Paramount announced recently “Regeneration,” a late-season Enterprise episode in which Earth scientists discover wreckage of a Borg sphere buried under a glacier in the Arctic. Borg drones are found aboard, they reactivate, and much wackiness ensues, ultimately drawing Jonathan Archer and his crew into the fray.
The reaction of fans on bulletin boards and Usenet to this announcement borders on the fanatical, roundly denounced from nearly every quarter. Some argue that the episode violates continuity, defies logic, threatens to rewrite Trek history. Others have used the term “jump[ing] the shark” to describe the episode. The problem with such denunciations is that they’re misguided–the episode hasn’t aired yet and won’t until May, so the complaints about the episode are based solely on publicity information and fan speculation, not on the actual episode itself.
What’s truly sad about the pre-reaction to “Regeneration” is that the concept is actually rather clever. In Star Trek: First Contact Picard destroyed a Borg sphere in 2063, mere days before Zefram Cochrane’s warp flight and the discovery of the Vulcans. Suppose that some of that wreckage landed on Earth. Suppose Lieutenant Hawk, turned into a Borg on the Enterprise-E’s surface and flung into space by Worf, remained in Earth orbit. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are in place. Why not take advantage of the opportunity? Many are criticizing this episode far in advance of its airdate, but it’s not automatically the bad idea that many are taking it for.
“Regeneration” offers a method to use the Borg on a one-shot basis without running afoul of continuity developments further downstream in the Star Trek timeline. Fears of continuity violations are groundless–we know from First Contact that the time-displaced Borg were cut off from the Collective; hence, their need in the film to build the interplexing beacon to reconnect with the Collective hivemind in the Delta Quadrant. More importantly, these reactivated drones will have been in hibernation for almost one hundred years; what’s to say their cyborg brains will be functioning properly? There’s no guarantee that these rogue drones will know who or what they are. They may be filled with a need to reconnect with the Collective that borders on instinct, a need so primal they cannot voice it though it infects the very fiber of their beings. What is to say that Archer and crew know that the Borg drones use alien technology? What’s to say the drones themselves are not human? For all Archer and his crew know, the Borg drones they are battling could be the result of a Terran experiment in cyborg technology gone horribly wrong. Archer might never know that the Borg drones have alien origins. We know from “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” that the Eugenics Wars made genetic engineering anathema. Perhaps “Regeneration” leads humanity to the conclusion that cyborg engineering is equally dangerous, an ironic conclusion.
Thinking about “Regeneration” and its implications makes it clear that some in Starfleet knew about the Borg, at least as early as the late-23rd century and possibly even earlier than that. The evacuation of the El-Aurian homeworld presented the first clear sign as the number of El-Aurian refugees heading to Earth showed that something major was afoot. Starfleet intercepted what El-Aurian refugees they could, debriefed them about what happened to their homeworld, and learned of the threat of the Borg. Clearly, not all of Starfleet knew this. This information was classified at the highest levels. Section 31 knew, and undoubtedly Starfleet’s Commander-in-Chief and his inner circle knew as well. But rank-and-file commanders, spanning generations from Kirk to Sulu to Picard didn’t know. Were Erin and Magnus Hansen part of Section 31, assigned to survey the Borg, trail one of their ships? Years later when Picard and the Enterprise-D stumbles across the Borg in System J-25, he knows nothing of the Borg, the proof of their existence classified far above what he needs to know. Only after the first Borg assault on Earth does Starfleet level with its officers about what it knew about the Borg. Not how they knew, only what they knew. Thus did Janeway have the logs of the Raven and Annika Hansen’s parents. Perhaps there’s a vault somewhere, somewhere deep, of recovered Borg artifacts, the Starfleet equivalent of Area 51. I can imagine in those years before Picard’s encounter at J-25 rumors and tales of ships shaped like cubes, inhuman and cruel, told in whispers in bars and seedy dives across the Quadrant, the sorts of tales told to children as a fright, the boogeymen of the 24th-century, like monsters under the bed. I think “Regeneration” can begin those mysteries, those tales half-told.
As I wrote in this journal in September, “I’ve begun toying with ideas for next year’s possible [Strange New Worlds writing contest] entries, including an Enterprise story with the Borg.” The story I had in mind, going so far as to write a plot outline, is rather useless now, though perhaps “Regeneration” will leave some maneuvering room to make it possible. I proceeded from the same basic assumption that “Regeneration” appears to make: that Picard did not quite clean up after himself in First Contact, leaving Borg detritus about Earth and environs in 2063. But instead of scientists finding wreckage on Earth, I had Henry Archer find Lieutenant Hawk’s desicated corpse in space, drifting lifelessly in one of the Lagrange points. For the elder Archer the dilemma he faced was this: he discovered something that would be of undoubted interest to the Vulcans. They would want to know about a cyborgized corpse orbiting Earth. Yet, the Vulcans at the same time refused to share their own knowledge about warp propulsion, something Archer and other humans greatly desired. Archer’s conflict, then, is one of conscience. Would he be petty to withhold knowledge of Hawk from the Vulcans, as the Vulcans are being equally petty in withholding what they know? And if he did share Hawk with the Vulcans, would the Vulcans share their warp secrets with him? It would have been an interesting story to tell. Depending on “Regeneration” I still might.
I think “Regeneration” is a story worth telling, with ideas worth exploring.