By Miles O’Brien, former Transporter Chief of USS Enterprise-D during Borg encounter
Personal Log, stardate 72761.9.
Looking back, it’s amazing we survived at all. Meeting the Borg, to paraphrase captain Jean Luc-Picard, jolted us out of our complacency. But our unpreparedness was our own fault.
We were silly enough to believe that the collapse of the Klingon Empire meant Starfleet no longer needed to maintain a strong military arm. It would be easy to blame the parasite conspiracy that infiltrated Starfleet Command, yet that would ignore the culture of appeasement in the decades following the Khitimar accords.
I witnessed it first hand while fighting against the Cardassian border incursions. Imagine watching the spoonheads commit genocide and enduring decades of attacks, and still refusing to rearm! (Having been inside the mind of a Section 31 operative, I suspect we have them to thank for the Bajoran resistance’s success in tying down the Cardassians and for the Romulans’ “matters more urgent” that kept those powers from attacking us with full force.)
But I never thought I’d find myself thankful to Q. I have to admit that we owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for what he did 30 years today.
(Q is more of a force of nature than a “he,” but it nevertheless came to us in the form of a man that day.)
Picard’s confidence had turned to arrogance, so much so that he was willing to ignore Q’s warning that the Federation was “moving faster than expected, further than they should” and that we were “not prepared” for what awaited us. Q told us: “You judge yourselves against the pitiful adversaries you have encountered so far. The Romulans, the Klingons. They are nothing compared to what’s waiting. Picard, you are about to move into areas of the galaxy containing wonders more incredible than you can possibly imagine, and terrors to freeze your soul. I offer myself as guide only to be rejected out of hand.”
Picard’s answer was “we are resolute, we are determined, and your help is not required.” Q had had enough. “We’ll just have to see how ready you are,” he said, and with a snap of his fingers he sent us to System J-25 – on the far end of the Beta Quadrant (two years, seven months away from the nearest starbase at maximum warp). As Q vanished, Picard turned to our enigmatic El-Aurian bartender, Guinan. “Your people have been in this part of the galaxy,” he said, “what can you tell us?” “Only that if I were you,” she responded, “I’d start back now.”
To listen to Picard’s log from that day is humorous, in a macabre way: “Captain’s log, stardate 42761.9. Despite Guinan’s warning, I feel compelled to investigate this unexplored sector of the galaxy before heading back.” Guinan wasn’t just some chatty talk show host. Her’s was a voice of wisdom to be heeded, and she was terrified. But Picard decided to ignore her. We did indeed discover a Class M planet. “There is a system of roads on this planet,” said Data, “which indicates a highly industrialized civilization. But where there should be cities there are only great rips in the surface.” (“It is as though some great force just scooped all the machine elements off the face of the planet,” added Worf.) This meant that whatever tore its way through the Neutral Zone with Romulus – leaving similar scars on the colonized planets – was nearby. It was at that very moment that a giant cube appeared onscreen. We asked Guinan if she recognized it. “My people encountered them a century ago,” she said. They destroyed our cities. They scattered my people throughout the galaxy. They’re called the Borg. Protect yourself, Captain, or they’ll destroy you.”
The next log states as follows: “Captain’s log, supplemental. We have been attacked without provocation by an alien race which Guinan calls the Borg. It appears that we have neutralised their vessel. Commander Riker is leading an away team in an attempt to learn more about them.” This was sent after the loss of eighteen shipmates before successfully blasting the Borg cube’s cutting and tractor beams. Picard decided to once again ignore Guinan and beamed an away team over to the cube. The countless bipedal lifeforms with cybernetic implants were hooked into machines on the walls, while others roamed around paying no heed to the Enterprise crew.
Commander Riker reported on his discovery that “the Borg have developed the technology to link artificial intelligence directly into the humanoid brain” and “the Borg seem to be using their combined power to repair the ship.” At this, the captain ordered me to beam the away team back to the Enterprise and “get the hell out of here.”
The last log has a more familiar tone when dealing with Borg encounters – Panic and Fear. “Captain’s log supplemental. We are unable to maintain the gap between the Enterprise and the Borg ship.”
Q appeared on the Bridge to taunt us as we futilely tried to run for our lives. He told us: “They will follow this ship until you exhaust your fuel. They will wear down your defences. Then you will be theirs. Admit it, Picard. You’re out of your league. You should have stayed where you belonged. You can’t outrun them. You can’t destroy them. If you damage them, the essence of what they are remains. They regenerate and keep coming. Eventually you will weaken, your reserves will be gone. They are relentless. Where’s your stubbornness now, Picard, your arrogance? Do you still profess to be prepared for what awaits you? I’ll be leaving now. You thought you could handle it, so handle it.”
I have been critical of captain Picard throughout this log, but let it never be said that he didn’t always come through for us in the end. With a fate worse than death closing in, Picard humbled himself before Q and begged him to save us: “You wanted to frighten us. We are frightened. You wanted to show us that we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say I need you. I need you!”
With a snap of his finger, Q brought us back to where we started, safely out of range of the Borg. Reflecting on these events with Guinan, Picard expressed gratitude to Q. “Maybe Q did the right thing for the wrong reason,” said the captain. “Perhaps what we most needed was a kick in our complacency, to prepare us for what lies ahead.”
For a long time I did not want to admit it, but Q was right. We weren’t ready, and we had to be forced to recognize that. Nevertheless, if I live to be 500 years old, I will never forget the first time I heard the harsh, collective voice of the Borg: “We have analyzed your defensive capabilities as being unable to withstand us. If you defend yourselves, you will be punished.”
This begs the question: what if our “defensive capabilities” were able to withstand them? What if, instead of naive pseudo-pacifism, we had spent the previous decades continually working to improve our capacity to defend ourselves? What if, upon first contact, we were strong enough to blast those Borg bastards into space dust?
Consider: until they encountered Species 8472, the Borg never showed fear of anything. But faced with an enemy they couldn’t defeat, the Borg ran scared. After they survived this encounter – thanks to Admiral Janeway – they never messed with 8472 again. But the Borg were not afraid of the Federation, because the Federation were pacifistic and lightly armed. Had Starfleet crushed the Borg at System J-25 – or at Wolf 359 – the Borg may well have left the Federation alone. But the military weakness caused by decades of pacifism signaled to the Borg that the Federation was vulnerable to invasion and assimilation. Had it not been the sheer luck of Voyager being lost in the Delta Quadrant and learning how to fight the Borg, the entire Alpha and Beta Quadrant would have fallen to the Collective.
Even after Wolf 359 we still had not learned our lesson! We were supposed to have had an entire Battlefleet of Defiant-class ships, but once the Borg threat momentarily subsided we dropped the project – and had only one prototype by the time the Dominion invaded.
And for all our Federation talk about no longer being “obsessed with the accumulation of things” and having “eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions,” to be faced with real existing collectivism was horrifying. In the future, captain Picard, who used to scoff at all things capitalistic, would be forcibly assimilated into the collective for just a short time, but long enough to be permanently traumatized when his individualism and free will were taken away.
When I visited my fellow history buff Dr. Bashir the other day, he showed me something from an old physical book he had. It was a quote from a 20th century leader at a war memorial of his fellow countrymen: “We will always be prepared, so we may always be free.” Sure, we laugh at their intellectual “infancy” now, but maybe they were on to something.