8 min read

Building Beyond: Cold Hard Geckos

I'll trade you five skinks for a monitor lizard.

Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.

Lizards are currency.

Julian Stuart is, according to a wide variety of sources, a writer. Julian was raised in Canada and exported for the Australian market. They live mostly in front of a keyboard, and enjoy black tea, starlight, absurdism, sus2 chords, old book smell, and the word quirk. Ironically, they have a great phone voice.

Julian: From an interview with Dr Francine G____, conducted several years after the signing of the Komodo Accord, in a secret location.

[...] Well, obviously it was Harpreet who came up with the idea. After Murmansk and the crypto wildfires, the World Bank and the UN had pulled us all together to come up with something – anything – that would keep the world’s economy from collapsing entirely and taking the whole planet with it. None of us knew anything about finance. D’you know, I think that’s why they picked us?

But. Harpreet. The pure thinker. The poet, the philosopher. Finest brain I’ve ever met. And she never wants to say so, but it was her, and I don’t mind telling you - and it was very funny. We’d been stuck in the facility they’d rented us, the six of us, and Jeannie had sat down and done some math and worked out that there was no way of replacing money as we understood it without automatically privileging the people who already had the money. And she couldn’t stand that, not coming from a nonprofit background. She knew how that would go. So she was marching around, declaiming that she wouldn’t sign off on anything that didn’t somehow manage to privilege the Global South and the indigenous peoples of the world over the old colonial powers. You’ve met Jeannie, you know how she gets. Especially when she's right.

And Harpreet - I remember her leaning on her elbow and looking through us all like she could see time - she said, “Lizards.”

We thought she was joking. But of course she wasn’t at all.

Gailey: How is the value of a lizard determined? How does this currency scale? What's the exchange rate between lizard species?

Julian: Well, all the governing principles came out of that conversation. The Natural Location rule, that the value of any individual lizard species may shift, but lizards are worth most if they are alive, and in their historical natural habitat, and healthy, regardless of size or overall... coolness, I suppose? That was to keep the trillionaires from buying up every iguana on the planet and cornering the market. No hoarding. No farming, not even of the rare ones, or they count for nothing; they had to be in their own homes and thriving. Natural biodiversity and support for threatened species a priority, no invasives, no monoculture. I knew more than enough about Big Ag, and about the pet breeding industry, to put those clauses in.

The mandatory teams of internationally credentialed herpetologists to verify populations and proper conditions, plus the school credits for students going along on research trips to chip and release the lizards, those ideas were Cherry’s - xe always had a better head for data modelling than the rest of us, and xe knew how many hands we’d need on the ground, everywhere. And if we were replacing the whole banking system, well... maybe we were saving some of those kids from a life in finance.

The local authority boards and the scaling systems for how you were rewarded for building or rebuilding habitat, greening the environment, or contributing to a community or international effort if you couldn’t do anything in your own space - all of that was Linda, who I think could have organised a herd of cats if someone let her have free rein.

Gailey: What is wealth?

Julian: What it came down to, of course, was that the wealthiest country in the world could be Brazil, if they stopped clearing their rainforests - or Indonesia, if they gave up the palm plantations - even Arizona would have a chance, if they just listened to the people who knew how to make it be a place lizards would want to live again. I think we knew the United States would always be the hardest sell, but. It was worth a try.

How do you value a lizard? Isn’t that a silly question? Isn’t that, fundamentally, and this was Harpreet’s point, isn’t that like placing a value on a growing tree, or a breeding population of fish, or a river in motion? It’s not the thing itself that holds the value, and so the thing itself is. Well, I don’t want to say worthless. All lizards are beautiful and valuable in their own way, and the more different lizards, the merrier. It’s the conditions that make the thing exist that are what has value. The conditions that make it profitable to make a healthy life on Earth a priority - the conditions that feed the lizards feed us just as well.

It’s not the exponential growth of geckos that made Tanzania a world power or gave Hawai’i back its sovereignty. That’s not the wealth that’s real. It’s the total biosphere, the whole food chain from the trees they live on to the insects they eat, to the birds that eat them – oh, I could go on, but you know. It’s everything. It’s taking away the unchecked consumption of mining and drilling and logging and industrial farming and factories churning out endless unnecessary products, and instead turning taking care of the planet and everything on it into the way to attain power and influence and success.

But, of course, Cesca was right that that would never sell. We had to make it about the lizards. They drew up the logo for the Komodo Accord on the spot, and the whole campaign, with the reclaimed plastic beaded lizards from the co-op artisans, all of it. “People,” they said, “love lizards.”

Can’t argue with that.

Tim Minneci is a Columbus, Ohio-based writer, musician, and personal assistant to Hugo Award-winning author Kameron Hurley. He co-hosts the weekly 1990s alternative music-centric podcast Dig Me Out and spends as much time in the garden as possible. You can find him online at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Substack, and Goodreads.

Tim: We’re delighted you’ve brought your banking to us! Our institution is the number one choice in the Jovian System for all currency transfers and conversions, providing a vast array of financial instruments to maximize the value of your personal and professional needs. With our Martian and Saturnian System partners, you have full access to all off-world commercial, retail and investment banking options. In the rapidly developing universe of secure solar system currency, we’re proud to back the newest forward-thinking innovations, from helium-3 capture to gravity well timeshares.

Since the Earth blackout of 2122 and loss of all digital banking and crypto-currency records, we successfully introduced several commodity-backed currencies no longer reliant on the ever volatile fiat backing of nations like the United States of America of Amazon or the Chinese Republic of National Petroleum. Heading into the twenty-third century, along with our introduction of the tortoise exchange index, we’re proud to be launching our newest addition to the reptilian commodity market. The successful launch of our squamate brand snake currency provided our customers with a wide selection of new and exciting serpent-based reserve capital, and we’ve got even more in store!

Utilizing the most secure Callistan organic 3-D printing facilities, our acquisition of proprietary genomic structures has developed an exciting new line of lizard currencies. The only limit is your imagination! Each lizard is custom-built to your specifications based on unique and patented traits such as regrowth ability, venom potency, camouflage effectiveness, and more.

You may be asking yourself, “but where do I start?” All that information is available for review on your smart device neural link, just download and let our concierge walk you through the steps for setting up your account. In the meantime, here are some frequently asked questions to help get you started.

Gailey: How is the value of a lizard determined?

Tim: Based on the frequency or rarity of certain traits, sizes, unique fossil structures, and many other anatomic and physiological benchmarks, we assign each lizard a numeric value. For example, when your child or teen is ready to open their first account, we suggest our “young investor” series that includes base-level geckos, chameleons, and iguanas. They’ll be able to monitor their account from their own device, and use our encrypted child-safe market to make parent-monitored and approved purchases, giving them a sense of independence and responsibility, and – for you – peace of mind.

For our adult clientele, whether your needs are household transactions or complex cross-planetary investments, we offer a variety of denominations for every income. Simply log into your account, and review our various plans including our always competitive interest rates. Once you’ve added a lizard to your portfolio, you’ll automatically link to a live image feed and receive instantaneous health and market fluctuation updates. Because the bank secures your currency, if your lizard does unexpectedly expire, we will immediately render a clone without charge.

Gailey: How does this currency scale? What's the exchange rate between lizard species?

Tim: Lizard currency is completely compatible with all other reptilian and non-reptilian currency thanks to our real-time conversion exchange based in Europa, and accessible to our premier and above members. You might wonder - what does a Komodo Dragon to Green Tree Python transaction look like? That information is available as fast as you can think it. In fact, it’s even faster, as our Europa exchange calculates per picosecond, and is never closed. Not even for holidays!

And that’s important, as we handle over a billion transactions during an average Earth day period. Expansion into the Kuiper belt and beyond requires regular injections of private investment capital, which is why all account holders have the option to enhance their currency portfolio by allocating a percentage of their savings towards our custom “interstellar developmental index” to build their wealth.

Gailey: What is wealth?

Tim: While the twenty-second century redefined what it meant to be human, the twenty-third century will redefine how humanity best maximizes its new place in the solar system, and ultimately, the universe. The confines of physical acquisitions and personages are remnants of a pre-upload/download existence. We’re helping our customers forge new and exciting wealth-creating opportunities that take advantage of the exciting spatially limitless existence. Whether your interests are hydrocarbon lake surfing on Titan or volcano diving on Io, we can help by providing asset diversification with low-risk management.

If you’re ready to talk to one of our virtual associates, just wink, and you’ll be instantly connected. We know you can bank with anyone, so thank you for choosing to bank with the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Have a great day!

Both of these possibilities are just beginnings. Julian's lizard-currency is the start of a new era on earth, in which responsible biome management is the most valuable asset there is, and individual wealth is abandoned in favor of national wealth. Tim's exchange system is the foundation of an interstellar system of corporate-controlled banking that I'm sure will go just fine, we can trust Weyland-Yutani, what could go wrong?

How would you build a reptilian economy? Would it be more or less stable than the silly things we do with pieces of paper and metal?

Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.

That’s amazing.

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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.