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I had always assumed that the encounter with the Borg in "Q Who" had alerted the Borg to the Federation presence and that it was because of this encounter that they sent the cube that attacked Earth in "The Best of Both Worlds". But recently I realised that maybe the Borg were already on their way and Q was not in fact unleashing a giant threat upon the Federation just to spite Picard, but rather allowed them a glimpse into the future so they could prepare for an attack that was already underway at that time.

The events in First Contact and ENT indicate that the Borg were aware of the Federation's presence by the time of "Q Who" (see e.g. this question), but I am more interested in a purely TNG interpretation of the issue, essentially only including things that had aired up to (and including) TBoBW/Family:

Did the events in "Q Who" trigger the Borg attack on Federation space, or did they merely serve to warn Picard of an attack that was already underway?

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    Q always spoke of working from a "higher morality" and Q (Quinn) mentioned that there was a larger plan at work.
    – Valorum
    Dec 11, 2015 at 23:41
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    I suppose you want an in-universe answer? I think I saw somewhere that writers the original plan was that the Borg had already existed in the region and was responsible for the destruction of bases in 1e26 that never really got explained.
    – Zoredache
    Dec 11, 2015 at 23:45
  • Considering that I have imposed a limitation on the scope of the question that is based on air dates of the show, I'm not convinced that it is reasonable to ask for a purely in-universe answer.
    – Hilbert
    Dec 11, 2015 at 23:54
  • I think what you're asking is, "What was the intent of the writers for what the Borg were up to when they came up with the Borg concept?" Is this close? Because when Q flings the Enterprise to encounter the Borg cube, his intentions aren't clear/trustworthy (like usual). And while the Borg's presence is clear in Best of Both Worlds (assimilate all the things), it's not clear if they had already planned to head towards Earth prior to the encounter that Q created.
    – Ellesedil
    Dec 12, 2015 at 0:45
  • “I am more interested in a purely TNG interpretation of the issue, essentially only including things that had aired up to (and including) TBoBW/Family” — I doubt there’s any evidence about this in TNG episodes. TV in general wasn’t written with the intention of serialisation back then. Dec 12, 2015 at 20:29

3 Answers 3

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Predestination paradox

In the Enterprise episode "Regeneration", Borg drones who survived the events of the film First Contact are discovered on Earth in the Arctic in 2153. Before being destroyed, the drones manage to send a message to the Collective in the Delta Quadrant:

ARCHER: They told their homeworld how to find Earth.

T'POL: Did you learn where the message was sent?

ARCHER: Somewhere deep in the Delta Quadrant.

T'POL: Then I doubt there's any immediate danger. It would take at least two hundred years for a subspace message to reach the Delta Quadrant, assuming it's received at all.

ARCHER: Sounds to me like we've only postponed the invasion until what...the 24th Century?

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  • Is there anything in TNG that indicates that the Borg were moving towards Federation space because they had been summoned?
    – Hilbert
    Dec 12, 2015 at 10:53
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    ...and then Starfleet forgot all about it.
    – Schwern
    Apr 23, 2016 at 20:07
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    @Schwern Humanity has a long and proud history of ignoring future threats until it's too late to stop them, it only makes sense we'd continue with this proud tradition Mar 7 at 12:51
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TLDR - This was probably more of a warning to the Federation, as the Borg probably knew about it; but given the limitations in your question, there's no way to say for certain.

Based on Borg stories that had aired through Best of Both Worlds/Family, we have no way of knowing if Q caused the Borg to be aware of the Federation or not. But we can theorize based on what we see on-screen.

The first season finale The Neutral Zone had a force that destroyed Federation and Romulan bases, using a level of destruction great enough that the Romulans knew that the Federation could not have been responsible. The Romulans agreed to investigate and share information about this with the Federation.

In the opening of "The Best of Both Worlds", an entire Federation colony is destroyed, it's town center a giant crater. This is confirmed as a Borg act.

While it's never connected on-screen, it's a pretty broad hint that the Borg were already present and testing out their muscle against the locals, but we'll never now beyond a doubt unless a future installment clarifies this.

All this leads us to conclude that the Borg almost certainly knew of the Federation when Q dropped the Enterprise within spitting distance of a Borg Cube. It's reasonable to suppose that the Borg might have been nudged by this event to investigate the Federation a little sooner than they might have otherwise, but we'll never really know.

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    I re-read the Memory Alpha article on "Q Who" and apparently Data mentions at one point that what they see there "is identical to what happened to the outposts along the Neutral Zone", providing an in-universe link between the events in The Neutral Zone and Q Who / TBoBW.
    – Hilbert
    Dec 12, 2015 at 10:44
  • @Hilbert That's pretty convincing, I had forgotten. Dec 13, 2015 at 0:47
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According to the Official Star Trek Fact Files, the Borg were already en route to Federation Space when Q transported the Enterprise to their location.

Though Picard is unhappy about the way in which Q opened his eyes to the dangers that await the Federation, he appreciates the advance warning. And Q's actions may not be as selfish as they seem; being aware of the Borg at such an early date gives the Federation valuable time to prepare for their arrival. If Starfleet had been completely unprepared, losses may have been considerably greater. Q has given humanity a valuable advantage; clearly, he wants to see the race continue to develop.

...

Q has often assisted Picard. One of his most 'helpful' acts is introducing the ENTERPRISE crew to the Borg, before they arrive in Federation space. Q‘s action provides an invaluable warning.

Official Star Trek Fact Files - File #17 - Card 2: 'Q and Captain Picard'

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