noveria-style skunkworks, where any sleazy corporation can vivisect biotics and make Nuka-Cola so long as Cerberus gets a slice. If I recall correctly, the Codex mentions that other species have governments separate from the Council races, it’s just those on the Council have enough funds and firepower to qualify as superpowers.

    If Cerberus is a human government separate from the Alliance, now you have a legitimate reason for the Citadel to sit on their hands in MA2: The Alliance doesn’t do shit for kidnapped colonists because they’re not Alliance citizens. In fact, they are anti-Alliance, and anti-Citadel, and there are a number of isolationist warships between any sympathetic Citadel investigation and the attacked colonies. The Citadel may not even realize how bad the situation is, if the Cerberus government is censoring it.

    So, my attempt at a backstory thrown together just now:

    About 100+ years ago (I really hate the thirty-year time frame) Humanity discovered the Prothean Cache on Mars. They ran off to deep space, formed separate nations, and began squabbling with each other over living space, money, and everything else, conveniently explaining why a thirty-year old nation has a fleet on par with the Citadel nations. The Systems Alliance is one nation of several, and may not be the largest human nation at the time, but they are the ones who drive off the Turians during the First Contact War. While the Alliance is busy chasing after a Council seat, three of the more xenophobic human nations form Cerberus (you could even say the Alliance is one of them, trying to build ties with the rest of humanity just like they’re doing with the Turians and the Normandy project). And now the first game happens. Eventually, MA2 happens, and Cerberus abducts human hero Shepard to help them stop the Collectors, because Cerberus is still incompetent and friendless and they’re getting their asses kicked. (Instead of CURING DEATH, why not try to brainwash Shepard and fail because they’re Cerberus? It would explain your return to level one. And a bomb in your ass would explain why you stick around, and why you pretend to care about what Miranda says).

    So, Cerberus now has resources, personnel, and a base to build their stealth ship. It’s still a stretch, but it’s not like they’re building it from whole cloth. Cerberus just needs some sympathizers and turncoats in the Alliance military. Now the Citadel and the Alliance has a reason to not give a shit when Collectors show up: it’s a Cerberus problem, and Cerberus are poor neighbors and d-bags. And every Citadel race has even more reason to resent the humans: humans are a fractured race, constantly fighting each other, and yet they’re whining about a seat on the Council.

  26. Ness says:

    So like section 31 in DS9?

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