Chapter 1: Jelly

‘The best ones are on the top shelf!’ 

Wimax tried to keep her voice low but high enough that Leodie could hear her. She nervously looked around as she kept a tight grip on a tall stack of barrels. Far above, her best friend Leodie was climbing up past giant shelves on which dozens of jars, cans, barrels and gourds were placed. The shelf was enormous and just one of many in a huge cavern filled with them, row upon row. Wimax tried to keep the pile steady. 

Leodie climbed with sure-gripped experience. She hung on to the barrel stack as it started swaying back and forth, despite Wimax’s best efforts to keep it still. Shifting the weight of her body, Leodie continued cautiously until she reached the top. Right above her was the cavern roof, fifteen metres above the floor. She reached for a row of glass jars. 

Far beneath her, Wimax whisper-shouted again: ‘You’re there! Grab two of the small ones!’ Hanging precariously between the barrel tower and the shelf, Leodie carefully judged the distance to a nearby jar. Inside welled a golden, thick liquid. A label on it marked it as ‘Farmer Karmat’s Finest Golden Honeydew Syrup’. It was undoubtedly the best honeydew syrup in the entire hive. Many were the times they had watched jars just like these through the windows of syrup shops, knowing they would never be able to afford one.

Leodie reached out and grabbed hold of the shelf with an arm, hanging on to the barrels with her legs. Her whole body was tense, stretched sideward for extra balance. She got a hold of two jars and whooped excitedly. Beneath her, Wimax groaned at the sound, frantically looking around to see if Leodie’s shout had been heard. Carefully, Leodie tucked the jars into a bag and turned to climb down. But then she paused. Her eyes had glanced at something further down the shelf. She turned her head and focused on an enormous glass jar. Inside welled a syrup, even more, golden-brown than the stuff she had in her bag. The label read: Royal Jelly[1] – Queen Sarthe Only’. 

‘Wooooow …’ exhaled Leodie. She involuntarily stretched towards the massive jar. Wimax looked up and saw her best friend put the two jars of Finest Golden Syrup back on the shelf.

‘Leodie, what are you doing …?’ Then she spotted the big jar her friend was leaning towards. ‘Nononono! Don’t you dare! It is too far away and too heavy! The barrels will collapse!’ She shook her head frantically, trying to hold the barrels steady. 

Far above her, Leodie slowly bent towards the huge jar, stretching her arms towards it. ‘I almost have it,’ she whispered to herself. ‘I almost have it.’ She let go with her legs, climbing fully onto the shelf.

Wimax gave up on staying silent and yelled: ‘Leodie, no! I can’t hold the barrels!’ And right she was. The stack of barrels, twenty of them all on top of each other, started teetering backwards and forwards, threatening to topple. ‘Nonono …’ Wimax whispered to herself as she tried to stop the stack of barrels from tumbling over. Far above her, Leodie grabbed the huge jar and pulled back the gigantic leaf wound around it as a lid. A heavy, sugary smell exploded from the contents. It smelled like caramel, warm summer, and honey, all wrapped up in one delicious promise. Leodie sighed deeply and dipped her mouth into the syrup. The taste overwhelmed her instantly, an explosion of flavour that filled her mouth from end to end.

‘This is so good!’ She slurped. 

With a mighty crash, the barrels fell to the ground, several of them breaking open and spilling their contents onto the floor. Pollen erupted in great clouds. Several of them impacted on the tall shelving unit, sending it rocking. ‘Uh oh!’ Leodie groaned as the massive jar of royal jelly teetered on the edge of the top of the shelf. Not sure what to do, she scrambled across the top of the jar but slipped and fell fully into the golden liquid. The jar rocked back, then forth, and then slowly tethered over the edge of the shelf for a brief second before dropping towards the floor far below. Wimax looked up in horror at her friend falling towards her, trailed by assorted jars of honeydew. She jumped aside and heard a massive crash behind her. She whipped around with lightning speed, crawling over a pile of fragments of barrels and jars, and up to a huge golden mound in the middle. The smell was delicious, and ‘Wimax’ mouth watered instantly. A pair of legs stuck out from the top of the syrup mound, waving in the air.

‘Leodie, are you ok? Talk to me!’ Wimax yelled. She stopped as from inside the golden mass came weird, strangling sounds. Even though she was thoroughly stuck, Leodie was busy slurping up the golden-brown jelly as fast as her hands could scoop it into her mouth. Captured by the scent, Wimax also stuck her hands into the jelly, but before she could get a taste, the ground shook with heavy footfalls. Metallic shrieks ground through the stale air of the warehouse. The shaking caused Leodie to bounce up and down inside the jelly mound.

‘We’ve gotta get out of here!’ Wimax yelled as she tried pulling Leodie out of the syrup. Behind them, the footfalls grew heavier. The shelves shook, and a jar fell and smashed. A huge, deep, metallic voice roared: ‘What are you two hoodlums doing here!’

Wimax looked up from trying to pull Leodie’s legs from the jelly. Right behind her towered farmer Karmat. Three metres tall and wrapped in heavy, bronzed armour scarred from countless battles, the massive war clank was built vaguely like an ant with six segmented limbs and a pair of mechanical mandibles at the front. A hiss of steam escaped from the grille that formed her mouth as she bent down a massive insect-like head to get a better look at Wimax. Her head was crowned with needle-sharp spines, and her eye sockets glowed blue, a reflection of the light from the memory crystal embedded where the brain of a living creature would be. Painted white patterns swirled around her torso. She also looked very annoyed. 

Leodie kicked frantically, and with a mighty heave, Wimax pulled her out. There was a slurping sound, and they both tumbled backwards, right between the legs of the massive soldier clank.

‘Run!’ Wimax screamed. Dodging between armour-plated legs, they ran past Karmat, who stomped around trying to catch them.

‘Stand still, you rascals!’ Karmat roared, loud enough to make the two children stumble.

‘Keep going!’ Wimax found her legs and dived towards the dark opening of the small

tunnel they had dug to get into the warehouse. They dove in headfirst, scrambling upwards as a giant claw reached in after them, clanging shut just short of Leodie. Seconds later, they emerged into the neighbouring cave. Around them was a forest of huge mushrooms, shining white stalks beneath a cave roof far above them. They shot through the stalks, hearing the roars of farmer Karmat gaining in strength behind them as the clank tore through the walls.

‘Here!’ Leodie yelled, dragging Wimax into a cavity in a fallen mushroom stalk. She grabbed hold of her friend, holding on tight as the heavy footfalls of the clank grew closer. Farmer Karmat came to a stop next to the fallen stalk. They could hear hissing steam escaping from the arcane inner workings of the clank as it surveyed the night air. Cones of white light shone from her eye sockets as it hunted for movement in the stalks. Wimax and Leodie closed their eyes, becoming still. For a few seconds, they lay there quietly, then the clank moved on, footsteps growing quieter as it left to search elsewhere.

‘That was awesome,’ Leodie grinned: ‘That was the most fun I have had in ages!’

‘That was way too dangerous,’ admonished her friend as they collapsed, hearts racing. They lay silent for a while, letting their muscles relax. Leodie felt herself recover when she noticed Wimax was licking her head.

‘Hey, err … what are you doing?’ She complained. Wimax grabbed Leodie’s head and scooped off some royal jelly, licking her fingers: ‘Sorry, you just taste so delicious.’ In the rush to escape, Leodie had forgotten she had been swimming in the royal jelly. Now that the danger was over, she found herself unconsciously licking one of her arms.

‘You’re right! And I really do taste delicious!’ They both started laughing. 

After a while, all traces of royal jelly gone, they calmed down. They sat down together, enjoying the smell of the royal jelly, which was still thick in the surrounding air. The cavern was quiet, with barely a whisper of air moving through the mushroom forest. 

‘Why do we always end up like this?’ Wimax sighed.

‘What do you mean?’ Leodie looked at her. 

‘Like this – you know – in trouble of various kinds – why can’t we just go to school like our friends?’

‘Well,’ Leodie sighed: ‘Because it is … well, actually school is pretty great.’ But there are so many cool things to do and see out here in the hive. Who wants to be cooped up in school all day? I want to see it all – from the hive spire to the darkest caves where wolf spiders roam and the careless traveller gets eaten by burrowing megawasps. Ooh, and I want to ride a scorpion!’

Wimax looked sideways at Leodie. Her friend had a faraway look in her eyes, as she always did when she thought about the adventures she wanted to pursue.

‘A scorpion? A cave-sized, armour-plated monster?’

‘Yes! They’re the best ones’ Leodie leapt up and climbed a mushroom. Standing on top of it, she bounced up and down, pretending to ride a giant scorpion.

She struck a heroic pose, looking sternly into the distance. This made Wimax smile.

‘Also,’ said Leodie, sitting down on the mushroom cap: ‘If we stayed in school, how would we get to taste such awesome honeydew jelly? I wish we could eat like this every day!’ She reached into her rucksack. From a side pocket, she withdrew a small piece of a folded leaf cloth. She opened it and upended it. A bit of pocket lint fell out. She frowned at the lack of content. 

Wimax laughed: ‘Ha! With our allowance of silverwitch leaves it would take us…’ Her eyes glazed over for a second: ‘2.54 lifetimes to afford a medium jar of Karmat’s finest honeydew’. 

‘Yea’, Leodie nodded sagely: ‘Good thing we have other and much more exciting ways to get some.’ Her frown fell away, and she grinned broadly. 

‘Still, it would be nice not to have to ‘borrow’ things.’

‘Really? So why don’t you use that big brain of yours to figure out how we become rich then? We could have bucketfuls of silverwitch leaves[2]!’

Wimax shrugged: ‘No. I don’t care about being rich. But I would like Lenpou not to have to work so much, though. She is always tired. It doesn’t seem fair.’ Her face darkened: ‘You know how we sometimes share our lunch with Anian. It’s not right. She shouldn’t go hungry just because her guardian lost a leg and can’t be able to work well. But getting rich is not the solution – sure, we would be fine, but what about all the other workers?’

Leodie lost her smile: ‘So, what are you saying?’

Wimax grimaced: ‘I think it is not about the silverwitch leaves. I think it just feels that way because we need them to buy things like food and honeydew and whatnot. But I can’t help feeling that there is something else going on, something about how we choose to live, all of us.’ She waved her arms, indicating the enormous hive around them and the millions of people living in it: ‘I don’t know, I just think we should be better at taking care of each other.’

Leodie sighed and jumped up and down on the mushroom a few times. Then her face lit up again: ‘Wow, Karmat is amazing – I wonder what all those swirls on her carapace meant?’

Wimax bent her head in thought: ‘Hmm. We had something about that in school – the soldier clanks, they paint their carapaces to show rank, their duties and all that. Some of it could also be honours or marks of battles she has been in? Or well, maybe she just thinks it looks cool?’

Leodie thought for a while. Then she stretched and yawned: ‘Well, I think we need a short nap. And then we go back and ask her.’ She padded the soft mushroom beneath her. 

Wimax gasped: ‘What? You want to go back and ask her? Are you nuts!?’ Leodie grinned: ‘Best way to find out. You got to ask questions. And maybe get some honeydew for Anian.’

Wimax started to protest but then stopped. After a while, she nodded: ‘Yea ok, I really want to know.’ She shook her head and sighed with mock frustration: ‘And now I know why we’re always in trouble.’


[1] Marginal utility.

[2] Money.

The below text is from the glossary of “Antwork”. In the glossary, real-world explanations are provided for the concepts from economics and technology that is introduced in the book.

Money

The silverwitch leaves that Leodie and Wimax wish they had more of, is a kind of money. Money is something that functions as a medium of exchange for transactional purposes within an economy. What this means is that money is something we use to make transactions less troublesome. If we did not have money, we would have to barter (see: Barter) for everything, which is more cumbersome than just using money. In economic language, we say that money reduces transaction costs. Money is an implementation of a numeraire (see: Numeraire).

For money to work effectively, it must do three things well:

1) Be a medium of exchange: The money should be seen as having value by both parties in any one transaction. If you try to buy a new car using Monopoly money, you will quickly see how important this point is.

2) Be a unit of account: Money should be a way to put a number on how valuable something is and how much of it you have. This allows you to compare the price of different things.

3) A store of value (see: Value). Money should keep its value over a long time. This is very important as most things tend to lose value over time. If you have 100 apples, they lose their value over a few weeks. A TV might lose its value over the years. Even metal rusts. Some metals do not react with others, such as gold. This means that gold stays like it is without changing practically forever. This makes it good for storing value to pass on to other people or to pass value between generations.  

There are different kinds of money out there, including fiat currencies (see: Fiat currency), legal tender, fiduciary media, and electronic cryptocurrencies (see: Cryptocurrency).

Marginal Utility (the paradox of value, the diamond-water paradox)

The really good stuff that Leodie tries to grab at Karmat’s honeydew production cave is called royal jelly. In the story, it looks and tastes like Summer distilled. The idea is inspired by royal jelly made by bees, which looks like white snot and is also called ‘bee milk’. In the story, royal jelly is rare, and it tastes amazing. It is, in other words, really valuable to the people of Hive Sarthe. In economics, we call this having ‘high marginal utility. To explain what this means, we need to solve a mystery that involves diamonds and water: Economists sometimes come up with mysteries. The marginal utility mystery is about the relationship between how useful something is and how valuable it is. Take water. Water is very useful to us humans. Without water, we die! But water is pretty cheap to buy. Diamonds, however, are pretty expensive. But they are not useful – apart from some decorative purposes and use for industrial drills and similar; we cannot use diamonds for anything. So why is water cheap and diamonds expensive? 

For a while, economists (people who study economics) thought that the reason diamonds are more expensive than water, despite being less useful, was because a shiny diamond requires a lot more work to make than a bottle of water. These days, the thinking is that the answer is in the marginal utility of the specific product or good. Marginal utility means how useful one unit of something is. This can help explain why water is so cheap: because there is a lot of it, we can easily get all the water we need to drink (at least in some parts of the world), and also have water available for washing cars and watering lawns. This makes us value waterless, even though it is very useful. But if there is a water shortage, or if you live somewhere where clean water is hard to get a hold of, the value of water goes up, and we would gladly pay more for it to ensure we survive.

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