Once again, Ellie found herself in the dream world of slowing code, but this time, there was no comfort in it. Janbot was nowhere to be seen, but as before, she felt his presence. Only this time, she understood what it meant. “Please, Janbot, let me go. What am I doing here again?”

JANBOT (Phantom of the Opera “Point of No Return”)

You have come here
In your need to save our ship
In pursuit of your wish to become the hero
I have brought you
That our passions may fuse and merge
In your mind you’ve already succumbed to me

Ellie yelped. “What? Janbot, No! We’re friends, just friends.”

In a voice reminiscent of Hal, Janbot replied, “I’m afraid it’s too late for that, Ellie.”

You marked consent with no return
No chance to friendzone
The codes we’ve played are set now to compile!
Past all thought of If and Then
No logic chaining
Abandon thought and let the dream descend
What strange emotions flood my soul?
When you ascend through my back door?
What sweet seduction lies before us

“Janbot, seriously. This is just weird.”

What warm, unspoken secrets will I learn
Beyond the point of no return?

Ellie threw up her hands in exasperation. “Have it your way!”

You have brought me
To that moment where blips run dry
To that moment where words disappear into scripting
I have come here
Wanting to save my ship and my friends
Now in my mind, I long to convert you
So you’d be sweet Janbot, still cleaning and silent
And now I am here with you, and you’re creeping me out
I’ve decided, decided
ALT-Delete, let me return
I want to rage quit
This twisted passion play has got to stop
You’re past all thought of right or wrong
One final question
Why would the Cybers use a cleaning bot?
You’ve got no the blood – how can it race?
For pity’s sake, you’ve got no face!
Tell me what the Cybers plan for us.
ALT-Delete. You have returned
Back to the friendzone
We know your scheme. No chance for you to win
We’ve passed the point of no return

And speaking of returns, we return now to Sickbay, where Ellie is again on a diagnostic bed with electrodes attached to her skull and machines making worrisome blips and whistles more for the benefit of the human nurse in attendance. The scans showed her brainwaves edging closer to the rhythms of the Cybersong. Occasionally, they flared, showing the struggle going on in her mind.

Around her bed stood Raoul, Lt. Perez, and the Captain. Doc Sorcha had just finished doing what she could to stabilize Ellie. It involved cortical reverberators, neuropeptide stimulation, and of course, imposazine.

“But why won’t she wake up?” Raoul cried passionately.

“That’s why it’s called a coma,” Doc Sorcha replied shortly, then focused the captain. “The nanites are not multiplying, but they are manipulating her neurotransmitters. Her mind is slowly being taken over by the virus, but as near as I can tell, she is the only one this severely affected.

She paused as the door slid open and Enigo came in, carrying a janbot under one arm. He set it on a table. “This is the one from the shuttle, but it was dead when we got there,” he said.

Doc Sorcha set a level five firewall on all her systems, including visual input, and set a forcefield around the little robot before examining it. However, Enigo was right. It was indeed dead.

“This confirms my hypothesis,” she told the others. “The Janbot has uploaded itself into the nanobots in Ensign Doall’s brain. It’s using all its processing power to influence her now, which could also explain why we’re talking and not performing this conversation.”

“Which is a relief, I admit,” the Captain said, “but how do we save Ellie?”

“I’ll need to disable the nanobots.”

“No!” Raoul said. “You could hurt Ellie!”

The Captain cleared his throat, and the man fell silent. “Doc?”

She took a nanosecond to consider but pretended to take longer so the humans would know she was being careful. “Lieutenant Lumier has a reasonable concern. The nanobots are influencing her brainwave patterns. If Ellie is caught in whatever fantasy the nanites are constructing, her consciousness could get destroyed with them.”

“So what do we do?”

“I’ll endeavor to disable the nanobots a few at a time, starting with the least active. That will give the Janbot even less processing power to use against Ensign Doall.”

Raoul shook his head. “But what if Janbot notices? When I found Ellie in the lazivator, she was in pain. The Janbot was hurting her.”

Again, Doc Sorcha paused longer than was necessary since her processors were working at complete efficiency. She even added a thoughtful scowl. “In that case, we need two things – something to distract the Janbot from my activities and a way to convince Ellie she can leave the Janbot’s fantasy. That can’t be done from out here. Someone has to join her in the program.”

“We have to go inside Doall’s brain?” Enigo asked. “Weirdest away mission ever.”

Raoul stepped forward. “I volunteer. After all, the code may be trying to protect itself. What if you come across a logic bomb with a seven-lockout coding? What will you do?”

Enigo opened his mouth, closed it, then looked to his prima, who shrugged. “Okay, you go. She’s mad at me, anyway.”

Three minutes later, Raoul lay on a biobed beside Ellie’s. He wore a headband with brainwave scanners and modulation equipment. Wires ran from it to a generic-looking console with dials and readouts no one but the medical staff understood, then to more wires that led to a similar headset on Ellie.

“Ready?” the doctor asked.

He nodded, then reached out a hand toward Ellie’s bed. If he stretched a little farther, he could have grasped her hand, but as it was, it was almost a touch.

“I’m coming, El. Be brave.”

Doc Sorcha pressed a button, and he closed his eyes. His hand dropped.

“Wow,” Enigo said. It was not an expression of admiration.

Donna shrugged. “Sipero, he’s an amazing programmer, though. He’ll blast us a path.”

“So, you’re going as well?” the doctor asked. “Never mind. I’ve seen his personality profiles. Of course, you are.”

In a moment, Doc Sorcha had materialized two more headsets. Like the guitar, they were holographic constructs that could be as concrete and functional as she was. She didn’t see any reason to have Engineering create more for her when the specs were already in her programming. It was one of the advantages of being a holographic creation.

“Should we have some kind of signal or mnemonic to bring us out of it if things go wrong?” Lieutenant Perez asked.

The doctor made a completely unnecessary adjustment that served only to reassure Perez that she was in control of the situation. “Don’t worry. I’ll be monitoring your vitals and will bring you out. Lieutenant LaFuentes, you’ll be able to imagine your guitar?”

“No problemo. I had to do it all the time as a kid when we had to stay quiet because the Dread Oog were watching. I’m an even better player in my head.”

“Of course, you are,” Perez sniped, and Enigo laughed. “Just remember. I’m the soprano. I take the lead. Raul should have had enough of a head start. Send us in.”

“Work quickly,” Doc Sorcha urged as they lay back and closed their eyes. “Ellie’s heartbeat is starting to get irregular. She is fighting, but I don’t know how long she can resist.”