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Damned Worm, Part I (1994)

Damned Worm, Part I  (1994)

©1994, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1994, October). Damned worm. Where Few Have Gone Before, 1(4), pp. 27-30.

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 II: Exobiology Lesson.”



Go To Damned Worm, Part II: Exobiology Lesson

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 disadvantaging 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 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.


Damned Worm

A Short Story by Dallas Denny


The Worm wakened more slowly than Josanna, always. She had by her estimation as long as five minutes before It began to exert control and bring her mind and body into compliance. There wasn’t much time, but there was always a little, and cumulatively, using the few seconds she was given each day, she had been able to work through her hatred for the alien thing and begin to figure out how to get rid of It. When she felt the Presence, she would blot all thought of It out of her mind and accept Its control. She had learned that resistance (as the Borg were fond of saying) was futile. The damned Worm had partially fused with her brain at the basal ganglia, and, once wakened, was in complete control of her nervous system. She would rather be a Borg, a small fragment of a collective mind, she decided, than to have a two-foot long grub nestled in her chest cavity, feeding on her life fluids and controlling her like a marionette.

She repressed all thought as she felt It stirring in her mind, trying on her synapses like an equestrienne fits herself to stirrups when she mounts. She had already lost all voluntary control, and soon her mind…

Josanna Krat rose to perform Its duties. To the human eye, It was a human female, twentyish, slim, attractive. To those in the know, It was Krat, a Trill symbiont in the body of a convenient human host.

Trills have been called symbionts, but symbiosis occurs only when two or more species provide mutual benefits for each other. A tickbird feeding on parasites on a rhinoceros’ skin—now there was symbiosis (yes, there were still rhinos, but not on Earth; they had been hunted to extinction on the homeworld, but they thrived on Tragon IV, a zoo planet). The tickbird got fat, and the rhino felt more comfortable. But the Trill was like a remora, a clinging leech which conferred no advantage to its humanoid host. It received its sustenance from the host, and in return, the host surrendered all autonomy. Some damn benefit, Josanna thought, during those precious few minutes each morning when she could think.

Exobiologists had a theory that the Worms were indeed symbionts. They postulated that unlike conventional symbiotic relationships, which directly benefited both affected organisms, the humanoid-Trill merging was advantageous to both species. The worms, when not in a host body, were blind and stupid, capable of living in offal and excrement and nothing more, but, provided with a host’s arms and legs, a mouth, eyes, and ears, could effectively control the environment and exercise their not inconsiderable diplomatic skills. This, said the scientists, increased the probability of the DNA of both species surviving, and so there was a mutual benefit, and hence symbiosis. It was a logical extension of the kin-selection theory proposed by Robert Trivers on twentieth-century Earth. It was also bullshit. The primitive humanoid hosts on the home planet of the Trills had been getting along just fine before the Worms came along. They had killed each other no less or no more frequently than other humanoid species, and would have evolved just fine without them. The wars ended with the first Couplings, but so what? Big deal. So did human autonomy. Worms in humanoid bodies controlled the government, the media, the police, and the armies. They had developed a sophisticated propaganda machine which made frequent and oily proclamations about what an honor it was to serve a Worm by hosting it. Every humanoid on Trill, the home planet, was anxious to Couple. So was every Worm. But only the Worm was advantaged by the merging. The humanoid was deceived into thinking the merging would be some sort of mystical, wonderful experience, but it was only a formal turning over of the reins of control to a creature from a bad science fiction story. Or a good science fiction story, like Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, in which humans were controlled by the same sort of parasites, only externally-residing. How much more insidious this, with the parasite tucked safely inside, and a propaganda machine which extolled the benefits of it being there! Hell, the planet was even named after the damned Worms instead of the humanoid inhabitants.

Josanna, being human, and from Earth at that, had not been subjected to the brainwashing of the Trill home planet, but she had learned in school of the wonderful symbiosis of humanoid and Trill. When she was given the opportunity for a Coupling, she jumped at the opportunity, at the honor. Now she wanted out, and there wasn’t a chance of it happening. She had little left in the world; in fact, a minute or two a day was about it. Everything else belonged to the Worm.

It had happened this way: Josanna, a new recruit from the StarFleet academy, had been stationed at a small scientific outpost on a moonless asteroid in the far reaches of the Alpha Quadrant. It was, truth to tell, a spy station, with equipment to probe the surrounding sectors for Romulan or Cardassian presence, but life was routine there, and more than a bit boring.

For amusement, many of the station’s personnel would suit up and go outside into the airlessness. Josanna was no exception. Her usual companion was the Trill in its previous host body, that of a young man named Allex. To her, It had been Allex, witty, charming, and handsome, a human being, and not Allex Krat, not a Worm at all. They would make great leaps in the ridiculously light gravity, cavorting and playing, and occasionally breaking loose from the gravitational field and going into orbit or sailing away into space. When that would happen, they would simply signal the station and the on-duty transporter technician would beam them back to the surface or, if they were tired or low on oxygen, directly back onto the station.

It was on such a mission that the accident had happened. Allex, in the middle of a two-thousand-foot leap, had been neatly drilled by a tiny meteor. Space is vast and empty to the point of incredulity, but occasionally two pieces of matter try to occupy the same space at the same time. This was one of those rare occasions. The little piece of rock was just the size of a pinhead, but it was traveling with a relative velocity of about fifty thousand feet per second; it penetrated the back of Allex’ helmet, Allex, and the front of the helmet, and continued on its way, its trajectory only slightly altered by the impact and by the asteroid’s gravity. Josanna saw Allex’ body suddenly change trajectory and go limp, and immediately signalled for him to be transported to the infirmary, but Allex was dead by the time the medical technicians got his suit off. The meteor had shot through his head, and a great deal of his brain tissue had been forced out the exit hole by explosive decompression. There was just no way for Rodgers, the station’s only physician, to repair the damage.

But there was a Worm in Allex, as Josanna and the medtechs discovered. They watched in horror as his chest jumped and twitched. Josanna screamed and nearly fainted as the white, tentacle-like anterior tip of Krat, the Trill, emerged through a hole It had created.

Neither Josanna nor Rogers had known Allex wasn’t exactly what he seemed. Nor, apparently, had Commander Steele, the captain of the station. He was not amused. He called StarFleet immediately, and was soon face-to-face on screen with an admiral from StarFleet headquarters.

“It must have a host,” the admiral said to Commander Steele, “and soon. Find one.”

“But there are no humanoid symbionts available,” argued Steele. “You’re not suggesting…”

“No Commander, I’m not suggesting. I’m ordering. Find a host body, even if you have to take someone by force. Krat is vital to us. StarFleet out.”

There were only twenty-five people on board the station, a mixture of humans and Vulcans, along with two Klingons and one Ferengi. None wanted any part of the Worm. There were no volunteers.

At that point, Josanna, overcome by survivor guilt and remorse (she had been somewhat in love with the Allex-Krat Thing), agreed to be the host. And so the Worm Krat had been surgically implanted in her chest. But when she awoke, there was not the blissful pairing she had imagined. There was just the alien mind of the Worm somewhere behind her point of awareness, and the weight of It in her chest, and then the stripping away of all individuality as the Worm took control of her body and her mind and her memories and set about on Its business.

The Worm Krat, unmasked as a spy, had concluded Its business at the station and returned to StarFleet. There, by prearrangement, It was to relinquish Its human host for a Trillian humanoid. But It didn’t. It said nothing of the nature of the host arrangement, and StarFleet, damn them, did not consider that Its temporary host might not be in full accord with the decision. Josanna Krat, at Its request, was assigned to the all-Trill ship, the shuttlecraft U.S.S. Harry Benjamin. There It was posing as a human; that is, It wasn’t revealing that It was a human-Trill merger. As It settled into life on the ship, none of the other Trill considered that the attractive human female body might be under Trill control. And all, even Krat, were unaware the mind which should have been inhabiting that human body was plotting, in the few minutes it had every day, to kill the Worm inside it.