The Vorlons are a fictional alien species in the Babylon 5 universe. The race 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 races, Vorlons wear encounter suits. The Vorlon race is billions of years old. The gulf between Vorlon and Human as wide as the gulf between Human and single-celled bacteria. Attempting to describe the Vorlons in human terms is exceedingly difficult; only the vocabulary of religion is really applicable, for they are as gods in many ways. The Vorlons are very old and very different to the Younger Races. Indeed, it is difficult to call them a race at all, or call any Vorlon an individual.
From the perspective of most of the races in the galaxy, a Vorlon is a mysterious creature seen only ever seen wearing a bulky, concealing encounter suit, or a divine being of light bringing wisdom from the heavens. Both of these are masks of the Vorlons. The other aspect of the Vorlons seen by the Younger Races are the Vorlon ships, which are elegant, contoured vessels that look more like (and indeed, are) space-going creatures than spaceships. What the Younger Races rarely realize is that this is as close as they will ever come to seeing the true face of a Vorlon.
Defining an individual Vorlon is vastly more difficult than defining an individual Human. One can point to a Human, place him in a box, count his limbs and scan his brain. Vorlons are not so simple.
The core of the Vorlon is the physical part of the Vorlon; essentially, it is the Vorlon's body, although the term is of little relevance. When seen, it resembles a being of glowing light, with tentacles and surrounded by a fiery corona of energy. Before the Vorlons transcended base matter and became beings of energy, this core was an organic body (the product of millions of years of evolution and genetic engineering, but a recognizable body nonetheless).
The core is a crystalline structure, which contains the intrusion of the Vorlon's soul into realspace. The core is composed of four distinct sections. Firstly, there are external manipulating tentacles, which are each composed of a silicon-carbide gel, laced with a nanometer-scale grid of sensors and energy effectors. Each of these tentacles is strong enough to tear through the hull armor of a Sharlin-class warship, but is also precise and gentle enough to manipulate brain tissue without causing injury. For the majority of Vorlons, these tentacles – and the entire core body – are largely redundant, as few Vorlons have needed to manipulate matter directly for millions of years.
The outer shell of the core superficially resembles the pre-transcendence form of the Vorlons, but is primarily a crystalline memory aleph with a storage capacity in excess of 10^100 bits, wrapped in an armored casing. The Vorlons no longer possess internal organs; they do not need to breathe or ingest any food or liquid. The shell's crystalline structure stores energy as well as information – the Vorlon shell is essentially battery powered, although a Vorlon could function without a recharge for thousands of years as long as it did not exert itself.
The third and most important section of the core is the brain, although this complex crystalline computer does not resemble an organic brain in the slightest. The Vorlon soul is incarnated within this brain to allow the Vorlon to think and reason; without a core brain, the soul is static and unchanging, being nothing more than a self-replicating pattern of information and energy.
The fourth section of the core consists of various implants and technological devices. Each Vorlon has his own suite of special abilities derived from the gadgets and devices contained with his suit or core.
The Vorlon soul is not an abstract philosophical concept or superstition; it is a precisely engineered construction in the intersection between hyperspace and realspace. The personality engram of each Vorlon has been encoded in an information matrix and inscribed into the very structure of space-time. This is the Vorlon soul – eternal and unchanging. The soul can be destroyed – Ambassador Kosh, for example, was killed by the Shadows, who shattered his core body and then dissipated his soul by scrambling its information – but barring attacks of that sort, the personality of each Vorlon is indestructible.
The soul cannot change, so the Vorlons cannot change or learn while in soul form. Therefore, the soul is incarnated – downloaded, essentially – into a core. This core can be contained in virtually any form – an encounter suit, a ship, a base and so on. Using their telepathic abilities, the Vorlons can transfer soul fragments into the minds of other species. These fragments can then think and observe independently of the Vorlon core.
The Vorlon soul – the pattern of information encoded in the structure of space-time that contains the Vorlon's unique personality – is eternal, existing outside time. The Vorlons have always been here; barring attack from an equally powerful race, they will always be here. The core can be destroyed, but this is highly damaging to the Vorlon, as it incapacities the creature until its soul is incarnated into a new body. It also wipes all of the Vorlon's accumulated memories unless it has placed these memories in another storage medium or overwritten its old soul using the memory cache technology.
Because the Vorlon soul exists as an informational construct in hyperspace with the organic brain as an information processing device, it is possible for a Vorlon to download a fragment of its personality into another individual. The Vorlon consciousness then exists as a telepathic parasite, a living thought, within the carrier's mind. The thought fragment can manifest at times, thinking and behaving as a Vorlon would.
The halo is the collection of devices, agent programs, ships and other techno-organic devices that are linked to an individual Vorlon. They may contain fragments of the Vorlon's soul, making them thinking, reasoning parts of the Vorlon whole, or they may simply be imprinted with the personality matrix, in which case they are not truly sentient but are 'sympathetic' to the commands of a matching core. Ambassador Kosh's ship, for example, was imprinted with his personality and was essentially a part of him. A Vorlon warship might contain a hundred cores, each of which has a copy of the same soul. The entire warship then would be a single Vorlon mind simultaneously incarnated into multiple bodies.
Vorlons differentiate between types of object. Some Vorlon tools are just that, but more complex organic devices like ships or computers are as intelligent and sentient as any Human; they are a part of the Vorlon and so are included in the halo (so too are servants; to another Vorlon, Lyta would have been a part of Kosh).
The final part of a Vorlon is the song, the total consciousness of the Vorlon race and all its creations. The song can be considered a telepathic network linking the Vorlons together, but it is also inherent in the mind of every individual Vorlon. It is constantly evolving belief in order, a fractal philosophy of union and structure. The aspects are movements in the song; individual Vorlons are chords and notes.
Telepaths can dimly perceive the song; those truly touched by the Vorlons are never without it, for they are a part of the song. It was the establishment of the song that brought the Vorlons into their Fourth Age.
The Vorlon aspects are difficult for the lesser races to comprehend. An aspect is a distillation of some section of the Vorlons' culture and collective minds. While the Vorlons are all linked by telepathy, they are not a hive mind. Each Vorlon is a free, sentient individual but every Vorlon is dominated by one aspect or another. There are only a limited number of aspects, because the aspects are inevitable products of Vorlon philosophy and beliefs. A Vorlon could no more avoid being part of an aspect than it could defy the law of entropy.
The aspects are as close to political or cultural divisions as the Vorlons get; they are a very unified people. The aspects are evolving entities, although the Vorlons change little. They are something like personalities; due to the telepathic links between the Vorlons and the fundamental precepts of the aspects, all Vorlons dominated by a given aspect tend to move and react in the same way. A Vorlon can change from one aspect to another over time, as all the aspects are connected.
While only one aspect is dominant in a Vorlon at a time, every Vorlon has every aspect with him. The second Ambassador to Babylon 5 was obviously dominated by Kesh aspect, but he also embodied Kosh ('we are all Kosh' – but it would be equally true to say 'we are all Vorl' or 'we are all Kesh').
The aspects could be considered conscious Jungian archetypes within the Vorlon psyche; the race knows itself so well that its conscious and subconscious are one and it has learned to harness its drives and desires to the cause of order.
There are eight major aspects.
Fiac aspect is basically the Vorlon engineer caste; the Fiac-dominated Vorlons are interested in the maintenance and development of their technological infrastructure. The Fiac run the breeding programs that produce more Vorlon spaceships, construct the new outposts that the Kesh or Kosh need and maintain the web of defenses protecting Vorlon space.
The Fiac were heavily involved with the creation of the telepaths among the Younger Races; they took it as a technical challenge. The rare cases of more extreme abilities such as telekinesis or telepathic superweapons such as Lyta Alexander are usually the result of an over-eager Fiac researcher trying to push the boundaries of genetics.
The Fiac had a close relationship with the Ru Ha'rus but with the virtual demise of that race, many of this aspect have transferred over to the Morh or Kesh.
Kail aspect is responsible for dealing with the Younger Races directly. It is an offshoot of the Kosh aspect; the Kail split off when the Vorlons instituted their policy of masquerading as divine beings. While elder aspects such as Vorl suggested that this deception would be lifted as soon as the Younger Races were ready for the truth, the Kosh argued that reversing this social and genetic engineering would be far more difficult than the others believed. A section of the Kosh aspect did support the use of the deception as a teaching tool to make the Younger Races obey and learn from the Vorlons, and those Kosh became the Kail.
Since that schism, Kail aspect has become just as powerful and influential as its parent order. The Kail have in fact been accused of deliberately perpetuating the myth of the Vorlons' divinity, or of falling victim to it themselves. Since the last Shadow War and the disaster on Minbar, the Kail's activities have been heavily curtailed.
Kesh aspect takes a more proactive attitude towards dealing with chaos; while Vorl aspect suggests that the race should work to build order in the face of disorder, Kesh aspect desires to seek out and destroy agents of chaos. Together with Fiac, Kesh is the 'military wing' of the Vorlon Empire, responsible for the massive Vorlon war fleets.
Of all the aspects, Kesh is the most curtailed by the rules of engagement negotiated with the Shadows. Kesh's rise in popularity was largely fueled by the Vorlons' frustration with the failure of the Younger Races due to Shadow interference. Kesh-dominated Vorlons appear to be harsh and cruel to outsiders, as they are the most aware of the danger posed by chaos and the need for the Younger Races to obey the wiser Vorlons in the war against the darkness.
The Kesh aspect has been growing more and more violent, moving from its original philosophy of 'actively seeking out agents of chaos' to 'destroying the Shadows once and for all', but many Kesh adherents do still work behind the scenes dealing with lesser sources of chaos. A disruptive warlord or corrupt government on some primitive world might be taken out by agents working for some remote Kesh Vorlon. While the Kesh aspect is focused on the galactic scale, they have not lost sight of their duties to the lesser races.
The Kosh aspect was created when the Vorlons accepted the mantle of teachers and guardians of the Younger Races. The aspect portrays the Vorlons as teachers, guiding the Younger Races towards the expression of their full potential. Kosh aspect is paternal in Human terms; it can be stern, judgmental and disciplinarian ('you are not ready for immortality').
The Vorlons' role as teachers declined over the millennia; many of the races they taught directly wiped themselves out during the middle Shadow Wars, often using the advanced technologies gifted to them by the Vorlons. The Minbari experiment was a joint effort between the Vorl, Kesh, Fiac and Kail aspects, but it was the Kosh who insisted that the Vorlons reveal that they were not gods; the resulting disaster severely diminished the Kosh's standing amongst the other aspects.
While a few adherents of Kosh aspect still try to educate the Younger Races, most have handed that duty over to Kail. Like the older Vorl aspect, Kosh was in decline up until the Vorlons' departure from the galaxy.
Morh aspect arose from the Vorlons' scientific endeavours. There was an older aspect which was devoted almost wholly to science, but this splintered into the Morh and Fiac aspects because the Vorlons learned everything there is to know.
This is not quite true; there are great vistas of science the Vorlons have yet to master. However, due to their virtual isolation from the rest of the First Ones and their increasingly static and rule-bound nature, Vorlon innovation has virtually ceased in the last few millennia. Their ships have not changed in generations; their technology stopped advancing soon after the other First Ones left.
Morh aspect, then, is concerned with the endless contemplation and organization of the accumulated data of the Vorlon race. Those dominated by Morh incarcerate their souls in great crystalline computers the size of moons and engage in infinitely subtle data analysis of the ancient Vorlon records. The Morh have discovered wonders in the archives, configurations of information and meaning that are the only form of art the Vorlons still create.
Morh is currently the most popular of the aspects, with almost 70% of the Vorlons engaged in contemplation of the archives. The Morh can be manipulated to a degree by the new data being entered by agents of the other aspects; Kesh and Uler have been especially active in this regard.
The aspect of Olos is concerned with relations with the Vorlons' peers; it is essentially the aspect of diplomacy. Of course, since the other First Ones are mostly gone and they no longer speak to the Shadows, Olos' role within the Vorlon hierarchy has diminished greatly. They still sometimes deal with the few First One races who have remained in the Milky Way galaxy, or speak with the handful of surviving middleborn species who still have relations with the Vorlons.
The Olos are the smallest of the major aspects. By the time of the departure, there were barely a dozen Olos-dominated Vorlons active, and some of those were slipping into Kosh or Kail-dominance, to put their interpersonal skills to use on the Younger Races.
The Uler aspect seeks to bring order through union and synergy, guiding and manipulating the Younger Races towards a Vorlon-like state. Uler has much in common with the Kosh aspect, but is less concerned with teaching the races than it is with forcing them into Uler's grand design. The Uler are also the aspect of the Vorlons most willing to weed out lesser races, making them rather sympathetic to both the Kesh and, bizarrely, the Shadows. As far as the Uler are concerned, the Vorlons' duty is to bring as many of the Younger Races into maturity as soon as possible and if some have to be sacrificed for the good of many, then so be it.
The aspect seeks to control the vast scope of galactic history and economics; it sees itself as the architect of the future. The Uler aspect did leave a colony behind in the Lesser Cloud when the Vorlons withdrew from that region of space; that colony has been cut off from the rest of the Vorlons for half a million years and it is believed that they have continued to pursue their grand project since then.
The Vorl aspect is the oldest of the major aspects, and the name of the species is obviously taken from it. Vorl aspect was created during the difficult transition into the Vorlon's Fourth Age; they responded to the great changes in their race by dedicating themselves to the principle of order. Vorl aspect believes that the race exists to be a counter to the inevitable entropy of the universe, that order naturally emerges from chaos and that it is the purpose of life to accelerate this process of emergence, with the aim of eventually countering entropy and staving off the destruction of all that is.
The Vorl aspect's influence has declined considerably from its glory days, when virtually all Vorlons were adherents of this aspect. Now, only the eldest and more traditionalist Vorlons embody Vorl and it is generally seen as a rather outdated and impractical aspect compared to the more active Kosh or Kesh.
Followers of Vorl aspect are concerned with creating order; some attempt to impose order on the Younger Races, or serve as bridge-builders and peace-makers within the Vorlon hierarchy. In many ways, Vorl is the Vorlon hierarchy; while the aspect has few adherents, they are highly influential in terms of keeping the race together.
The eight major and the various lesser and specialized aspects are engaged in a constantly evolving dialogue within the Vorlon collective consciousness. All Vorlons are linked by this consciousness, which is a telepathic/electronic construct. The Vorlons are not a hive mind per se; for one thing, the consciousness has a limited range and its ability to transfer information grows more limited as a Vorlon moves away from the homeworld and Vorlon space. The Vorlon individuals on the homeworld are constantly part of the collective consciousness; those on colonies or transports would be in intermittent contact, while virtual exiles like Ambassador Kosh would only rejoin and report to the collective consciousness when he returned home.
The collective consciousness does not control the Vorlons; while it can be treated as a sort of racial hive mind, it is closer to a method of communication and collective decision-making than a mind. It is possible for a Vorlon to go against the judgment of his peers – possible, but incredibly unlikely and almost unthinkable.
The collective is not composed of equal parts; different Vorlons have different amounts of sway. A Vorlon can be highly influential within its aspect, but have little control over the direction of the collective. Of course, if the Vorlon is sufficiently influential, then it can sway its aspect one way or the other and so escalate a dispute up to the level of discussion by the aspects as opposed to individual Vorlons.
The mode of existence enjoyed by the Vorlons borders on the incomprehensible to the Younger Races but it is the product of millions of years of advancement. While the Vorlons have certainly made missteps along the way, it should be remembered that the average Vorlon fulfills far more of its potential and accomplishes infinitely more than the average member of a Younger Race. They are the gods of this galaxy; burdened by duty but they still have the capacity for mirth and joy.
The Vorlons have conquered space and time; they have conquered death and disease. Every Vorlon is gifted with a physical core that is perfect and flawless, with perfect health by their definition. In the event of damage, the core can be swiftly regenerated or a replacement body provided. There is no hunger or thirst – while the core needs both energy and complex organic molecules, these can be provided by the Vorlon's technology and the foul mix of atmospheric gases they prefer to swim in (alternatively, the encounter suit can of course sustain its user almost indefinitely).
The only disorder the Vorlons still suffer from is madness; there are still some Vorlons with psychological problems and quirks. The Vorlons are unwilling to admit any such weakness and their practice of encoding their personalities as souls into space-time means that such problems are made eternal and almost unsolvable. Insane Vorlons are dealt with by their own aspect; if the Vorlon moves outside the aspect structure entirely, then he is clearly mad, but the collective consciousness must choose the best, most caring way to destroy the renegade. The Minbari derived their taboo about killing each other from their Vorlon teachers and the command that Vorlons do not kill Vorlons is infinitely stronger than the Minbari one.
Of course, spotting an insane Vorlon is highly difficult. The collective consciousness and the aspects provide a psychological balance, keeping any problems in check while the Vorlon is in contact with its peers. Problems only manifest when the Vorlon spends centuries away from its kin (some Vorlons argue that this is untrue, but that the linked nature of the aspect structure means that an individual Vorlon's infirmity will not manifest as full-blown psychosis while linked, but that it will corrupt the aspect as a whole; if this is true, then one or more of the aspects could be functionally insane).
In the past, there have been poisons and diseases that affect the core; as the Vorlon core is an artificial structure, these diseases have also been artificial, engineered by foes of the Vorlons. The Minbari, for example, learned enough about the Vorlons to create a synthetic venom that slowed electrotransmitters within the crystal-heavy gel in the core, acting on the Vorlon victim like a neurotoxin does on a Human.
The Vorlons are long past the need to control access to their resources, or to motivate themselves. Even if Vorlon technology was not capable of providing everything any Vorlon wants, their empire is ancient and their population has declined – if the combined wealth lying in the archives and treasuries of the Vorlon empire was divided amongst the existing Vorlons, then each would inherit the wealth of worlds.
The Vorlons achieved infinite energy long ago. All their organic technology has self-perpetuating energy cells that renew themselves swiftly (the astonishing 20 second recharge time of a White Star's jump engines is trivial to the Vorlons; indeed, the engines are hobbled by being interfaced with primitive Minbari technology). The Vorlons use solar power as a backup on occasion when it is available, while larger-scale installations and spaceships are powered by zero point energy drawn directly from the fabric of reality.
The Vorlons do not have infinite resources, however; they are curtailed in two ways. Firstly, while they have almost unlimited energy, it is woefully inefficient to synthesize some elements. The Vorlons are quite capable of transmuting, say, iron into Quantium-40 by bombarding it with neutrons, but it is considerably easier to mine it. Other complex organic molecules are the product of millions of years of evolution and engineering; it is easier to harvest them in situ than try to replicate the precise conditions or construct them using nanotechnology.
Secondly, the Vorlons have been forced to abandon many of their former worlds to leave room for the Younger Races. Once, the Vorlon Empire stretched for hundreds of light years in every direction; now, they have less than a dozen worlds. Almost every planet in known space once knew the touch of the Vorlons and in this long, slow retreat, they left many of their fortresses and factories behind. Some were demolished, but most were simply hidden. For the Vorlons to access their full strength, they would have to drive the lesser races back.
Vorlon culture, like Vorlon technology, has largely stagnated. They do not see it as stagnation, but believe they are in a constant process of recursive refinement and perfection of all aspects of themselves. As part of this refinement, the Vorlons have discarded much of their older cultural artifacts. They have largely abandoned art in all its forms. They discarded religion and spirituality of all forms early in their Third Age, although there are still some echoes of their beliefs in Kail aspect.
The two dominant forces within Vorlon culture are order and pride.
Order has been a part of their makeup since their Third Age. The Vorlons value synergy and symmetry above all things; they believe that there is an underlying order to every phenomenon, that even the most random events cancel each other out to form a massively complex but comprehensible and predictable pattern. A Vorlon looking at a cloud does not see a mass of water vapor or a shape in the sky, it sees the whole weather system that produced the clouds, the interactions of heat and moisture and pressure that move across the face of the globe. A Vorlon looking at a war between two of the younger species does not see carnage and death and generations of hatred, it perceives the invisible hand of economics, of species competing for resources and living space.
The Vorlons' devotion of order means that they take the long view – they expect it to take tens of thousands of years to bring the Younger Races to maturity. Minor crises like plagues, wars, revolutions, pogroms, natural disasters and so on are essentially irrelevant to the Vorlons. A race might see a lethal virus that wipes out a third of its population as an apocalypse, but the Vorlons see it as just another event in the species' development, like a mild fever in a growing child.
That said, the Vorlons do sometimes intervene secretly in the affairs of developing races, to guide them one way or another. There are some political and technological changes that severely diminish a race's chances of surviving to maturity, or which render the race vulnerable to Shadow influence. In such cases, Vorlon agents or even Vorlons themselves intercede. Where possible, the Vorlons conceal their involvement and ensure that only the minimum changes required are made. A single telepathic command, a single death, a single life saved can be all that is required to shift a whole culture onto a newer, better path. With their ability to see patterns in the long flow of history, the Vorlons can identify and cultivate these nexus points in history.
The other side of the Vorlon personality is pride. To a degree, each of the First Ones has insane hubris as a racial trait – it is rare for a race to find a reason for living (the key to a successful transition to a Fourth Age) and not be utterly convinced that its way is superior to all other paths in existence. The Vorlons take pride in their utter commitment to order, but the Shadows are – they must be – equally committed to the cause of chaos, as the Walkers are to exploration, the Mindriders to communication and so on. Every First One race is monomaniacal on some topic.
However, back before the Vigil began, the various obsessions of the First Ones kept each other in check. The Vorlons were lords of order, but order was just one path among dozens of paths, each path espoused by a different elder race. When the other First Ones left the galaxy or withdrew from contact with the Vorlons, there was no balancing factor any more. The Vorlons' pride in their abilities and their collective ego grew vastly during their Vigil over the Younger Races. It is difficult to avoid feeling utterly and completely superior when you are infinitely more powerful than every other sentience in known space.
This pride has fractured the Vorlons. Their first problem is complacency; apart from the occasional Shadow incursion, there is almost no challenge left in the galaxy for them. This has led to the rise of Morh aspect, as most Vorlons find the introspection of the collective consciousness to be far more interesting and stimulating than the primitive antics of another species of cavorting monkeys. Fewer and fewer of the Vorlons are willing to devote their efforts to guiding the lesser races; if the trend had continued for a few dozen millennia, then the Vorlon Empire would have ended up being run by the Vorlons' servants and machines, while the Vorlons themselves engaged in infinite navel-gazing within the collective consciousness.
The Vorlon's pride has also led to the increasing power of the warlike Kesh faction, who chafe under the old rules imposed by Lorien and want to exercise the Vorlons' full strength. The Kesh are the only aspect which is significantly active; without the vitality of the Kesh, the Vorlons would be in grave danger of failing as a species. Once a race reaches the level of technology possessed by the Vorlons, racial ennui is the most common cause of virtual extinction.
Lesser aspects such as Kosh or Fiac try to thread a path between these two extremes of pride, but with limited success; the Vorlon emphasis on hierarchies and order means that there is a massive amount of socio-political inertia. The Vorlons cannot change easily, so institutionalized rots cannot be excised quickly enough.
Language and CommunicationEdit
The Vorlons use telepathy among themselves as their primary method of communication. Their language has long since evolved past the point where a single 'channel' will carry all the information they wish to convey. A Vorlon describing a technical problem to another Vorlon will not merely describe the problem, but will simultaneously describe the related systems, the importance of the problem, suggested approaches, the relationship of the speaker to the problem and so on. Vorlon communication is incredibly efficient; the words appearing like harmonic chords.
The lesser races can only perceive a handful of the communication channels used in Vorlon speech and they can interpret only one or two of those. A Human who hears a Vorlon speaking would hear the Vorlon's English translation, and would also hear some of the sub- and ultra-sonic channels but could not understand them. Only the more sensitive Humans would detect the telepathic undercurrents and even then could only pick up the emotional caste of the statement, not the actual information.
The simpler the statement, the easier it is for the Vorlon to phrase it in a way comprehensible by the Younger Races. Direct answers to simple questions are usually unambiguous.