Borg

Borg is a collective proper noun for a fictional alien race that appears as recurring antagonists in various incarnations of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise. The Borg are a collection of species that have been turned into cybernetic organisms functioning as drones of the Collective, or the hive. A pseudo-race, dwelling in the Star Trek universe, the Borg force other species into their collective and connect them to ‘the hive mind’; the act is called assimilation and entails violence, abductions, and injections of cybernetic implants. The Borg’s ultimate goal is ‘achieving perfection.’

Aside from being the main threat in ‘Star Trek: First Contact,’ the Borg play major roles in ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Voyager’ television series, primarily as an invasion threat to the United Federation of Planets, but also of some use to the Voyager. The Borg have become a symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against which ‘resistance is futile.’

The Borg manifest as cybernetically-enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind, linked by faster-than-light subspace radio. The Borg inhabit a vast region of space in the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy, possessing thousands of vessels. They operate toward the fulfilment of one purpose: to ‘add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to [their] own… [in pursuit of] perfection.’ The concept of perfection is the unifying idea at the core of the Borg. The pursuit of an unemotional, mechanical perfection is the Borg’s only motivation. This is achieved through forced assimilation, a process which takes individuals and technology, enhancing and controlling them. Originally presented as an autonomous collective, the ideas of a Borg Queen and central control were introduced in ‘First Contact.’

In their introduction (‘Q Who’), little information is given about the Borg, their origins or intentions. In nearly all their encounters, they exhibit no desire for negotiation or reason, only assimilation. Exhibiting a rapid adaptability to any situation or threat, the Borg become one of the greatest threats to Starfleet and the Federation. Major characters that have escaped the Collective after having been assimilated include Jean-Luc Picard and Seven of Nine.

‘Star Trek’ artist Michael Okuda revealed that TNG writers began to develop the idea of the Borg as early as the first season episode, ‘Conspiracy,’ which introduced a coercive, symbiotic life form that took over key Federation personnel. It was thwarted by the Enterprise crew and presumably never heard of again (the ‘alien conspiracy’ plotline itself was dropped when it became clear that the concept was too grim for Star Trek’s target audience). Plans to feature the Borg as an increasingly menacing threat were subsequently scrapped in favor of a more subtle introduction, beginning with the mystery of missing colonies on both sides of the Neutral Zone in ‘The Neutral Zone’ and culminating in the encounter between Borg and the Enterprise crew in ‘Q Who?’

The Borg were a concept born out of necessity for Star Trek to feature a new antagonist and regular enemy that was lacking during the first season of ‘The Next Generation’; the Klingons were allies and the Romulans mostly absent. The Ferengi were originally intended as the new enemy for the United Federation of Planets, but their comical, unintimidating appearance and devotion to ‘capitalist’ accumulation by ‘free enterprise’ failed to portray them as a convincing threat. They were subsequently reassigned as comic relief. The Borg, however, with their frightening appearance, immense power, and, most importantly, their sinister motive became the signature villains for the ‘The Next Generation’ and ‘Voyager’ eras of Star Trek. In ‘Voyager’ episode ‘Q2,’ even the omnipotent Q tells his son to never ‘provoke the Borg.’

Individual Borg rarely speak. Instead, they send a collective audio message to their targets stating that ‘resistance is futile,’ followed by a declaration that the target in question will be assimilated and its ‘biological and technological distinctiveness’ will be added to their own. The exact phrasing varies among appearances, and the biological aspect is entirely absent when the Borg are first introduced.

The origin of the Borg is never made clear, though they are portrayed as having existed for hundreds or thousands of years. In ‘Star Trek: First Contact,’ the Borg Queen merely states that the Borg were once much like humanity, ‘flawed and weak,’ but gradually developed into a partially synthetic species in an ongoing attempt to evolve and perfect themselves.

The ‘Star Trek Encyclopedia’ speculates that there could be a connection between the Borg and V’ger, the vessel encountered in ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’; this is advanced in William Shatner’s novel ‘The Return.’ The connection was also suggested in a letter in ‘Starlog No. 160’ (1990). The letter writer, Christopher Haviland, also speculated that the original Borg drones were members of a race called ‘The Preservers,’ which Spock had suggested in the original series episode ‘The Paradise Syndrome’ might be responsible for why so many humanoids populate the galaxy. It was confirmed in the ‘The Next Generation’ episode ‘The Chase’ that an ancient species seeded hundreds, if not thousands of planets with their DNA, creating the Humans, Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians and many more. Coincidentally, in the novelization of ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (written by Gene Roddenberry), the Vejur entity notes that the Ilia probe is resisting the programming given to it because of residual memories and feelings for Captain Decker, from its precise replication of the Deltan lieutenant. When Vejur becomes aware of this, it decides that ‘the resistance was futile, of course.’

An extra section of the game ‘Star Trek: Legacy’ contains the ‘Origin of the Borg,’ which tells the story of V’ger being sucked into a black hole. V’ger was found by a race of living machines which gave it a form suitable to fulfilling its simplistic programming. Unable to determine who its creator could be, the probe declared all carbon-based life an infestation of the creator’s universe, leading to assimilation. From this, the Borg were created, as extensions of V’ger’s purpose. Drones were made from those assimilated and merged into a collective consciousness. The Borg Queen was created out of the necessity for a single unifying voice. However, with thoughts and desires of her own, she was no longer bound to serve V’ger. This explanation, however, is not canon.

Though Borg rarely look alike, they share several common characteristics. Borg commonly have one eye (most often the left eye) replaced with a sophisticated ocular implant which allows them to see beyond the human visual spectrum. This implant usually projects a red laser beam, particularly in later appearances. They also usually have one arm replaced with a multi-purpose tool and flat white skin, giving them an almost zombie-like appearance. This skin was originally dry and human-looking, but it later had a more ‘slick’ look to it, with veins showing.

Due to their cybernetic enhancements, all Borg are far stronger than humans to varying degrees (depending on the species the drone came from). However, they never run to their destination, and hence most species can outpace them. Borg drones are resistant to phaser fire, being completely immune to the stun setting. In addition, all Borg drones possess personal shielding which collectively adapts to phaser fire. In various episodes, phasers tend to become ineffective after a dozen shots at most, depending on the settings and time between shots. Phaser frequencies can be altered to penetrate the shield, but the Borg adapt more quickly with each modulation. Due to this, crews have been known to employ a variety of other countermeasures such as holodeck-generated bullets (Star Trek holodeck items are solid as long as the holodeck safety settings are disabled) and melee weapons. The Borg hive mind can lead to certain downsides: Borg drones have a weakness in that they will usually ignore anything which does not present itself as a direct threat (unless specifically directed to attack), allowing armed but passive Enterprise crew to walk among them relatively unscathed at times.

The most important cybernetic component of any Borg is their ‘cortical node,’ which controls every other implanted ‘fixed location’ cybernetic device within a Borg’s body, and is most often implanted in the forehead above the usually-retained organic right eye. If the cortical node fails, the afflicted individual Borg eventually dies, as it cannot be replicated or repaired. However, successful replacement of the node can be carried out on a Borg vessel if the failure is detected promptly before the afflicted Borg’s impending death.

Assimilation is the process by which the Borg integrate beings and cultures into their collective. ‘You will be assimilated’ is one of the few on-screen phrases employed by the Borg when communicating with other species. The Borg are portrayed as having encountered and assimilated thousands of species and billions to trillions of individual life-forms throughout the galaxy. The Borg designate each species with a number assigned to them upon first contact.

When first introduced, the Borg are said to be more interested in assimilating technology than people, roaming the universe as single-minded marauders that have assimilated starships, planets, and entire societies in order to collect new technology. They are discriminating in this area, finding certain races, for example the Kazon, to be technologically inferior and not worthy of assimilation. A Borg infant found aboard the first cube introduced shows that the Borg will even assimilate the children of a conquered race. In their second appearance, ‘The Best of Both Worlds,’ they capture and assimilate Captain Jean-Luc Picard into the collective by surgically altering him, creating Locutus of Borg, meaning ‘he who has spoken,’ in Latin, fitting as he speaks to Federation humans for them. After this, life-form assimilation becomes much more prominent in their overall behavior.

Because assimilation depends on nanoprobes, species with an extremely advanced immune system are able to resist assimilation. Thus far, Species 8472 are the only race shown to be capable of rejecting assimilation attempts. Nanoprobes are microscopic machines that inhabit a Borg’s body, bloodstream, and many cybernetic implants. The probes perform the function of maintaining the Borg cybernetic systems, as well as repairing damage to organic parts. They generate new technology inside a Borg when needed as well as protecting them from many forms of disease. Borg nanoprobes, each about the size of a human red blood cell, travel through the victim’s bloodstream and latch on to individual cells. The nanoprobes rewrite the cellular DNA, altering the victim’s biochemistry, and eventually form larger, more complicated structures and networks within the body such as electrical pathways, processing and data storage nodes, and ultimately prosthetic devices that spring forth from the skin.

Prior to the movie ‘Star Trek: First Contact,’ the Borg exhibit no hierarchical command structure, instead using a structure similar in principle to the internet with no control center and distributed processing. ‘First Contact’ introduced the Borg Queen, played by Alice Krige, who reprised the role in the ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ series. The Borg Queen is the focal point within the Borg collective consciousness and a unique drone within the collective that brings ‘order to chaos,’ referring to herself as ‘we’ and ‘I’ interchangeably. In ‘First Contact’ the Queen’s dialogue suggests she is an expression of the Borg Collective’s overall intelligence; not a controller but the avatar of the entire Collective as an individual. The introduction of the Borg Queen radically changed the canon understanding of the Borg function; some fans consider the Borg queen ‘nothing more than an illogical plot device’ designed to make for ‘good theater.’

In ‘First Contact,’ the Borg Queen is seen as apparently present during Picard’s former assimilation at the start as flashbacks in Picard’s mind, and was believed destroyed along with that Borg cube years earlier. Here, she instead directs her attentions to Data. After he is captured by her drones, she tries to tempt him to join her by playing on his desire to be more human. She claims that she desires a semi-independent non-Borg being as an intellectual companion. This Queen is partially destroyed when her organic components are liquefied as a result of Data rupturing one of the Enterprise’s warp core plasma coolant conduits. Picard finishes her off by breaking her spinal column with his own hands.

In the ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ relaunch novels, the Borg Queen is not a single, irreplaceable entity, but the product of a program called ‘The Royal Protocol’ that shares its name with a Starfleet document outlining requirements when dealing with foreign royalty. This program is used to create a Borg Queen from any female Borg, commanding the technology within her to alter and adapt to the Protocol’s specifications. Alternatively, in the game ‘Star Trek: Legacy,’ bonus content unlockable throughout the course of the game offers further information on the role of the queen. It is suggested that the females of a particular species have a natural ability to filter and control the immense ‘traffic’ of thought present in the collective consciousness of the Borg. These females, in a sense, serve as regulators or signal boosters even assisting in maintaining the complete consciousness over the thousands of lightyears of Borg space. This also presents the possibility of multiple queens, which would be a suitable explanation for why, on more than one occasion, a Starfleet officer has ‘killed the queen.’

The Borg first appear in the ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ episode ‘Q Who?’, when the omnipotent life-form Q transports the Enterprise-D across the galaxy to challenge Jean-Luc Picard’s assertion that his crew is ready to face the unexplored galaxy’s unknown dangers and mysteries. The Enterprise crew is quickly overwhelmed by the relentless Borg, and Picard eventually asks for and receives Q’s help in returning the ship to its previous coordinates in the Alpha Quadrant. At the episode’s conclusion, Picard suggests to Guinan that Q did ‘the right thing for the wrong reason’ (a T. S. Eliot quotation) by showing the dangers they will eventually face.

The Borg next appear in The Next Generation’s third-season finale and fourth-season premiere, ‘The Best of Both Worlds.’ In the third-season cliffhanger, Picard is abducted and subsequently assimilated by the Borg and transformed into Locutus. Picard’s knowledge of Starfleet is gained by the collective, and the single cube easily wipes out all resistance in its path, notably the entire Starfleet armada at Wolf 359, which consisted of 40 starships, some of which were sent from the Klingon Empire. The Enterprise crew manages to capture Locutus and gain information through him which allows them to destroy the cube. Picard is later ‘deassimilated,’ a process quite different from what happened to Seven of Nine in ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ (Seven of Nine, a captured Borg, had to be totally ‘Re-schooled’ on humanity, Picard merely needed to be reminded of humanity).

In the fifth-season episode ‘I, Borg,’ the Enterprise crew rescues a solitary Borg who is given the name ‘Hugh’ by Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge. The crew faces the moral decision of whether or not to use Hugh (who begins to develop a sense of independence as a result of a severed link to the collective consciousness of the Borg) as an apocalyptic means of delivering a devastating computer virus that would theoretically destroy the Borg, or to humanely allow him to return to the Borg with his individuality intact. They decide to return him without the virus. This is followed up in the sixth-season cliffhanger ‘Descent,’ which depicts a group of rogue Borg who had ‘assimilated’ individuality through Hugh. These rogue Borg fell under the control of the psychopathic android Lore, the ‘older brother’ of Data.

In cult leader-like fashion, Lore had manipulated them into following him by appealing to their restored emotions and exploiting their new-found senses of individuality and fear, hoping to turn them on the Federation. Lore also corrupts Data through the use of the emotion chip he had stolen from Noonien Soong (Data and Lore’s creator). In the end, Data’s ethical subroutines are restored (having been suppressed by Lore through use of the emotion chip) and he manages to deactivate Lore after a battle in which a renegade Borg faction led by Hugh attacks the main complex. Data reclaims the emotion chip, Lore is mentioned as needing to be dismantled (for safety) and the surviving Borg fall under the leadership of Hugh. The fate of these deassimilated Borg is not revealed.

The Borg make frequent appearances in ‘Star Trek: Voyager,’ which takes place in the Delta Quadrant from where the Borg are believed to have originated. The Borg are first discovered by Voyager in episode ‘Blood Fever.’ Later, the Voyager crew discover a population of ex-Borg of various species in ‘Unity.’ In ‘Scorpion,’ the Borg are engaged in a futile war against the much more powerful Species 8472. In one of the few instances of the Borg negotiating, in exchange for safe passage through Borg space, the Voyager crew devises a way to destroy the otherwise immune Species 8472. A Borg drone, Seven of Nine, is dispatched to Voyager to facilitate this arrangement as Captain Janeway refuses to allow the Borg to use neural implants for communication with the Voyager crew.

After successfully driving Species 8472 back into their fluidic space, Seven of Nine attempts to assimilate Voyager but is severed from the hive mind and stripped of most of her Borg implants, becoming a member of Voyager’s crew. Seven of Nine’s rediscovery of her humanity becomes a recurring theme throughout the series. Flashbacks and allusions in several episodes, such as ‘The Raven,’ establish that prior to her assimilation, Seven of Nine was Annika Hansen, the child of scientists who studied the Borg in the Delta Quadrant independent of the Federation.

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