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The Nerligig Papers

I have read Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Liaden series of space operas with enjoyment ever since the first one, "Agent of Change", came out in 1988. At a couple of points in them there are references to a device of obscure function called a "nerligig".

None of these references actually tell us what a nerligig does, which I found an entertaining tease. I though the joke was worth extending, so I wrote Steve asking for the collected references so I could work up a routine maintainance checklist for nerligigs in the same spirit.

The canonical references

Here are the collected references to nerligigs, kindly forwarded to me by Steve Miller.

1988 Miller, Steve & Sharon Lee Conflict of Honors ISBN 0-345-35353-6: Page 116: "I," the captain said, "would rather get my hands dirty setting up the nerligig." ... "emerged with a toolbox in one hand and a dark nerligig in the other." ... "put the nerligig on his knees."

Page 117: "But his head was bent over the mechanism, and he was to all appearances absorbed in making the necessary adjustments"

1999 Lee,Sharon & Steve Miller Duty Bound SRM, Publisher:

Page 41: "I'm here to fix your nerligig," the little man told the morning guy behind the bar.' "Ist broke?" the bartender wondered. The device sat in its place, motionless ... The repairman shook his head, set up his tools, adroitly removed the wachmalog and the bornduggle from the nerligig, and waited patiently for the boss. ... It was the boss who saw the nerligig guy, professionally polishing one of the inner gimbag joints.

Page 46 "There's a small package I disconnected and took out of the nerligig..."

The checklist

Step 1. Remove the cover with a standard type B clip tool.

Step 2: Check the indicator on the attractant reservoirs, as they may need to be refilled. To refill them, it will be necessary to lift out the port manifold.

Step 3. Look for discoloration around the emission ports. This may indicate corrosion. If the ports are significantly discolored, replace the port manifold.

Step 4: Check for play or seizure in the gimbag joints. The linkage to the rotor platform is a likely trouble spot.

Step 5: Clean and lubricate the gimbag joints. Note: be sure to use graphite rather than petrochemical-based lubricants, as oil is too easily degraded by secondary radiation from the wachamalog.

Step 6. Recalibrate the optical-frequency converters on the bornduggle. Frequency drift is especially likely in the short wavelengths.

Step 7: Over long periods the emission fibers have a tendency to outgas and become brittle. If they feel stiff or inelastic under light finger pressure, replace the fiber bundles.

Step 8: Run the controller block's self-test. Replace on failure.

Step 9: Run the controller block's system test for the first time. Listen for hiss, distortion, or flutter in the syrinx reference tones. Do not look at the emission stage during this test. As replacing the syrinx is not a field procedure, you will need to return the unit to a repair depot if this subsystem has problems.

Step 10: Run the controller block's system test for the second time with the syrinx disabled. The rotor platform should turn smoothly and the emitter luminance levels should be constant.

Step 11: Replace the cover.

Step 12: Polish the dome using a non-abrasive cleanser.

If you really want to know

Oh, so you haven't figured out what a nerligig does yet? If you like a bit of mystery in your universe, stop here. Otherwise follow this link for the revelation.

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Eric S. Raymond <>