It was the year of fire… the year of destruction… the year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth… the year of great sadness… the year of pain… and the year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place: Babylon 5. – Lennier, Zack, G’Kar, Lyta, Vir, Marcus, Delenn, Londo, Franklin, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Sheridan
The Shadow War is at a standstill as 2261 begins. Ancient, implacable enemies, held at bay by races long dead or departed, the Shadows were no more than legends to most of the younger races.
All that changed in 2260. The Shadows, awakened years earlier from a millenium-long slumber on their ancestral home of Z’ha’dum, gradually made their presence known, and their purpose became clear: weeding out the weak and defenseless among the younger races to promote rapid evolution. Moving largely behind the scenes, they set the younger races upon one another, causing wars and inciting genocide. The Shadows are the embodiment of the question, “What do you want?” They seek not military victory, but philosophical dominance, a universe in which younger races scramble madly to attain their goals without regard for the consequences. Such an environment demands chaos, and it’s chaos the Shadows have so effectively brought upon the major races.
When the other First Ones departed for reasons of their own, the Vorlons were left behind to oppose the Shadow philosophy. If the Shadows represent chaos, the Vorlons are lords of order: they seek the same outcome, the advancement of younger races, but on their terms, whether their charges like it or not. The Vorlons prefer to ask the question, “Who are you?” It is a question that leads to introspection and spiritual growth, but not to expansion or scientific advancement.
Unfortunately, the struggle between the two philosophies is played out not among the ancients, but among the younger races, unwitting pawns in a game few yet realize is being played.
The Earth Alliance, headquartered in Geneva, is led by President Clark. Clark came to power with the help of the Shadows and the Psi Corps, a Shadow-dominated agency created to control the telepathic talents planted furtively in the human gene pool by the Vorlons. ISN, a blatant propaganda machine, controls the flow of information to the citizenry and the outside world. Political dissent is stifled by an Orwellian agency called the Night Watch. Passage to and from the Earth Alliance is difficult thanks to the imposition of strict martial law, ostensibly to protect humans from alien influences that might spark another devastating war. So far, Earth has largely stayed out of the Shadow War; Clark’s extreme xenophobia hasn’t led him to strike out against the other races. Rumors of a resistance movement persist, but so far they’re nothing more than rumors.
Until recently, Babylon 5 was an outpost operated by the Earth Allance, built with the aid of a few alien governments. Captain Sheridan declared independence in mid-2260 in opposition to Clark’s totalitarian policies. By continuing its function as a remote outpost used by a multitude of species, B5 has been able to maintain its autonomy from Earth, though with autonomy has come the isolation of most of B5’s crew from their families and friends back home. With the war against the Shadows out in the open, the station has served as a base of operations, a gathering point for those who oppose the Shadows: the Vorlon-inspired Army of Light.
The Rangers are the core of the Army of Light. Made up primarily of humans and Minbari, the Rangers were formed to gather information and perform covert operations to undermine the work of the Shadows. The Army of Light as a whole is composed of the Narn, the Minbari, and various minor races, all of whom feel that the Shadows must be opposed at any cost. By implication, they side with the Vorlons, and in fact the Vorlons have encouraged the Army’s formation, contributing tidbits of advanced technology toward the construction of the White Star Fleet of warships.
An old, highly spiritual race, the Minbari are humanoid with exterior bone crests on their heads. A thousand years ago, the Minbari fought the Shadows alongside the Vorlons, and came to trust the Vorlons implicitly. Minbari society is divided into three castes: Warrior, Religious, and Worker. After a recent splintering of their political leadership, Minbari society is at an impasse. The Religious and Worker Castes have given their support to the Army of Light, but the Warrior Caste, arrogant and isolationist, resents such involvement with inferior races.
Only a few know that Minbar and Earth have linked histories: a human, Sinclair, the first commander of Babylon 5, traveled back in time to the previous war against the Shadows and delivered a new base of operations, Babylon 4, to the Minbari. Sinclair became a great spiritual leader, the founder of Minbari society and a prophet thanks to his knowledge of future events. Sinclair’s journey opened a doorway between Minbari and humans, and since the last war a thousand years ago, Minbari souls have been slowly reincarnating in human bodies. Upon discovering that, the Religious Caste halted the Earth-Minbari War, a decision still resented by the Warrior Caste.
The Centauri Republic, until recently a declining empire, has allied itself with the Shadows and is enjoying a renaissance of military and political might. The Centauri are even allowing the Shadows to house ships and personnel on their homeworld. The insane Centauri Emperor, Cartagia, believes the Shadows will elevate him to godhood if he cooperates with them. Instead, the pact is likely to leave Cartagia dead and Centauri Prime in ruins. Centauri are mostly human in appearance; men wear their hair in fans whose height indicate social standing, and women have shaved heads.
Once a major power, the Narn Regime was one of the victims of Centauri expansionism, especially humiliating since they were unwilling subjects of the Centauri Republic a hundred years ago. Under the leadership of former ambassador G’Kar, now living in sanctuary on Babylon 5, the Narn are assisting with Babylon 5 security and acting as footsoldiers for the Army of Light. Narns have a reptilian appearance and are easily provoked.