“How is it that at least two cyoziworms got past your detection schemes, and are still lurking around Dorday, surely preparing to colonize more innocent people now that the worm density is so low?” asked Tarcuna.
The Dorday Arsenal didn’t have an empty room big enough for us, so we were horse-sized, and sitting at three of the corners of a big square table in the Hall of Government, glaring at some senior gendarmes and a scared-smelling Prof. Wulpmegarn. Tarcuna was doing the actual interrogation, because she had more actual scientific training than we did.
“Well, we followed the professor’s protocols very carefully,” said one of the gendarmes. “I’m sure that there weren’t any errors in enforcement. I think that the protocols don’t catch all the worms.”
Prof. Wulpmegarn snorted. “My protocols are based on the best available scientific research on cyoziworms. Llredh, you do remember that you ordered me to develop protocols to find all the cyoziworms in the country, and try them out in Dorday and see how they worked?”
Llredh’s voice was smoky. “To find all the cyoziworms, this is what I ordered. To find the cyoziworms, this is what you have not done!”
“This is part of the development of protocols. I understand that your own powers are perfect and not subject to error, but ours are not. They start off severely flawed, and, over a period of experimentation and adjustment and improvement of theoretical models, become, if all goes well, extremely good. But even at our best, we must accept the possibility of false negatives.”
“What is a false negative? It sounds like a number that’s pretending to be below zero, but isn’t,” I had to ask.
“A false negative is a situation when a test is negative, falsely. For example, when a wormridden Ailenne is proclaimed clean, incorrectly,” said Wulpmegarn. “A false positive is when someone is proclaimed infested, incorrectly.”
“The false negatives, they must never happen!” exclaimed Llredh.
“Then you must use powers beyond those of ordinary people to perform your tests,” said Prof. Wulpmegarn. “Technology can make no such guarantee.”
Llredh and Ythac hissed at each other in Grand Draconic, about how Ythac could detect every worm in the country in a matter of one dozen years, or more, if he put his mind to it. And didn’t sleep or eat or rule Trest — or couple with Llredh. And if the worms stopped reproducing, and no new ones came into the country. And if the guesses about the worm population were on the low side. I didn’t try to translate for any hovens.
“Powers beyond those of hovens will be used, in the final cleansing. But the greater part of the work must be done by the hovens themselves. You, ultimately, are the ones who suffer from worms. You, ultimately, must labor the most to cure them,” proclaimed Ythac.
“By which I understand that you will spare my life once more so that I can work on your programs for you?” snapped Wulpmegarn. “And these gentlemen of the gendarmerie as well, for all that they are trying to put the blame on me?”
Ythac lashed his tail. “Yes. But you must improve your protocols. You fail too often!”
“What are the protocols, anyways?” asked Tarcuna.
How To Find Mind-Controlling Parasites
So we got a tour of the Cyoziworm Detection Program.
“This room is the eyeball of the operation,” said the chief of gendarmes. “Until yesterday, we were inspecting the outskirts of the city. Now we are back on the downtown itself.”
“An eyeball, it is not. An accounting-factory, she is what it seems to be,” said Llredh. I couldn’t argue. Dozens upon dozens of hovens sat at small desks with large stacks of paper, typing things into machines. Or, at the moment, staring at us and smelling of fear. A few tried to slink off, claiming biological necessities with varying degrees of truth. Llredh glared at the ones who lied. More of them looked as if they wanted to leave, but didn’t want to call attention to themselves in the presence of the destroyers of their country.
“An accounting-factory we shall call it if you prefer. Every gendarme in Dorday is constantly alert for any report of suspicious behavior, according to the list of likely symptoms that Dr. Wulpmegarn provided. We attend to changes in behavior, especially an increase in fornication or in periods of absence without explanation in which the worm could be feeding. An increase of cowardice and reluctance to face physical danger. An avoidance of religious and social obligations. A sudden switch of profession to harlotry. We pay attention to instances of weakness and fatigue, as if a worm had fed from an uninfected citizen; then we attempt to locate the worm based on the time and location of such events. Such reports come to this room, to be collated and tracked, and, in the case of suitable suspicion, followed up upon. Allow me to show you the next phase.”
As we left, the clerks started to breathe again. And whispered to each other, “The usurping dragons and the Black Curse. I knew I should never have taken this job.” — “Me too, but the hotel laid me off. What else could I do?”
I flicked my tail, and scored the paint on both walls. I don’t much like that nickname. The chief of gendarmes hastened to explain that the clerk’s actual words were surely something else, and that the clerk would be put into administrative detention and inspected for worms straightaway.
“No, I hear quite well. But worms? I don’t think that the wormridden are the only ones who hate me. You do too.”
“I don’t!” he lied. “I did until I saw a worm sticking out of a woman’s chest and trying to claim my soul,” he said, a half-truth.
“You’ve seen a worm?” I asked, to avoid bickering with one of Ythac’s important subjects in front of him.
“Three of them. Sometimes when a person is strapped to the wall unable to move, the worm will protrude itself forth and strike. If it weren’t for my udder-guard I would be in a cyozi-camp myself,” he said. “Every gendarme on my team has seen a worm, every gendarme on my team hates them more than they hate you.”
”Please stop lying to dragons. It really doesn’t work. And you’re allowed to hate us all you like. We certainly deserve it, for what we have done to you,” said Ythac.