The Shadows are a fictional alien species in the science fiction television series Babylon 5. Their homeworld is Z’ha’dum, and they were the second race among the First Ones to be discovered and nurtured by Lorien, the “First One”. In contrast to the Vorlons, whose philosophy is represented by the question “Who are you?”, that of the Shadows is represented by the question “What do you want?”, centering towards desire rather than identity. J. Michael Straczynski, the show’s creator, once explained that he chose the name “Shadows” because of its meaning in Jungian psychology.
A Shadow is an incorporeal being with a spiked, violet-black exoskeleton looking encounter suit. Their encounter suit is similar in shape to a praying mantis with an upper body, shoulder spines, a mobile head, and at least one pair of grasping forelimbs. The rear of the encounter suit is supported by multiple pairs of legs. Their legs resemble those of a spider, but each Shadow has six of them instead of eight.
The Shadows have fourteen “eyes” showing the shadows true form in total divided into four groups. Two sets of three arranged, slanted upward and two sets of four arranged to align perfectly under the first sets.
The spoken language of the Shadows is a rapid series of high-frequency bursts and chirps like a cricket or grasshopper. According to one of their human emissaries, the endonym of the Shadows is ten thousand letters long, and unpronounceable by many; but this may simply be a lie to avoid revealing their actual name.
Detailed descriptions are rare, due to their encounter suits ability to “cloak” themselves to visual wavelengths of light. They are thus rarely seen except as shadowy, mirage-like silhouettes, which can be seen by telepaths, those using visual enhancement devices, or when the entity chooses to partially or wholly reveal itself. Other manifestations take the form of the Shadows’ three pairs of glowing orange eyes, usually as a symbolic image within a telepathic or dream vision.
Shadows very rarely engage in hand-to-hand combat to accomplish their goals, relying instead on invisibility, behind-the-scenes maneuvering and their technology. They are, however, vulnerable to high-powered energy weapons, as demonstrated when the two Shadow guards flanking Mr. Morden are run off by particle gun fire from Centauri guards, and likely killed in the nuclear explosion on the shadows base island on Centauri Prime.
Z’ha’dum is the homeworld of the Shadows. No one leaves the same as they arrived. –Delenn
If you go to Z’ha’dum, you will die. — Kosh to John Sheridan
In the fictional Babylon 5 universe, Z’ha’dum was a world extremely important to the ancient, mysterious species known as the Shadows. Although a blasted, devastated world from which the Shadows were frequently driven over the eons, they kept coming back out of respect for Lorien—the first of the First Ones—who for a long time resided on the planet.
Because of their periodic presence on Z’ha’dum, the planet is often assumed to be the Shadows’ homeworld, but it is unknown whether the species actually originated there, or if its importance to them is centered strictly on Lorien. Before undergoing her fundamental genetic change to become more human, Delenn confirms with Kosh that the Shadows have returned to Z’ha’dum, implying that the species is based elsewhere when not actively preparing to launch one of their periodic wars. There appears to be more than one place of power for the Shadows and their minions. According to Markab Ambassador Fashar: “When the darkness was defeated long ago, they scattered, hid themselves away in secret places.”
According to Anna Sheridan in “Z’ha’dum”, the Shadows believed they would die if anything Vorlon touched Z’ha’dum. It is not known whether this is true, merely an old superstition, or a way to separate and isolate Sheridan from his transportation. Many of them did die when Sheridan arrived with a piece of Kosh and detonated a pair of nuclear warheads that he had secretly smuggled onto the White Star (partially based on Vorlon technology) in a kamikaze attack. Additionally, Lyta’s telepathy, enhanced by the Vorlons (and, indeed, genetically seeded by the Vorlons in the first place) later triggered the destruction of Z’ha’dum itself. However, it is unclear if her telepathic probing of Z’ha’dum merely alarmed the remaining residents, who then set self-destruct devices and fled, or if the probing of Vorlon-enhanced telepathy somehow automatically triggered the planet’s destruction.
BEFORE RECORDED HISTORY
On the TV series, the Shadows are presumed to have evolved from arthropoid creatures. Little is known about what the Shadows’ evolutionary history was like.
As was stated in the Technomage Book Trilogy, the Shadows and Vorlons are both creatures of light. The Shadows prefer a more “down to earth” appearance, as opposed to the Vorlons who, due to generations of genetic tampering, are perceived as angels from the religious legends of races that see them.
Some records indicate that the Shadows first achieved Hyperspace capability as far back as 100 mya, maybe earlier. Around this time the Shadows also became a major galactic power, exploring the universe and making contact with alien races. The first of these races was that of the being Lorien, who was the first of the First Ones.
The Shadows waged many wars with other ancient powers, including the Vorlons, Walkers and many more. The reasons for these wars are unknown, but some theorize the Shadows attacked out of fear of the telepathic talents of their enemies. In these wars the Shadows were defeated, but never destroyed. Retreating to Z’ha’dum, the Shadows went into hibernation for 1000 years before reemerging, a more powerful and learned force. It is believed that this cycle of defeat and adaptation laid the basis for the Shadows’ ideology of “facilitated survival of the fittest,” which they would later enforce on the younger races.
10,000 YEARS AGO
Millions of years later, many younger races had begun to evolve on thousands of worlds and the First Ones realized that in order for these new sentients to succeed, the ancient races would have to move on. Thus many of the First Ones moved beyond the Galactic Rim, to explore the vast emptiness between galaxies and perhaps explore the numerous other galaxies throughout the universe. Several of the First Ones decided to stay behind and shepherd the younger races until they were fit to control their own destiny. The primary caretakers were the Vorlons and, surprisingly enough, the Shadows.
At first there was a balance between the two sides. One of the two then broke the agreement. Which is unknown. The Shadows claim the Vorlons broke the balance when they began tinkering with races on a genetic level, in an effort to make the younger races evolve more like them; which the Vorlons did, in fact, do. Though, as previously alluded to, it is not known whether this was the first act. Among these genetic dabblings, the Vorlons manipulated the younger races to see them as angelic creatures, using their telepathic abilities to shield their true form from the beings they manipulated.
The Shadows and the Vorlons began to fight amongst themselves, and those who tried to mediate, like the Walkers of Sigma 957, left the conflict embittered.
Over the course of the centuries that passed, the wars between the Shadows and Vorlons persisted. Then at some unknown point in time they decided to have their students fight for them, in an effort to prove who was right. This led to the last Shadow War before the time in which the Babylon 5 television series was set.
Around the Earth year 1260, the penultimate Shadow War raged between the Shadows and the combined forces of the Vorlons, Minbari, and various other younger races allied with the Vorlons. The primitive and agrarian Narn homeworld was occupied by the Shadows, and the planet became a Shadow staging area. The Shadows had no interest in the Narn themselves at that time.
Somehow, Narn telepaths learned that they could hurt the Shadows’ ships, and may have begun guerrilla operations against the Shadows. Through an unknown mechanism the Shadows slew all Narn telepaths of breeding age in order to prevent the Narn from resisting the Shadows, but the surviving telepaths, led by G’Quan, were still able to drive the Shadows from the planet.
Realising the war was lost, the Shadows seeded hundreds of worlds across the galaxy with their ships so their forces couldn’t be wiped out in a single attack, as even the Vorlons could never find them all. They then retreated and hid themselves away, going into a state of hibernation.
In 2259, there were increasing reports of a black, spidery ship being encountered in hyperspace, which instilled a dark fear in all who looked upon it. Meanwhile, Narn ambassador G’Kar realized that these ships were those described in the ancient writings of the Narn philosopher G’Quan, which told of a great enemy that rose to power a thousand years in the past. Known as the Shadows, they spread from their homeworld Z’ha’dum to rival the stars themselves:
“And the Spirit of Darkness moved upon the land. It screamed in the dreams of the Mindwalkers; and they fell, destroyed by it to their children and their children’s children. Then did the Darkness come to Narn until it was driven out by G’Quan and the last of the surviving Mindwalkers.”
The text is accompanied by pictures of the black ship, and ends on a chilling note:
“There is a darkness greater than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this foe we can never surrender.”
In late 2260, Captain John Sheridan was invited to Z’ha’dum for a meeting with the Shadows. The Shadows badly wanted to have Sheridan on their side because if he unravelled the Army of Light, it would stay unravelled, but, as past experience had showed them, if they killed him, someone else would simply take his place.
Sheridan did go to Z’ha’dum but the negotiations collapsed, and he jumped into a ravine two miles deep to evade capture once his suspicion that he had been led into a trap was confirmed.
Before doing so, he remotely piloted his ship, the White Star, to crash into the Shadows’ capital city, which he was visiting. The White Star was carrying two nuclear bombs in its cargo bay, each with a yield of over 500 megatons. (The strongest nuclear bomb to be detonated as of 2011 was the Tsar Bomb, which had a yield of 50 megatons.)
Seconds after Sheridan jumped into the abyss, the White Star crashed into the city and the nuclear weapons it contained detonated. Both the White Star and the city were destroyed. The crater left from the blast was the size of a large Earth country and was clearly visible from space.
The explosion on Z’ha’dum destroyed the Shadows’ biggest city, throwing them into chaos and forcing them to regroup. They then went to seek outside help, and enlisted the Centauri to shelter a fleet of their ships on Centauri Prime.
At the Battle of Coriana 6, the second Shadow War ended, and the Shadows passed beyond the Galactic Rim. Nonetheless, their servants, the Drakh, and a few others stayed behind, and retained the advanced technology and aggressive philosophy of the Shadows.
Sheridan, along with Alfred Bester and Lyta Alexander, went back to Z’ha’dum in early 2261 in search of some of this technology. This triggered a self-destruct security feature that caused the entire planet to explode, leaving nothing behind — except for what the Drakh and other allies of the Shadows took with them in their quick exit from the exploding planet.
The Drakh aren’t the only race who worked for the Shadows, but neither the surgeons and pilot in “Ship of Tears” nor the creature in “The Long Dark” were seen to be helping with the evacuation, though of course it has been speculated that the Drakh might have been the only Shadow servants to have been living on Z’ha’dum at that time.
With the destruction of Z’ha’dum, those beings that had faithfully served the Shadows down through the centuries found themselves homeless. Now these thralls sought to become masters of chaos themselves. Thus, the legacy of the Shadows lived on.
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