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A Vorlon is a member of a fictional alien species in the Babylon 5 television series and fictional universe. The Vorlon species is a member of the First Ones, a group made up of the earliest species to gain sentience in the galaxy. When in the presence of other species, Vorlons wear encounter suits.
Little is known of the Vorlon home-world other than its name, which is also Vorlon. Vorlon territory was restricted to other alien species and every known expedition into Vorlon space failed to return to their respective governments. Much like their First One brethren The Shadows, Vorlon is protected by an array of highly advanced and automated defense systems designed to keep out intruders and primitive spacefaring races. These defense systems remain in place and active even after the Vorlons abandoned their home and left known space; evidence suggests that the systems will not allow outsiders entry to Vorlon until 1,000,000 human years has elapsed.
It is suspected that the Vorlon atmosphere is a highly toxic combination of noxious gases which are harmful to almost all known species. During his time serving as ambassador to Babylon 5, Kosh's quarters were flooded with these gases, but Kosh himself was able to wander the station without additional atmospheric support. This, in addition to the incorporeal nature of their species, has led to speculation that Vorlons do not actually require an atmosphere, and instead utilize it as a deterrent to discourage visitors. When human telepath Lyta Alexander journeyed to Vorlon space to contact them, she was physiologically altered to breathe the atmosphere and serve as attache for the Vorlon embassy.
Aside from Alexander, only one other human has been known to have access to Vorlon space: Sebastian, formerly known as Jack the Ripper, whom the Vorlons took from 19th century Earth in order to employ as an "Inquisitor". His fate after the Vorlons left is unknown, though Sebastian hoped that after centuries of "penance and service" he would finally be allowed to die.
When in the company of aliens, Vorlons wear encounter suits to conceal their true form. The suits are large, cumbersome units with crest-like shoulders and elongated helmets and draping fabric; aside from a single illuminated iris to represent an eye/face, a Vorlon's shape cannot be deduced from the suit's design. While the official Vorlon explanation is that the suit maintains the specific environment necessary to support them, the actual reason is to hide their appearance. In actuality, Vorlons are incorporeal beings who require very little if any environment to survive; Vorlons have even managed to survive in vacuum with no ill effect.
Vorlons conceal their identity to prevent undesired reactions from younger races: having evolved into incorporeal lifeforms millions of years before, the Vorlons appear as radiant beings of light, which most of the younger races interpreted as signs of divinity. Unbeknownst to most alien species other than the Minbari, the Vorlons have altered the genetic template of these younger species to include certain psychological traits such as telepathy, and subconscious associations. Before the Vorlons adopted reclusive natures, they actively visited and influenced early civilizations by telepathically projecting racial variations of themselves, causing the younger races to perceive them as kindred. Eventually, the Vorlons inserted this association genetically, altering their perceptions so that anyone viewing them saw them as a race-specific divine being. Humans who look upon an unclad Vorlon would see a winged angel from Abrahamic religions; a Drazi would perceive them as Droshalla, a Narn as G'Lan, a Minbari as Valeria, etc. The process, however, requires telepathic exertion on the part of the Vorlon, and can physically drain them if they are viewed by too many at once.
A Vorlon's true shape, without the aid of telepathic projection, is that of a glowing cephalopod. Vorlon spaceships, being composed of the same organic foundation as their builders, illustrate this appearance in their squid-like design. The only occasion when a Vorlon's true form was viewed by humans was during the assassination of Vorlon Ambassador Ulkesh Naranek in Falling Toward Apotheosis, when his suit was shattered by weaponized electricity.
When Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic observed an unsuited Vorlon, he claimed to have not seen anything at all. Show creator J. Michael Straczynski has said about this that "Londo saw what he said he saw". It is clear that Londo alone saw nothing because of his relationship with the Shadows. Similarly, it is unclear whether the Vorlon was invisible to Londo or if this can be taken less literally to mean that Londo saw nothing of spiritual significance. At least one Babylon 5 novel contradicts Straczynski's statement, saying that Mollari saw a very bright ball of energy. It is plausible that Kosh was using his telepathy to make Londo see what he wanted him to see.
Vorlon physiology makes them biologically immortal (incapable of death by natural causes), and extremely difficult to kill with conventional weaponry. They possess undisclosed levels of telepathic prowess and sensitivity, able to project their consciousness into another person's mind even from massive distances. They are also able to divide their essence into smaller quantities and insert themselves into other beings to observe or collect intelligence undetected, even by the host themselves. While their physical abilities are largely uncatalogued, they do have physical mass that allows them to strike objects and be vulnerable to certain assaults; Vorlons are susceptible to Florazine, a rare poison of the Damocles Sector, that was used in an early assassination attempt on Kosh Naranek at his first arrival on Babylon 5. Vorlons can, however, be killed by other First One species.
Vorlons are known for speaking cryptically with brief phrases that vaguely relate to the question they are asked (e.g. "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote"). This is typically considered a limitation of their language as it is translated into English, Interlac, or other languages, but there remains speculation that they are deliberately obscure to prevent disruptions to the timeline.
The formal name for their society is the Vorlon Empire, although the nature of Vorlon government was never revealed on the show. According to the Babylon-5 Roleplaying Game Fact Book: (Darkness and Light. The Vorlon and Shadow Fact Book), the Vorlon Empire is ruled by all the Vorlons as a large community. All Vorlons in existence are part of this community, and they all have equal saying in this communion. Every Vorlon stands for an aspect of their society. This is reflected in their names they use when dealing with the Younger Races. Ulkesh for example, is the military and offensive branch of the Vorlon Empire, while Kosh stands for teaching and maturing the Younger Races.
While almost all the other species of First Ones left the galaxy, the Vorlons stayed behind to act as guardians for younger species. Vorlons shepherded these worlds and the inhabitants were enthralled by their appearance; some worshipped them as gods.
The Shadows took on the same mantle with an opposed philosophy. In this conflict, the Vorlons represent Order. They act as architects, building alliances, encouraging the rule of law and inspiring cooperation. In practice, Vorlons enforce adherence to their rules. Their philosophy is embodied by the question "Who are you?" Sometimes called "The Vorlon Question", it encourages introspection, patience and places identity over goals.
The Vorlons shown on the series tend to be enigmatic, usually speaking only brief, cryptic phrases to beings from the younger species. They also appear to take pride in their enigmatic nature:
- Sheridan: "Well, as answers go, short, to the point, utterly useless, and totally consistent with what I've come to expect from a Vorlon."
- Kosh: "Good."
- Sheridan: "You know, as many times as you've come and gone from the Vorlon Homeworld, you could be anyone under there. How do I know you're the same Vorlon?"
- Kosh: "I have always been here."
- Sheridan: "Oh yeah? You said that about me, too."
- Kosh: "Yes"
- (Kosh turns his back on Sheridan and begins to walk away)
- Sheridan: "I really hate it when you do that."
- Kosh: "Good."
By the time of the series, the Vorlons and Shadows have long since lost sight of the original goal. The intent of both elder species was to encourage the growth of younger species through the competition of order and chaos. The conflict metamorphosed into a game for military (rather than ideological) dominion. The Vorlons began to treat the younger species as pawns. This outlook took an extreme shift following the death of the first Ambassador Kosh Naranek, ending with a move to eliminate all worlds touched by the Shadows by means of a planet killer, a huge ship that could reduce a planet to rubble with a single shot. With the Shadows soon reciprocating with a planet killer of their own, the younger species would have been exterminated had it not been for Sheridan's getting the truth out to them.
Before recorded history
Over 1 mya, the Vorlons decided to build a jump gate to open a doorway to what they believed was the Well of Souls, the source of life. The gate which was built travels neither to normal space nor to hyperspace but to a "third" space. They discovered that Thirdspace was inhabited and dominated by a violent telepathic species whose age and technology exceeded their own, and were driven by a supremacist belief that all life other than their own was unworthy and subject to extermination. The Thirdspace Aliens used their overwhelming telepathic abilities to control many Vorlons to assist them and alter the device to augment their telepathic powers. While the Vorlons were able to defeat them and deactivate the machine, closing the portal, those remaining under their influence seized the gate and escaped into hyperspace. The device and the supporting ships drifted off the beacon and were lost until the year 2261. This incident marked the first time the Vorlons encountered a race more powerful than The Shadows or themselves and was so traumatic that they implanted the memories into their genetic template as a race memory known as "The First Mistake."
Vorlon ships of this period lack the variation and military diversification they displayed by the end of the series; they resemble their basic transports, and are devoid of warships, planet killers or other heavy cruisers.
10,000 years ago
By this time many of the First Ones moved beyond the Galactic Rim to explore the vast emptiness between galaxies, and to allow the younger species to evolve on their own. Several of the First Ones decided to stay behind and shepherd the younger species until they were fit to control their own destiny. The primary caretakers were the Vorlons and the Shadows.
At first there was a balance between the two sides. Then the Vorlons began tinkering with species on a genetic level, in an effort to make the younger species evolve more like them. Among this genetic dabbling, the Vorlons manipulated the younger species to make them see the Vorlons as angelic prophets. Through this action the Vorlons were able to control the perceptions of the younger species. Finding the actions of their ancient counterparts appalling, the Shadows and the Vorlons began to fight among themselves and those who tried to mediate, like the Walkers of Sigma 957, left the conflict embittered.
Over the course of the centuries that passed, the wars between the Shadows and Vorlons persisted. Then at some unknown point in time they decided to have the younger species fight for them, in an effort to prove which side was right. This led to the Great War.
The date of the war is unclear but it began roughly one thousand years before the founding of Babylon 5. This war raged between the Shadows and the combined forces of the Vorlons and many younger species such as the Minbari, who, at the time, were the oldest spacefaring race who were not First Ones themselves. The Vorlons were eventually forced to ask the other First Ones for assistance in curbing the Shadows' advance. The war escalated to such intensity that virtually all younger species except for the Minbari were exterminated or reduced to stone-age levels. The Shadows also lost 3/4 of their entire fleet in the process, and buried individual capital ships on planets all over the galaxy--including Mars--to preserve them for the next Great War. In spite of the Shadows' retreat, the aftermath of the war provided no discernible winner.
The outcome of the Great War was determined by the arrival of Babylon 4, which had been brought from the future through an artificially induced rift in space-time. With the arrival of the station and the Minbari religious figure Valen, the Vorlons were able to acquire detailed information about the future and the events precipitating the next Shadow War 1,000 years in advance.
The final Shadow War occurred one thousand years later in 2260. The Shadows battled the combined forces of Babylon 5, the Minbari Federation, the Narn Regime, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds and the Rangers. The Vorlon Empire originally consented to aid this combined force. Following the death of the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh Naranek, and the departure of Babylon 4 to the past, their behavior became more aggressive and paranoid. Following Captain John Sheridan's trip to Z'ha'dum, the Vorlons decided to end the war in their favor through the use of excessive force by destroying entire planets where The Shadows held outposts or colonies. In response, The Shadows adopted the same policies and retaliated in kind with their own planet killer technology. The resulting campaigns of devastation cost billions of lives.
Sheridan brought the two forces into contact at Corianna VI and then launched a suicidal assault on both sides at once. An armada of allied ships and the remaining First Ones managed to stop the Vorlon planet killer but more importantly demonstrated the younger species' defiance against their "protectors", that both the Shadows and Vorlons had failed to act as guardians, parents and teachers to the younger species. Faced with either letting them go or exterminating them, the Vorlons and Shadows stood down and left the galaxy with the remaining First Ones to join the others beyond the rim.
Following their departure, no more First Ones remain in the galaxy.
After the departure
After the Vorlons left the galaxy, their homeworld's defense systems were left active. As a result, several expeditions to the planet were destroyed. The Vorlons also left a message with Lyta Alexander that the planet was not for the younger species. The Vorlon Homeworld was not to be theirs until they were ready; at least another million years.
Lyta Alexander was left with other information as well. In the movie Thirdspace, she was able to give information on the Thirdspace aliens. When the Drakh used Shadow control pods to operate Centauri vessels during their war with the Alliance, Alexander was able to identify the devices due to the information left with her.
In 2262 Lyta revealed that the Vorlons had modified her to be a living telepathic superweapon - a doomsday machine to be used against the Shadows if the Vorlons lost the war. They made her into the most powerful human telepath in existence, with the possible exceptions of Jason Ironheart, who had already transformed into something similar to a First One; and Kevin Vacit, former Director of Psi Corps who had carried a Vorlon fragment inside himself.
One million years after the events of Babylon 5, the humans had become like the Vorlons. The humans had left the solar system for a planet called "New Earth". J. Michael Straczynski indicated that New Earth was in fact the old Vorlon homeworld in the DVD commentary for the episode "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars".
Vorlon spaceships are organic in nature and at least partially sentient. Vorlon transports at least have a skin that can change color and an external shape that is pliable enough to allow passengers in and out. It was mentioned that Vorlon transports "sing", and can have an unnerving effect on non-Vorlons around them. Vorlon ships use jumpgates similar to those of the younger species. Vorlon technology was also used along with Minbari technology to help create the White Star spacecraft.
Vorlon ships differ greatly from their Shadow counterparts. While smaller ships are equally maneuverable to Shadow vessels, Vorlon capital ships are large carriers that are less agile. While Shadow vessels utilize a powerful pinpoint directed energy beam as their primary weapon, Vorlon ships have elongated structures resembling tentacles at the face of their ships that channel massive amounts of energy into capacitance, which are then fired as powerful beams of energy. This method of power generation and offensive capability was later adopted by the Interstellar Alliance into the creation of their prototype destroyer vessels several years after the Shadow War.
The most frequently seen Vorlon ship is the Vorlon transport. According to the Babylon 5 video game, Into the Fire, Vorlon transports are 131 metres long and heavily armed There is a strong bond between a Vorlon and its transport. When its pilot is in danger, the transport becomes extremely agitated and will try to help its Vorlon escape.
Should its pilot die, Vorlon transports are said to grieve. When Kosh died, his ship cremated itself and Kosh's remains in a nearby star. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski put it thus: It was made for Kosh, as Delenn points out, was almost a part of him; it wouldn't function as well, if at all, for anyone else. There was nothing else to be done.
One Man Fighters
Little is known about Vorlon fighters. According to the Babylon 5 video game they are about 25.5 metres long. Externally, they lack exhaust ports of any kind, suggesting that they use some type of gravimetric drive similar to that used by the Minbari. In groups they perform well, causing severe damage to a Shadow vessel.
Unlike other small fighters in the Babylon 5 universe, Vorlon fighters appear to have independent jump capability, where large numbers come out of hyperspace without the apparent need for a capital ship's support. Vorlon fighters have a much weaker bond between themselves and their pilots than Vorlon transports. Indeed, it is not at all certain that they are manned.
These large ships, called Star Dreadnoughts, are said to be over 1300 metres long. They likely carry a large number of Vorlon fighters, and, according to J. Michael Straczynski, carry a full crew of Vorlons.
The biggest ships in the Vorlon fleet appear to be the Eclipse Planet Killers, huge starships capable of destroying entire worlds. They are said to be 26–36 miles (42 to 58 km) long. The first planet to be hit by a planet killer was called Arcata 7. It was reduced to rubble, slag, dust and asteroids, killing the 4 million people on it.
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It is implied throughout the series that they have interfered with the evolution of many species, including humans, Minbari, Narns, and Drazi. Each of these species "see" Vorlons outside their encounter suits as some type of religious or mythological character particular to their culture. The only Centauri to see a Vorlon outside his encounter suit was Londo Mollari, who claimed he saw nothing. During the episode "Secrets of the Soul", a flashback depicted Vorlons modifying a human adult (Lyta Alexander) and fetuses of the Drazi and Centauri races.
The Vorlons also have the ability to alter alien species in other ways. Lyta Alexander was given "gills" on her neck that allowed her to breathe the atmosphere within the Vorlon ambassador's chamber, though the Narn can do much the same. Vorlons also use other beings as receptacles for a fragment of their personality, allowing them to travel widely without being noticed.
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- "The Gathering". Babylon 5. 1993-02-22.