Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek, including the most recent season of Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the trailers for Star Trek: Picard.
As Star Trek: Picard gets closer, I’m continuing the series I began last time, looking at some of the factions we seem certain to encounter in the new series. We’ve already looked at the Romulans, as Star Trek: Picard will feature the franchise’s first ever Romulan main character. And today, it’s the turn of the Borg to be under the microscope!
There’s still a part of me that wonders if the AI named Control, featured in Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, will ultimately turn out to be connected in some way to the origins of the Borg, which thus far are shrouded in mystery. It definitely seemed for a while that the story was going to go that way, but for now we’ll have to treat it as unconfirmed at best.
The Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant – the area of the galaxy farthest from Federation space. Due to the distances involved, the Borg had relatively few encounters with the humanity and the Federation prior to the 24th Century.
The Borg Queen claimed that the collective was developed over “thousands of centuries”, and began as any other organic humanoid species. The addition of their cybernetics came later. By the 15th Century, the Borg were known to other Delta Quadrant races, but they had only a few systems under their control. It’s implied that their technology was also much more limited, comparable to other factions at the time, though they were capable of faster-than-light travel.
Here’s where it gets a little messy – thanks to time travel.
In the 24th Century, as part of a plan to conquer the Federation, the Borg travelled back in time and attempted to assimilate Earth in the past: specifically in the year 2063, the year humans made first contact with the Vulcans. Though this attack was able to be thwarted thanks to the efforts of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E, several Borg drones, as well as wreckage from their vessel, crashed on Earth, north of the Arctic Circle.
These Borg were uncovered over ninety years later by scientists, who inadvertently awakened the drones – and were promptly assimilated. This marked the second “first contact” between the Borg Collective and humanity. Because the drones were few in number, and only had access to a sub-light shuttle, they were ultimately defeated by the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise: but not before they sent a message to the rest of the Collective. In this time period, the Collective was still in the Delta Quadrant, and the message would take over two centuries to reach them – coinciding with the Borg’s later appearances in the 24th Century. Whether this forms a kind of “time loop” paradox, or whether the Borg would always have been interested in the Alpha Quadrant by the 24th Century is unknown.
There was no contact between the Borg and humanity after this incident, and records of it seem to have been lost – or deliberately kept hidden – by the next time humans encountered the Borg in the 24th Century. However, sometime in the 23rd Century, the El-Aurians (Guinan’s species) were attacked by the Borg, and several hundred El-Aurian refugees came to Earth – bringing with them stories of what happened to their homeworld. It was at this time that Starfleet officially began researching the Borg – though no connection was made between the El-Aurian’s conquerors and the Arctic Circle incident.
By the mid-24th Century, some in Starfleet considered the Borg to be a myth, but two exobiologists, a married couple named Magnus and Erin Hansen, took a small exploration vessel to try to track them down. Taking their young daughter, Annika, with them, they would eventually be successful in finding the Borg, and ultimately followed them all the way to the Delta Quadrant, collecting a huge amount of information. Unfortunately they were discovered and assimilated after approximately two years. Annika Hansen would later be better known as Seven of Nine after being liberated from the Collective by Captain Janeway and the crew of the USS Voyager.
Because of the distance between the Delta Quadrant and Federation space, the Hansens’ research and knowledge of the Borg was not communicated to Starfleet. Instead, the Federation’s first “official” encounter with the Borg came when Q used his powers to deliberately throw the Enterprise-D into the path of a Borg cube – some 7,000 light-years from Federation space in System J-25. Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D attempted to make contact, and soon found themselves horribly outmatched in a fight with the Borg vessel. Q, after being begged by Picard, saved the Enterprise-D by returning it to Federation space before the Borg could assimilate the ship, but this incident prompted Starfleet to finally take the Borg threat seriously, and a task force was formed to tackle a likely Borg attack.
The incursion the Federation feared came within a year of the J-25 incident, leaving them little time to prepare. A single Borg vessel was dispatched by the Collective, and after assimilating Captain Picard, used his tactical knowledge against the Federation, destroying almost forty ships and assimilating or killing over 11,000 people – including civilians. With such a large part of Starfleet destroyed, Earth was effectively defenceless, but after the assimilated Picard – now called Locutus of Borg – was liberated by the crew of the Enterprise-D, Data was able to use his link to the Collective’s hive mind to force all the drones aboard the vessel to regenerate – or “sleep” – which ultimately led to the vessel’s destruction.
A year or so later, Third of Five was encountered by the Federation, the sole survivor of a Borg scouting mission near Federation space. Captain Picard wanted to use him as a weapon to send a virus back to the Collective, but as his individuality reasserted itself, the drone, now named Hugh, returned to the collective voluntarily. His newfound identity, however, proved difficult for the collective to handle and Hugh, along with several other rogue Borg, would leave the Collective soon after.
There was then a lull in the Borg-Federation conflict lasting several years, before the Collective again sent a single cube to attempt to assimilate Earth. This ship, commanded by the Borg Queen herself, was the one which travelled back in time to 2063, possibly setting in motion the chain of events which led humanity and the Borg to encounter one another in the first place as part of a “temporal loop” paradox.
A battle took place near to Earth before this cube deployed a smaller spherical ship to travel through time, and several ships, including the Enterprise-E and the USS Defiant – which would normally be stationed at Deep Space Nine – took part in the battle. This was the Borg’s most recent attempt to directly attack Earth.
After the Battle of Sector 001, the only encounters between the Federation and the Borg took place in the Delta Quadrant, where the USS Voyager was making its way home. The Borg were engaged in a losing war with a race known only by their Borg designation – Species 8472. Under the command of Captain Janeway, Voyager and her crew came to the Borg’s aid, trading their tactical knowledge of Species 8472 for safe passage through Borg space. The Collective dispatched Seven of Nine to be their representative aboard Voyager, and the crew would liberate her from the Borg when they broke the alliance.
The Species 8472 war proved incredibly costly to the Borg, and arguably set back any plans they may have had for further expansion at that time. Their space was at least 9,000 light-years across, extending beyond the range of Voyager’s sensors, and even extended to near the Beta Quadrant.
On one occasion the Borg attempted to recapture Seven of Nine, hoping to use her new knowledge of humanity as part of a third invasion/assimilation attempt, but this was thwarted by Voyager, who managed to again liberate Seven from the Collective. Voyager was able to use part of the Borg’s extensive transwarp network to get significantly closer to home.
This feat would be overshadowed, however, thanks to the actions of a time-travelling Admiral Janeway. In her timeline, Voyager had managed to make it back to Earth, but it had taken a long time. By travelling back to a point around seven years into Voyager’s trip through the Delta Quadrant, future Janeway was able to simultaneously get Voyager home much sooner, as well as deal a significant blow to the Collective.
By outfitting Voyager with technology from the early 25th Century, the ship was easily able to overpower a number of Borg vessels, and future Janeway allowed herself to be assimilated in order to infect the Borg – and the Borg Queen herself – with a devastating virus she hoped would spread throughout the Collective.
Voyager was able to use the transwarp network to return to Earth, around 25 years before the era of Star Trek: Picard. It’s unclear what happened to the Collective after this point.
For a long time, the Borg were assumed to be leaderless. The nature of their “hive mind” – a mechanical-telepathic link that all Borg are connected to – implied that there was no one individual leader, and that the Borg made decisions as one Collective, operating with one mind.
While this is true in some respects, the Borg Queen acts as the Collective’s leader, and is the only individual Borg – outside of those liberated by Starfleet or otherwise disconnected from the Collective – who appears to have any semblance of individuality or personality. The Queen describes herself as simply “the Borg” – and the question of whether she is truly a leader in the sense that we would understand, or whether she is in fact a personification of the Collective, is up for debate.
At least two Borg Queens have died – and it is likely that when the physical form of a Borg Queen is destroyed, a new one is created. The loss of a single Queen does not seem to significantly hamper the Collective’s efforts – so it’s at least possible that there may be multiple Queens in existence at any one time.
The Borg have assimilated thousands of species in full or in part. Their attacks seem to begin with outer colonies – as happened to the Federation – before a significant effort is launched against the homeworld of that race. While Borg efforts to attack Earth have been limited to a single vessel each time – albeit a very large vessel with thousands of drones aboard – assimilation of other races, such as those on the periphery of Borg space in the Delta Quadrant, seem to proceed with multiple ships and millions of drones.
As a result of their conquests and assimilations, the Borg have gained knowledge and technological advancements which – as of the late 24th Century – outmatched and outgunned the Alpha Quadrant powers. Federation successes against the Borg came as a result of Captain Picard’s unique knowledge as someone who had spent time as part of the Collective. Voyager’s successes similarly came from Seven of Nine.
When the Borg assimilated an individual, the sum total of that person’s knowledge would be disseminated across the entire Collective. The same applied to the assimilation of starships – and presumably other technology as well. In practice this meant that if the Borg assimilated an individual with tactical knowledge – such as Picard prior to the Battle of Wolf 359 – they could use that knowledge to adapt.
Adaptations were quickly sent out to all Borg. Once they had encountered a weapon setting more than a couple of times, it would have to be altered to remain effective, and the same applied to deflectors and shields. Remodulating phasers and shields became a key tactic of the Federation during Borg engagements.
Borg communications were still limited by subspace technology, as it was noted by the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise that a message sent by Borg near Earth to their home in the Delta Quadrant would take two centuries to arrive – though this may have been related to their use of 22nd Century technology.
Society and Culture
The Borg operate as a single mind – with the aforementioned exception of the Borg Queen. As such, they don’t have what could really be termed a “culture”.
The basic tenet of Borg philosophy is that assimilation of other races brings both the Borg and the assimilated race closer to “perfection”. By merging biological and technological together, they hope to achieve their goal of “perfection”. This seems to be the basic driving force behind the Borg’s activities.
In a sense, an individual assimilated by the Borg can never die, as every memory and experience they had, both before and after assimilation, is stored permanently by the Collective. However, that individual loses all sense of individuality in the process, and exists only as part of the single “hive mind” of the Borg.
The Borg will assimilate anyone they perceive as useful and attack anyone they perceive as a threat. However, they will often ignore the presence of intruders if they are busy or if they don’t consider them a threat. They will assimilate children as well as adults, and the children will be placed in “maturation chambers” until they have grown enough to serve as useful drones. The Borg will also opt not to assimilate a species they perceive as useless or that they feel would detract from the “perfection” they are trying to create.
As of the mid-late 24th Century, the Borg occupied a vast expanse of the Delta Quadrant, and operated an extensive transwarp network which allowed their vessels to be present in at least the Alpha, Beta, and Delta Quadrants. No Borg activity was noted in the Gamma Quadrant, but explorations of that region of space were limited by the Dominion War. There may have been trillions or quadrillions of individual Borg drones at that time – perhaps even more than that.
Because of the events of the Star Trek: Voyager finale, Endgame, it’s hard to know what state the Collective is in. Admiral Janeway, travelling back in time, brought the crew of Voyager technological advantages which the Borg struggled to fight against, but more significantly she infected the Borg Queen with a virus. This virus was disseminated to other ships in the Collective. In addition, the Borg Queen’s entire complex, as well as a significant part of the Borg transwarp network and a number of Borg vessels, were destroyed by Voyager before they arrived back in the Alpha Quadrant.
As a result of these actions, as with the Romulans we simply don’t know how badly affected the Borg may have been, and how long it will have taken them to recover. Assuming they could recover from the virus, we’ve seen the Borg able to repair and rebuild their ships and technology incredibly rapidly, so in theory they could have rebuilt the entire complex and replaced the lost ships without too much hassle.
I would assume that the Borg survived what future Janeway tried to do. Two reasons for this: in-universe, the Borg are so adaptable, numerous, and widespread that the losses Voyager inflicted should be survivable, and on the production side, I think that Star Trek needs the Borg to still be around and be a threat, even if their role in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is limited.
We’ve seen a Borg cube seemingly under Romulan control in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard, and we know ex-Borg Seven of Nine and Hugh will have roles to play in the story. Hopefully the information above will you some background information on this faction, regardless of how significant their presence is on the story of the new series.
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