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In the television series Babylon 5, The Great Machine is an enormous technological complex of networked machines beneath the surface of the planet Epsilon III. It first appears in season 1 two-part episode "A Voice in the Wilderness".
The Great Machine was constructed sometime around the earth year 1758, 500 years prior to the establishment of Babylon 5. The identity of the race who built it is unknown, although the race that formerly inhabited the planet did play a part in its maintenance and supervision. Eventually, the offensive potential of the machine provoked a schism in the custodial species between those who sought to use it with restraint against those who sought to use it for conquest. The violent faction was eventually expunged, and knowledge of the planet's location had been lost to them in the process.
Following the exodus, the inhabiting species eventually died off or left Epsilon III, leaving only one member of their race, a being named Varn (Curt Lowens), to function as the custodian of the Great Machine. Varn himself had a series of ten assistants named Zathras to perform the physical repairs and maintenance of the Machine itself, although this was not known to anyone until the year 2260. Varn continued to operate the Great Machine until his health finally began to wane in 2258, and the Machine began to malfunction as a result, destabilizing the planet. An expedition by Babylon 5 personnel brought him back to the station where he informed them of his identity and his function. Unfortunately, the Great Machine also broadcast an emergency beacon that was detected by the expunged faction, who traced the signal back to its location. There was a resulting standoff between Babylon 5 and the fleet of faction ships over custody of the Machine. A member of the Minbari religious caste named Draal (played first by Louis Turenne, then by John Schuck), facing retirement and exile, offered to take Varn's place as custodian of the Great Machine and to protect it against those who would abuse it. With the assistance of Londo Mollari, Draal returned with Varn and assumed control of the machine. Draal then warned Babylon 5 station personnel that the Machine and the planet were off limits to everyone until the time was right. Subsequently he used its weapons systems to destroy the faction fleet when it attempted to land. Varn then began to train Draal about the machine's workings until his death in 2259.
Draal kept the Great Machine off limits until 2259, when Babylon 5 became involved in the Shadow War. He offered the services of the planet (The Long, Twilight Struggle) to assist in the search for other First Ones, and to provide communication and historical information that would assist them in the effort. The Great Machine was essential in creating the temporal rift that allowed for the passage of Babylon 4 1,000 years into the past to fulfill its role in the previous Shadow War (War Without End), and for obtaining the clandestine radio transmissions that proved Earth vice president Clark was directly responsible for the assassination of President Santiago in 2258 (Voices of Authority). While Draal had pledged the Machine's defenses to the aid of the station in the war, they were never needed, and instead, Epsilon III was used as refugee relief area for victims displaced by the War.
After the Shadow War concluded in 2261, President Clark began to escalate the violence and atrocities of his police state to control dissent. Babylon 5, which had seceded from the Earth Alliance the previous year after Clark had attempted to arrest its command staff, began to broadcast intelligence reports of Clark's regime to counteract his propaganda. Because of the distance between Earth and Epsilon III, Babylon 5 enlisted the Great Machine's power supply to enhance the signal so that it could traverse the distance and bypass the jamming equipment used by Earth to block the transmissions (Conflicts of Interest).
Following the Earth Alliance Civil War between the pro-Clark and anti-Clark factions, nothing is known about the Great Machine's activities.
The Great Machine is a collection of massive technological systems that run throughout the surface and core of the planet. While these functions vary — weapons, surveillance, observation, communication, manufacturing, etc. — they all perform on a scale far larger than most other systems of similar design. The Great Machine is designed to be entirely self-contained and self-sufficient, and is powered by a multitude of fusion reactors, many of which exceed 15 kilometers in length.
While the Machine has many regulatory and automated systems, the size and scope of it requires the prolonged presence of a sentient mind to function as an operating system, which is located at its center. To protect this individual, the Machine has advanced medical augmentation facilities that can rejuvenate and extend the life of the custodian far beyond the species-normal lifespan. Using the interface, the custodian can utilize the facilities of the Machine to observe the entire system and even far reaches of the galaxy.
The Great Machine has a variety of defensive systems, such as ground-to-air missiles. While most of these systems are unknown, one of the primary weapons is a directed energy beam weapon of enormous power capable of destroying an entire fleet of ships in a single, continuous burst.
Most of the Great Machine's abilities are unknown, however, as their uses were only required primarily between the years 2259-2261, and only in a limited capacity. Outside of these mitigating circumstances, the Great Machine remains off-limits to all uninvited visitors and its technology a secret for its own protection.