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In the fictional universe of Babylon 5, the Psi Corps is an agency of the Earth Alliance responsible for all humans with telepathic or other para-psychological abilities anywhere within Earth-controlled space. All persons with Psi abilities are required to either join the Corps, face lifetime imprisonment, or submit to a lifetime of drug treatments to suppress their abilities. Prolonged treatment with these drugs has a depressing effect. Susan Ivanova's mother committed suicide after ten years under treatment.
Purpose and operation
The origin and early history of the Psi Corps are revealed in a series of books written by Gregory Keyes. Following panic and persecution when telepathic abilities in certain individuals were confirmed (the episode "Z'ha'dum" hints that the Vorlons may have played a key role in the event), the Psi Corps was created as part of EarthForce by Earth Alliance to protect telepaths, but also to identify and control them.
The Psi Corps' headquarters has hospitals, offices and a boarding school where young people possessing telepathic and telekinetic power (known colloquially in the series as teeps and teeks) can develop without the fear and persecution they would face among the normal population (referred to by psychics in the series as mundanes). This school is overseen by the monitors (nicknamed grins), which appear in Susan Ivanova's nightmare about the Corps and her mother. (Family names are matrilineal: the mother's maiden-name is passed down to the children, which is why female telepaths such as Lyta Alexander and Talia Winters carry their surname down the generations.)
The Corps was originally established to protect, nurture and train humans with Psi abilities, and to protect the mundane population from possible abuse or criminal activities by talented individuals. At some point the Corps realized that it could not be effectively monitored by any external authority, and the Corps developed into a fascist state-within-a-state, pursuing its own agenda using the Psi Cops and other means, and taking an active role in Earth politics.
By the time of the pilot movie, Babylon 5: The Gathering, the Corps has degenerated to the point where many potential and former members prefer a life on-the-run as rogue psychics (referred to by the Corps as blips) to the safety and comfort of living and working under its wing.
The Psi Cops and opposition to the Corps
Psi Cops are members of a para-military body enforcing laws related to telepaths and operates with few checks against their authority. This is especially true when dealing with non-telepaths who have done violence against a member of the Psi Corps. For example, after capturing a murderer of telepaths, they implanted an image in his mind so horrifying that the person had to be permanently restrained to prevent him from ripping out his own eyes. In another case, a man who murdered a Psi Cop was ejected from a spaceship. While Psi Cops claim to only want to bring rogue telepaths back to the Psi Corps family, they are likely to kill a rogue telepath upon capturing one. Psi Cops possess a rating of P-12. P-13s or slightly higher are a rarity and some of those that are eventually found out to be P-13s, also become rogue telepaths and go on the run in fear of what the Psi Corp will do with them through experiments ("A Race Through Dark Places"). Psi Cops also use telepaths of lower ratings in support roles.
Psi Corps has attempted to increase a telepath's abilities through genetic manipulations and experiments; one such experimentation produced enhanced abilities in a P-10 level telepath named Jason Ironheart, in an attempt to produce a stable of telekinetics and stronger telepaths for the Psi Corps. Ironheart volunteered to have his telepathic powers increased, but they soon became unstable. He fled from Psi-Corps, eventually coming to the space station Babylon 5 where he set up an escape route for other rogue telepaths, but was pursued by Psi Cop Alfred Bester. However, Ironheart began to undergo destructive mindquakes, releasing bursts of psychokinetic energy so powerful that they threatened the station. As Ironheart realized that his abilities had grown too great to contain, he discorporated his physical form, but not before leaving Talia with a gift; enhanced telepathic shields, and even a bit of telekinesis of her own (Mind War).
Doctor Stephen Franklin of Babylon 5 participated in an underground railroad to help rogue telepaths escape from the Corps ("A Race Through Dark Places"). Eventually, the telepaths who escaped provided assistance during the closing days of the Shadow War. Later on, President John Sheridan of the Interstellar Alliance allowed rogue telepaths to form a small colony on Babylon 5. The situation ended in violence when the Psi Cops attempted to take the rogue telepaths back to Earth.
After the colony on Babylon 5 was forced to leave following the death of its leader, Byron, Lyta Alexander began a crusade against the Psi Corps. Her actions led to a war in which rogue telepaths and non telepaths fought the Psi Corps. The old Psi Corps was destroyed, and a new Psionic Monitoring Commission was built to replace it.
Once the Telepath War was over, the Psionic Monitoring Commission dedicated itself to hunting down those members of the Corps who committed war crimes, such as Alfred Bester. Bester was eventually captured and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison with his abilities taken away by drugs. Many private schools were founded to educate telepaths; they met with mixed success. Telepaths were allowed a much wider range of options as far as their lives were concerned. Rather than having to join the Psi Corps, they were able to do almost anything they wanted. This included joining the Earth Alliance military and working for private organizations.
The P scale
The P Scale or Psi Scale is a method of measuring telepathic power used by the Psi Corps with lower ratings being more common than higher ones. However, the stronger the telepath's P-level, the more control and discipline is needed, as it becomes much harder to block out the random thoughts and voices of others; a low-ebb background 'noise' is generally heard by all teeps above a P-5 in their own thoughts. Training and careful focus is required to control and quiet down the background noises mentally heard by telepaths.
- P-0s and P-1s are usually latent telepaths with next to no abilities. Some latent telepaths can still sense if they are being psychically probed, which non-psychics would be completely unaware of.
- P-2s and P-3s have weak abilities and may be used commercially.
- P-4s and P-5s are the most common commercial telepath levels, potent enough to be a valuable asset in negotiations. Training of P-5s can be tough; most of those who train burn out, and some become brain-dead.
- P-6 to P-9s are military- and government-employed telepaths. Used and hired for intelligence.
- P10 is the upper level of Psi Corps training, and are assigned as instructors at Psi-Corp. P10s can read the mental actions of other telepaths, perform long-range scans and block heavy scans from higher P12s for a short time. A handful of P10s can perform telekinesis but these are rare and the ability unstable.
- P11s are in administrative positions in the Psi-Corps but can also be assigned as Psi-Cops.
- P12 is the highest official rating. Such teeps can become Psi Cops; they are able to read the minds of others at long ranges, have sufficient strength to break through blocks weaker teeps may build around their own minds, and can manipulate the memories of other mundanes and lower-ranged telepaths like the P5s. P12s can even communicate with normals via telepathy and detect and scan the levels of P5s although two may be required.
Mention is made in the show and related media of individuals who may be so powerful as to rate outside the scale entirely, often referred to as P13s. The scale does not measure telekinetic abilities. It is mentioned that one in 1,000 humans are telepaths, and one in 10,000 telepaths are telekinetics (teeks), and half of them are insane. This is 1×10−5% of the population or 1,000 out of 10 billion people. The telepathic measurement systems of alien races are not described in the series, nor are non-human telekinetics mentioned.
A mind burst refers to the sudden switching on of a person's telepathic abilities (similar to the breaking out process of The Tomorrow People). A person taking a mind burst experiences an overload of incoming telepathic information, which will cause the person to pass out.
A telepath is usually depicted as being born with telepathic abilities or developing them gradually in childhood. But in the case of those people with latent telepathic abilities, the ability can be suddenly switched on. Stress or body changes can cause this.
People experiencing a mind burst are usually taken in for medical care. When they wake up, a trained telepath is usually on hand to help them. Prior to the Telepath War, new telepaths were either made to join the Psi Corps or take drugs (colloquially called sleepers) to block their abilities. Many telepaths ran away to keep from being forced into the Corps. After the war, telepaths had more freedom in choosing their futures.
A mind quake is the sudden uncontrolled surge in mental abilities of a telepath, usually with poor mental controls. A person having a mind quake experiences an overload of outgoing telepathic information, which will cause the person to pass out or have a stroke, and cause distress in surrounding telepaths and mundanes.
People experiencing a mind quake are always taken in for medical care. When they wake up, a trained telepath is usually on hand to help them and if they prove too unstable they are given drugs to block their abilities, or they are neutralized by involuntary surgery.
Dust is a drug, smuggled from system to system in ways common to high-value/low-weight-and-bulk contraband. It trades at high prices and margins on the black markets, and is as hotly pursued by law enforcers in the way opiates are today. Implications are that if one is caught in possession or dealing, the penalties are quite harsh. Many black market operators refuse to deal dust because of the risks posed by law enforcement.
The effects of Dust seem to be a combination of LSD and cocaine[clarification needed], with the user experiencing some types of Psi powers for the duration of the effect of the drug. It is targeted at humans, but one episode follows G'Kar, a non-human Narn, who has tried it to get a taste of the Psi powers his race has lost, by virtue of the fact that the drug was designed with a chemical built-in that allows it to work with non-human physiology. Babylon 5 physicians will suspect dust use if two persons have a unique, shared experience. For example, a dust user might complain of a mountain falling upon him while his victim is an avalanche survivor.
Dust is revealed to be a covert program of the Psi Corps. Officially it began as a way to locate latent telepaths, create telepaths out of mundanes, and perhaps to amplify the powers of known telepaths. No mention is made of the cash flow inherent in such a popular form of high value contraband that would flow to Psi Corps. Nonetheless the Dust project was generally seen as a failure, and even prominent Psi Corps members like Alfred Bester were vehemently opposed to its further development.
- "The Corps is mother, the Corps is father." (Poster at Psi-Corps HQ)
- "The Psi Corps is your friend. Trust the Corps." (Subliminal message hidden in advertisement)
- "We Are Everywhere For Your Convenience." (Mentioned in advertisement)
- "Protect the family." (Poster at Psi-Corps HQ)
- "We know what you're thinking." (Poster at Psi-Corps HQ)
- "Obey." (Poster at Psi-Corps HQ)
Notable Psi Corps individuals
- Alfred Bester (named for science fiction author Alfred Bester)
- Lyta Alexander
- Talia Winters
- Jason Ironheart
Books about the Psi Corps
The Psi Corps Trilogy:
- Dark Genesis: The Birth of the Psi Corps
- Deadly Relations: Bester Ascendant (Babylon 5)
- Final Reckoning: The Fate of Bester