The 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 still 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 in pennies 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.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.


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, 2135 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 to leave our solar system.

Illustration by Lee Sutton.

Illustration by Lee Sutton.

For Andy Houston.

Kelly Kate Warren
Afraid of the Dark

Pt. 1:

I wake in the night to a sound like a bear maybe and I hold my breath in the warmth of my bag, waiting. It is rarely a bear but even after 5 years of sleeping mostly in the wild I am afraid of the dark and the things my imagination creates within it. I turn the rustling mice into shapes like bears and I see mountain lions in the shadows thrown by tree branches in the moonlight. It’s like that game you play with floral wallpaper at the doctor’s office - finding shapes like human faces, coyotes, birthday cakes and champagne flutes in the patterns of flowers on a wall. These things aren’t real. But I would craft a mountain lion out of the sound of wind in the trees and I would hear the footsteps of a bear in the pounding of my own heart. I have held my breath in the night only to realize that the rustling that made my heart sink heavy into the pit of my stomach was the sound of my sleeping bag moving to the rhythm of my own breathing. Which is appropriate, somehow, that my greatest fears in the wild would most often be myself. Because in 1,000 nights slept in a tent or under the stars I have never once been eaten by a bear. I have watched and been watched by mountain lions, but never been hurt by them. And the greatest injuries I have sustained have been self inflicted - missteps that morphed into sprained ankles, poorly swung tools that lead to scrapes and bruises and not a little blood loss. I have been preyed upon by beasts in the backcountry, but they were small and gossamer-winged, and they left itchy bumps when they bled me instead of claw-marks.


Pt. 2:

I have woken in the night to bears and never seen more than their hulking back-ends retreating into the dark. But I am scared still, of the dark maybe more so than what it holds. I feel it as a heavy, malevelent presence in the air around me, licking at the edges of my fear and forcing my breath to catch, my heartbeat to quicken until I cannot hear anything but the panicked battering of my own fearful heart. I have woken in a soft bed in a 4th story apartment bedroom frozen and silent in the imagining of large, furred predators transported out of the wilderness of my dreams into the glass and steel-grated windows of Brooklyn, into pavement-tamed San Francisco. I would wake wrapped in 800 thread-count sheets and I would listen to the echoes of my heartbeat in a dark room and I would imagine long-toothed beasts hiding beneath bed frames or creeping in from suburban basements. Fear. So many nights of it I have weathered now and it has not changed much in having survived them. But I still hike along moonlit trail and I still sleep under the stars alone in the wilderness with a 3 inch folding knife and my wits and my fear. Because what else is there? Bravery cannot exist without this fear that rides me and I would call myself brave because I need to know this about myself when there is no moon, and I saw bear scat not far from where I am now laying quiet in the dark, and there is a cracking of branches in the night. I would rather die here in the clutches of some peak predator than bleed out on the concrete beneath the metal body of some vehicle of death, but not tonight. Tonight I sleep fitfully, as I always do in the woods, and call myself brave, and feel nothing like it.

#2: The Witchy Woman

This story was inspired by episode #130 - "Holdout" from the podcast 99% Invisible, which you can listen to here, and by my dear friend Alison, a true protector of the Wilderness. It is unfinished.

Rachel Bujalski for National Geographic.

Rachel Bujalski for National Geographic.


She lived in a tent, in a tree, in a Park, and they called her the Witchy Woman, and she was rarely seen by anyone these days. The Park was called Yosemite and it was beautiful. Oak stood next to pine and fir, amongst the last living bits of moss, mugwort, and madrone, and there was even a little waterfall that rotated the same 100 gallons of greenish water to the delight of tourists. The park stood in front of a spectacular HD view of Half-Dome, the windows of the HalfDome Home an ever-changing 9,000 ft tall video clip of where the monolith itself stood until it didn’t.

Like the filling of the Grand Canyon with trash, and the oil rigs now dotting Yellowstone, this didn’t happen because people hated the Wilderness, it happened because it was necessary. What do you do when the population hits 14 billion and no one knows where to put 3 generations of unemployed Americans? God knows trying to stop people from having kids didn’t work, the media screamed “eugenics!” and demanded that we add government funding to the Mars colonization project, and then the Moon, but those places filled up, and people got tired of living with their entire extended families in the tiny cramped housing units that were stacked higher and higher, until they started crashing down.

The first Apartment Collapse in China killed 3.7 million people when a building that had been designed to hold 250 floors was extended to nearly 700. It fell, as did 11 buildings it slammed into. Bystanders described it as a large scale game of dominos, and the wreckage was so impossible to manage that they just flattened it as best they could, drilled in new foundations, and built on top of it. And so Half Dome was carved into a luxury apartment complex, and the San Francisco bay was filled with bricks of compressed garbage, and Florida was connected to Mexico by an island build at its tail and then pushed into the gap of ocean it had been designed to fill like a puzzle piece.

Hawaii is about the size of Texas now, and Australia was almost the size of Africa before a nuclear reactor blew and *poof* the last walkabout ended for good.

I know, I know, this sounds like madness, but what do you do? Fire up the gas chambers? Build a planet out of old car tires and Pepsi cans? We tried, we really did, but no one ever wants to spend money on research when 85% of humans are living on Soylent bars and bartering synthetic tobacco extract for Tylenol.

So people acclimated and called it “progress” and little by little trees were replaced with oxygen machines and beaches were replaced with seawalls and over time people mostly forgot what the world used to be like. But some didn’t.

Which brings us to the Witchy Woman.

Chapter 2:

Dave is a Park Ranger, he carries a gun and makes sure people don’t carve their names into the last living Redwood, or steal leaves or grass from the Park. He lives behind the Half-Dome Apartment complex in an area called "New Fresno" with his wife, Margaret, in one of the low-income studios reserved for government employees. It's small and there is mold in the kitchen and bathroom, but Dave is a 4th generation Park Ranger, and has worked now for 58 years without taking a single day off, and through this, and through Margaret's small inheritance, they are able to afford a unit with floor to ceiling windows in the main room and a small window in the bedroom. At night they can hear rats bickering over trash in the hallways, but in the golden light of early morning a soft glow washes over their sheets and across naked skin, and through sleep-weighted eyelashes one can imagine that the light is coming from some sunlit morning of old, and not from the strange machinery hidden behind their windows, the screens of which goes opaque and dull once they have left for work.


"Yes, love."

"I don't want to go to work."

"I know, but you've managed it for 40 years."

"They used to retire at my age."

"They used to die at your age."


Bits & Pieces:

“Miss. I am 127 years old. I remember well the world of old, and the wilderness there, and how it could make a man feel. I am grateful to see you fighting for our birthright, and perhaps preserving the one wild place left in this country. Live it well.”


Oh, what does one say, when the letters flow in like pleading voices, and they carry compliments and gifts. She finds herself swarmed by drones bearing gifts of food and warm clothing and the means to create a comfortable home for herself, strange, yes, but better maybe than the world outside, a world she reads about with increasing dread. What life out there is left to live, even? Scraping by on the Guaranteed Minimum Income? Living in smaller and smaller housing units with more and more people? From the Tree you could see it happening, grey shapes forming in the distance, and sounds like thunder and flashes like lightening. There were lights creeping like molten lava across the mountains surrounding her, and the air didn’t taste good, and the Tree felt wrong, somehow, showering her in dead needles, filling her lungs with oxygen and the scent of something gone off, a hormone maybe, more taste than smell. She would wake up choking in the night and feel the tree shudder to the rhythm of machines churning up dirt in the distance. A drone dropped off a package with a portable oxygen mask with a note that said “temporary fix!” And for a few weeks she wore an oxygen mask, and then goggles, and then she just stayed inside her tent, as outside the sky turned dark with smoke and she saw trees falling only miles away. She cried that night, and felt the Tree cry with her, dripping needles like tears and swaying a bit like a human rocking themselves in moments of intense sadness. The night was full of light and smoke and sounds like machines fighting, but her dreams were spent in the lush green landscapes of the past, hands dipped into creek water, fingers pulling the seedheads from stalks of dry grass, face turned towards vultures coasting on wind currents in an empty blue bowl of sky.

She awakens to the sound of silence, strange and uncomfortable after so many years of noise. The tree sways beneath her, but at a rhythm more like a heartbeat than a person sobbing, and there is light pouring in through the canvas of the tent, a warm, yellow glow like candlelight seen through a snow-frosted window. She pushes out of her bed,

and stands,

and walks outside.

Sunlight dapples her limbs like melting butter, and a warm breeze tempts a sighing sound from the branches of foliage surrounding her. She removes her oxygen mask, and breathes in great lungfuls of warm air, musty with the flavor of sun-warmed bark and fragrant needles.

Ultralight Gear Won't Get You to Canada

I will be amending this post after my hike and I look forward to some head shaking at my own inexperience, but this isn’t a post about gear, it’s a post about perspective. I am not a doctor, nor an experienced long distance hiker, but I have lived in the Wilderness for the last 5 years where I do a fair bit of hiking and watch 20 people juggle their own gear successes and failures every season. Without fail I have learned the same lesson: the stories we tell ourselves determine our future. 

Yuli. Klamath, 2012.

Yuli. Klamath, 2012.

Warren Doyle said, famously, “Your pack weight will be directly proportional to the sum of your fears,” and I tend to agree with a man with a 36,000 mile resume. But fear hides inside most of us and it manifests itself in ways we don’t always notice. Some thru-hikers carry teddy bears or books, and others dehydrate toothpaste and spend $700 on 14 ounces of mesh and cuben fiber. I see fear in both these choices, and while reading thru-hiking blogs and counting the weight of my gear to the quarter ounce I realized that I was shaving ounces because it’s the one thing I could control in a situation that's in many ways frightening. 

Fear of failure is what causes a lot of people to cut toothbrushes in half. I know it’s what motivated many of my gear choices, even when I know that adding $200 to drop 4 ounces won’t buy me a completed thru-hike. Good, expensive, comfortable gear will without question help you hike 2,659 miles, but so will tenacity, self-confidence, and the ability to tolerate suffering. I have lived in a tent in the Wilderness for 75% of the last 5 years. Good gear has saved my life, bad gear has made me miserable, and I have beaten the shit out of countless backpacks, hiking boots, tents, and sleeping bags, most of them midweight, some of them ultralight, and all of them subjected to months of constant use. I’ve never hiked more than 800 miles in 6 months, but I did once hike 800 miles in 6 months while swinging a pick and moving boulders for 40 hours of each week. 


Not all heroes wear capes, some wear huge packs filled with tools and trail trash. 


I was terrified entering my first traiI season and my gear was was my insurance policy. It was the thing I could obsess over to set myself up for the most success. I spent $2k on the best gear I could find and amidst trips to REI to find the perfect stuff sacks to organize everything into my perfect, overstuffed pack, I realized that gear wasn’t going to save me. The realization that you are responsible for your own success and failure is a hard one, as is confronting your powerlessness to control the future. There will be sections of the trail this year that present incredible challenges that require expensive, life-saving gear, and no amount of moxie will make up for an ice axe or crampons when you need them. But no amount of money will buy you an express ticket to Canada, and a $300 bear canister is not going to save you from going crazy when the air is thick with mosquitos or when your feet are wet every single day for weeks. I have experienced both of those things working in the backcountry and I was grateful then for the gear that served me well despite my general discomfort, but $300 wet boots are still wet boots. 


Another day in paradise.


I often ask myself how much an ounce is worth. There is a price on every ounce of gear in your pack, both literally and figuratively, and it is tempting to spend $200 to cut a few ounces of weight when you’re in the process of spending thousands. Some people pay a premium for ultralight gear and still end up weighed down with kindles and cameras and travel pillows. It’s obviously easier and cheaper to cut weight by removing the number of items in your pack than it is to buy the lightest gear available, but that's a much less satisfying solution. I say this as someone who appreciates the sheer joy of owning an expensive, well-designed piece of gear, and as someone who is packing a camera and tripod and cigarettes. We all want the best that life has to offer, even when it comes to the trowels we use to dig our cat holes, but sometimes the best is what you can comfortably afford. 

I am paying for my gear with a season of backcountry cooking, and with crumbled dollar bills from nights spent watching ravers on white drugs dance to music I hate. 

I am paying for my gear with a season of backcountry cooking, and with crumbled dollar bills from nights spent watching ravers on white drugs dance to music I hate. 


You can’t buy success, but you can improve your odds. The human body is a resilient, magical bag of bones and carrying lots of weight makes it function less effectively. If you are reading this you have probably already read horror stories about carrying too much weight for too many miles. Shin splints, sprained ankles, torn ACLs, and pinched nerves can end a thru-hike, and long term stress on your body will eventually come back to haunt you. Ask a trail worker, their backs and knees creak with stories of the many things they have carried. You are more apt to be injured the more weight that you carry. This is irrefutable fact and no amount of positive thinking will change it, but it's just one part of a long story about the human race and the human body.


Human beings evolved to survive in the Wilderness. We did it with loincloths and wooden spears, and then canvas tents and leather boots, and more recently with external frame packs and heavy Gor-Tex jackets. Your body was carefully crafted from the best attributes of your long dead ancestors and your DNA tells the story of the human capacity to thrive in the wild. You are born of the best runners, fighters, hunters, and survivors of the human race and your blood runs thick with potential. 

Our soldiers haul 100 pound packs across the desert while wearing full uniforms and clunky armor, and they pay for this with hours spent training to be strong enough to cope. You can lighten your load by cutting weight, but you can also "lighten" it by being strong, flexible, and fit enough to wield weight more comfortably. If ultralight gear isn’t something you can afford consider spending more time training with the gear you can afford. My pack always feels lighter after a season of adjusting to its weight, and all the pizza I ate this winter will hurt me more this summer than the 2 pounds of weight I’m trying to eliminate from my pack. 


Do not let having “bad" gear ruin a good hike. I know that when I started researching the PCT it seemed like I had to spend $600 on a Zpacks Hexamid Solo and $500 on a down quilt because that’s what people who hike the PCT do. I compiled a list of what makes up a thru-hiker uniform and I thought that I needed that uniform to succeed. I without question wanted to fit in and be taken seriously by other hikers and thru-hiker culture puts a huge emphasis on carrying a light pack. Your base weight speaks to your knowledge and dedication, and I very much wanted to convince myself that I had the knowledge and dedication to thru-hike successfully. 

This is what a dwindling bank account looks like.

This is what a dwindling bank account looks like.


Every single American is a public lands owner with the right to access our collective backyard and there is joy and pride in inviting over our foreign friends so that they too can appreciate the wonders of the American wild. Do not confuse owning things with belonging to a community or with being capable, and do not sacrifice your financial security to conform to a standard set by other hikers. Hike your own hike, even before your feet touch trail, and do not let other people spend your money for you. Remember that no one needs to own anything to belong in the Wilderness besides a body and a good measure of desire. Your body was designed to climb mountains and cross rivers, and it’s been restless as you’ve trained it to sit in front of a computer and wait in line at the bank. The potential to hike 2,659 miles lies inside of you and no amount of money will replace the spark of courage that brought you to the decision to hike, or the incredible, completely free, irreplaceable piece of gear which is your own body. Enjoy its utility, treat it with kindness, and thank it for helping you.

I will be hiking with about 15 pounds of gear, some ultralight and carefully chosen, some cheap or already paid for. I have no doubt I will spend miles hating each and every last quarter ounce. I am meticulous and curious and so I have weighed each item in my pack, but I no longer doubt my ability to hike 2,659 miles because of things like the weight of my socks or headlamp and you shouldn’t either. For those of you hiking on the cheap with less than ideal gear, I salute you. You and I are hiking the same trail, but your hike will be more difficult in some ways and your ability to transform your experience will be greater. I hope your hardship is not so much that it subtracts from your experience and I hope you finish proud of everything you accomplished. Thru-hiking with a heavy pack says a lot about the strength of your mind and body, and I hope you take good care of both. 

Kelly Kate Warren
A Bit of Sacrifice

No one dies anymore. Immortality has been available since the mid-2000s, legal since 3112, and was only controversial until around 4000. The first rejuvenation center was burned 3 times by Far Left, pro-death protestors. The Media called them anarchists, savages, and a threat to progress, and they died dull deaths on parole in WellsFargo ReHab Communities™.  Today Immortality, or a semblance of, is far more common than dying.

One of the great inconveniences of humanity has been the problem of true Immortality, which is to say, life that transcends the necessity of physical form. Life that is not dependent on remaining fed or warm or safe from disease. Life that doesn’t need anything but time to continue to exist. We are close now, they say. It’s hard to tell when Alternative Facts emerge faster than they can be censored, and those in charge of the Media are voted in and out of office every season.

It turns out that Immortality requires quite a bit of sacrifice, but most people no longer see it that way. There was a time, remember, when most of the human race sacrificed health and happiness just to look underfed, and another time when they built over the last forests and jungles of earth to host the refugees of an over-polluted Mars. Children’s lives were saved and you can still explore the high alpine lakes of Yosemite and the humid buzzing of the Amazon via sensory tapes recorded before construction projects transformed them into stacks upon stacks of housing units and factory use spaces and social purchasing depots.

A lot has happened in the last few thousand years, and you can easily read and watch and feel any of it from the comfort of your Home™. But it's Social Commentary Sunday, and although there are trillions of performance pieces, graphic novels, podcasts, and pornographic renderings trending, I will share my perspectiveTRIGGER WARNING. TRIGGER WARNING.





DURESS DUE TO HOSTILE MEDIAsome just live in a game of Tetris, the program that runs their dopamine levels linked up to the game so that 1,000 years passes in orgasmic pleasure over fitting little pixels together. It's not a bad life when you consider the alternatives.

There is no outside anymore. The City sprawls from horizon to horizon, but the horizon has largely been forgotten by those who now live mostly in small Home™ capsules stacked by the thousands in life support columns. Some just live as bits of data, conversing with other bits of data inhuman in origin, but there are still vaguely human forms, bound loosely in cages of wires, soft and pallid with curled spines and weak, spongy bones. Small implanted computers do away with any pain, and it turns out regret is a symptom of mortality. 

You live your days in flits of data now. And the freedom! You have all the time in the world to pursue every happiness in the world. Summer in Rio de Janeiro in 1967. Winters in Hawaii decades before man ever found her floating fat and lazy in the Pacific ocean. And there is no pain. And no fear. And none unwanted. No children are brought screaming into the world amidst blood and shit and the sobbing of a woman ripped apart. It's true that some still sample the old, barbaric habits of a dead humanity with the vague, entitled interest of collectors, but it isn't real, really. 

Some say there are still people out there, bound for Alpha Centuri and a gamma ray signal picked up in the year 3457. It was Mozart somehow, only garbled a bit, but it screamed of sentience. They say we sent out ships, hunkering old vehicles that use to carry people away from Earth to the stars. We haven't left Earth in a very long time now. Some say 10,000 years. Some say a million and would only be a little wrong

scifiKelly Kate Warrenscifi