Worlds of Babylon 5

B5_shadowsThis would be the fourth installment of my “Worlds Of” series, this time in honor of my favorite sci-fi show of all time. Like the show itself, the worlds that were featured here were richly detailed, multi-layered, and part of an intricate and cohesive universe. Though the show only lasted five seasons and the spin-off attempts failed, J.M. Straczynski was able to give most of the locales for his story a fair amount of treatment.

Centauri Prime:
CentauriPrime01The homeworld of the Centauri race and the seat of power for Republic. In ancient times, it was home to both the Centauri and the Xon, two sentient species that battled for thousands of years for control of the planet. Eventually, the Centauri exterminated the Xon, a victory which is celebrated annually with lavish feasts and celebrations. From these humble yet violent origins, the Centauri emerged to become the dominant power in the quadrant, conquering many races at their zenith, including the Narns.

Many locations of interest are to be found on Centauri Prime. These include the Royal Palace, home of the Royal Court and Centaurem, the Senate Building, the Great Temple, and the Imperial capitol. In the buildup to the Narn-Centauri war, the Royal Palace became the scene of intrigue as forces loyal to the puppet-Emperor Cartagia and Lord Refa began assassinating those who got in their way.

After the war was over, things once again became interesting as the mad Emperor made an Alliance with the Shadows and gave them the island of Cellini, hoping they would pay him back by making him a god. This alliance put the planet in danger, as the Vorlons had begun destroying any and all planets that were being used by the Shadows. In the end, Londo was forced to destroy Celini with tactical nukes to eliminate the Shadow vessels and prevent the Vorlons from destroying the planet.

Almost immediately after the war was over, the Drakh infiltrated Centauri Prime and began using it as their base of operations. After implicating the Centauri in a series of attacks on Alliance shipping, war was declared against the Republic. This war ended with the surrender of Centauri Prime after Narn and Drazi forces slipped into the system and began bombarding the surface with impunity. According to expanded sources, the planet would also be devastated when the Drakh were discovered and detonated a fusion bomb in the capitol to cover their escape.

Earth:
B5_EarthThe homeworld of the human race and administrative center of the Earth Alliance. By 2258-62, when the show takes place, a number of changes have happened to the place we call home. For starters, the capitol of the EA is established in Geneva, the headquarters of which is known as Earthdome. It is from here that the President exercises authority over Earth and all the Earth Alliance’s colonies.

Every nation on the planet has joined as an administrative “consortium”, contributing members and money to the upkeep of government. Earth is also home to the Psi Corps, the institution that monitors and trains telepaths for the Earth Alliance. This place is also the home of the Psi Cops, the authorities who track down and arrest “rogue telepaths” – those who choose not to register or take suppressants.

Just prior to the Shadow War, President Clarke declared martial law, effectively ending democratic government on Earth. The colonies thenceforth were administered by armed force, and Clarke himself forged an Alliance between his office, the Shadows, and the Psi Corps. For years, he ruled with impunity, until a coalition led by Sheridan and the White Star fleet arrived at Earth in 2262. Rather than face overthrow, Clarke shot himself and programmed the planetary defensive network to obliterate the surface. The satellites were narrowly stopped by Sheridan’s fleet, thus saving Earth from being turned into “scorched Earth”.

During the Drakh War, Earth became exposed to a deadly plague. This bio-weapon was of Shadow design and introduced into the atmosphere by Drakh ships after they failed to destroy Earth with a Shadow planet-killer. After five years under quarantine, the Interstellar Alliance ship Excalibur discovered a cure and introduced it to Earth. The planet was saved! However, hints given at the end of season 5 indicate that 500 years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was devastated in a terrible civil war, returning its inhabitants to a primitive level of development.

One million years after the formation of the Alliance, Earth was abandoned by the decedents of the human race, who had evolved to the point of transcendence. After downloading all historical records, the last of the human race left the system for the last time. The sun went supernova shortly thereafter, destroying everything in the system.

Epsilon 3:
b5-eps3The third planet of the Epsilon Indi system and the world that Babylon 5 sits in orbit of. Coincidentally, it is also home of the Great Machine, a subterranean alien artifact of immense power. Not much is known about the species that built it, as the last known inhabitants, outside of the current custodians, died out as a result of a religious schism or fled into deep space.

Thereafter, the Machine was maintained by Varus, one of the last of their species, with the help of ten assistants named Zathras. As he neared the end of his life, the machine began to break down, causing the planet to become geologically unstable. This in turn alerted some of the surviving Epsilonians who were looking for the planet in hyperspace. When they emerged, a confrontation ensued between the aliens, B5, an Earth Alliance cruiser.

This was resolved when Draal, a Minbari member of the religious caste, assumed control of the machine and used its defenses to destroy the invaders. He warned that anyone else attempting to possess the planet’s secrets would meet with the same fate, but later pledged his allegiance and the resources of the planet to Sheridan and Delenn’s alliance. This went beyond mere weapons, as the Great Machine was also capable of seeing through time and space, which was intrinsic in both finding other First Ones and uncovering proof of Clark’s conspiracy.

Aside from the Great Machine, Epsilon 3 also boasted an extensive underground city filled with many technical wonders. According to Commander Sinclair, these included computers the size of buildings and components that were miles in length. In season four, when B5 needed components to boost the signal of their “Voice of the Resistance” transmissions, they found what they needed on the planet below.

Narn:
Narnhomeworld01According to Narn sources, Narn was once a fertile planet with lush rainforests and vast oceans. This changed when the Centauri arrived and occupied the planet for over 50 years. During this time, the planet was strip mined, ruthlessly exploited, and reduced to the status of a slave colony. Much damage was also done during the Narn war of resistance, as Centauri forces bombarded the surface from the orbit.

After the Narn’s proved victorious, efforts to restore the natural greenery were mounted. However, these apparently took a back seat to the need to equip the Narn regime’s military forces, a policy which demanded that this trend of exploitation continue. As a result, the planet’s climate remains,in the words of Londo: “dry, red, depressing.”

The bombardment of the Narn homeworld during the Narn-Centauri in season two didn’t help matters much either. After many hours of being pulverized from orbit with asteroids, most major cities were devastated, electricity and power grids were knocked out, and virtually all infrastructure was reduced to rubble. This also had the effect of kicking up massive amounts of dust into the atmosphere which caused terrible storms and made the climate colder and more harsh.

With the liberation of the Narn towards the end of the Shadow War, efforts to rebuild the planet once again began in earnest. This time, with the Interstellar Alliance and G’Kar’s influence as their guide, the Kah-Ri ensured that the needs of its citizens were their top priority. Thenceforth, attempts to rehabilitate the climate and rebuild infrastructure were placed ahead of revenge and military spending.

Minbar:
44053-babylon_5_movie_news_2_superThe homeworld of the Minbari Federation and their seat of government. As one of the older races in the quadrant, Minbar boasts some of the oldest cities, temples and buildings in the known universe. Most of these are built from indigenous crystal, contributing to the natural beauty of the surface. Colder than Earth’s climate and with stronger than normal gravity, the Minbari are a hearty race known for their strength and endurance.

It is here that the ancient capitol of the Minbari Federation is located. The towering triple-spired government palace is here, even though the Grey Council conducted its affairs from space. The Anla’Shock Temple of Temple of Varenni  are also to found in the capitol, the former being used by the Rangers and the latter being an ancient site where the castes would come together to select leaders during the time before Valen.

Another city of importance is Tuzanor, the home of Valen, the Anla’Shok training grounds where the Rangers receive their basic training, and home to the Interstellar Alliance once Delenn and Sheridan relocated it to Minbar. Just outside the city is the historic Mount H’Leya, where Valen, accompanied by a pair of Vorlons, delivered his holy “Times to come” speech during the first Shadow War.

During 2261, shortly after the Shadow War, Minbar became embroiled in a brief civil war between the Religious and Warrior Castes. This was due to deep-seated divisions which had been exacerbated by the Earth-Minbar War and the destruction of the Grey Council. It ended when Delenn invited Shakiri to the Temple of Varenni, where they would both enter into the Wheel of Fire to demonstrate their willingness to sacrifice themselves. Shakiri withdrew, but Delenn did not, prompting Neroon to save her and sacrifice himself on behalf of her. Thereafter, Delenn indicated that the Grey Council would be dominated by the Worker Caste to prevent such wars from happening again.

Sigma 957:
Sigma957planetThe ancient homeworld of the Walkers, one of the First Ones who had left the galaxy after the First Shadow War. The name itself was given to them by the Narns, who’s regime was the closest government to border their world. Apparently, they named them as such because they considered the inhabitants to be giants, so great and powerful that it was best to keep out from underfoot!

In 2258, Catherine Sakai did a fly-by of the planet to search for trace elements. During her mission, a massive ship appeared off her bow and her ship was disabled. When she was rescued at the behest of Ambassor G’Kar, he told her simply “There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless. And if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants…and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know. We’ve tried. And we’ve learned we can either stay out from underfoot, or be stepped on.”

In season 3, during a visit to Epsilon 3 to see Draal, Ivanova was able to see this world and feel the “footprints” of the Walkers with the help of the Great Machine. This was the first indication that their alliance had as to the whereabouts of other First Ones. Shortly thereafter, Ivanova and Marcus traveled there aboard a White Star to make contact with the Walkers. After a strained conversation, Ivanova was able to secure their agreement to join their alliance.

Vorlon Homeworld:
vorlon02Much like the Vorlon race itself, their homeworld is steeped in mystery. Throughout the B5 series, mentions are made of the planet the Vorlons call home, but no details are ever given beyond the limited testimony of Lyta Alexander. As the only human to witness the inner workings of the Vorlon culture, she found herself in a unique position, acting as a sort of bridge and ambassador. However, other than her, no one has ever seen their world and those who have tried have either been destroyed or disappeared without a trace.

As for Lyta Alexander, her voyage to the Vorlon homeworld took place shortly after she made contact with the mind of Ambassador Kosh and broke from the Psi Corps. After weeks of waiting on the edge of Vorlon space, she was eventually admitted after sending out a telepathic signal. When asked what it was like, she said simply “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

However, some tidbits were given by Lyta as time went on. For one, it is revealed that the Vorlons possessed artifacts of immense power, which humanity and the younger races would only ever be entitled to once a million years had past. This was revealed after the Vorlons had left known space, but had thought to leave their automated border defenses in place and active. In addition, it was also here that Lyta witnessed the Vorlons extensive efforts to modify humans and other sentient’s to produce telepaths. This consisted of large facilities where hundreds of thousands of beings were kept in suspension tanks and either enhanced or modified to exhibit telepathic abilities in the first place.

Zhabar:
Zhabar01The homeworld and seat of power for the Drazi freehold, this planet was first shown in season five of B5 and played a rather important role in the plot. Noted for its hot, arid climate, the Drazi homeworld is also notorious for its crowded cities, narrow streets and small buildings with large vistas.

Much of this information comes from Garibaldi, who traveled here in 2262 on behalf of Alliance Covert Intelligence. According to Garibaldi’s contact on Zhabar, the curious architecture and city planning are throwbacks to earlier eras where the Drazi designed their cities to be impassable to siege engines. In addition, the small roomed architecture also harkens back to previous ages, when the Drazi lived predominantly outside.

After the Shadow War, this world became the focal point of much attention as Centauri agents infiltrated in order to kill Garibaldi’s contact. Though they failed to kill Garibaldi, his contact, and the Drakh-Centauri connection, remained a secret for some time. However, during a subsequent trip by Lyta and Dr. Franklin (at the behest of the Vir Cotto), they discovered that the Drazi were storing captured Shadow devices here. These devices were taken from destroyed Centauri vessels, and the Drazi were apparently hoping to keep them for themselves.

Z’ha’dum:
zhadumMuch like the planet the Vorlons call home, the Shadow’s homeworld is also steeped in mystery. However, several people have walked in its surface or witnessed if from orbit and lived to tell the tale. For instance, the elusive man named Mr. Morden, who came to Z’ha’dum as part of the Icarus crew, enlisted with the Shadows and then became their chief representative to the younger races.

The second person to witness the planet was G’Kar, who travelled to the rim at the end of season 1 to investigate the destruction of the Narn outpost in Quadrant 37. He described the place as a dark world, “where nothing has walked for a thousand years”. His description proved quite apt, as the Shadows and their allies all lived underground in order to hide their presence.

The third and final visit came from John Sheridan, who had been forewarned by Kosh that if he went to Z’ha’dum, he would die. He was right, after a fashion. During his visit to their craggy world, he received a tour of their underground facilities and even a bird’s eye view of the capitol. Right before he blew it all away with two massive thermonuclear bombs and fell to his supposed death. But because he was saved by Lorien, the First One who lived within the planet for eons, his life was restored. As such, he was the only one to visit Z’ha’dum, outside of their willing servants, and live.

Speaking of Lorien, it is noteworthy to mention that for millions of years, Z’ha’dum was the place he called home. During his time with Sheridan, he explained that it was for this reason that the Shadows kept coming back there, out of respect for a First One that was even older than them. This would seem to indicate that Z’ha’dum was not in fact the Shadows homeworld, but merely a world they used as a base of operations whenever they returned to this part of the galaxy. But given their incredible age, this should not come as a surprise. Whether it was the Vorlons, the Shadows or any other First Ones, their true point of origin has probably been lost with time and forgotten by even them.

Cool Ships (volume VII)

Welcome to volume 7. Nuff chit chat, let’s get started!

The Blackbird:
Starting this list off right is the stealth ship from the updated Galactica universe. Christened the Laura, in honor of President Roslyn, this ship was the brainchild of engineer Galen Tyrol and his deck hands, who decided to build a new fighter from scratch to make up for their losses. Build for speed and skinned with carbon fiber instead of the usual metal, this ship proved to be invisible to both Colonial and Cylon tracking equipment, hence its designation as a stealth ship.

On her maiden voyage, Starbuck flew the Blackbird on an illegal reconnaissance mission to take pictures of the Cylon Resurrection ship that had been pursuing Galactica. The operation was a complete success, with Admiral Cain – the Pegasus’ CO – going as far to say that: “she flew right up their tailpipe and they didn’t even notice”.

As a result of the technical data obtained from this mission, a joint attack was planned between the Galactica and Pegasus to take the RS down. The Blackbird would go on to play a crucial role in this attack, using its stealth abilities to fly within a few meters of the RS and take out its FTL drive with a well-placed missile. Unfortunately, the Blackbird would suffer a fatal collision after performing this duty, and Captain Lee Adama, its pilot for the op, was almost killed.

Corellian Corvette:
Another mainstay of both the Rebel and Imperial fleets, this ship made its debut in the opening scene from Star Wars: A New Hope and has been with the franchise ever since. Otherwise known as a “Blockade Runner”, the CR90 corvette embodies the spirit of Corellian ship designs, boasting speed and versatility over size and raw firepower.

Because of its adaptability, another Corellian trademark, the CR90 could serve in a variety of roles. These ran the gambit from such mundane duties as freight hauling, to more dangerous assignments like raids and providing fighter escort. In some cases, they could even take on such high-profile missions as diplomatic envoys, carrying public officials to and from their assignments.

Because of these qualities, the CR90 had a long history of service in the Galaxy, serving in the navies of the Old Republic, the Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic. Even after it was phased out of service, it remained a favorite among smugglers, pirates and smaller navies for some time.

Harbor Ship of Bentus:
Here is another feature from the Homeworld universe, the Harbor Ship of the alien race known as the Bentusi. Known for their focus on trade and supplying less advanced races with “short-jump” technology (i.e. FTL), the Bentusi soon found themselves caught in the middle of a series of interstellar conflicts between worlds.

As a result, the Harbor Ship was created, a mothership for the Bentusi fleet that was capable of housing, repairing and deploying smaller vessels. Thought not armed in any official capacity, it is the bulwark of the Bentusi armada and can be found wherever large-scale fleet deployments take place.

From what I can tell, this design was inspired by what historians believe the harbor of Carthage looked like. Much like the Harbor Ship, it was based on a sort of teardrop design, with a long entrance passage giving way to a sort of rotunda. This design, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, also makes a lot of practical sense, ensuring that multiple ships are able to be serviced in a 360 degree arc rather than a series of enclosed bays.

Ixian No-Ship:
Another Dune entry which I failed to acknowledge in previous posts, can you believe it? Well, mistake remedied as of now, here is the No-Ship! Named for the fact that it is capable of shielding itself from prescient vision and other forms of detection, including sight. This all makes the No-Ship the ultimate in stealth technology, and led to its wide adoption by all factions in the Dune universe.

Based on the same technology which powered the No-Chamber, a device which the Ixians used to shield their inventions from Leto II’s prescience, No-Ships would become the mainstay of all fleets after his death. In addition to their stealthy characterisitics, they would also boast another invention that was proposed during the time of Leto II, the Ixian navigation machine. This device, which was capable of limited prescience, was able to guide these ships through foldspace without the need of a Guild navigator.

Much like Guild Heighliners, No-Ships appear to have massive capacities. In Heretics of Dune, the No-Ship which Miles Teg steals from the Honored Matres on Gammu apparently had a Great Hold which measured one kilometer in length. This hold was later used to transport an adult sandworms and several tons of its native sand off of Rakis before the HM’s destroyed it. In Chapterhouse and subsequent books, No-Ships served as the mainstay of the Bene Gesserit fleet as well as with all other factions.

The Pegasus:
Battlestar Galactica gave so many cool ship designs that its hard for me to know where to look next. But today, I thought I’d go for the obvious and cover the ultra-modern and behemoth-sized Pegasus, the other Battlestar to survive the destruction of the Twelve Colonies. As with the original, the Pegasus makes an appearance in the re-imagined series. And like everything else, its appearance received an update, as did the tone and nature of its crew.

Although networked like all other modern Colonial ships, the Pegasus survived the assault through sheer luck, having taken its systems down for a diagnostic before the first wave came. Since that time, it’s CO, Admiral Cain, had been fighting a guerrilla style war with the Cylons, attacking their holdings and raiding small convoys in order to keep them off balance.

A mercury-class battlestar, the Pegasus was far more advanced and boasted significantly greater firepower than the Galactica.  In addition to its 30 defensive turrets, four heavy cannons, multiple missile launchers and compliment of nukes, its massive bays also hold 10 squadrons of Vipers, as well as dozens of Raptors and support craft. It also carries a series of Viper VII production facilities, meaning that it is capable of replenishing its losses.

With all of these attributes, the arrival of the Pegasus was a great boost to the Colonial fleet, adding a great deal of firepower, manufacturing and many of the latest ships to their arsenal. Nicknamed “The Beast”, the destruction of this ship over New Caprica was considered an immeasurable loss, though its sacrifice was hardly in vain.

Primus-class Battlecruiser:
Here we have another installment from the B5 universe, from the Centauri Republic to be specific. Known as the Primus-class Battlecruiser, this baby is renowned for packing firepower and artistic design into one package.

Discernible from its manta ray-like configuration, the Primus remains the mainstay of the Centauri navy even after two centuries of service. Although lightly armored, the ship boasts an impressive array of ion guns, a hyperspace drive, and artificial gravity for its crew.

Making its first appearance in season two of the show (“And Now For a Word”) when televised a standoff occurred outside the station between the Centauri and the Narn. In that battle, the cruiser in question was destroyed, but managed to inflict enough damage that the G’Quon class cruiser also blew up while attempting to make a jump. This demonstrated that the Primus, though an older design, was still capable of standing toe-to-toe with its Narn equivalent.

This encounter was followed up during the season two finale (“The Fall of Night”), when another such cruiser threatened the station when it was discovered that Sheridan was harboring a Narn heavy cruiser. This cruiser managed to inflict serious damage on the station before a squad of Starfuries and the station’s own defenses managed to destroy it.

Primus class cruisers would go on to make several appearances in the course of the show, serving throughout the Narn-Centauri war and even making an appearance during Sheridan’s war to liberate Earth. During the Alliance-Centauri war, these cruisers appeared to have been relegated to defensive duty, leaving offensive operations to the newer and lighter Vorchan-class cruisers.

USS Reliant:
Thank you to Victor for suggesting this one. I was wondering if I should go back to the original Star Trek for ideas, and this was just the push I needed to include some. And given that this ship made its appearance in Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the bunch, I figured it would be the perfect candidate.

A Miranda-class starship, the Reliant possessed capabilities comparable to that of the USS Enterprise. She is best known for being the ship that was charged with investigating planets for the Genesis Project and then being commandeered by Khan Noonien Singh, a warlord from Earth’s Eugenics Wars who had been marooned on the planet for many years.

After commandeering the ship with his people, Khan used the Reliant to seize Genesis and attack the USS Enterprise. During their initial encounter, Khan was able to use surprise to disable and inflict considerable damage. He was only defeated when Spock, using the ship’s prefix code, was able to bring the Reliant’s shields down long enough for the Enterprise to strike back and take out its weapons and warp drive.

During their second confrontation, Kirk was able to lure Khan into the nearby Nebula where neither ship had the tactical advantage. There, the Enterprise was able to outmaneuver the Reliant and crippled her with a series of torpedoes and well placed phaser shots. Rather than face capture, Khan chose to initiate the Genesis’ self destruct sequence and nearly destroyed both ships in the process. The Enterprise narrowly escaped, thanks to Spock’s decision to sacrifice himself to bring the warp engines back on line.

Viscount-class Star Defender:
Last on the list is an entry which I’m personally impressed with. Known as a Star Defender, this class of Mon Calamari heavy cruiser comes from the Star Wars universe, and reminds us that not only the Empire was capable of creating some badass ships!

Commissioned during the time of the New Republic at the behest of Admiral Ackbar, the Star Defender was the Alliance’s answer to the Super Star Destroyer and other classes of Imperial terror weapons. Measuring 17 km in length and boasting over 5000 weapons turrets, this ship was more than a match for the Executor, Eclipse and any other vessel of similar size.

Like all Mon Calamari cruisers, this ship was studded with hangars and launch bays and could carry fourteen fighter squadrons, dozens of troops transports and any number of shuttles and support craft. It can also house over 12,000 troops and carries a standard crew of about 70,000. Though production of these vessels stalled due to the diminishing threat posed by the Empire after the Battle of Endor, the Thrawn crisis and the threat posed by the resurrected Emperor and his Eclipse dreadnoughts provided the final push.

Several versions of the Viscount class were commissioned for service over the years, including the Mon Remonda, pictured below.

Okay, that’s seven down. Do I really need to do an eighth? Ha! Just kidding, of course I do. Perhaps I’ll end this series at ten, or maybe it will become one of those things that slows down but never really goes away. As long as people keep suggesting things and I keep having ideas of my own, there’s no real end in sight! See ya next time 😀

Cool Ships (volume V)

Back again! More ships, more designs, more franchises too. Like I said last time, there’s just no limit when you get right down to it. And in the course of doing my homework on cool sci-fi concepts, I’ve found that there are hundreds of franchises out there that I’ve never even heard of before. Of those I have heard of, I always seem to miss a few obvious candidates. That’s the beauty of ongoing segments though. Here are the latest, with some suggestions thrown in too 😉

Colonial Raptor:
Another late entry from the Battlestar Galactica universe, the updated version. Designed for reconnaissance, transport, atmospheric and space flight, and capable of making short range FTL jumps, the Raptor is the workhorse of the Colonial fleet and one of its most versatile vessels. Ordinarily, the Raptor is operated by a crew of two, one pilot and one Electronic Countermeasures Officer. Given it’s size and shape, it cannot launch from a launch tube and must take off and land from a Battlestar’s forward launch bay.

Having served with the Colonial fleet for over 40 years, making its debut in the first Cylon War, the versatility and reliability of this craft have prevented it from being phased out by newer generations of Colonial ships. During the second Cylon War, Raptors were used regularly in order to dust off survivors from Caprica and other colonies. Relying on a fly-by-wire system, rather than the new defense network systems, it also proved invulnerable to the virus the Cylon’s used to cripple the fleet.

Cygnus:
Now here’s one that people probably won’t remember. In fact, I didn’t recall it either until I did some reading and realized I had seen the movie which featured it – The Black Hole – as a child and quite enjoyed it. Though a little Buck Rogers-y by modern standards, the concept and the movie and this ship still stand the test of time.

Released in 1979 by Walt Disney Pictures, The Black Hole was one of many movies that sought to take advantage of the sci-fi craze that Star Wars had unleashed. The plot centers on a derelict ship, known as the Cygnus, which is run by an android crew and a brilliant (albeit mad) scientist named Doctor Hans Reinhardt.

In addition to looking pretty cool, with its glowing transparent sections and old-school design, the Cygnus is apparently able to withstand the gravitational pull of black hole due to its ability to generate its own gravity well. In addition, its commander, Dr. Reinhardt, theorized that he would be able to fly it through a black hole and see once and for all what lay on the other side… It didn’t take, but still a cool idea!

Guild Heighliner:

Artist’s concept for a Guild Heighliner

Here’s one I couldn’t believe I had forgotten. In fact, I will accept any and all chastisements for my failure to include Dune craft in this series thus far. This can include physical beatings, just stay away from the nads… not quite done with those yet!

Anyhoo, when it comes to Dune ships, the Heighliner definitely takes the cake! Massive as all hell, this ship was the backbone of all commerce, diplomacy, travel and tourism in the Dune universe. Like all shipping, it was the exclusive property of the Spacing Guild and subject to their many controls, laws and whims.

Boasting Holtzman engines – a FTL drive system that was capable of “folding space” – the ship still required the services of a Guild Navigator. This person, a semi-prescient mutant due to years of living in a spice tank, would see a path through time and space and thus navigate the ship safely to its destination.

According to the original Dune, a single Heighliner was capable of lifting an entire planet’s worth of personnel, goods and supplies from one point in space to the next. As Duke Leto tells Paul in Part I of the story: “A Heighliner is truly big. Its hold will tuck all our frigates and transports into a little corner — we’ll be just a small part of the ship’s manifest.” Later in that same installment, House Harkonnen used a single Heighliner in order to lift an entire army to Arrakis for a surprise assault on the Atreides, and the cost was nothing short of punitive!

Given that the Heighliners are the sole means of commerce in a Empire as massive as that of the Dune universe, its little wonder why Heighliners are so freakishly big. Chartering one aint cheap, and if you do stowe aboard, you are expected to mind your business and wait until you arrive at your destination. Due to their high level of secrecy and sensitivity, no one is even allowed to venture beyond their own boarding craft when on a Heighlinger, and virtually no one outside of the Guild has ever seen a Guild navigator. Considered to be neutral territory by Imperial law, any and all acts of violence aboard Guild Heighliners carry stiff penalties.

Gunstar:
Ah, another childhood classic! Taken from the film The Last Starfighter, the Gunstar was the first line of defense of the Star League against the evil Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Sounds pretty cheesy, huh? Well, it was the eighties! And this was yet another Disney franchise that seemed to be riding in the Star Wars wake. Still, this movie was one the first to make extensive use of CGI (Tron being the only other) and had a none-too-bad storyline too boot!

Boasting multiple guns, missiles and a “Death Blossom” trick that is nothing short of devastating, the gun star is a rather unique and innovative design. Apparently, it was meant to be a class of ship that would never go out of style, merging functionality with lethality and being able to take on any class of enemy ship.

Every Gunstar is a two seater, with the starfighter (gunner) in front, and the navigator in the rear. While the navigator flies the ship, the gunner directs fire from a swivel chair, which gives them control over the ships moveable weapons batteries. Although it has no shielding to speak of, the hull is protected by armor plating which can withstand multiple direct hits. When cornered, it is also capable of unleashing the “Death Blossom” where it will begin to rotate at a furious speed and unleash gun and missile fire in all directions. This however, is considered a weapon of last resort, since it will drain the ship’s power supply completely.

Heart of Gold:
Now here’s an interesting, and highly improbably, entry! Coming to us straight out of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, the SS Heart of Gold is rather unique in that it merged scientific theory with Douglas Adam’s notoriously quirky sense of humor.

Being a prototype vessel, it was the first ship ever in the universe to boast the “Infinite Probability Drive”. This drive system is essentially a Faster-Than-Light engine which is actually based in quantum theory. Essentially, the theory states that a subatomic particle is most likely to be in a particular place at a particular time, but that there is also a small probability of it being found very far from its point of origin. Thus, a body could travel from place to place without passing through the intervening space as long as it had sufficient control of probability.

Pretty cool huh? In the original radio series, the shape of the vessel was not specified. In the novelization of the series, it was described as a “sleek white running shoe”. For the sake of the movie, artists went with a tea-cup design, and added some brake lights for good measure. Originally built as part of a secret government project on the planet of Damogran, the ship was stolen by President Zaphod Beeblebrox during its launching ceremony and became the means through which the main characters began exploring the universe.

Minbari Cruiser:
Back once more to the B5 universe for another fine example of kick-ass shippery! Known officially as the Sharlin-class Warcruiser, this Minbari vessel is the mainstay of the Minbari fleet in the original series. Big, bold, stealthy, and packing a sh*tload of firepower, this vessel is veritable nightmare for all but the most powerful of races. Even Shadow vessels mind their business when some of these are in the field.

Making its appearance in season one of the show (episode 17: “Legacies”) and went on to become a regular feature. When Sheridan assumed command of the station in season two, the renegade cruiser Trigati was destroyed in the course of a standoff. After B5 broke away from Earth in season 3, a force of Sharlin cruisers arrived just in time to prevent the station from being captured by forces loyal to Clarke. Many went on to serve alongside Sherian and Delenn in the Shadow War and even went on to help liberate Earth from Clarke’s forces.

According to Delenn, Minbari ships do not rely on conventional engines like other ships. Instead, a system of gravitational and electromagnetic fields for propulsion, which have the added benefit of supplying artificial gravity. This frees up their ships from the needs of rotating sections and makes for a more effective combat platform. Sharlin cruisers also boast a significant amount of weaponry, which consists mainly of heavy beam cannons, but also includes missile launchers, neutron guns, and electro-pulse cannons.

During the Earth-Mimbari War, Earth Forces were completely outmatched by this class of Cruiser. In addition to being highly resistant to Earth force weapons, the Sharlin cruiser also boasted a stealth field which prevented Earth ships from being able to lock onto it. In the course of the war, only one human Captain ever survived combat with one, Captain John Sheridan. Relying on a phony distress signal and several well placed tactical nukes, Sheridan was able to lure the Black Star, the Minbari flagship, into a trap and destroy it. Though the Minbari considered it a cheap victory, Sheridan’s fame and renown quickly spread throughout the fleet.

During the battle of Sector 83, the Sharlin-class Cruiser proved an effective weapon against the Shadows. Although somewhat slow and providing a large target for Shadows, their powerful beam weapons were capable of destroying a Shadow ship unassisted. When protected by smaller, faster craft like the White Star, it proves to be a very effective combat platform.

Nebula-B Escort Frigate:
More Star Wars! God, I think I’m OD’ing on this franchise. But the sign says “Cool Ships” and this one is no exception. Known as the Nebula-class frigate, this ship is probably best remembered as the “Medical Frigate” which appeared in Empire and Jedi. 

Measuring some 300 meters long and designed to defend Imperial convoys from Rebel attacks, this ship was more famously used by the Rebellion as a hospital ship. During heavy fighting, Nebula-B’s would be on hand to pick up pilots that had ejected and provide them with life-saving assistance, ensuring that Rebel pilots could live to fight another day.

The most famous appearance of a Medical Frigate was during the Battle of Endor, when several medical frigates were on hand to service Rebel pilots who had been shot down by superior Imperial forces. It was also on board the Medical Frigate Redemption that Luke Skywalker received his prosthetic hand after losing it in a lightsaber duel to Vader.

In addition to providing escort and as a hospital ship, the Nebula-B was proved useful as a deep space scout and reconnaissance ship, due to its sophisticated sensors. During raiding missions or less intense combat operations, many also served as command ships given their speed and defensive capabilities. One weakness of the Nebula-B however was its thin fusilage. Though this made the ship an inexpensive vessel by most standards, it also made it a poor choice for heavy combat. Hence why it was relegated to support, scouting and medical roles.

The Nostromo:
You know, I really thought I covered this one already. I already mentioned how the Alliance Cruisers from Firefly appeared to be inspired by this baby. And it just makes sense that if you’re going to cover ships from the sequel, (the USS Sulaco and the Cheyenne Dropship) that you cover the original first. But alas, the Nostromo was somehow passed over by me, another act of wanton insensitivity! Beating shall continue until my attitude improves!

Okay, now that we got my punishment out of the way, allow me to pay this ship it’s due homage. The main set for the movie Alien, the USCSS Nostromo was a deep space commercial vessel which belonged to the Weyland-Yutani corp (much like everything else in this universe!).

Overall, the Nostromo was a curious design which made perfect sense from a space-faring point of view. Doing away with such things as streamlining and aerodynamic sleekness, the ship was well suited to deep-space travel and hailing. In addition, it was also taller than it was long, another common aspect to spaceships which are confined to the whole sea ship/airplane paradigm.

It’s massive refinery, which it towed behind, would process its manifest of mined ore while it made its way back to Earth from wherever it had been deployed. Thus, in addition to providing transport and amenities for a crew of miners and spacers, it was also a mobile refining platform that could deliver processed materials to factories rather than just unrefined ore.

While on return from the distant planet of Thedus, the Nostromo was rerouted to LV-426 where it picked up the alien organism known as a xenomorph. After all but one of the crew were killed the by creature, Ellen Ripley, the ship’s Warrant Officer, set the ship’s to self-destruct and escaped aboard the ship’s life craft with the crew cat, Jones. According to Weyland-Yutani execs, who were some pissed when she returned without her ship, the destruction of this vessel cost them 24 million in adjusted dollars. Damn penny-pinchers!

The Sathanas:
What do you call the most fearsome, intimidating and powerful ship in the universe, without being too obvious, that is? The Sathanas, that’s what! Being the Latin name for Satan, this title is very apt when applied to a massive juggernaut built by a race known as the the Shivans (i.e. Shiva, Hindu god of destruction).

This last entry, much like The Colossus and Deimos from my last list, comes to us from the game Freespace 2. Making its appearance midway through the game, this terrifying vessel was the most powerful space-faring ship ever encountered by the human race or its allies.

Boasting four massive beam cannons which are situated at the end of its claw like appendages, this ship best exemplifies the offensive fighting spirit. Jumping into a field of battle, it is capable of dealing devastating blows on a target head on, keeping its flanks and rear hidden from the enemy.

Above all, it is clear that the Shivan built the Sathanas to act as a terror weapon in addition to a capital ship. One look at its design confirms this, given its clawing appendages and thorny skin. Defeating this ship outright is quite difficult given its reinforced plating and terrible array of weapons. Disabling this ship, through EMP missiles and guns, is not much easier given the incredibly density of its hull and many redundant systems. In the end, the only way to beat it seems to be for lighter craft to take out its “claws” while heavier vessels strike at it from a distance. However, this still proves to be a suicidal mission given the Sathanas’ many missile and defensive batteries.

Ultimately, taking down this ship in the game is much like the real-life campaign to sink the Bismark. This dreadnought, which was the pride and joy of the German navy in WWII, also boasted massive weapons, a heavily armored hull and superior systems. In the end, the Royal Navy brought it down through a combination of luck, persistence, and careful engagements, taking their time to disable it and then closing in to pound it relentlessly! Hmmm. I guess good history makes for good gaming 🙂

Final Thoughts:/strong>
The suggestion box, as always, is still open. Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting the Gunstar, I knew I’d have to include it sooner or later and I’m glad someone asked. Anything else? I got another installment on the way, and probably a few more after that. No? Sigh, alright, bring on the beatings! No nads!

More Cool Ships

And I’m back with more examples, in part because people had some suggestions but also because I found the last list lacking. I mean, you can’t suggest a concept as big and as awesome as cool science fiction ships and only provide a handful of examples. It’s just not decent! So here’s installment number two in the series, cool ships from various sci-fi franchises and what made them so. Keep in mind that suggestions are always welcome. I’m thinking a third and even fourth list might be necessary 🙂

Alliance Cruiser:
alliance_2Back to the universe of Firefly for another installment! This time around, it’s the Alliance Cruiser that I’ve chosen to talk about. In short, I think the design of this particular ship is quite inspiring. Unlike your average cruisers from other franchises, this ship is not based on the usual seafaring or aerodynamic-ship paradigm. It’s long axis is vertical rather than horizontal, making it a platform instead of a cutter.

In addition to making a lot more sense from a physics standpoint, this design offers many advantages in terms of navigation and defense. Unlike longitudinal designs which are forced to turn around on their long axis, this ship can simply fire thrust from any of its four sides to change course and direction. It’s tall appendages also make it easier for sensors or long-range telescopes to spot things out in space, no blindsides from which to approach on.

Basically, ships like these remind us that spaceships operate in vacuum and are therefore subject to a vastly different set of physical requirements. Since they do not operate in atmospheres, they don’t need to be aerodynamic or sleek like planes. And since they don’t cut across water, they don’t need to have sculpted hulls or prows to part the waves. So why then do a whole slew of spaceships look like aeroplanes or boats?

Simple, it’s a paradigm thing. When we hear ship, we automatically think of airships and seaships since that’s our frame of reference, and our artistic sensibilities naturally follow. But spaceships are a whole ‘nuther ballgame, requiring the ability to withstand inertial pressures instead of drag. So while sleek and streamlined models are cool to look at, they aren’t really the best spaceship design from a technical standpoint.

And in a lot of ways, the Alliance cruiser reminds me of another classic design, that of the Nostromo. Much like the mining vessel from the original Alien movie, it is vertical in design, boasting towers instead of horizontal compartments. It’s size and towering appearance also make it intimidating to behold, illustrating the power and imposing nature of the Alliance itself. Those who crew it tend to be pretty imposing as well, always boarding you and asking question!

Borg Cube:
https://i1.wp.com/img2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20060721051747/startrek/images/7/76/Borg_cube.jpgHere we have the capital ship of the Borg, the frightening cyborg race from the Star Trek: TNG series that assimilates or crushes everything in its path. Introduced in the second season of the show (episode 42: “Q Who”), this fearsome foe went on to become a recurring element of the show and was even central to the plot of the spinoff Voyager and the movie First Contact. Much like their raison-d’etre, their ships reflected a sort of cold technological rationalism, like something out of a cyberpunk fans wet dream!

The design of the basic cube, which was later supplemented by spheres and upgraded cube designs, is clearly based on a pythagoran aesthetic: nothing frilly, sleek, aerodynamic or even remotely artistic about it. They are simple, utilitarian, and equilateral, a testament to the precise and unsentimental mindset of those who designed it. It’s basic profile also came in handy when taking on multiple enemy ships. By having six sides, each with the same surface area, weapons and tractor beam mounts, the cube had a 360 degree sphere of defense, making it damn near impregnable.

On every occasion when one of these cubes showed up, bad things were known to happen! In their first encounter with one, the Enterprise barely got out in one piece. In the second, 39 ships were destroyed before the Enterprise and her crew were able to trick one into going into sleep mode, which it then responded to by blowing itself up! In the third encounter, which took place in First Contact, several more federation ships were destroyed before Captain Picard was able to use his inside knowledge of the Borg to help the fleet destroy another ship. In all subsequent encounters, future technologies, viruses, trickery, or a combination thereof were needed to overcome the Borg’s technology and singular mindset.

Chig Cruiser:
chigMuch like Firefly, this example comes to us from a franchise which was cancelled by the executives over at Fox after its first season. Yes, Space Above and Beyond was yet another sci-fi series which had a lot of promise, but got axed when the execs concluded it wasn’t doing well enough for their liking. What the hell goes on over at Fox anyway?! Does every new show get this kind of treatment, or do Rupert Murdoch’s minions think sci-fi is just inherently liberal?

In any case, the Chig Cruiser was much like the concept for the Chigs themselves. Cool, original, and quite alien in appearance! Basically, the vessels shape can be described as two right triangles attached end to end with the tips removed. The command center appeared to be located in the middle, along with much of its weapons and observation deck. The outer hulls also appear to have been constructed out of the triangular-shaped panels of some alien metal that gave of a peculiar sheen when seen from the right angle.

Like everything else in the series, the concept never really had time to be fully developed. Which is really too bad. Their fighters, encounter suits, and capital ships were all cool to look at, and some explanations as to their utility and even artistic inspirations would have been nice. But what can do? Fox is run by idiots! Rest in peace Space Above and Beyond! You died too young!

Earth Alliance Destroyer:
Thanks to Goran Zidar for suggesting I include this one! And please know that you are alone in thinking that it is cool to behold, Mr. Z 😉 Coming to you from the Babylon 5 universe, source of so many cool ships (see below), the concept for the Earth Alliance Destroyer was nothing short of pragmatic genius. Given that the show boasted dozens of alien races, J.M. Straczynski and his design teams had to come up with countless design concepts that would reflect the multicultural and multiracial tone of the show.

In the case of humanity, Straczynski and his people concluded that the spaceships should look boxy, utilitarian, and should reflect the fact that Earth was one of the less advanced races in the story. As a result, the Earth Alliance Destroyer was built around the concept of a compartmentalized hull with its engines at the rear, a central rotating section (to provide artificial gravity), and a forward section where the bridge, carrier deck and command center would be located. And, as you can plainly see, the end result was quite cool!

While not the most advanced ship in the Galaxy, the Omega-class destroyer was certainly realistic, aesthetically pleasing, and could also holds its own in most firefight situations. And unlike their organic, alien counterparts, these ships were also a lot cooler to watch in battle. Instead of “dying” or breaking apart, they would catch fire and throw off flaming debris, not to mention life pods and floating bodies. Yes, since ships didn’t have energy shields or a lot in the way of armor in the B5 universe, firefights tended to get real serious, real fast! Like I said… realistic!

The Daedalus:
daedalusNext up, and taken from the Stargate universe, is the battlecruiser Daedalus. After appearing in the spinoff show Stargate: Atlantis, this class of vessel (codenamed 304) became the basis for an entire fleet of vessels who’s purpose was to defend Earth from an alien invasion. Based on various alien technologies that were taken from the Goa’uld and Asgard, the Daedalus was the first Earth Battlecruiser and FTL ship ever constructed.

Based on the design of a modern aircraft carrier, the Daedalus bridge and command center were located along the top of the hull at the rear while the forward section contained the ships compliment of fighters and takeoff and landing bays. The ship also contained a hyperdrive which was powered by a Zero Point Module (an alien power source), giving it FTL capabilities.

In terms of armaments and advanced technology, the ship boasted beaming units, shields, multiple rail gun and missile systems, and a compliment of nuclear warheads. Designed to stand up to a potential Gua’old or Or’i invasion, the Daedalus and her kind were built to combine the best that Earth and her alien allies could offer. Yes, if the war came to Earth, we would be ready!

The Executor:
Hello terror! Next up, we have the gargantuan and terrifying Imperial command ship known as The Executor. Who among us can forget that introductory scene in The Empire Strikes Back when a whole fleet of massive Star Destroyers were assembling, only to be suddenly overshadowed by the even larger Executor? Cut to the bridge where we see the terrifying Vader looking out over the fleet, and you begin to see just how big and powerful the empire truly is! Yes, those visuals really gave a sense of size and scale to the bad guys and let us know just how much they meant business!

Commissioned roughly one year after the Battle of Yavin, where the first Death Star was destroyed, the Executor was intended to be a terror weapon, replacing the Death Star as the symbol of Imperial might and badassery! Measuring 19 kilometers in length and bristling with turbolasers, ion guns, multiple tractor beams projectors and a complement of fourteen TIE fighter/bomber squadrons, the Executor was every spacers worst nightmare! No ship in the Alliance was capable of standing toe to toe with it, making a strategic withdrawal an inevitability once it showed up in a theater of battle.

However, during the Battle of Endor, the Alliance was able to destroy it through a combination of strategy and dumb luck. After several Rebel fighters took out the Executor’s shield generators, a single fighter who lost control of his ship crashed directly into the bridge. The Executor then lost control of its helm and was pulled in by the second Death Star’s gravitational field, destroying the ship and causing extensive damage to the Death Star’s outer hull. An ironic death for such a big ship, but at least she went down in a blaze! A big, embarrassing, expensive blaze! I don’t envy the bastards who had to pay the premiums on that one!

Home One:
HomeOneAnother vessel that comes to us from the Star Wars universe, Home One was the mobile headquarters of the Rebel Fleet and the biggest Mon Calamari cruiser in existence. As Admiral Ackbar’s command vessel in the original trilogy, it distinguished itself during the Battle of Endor, during which the Executor and the second Death Star were destroyed.

Like most Mon Calamari cruisers, Home One was cylindrical in design and originally served as a star-liner that got modified for combat. This consisted of equipping it with fighter bays, multiple shield emitters, a reinforced hull, and many turbolaser mounts. It’s revolutionary targeting and computer system also gave it a decided advantage in a firefight with Imperial vessels, which boasted heavier armaments, but lacked the ability to coordinate and amass their firepower as effectively.

The largest bay on Home One was on the starboard side where larger vessels would dock. However, a total of twenty hangers were placed throughout the hull, giving it the ability to carry multiple squadrons of X-wings, A-wings, B-wings and Y-wings. It also boasted a crew of over 5000 personnel and could carry 1,200 troops and 20,000 metric tons of cargo. While most of its systems – especially targeting and navigation – were designed for Mon Calamari use, the ship was crewed by a variety of races, reflecting the multiracial nature of the Alliance.

Lexx:
lexxThough not the prettiest ship in the Galaxy, the Lexx certainly deserves a spot on the Cool Ship list. Much like the show that featured it, it was weird, conceptually skewed,  but still damn original! A planet-destroying bioship by design, the Lexx was clearly inspired by the concept of a giant, wingless dragonfly and was created out of resynthesized proteins that were obtained from confiscated organs. Hmmm, gross!

Originally intended for use by His Divine Shadow, the evil ruler of the Divine Order, the Lexx was essentially a terror weapon that would be capable of destroying whole planets. However, the ship was commandeered in the first episode by the show’s crew – consisting of anti-hero Stanley Tweedle, the sex slave Zev Bellringer, and the Kai, an undead assassin, and the bodiless AI 790 – and became the means through which they traveled the universe looking for a new home.

This journey would take them over 6000 years, since the Lexx does not have FTL capabilities, and the crew would go into cryostasis for much of the voyage. Being sentient as well as organic, the ship was required to feed from time to time in order to maintain the life force which powered it. This could involve landing on a planet and eating organic matter directly, but more often than not, required that it blow up an entire planet and eat the resulting debris afterwards.

In the latter case, this consisted of emitting massive amounts of ionized energy from its “eyes” which was then channeled into the “mouth”. This energy was then fired outward in a planar wave which would intercept and obliterate any planet in its path. The Lexx would then take in the giant rocks and debris from the explosion and feed off of all the organic matter they carried. If not permitted to feed regularly, the Lexx could apparently become quite cranky and agitated, which would prove to be hell for whoever had to interact with it!

Narn Cruiser:
narn02As promised, another cool ship from the B5 universe. And as I said earlier, when it came to producing concepts for alien ships, J.M. Straczynski really had an eye for aesthetics, art, and functionality. Whereas Earth vessels tended to be compartmentalized and practical in nature, other alien races tended to be a bit more flamboyant, a reflection of their particular cultures and levels of technology.

When it came to the Narns, an aggressive but artistic race, their ship designs exemplified this dual nature. Originally a pastoral and peaceful people, the Narns had been brutalized by generations of occupation at the hands of the Centauri and had become quite warlike as a result. Their heavy cruisers, the mainstay of their fleet, were thus powerful and fierce looking, but still managed to achieve an aesthetic quality which brought beauty into the mix.

Boasting two massive beam cannons, several pulse guns and a compliment of space mines, the Narn Heavy Cruiser could take on just about any ship in the Galaxy. Though most were destroyed in the Great War against the Centauri, the ship proved to be effective in numerous engagements, not the least of which were against the Shadows themselves. For example, at the battle of Ragesh 3, two Narn Cruisers combined their beam cannons to seriously damage a Shadow vessel. During the battle in Sector 83, when Sheridan and the White Star Fleet engaged a fleet of Shadows vessels, the Cruiser G’tok managed to assist a pair of White Stars in destroying two Shadow vessels. Quite the accomplishment for this class of vessel!

After the Great War, the Narn regime began rebuilding its fleet, and the Narn Cruiser remained the mainstay of their forces. Several were used during the Alliance war with the Centauri and participated in the assault on Centauri Prime, where its massive compliment of weapons proved quite devastating against the planet’s surface!

Prometheus-Class Assault Vessel:
PrometheusYou know, I’ve never been that big a fan of the Star Trek franchise. But even I have to admit, when these guys do something right, they really do it right! And this ship, the Prometheus Assault Vessel, would be one such example. Much like the USS Defiant from my previous list, this ship demonstrated that when required, Star Fleet could produce ships that really excelled at kicking ass and taking names!

A revolutionary prototype, the Prometheus-Class vessel appeared in a single episode of Voyager where it was being stolen by a bunch of Romulan agents. However, thanks to the combined efforts of the ship’s own holographic surgeon and Voyager’s similarly holographic doctor, the ship was saved and even managed to turn the tables on its Romulan adversaries.

Incorporating advanced phasers, quantum torpedoes, ablative armor and regenerative shields, the biggest surprise the Prometheus had was its multi-vector assault capability. This involved the separation of the ship into multiple modules, much like the USS Enterprise-D would do with its saucer and engine sections. However, in the Prometheus’ case, this resulted in the creation of three semi-independent sections which were capable of unleashing a single, coordinated attack against multiple opponents.

After it was done dispatching all its enemies, it would then come back together, perform repairs as needed, and move on to the next target. And since the ship was programmed with extensive routines, a very small crew was capable of operating it and really only had to speak the requisite commands to get it to kill, kill, kill! Not a bad ship to have in your arsenal!

Shadow Attack Ship:
shadow06“It was jet black. A shade of black so deep your eye just kinda slides off it. And it shimmered when you looked at it. A spider big as death and twice as ugly. And when it flies past, it’s like you hear a scream in your mind.” These were the words Lt. Warren Keffer used to describe a Shadow vessel, right before he died chasing one down. An apt description for a ship that was clearly designed to inspire terror in its enemies, and a reflection of the race that built it.

As my final installment, taken again from the B5 universe, I’ve decided to include the Shadow Attack Ship, which is perhaps the most original and artistic spaceship I have ever seen. Granted, it had some stiff competition given the franchise it is coming from, but in terms of its design, performance, and sheer alien appearance, I can’t think of anything that can top it.

Given the fact that Straczynski and crew were working with the concept of organic technology, the ship was clearly meant to look like a living creature. Apparently, they settled on the combination of an arachnid and a giant octopus for the design, which combined with its jet-black sheen, made it both terrifying to behold and aesthetically awesome! And since every Shadow vessel is a living thing, they required sentient beings to merge with them in order to become active. When inactive, they would lie dormant and could remain operable for thousands of years.

More often than not, the Shadows preferred to use telepaths as drivers since only a telepath was capable of jamming the ship’s central operating system (i.e. a person’s mind). When damaged, the ships would emit a high-pitched screeching noise and often required another ship to merge with them and carry them to safety where they could. Of course, the screech couldn’t be heard through space. As Keffer noted, the sounds it made seemed to take place in the observers mind – aka. it was being telepathically conveyed. Hence, in addition to scaring the shit out of their opponents with their appearance and awesome firepower, these ships also had a calculated psychological edge in battle!

Not that they needed it though. In addition to their speed and firepower, the ship’s organic hulls were also incredibly tough, capable of absorbing tremendous amounts of energy before dying. As Sheridan and his people learned, pulse cannons were virtually useless against the Shadow’s skin, and beam weapons were only capable of killing them when focused on its central region for extended periods of time. On multiple occasions, Sheridan and the Alliance forces were only able to destroy one of these vessels by relying on telepaths to jam them while multiple ships combined their firepower to finish them off.

For the Shadows, the weapon of choice seemed to be the beam cannon that was located in the ship’s “mouth”. This focused, pink-purple beam was capable of slicing through the most hardened of structures and ships, and could reduce an entire colony to rubble in the space of a few seconds. However, the standard Shadow vessels also contained a type of space mine that was capable of c0llapsing hyperspace jump nodes and also carried a compliment of Shadow fighters which they kept embedded in their skin. These appeared to be independent in nature seeing as how they were too small for a person to fit in, and served as a mere screen for the larger vessels to make their attack.

In short, a Shadow vessel was the sort of thing you didn’t stick around to fight unless you had plenty of ships watching your back. Fast, furious, and shit-your-pants scary to look at, if you managed to kill one, you counted yourself amongst the few, the proud, the luckiest sons of bitches in the universe!

Okay, thanks for sticking around for the second installment! I think I have one more in me, but I’ll wait a few days before posting that. In the meantime, be sure to check out this cool chart. It provided me with a couple of ideas during the course of my research:
The ultimate starship size comparison chart

Of Galactic Empires

Galaxy1Hello again, fellow sci-fi fans! Today, I thought I’d write about something conceptual, something that is intrinsic to so much science fiction and keeps popping up in various forms. It’s something that has appeared in countless serials, novels, tv shows, movies, and RPG’s. I am referring, of course, to the concept of the Galactic Empire, a science fiction trope that has seen many incarnations, but revolves around a singular theme of a political entity that spans the known universe.

Whether it’s a loose federation of humans and aliens spanning many different star systems, or a despotism made up of millions of worlds, all populated by human beings, or something somewhere in the middle, this trope has proven to be one of the most enduring ideas of classic science fiction.

But where exactly did this idea come from? Who was the first to come up with a futuristic, galaxy-spanning polity where millions of star systems and quadrillions of sentient beings all found themselves living underneath one roof?

Asimov’s Foundation Series:

An artists rendering of Trantor

Isaac Asimov is arguably the first science fiction author to use the concept of a galaxy-spanning empire in his literature. Known simply as the Galactic Empire, this organization was the centerpiece of his Foundation series. As fans of the books know, the entire series was built around the idea of the imminent collapse of said empire and how a small band of scientists (led by Hari Seldon) were dedicated to ensuring that the collective knowledge of the universe would be preserved in its absence. The books were based heavily on Gibbon’s History of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a compendium which explored the various reasons for the collapse of Rome and the resulting Dark Ages.

The universe of the Galactic Empire centered on a planet named Trantor. Based on his descriptions, the planet was covered by a massive urban landscape, every habitable area having been built over in order to accommodate the planet’s huge population. In addition to being the capitol of the Empire, it was also its administrative head, cultural hub, and economic epicenter. Much like Rome of antiquity, it depended heavily on the surrounding territories for food and raw materials in order to sustain itself, and was terribly hit when the Empire began to decline.

However, beyond some passing descriptions of its size, centrality and the problems facing its encapsulated population, not much is said about Trantor or many other worlds of the Galactic Empire. In fact, not much is said about the Empire itself, other than the fact that it has endured for millennia and is on the verge of collapsing. Mainly, the focus in Asimov’s Foundation is on the events that precipitated its fall and the work of the Foundation once that was complete; how they went about the process of restoring civilization in the absence of a central authority. However, the subsequent Foundation novels, which included some prequels, helped to flesh out the Empire further, providing details on member worlds and the events which preceded the development of Hari Seldon’s “psychohistory”.

Frank Herbert’s Dune:

Arrakis (aka. Dune), the main setting of the story

One of the greatest examples of a galactic empire in my opinion. In the first installment of the Dune series, we are made immediately aware that humanity now inhabits the entire galaxy and are ruled from a world called Kaitan by a sovereign known as the Padishah Emperor. However, it is also made clear that while the emperor is the supreme leader, power is shared in a quasi-feudal arrangement between the noble houses (the Landstraad), a corporate entity that controls all economic affairs (CHOAM), and the various guilds (of which the Spacing Guild is arguably the most powerful). In this universe, much attention is given to the breakdown of power, the history of how it came to be, and the various member worlds and houses.

For starters, there is House Corrino, the ruling dynasty of the empire that is centered on Kaitan. Their house once ruled from a planet known as Selusa Secundus, but which has since been reduced to ashes from a nuclear attack and now serves as the emperor’s prison planet (where his elite armies are trained). More important, and central to the story, is House Atreides, the family which rules from an ocean planet named Caladan, but come to inherit the desert planet Arrakis (aka. Dune). Passing attention is also given to Geidi Prime, the industrial world run by House Harkonnen, the nominal villains of the story.

Dune_MapBut by far, the most detailed and developed descriptions are that of the planet Arrakis, where most of the story takes place. Throughout the first novel, the planet’s ecology, native species, and inhabitants (the Fremen) are richly detailed. Given that it is the only world where the spice (an awareness drug the entire universe depends on) is mined, the world is understandably the focal point of the Dune universe. Clearly analogous to oil, the spice is a metaphor for human dependence on a single resource, and the consequences thereof. By taking control of the planet at story’s end and threatening to destroy the spice, Paul Atreides effectively becomes the universe’s new ruler. For as the sayings go: “He who controls the spice, controls the universe”, and “He who can destroy a thing controls that thing.”

Frank Herbert cited a number of influences for his galactic empire. Like Asimov, he relied a great deal on history, particularly that of the Middle East, the Crusades, and a number of feudal societies. At the same time, Herbert became fascinated with ecology, a result of his living in Florence, Oregon where the US Department of Agriculture was using poverty grasses to stabilize the expanding Oregon dunes. The article which he wrote about them, entitled “They Stopped the Moving Sands”  was never completed and only appeared decades later in The Road to Dune. Nevertheless, it was from this combination of real history and ecology, how the living environment affects its inhabitants and shapes history, that the universe of Dune emerged.

Star Wars:

Coruscant, capitol of the Old Republic and Empire

Perhaps the best known example of a galactic empire, which in turn emerged from what Lucas called the Old Republic. When asked about his inspirations, George Lucas claimed that he wanted to create an empire that was as aesthetically and thematically similar to Nazi Germany as possible. This is made abundantly clear when one looks into the back story of how the Empire emerged, how its malevolent dictator (Palpatine, a Sith Lord) rose to power and began launching campaigns to eliminate anyone who stood in his way. In addition, the use of Storm Troopers, the uniforms of the imperial officers, and the appearance of Darth Vader also add visual representation to this.

However, a great deal of antiquity works its way into the Star Wars universe as well. Much like Herbert and Asimov, there is a parallel between the past and the future. The incorporation of royalty, swordfights between Bushido-like warriors, gun-toting smugglers, cantinas, dangerous towns in the middle of the desert, and all the allusions to the “Republic” and “Galactic Senate”, fair and noble institutions which ruled the galaxy before the dark times – all of these are themes taken from ancient Greece, Rome, feudal Japan, medieval Europe, and the Wild West.

Urban sprawl on Coruscant
Urban sprawl on Coruscant

In any case, at the center of Lucas’ galactic empire lies Coruscant, a planet that was clearly inspired by Trantor. Whereas in the original series, the planet was not shown or even mentioned, it receives a great deal of attention in the Star Wars novelizations, comics, and prequel movies. Much like Trantor, it is a planet that is completely dominated by urban sprawl, literally every corner of it is covered by massive sky-scrapers and multi-leveled buildings.

According to the Star Wars Wiki (Wookiepedia), roughly a trillion humans and aliens live on its surface, which is another detail that is noteworthy about Lucas’ universe. Unlike Foundation or Dune, in Star Wars, the galactic empire includes countless sentient races, though humans do appear to be the dominant species. This racial aspect is something else that is akin to World War II and Nazi Germany.

Whereas the Rebellion is made up of humans and aliens who are struggling for freedom and tolerance, the Empire is composed entirely of humans who believe in their own racial superiority. However, in a tribute to Lucas’ more creative days, not much is said about this divide, the audience is instead left to infer it from the outward appearances and behavior of the characters on screen. However, the idea receives much development in the novelizations, particularly Timothy Zhan’s Thrawn Trilogy.

Star Trek:

Star Fleet Command, in orbit above Earth

Yet another take on the concept of a galactic polity: Gene Roddenberry’s United Federation of Planets. Much like the Empire of Lucas’ own universe, the Federation is made up of hundreds of member worlds and any number of races. But unlike its peers in the Foundation, Dune or Star Wars universes, the Federation only encompasses a small portion of the galaxy – between ten and fifteen percent, depending on where you look in the storyline.

Beyond their range of influence lie several competing or cooperative empires – the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardasians, the Dominion, and the Borg. Each of these empires represent a threat to the Federation at one time or another in the story, largely because their ideologies are in direct conflict with the Federations policy of peace, multiculturalism and understanding.

This may sound a tad tongue-in-cheek, but it is the main vehicle for the story. In Star Trek, like many other sci-fi franchises, Gene Roddenberry uses alien races as mirrors for the human condition. Whereas in his vision of the future humanity has evolved to overcome the scourges of war, poverty, disease, intolerance and oppression, other races are either less advanced or openly embrace these things.

Negh'varThe Klingons, for example, were the enemies of the Federation because of their commitment to warrior politics. The Romulans are locked  in an ongoing cold war with them because of their belief in their own racial superiority. The Dominion seeks dominance over all “solid” life forms because, as shape shifters, they fear being controlled themselves. And the Borg are an extremely advanced cybernetic race that seeks to “perfect” organic life by merging it – by force, if necessary – with the synthetic. The metaphors are so thick, you could cut them with a knife!

Yes, subtlety was never Roddenberry’s greatest attribute, but the franchise was an open and inclusive one, borrowing freely from other franchises and sci-fi concepts, and incorporating a great deal of fan writing into the actual show itself. And whereas other franchises had firm back-stories and ongoing plots, Star Trek has always been an evolving, ad hoc thing by comparison.

Roddenberry and the producers and writers that took over after his death never did seem to plan that far ahead, and the back story was never hammered out with that much precision. This has allowed for a degree of flexibility, but also comes with the painstaking task of explaining how and why humanity became a utopian society in the first place. But for the most part, the franchise leaves that one vague, arguing that space travel, technology and contact with other sentient races allowed for all of this to happen over time.

Babylon 5:b5-eps3One of my favorite franchises of all time! And possibly one of the most detailed examples of a galactic empire, due largely to the fact that it took shape in the course of the show, instead of just being there in the background from the beginning. Here too, we see a trade off between other franchises, the most similar being Star Trek. In this universe, there is no single galactic empire, but rather a series races that exist is a web of alliances, rivalries and a loose framework of relations.

But as time goes on, many of them come together to form an alliance that is reminiscent of the Federation, though arguably more detailed and pluralistic in its composition. When the show opens, we see that humanity is merely one of many races in the cosmic arena, most of whom are more advanced and older than we are.

The Earth Alliance, as its called, controls only a few colonies, but commands a fair degree of influence thanks to the construction of an important space station in neutral territory. This station (namesake of the show) is known as Babylon 5, aptly named because it is a place of trade, commerce, and the intermixing of peoples and cultures. And much like its namesake, it can be a dangerous and chaotic place, but is nevertheless the focal point of the known universe.

B5_destroyerAccording to the back story, which is explored in depth in the prequel movie “In the Beginning”, the station began as a way of preventing wars based on cultural misunderstandings. Such a war took place between the human race and the Mimbari, a race that is central to the story, ten years prior to the show. After four abortive attempts, the station finally went online and was given the designation of five because it was the fifth incarnation of the project.

Once completed, all major races in the area sent representatives there in order to make sure their interests and concerns were being represented. Chief amongst them was Earth, the Mimbari, the Narns, the Centauri and the Vorlons, who together made up the stations executive council. Beyond them was the “League of Non-Aligned Worlds”, a group made up of fifteen sentient races who were all smaller powers, but together exercise a fair degree of influence over policy.

The Centauri, who were based on the late-period Roman Empire, are a declining power, the once proud rulers of most of the quadrant who have since regressed and are looking to reverse their fortunes. The Narns are their chief rival, a younger race that was previously occupied and brutalized by the Centauri, but who have emerged to become one of the most powerful forces in the quadrant.

B5_season2Based heavily on various revisionists powers of history, they are essentially a race that is familiar with suffering and freely conquers and subjugates others now to ensure that such a thing never happens to them again. The Mimbari, an older and somewhat reclusive race, is nominally committed to peace. But as the war demonstrated, they can easily become a force to be reckoned with given the right provocation. And then there are the Vorlons, a very old and very reclusive race that no one seems to know anything about, but who nevertheless are always there in the background, just watching and waiting…

As the show progresses, we come to see that B5 will actually serve a purpose that is far greater than anyone could have foreseen. It seems that an ancient race, known only as the Shadows, are returning to the known universe. Before they can to invade, however, they must recruit from the younger races and encourage them to make war on their rivals and neighbors. This will sow the seeds of chaos and ensure that their eventual advance will be met with less resistance.

The Vorlons and the Mimbari ambassadors (Kosh and Delenn) are aware of this threat, since their people have faced it before, and begin recruiting the station’s two human commanders (Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan) to help. This proves difficult, as the Shadows appear to have contacts on Earth as well and are backing the power play of Vice President Clarke, an ambitious man who wants to be a dictator. They are also ensuring that the Centauri and Narn go to war with each other as a way of keeping all the other member races preoccupied.

B5_shadow_warHowever, using the station as a rallying point, Sheridan, Sinclair, Delenn and Kosh eventually manage to organize the younger races into a cohesive fighting force to turn back the Shadows. Things become more complicated when they realize that the Vorlons are also the enemy, being involved in a power struggle with the Shadows that goes back eons. However, with the help of other First Ones (very old races) and a commitment to stand on their own, they manage to force both sides to leave the known universe.

In the wake of the war, a new spirit of cooperation and cohesion is formed amongst the younger races, which eventually gives rise to the Interstellar Alliance. This organization is essentially an expanded version of the League, but where members are fully aligned economically and politically and committed to defending each other. This comes in handy when the allies of the Shadows, younger races who are armed with all their old mentors’ gear, come out of hiding and begin to make trouble!

Naturally, the full story is much more complex and I’m not doing it justice, but this is the bare bones of it. Relying on historic examples and countless classic science fiction themes, J. Michael Straczynski establishes a detailed universe where multiple races and political entities eventually come together to form a government that rules the known universe and stands the test of time.

Battletech:

mechwarrior_1Here we have a franchise that had multiple inspirations, according to the creators. The focal point of the franchise is on massive war machines, known as battlemechs, which were apparently inspired by Macross and other anime. However, the creators also came to incorporate a back story that was very European in its outlook, which revolved around the concept of an ongoing war between feudal states.

One could make the case that the Shogunate period of Japan, a time of ongoing civil war, was also a source of inspiration for this story. However, upon familiarizing myself with the background of the series, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing had a predominantly Russian feel to it. In addition to the heroic characters being named Alexandr and Nicholas Kerensky, something about the constant feudal warfare and the morally ambiguous nature of humanity in the story seemed analogous to much of Russia’s troubled history.

To break it down succinctly, the story takes place in the 31st century, a time marked by incessant warfare between different clans and worlds, all of which are populated by humans.Terra (as Earth is now called) was once the center of a grand empire known as the Star League. After centuries of conflict, in what is known as the “Succession Wars”, Earth and many its immediate neighbors were rendered damaged or completely uninhabitable.

inner_sphere_wars_battletech_01As a result, the focal point of the universe resides within the Inner Sphere, a region that is 500 light years away from Earth and dominated by five Great Houses. The leader of each house claims to be the rightful successor of the Star League, and hence the houses are all known as the Successor States. Outside the Inner Sphere lies the Periphery, a large ring of independent star systems that predate the League and the Successor States, but are inferior to them in terms of technology. Though nominally independent, none of these regions have the ability to stand against the houses of the Inner Sphere, and thus avoid conflict with them whenever possible.

A key feature of the Battletech universe is the absence of sentient species outside of the human race. This serves to make the ongoing warfare more realistic, as well as establishing how the current state of war is a direct extension of earlier rivalries (some dating all the way back to the 20th century). Another interesting feature about this franchise is the fact that humanity has not evolved very far beyond its current state, in spite of the lengthy passage of time.

Again, the constant state of warfare has much to do with this, which has had a slowing and even reversing effect on the technological development of many worlds. In short, the franchise is gritty, realistic, and has a pretty dim view of humanity. In addition, there is a palatable sense that humanity’s best years are behind it, and that barring the appearance of some external threat, humanity will war itself into extinction.

Key Features:
A couple of things stand out about each of these examples of a galactic empire. And for anyone interesting in creating their own, they are considerations which have to be taken into account. All of the previous creators, from Isaac Asimov to Weisman and Babcock, either took a singular approach on these issues, or adopted a combined one. Here they are, as I see them:

Humans and Aliens: This is arguably the most important consideration when developing a sci-fi franchise, especially one where a galactic empire is concerned. The creator must decide, is this going to be a universe where humans and aliens coexist with one another, or is it going to be strictly human? Both options open up a range of possibilities; for example, are humans and aliens living together in harmony in this story, is one subjugated to another, or something else entirely? What’s more, what role will the aliens play? Are they to be the benign, enlightened aliens who teach us “flawed humans” how to be better, or will we be the the species that’s got things figured out and they be allegorical representations of our past, flawed selves? Inevitably, aliens serve as a sort of mirror for the human condition or as examples of past human societies, in any story. There’s simply no way around it, not if we want them to be familiar and relateable.

Utopian/Dystopian: Another very important decision to make when creating a universe is the hue its going to have. In short, is it going to be a bright place or a dark place? Would humanity advance as a result of technology and space exploration, or regress because improved weapons and tools merely meant we could do more harm? Both visions serve their purpose, the one eliciting hope for the future and offering potential solutions to contemporary problems, the other making the point that the human condition is permanent and certain behaviors will never be overcome. However, in my opinion, the most respectable approach is to take the middle road on this. Sci-fi franchises, like those of Straczynski and Alastair Reynolds (creator of the Revelation Space universe) did their best to present humanity as being morally ambiguous. We were neither perfect nor unsalvageable. We simply did our best and tried to make a difference, but would always have our share of flaws.

Space Travel: Almost all galactic empires are agreed on this one front. When it comes to creating a extra-solar empire, one that encompasses hundreds or even thousands of star systems, one needs to be able to travel faster than the speed of light. It might mean contravening the laws of physics (causing Einstein to roll over in his grave!) but you can’t really do it otherwise. Whether it’s by the Alcubierre drive, hyperspace, warp, jump gates, or folding space, all of the aforementioned franchises incorporated some kind of FTL. Without it, humanity would require thousands or even millions of years in order to expand to encompass the known universe, at which point, we’d probably have evolved to the point where we were no longer even human! In addition, the problems of subjective time and perspective would wreak havoc with story lines, continuity, and the like. Better and easier to just say “Here (zoom!) Now there!”

Technology: Following on the heels of FTL is the issue of how technology in general is treated within the universe in question. Will it be the source of man’s betterment and salvation, of their downfall, or something in between? Star Trek is a perfect example of the former approach, set in a future where all hunger, disease, poverty and inequality have been eliminated through the application of technology. Despite the obvious utopianism of this view, the franchise really isn’t that far off if you think about it. If we did have matter replicators, machines that could manufacture food, materials and consumer goods out of simple trace elements, then money, precious metals and other artificial means of measuring wealth would become obsolete. In addition, there’d be no more food shortages or distribution problems to speak of, not as long as everyone had access to this technology. And if fusion power and warp technology were available, then energy would be cheap and abundant and commerce would be rapid and efficient.

However, Roddenberry would often show the downside of this equation by portraying societies in which technology had been allowed to run amok. A good example is an episode in Star Trek TNG where the Enterprise comes upon a planet that is run by an advanced machine named Custodian. The people of the planet have grown entirely dependent on the machine and have long since forgotten how to run and maintain. As a result, they have become sterile due to radiation poisoning and are slowly dying off. Another perfect example is the Borg, a race of cybernetic beings that are constantly expanding and assimilating anything in their path. In terms of aesthetics, they are dark, ugly and sterile, traveling around in ships that look like giant cubes that were slapped together out of toxin-spewing industrial junk. Is there a more perfect metaphor for the seemingly unstoppable march of technological progress, in all its darker aspects?

Asimov’s Foundation series also had a pretty benign view of technology. In his universe, the people of Terminus and other Foundation worlds distinguished themselves from their neighbors through their possession of superior technology and even used it to their advantage wherever possible. In the first novel, for instance, the Foundation’s scientists began to travel to neighboring worlds, places that had the use of nuclear power and began teaching them how to rebuild it. Over time, they became a sort of priestly caste who commanded reverential respect from the locals thanks to all the improvements their inventions brought to their daily lives. When in the first book a warlord from the neighboring planet of Anacreon tries to conquer them, they then respond by cutting off all power to the planet and their forces, and use their status as religious leaders to foment rebellion against him.

However, other franchises have a different take on technology and where it will take us. For example, Battletech tends to look at technology in a darker perspective. In this future, the focus of technological development is overwhelmingly on battlemechs and weapons of war. In addition, the ongoing war in the series has had a negative effect on the development of other forms of technology, particularly the kinds that are beneficial to society as a whole. In short, technology has not corrected for mankind’s flaws because it has failed to remove the greatest cause of war and suffering – i.e. ambition!

Frank Herbert, on the other hand, took what could be construed as a mixed view. Whereas in his universe, instantaneous space travel is possible, energy shields, laser guns and nuclear power are all in existence, the overall effect on humanity has not been progressive. In the first Dune novel, we learn that humanity fought a holy war against thinking machines and automation over ten thousands years prior to the main story (the Butlerian Jihad). The target of the jihad was apparently a machine mentality as much as the machines themselves, and the result was a sort of compact whereby future generations promised never to develop a machine that could take the place of a human being. That, in addition to the invention of energy shields, led to the development of a feudal society where nobles and merchant princes were once again responsible for controlling planetary resources, and where armies went to war using swords and daggers in addition to lasers, slug throwers and missiles.

In subsequent novels, this was developed even further to present a sort of twofold perspective on technology. On the one hand, it is shown as being potentially harmful, where a machine mentality and a society built on unrestricted production of material goods can lead to social chaos and anarchy. Not necessarily because it can be harmful in and of itself, but because it can lead to a situation where humans feel so alienated from themselves and each other that they are willing to regress to something simpler and less free. On the other hand, advanced technology is also shown to have a potentially retrogressive effect as well, forcing people to look backwards for solutions instead of forwards. One can see genuine parallels with history, like how industrial civilization, in spite of all its benefits, led to the rise of fascism and communism because of its atomizing and alienating effects on society. Or how the Japanese of the post-Shogunate period deliberately regressed by destroying their stores of muskets and cannons because they feared that the “coward weapons” were detrimental to the Bushido.

Personally, I thought Herbert’s perspective on things was by far the most brilliant and speculative, packed full of social commentary and irony. It was therefore a source of great disappointment that his successors (Brian Herbert and KJA) chose to present things in a far more myopic light. In the prequels to Dune, particularly the Legends of Dune series, the jihad is shown to be a struggle between advanced machines that have enslaved the human race and the few free human worlds that are locked in a life and death struggle to defeat them. However, in twist that is more contradiction than irony, they find the solution to their problem by using nukes to level every machine planet. The fact that the “free worlds” relied on slave labor to compensate for the loss of automation was somewhat interesting, but would have been far more effective if the enemy machines were not portrayed as purely evil and the protagonists as selfless heroes.

Final Thoughts:
The concept of a galactic empire is something that has a long history and many, many incarnations. But as always, the purpose of it seems to be to expand the focus of the commentary so that as many possible aspects of the human condition can be explored. By placing human beings on hundreds or thousands of planets, authors generally seek to show how different places can give rise to different cultures. This is as true of different parts on the globe as it is for different planets in the universe. In addition, the incorporation of aliens also gives us a chance to explore some of the deeper sociological questions, things that arise out of how we interact with different cultures around the world today. For in the end, all science fiction is really about history and the period in which it is conceived, regardless of it being set in the future. Like all other genres, the real aim is to serve as a vehicle for speculation and investigation, answering questions about who we are and what makes us us.

Whew! I think I got a little tongue and cheek there myself! In any case, I enjoy delving into this conceptual stuff, so I think I’m going to do it more often here. Next time, something a bit lighter and more specific. I was thinking about something along the lines of PLANETKILLERS! Stay tuned!

B5, Best Episodes, Season Two

Back with more best episodes! Season one had some big hits, but I honestly think season two was the best in terms of overall poignancy, mystery and sheer entertainment value. Here are some selections of what I really liked from this one!

1. Points of Departure:
In the season two opener, we catch up with Ivanova who is now running the station in Sinclair’s absence. Things are kind of going to hell around the station, a situation made worse when they hear that a rogue Mimbari Cruiser is in the sector. We then meet up with John Sheridan, the Captain of the Earth Destroyer Agamemnon and the man slated to replace Sinclair. He is told to report to B5, where his first duty will be to deal with this situation.

The crew of the Mimbari vessel, the Trigati, are apparently warrior caste members who rejected the Grey Council’s decision to surrender and end the war. After years of drifting around the stars, they are intent on engaging the Earth Forces and die in combat, a move which they hope will trigger a new war and give them the honorable death they seek. However, Sheridan realizes their intent and does not open fire on them.

Instead, he puts out a call to another Mimbari cruiser that has been waiting in hyperspace who quickly arrive and destroy the Trigati. The situation is resolved, but Sheridan is warned that his name will live on in infamy. Already, Sheridan is unpopular with the Mimbari given the fact that he destroyed the Black Star during the war, the Mimbari flagship, by luring it into a trap.

In the course of this, Lennier explains a few things to Sheridan and Ivanova. Specifically, he tells them exactly why the Mimbari surrendered at the Battle of the Line, how it was discovered that Sinclair had a Mimbari soul, as well as many humans besides. Sinclair’s importance to the Mimbari is now made clear, as is the reason for why their surrender was not accepted by all sides.

Significance:
In addition to introducing Sheridan, this episode was also important because it revealed for the first time exactly why the Mimbari surrendered and why Sinclair was so important to them. In essence, the Line showed them that their two races are intertwined and that they would have to come together to face the coming darkness. It also established Sheridan’s dubious reputation amongst the Mimbari, which will come up later.

Memorable Quotes:
Delenn: They fight bravely. They cannot harm our ships, but they continue to try…
Hedronn: Whether they fight or not, they know they will die anyway. So really, is this bravely or simple desperation?
Delenn: Perhaps they are the same thing.

Delenn: We should bring one of them aboard for questioning. If our next step is the final assault on their world, we must know their defenses.
Hedronn: Very well, Delenn. But choose… we are fast running out of candidates.
Delenn: (sees Sinclair’s ship) That one!

Lennier: It is our belief that every generation of Mimbari is reborn in each following generation. Remove those souls, and the whole suffers. We are… diminished. In the last two thousand years, there have been fewer Mimbari born into each generation. And those that are born… do not seem equal to those who came before. It is almost as if our greater souls have been disappearing. At the Battle of the Line, we discovered where our souls were going. They were going to you… Mimbari souls are being reborn, in part or in full, in human bodies.

Lennier: (talking to Delenn in the chrysalis) I told them Delenn, as I was ordered. I only wish I could have told them the rest. About the great enemy that is returning, and the prophecy that the two sides of our spirit must unite against the darkness or be destroyed. They say it will take both of our races to stop the darkness. I’m told that the Earthers will discover all this soon enough on their own. I hope they are right, because if we are wrong, no one will survive our mistake. Goodnight, Delenn.

Sheridan: (delivering his “good luck speech” to an empty C&C) It was an early Earth president, Abraham Lincoln, who best described our situation. “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise to the occasion. We cannot escape history. We will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial though which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the last generation. We shall nobly save or meanly lose our last, best hope of Earth.” (checks the clock) Five minutes to spare.

2. Revelations:
After taking the helm at B5, Sheridan finds himself thrown into the thick of things. In addition to Delenn being in a chrysalis and Garibaldi still in a coma, there is the added mystery of G’Kars absence. We catch up to him on the rim of known space, where he is fleeing from attacking ships and barely makes it away. When he returns to the station, he has dark news. Convinced that the attack on the Narn base in Quadrant 37 was perpetrated by an ancient race, he believes that this same race is the one written about in a Narn religious text from a thousand years ago.

Meanwhile, Londo meets with Morden again and asks him about continuing their working relationship. Morden is willing, and tells Londo that all he need do is select a target if he wants help from his “associates”. All he asks in return is any info Londo may learn concerning the outer rim. When G’Kar comes to the Council and tells them of what he found, and how he’s asked his world to send a ship to investigate, Londo quickly relays the info to Morden, who seems concerned. The Narn ship is destroyed by a Shadow vessel as it enters the system before it is able to begin surveying. The investigation is dropped and G’Kar is left thinking he’s too late.

Garibaldi wakes from his coma after Doctor Franklin uses the alien healing machine he came into possession with in season one. Delenn wakes from her time in the cocoon and reveals herself to the Council, now half-human and half-Mimbari. Sheridan looks at her and is immediately enamored. And after getting a visit from his sister, Sheridan learns more about the circumstances of his wife death and is able to let go of the guilt he’s been harboring. She died on a survey mission in deep space with IPX, and up until now, Sheridan blamed himself, thinking he sent her away because he cancelled a rendezvous. Having learned that she was intended on going anyway, he feels much better.

Significance:
This episode introduces Z’Hadum for the first time, the fabled homeworld of the Shadows. Given that G’Kar has failed to reveal them, they are now free to roam the universe and institute their agenda. In addition, the relationship between them and Londo and the Centauri, which will be intrinsic to their plans, is shown to be proceeding apace. Delenn’s transformation, which apparently has much to do with an ancient prophecy and the reason for why the Mimbari surrendered during the war, has also taken place. This episode is also the first time that Sheridan’s ex-wife is mentioned, and the circumstances of her death will prove to have much to do with the Shadows and the darkness that G’Kar says is coming…

Memorable Quotes:
Londo: There, you see! One deserts his post without any explanation, the other one picks the most breathtakingly inconvenient moment possible to explore new career options, like becoming a butterfly!

Londo: But what happens if I ask for another of these… little demonstrations?
Morden: Then we’ll provide it. Simply choose your target, a colony, an outpost…
Londo: (laughs) Why don’t you eliminate the entire Narn homeworld while you’re at it?
Morden: One thing at a time, Ambassador. One thing at a time.

G’Kar: Weep for the future, Na’Toth. Weep for us all.
N’Toth: Are you alright?
G’Kar: I have looked into the darkness, Na’Toth. You cannot do that and ever be quite the same again.

G’Kar: When you told me about the destruction of our base in quadrant thirty-seven, I knew that only a major power could attempt an assault of that magnitude, but none of the governments here could have done it, which left only one of two possibilities: A new race… or an old race… A VERY old race… G’Quan spoke of a great war long ago against an enemy so terrible it nearly overwhelmed the stars themselves. G’Quan said that before that enemy was thrown down, it dwelled in a system at the edge of known space. I searched for days, going from one system to another. Then, on dark, deserted worlds where there should be no life, where no living thing has walked in over a thousands years, something is moving, gathering its forces, quietly, quietly, hoping to go unnoticed. We must warn the others Na’Toth. After a thousand years the darkness has come again.

G’Kar: I have convinced (my government) to send a ship to the heart of the enemy’s old domain, located at the rim of known space. A dark and terrible place known as Z’ha’dum. It has been dead for a thousand years. No one goes there, no one!
Sheridan: And if someone IS living there?
G’Kar: Than all our races stand on the edge of extinction.

G’Kar: But that couldn’t happen unless they knew the ship was coming and were waiting for it. But no one knew except… (looks at Londo).
Sheridan: What are you implying, Ambassador?
G’Kar: Nothing… I am too late. Everything is too late.

3. The Geometry of Shadows:
Ambassador Londo gets a visit from Lord Refa, a member of the Centauri royal court. Impressed with his handling of the Quadrant 37 border dispute, he indicates to Londo that there are plenty of people back home who are not happy with the path their Empire is on and would like to see that change. Londo agrees to join them, seeing an opportunity for personal advancement and a chance to restore his people to glory.

Ivanova is promoted to Commander, a rank which comes with additional responsibilties, the first of which is to resolve a dispute between two factions of Drazi. Apparently, the two sides are divided based on the color of their sashes; one side is green, the other purple. Ivanova learns that this is a leadership struggle that their race goes through periodically, the people divided into two camps who must then fight it out until one side wins and assumes leadership until the next struggle. After much negotiating, cajoling and a broken leg, Ivanova ends the conflict by accidentally becoming green leader and ordering them all to dye their sashes purple.

Meanwhile, the station is visited by a group of Techno Mages, people who use technology to simulate magic, who are on their way to the rim. Their leader, a man named Elric, tells him that a great darkness is coming, and that they are passing into the outer rim so that they might be able to preserve the knowledge and secrets that they are in possession of until it passes. Sheridan is intrigued by them, being a fan of mystery and magic.

So is Londo, who is determined to get an endorsement from them which he feels will help him extend his influence back home. However, his efforts are rebuffed when it becomes clear he is only interested in advancing his reputation, and the Mages place a “curse” on him, which amounts to a virus that begins playing havoc with his personal files and credit lines. Eventually, the Mage takes the curse off, but also leaves Londo with a vision of things to come. Apparently, Londo will do great and terrible things, and billions of people will suffer as a result…

Significance:
This episode introduces the conspiracy between Londo and Refa, and is the first time Londo is given a real glimpse of where the path he’s on will take him. Already he has had a vision that he will become Emperor one day, and die with G’Kar’s hands wrapped around his throat. Now, he is made to understand that his relationship with Morden and Refa will have terrible consequences. Sheridan and the others are also given further warnings of the war that is to come, which is described as a “terrible darkness”, similar to what G’Kar described.

Memorable Quotes:
Londo: What you are asking could be considered treason.
Lord Refa: Or the first step in restoring our people to their rightful place in the galaxy. Depending on who writes the history books. I think it will be us.

Elric: You don’t frighten easily.
Vir: I work for Ambassador Mollari. After a while, nothing bothers you.

Ivanova: You’re saying just because I’m holding this right now, I’m Green leader? But I’m human!
Drazi: Rules of combat older than contact with other races. Did not mention aliens. Rules change caught up in committee. Not come through yet.

Elric: As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand. And I hear sounds–the sounds of billions of people calling your name.
Londo: My followers?
Elric: Your victims.

4. Soul Mates:
Londo recieves some rather good news from home. In honor of his recent service to the Centauri Republic, the Emperor has decided to grant him a wish in honor of the 30th anniversary of his ascension. And Londo, having endured three arranged marriages to women he can’t stand, can think of only one thing he would want: a divorce! However, he must choose one wife to remain by his side for the sake of appearances and matters of state. After inviting his three wives, Timov, Daggair and Mariel to the station and giving them the news, he begins the selection process. In the end, he decides to stick with Timov, the one who seems to hate him the most. Apparently, her honesty is what sets her apart, and that’s something he feels he can count on.

At the same time, Talia Winters get a visit from an old flame, a telepath named Matt Stoner. Ostensibly, he is aboard the station to sell some wares, but in reality, he’s come to take Winters away. Seems the Psi Corps has been experimenting on him as well, with the consequence that he has become an empath who can override other people’s wills. Winters is tempted to leave just so she can get away from the Corps, but refuses him. Thanks to Garibaldi’s untrusting nature, he is narrowly able to prevent him from using his powers to take her from the station by force.

Significance:
This episode further showed viewers how deep the Psi Corps agenda goes and how much Talia wants to leave it. It also gives us a glimpse of Garibaldi and Talia’s budding relationship, which has progressed from outright hostility on her part thanks to Garibaldi obvious concern and dedication to her. Other than that, this episode really wasn’t significant. It was just damn funny!

Memorable Quotes:
Timov: The secret of our marriage’s success, Londo, is our lack of communication. You have jeopardized that success and I would know why!
Londo: Very well, I wanted to save the surprise, but clearly you have forgotten that tomorrow is the thirtieth anniversary of my ascension day. The emperor has not forgotten. I personally received a congratulatory note from the royal court. My star is rising, in case you were unaware… Now the emperor is a busy man, no time to shop, unlike my wives! Always finding ways to run up my credit accounts! In any event, he wished to give me a gift in honor of my service to our people and the gift he gave me was any one wish within his power to give.
Daggair: And was what was your wish, my sweet?
Londo: A DIVORCE! An easement from the arranged marriages to my three wives! However, the emperor requested that I keep one of you to be my side for future state affairs, so… by tomorrow, I will choose one of you to remain by my side. The other two… will be gone! Gone! …A small repayment for the many years of joy you have given me!

Franklin: Are you okay? Londo, do you know where you are?
Londo: Either in Medlab, or in Hell. Either way, the decor needs work.
Daggair: Oh, Doctor Franklin! Thank you for saving our husband! You’ve done the Centauri a great service!
Mariel: I agree. It’s so good to see you with us again, Londo!
Londo: Well, that settles it, Doctor! I am in hell!

G’Kar: I warn you, Mariel, do not be overconfident. If I were married to Londo Mollari I’d be concerned.
Mariel: G’kar, if you were married to Londo Mollari, we’d all be concerned.

Delenn: Taking on human characteristics has been something of an education for both of us!
Ivanova: Well, if you have any other problems, any other questions at all, just ask!
Delenn: Well…now that you mention it…do you have any idea why I suddenly started getting these… odd cramps?

5. The Coming of Shadows:
Despite health problems, the Centauri Emperor has decided to travel to B5 to deliver a message. G’Kar is outraged at Sheridan is allowing this given his family’s history of outrages towards the Narn, and decides he is going to make an assassination attempt. Meanwhile, Londo and Refa hope to confront him publicly about his role in their Empire’s decline. However, both sides are unaware of what his true purpose is, which is to deliver an apology to the Narn regime for his family and his race’s crimes against them. At the end of his life, he finally wants to do something he knows to be right, rather than be swayed by duty or obligation.

Ultimately, all their plans are frustrated when the Emperor suffers a heart attack on his way to make his grand announcement. Franklin is left to tend to the Emperor, and is told to deliver a message to G’Kar. When Franklin tells G’Kar, he is buffaloed and immediately seeks out Londo. He buys Londo a drink and toasts the Emperor’s health, thinking that a new era of understanding is ahead of them. However, these sentiments prove to be too late in coming…

Faced with an imminent power struggle back home, Refa tells Londo that they must do something that will dwarf the opposition so they can put their own successor on the throne. Londo remembers what Morden told him, that he need only pick a target. He decides to let Morden’s “associates” attack another Narn outpost, and then orders their own ships to move in. When the Narns arrive and find their outpost destroyed and Centauri ships around, they immediately assume it was they who attacked it, and fighting ensues. Back on Centauri Prime, Refa’s agents also kill the Emperor’s Prime Minister, and their own successor, Cartagia, is positioned to take the throne.

Meeting with the Emperor on his deathbed, Londo is given a message. He tells everyone that the Emperor’s last words were in support of their war, but privately he tells Refa that the Emperor told him they are both damned. Refa is unconcerned, but Londo seems shaken by his words. When G’Kar receives word of the attack, he goes ballistic! However, Sheridan is able to stop him by telling him that he must choose between doing what’s right for his people and personal revenge. After calming down, G’Kar comes to a Council session and issues a declaration on behalf of his people: they are now at war with the Centauri! In order to avoid any pesky “investigations” into how the Centauri managed to destroy the outpost so rapidly – a move which clearly reveal that they had help – Londo agrees to release all the surviving colonists from the area as a gesture of “goodwill”.

Significance:
The Great War, the focal point of season two, opens in this episode. After much plotting by Londo and Refa, the Centauri Republic is now effectively under the control of the revisionists, people who want to see the Empire restored to its former glory and are willing to see a great many people die in order to make it happen. Whatever hopes there were for a reconciliation between the two sides is now thwarted. The war is also bad news for B5, since it is the first outbreak of war since the Earth-Mimbari war and the very thing the station was created to prevent. In addition, the outbreak of war means that the Shadows are clearly on the move and working their influence effectively.

Memorable Quotes:
Sheridan: If you love, love without reservation. If you fight, fight without fear.
Emperor Turhan: No regrets then?
Sheridan: A few. But just a few. You?
Turhan: Oh, enough to fill a lifetime. So much has been lost, so much forgotten. So much pain, so much blood. And for what? I wonder…The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast terrible in-between. But there is still time to seize that one last, fragile moment. To choose something better, to make a difference, as you say. And I intend to do just that.

Turhan: How will this end?
Kosh: In fire.

Londo: He said, ‘Continue. Take my people back…to the stars.
Refa: Mollari. What did he say, really?
Londo: He said .. that we are both damned.
Refa: Well. It’s a small enough price to pay for immortality.

6. All Alone in the Night:
The Captain is captured by a marauding alien vessel while investigating a disturbance in a nearby sector. They are known as the Streib (apparently in honor of author/abductee Whitley Strieber), a race of hostile aliens that are known for to periodically adbuct members of different species in order to evaluate them. While aboard, Sheridan is examined, tortured, and forced to fight other captured crew members, all of whom have devices on their heads that seem to be controlling them. The first is a Drazi that he manages to kill, while the second is a Narn that he is able to wound and disarm. After removing the device on his head, he and the Narn captive begin to plot their escape.

Back on Mimbar, Delenn has been once again summoned before the Grey Council, this time to answer for her decision to undergo her transformation. Apparently, the Council feels that she is no longer Mimbari, and hence is to be removed as a Satai and replaced. When she sees her replacement is Neroon, a member of the warrior caste, she is dismayed since it means that the warriors will now have more power than the other castes. However, her protests are ignored and she is told to go back to B5 where she will remain as an ambassador and nothing else.

Meanwhile, Sheridan’d old ship, The Agamemnon has come to B5. Aboard is General Hague, the Chairman of the EarthForce Joint Chiefs of Staff and an old friend of Captain Sheridan who has come to meet with him. When word of his capture reaches the station, Hague and Invanova decide to mount a rescue operation with the help of Delenn, who knows where the Streib homeworld is located.

Also, while on board the ship, Sheridan has a strange dream. In it, he sees Garibaldi and Ivanova who give him cryptic messages, like “you are the hand” and “the man in between is looking for you”. He then sees Kosh and asks him why he too there, to which Kosh says “We were never away. For the first time, your mind is quiet enough to hear me.”
When Sheridan asks what he is doing there, Kosh replies simply “you have always been here”.

Finally, the Agamemnon catches up with them just outside the Streib homeworld. When they are told to stand down and release their captives, the ship spaces them all instead and Ivanova orders their destruction. However, they soon detect a life pod which made it off, with Sheridan and the Narn inside. In the course of the confusion, they managed to make it on board and escape.

Back on the station, Sheridan is confronted by Kosh once he has recovered who once again tells him, “you have always been here.” Sheridan then meets with General Hague who gives him the message he came to share. Hague tells him that there is a conspiracy back home involving Clark, the Night Watch and the Psi Corps. They assassinated Santiago, he says, but he needs help and time to expose it. Sheridan agrees to help, and decides to bring his senior officers into it at last. They agree, and together begin discussing how they plan to someday liberate Earth.

Significance:
This episode was important for a number of reasons. For starters, the subplot about the conspiracy back at Earth is revealed in full. Already it has been hinted at that Clark was behind Santiago’s murder and that the Psi Corps is up to something; now we see that is is true. Sheridan and the other main characters also decide to enlist, effectively making them co-conspirators in the plot to liberate Earth. We are also given numerous hints of what’s to come, “signs and portents” if you will, of whats to come in season three and Sheridan’s importance in it all. It is also the first time that Kosh reaches out and touches Sheridan’s mind, something which will prove of increasing significance as the Shadow War approaches and Kosh is killed.

Memorable Quotes:
Sheridan: Why are you here?
Kosh: We were never away. For the first time, your mind is quiet enough to hear me.
Sheridan: Why am I here?
Kosh: You have always been here.

Delenn: The warrior caste cannot be allowed to set policy!
Neroon: Have you done any better? When I was inducted into this circle, I was finally told the reason we surrendered. I didn’t know whether to laugh or weep! If we were told the truth then we never would have surrendered!

Neroon: I understand that before is a creature I do not recognize. One foot in two worlds. You are an affront to the purity of our race. And you’re belief that you are satisfying prophecy is presumption of the highest order! And yet… it is true that you are the perfect laison between us and the Earthers. You have no home with either of us. So please, act out your fantasy, return to Babylon 5… and stay there!

Sheridan: First obligation of a prisoner is to escape… right? RIGHT? Listen, before… why did you ask me to kill you?
Narn: There is no escape. Better to die… to die…

Sheridan: Ever since the death of president Santiago, something unpleasant’s been going on back home. You know it, and I know it. We’ve stood by too long. That’s going to change. Quietly, discreetly, an inch at a time and for now, strictly within the rules, but we have to do something, or risk losing everything we hold dear. Now, we’ll get some help from inside Earth Dome, but the bottom line, if anything goes wrong, we’re on our own. Anybody wants to leave now before you hear anything you’ll have to report, do so.

And as this is going long, I will have to divide it up and continue later. Like I said, this season was arguably the best and it seems I wasn’t lying! Doing justice to all its best episodes is sure to take some serious page time!

Babylon 5, the Dénouement

Babylon 5, the Dénouement

In the last season, Sheridan was believed to have perished at Z’Hadum, Garibaldi had disappeared as well, and the war has reached a state of intermission. A sad ending, and one which was sure to keep the audience in anticipation for the next season. And like season three, season four was chock full of revelations, action, and big climaxes! In a way, it was the natural topper to this series, to be followed by the relatively tame and epilogue-like season five.

Season Four:

The season opens with Ivanova once again in charge of operations around B5. This time, however, she is heart broken and distraught over the loss of Sheridan, as is Delenn. In time, they try to go to Z’Hadum to find him, but are forced to flee when the Shadows detect them and nearly take over their minds. In any case, they get no word from the surface and assume the worst. However, it appears that John is alive, and wandering aimlessly in a cave until he is found by an alien named Lorien. In time, Lorien reveals to him that he is indeed dead, that he is stuck in time because Lorien grabbed him shortly before he fell to his death. He says he can save John, but only if he finds something worth living for (as opposed to not dying). He finds it in Delenn.

In terms of the war, Sheridan’s kamiza routine with his White Star and the nukes has forced the Shadows to change strategies. Feeling vulnerable, they have decided to move much of their fleet away from Z’Hadum and place them amongst worlds that owe allegiance to them. The Alliance meanwhile is falling apart, member worlds choosing to pull their forces back to protect their own worlds and take advantage of the lull. Delenn insists that they must stay together, but they are unreceptive. She meanwhile confronts the new Vorlon ambassador and demands to know what they are prepared to do. Said ambassador, who is much darker and curt than Kosh, says they intend to do nothing and that their plans have changed.

Meanwhile, G’Kar begins searching for Garibaldi, a search which takes him far from B5 and exposes him to danger. The Centauri are searching for him, given the fact that he is the last remaining member of the Kah’Ri. He is eventually captured, and brought before the Emperor as a gift. This coincides with Londo’s return to Centauri Prime on the Emperor’s request. It seems the puppet Cartagia, now that Refa is dead, has made his own agreement with Morden and given the Shadows the island of Seleni to put their ships on.

Morden reveals himself, scarred from Sheridan’s attack but still alive, and tells him the Cartagia is killing off anyone who resists his will. Londo is fearful because having the Shadows on their planet might mean the Vorlons will attack them there, but Cartagia is unconcerned. He seems to think that the sacrifice of his world is a small price to pay for imminent godhood, which he believes the Shadows are able to confer on him. Londo quickly realizes that Cartagia is mad, and that he must do something to stop the destruction of his homeworld.

Delenn begins to organize an assault on Z’Hadum involving the Rangers and the White Star fleet, hoping it will rally the League and other member races. However, the League quickly move to denounce her and propose that they try to find an accommodation with the Shadows. They claim that there is no hope for victory anymore, that no one comes back from Z’Hadum alive. Just then, Sheridan walks in with Lorien at his side. They say they thought he was dead. He replies, “I was. I’m better now.” He demands that they stay together, that the Shadows can be beaten, and that he is proof. His words ignite the crowd and the alliance is reformed! Everyone appears elated, except for Lennier…

Sheridan then explains to them what the war is really all about. Lorien, who we learn is THE First One, the last surviving member of the first sentient race to ever live, who were naturally immortal, has filled him in on all the remaining details. It seems that the Shadows were right about one thing: at one time, the Vorlons and Shadows were both shepherds to the younger races. However, for millennia they have been struggling because they believe their way is the right way. And the reason the Vorlons no longer care about the alliance and were unconcerned with ascertaining Sheridan’s whereabouts is because they are now moving on every world where the Shadows have bases.

Garibaldi, who was also rescued shortly beforehand, is also concerned. He doesn’t trust Lorien, and seems very cynical and discontent about… everything. His second, Zack Allen, is also concerned, as it seems like Garibaldi’s rescue felt staged. However, all that takes a back seat to getting the war back on track. Now that the Vorlons are devestating any planet where the Shadows have influence, using massive Planet-Killer ships, the Shadows are doing the same in return, using a type of cloud-like device that sterilizes a planet’s surface. “Giants in a playground,” says Ivanova, describing their situation. While they battle it out, countless others are stepped in between.

But before the alliance can counter-attack, they must first remove the new Vorlon from B5. This takes the form of luring him into a trap. Lyta first reveals to him that a part of Kosh survived in Sheridan, when taking him to see him, they attack and destroy his encounter suit. However, no one is able to hurt the Vorlon himself (they are beings of pure energy). However, Kosh soon reveals himself and leaves Sheridan to fight, and the two are destroyed together. Sheridan is left virtually dead in the process, but Lorien touches him and is able to rekindle his life. Afterward, he explains to Delenn that he did not so much save Sheridan’s life as prolongue it. He has 20 years to live now, tops. Delenn is upset, but Sheridan tells her he will still have a good haul and asks her to marry him. She accepts!

At last, the allliance hatches their battle plan. While Ivanova is off recruiting as many First Ones as she can, Sheridan and the others learn that the Vorlons next targets are Coriana 6 and Centauri Prime. They have enough ships for one stand, so they choose Coriana since it has over 6 billion people living on it. They decide they will fight the Vorlons there, but that they will also lure the Shadows there by letting them know they are preparing an offensive from this system. With the two sides together, they will attack both and force a confrontation with the Alliance. Rather than planning on victory, Sheridan is hoping this confrontation will act as a crucible.

Londo is warned though, and begins conspiring with Vir to kill Cartagia. However, he cannot trust anyone else in the palace, and is forced to enlist the help of G’Kar. In exchange for his help killing Cartagia, he agrees to free Narn once and for all. On the Narn homeworld, during G’Kar’s show trial, he escapes and creates confusion while Vir and Londo kill Cartagia with a poison needle. Londo then returns to Centauri Prime, having been appointed the new Prime Minister, and begins removing all Shadow influence. He also learns from the head of security that Morden killed Lady Aadira, and that Cartagia asked that it be kept a secret. Londo is outraged, and it makes what he’s about to do easier.

He summons Morden before him, orders him to remove his ships, but Morden refuses. Londo is therefore forced to detonate several nukes on the island, taking out all the ships, and orders Morden taken away. Morden angrily proclaims that Londo and his people will pay! Ultimately, Morden is executed and his head is put on a pike. Knowing that Vir once jokingly said he like to see that happen, he shows it to Vir as a gift. Londo now believes they are safe since he’s rid their world of all Shadow influence, but Vir tells him there’s one that remains: Londo himself! This coincides with the appearance of a Vorlon planet-killer in orbit. Londo orders Vir to kill him post-haste to save their world, but strangely, the ships suddenly depart. It seems like they have been called in elsewhere, which brings me back to the alliance’s battle plan…

Back at Coriana 6, the Vorlons and Shadows arrive and begin fighting each other, both sides having brought their own planet-killer devices. Sheridan detonates several nukes to get their attention, and the alliance forces begin battling both of them. Things appear to be going smoothly, until the Vorlon planet-killer gets in range of the planet. They call in the First Ones, who then blow it up. Everything reaches a lull, during which time the Vorlons take over Sheridan and Delenn, so that they might have a private conversation. However, Lorien embraces both of them and lets everyone in the fleet listen in.

During his conversations with the Vorlons, Sheridan demands to know why they haven’t struck at the Shadows directly if they intend to “eliminate the darkness”. He tells them that he knows this is about influence, that its not for the benefit of the younger races at all, and that they are refusing to take sides anymore. Delenn’s conversation is similar, the Shadows try to appeal to her by saying her race will come out this conflict stronger, but Delenn refuses. She too says that they will reject both sides and not fight their wars anymore, but is told that they will fight and die for them because there is no other way.

The conversation ends when both Vorlons and Shadows realize that the rest of the fleet is listening in, that they know the truth. The Shadows pull their planet-killing shroud over the alliance fleet and threaten to kill Sheridan and Delenn. However, when they begin firing on them, other ships move in to protect them. It is thus clear that the Shadows and Vorlons have lost all influence, and Lorien tells them its time to let go. Like the other First Ones, they should leave the galaxy to the younger races, like his people did with the Vorlons and Shadows, and head out into the wider universe. They agree, happy that Lorien will be coming with them and they will not be alone.

The war is over! However, some accounts still need to be settled. Namely, Sheridan and his people still have Clark and his government to deal with. And now that he no longer has his Shadow friends to protect him, Clark is thinking the same thing. He sees B5 as a liability and begins running a propaganda campaign to make Sheridan appear like an alien collaborator who’s working against Earth. Sheridan responds by creating the “Voice of the Resistance”, using their wartime network to broadcast the truth about Clark’s regime and his activities.

Bester also returns, bearing information on Clark’s plans. In return, he asks that they go to Z’Hadum to see if they can find any leftover technology that might help them cure the telepaths they rescued. Mainly, he’s interested in helping the woman he loves, and in a private conversation with her body, he reveals that he has one final “ace up his sleeve” for Sheridan. When they arrive at Z’Hadum, they see a fleet of ships evacuating, and the planet blows up. Afterward, Sheridan confronts Lyta, since he suspects that it was her that sent the telepathic signal that detonated it. She tacitly admits to this, partly because she wanted to hurt Bester for all he’s done, and to make sure the Shadow technology never fell into anyone’s hands.

Around this time, Delenn is forced to return home. It seems that since she broke the Grey Council, unrest has been settling in between the religious and warrior castes, and even a civil war rappears to be looming. She learns of this when a new race, the Draak (who they learn were the Shadows allies) show up and try to take some worlds on the border of Mimbari space. After blowing their cover and defeating their attack force, Delenn realizes she must return home to take stock of the situation. As the one who broke the Grey Council, she feels responsible for the ensuing chaos.

To do this, she enlists the help of an unlikely ally: Neroon, the hard-core warrior who replaced her on the Council. He is initially reluctant, but in time she convinces him of her sincerity, and agrees to her plan. After war breaks out, Delenn announces that the religious caste will surrender and she will meet with the leader of the warriors – a man named Shakiri. They meet in the ancient temple that predated the Grey Council, where leadership were selected by “trial by fire”. This involved the leader of a respective caste entering the wheel of fire, where they would be consumed. Whoever was willing to die would have their caste become the new leaders. Since Shakirir has rejected the ways of Valen, they must embrace this tradition, or lose face…

Shakiri agrees, but is ultimately unwilling to die and flees the fire. He is therefore revealed to be unworthy, but contrary to what she and Neroon had originally planned, Delenn stays behind. He jumps in to save her, himself dying in the process, but not before he makes a heartfelt plea.  He claims that though he was born a warrior, the true calling of his heart is religious, and that their people listen to Delenn. She then goes about reforging the Grey Council, only this time, instead of their being three representatives from each caste, the bulk of representatives will be from the Worker caste. This way, the people will decide policy, not prophecies or ideologies.

After an atrocity where fleeing civilians are fired upon by Earth ships takes place, Sheridan decides its time for more direct action. Using the White Star fleet, B5 begins an offensive against the Earth Alliance, attacking Proxima, Mars, and then Earth. Meanwhile, Garibaldi, who resigned his post and became an independent investigator decides to turn on Sheridan. For some time, its been apparent that he’s changed since his capture and that something happened to him while he was away. In his new job, he enlists with William Edgars, a major industrialist who owns half of Mars and happens to be married to Garibaldi’s ex. When he returns to Mars, he learns Edgars and his people have their own plans for overthrowing Clark, but it goes farther than just removing the man.

Once Garibaldi earns Edgars’ trust, Edgars tells him that Clark’s real power comes from the Psi Corps, and that they are the power behind the throne. His industries have created a virus that kills telepaths, but also have created a cure. This way, they can control them and keep them from taking over. However, Sheridan’s offensive is an impediment to this plan, so Garibaldi is forced to betray him, luring him into a trap where Earth agents are able to grab him. Afterward, once Garibaldi knows everything, he meets up with Bester, who is apparently the one that’s been pulling his strings. While in a hypnotic state, he divulges everything about Edgar’s plans and Bester concludes that this is a remnant of the Shadow’s plan: that the virus is their technology, and that alongside supporting Clark’s bid for power, they put this plan into work – leaving his people either “controlled… or dead”.

Psi Cops show up immediately thereafter to kill Edgars, his people, and take the virus and the cure. Bester than frees Garibaldi of his grip, and Garibaldi is horrified to see what he’s done. He immediately seeks out the Mars resistance, finding Franklin, Lyta and Marcus there too since they’ve been laising with them. He tells them everything, Lyta probes him and sees he’s telling the truth, and they set out to rescue Sheridan. They find him drugged but alive inside a detainment center where he was being tortured and subjected to mind warfare.

At the same time, Delenn finds out that news of Sheridan’s capture brought the League worlds together, and that they have openly declared their support for Sheridan and his efforts. The wartime alliance is now a full-time thing, known as the Insterstellar Alliance. Ships from every member world are sent into the fray to offer support, but the front line fighting will be left to Sheridan and the Earth forces to ensure that everyone knows this is their effort, not outside interference.

And now that he is free, Sheridan returns and takes command of the fleet so they can mount their final assault. The Earth fleet is marshalling at Mars for a final fight, but rather than attack them directly, Sheridan’s forces and the Mars resistance manage to smuggle the altered telepaths (the ones they captured from the Shadows) aboard the Alliance ship’s where they began merging with the machinery. The ships are therefore disabled and the alliance fleet is able to surpass them and head for Earth.

Unfortunately, he gets back just in time to find Ivanova on her death bed. On their way to Mars, they came up against Clark’s best forces, a fleet of Earth Destroyers that had been merged with Shadow vessels. They won the battle, but in the process, Ivanova was critically injured and narrowly saved by Marcus. However, after being rushed back to B5 for treatment, Marcus finds out about an alien device Franklin inherited that can transfer life force. He gives his life to save hers, and tells her he loves her just before she comes out of her coma and he dies.

However, Clark has reprogrammed the defensive grid to enact “Scorched Earth” – aka. to level the planet’s surface. He’s gone mad it seems, and then takes his own life to avoid capture. However, his own people break into his office, tell Sheridan of the plan, and Sheridan’s forces manage to knock out the defense grid before it can fire. Sheridan then goes to Earth to offer himself up for judgment, and they decide to relieve him of his position as Captain, but thank him for saving them as well. Which is fine, since he’s got a new job – as first president of the new Interstellar Alliance! Earth is offered membership, but only if it allows its colonies independence.

In the season finale, Sheridan returns to B5 for his inauguration. However, we quickly see that the episode is a retrospective being told from one million years in the future. The main theme of the episode opens when Sheridan wonders aloud whether or not he and Delenn will be remembered, and he concludes “probably not.” Delenn tells him not to worry though, that they’ve created what they did because it was right and that history will tend to itself.

These words are therefore meant to be ironic since we can clearly see how their influence and their actions echoed throughout the ages, all the way to the distant future where humanity has evolved to the point of being like the Vorlons and are leaving the Solar System for the last time. The season then ends with the words: DEDICATED TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHO PREDICTED THE BABYLON PROJECT WOULD FAIL IN ITS MISSION. FAITH MANAGES.

From what I understand, this episode was meant to be the series finale. One friend tells me this was because Straczynski had no intention of making a fifth season, but others tell me it was because the show was originally intended for five seasons but it was unclear whether or not the network would spring for a fifth. Either way, B5 would have one last season before wrapping up for all time. And as I said before, it was full of epilogues, some rather sad…