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Damned Worm, Part II: Exobiology Lesson (1995)

Damned Worm, Part II: Exobiology Lesson (1995)

©1995 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1995, May). Where Few Have Gone Before, 2(2), 12-15.

This is one of two stories published in the Star Trek-based magazine Where Few Have Gone Before, which detailed the adventures of the U.S.S. Harry Benjamin. The companion story is “Damned Worm, Part I.”



Damned Worm, Part I (Text)

About This Story

I was outraged when several Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes depicted the relationship between Trill worms (parasite) and humanoid (host) as symbiotic.

Symbiotic relationships confer mutual advantages to involved (usually two) species. Example are nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of legumes and mitochondria in the cells of eukaryotes. The relationships are mutually beneficial.

Parasitic relationships, on the other hand, benefit one species while reducing the fitness of another. The host is harmed or disadvantaged in ways sometimes minor and sometimes devastating, even fatal. Examples of parasitic relationships are intestinal worms and vampire bats and their warm-blooded prey.

The Trillian relationship between worm and host was clearly not advantageous to the humanoid host and just as clearly benefited the parasite— the worm. The host gave up his or her autonomy and individuality in favor of the surgically-implanted worm, which gained not only a safe and nutritious environment, but speech, locomotion, and higher thought processes.

If implanting parasites in some individuals increased the selective advantage of the host species, then there might be some argument kin selection, but that seemed a stretch on Trill, where the supposedly advanced diplomacy skills of the implanted host didn’t seem of particularly benefit.

And so I wrote this, the second of two related stories. Unfortunately, Where Few Have Gone Before stopped publication before I could write a third.

Exozoology Lesson

A Short Story by Dallas Denny


The following is an excerpt from “How it Happened,”

A brochure published and disseminated by the Trill Liberation Front

By Itself, the parasite Trill trill is a 15-18 inch long, six-inch thick, limbless cylindrical creature which resembles the larval form of certain insects on Earth. It is in fact not a proper worm at all, but rather the neotonous larval form of a giant insect-like creature which somewhat resembles Mus domestica 10A5XC5DFL [1], the common housefly of Earth, but with a difference— neither the adult or larval forms are capable of life without a host species.

On Trill, our home planet, the “symbiotic” “worm” species, Trill trill 10A6YG9AVD, is part of an evolutionary family tree with many branches. Using techniques of comparative biology originally developed on Earth, it wasn’t difficult for exozoologists to determine the life cycle and evolutionary path of both the worm species and its bipedal primate hosts species, Protohominus sapiens 10A6YG9AVD. The following is an excerpt from Jayne Smith’s An Atlas of Parasitics and Symbiotics in Federation Space, 14th, Ed.:

Trill’s wide variety of primatoid and insectoid life gives a clear picture of the evolutionary history of both species in the peculiar “symbiosis” which occurs on the planet. By looking at the life histories of other species in the Trill genus, it becomes possible to make conjectures about the way in which the species has become so dependent upon Protohominus sapiens spp….

The nature of the relationship between the dominant warm-blooded form on the planet and the worm-like trill has been hotly disputed. In some quarters it has been called symbiotic, and in others parasitic. There seems little doubt the physical relationship is parasitic, as the trill draws sustenance from its host, and the host gains no material advantage—is, in fact, at a serious disadvantage, as it loses all control of its body functions and even all autonomous thought. Those of the symbiosis school point out the selective advantage is not to the host organism itself, but to the species, which benefits as a whole from the relationship. At this point the argument moves into the realm of economics and politics, which is outside the scope of this book (but see Trivers’ original 1974 article on kin selection from The Quarterly Review of Biology, which appears as an appendix to this work, and which discusses a mechanism in which it would be possible for such a relationship to be considered symbiotic).

… More primitive forms are clearly in a parasitic relationship with their host species. The 2 cm long Trill vulgaris is considered a pest in both its adult and larval forms. The adult sustains itself by piercing the skin of warm-blooded hosts with a hollow, beak-like snout and withdrawing fluids, much like the mosquitoes (Culicadae) of Earth. The female pierces the dermis with an organ analogous to the ovipositor of Earth insects (often as it feeds, an athletic feat that is the source of the common name for T. vulgaris, the “Go Fuckyourself” … the eggs are placed deep in the muscle tissue with the ovipositor. The larvae locate and pierce small blood vessels, secreting an anticoagulant which can cause death from unchecked bleeding if enough T. vulgaris are present… As the larvae grow, they burrow through the tissue in search of larger veins and arteries; the pain caused by this is considerable, and is almost certainly the cause of the “Berserker rages” common in even the most ordinarily docile species on Trill. Larvae in stages 1 or 2 of development sometimes enter blood vessels and are swept away to remote parts of the body. Often, they perish, but occasionally they are able to take up residence in the internal organs or central nervous system.

… The related species Trill ordinaire parasitizes only one host, the quadruped carnivore Maxus melanogaster. Eggs are deposited near the eyes; first stage larvae make their way to the eyeball and use chitinous “teeth” to bore their way into it. Although T. ordinaire’s final lodging site is the eyeball (the host is blinded as the larvae grow), the related species T. seliot (a pun on the name of an early XXth century Earth author, which the non-Terrans who were responsible for approval of Trill nomenclature didn’t recognize), which parasitizes Maximus overdrive (the same punster named both species) makes its final resting place in the optic cord; yet another species, T. rex (yes, yes) lodges in the forebrain of its host, M. possible.

Although the evolutionary chain isn’t so clear in Trillian primates, there is a parasitic species, T. communis, which attaches itself to the brain stem of its host, Prosimia rebus, and may exert some control over behavior… Except for P. sapiens, there are no extant members of the genus Protohominus, presumably for the same reasons (war, murder, interspecies competition, cannibalism, genocide) that Earth’s Homo sapiens has no close living relatives…

Almost all the evidence comes indirectly, from comparisons with others species… (But) it is not difficult to hypothesize that the parasitic species T. trill became adapted to the central nervous system of its host P. sapiens and gradually came to assume control of central nervous system functions. Certainly, the present-day relationship is dependent upon the volunteering of the host, for T. trill remains in the neotonous larval form, never reaching the adult stage, and is incapable of reproducing itself or introducing itself into its humanoid host without help by hominid surgeons. The noted evolutionary biologist Robert Argylle has argued that over the millenia, the surgical placement of the parasite in this species has resulted in this neotony (Vol. IX, pp. 1214-1215).

In the controversial and widely banned Darwin Never Dreamed…, Joshua Mendohlssohn Trak attacked his peers who claimed the T. trill/P. sapiens relationship was symbiotic.

“There is no objective proof that P. sapiens benefits in any way from the obscene relationship with T. trill. The average intelligence of the Unaffiliated P. sapiens adult is not appreciably lower than that of adults with “symbionts,” and the much-vaunted “diplomacy skills” of the Affiliated Trill in fact leave much to be desired. The empathic skills of the Trill pair doesn’t match those of the Betazoid, for instance, or its cunning that of the Ferengi. Nor is the culture of Trill advantaged by such pairings, being hopelessly mired in outdated concepts including a binary gender system, systematic oppression of racial and sexual minorities, male supremacy (T. Trill is said to prefer male hosts), and a hopelessly archaic monetary system. An underground of Unaffiliated P. sapiens claims the supposed advantages of the relationship are the result of a high-level advertising campaign managed by Affiliated Trill. Certainly, members of this underground, including myself, have been labeled as subversive, and are persecuted by the Trillian government. (pp. 10-12).

Curiously, Trak himself was Affiliated. He disappeared without trace or explanation shortly after the publication of Darwin Never Dreamed…. The Trill underground shrilly claimed he had been murdered by the powers-that-be; the government, of course, denied it, advancing the theory he had escaped the planet. The government branded the T. trill Trak an outlaw, but claimed the host body was innocent. Trak himself had claimed his “symbiont” was defective, leaving the host body generally in control of the mental processes. Certainly, he posed a threat to the government, and it’s not unlikely his “disappearance” was the result of a govenment-sanctioned execution. (Logan Logandice, A Secret History of Trill, p. 415.

The following is excerpted from Trill Liberation Front’s The Puppet Masters.[2]

FOR TOO LONG we have believed the lie that we benefit from the parasitism of the Worms.

FOR TOO LONG we have been mindraped, our will and thoughts sucked away by the Worms.

FOR TOO LONG we have been tyrannized by a government controlled by Worms.

FOR TOO LONG we have lived in shame, believing we are incomplete without a Worm, that we are worthless by ourselves.

Now we say, NEVER AGAIN!

NEVER AGAIN will we surrender our autonomy or allow others to take our autonomy from us!

NEVER AGAIN will we allow others to surrender their autonomy or have it taken from them!

NEVER AGAIN will we forget that our Affiliated brethren are the tools of Worms, are in fact Worms themselves!

NEVER AGAIN will we suffer a Worm (even if in a host body) to live!

The android Data, when asked his opinion of the “symbiosis”

by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, once said the following:

It is clear symbiosis in the customary use of the term is not occurring here. What is not clear is whether the host species could have managed as well without the peculiar interdependency with the symbionts. Certainly, the civilization on Trill is well advanced, but it is repressive in many ways, much like Earth was until recent centuries. I have asked myself why, if the advantage of the symbiosis is for the host species, the political, social, and economic climate on Trill is so, to use a word that is perhaps not scientific, bad. I am unable to determine the reason.

From Josanna Baker’s personal log, just before implantation of the Trill “symbiont”

Krat, which had previously been in the body of her lover, Allex

It scares me. What will happen to “me,” to my consciousness? Will I merge with this wormlike creature, whatever its name is? Will I share Allex’s memories and emotions? Will I learn what he secretly thought of me? Will I share my mind with the Trill, or will it just be lights out for Josanna? I know it’s only for a short while, until we can get to a Starbase, but I’m frightened, frightened, frightened. What if—what if for some reason it’s awful, worse than my worst nightmares? What if I’m aware, and hate it? What if it decides not to let go? God, I hope I’m making a good decision! Why did I ever leave Montana?

End Notes

[1] In 2149, at the 93rd annual meeting of the Association of Exobotany, Exozoology, and Xenopsychology, a resolution was adopted to modify the ancient typology of Linneaus by adding a 10-digit planetary designation. In the literature, once the planetary context has been defined, this designation is generally omitted.

[2] The title was intentionally “borrowed” from a XXth century novel by Terran Robert A. Heinlein.