When money has no value any more, why would anyone try to counterfeit it? The answer is, there’s lots of different definitions of value . . .

MoneyDid you hear about the time money almost destroyed the world? No, not capitalism. My granddad used to go on about the Big Crash for hours if you’d let him–but this isn’t that. This was after fabbers were invented. No one used money to buy stuff anymore, but that didn’t stop people collecting it.

Way back in the dark ages, before d-mat even, money was made of tokens people physically exchanged–notes and coins that stood in for stuff but weren’t really as valuable as the stuff. If you separated the precious metals from the paper and sold that, you’d make a loss. Crazy, huh?

Anyway, physical money was practically designed to be hoarded. It was printed by governments, and governments didn’t want people to make their own, so dollar bills had unique serial numbers and couldn’t be copied. Also, these bills were made of paper or thin sheets of plastic, which is pretty fragile. Considering how much of this paper money was around even after the Big Crash, there’s surprisingly few genuine dollar bills left now. To find one is news. A lot of them are in museums now, or art galleries, but there’s always a percentage of notes that circulate in a close-knit community of people called Billfolders. Billfolders trade with each other and have been known to go to great lengths to get their hands on a new find before anyone else does. Even murder.

We know there’s an underground trade because of what happened in this story: you know, the world almost ending? Some plucky entrepreneur figured he could work the Billfolders into a frenzy by taking an old note, putting it through a custom fabber, and altering the pattern slightly each time, so the new notes came out with different serial numbers. Faking new finds, basically.

He set up a private d-mat network in Death Valley so no one could see what he was doing. In order to avoid any suspicious power spikes, he set his fabber to take in material from the environment rather than make it from scratch. When his set-up had produced its first bills, he went to see if he could interest a collector, leaving the fabber running while he was gone. His plan, if it worked, was to flood the Billfolder market before people caught on.

What happened with that first collector, no one really knows, but the story goes that the fakes weren’t good enough. The entrepreneur returned to his little counterfeiting operation in order to tweak the process and found much more than the few hundred dollar bills he had expected waiting for him. A small mountain of counterfeit notes was rising up over the desert, and more were spewing out of the fabricator with every passing second. Worried that he might be discovered, he ran to switch the fabber off . . . and here’s where it all went really wrong.

Somewhere under that mountain of dollar bills, the fabricator was running low on raw material. It wasn’t going to use the bills it had already created in order to make new bills–that would be like cannibalism, right? It needed fresh input, in the form of rocks, sand, cactuses, lizards–whatever was close enough to get sucked into its hungry maw. That fresh input included a certain plucky entrepreneur who hadn’t thought hard enough about what he had set in motion.

So he got sucked in and turned into his own fake dollar bills and was never seen again. And still the machine kept chugging along, drilling down into the bedrock after it ate away at everything on the surface. The money mountain got bigger and bigger until you could see it from space. Its foothills spread out across North America and its peak disrupted weather patterns for miles.

The machine would have eaten the world if they hadn’t taken it out from orbit. A powersat beam set the notes on fire and some old military installation dropped an iron spear that skewered the fabber itself. That fixed the problem once and for all.

The ironic thing is that not all of the fake notes burned up. The heat and convection from the bonfire sent thousands of them into the upper atmosphere, and they rained down all over the world over the following months. They’re still out there, popping up in all sorts of odd places–and of course they’re collectible now too, as valuable as the real thing, in their own weird way.


  1. Jon says:

    That’s awesome. I love it.