The Salmons had been fighting this war for more than ten generations. Merciless time, aided by the unrelenting enemy, the Eschers and their allies, had taken its toll. The Salmons had declined; entire lifetimes of being at war had left them tired and dispirited. Their ancestors had endured the acidulous horrors of the Stomak, and survived to start a colony downstream. Very few other families could claim the same. But now, all the struggle and sacrifice of their forefathers was going to be futile: the Eschers and their allies were hunting Salmons – hunting them to extinction.
These dark thoughts plagued the old Salmon commander, buzzing about his head like flies around a cow’s eyes, trying to gain access. He had no choice but to go on. The path they were walking down was doomed; it had always been doomed. But there was nothing left to do but meet their fate head-on; they had gained too much momentum to prevent the coming crash.
The Eschers were harsh when the need arose; they killed their enemies slowly and steadily, using weapons that had been passed down through their families for generations. It all began with contesting with the enemy for Ferrum. Ferrum, life-giving Ferrum, was indispensable for both the Salmons and the Eschers. The young needed it to grow; the old needed it to survive. Lack of Ferrum meant certain death. That is how the Eschers started their attack – they deprived the Salmons of Ferrum. When the Ferrum was almost gone, and the Salmons were sufficiently weakened, the Eschers began the direct attack: they released the notoriously effective poisons, the Microcins, which wiped out enormous numbers of Salmons already starving for Ferrum. If you have ever used a mosquito coil, you might have noticed how it causes mosquitos to drop dead in numbers that defy logic. The Microcins spectacularly outdid mosquito coils as far as killing targets was concerned. They were the terror of the Salmons – one whiff, and there was no saving you. The Salmons had tried for generations to thwart the Eschers’ Microcins, but had met only with increasingly desperate failure. And now, they faced a reality where they would be driven out of the homes they had made for themselves, after having been starved of the Ferrum they needed to live and having seen great numbers of their population killed off by the Microcins. It was a terrible thing – knowing that this fate awaited you and your people, and not being able to do anything to escape it.
The Eschers’ commander looked out over the fields and rolling hills of his Homeland and heaved a sign of relief; the threat posed by the Salmons was finally under control, and their Homeland was safe, for now. This attack had been particularly harsh; for a while, it had seemed that the Salmons would get past all the Homeland families and establish a colony there. But the Eschers had stepped in at the right moment and driven them back. The Salmons came from the Outer Lands. They had a great thirst for life – their sole aim was to grow, and increase in numbers. They had no respect for the food that another had worked hard to produce; they only wanted to filch it and use it for themselves. They had no respect for the Homeland – they only wanted to use it for their growth, and played no part in keeping it alive. The Eschers were not opposed to the Salmons per se; many other families lived off the Homeland in peace. Rather, they disagreed with the Salmons’ way of life – take everything you find and give nothing in return. Salmons, left to themselves, would damage, perhaps even destroy the Homeland. The Eschers could not exist without the Homeland, and so they fought to keep the Homeland safe, as a means to ensure that they remained safe. It was simple.
The battle for the welfare of the Homeland had lasted for generations, but now it was coming to an end. Gradually, but decisively, the Salmons, who posed a threat to the Homeland, and refused to return to the Outer Lands, were being destroyed. Of all the families that inhabited the Homeland, the Eschers had played the crucial role in the victory that now loomed on the horizon. All was well.
Final notes: Salmons can also be thought of as Salmonella typhimurium, a pathogenic bacteria that causes diarrhea in human beings. Similarly, the Eschers could refer to Escherichia coli (strain Nissle 1917) that are part of the normal microbiota present in our intestines. Ferrum, Homeland and Stomak might be interpreted as iron, the human body and the stomach respectively. The dependence of all life forms on iron, among other nutrients, is very real. Competition between life forms and iron starvation due to this competition has been described in the literature. Microcins, undisguised here, are small peptides released by some bacterial strains to outcompete other strains. The generation time for Escherichia coli and Salmonella typhimurium under ideal conditions (not the human body) can be as little as 20 minutes and 30 minutes respectively.
Writing out this little tale made me realize that power struggles between bacteria seem to mirror those between humans. The major difference is that we can analyze our power struggles, and the motivations that drive each faction. And since, unlike bacteria, we have only one homeland (so far), we might, with our big brains and complex thoughts, figure out a way to live together, peacefully, with all those families whose ideas of how life should be lived diverge from our own.
All I am trying to say is: rise above the bacteria that you harbor, and think more!
Have a wonderful summer, full of startling thoughts of the big things and the small things, and all the threads that link them irrevocably together!