A different gendarme showed us the actual testing for worms, while Wulpmegarn narrated. “We have four tests for cyoziworms. The first test of course is intrascopy, which is as close to perfectly reliable as hovens can get. We are forbidden to use that test.”
“Should we permit it again?” asked Ythac. “We cannot permit false negatives.”
“I recommend against it. I estimate that ten to twenty percent of the wormridden would die in the intrascope, and that using intrascopy on a large number of healthy people will cause a wide variety of medical problems,” said Wulpmegarn. Ythac agreed, before Llredh could say anything.
“The second and third tests are standard biological tests, of urine and blood respectively. The presence of a large parasite in the hoven body produces a variety of metabolites: the hormones and wastes of the worm itself, plus the stress products of the body’s natural reaction to a large intruder.” I had to cast the Word-Fox repeatedly, and I still didn’t understand Wulpmegarn. Here’s Tarcuna’s summary: “The worm’s easily-detected byproducts are all normal chemicals in the hoven body. There are more of some of them with the worm than without: the Kia ratio, of kiasterol to anakiathics, is much higher. That’s easy to test. But the problem is that the Kia ratio varies a good deal in people generally. Some healthy people have a high Kia ratio naturally. (It would go up still more if they got wormridden.) So simply taking everyone with a Kia ratio of 0.08 or higher is wrong. Wulpmegarn’s tests look at five indicators like that. His team of scientists is working to find more indicators, and to find more accurate ways to use the ones they have. That is Science. Which means it is slow to do, and imperfect.”
“And the fourth test, invented by my student, is the easiest, the most reliable, and the least popular one of all. Recall that the cyoziworm protrudes through the lower part of the victim’s udder?” Tarcuna’s fur went entirely flat, and she and Llredh nodded fiercely. “Although the worm’s influences do promote quick healing, repeated punctures leave a modicum of scar tissue. So, the shaving test is, the lower udder is shaved and inspected for scar tissue. It is an unusual place to get scars, after all.”
“I’ll bet that one is popular. Shaving there isn’t much fun afterwards. You want that fur to keep your udder from chafing on your chest,” said Tarcuna.
The chief said, “I’ve heard that, certainly. More often, our suspects don’t like to be taken into a public room, and have a private part of their body exposed, manipulated, shaven, and inspected by a few strangers. Most of them don’t believe in cyoziworms anyways. Several objections were quite violent: some from the wormridden, some from the clean. So suspects are now preemptively restrained.”
Tarcuna inspected the restraints: solid metal chains to hold the suspect spreadeagled against a wall. “Even when I was a wormridden whore, you would have had to pay me a lot to strap me into that thing and poke at my udder.” The chief of gendarmes frowned at her, and she frowned back.
“It is a good test, though,” said Wulpmegarn. “The current protocol uses it as the primary test. Patients who fail it are then given the blood and urine tests.”
The chief of gendarmes demurred. “No. We collect specimens for those tests regardless, in advance, as is more convenient. The specimens are discarded if not needed.”
Wulpmegarn concluded, “Evidently there have been unauthorized changes in the protocol, though that one should be harmless as long as the tests are done promptly. If all three tests come out positive, the patient is highly at risk of being wormridden.”
“Change the protocol!” thundered Llredh. “The blood test, the piss test — either of these, not both, indicates a worm!”
“There would be too many false positives — there are too many already. The tests aren’t individually that accurate,” said Wulpmegarn.
Llredh glared at him. “Improve them quickly if you wish! But you must use them as I command. Your replacement, she is somewhere to be found. Your severed head, he will encourage her obedience as a desk ornament.”
Wulpmegarn shuddered. “I will do as you demand.”
“Do your mightinesses wish to observe an actual inspection?” asked the chief of gendarmes.
Tarcuna nodded. “I do. Not just because I like seeing pretty half-naked girls pinned to the wall, Llredh. I might have something to say about your protocols.”
Wulpmegarn frowned. “Your scientific training is minimal…”
“Two years in Dorday Academy, weapons engineering program, before my brain got taken over. My training as wormridden isn’t minimal,” she snapped. “I’m the only actual useful informant you have anymore, what with Llredh being a dragon and all.” She gave Llredh an intense look.
Llredh nodded. “Tarcuna, you must listen to her, Wulpmegarn! She knows much, she is wise!”
So we sat through the inspections of twelve terrified and unhappy hovens. They were brought in wearing hobbles and handcuffs. They were released and stripped, and then bound to the wall.
Tarcuna frowned. “That’s one point of vulnerability. The wormridden are stronger and faster than you are. One could fight his way free at that point. Or at least start fighting hoping to get free. You need to keep them bound all the time. Hands to the wall, then unlock the handcuffs, and so on.”
“We did that originally, but this version is easier when the suspect needs to be stripped,” said a gendarme.
“Ever have any trouble?” asked Tarcuna.
“Not to speak of,” said the gendarme, lying. So we interrogated him, and, yes, two wormridden had exploded in violence at that point of the procedure and wound up getting killed by the gendarmes.
“Do it Tarcuna’s way from now on,” ordered Ythac. “I do not permit my subjects to die for your convenience.” Simple enough. He really does have the best interests of Trest at heart.