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Rube Goldberg

By Robert Lynch

“It’s a lonely life being a Warden of a spaceship.

“The big colony ships mosey between the stars and computers do all the work. After the Fantasia catastrophe, the Government made it mandatory to have an awake crew member throughout the ship’s journey. We take it in turns. A run to Proxima Colony takes 20 years, so each of the 60 man crew take a 4 month rotation as the Warden.

“It’s lonely work. 120 days with nothing to do but watch interstellar space drift by as the behemoth star liner eats the distance between Sol and Proxima Centauri. The most interesting thing that happens during the suspended animation phase of the journey is the midpoint. At midpoint, the ship stops accelerating, turns around and starts to slow down. For nearly 4 hours there is weightlessness on the ship as the artificial gravity produced by acceleration is paused as the ship flips and repositions the main engines.

“The midpoint shift is the most ‘coveted’ of the Warden shifts; if there is such a thing. 4 hours of unstructured low g. I had a plan. I had spent the first few weeks setting up. Placing cameras throughout the ship to see the spectacle.

“The largest Rube Goldberg machine as yet contained over 647 steps and took nearly 2 months to create. I’d been planning from as soon as I got assigned the midpoint shift. Not only was I going to break the world record; I was going to do it in low g!

“As soon as the main engine shut down I began moving things into place. I had already put everything near where it had to go it was just a matter of placing it so it was moving with the ship. After 3 hours into low g, I was ready. All the cameras were on. I took off the safety and fired the ball at its target.

“With how long the machine took to set up, I would not get a second chance if it failed. The ship’s slow spin would soon finish and everything would crash about the corridors. As each step activated I ran after the wave of movement. A camera mounted on my head catching a continuous shot of the machine.


“At the 300 step mark, the most ambitious step activated. A ball shot out of one airlock and captured in a corresponding airlock as the ship spins. I watched with anticipation as the ball fired out into interstellar space. In order to land correctly, it had to pass a thruster and be pushed by the wake of expelled gas.

“The ball passed right on by and never moved from its course. A huge disappointment. Obviously, the thruster exhaust wasn’t as powerful as my calculations predicted… how could that be? I’d done the math.”

“Your testimony,” The Administrator asked, “Is that you found the corrupted fuel mix because you were building a Rube Goldberg machine in order to get into the Guinness World Records?”

“Yes, Sir.”


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