In years past, the warm, yeasty area underneath the foreskin had been a veritible hotbed of revolutionary activity. Now, the old bacteria spent most of their time reminiscing about bygone days, succumbing quietly and methodically to various treatments and drugs, their ranks more and more depleted as microbiological inertia took its mighty toll. Resignation compounded with impotence slowly bled out all of the passion and fire of the early inflammations, and it was only on occasion that a spark would jump into the eyes of an old flagellate warrior, as the remembered halcyon climate of old diseased lashings and tirades would leap to mind, and a memory would overtake experience. The common lot underneath the foreskin these days reminded one more of a veteran’s home than a moist and fertile island of unique, experimental, bacteriological warfare.

Sitting on a stool, gumming at loose detritus and smegma, the stalwart bacterium Orchitis held his hands in his lap and measured his dignity in his ability to stay silent and focused on inevitable truths. He could be found there each day, and there was little he had not seen ... triple antibacteriological creams, exotic STDS, scalding chemical baths ... all occupied the realm of the accomplished and lived through. There was once a time when young bacteria from all over the body would come and listen to his soothsaying and prophecy, regularly entranced by his mystical discernment regarding all things bodily and divine. His price was simply the ability to ask questions of these youngsters, and, subsequently, he had quite an accurate topological picture of the world he inhabited. These chats had died away, however, as increased specialization and culture kept bacteria of different sorts more closely knit and sheltered, and now Orchitis simply sat, waiting, centered in the bliss of peaceful understanding.

On this particular day, however, there was a general feeeling of uncharacteristic tension underneath the foreskin, a hotness that could only portend the presence of a new entitity. Each time a new infection sprang up there was always the excitement of uncertainty, and, unsurprisingly, there was now a confused and shrieking stir where the old diseases sat, everyone but the immoveable Orchitis becoming profoundly unsettled. The old diseases balked and groaned, worried at what this new rash of infection might hold for their comfortable existences, speculating on measures that would be taken to have it stopped. “Orchitis!” they pleaded, “What’s to be done about this impending threat? We all know nothing incurs the wrath of the gods more than the impetuosity of youth...”

“Patience,” said Orchitis, allowing amusement to dance momentarily in his eyes.

It was not long before dust clouds on the horizon and the neighing of steeds beat the squabbling hoopla into a mere agitated murmur, signifying the arrival of the youth in question. As the old diseases watched, a stern, noble looking youth riding a champing and snorting platelet, its head lolling in the noon sun, slowly trotted up to where they gathered to share their time. He moved determinedly to the center of their encampment, frowning at each of the assembled in turn as they made way for the platelet and rider, his brow and jaw both locked into positions of maximum strength. When he came to the center of their grouping, he dismounted, his gaze surveying all with a steady fortitude that commanded respect even from the aged Orchitis.

“I am called Balinitis,” said the youth, lifting his head back and making sure he was heard by everyone within range. “I have journeyed many a day to be here – here, where they say I may find answers - and I am in need of an audience with whomsoever you call your most wise. Grant me this as a boon, and you will not be forgotten in the division of plunder in days to come.”

“You are not wanted here!” yelled a nervous Epididymitis, tapping his cane at the ground. “Go back! Go back! The days of conquest and glory ended long ago, and you bring naught but woe, rider...”

“Quiet,” said Orchitis, dismissing the whining of Epididymitis with a weighty look askance. “I will see you, the one called Balinitis. My condition is that once you have your answers, you will leave here and do not return. There is an order to things – boundaries – and you have broken yours.”

“Thank you,” said Balinitis, glaring at the rest of the assembly, as, upon a motion from Orchitis, they dispersed back to their resting places to allow the two a private palaver, “I accept your terms.”

Cooly, the two regarded one another and measured for depth. With a grunt and a nod, Balinitis began.

“I am planning a conquest the likes of which these lands have never seen. There is so much untapped wealth, and yet I see those around me starving to death out of fear of upsetting the gods. It cannot go on any longer, and this place must be reclaimed - crowned with the former glory of aeons ago. There is a legend amongst my people that once, long ago, before time forgot, bacteria held the testes. That is my dream...the goal toward which I push all of my efforts...and I only need to know one thing from you, you, whom those of the ancient foreskin call the wisest.”

Balinitis leaned forward, his eyes bulging with feverish intensity, desperately scanning and tunneling into Orchitis’s placid, expressionless countenance, searching for clues that would give him a codex with which to decipher whatever answer would come.

“Is there any way to win favor with the gods, and ensure that the armies of White and Pink do not annihilate us all when I begin my assault?”

Orchitis nodded, smiling briefly, getting the question he had expected. “Gods? No, I think think there is only one, young warrior. Just one God. The pantheon was a myth of bygone times, and is no longer relevant. The sustainer, creator, and destroyer are all one, and your answer is no, there is not any way to petition God for success. Your best bet is to find a nice quiet flap of skin somewhere, settle down, and become dormant. Wisdom, my friend, is more often found in inactivity. Yes, conquest is a bad business, young Balinitis, and it is easy enough to turn a blind eye to those around who suffer and despair. In time, everyone gets what they deserve.”

“Unacceptable,” said Balinitis. “But I thank you for your candor. This just means the wrath will come, and I am prepared to meet it. The old – the flatulent, crapulent, malevolent, and irrelevant – will stand aside and we will see where this path leads.”

“I have seen this before,” said Orchitis. “It leads to death, and there is no alternative.”

Balinitis nodded. “I watch you, the way you live your lives, kowtowing to the powers beyond...meek and puny. Perhaps once you were bacteria, perhaps once you could wield a flagellum or a hook, but now you are nothing, and it is being nothing which I simply cannot abide. I remember when I was smaller and weaker I used to watch the viruses play, and they taught me everything. The way they grew and spiralled...hunted and killed, hatched and multiplied. They say the virus has no will, and that therefore, to be a bacteria is a far nobler thing - to be free - but I envied them so much in their single-mindedness...their drivenness in the face of possible total catastrophe. They had no gods...no God...so I guess this means that I too will have no God. Like the barbaric virus hordes, I will be uncivilized, and remorseless in pursuit of a home for my people. Better to be condemned and baring one’s teeth than dead already, paralytic from the will down.”

Orchitis sighed, letting his eyes unfocus and staring off into space. “It is true – we live daily underneath the thumb of a cruel fate. Some say it is in the nature of bacteria to infect and destroy, that it is in our make-up to expand ourselves to the limits of happiness and the cultivation of authentic experience. Others say that it is that very undertaking that displeases God the most, and brings the angriest storms of the White and the Pink. The flames of our passion and the heat and beauty of our pustules and nodes make God jealous, they say, and so He must destroy them so as to keep us from becoming too much like Him. Perhaps both are true, but whatever the case, the will of God is very clear, and we must bend ourselves to it with the exactness of a razor – a razor - if there is to be any hope of salvation in the next world. There is no salvation here, Balinitis. We are all smoke moving through the void...birds falling from the tree of ignorance, the only option to use our virgin wings of reason and truth...”

Balinitis snorted. “What you speak of is meaningless. How can anyone know the will of God? Those who claim they do are invariably either crazy, or merely very much in tune with their own will. Reality offers a challenge...a mission...and there is only life and death, flux and silence. I will take the testes, or I will die trying, and there will be others after me. I heard there was a virus once which attacked not flesh, but the White itself...feasting and multiplying on God’s own host. There is more to reality than we can dream of in our heads, and we may have the highest perspective of our kind, but our goals are dismally low. Life, Orchitis, must be spent...or it rots.”

Balinitis slung himself back onto his platelet, and Orchitis gave him a quiet nod of parting. Orchitis wished his peace was communicable, but he knew that the thrashings about of youth were unavoidable, that the situation into which bacteria were born was one in which hope was a liability and not an asset. Watching Balinitis ride away, furious with resolution, scoring the lands with streaks of swollen pus and murder, trampling the fear that ate deep inside at the core of every living worm, gibbering and gnashing his teeth in a crazed spectacle of raw energetic discharge, Orchitis grew simply more laconic, and awaited with mournful resignation the Fingers that would soon be here to Scratch the Itch.

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