The First Penny Machine on Mars

Illustration by Jack Coggins.

Illustration by Jack Coggins.

The Penny Machine was brought by a Ukrainian immigrant named Yakiv, who when faced with what 500 pounds of personal effects to carry with him to Mars, opted for the shirt on his back and a penny press, lightly used, and $273 and 41 cents in new, US mint pennies. What is a penny press? An anachronism of the 20th century; a bulky box that with a hand crank that smashes a design into a one cent piece. They used to live beside the bathrooms at Museums and Historical Monuments and National Parks. For two quarters and a penny, you had yourself a small, useless souvenir to lose in a junk drawer or file into a book designed to commemorate all the dams and peaks and aquariums you visited over the years. There even emerged a dedicated community of Elongated Coin Collectors, and a museum, and a rich history of Elongated Coins pieced together by numismatics bored by regular currency.

But Yakiv was as he was named, from the old Hebrew for “to seize by the heel,” and he did not come to America to die poor in some city slum of Detroit where even the white people didn’t have good water to drink and where it was less cold than the Ukraine but also less beautiful. In America the cities are so big that no one celebrates the small holidays together - there is no bonfire for the ending of winter, there is no raucous night of drinking to finish out a funeral. He did not like it in America, and so he left.

He had a job waiting for him on Mars at the aluminum recovery plant, and room and board at one of the martian apartment colonies, and his mind set on the manifest destiny of becoming a Martian Millionaire. Approval to place his penny machine in a public space took 12 years, and quite a lot of money. And so, for 12 years, Yakiv worked his 8 hours shifts at the plant, lived and ate and slept at his little room at apartment group 118, and saved, quite literally, every penny. He still had the $273.41 sitting expensively in a storage unit in the non-terraformed area of Mars, where you could put things to wait if you didn't mind them in a vacuum.

Time passed and Yakiv waited.

He collected his autopay on the 1st and 15th, and he read books on his Kindle, and he listened to podcasts, and walked the halls of Mars watching a planet's new people negotiate a hostile and isolating landscape. By 2067 he had saved $500,000 and was able to bribe a project manager at the McDonald's at Cape Tomorrow landing strip to place his penny machine quite prominently at the kiosk at the entrance and exit point for all people arriving and leaving Mars.

He went through the $273.41 in pennies in the first 48 hours, and then scrambled to crowd source enough pennies from the people of Mars to keep going. This was no easy task, as pennies are an anachronism on Mars: heavy, essentially worthless on earth, and pointless on Mars where commerce exists online and most people had never handled a dollar, let alone a penny. But much like Polaroid cameras and paper magazines, the penny captured the imagination and nostalgic tendencies of a lost humanity and so cash did flow across certain bars and people flipped coins as a habit. And so Yakiv guaranteed a special edition, one time only, limited edition Mars penny to anyone who could send him the pennies lurking in purses and pockets and (still) between couch cushions, and he found himself with $1,345.87 from the 6.5 million people inhabiting Mars. This kept his machine pressing pennies until the arrival of his shipment of $50,000 in pennies special ordered from the US mint, with not a small number of the 1st Mars Mint historical pennies finding their way into the pockets of Senators, and some say the hands of the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the President herself.

Yakiv commissioned a new machine to meet demand and the old machine was placed in the Mars MET accompanied by a podcast describing the social impact of the MPM. Once a year the original MPM was carefully fed 100 US mint pennies, and 100 special edition MPM pennies were distributed to deserving Mars residents for their nobel contributions to the Mars project.

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One could, and did, notch Mars pennies to track travel. A one way trip to Earth granted a notch at the bottom of the penny and a one way trip to Mars earned a notch at the top. They say Yakiv's favored penny carried only a notch at the top, representing his first and only trip from Earth. Yakiv never left Mars. He never left his house, for the last 56 years of his life.

And here the story becomes brittle and trite because don't all strange geniuses end up locked away with their own hulking ideas? Greatness and success demand a fall and so, like the creative giants before him, Yakiv died alone in a large empty house on some artifical lake in a remote atmosphere bubble on Mars's North Pole.

Eventually Earth stopped producing pennies and the Mars corporation set up a small penny maker in a side room of the Copper Processing Plant. Twice weekly $20,000 of these pennies made their way from the Mars Mint to Cape Tomorrow, where with increasingly little fanfare, they were fed into MPM 5.0. They say MPM 8.0 will manufacturer its own pennies, and instantaneously, which will be a big win for Mars, and a nod to the conservationists who argue daily for the careful use of Mars's resources: time, space, matter, and human effort.

There are Mars pennies on every planet in its solar system now. A shuttle tosses one into the fiery abyss of Jupiter every Earth March, and on July 4th, 2235 someone launched one into the gasses of Venus with a glorified space slingshot. The same slingshot that crowd funded $17 trillion dollars to launch a state of the art SpaceX satellite towards Alpha Centuri, where one scientist recently picked up a Gamma Ray signal that sounded shockingly like “Heard it through the Grapevine" played on a didgeridoo.

Mars pennies. Some corroded by time and by travel, and thousands careening through space - lost to the vacuum by countless sad-headed humans negotiating the wilderness of the High Frontier. You find the really old ones in museums. An original MPM 1.0 penny from Yakiv's $273.41. The first penny to leave our solar system and return. The first Alpha Centari New Earth minted penny. The first penny to be zapped from one corner of Mars to a corner of another planet a trillion light years away. The last Mars penny, minted year 5,164,076,567 before the temperature rose and 76 trillion descendants of Earth watched Mercury and then Venus and then Earth and then Mars disappear into the maw of a collapsing sun. The last penny, held tightly by the last human hand in our solar system.

Illustration by Lee Sutton.

Illustration by Lee Sutton.

For Andy Houston.

Kelly Kate Warren