A Matter Of Vorlons: an examination by: GF Willmetts

January 29, 2017 | By | 8 Replies More

Who are you?

  Re-watching ‘Babylon 5’ last year, I’m directed some of my attention to the Vorlons. Of all the alien species, only they are privy to the current history that will lead to the third age of mankind as supplied by Commander Jeffrey Sinclair in his guise as Valen. Unlike his successor, Captain John Sheridan, Sinclair had no reason not to trust the Vorlons and having them on his side cemented his relationship with the Minbari when they discovered Babylon 4 a thousand years into the past. Sinclair is unlikely to have held anything back from the Vorlons simply because he knew they were instrumental in the future and knowing that they would mostly observe than take direct action was also completing a temporal loop but that’s for later.

The nature of this article is to look at their actions or inactions when involved. Underlying all of this is whether or not Sinclair/Valen would have told them everything voluntarily or did they use telepaths or other means to get the information of the future. Likewise, would the Vorlons see the need to follow the time-line or attempt to change things more in their favour. After all, in that time, they were warring against the Shadows and their associates. Knowing that they would win this war no doubt assured them that they would win the next, even if they didn’t know the result yet. Even for a species as alien as the Vorlons, knowing where certain actions would lead would be working with a stacked deck of cards. They all needed to ensure that Sinclair returned to the past or none of this would be possible, so up to that point his recount of our time had to be sustained. As was discovered much later, they knew periodically they would be at war with the Shadows with whatever alien species they could garner to their side. Something even Sinclair/Valen didn’t have the answers for.

Of course, this is as much an analysis of J. Michael Straczynski’s mind and plotting for five seasons with a heavy dose of after-thought analysis knowing where the story was going. In many respects, however, this is an examination of the subtext because the Vorlons rarely talked in anything but oblique sentences, let alone in a way that makes sense so we can only go by their actions. I’m using episode names for identifiers and if you haven’t seen the ‘Babylon 5’ series there are spoilers. For those who have seen it, you might want to watch again.

Top of this list was for the Vorlons to disappear from view and any actions done through surrogates and agents as they needed to monitor what was going on for nearly a thousand years. All the other elder species had already left but they knew they would remain. This was also kept hidden from Sinclair/Valen as it was deemed wouldn’t interfere with the time-line. As Sinclair had to indicate, no one in our present had seen a Vorlon, contrary to his arrival one thousand years in the past when two Vorlons showed their true appearance to the Minbari who obviously knew who and what they were. For them to believe Sinclair/Valen from the start would indicate a missed scene where they put things together before the Minbari arrived. One would have to wonder at the Vorlon manipulation to ensure that no one remembered their true appearance but would remember their more, shall we say, ‘angelic’ forms across the various species. The fact there was no one of this sort with the Centauri does tend to suggest that they’d already given up on them and didn’t even bother to observe them, at least not in their true forms.

In the present, as seen in ‘In The Beginning’, they restored their links to Dukhat, leader of the Minbari, aware that no one believed that another galactic war was imminent. After all, this was an established future for them from a thousand years ago.

The poisoning of Kosh in ‘The Gathering’ has always been seen as problematic. How did the poison get through the Vorlon environment suit? The Vorlons might know who Sinclair was going to become but I doubt if he’d reveal himself to him on his first encounter, not to mention not notice the changeling net that was operating. All Kosh would really know is that he would be poisoned and would be restored to health by Doctor Benjamin Kyle so their first actions would be enacted to fulfil history. It doesn’t matter whether the Minbari poison worked or he did it himself. Whether Kosh was truly poisoned is more debatable as so little was known about Vorlon physiology. Had Kyle known more, he might have come up with a different diagnosis. Considering how quickly the Vorlon fleet arrived would tend to support this. As much as anything, this would also improve Sinclair’s standing with the Minbari, stop the Narn helping factions of Minbari and even stop G’Kar blackmailing Londo Molari.

In ‘The War Prayer’, Sinclair confides his concerns to Ivanova about Kosh’s poisoning. What is more significant is telepath Lyta Alexander’s revelation in ‘Divided Loyalties’ and her interest in wanting to visit the Vorlons’ homeworld. This wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t touched Kosh so one could conclude that this was the Vorlon’s real purpose in motivating her. After all, they needed her voluntarily and they knew that Talia Winters wasn’t a good choice, which was verified in ‘Deathwalker’. Kosh with Mister Abbut had the opportunity to look deeply into Talia Winters than the conversation they were having. Looking at it again and with what Kosh would know as they were instrumental in developing telepaths on Earth, I did have to stop to ponder. Originally, I had thought it was to examine Winter’s mind construct knowing she wasn’t what she appeared to be but this happened before Sinclair travelled into the past and might have been used as another confirmation that things were falling into place for the predicted future. Even so, you would have thought Kosh might have spotted this twin personality, even if writer Joe Straczynski probably hadn’t come up with plot area at the time as actress Andrea Thompson hadn’t left the series at this time. More logically, Kosh would probably have been interested in what Jason Ironheart had done to her mind in ‘Mind War’ and hadn’t realised she was a fabrication. Considering this sub-plot was never further examined in the storyline, it could be anyone’s guess but you have to wonder why Kosh wasn’t on B5 when Ironheart was, especially as the Vorlons cultivated telepaths on Earth. I suspect, even the likes of Ironheart was beyond them. His presence might well have ended the Vorlon/Shadow War too early and not clear out the Shadows more dangerous allies.

With ‘Midnight On The Firing Line’ and what we discover later, Kosh’s ambiguous statement that either the Centauri or Narn was a lost species was probably the thing that struck me as the biggest reveal that they were aware of future events but couldn’t or definitely wouldn’t want to change things. All events leading to Sinclair’s departure into the past had to be upheld as they knew it. The fact that Babylon 4 had already disappeared meant that things were going correctly to the time path that they knew was about to happen.

‘A Voice In The Wilderness’ has several significances. Varn, the Great Machine’s previous guardian on Epsilon 3, has only been there five hundred years but the planetary device would have to be there much longer and a couple earlier guardians previously. It’s main purpose appears to have been delivering Babylon 4, together with Sinclair and Zathros a thousand years into the past. As this must predate the earlier Shadows/Vorlons wars, it must have been a creation of the elder races as well. Quite why it was left in the hands of a solitary younger race guardian than one of their own is less sure. The fact that it was hidden and only used for one purpose is still unclear.

There is still the matter of Zathros. Was his race always on the planet as The Great Machine’s maintenance crew or did this only happen when he arrived in the past? Considering that they are all called Zathros, with only a variation on differing pronunciation and look alike does suggest that the machine might have cloned them and we have a continuity loop. This would ensure one of them reaches the present and why he/they tend to exhibit fatalist attitudes. After all, they’ve seen it all before and as Zathros comments, ‘Very sad life.’

With ‘Babylon Squared’, we have a very unusual situation. Why wouldn’t The Great Machine from Epsilon 3 waited until the engineering crew had left Babylon 4 before moving it in time, if for no other reason than it would have had fewer people on-board. Then again, The Great Machine would also have had the information from Zathros that it would need to go one step into the future before into the past to remove the crew and take on Sinclair and himself to go into the distant past to fulfil history. Even if there had been mistakes, it was all in the matter of having events as they were portrayed. Sinclair had to remember events as they happened. Considering that had it been Garbaldi and not Ivanova who had gone to B4 in the second trip, he might have been more reluctant to let Sinclair go into the past or even attempted to take his place. Garibaldi would have been less inclined to disobey orders than Ranger Marcus Cole. History had to be played out as written.

‘All Alone In The Night’ is the first time that John Sheridan realises the Kosh has a link into his mind. Quite when this was achieved is hard to say as the captain has been in command of Babylon 5 for several months up to this point. Kosh uses Garibaldi and Ivanova avatars before showing his presence, no doubt to prevent alarming him by his subtle subterfuge. Kosh complains that there was too much mental noise for Sheridan to ‘hear’ him up to this time. Oddly, Kosh does not alert any of the B5 staff to Sheridan’s whereabouts but considering that Vorlons has a habit of depositing fragments of his mind in other people, as witnessed later with Lyta Alexander, this might not have been possible. Then again, considering that Kosh has maintained a watch on events taking place as they should, his capture by the Streib and his understanding of the Narn might have been deemed useful. Of course, this could also be seen as the first stage in ensuring that Kosh establishing Sheridan’s trust. The timing of Delenn’s ejection from the Grey Council and her return to Babylon 5 to provide the necessary information for Sheridan’s rescue is likely to have been known by Kosh and probably explains his lack of involvement.

Oddly, in ‘Hunter, Prey’, Kosh only acknowledges a telepathic link than how he did it. Other information is given between him and Sheridan is that Kosh now regularly attends council meetings. Kosh only reluctantly agrees to trade some knowledge with Sheridan so they can understand each other’s species better. An earlier crucial realisation is that Kosh’s spaceship is a demonstration of organic technology and with the protection of Doctor Everett Jacobs, again in ‘Hunter, Prey’, that it also sings. No wonder Kosh seems to think that music is more important than words.

‘There All Honour Lies’ tends to support this when Kosh introduces Sheridan to a perfect moment in Downbelow, although it beggars the question on how this alien got on-board Babylon 5. Then again, there are a lot of questionable aliens on Babylon 5 that have somehow managed to evade station security.

‘Come The Inquisitor’ shows a different level of doubt in the Vorlons about the prophesy. Whereas until this point we only have the Minbari mostly disbelieving another galactic war is about to happen, the Vorlons need to be absolutely sure the right people are in the right place for the events to come after the discovery of Talia Winters’ true allegiance. After all, Sinclair hadn’t know about Winters and quite likely wondered if she was the right choice and not Lyta Alexander, then what about Delenn and Sheridan? Unlike the Shadows who want to know what people want, the Vorlons demand to know who are you and should certain people have the audacity to think that they should be doing certain activities. Sebastian interrogates Delenn who is uncertain of the answer required and even Sheridan can’t supply the answer other than that of self-sacrifice and, if neither of them will survive, then someone else will replace them. If nothing else from that, the Vorlons must have realised that it is the roles and position that if not more important than the people which might explain why they weren’t involved in rescuing Michael Garibaldi or concerned about his fate. He wasn’t crucial to the overall plan.

There is also the possibility that Kosh believed Talia Winters was their selection as their herald and did not believe his original assessment was wrong or was a test of whether all the right people were in the right place. After all, Lyta Alexander hadn’t been seen for over two years since returning to Earth and they were no doubt aware that the Psi Corps would be investigating her for what she had learnt about them and might have been compromised.

A brief look at Sebastian himself is warranted. Plucked from his life of mass murder in 1888 which created the legend of Jack the Ripper of a message to the population of London of their lapsed morals, the Vorlons saw him as a means to test this. He says in the past two centuries he has been testing these issues from time to time, although this might have been more to do with getting him ready for this final test. After all, he would need to see many negatives to recognise a true result. Sebastian spends two days on Babylon 5 with no indication what he did he between his interrogation of Delenn and two brief conversations with Sheridan. One would surmise he either spent some time in either quarters supplied or met with Kosh or both.

Considering the Vorlons’ telepathic abilities, you would have to wonder why they chose someone like Sebastian. The information would certainly have been available to Sinclair/Valen, so it would be seen as being part of the prophesy to be fulfilled that way. As discovered later, their visits to Earth were done to ensure the development of telepaths amongst the humans and probably put shards of themselves in humans to investigate and study than do so physically.

There is an odd contradiction in ‘The Fall Of Night’ when Kosh reveals himself to rescue Sheridan. After all, how did Delenn know he could fly so high let alone in an earth-type atmosphere. There is also the reveal that the Vorlons have been busy over the millennia instilling most of the races there with the eproms of recognising them as a superior being to them with an almost angelic appearance. It does suggest that although not identifying themselves as Vorlons, they must have flown there outside of their environment suits and got strongly associated with their religions considering the reaction the various aliens gave later. For Earthers, Kosh looks like an angel so read into that what you may.

The oddity is Londo Mollari and therefore Centauri in general is he didn’t see anything at all. It does make you wonder how he thought Sheridan landed safely from his long fall. Is the implication that he didn’t see Kosh as a god-like or herald-like being from his own religions or similar connotation, revelation or merely as a light-like being.

To the Drasi, he was Dro’shalla.

To the Narn, he was G’Lan.

To the Minbari, he was Valeria.

None of them typical Vorlon names but does suggest that any visiting Vorlons didn’t speak to them directly.

An implication from this is why were the Centauri excluded from their manipulation than have a secret ace in the hole? Granted that Sinclair/Valen would have revealed that the Centauri were instrumental in starting the Great War but he would have no knowledge of the result. Surely, it would have made sense to have a spy into the Shadows plans that they could have used at some point. As they didn’t, the Vorlons obviously saw the Centauri as a lost cause with no redemption. When you consider their planet destroyer technology wiping out various species, this does make a lot more sense. Don’t under-estimate the Vorlon ruthlessness. If anything, this is on par with the Shadows.

With Season 3’s opener, ‘Matters Of Honor’, there is the significant revelation that Mr. Morden and his associates were helping President Clark’s regime. When you consider that the Vorlons were keeping away from any alien species involved with the Shadows, you would have to wonder at them not knowing that. With Sinclair’s Rangers network, he must surely have been told something was going on or even disbelieved or even not disclosed the information to the Vorlons. After all, the human race has a record for removing dictators and getting things back to normal. That would seem the easy way out however, just to get you thinking, the Vorlons know that the humans are crucial to their fight in the Great War regardless of who’s in charge on Earth and could equally have dismissed it as not being significant. After all, only some human were vital to the plan, not all of them.

‘Dust To Dust’ is an oddity in Kosh rescuing G’Kar after he had ingested the human illegal drug ‘dust’ that opens up any genetic psionic potential. Inadvertently, it is a revelation for G’Kar that removes his desire for immediate revenge against Londo Mollari and prepares him for the Alliance. This again suggests foreknowledge on Kosh’s part, care of Sinclair/Valen. It also removes a problem of the Narn working against them.

Kosh’s reluctance to bring the Vorlons in to attack the Shadows in ‘Interludes And Examinations’ can be seen under three different lights. Although the Minbair Draal once pointed out that self-sacrifice was something any sentient species could do, anyone might have second thoughts if there were other options. Kosh must have known his fate from Sinclair/Valen as well as knowing what was likely to happen later, specifically when Sheridan goes to Z’ha’dum, although there was probably no knowledge of this as by then Babylon 4 was in the past. It would be seen inevitable that Sheridan would go there because the Volons would be aware that Anna Sheridan was alive coupled with a desire to find out what was going on.

The brief battle between the Vorlons and Shadows brings up an interesting point. It was shown in ‘Ship Of Tears’ that the Shadows spaceships, ran by telepaths, are adverse to attacking spaceships with telepaths onboard and yet all Vorlons are powerful telepaths. However, this might be deferred by both species having older superior technology. The fact that the Vorlons quickly won might indicate that the Shadows vessels lost their edge against them.

What made me think though is why aren’t the Shadows using Centauri telepaths as a resource? It’s noted that the Vorlons instilled the correct genes in a number of species or is there an implication that the Centauri had theirs from the start or an earlier time. Granted it would probably have been easier for the Shadows to get their telepaths from Earth but it does leave an odd question there. Then again, Morden’s dealings with Lord Refa as revealed indicates it wasn’t on the Centauri homeworld and probably not in person so the Shadows haven’t been there yet or at least not to acquire telepaths.

The three Shadows attacking and killing Kosh in reprisal for the space battle was a foregone conclusion as he knew his own fate. If there was any opportunity to change history significantly, this was the point. After all, the information about this from Sinclair/Valen is only what he knows second hand rather than witness. Kosh might not have his own physical death as being final. The Vorlon habit of imparting parts of their personality in others as later seen with Lyta Alexander and partially with John Sheridan could have meant some form or survival albeit not physical. Perhaps the Shadows knowing this managed to stop this happening. Even so, with a thousand years to think of these things and not do anything seems ill thought out by Kosh unless he was a fatalist. Equally, why not let another of his race be killed or self-sacrifice than let his replacement take over and who turned into a far bigger threat. Mind you, the second Kosh might well have killed these three Shadows instead.

The two-part ‘War Without End’ raises a couple significant issues. It completes the circle for Sinclair who, along with Zathros, finally goes into the past. A reminder also that Babylon 4 going briefly into the future was because of a misfire of the engines by Major Krantz causing the time motor connection to become prematurely active.

Something that only occurred to me with this viewing is that fact that Sinclair took his own letter into the past. That being the case, he would not have to actually write it, only see to it that it was repackaged to be read in the future once more each time. Another continuity loop. This would enviably make it the most travelled letter in time and would have to wonder where in the loop he could have written it? Of course, Sinclair/Valen would still have to write his letter to Delenn each time but is only half the work.

From a Vorlon perspective, we would have to ask how they got there before the Minbari one thousand years ago, let alone be convinced so quickly. After all, in the past, they would have no information on ‘the Minbari who wasn’t a Minbari’ unless Sinclair/Valen had some information only they could possibly be aware of. As we only really see a little information, there has to be some speculation.

From what Delenn explains to the her companions, in the past, the Minbari and the races supporting the light with the Vorlons were losing against the Shadows and the races supporting the dark and certainly needed an advance post base to lead the attack from. The Vorlons would certainly have recognised the tachyon emissions of time travel although would they have known about The Great Machine on Epsilon 3 at the time?

As Delenn points out had Sinclair been human, the earlier Minbari would not have accepted Babylon 4 and killed him. This does leave two other options to consider. The presence of the Vorlons alone would have been an influence on whoever gave the message to the two Minbari captains. I mean who would argue with them? Sinclair as Valen, though, was to become a major influence on Minbari culture, creating the Grey Council and ensuring all three classes would work together for a millennia. In the respect, the winner of the war would have been less important. Valen was needed to shape the Minbari culture a particular way, no doubt to avoid being convinced by Shadow agents somewhere down the line as to what did they really want? After all, it would be unlikely that their race would have survived a second war.

Z’ha’dum is significant from the Shadows’ perspective revealing them as the order of chaos against the Vorlons order of…well…order. One thing that is at odds with this is that both races use telepaths but only the Vorlons have deliberately cultivated them and haven’t stopped the Shadows taking them for their own forces. Something that is odd is that Anna Sheridan was used as a CPU inside a Shadow ship but has no psionic ability or exhibited any so this does seem an odd lack of requirement. Oddly, Dr. Chang is continually referred to but never shown and would have to consider be either being negative towards the Shadows and killed or still acting as a CPU.

John Sheridan’s decision to go to Z’ha’dum is based off military logic. He knew from ‘War Without End’ that he was told by the future Delenn that he shouldn’t go there and saw the result on Centauri Prime. His rationale being that if he didn’t go then that was the result but if he did and changed events there then he could change the future. Oddly, a piece of Kosh was still with him and that is what told him to jump. The one grey area was not knowing which decision gave which future or whether the same events would still happen. Apart from the destruction of the main city on Z’ha’dum and the radiation exposure given to Morden, this didn’t really change anything on the Shadows side. For Sheridan, it was life changing and meeting Loren who was crucial in finally ending the Vorlons/Shadows Wars forever but only as far as going with them. Sheridan was the one who gave the speech and ending the war so no change there. Even so, it does raise an interesting question as to whether or not Lorien was aware that Sheridan carried a piece of Kosh’s mind in his head.

Despite the carnage and definite loss of life, one has to wonder how Morden survived, albeit requiring serious recovery from radiation. He was at ground zero after all. One would suspect he was being put in a spaceship or a bunker as the Whitestar came down but not fast enough not to get intense radiation exposure.

‘Hour Of The Wolf’ reveals the replacement Kosh is reflecting the changes in the Vorlons following the death of the first Kosh. As Lyta Alexander pointed out after Kosh’s death, this doesn’t happen very often and it tends to make them jittery of change but I would also add lack of foreknowledge. To take on the Shadows again could also bring on more deaths. When you also consider how, just like the Shadows, they have led other races to their deaths, you would think that would have hardened them. However, they are a race of telepaths so none of them can escape their emotions.

There are some similarities to the Shadows after Sheridan destroyed their main city although they were quicker to recover, restoring Morden and sending him to Centauri Prime to get a landing site for them to land their spaceships as a tactical base. Spreading their forces to other planets than keeping them all in one place is just a good tactical move although when you consider that all the non-aligned worlds’ first move was to return all their spaceships home to guard them does tend to indicate a lack of an overall battle plan or the lack of Sheridan’s driving force keeping them together. Mind you, the Shadows have been doing something that even Londo Molari thinks stupid and that is battling on too many fronts at once.

The Vorlons destroying any planet that has been touched by the Shadows has them removing a lot of the non-aligned worlds who clearly haven’t made their alliances known or maybe alien races we haven’t seen yet. After all, we haven’t really seen which races have or were aligned to the Shadows yet and as seen in ‘Falling Towards Apotheosis’, a few did escape even this purge.

One has to wonder what made the Vorlons believe that they could win this war with the Shadows outright this time. After all, their knowledge of the future ended directly after Sinclair/Valen went into the past. It would certainly have given them enough time to build their massive planet destroyers as seen in ‘Falling Towards Apotheosis’ but why not destroy Za’ha’dum as it was their biggest stronghold and they must certainly have wanted some form of revenge for the death of the first Kosh.

The death of the second Kosh gives some interesting realities. When attacked by Garibaldi’s security team, he could easily have wiped them all out but chose not to do so. Even with the attack on the main deck, this Kosh was also pretty restrained and it was only what the piece of the first Kosh carried by Sheridan was finally released was both their fates sealed. One could suppose that this missing piece would have meant he acted with restraint because of how powerful it might be as indeed it was proven to be. This might also have been the reason why the first Kosh allowed himself to be sacrificed or he would not have been able to stop the second Kosh.

One would have to ask would the Vorlons truly have attacked Babylon 5 itself? After all, they would know Lorien was on-board and they had high regard for Sheridan, even if they might consider him tainted by the Shadows having been to Za’ha’dum. If the Vorlons were truly going to steer the new races then it would have been advantageous to have rather than destroy Babylon 5.

Sheridan’s choice was more to do with the second Kosh providing information to his people about the refugee movements, although when you consider that Lyta Alexander was being used as his emissary, she would know all that he knew. As Alexander was pivotal in his downfall, one would have to assume this knowledge was verified.

‘Into The Fire’ brings up an interesting quandary. It was understandable that Londo Molari and Vir Cotto needed to remove the Shadows base and Morden from Centauri Prime before the Vorlons arrived to destroy their home planet. However, both could have been left alive with no change in the outcome to the Shadow War had they known.

Speaking of which, the resolution of the war was not through battle but getting the Vorlons and the Shadows to back down and leave by Sheridan. Although they and the other First Ones left, there are obvious indications either species left right away or rather they had to collect those left on their respective planets before they left. This would account for the Vorlons leaving it impossible for anyone to land on their planet. The Shadows left Za’ha’dum to their allies, although not necessarily to their weaponry. This was primed and detonated by Lyta Alexander and at a distance en route there in the Whitestar in ‘Epiphanies’ to find the means to remove the devices from the human telepaths in suspended animation.

With the episode ‘Movements Of Fire And Shadow’, we see just the chaos caused by the allies of the Shadows as they get their revenge against the Centauri. In comparison, the Vorlons only really leave Lyta Alexander to do their orders. One could surmise that there might have been other Vorlon agents out there. Although Alexander’s fate is only hinted at, it doesn’t suggest that she was there at the end of the Psi-Corps.

Now here’s an unusual quandary. Bester reveals to the entranced Garibaldi, in ‘The Face Of The Enemy’, that the viral drug against telepaths was no doubt helped along by Shadow resources. These very same Shadows who used to telepaths to run their Shadow vessels under their instruction, so why do they or their associates want to have the potential to kill them off or rather only the human ones? The number of telepaths on Minbar and Centauri Prime must surely out-number them. Then again, they are the most well-known, in intimate circles, to have been developed by Vorlons so might have had the most to fear from them.

I hope you didn’t have too many problems following the logic above. The big lesson from all of this is that even when you have a winning hand, like the Vorlons had, you can’t escape the wildcard of decision that it might not be the way to end an everlasting perpetual war. It’s a pity that we never saw more of Lorien. If he had been watching the events of Babylon 4’s arrival, would he have understood the ramifications of it wasn’t time(sic) for him to act yet. Likewise, why hide on Za’ha’dum. Surely the Vorlons would consider him tainted by them.

There are probably some other unanswered questions as to why didn’t the Shadows recognise the significance of Babylon 4 in the past but as that war was about to be turned, they might never have discovered it, especially as it was destroyed later. Sinclair/Valen’s task was to unite the sentients who were not under the Shadows’ influence and lay the grounds for one last war but even he didn’t know that.

The one unanswered question would be whether or not the Vorlons believed, without Lorien’s intervention, they would have finally have beaten the Shadows. After all, destroying any species that the Shadows had ‘touched’ would finally have found them facing Za’ha’dum where some of the allies of the Shadows were waiting. It might also explain why Lorien waited so long on Za’ha’dum and that was where he was originally going to stop both of them. If anything, John Sheridan’s appearance and temporary death there probably changed that timetable and probably saved half the galaxy’s sentients.

Sorry if this article is so long-winded but there was a lot of detail to consider.

(c) GF Willmetts 2017

Category: Scifi, TV

About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (8)

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  1. DMcCunney says:

    “The one unanswered question would be whether or not the Vorlons believed, without Lorien’s intervention, they would have finally have beaten the Shadows. After all, destroying any species that the Shadows had ‘touched’ would finally have found them facing Za’ha’dum where some of the allies of the Shadows were waiting. It might also explain why Lorien waited so long on Za’ha’dum and that was where he was originally going to stop both of them. If anything, John Sheridan’s appearance and temporary death there probably changed that timetable and probably saved half the galaxy’s sentients.”

    I think this fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the conflict.

    This was not a *war* between Vorlons and Shadows. It was rather an extended philosophical discussion between them on the nature of progress. I don’t believe either side wanted to destroy the other. Each was simply trying to prove that it’s view was right.

    Vorlons and Shadows were described as First Ones who had voluntarily stayed behind to guide the younger races while their contemporaries had gone “Beyond the Rim”. They had very different ideas of what those responsibilities entailed.

    Consider the Shadows. Their notion of aiding the development of younger species was by inducing conflict. Stir the pot, and get the younger species to fight each other. Some would grow and change to successfully survive. Others would fail and become extinct. Evolution was survival of the fittest, and occurred when changes in environment made it impossible for species to survive unless they adapted. The Shadows wanted to hasten evolution by providing those changes in environment.

    The Vorlons had a very different notion of what guidance meant.

    The problem was that over the eons, both groups had hardening of the conceptual arteries. They were no longer capable of seeing beyond their established mindset, and were simply unable to agree or see any alternatives to what they had been doing. Lorien, as the first of the First Ones was aware of the issue but powerless to change it.

    John Sheridan was the agent of change required. He was able to unite the warring younger races, and present a combined front to Vorlons and Shadows saying “We no longer need your guidance. We aren’t children any more, and are quite capable of making and learning from our own mistakes. The best thing you can do is go away and leave us alone to get on with it.”

    Making that statement to the combined fleets of the Vorlons and the Shadows, and flatly refusing to continue to obey either side, with all of the younger races who had joined him demonstrating that they would die rather than submit to the millennia long cycles got through to the Vorlons and the Shadows, and they agreed to finally lay down their guardianship of go Beyond the Rim and be reunited with the other First Ones they hadn’t seen in ages. Having a few remnants of other First Ones that had not left but *had* dropped out of contact appear to fight both Vorlons and Shadows along side the younger races was probably a wake up call for Vorlons and Shadows, and a factor in getting them to agree it was time to go.

    It reminded me a bit of a sequence in a later Zelazny Amber novel, where we discover the Pattern of Amber and the Logrus on Chaos are sentient. Neither wishes to destroy the other. They are simply playing a game whose final score wont be tallied and who won won’t be decidable for a *very* long time. When you’re immortal and can’t die, what do *you* do to pass the time? 🙂

  2. UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Dennis

    Unlike a thousand years ago, this time the Vorlons were actively pursuing any species touched by the Shadows and destroying them. I would say they changed the rules beyond philosophical differences. Considering they nearly lost the last Great War, that would make sense. Considering also how both of them went with Lorien so willingly suggests that even they were tiring of the conflict.
    Had they continued, they might have left the Shadows at the end but with no ‘associates’ left, it would have taken them far longer to cultivate more species.

    Sheridan wouldn’t have been able to have told the Vorlons and Shadows they were no longer needed without the help of the First Ones.

    You didn’t actually say if you disagreed with much of what I wrote.


    • DMcCunney says:

      “Unlike a thousand years ago, this time the Vorlons were actively pursuing any species touched by the Shadows and destroying them. I would say they changed the rules beyond philosophical differences.”

      Not really. Last time, the Vorlons weren’t pursuing species touched by the Shadows. What about the time before that? Or the time before the time before? While an exact time scale was never given, we get the idea that this cycle had been recurring for a very long time and the events depicted in B5 were just the most recent occurrence. We have no idea how earleir ones might have played out.

      And my point was simply that it was not a *war* between Vorlons and Shadows. Until fairly late in the series, they didn’t face each other directly, and that only happened when Sheridan convinced Kosh he needed help to take on the Shadow vessels, as nothing he had could do it. The Shadows had already upped the ante by deploying their ships against various of the younger races (like destroying the Narn fleet on behalf of their Centauri clients).

      Note the Vorlons had their planet buster ships and knew where Zha’ha’dum was, and the Shadows certainly knew the location of the Vorlon homeworld. Had it been a war between their species rather than a disagreement over philosophical principles and a game played with other species as playing pieces, I’d expect a lot more direct confrontation with the younger races just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

      I don’t disagree with most of what you wrote. I just disagree about the underlying nature of the conflict.

  3. UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Dennis
    For all the other ‘Great Wars’ in the past, the one ace the Vorlons didn’t have is knowing the future or rather the future known only to Sinclair/Valen. Making those enormous planet-destroyers couldn’t have been done over night. The same with spreading the telepathic gene amongst many species. It’s one hell of an advantage to think you could have a final victory.
    We never saw which species, other than the Minbari, were space-faring a thousand years in the past, let alone survive. One would have to presume many species died back then and just seen as the casualties of war than a secret battle between the Vorlons and Shadows testing their philosophies, which only came up this time. Considering the invisibility of the Shadows, the Minbari never even saw them.
    Please bear in mind, I wrote this article from the point of view of the Vorlons and the knowledge they had of the events of the future. Even then, they were testing it, making sure the right people were in the right place. They probably influenced the Minbari to select Sinclair to head Babylon 5 although I doubt it would have taken much persuading other than persisting to go down the list until his name came up. The one problem was Talia Winters but that mental examination probably signified she wasn’t the right person, allowing Lyta Alexander to reposition herself. That would make more sense with them wanting Sebastian to testing Delenn and Sheridan for them to be the best people.
    As to the Shadows vessels, Taking out the occasional one could be done with the Whitestars but they were vastly outnumbered and underpowered without Vorlon vessels or equal power to take out the Shadows motherships. When you have both First Ones getting into direct combat, then it becomes very personal.
    Did the Shadows use their own vessels in previous Great Wars is a bigger question. If they had the telepaths, then probably yes. Did the species on the Vorlons side see them? Maybe not or rarely. The Narn have a picture of one spaceship in their history books, but none of the others which should speak for itself.
    In many respects, whoever won the earlier Great Wars, the other side went into retreat if they weren’t killed off to lick their wounds and build up again. Something the Minbari learnt, from the winning side, was not to go in guns blazing. Shame opening their gun ports wasn’t seen as peaceful when they met the Earthers.

  4. DMcCunney says:

    Part of the fun here is that we don’t really know how the Vorlons perceived time. I got the impression that from our point of view, they might be perceived as standing outside what we see as a line and able to view both what we think of as past and future in what for them would be a multi-faceted now.

    And yes, the Vorlon planet buster ships weren’t an overnight creation. Anything that big and powerful would be an extended effort, even for the Vorlons. But I don’t recall any evidence in the series about just *when* the Vorlons built them. They might have had them in inventory, so to speak, for a very long time, and may even have deployed them in a prior cycle the inhabitants of the galaxy in the B5 period would have no records of.

    And the Whitestars could fight Shadow vessels with hope of success, but required Vorlon technology to do it. Nothing possessed by humanity or any of the other species could. Note that the Shadows had already supplied elements of their technology to client species. Consider the hybrid destroyers deployed by Earthforce Ivanova and colleagues had to go up against after B5 rebelled against those in control back home.

    Did the Shadows use their own vessels in previous cycles? My guess is yes, they did. And it wouldn’t have required telepaths. The pilots of Shadow vessels we see in B5 were members of other species, captured by the Shadows, and modified to be components of Shadow vessels, jacked into the ships so that the ships essentially became thier bodies. That concept goes back a ways – consider Helva, the protoganist of Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang, a human girl born defective, whose body could not survive unassisted, but whose brain worked fine. She was effectively given a new body as part of a brainship. David Weber used a different take on it in The Apocalypse Troll, where the Trolls were combat vessels created by the alien Kanga, with human brains as the controllers and the ships as their bodies.

    And as I recall, telepathy in younger races was actually something the Vorlons were responsible for.

    Seeing the Shadows is a seperate question. The Shadows themselves possessed a form of invisibility – consider Morden’s invisible friends on Centauri Prime. Their vessels were another matter, and *could* be seen when decloaked for action. Of course, if you saw one, it was probably the last thing you ever saw, but you *would* see it.

  5. UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Dennis

    Re: the Vorlon planet-busters Aren’t you forgetting that they would have to have somewhere unobserved to build them as well which probably explains why Vorlon space was excluded from other species and any encroachment and the starships and crews destroyed. Killing a species is one thing, destroying planets, people would remember. The Vorlons were seen as part of the good species so I doubt if they were deployed before.

    One shouldn’t muddle with other authors’ stories of other examples. If you play that game, I’ll raise Cordwainer Smith and Frank Herbert who predated McCaffrey. Helva’s body was in her brainship for the record.

    There has never been any demonstration that the Shadows were telepaths . They used other species to fly their vessels. I doubt if they took any from their associates come to that.
    Although the Vorlons cultivated telepaths, there are those who didn’t need such help or how else did both the Centauri and Narn have/had them.
    The Shadows stealth ability allowed them to walk on and off B5 without being detected. Morden tended to arrive on a conventional spacecraft and one would presume a passenger ship some of the time.
    As to the invisibility of the shadow warships. It wasn’t on all the time. They cloaked before attack but equally they could have been arriving from hyperspace.


  6. DMcCunney says:

    “Re: the Vorlon planet-busters Aren’t you forgetting that they would have to have somewhere unobserved to build them as well which probably explains why Vorlon space was excluded from other species and any encroachment and the starships and crews destroyed. Killing a species is one thing, destroying planets, people would remember. The Vorlons were seen as part of the good species so I doubt if they were deployed before.”

    How would you know? The only before we have evidence of is what the Minbari knew of thh previous time the Shadows emerged to stir up trouble. We have no knowledge of times before that.

    And the Vorlons tried to *appear* as part of the good species, witness taking on forms that would be seen as angelic when they revealed themselves. But good and evil are relative to where you happen to be. JMS commented back when that when *why* they were doing what they did was revealed, a chunk of the audience might *agree* with them.

    Meanwhile, agreed that building such things wouldn’t be something the Vorlons would do in public, but that doesn’t address the question of precisely when they were built. And during one of the “last battle” sequences, there’s a comment that the Vorlon fleet appeared to be hiding in a fold of hyperspace, and only a First One would know how to *do* that. Someplace like that might have been a construction site.

    “Although the Vorlons cultivated telepaths, there are those who didn’t need such help or how else did both the Centauri and Narn have/had them.”


    I assume the Vorlons did not cultivate TP ability in *all* species they visited in historical times. One of the deciding points would be the perceived difficulty of introducing it.

    “The Shadows stealth ability allowed them to walk on and off B5 without being detected. Morden tended to arrive on a conventional spacecraft and one would presume a passenger ship some of the time.”

    I *did* say the Shadows had a form of invisibility that made *them* invisible, but did not extend to their vehicles. (Their vehicles were revealed to be able to partially reenter hyperspace to become more difficult targets, as in the sequence where a Shadow squadron destroyed the main Narn fleet. One Shadow vessel suffered damage. Narn casualties were total.)

    [quote]As to the invisibility of the shadow warships. It wasn’t on all the time. They cloaked before attack but equally they could have been arriving from hyperspace.[/quote]
    But they had to decloak to engage. I believe I just *said* that.

    “One shouldn’t muddle with other authors’ stories of other examples. If you play that game, I’ll raise Cordwainer Smith and Frank Herbert who predated McCaffrey.”

    Which examples did you have in mind? I don’t recall instances in Smith’s Instrumentality of Man stories where an organic sentient became a wired in component of a ship in a cyborg configuration.

    I don’t recall any such in the Dune series, either.

    It’s possible memory is failing me.

    “Helva’s body was in her brainship for the record.”

    I thought I made that clear in my comment. It was a permanent arrangement. She needed a life support unit to survive, and the life support unit was part of the ship. Attempting to remove her short of the facilities where brainships were built would kill her.

  7. UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Dennis

    Equally, how do you know any different as well? You agree that the Vorlon planet-smashers take a long time to build. The Vorlons would hardly have a need to have built them before. The Minbari would certainly have known had they been used the last time, which was a battle they were losing until Babylon 4 arrived. Had the Vorlons had the planet-smashers then they would surely have used them then to sway the balance.

    It was frequently pointed out that few species could survive in hyperspace for long. You certainly wouldn’t want to build there.

    Re: telepaths. What I was pointing out is some species didn’t need cultivating to have them.

    On B5, considering the limited space available for Morden from time to time, they must also have had some element of intangibility. That would make a lot of sense to ensuring Morden survived albeit radiation damaged in the Whitestar explosion.

    For Cordwainer Smith, look to ‘Scanners Live In Vain’ (the scanners were cyborgs deprived of all their senses but eyes to navigate), ‘Think Blue, Count Two’ and the reference to the Go-Captains. Granted they could disengage from their spacecraft but they were part of their spacecraft.
    With the ‘Dune’ saga, the navigator/pilotss of their starships were only suitable for being in them.
    Helva’s body could be put into another starship if she wanted to. She couldn’t be released from her shell as she told her brawn, but she must have had service repairs from time to time. It depends on how you define permanent.
    Steve Austin in ‘Cyborg IV’ by Martin Caiden was also wired into a spaceship if you want to start trawling my memory.


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