The Mechanic's Apprentice

by Jean Lamb

(This story was first published in Samizdat Barrayar, a fine fiction fanzine run by Patricia Shaw Mathews ( Any ideas that Lois wishes to use are hereby handed over to her, though I expect she'll need to up her insurance if she does. You Have Been Duly Warned).

Miles Volkswagen hurriedly laid down his electronic probe and checked the time. He'd managed to diagnose a faulty display light as the fault of a loose chip, rather than having to replace all the bulbs. That had saved him nearly a half hour. He'd also found a bad fuel pump on the basis of no dirt where dirt ought to be. He would have lost many points on this test if he'd missed that! He ran the Skylark of space through another diagnostic. Everything looked fine. Now it was time for the oil change.

Chief Inspector Simon Audi raised an eyebrow as Miles reached for a manual wrench. Miles smiled. He had the possibility of a perfect score on this final exam by using it rather than a power tool. Why, his cousin Ivan Volkswagen-Rabbit was still fumbling with his display panel! The true test of a mechanic was being able to do without power tools.

An hour later, Miles was still struggling with a stuck bolt when the buzzer sounded. The test was over and he'd failed the most elementary part out of nothing more than pride. Once more he'd shamed his family. He had always known how important it was that he, the scion of the proud Volkswagen family, succeed at everything. His mother, from the foreign clan of Rolls-Royce, discounted the primitive pursuits of the mechanic's trade, since her family had a longstanding tradition of favoring vehicles that never needed repair. His father, though, felt that even the best of preventive maintenance could result in occasional repairs. Miles had always wanted to carry on the family tradition of being independent of _hired_ mechanics, though. Paranoia was an art form where he grew up.

Now he'd failed. He stood before his grandfather and admitted his foolishness. Going for a perfect score was no excuse. It was suggested that a visit to his mother's family might be in order, if only to hide his disgrace. After all, he was the first Volkswagen in centuries to flunk--and over a lowly oil change, too! Even Ivan had passed. His father only sighed and offered his condolences. That was worse than being chewed out! His mother just sniffed and said her family would understand. There was more to the galaxy than the inside of an engine!

He and his friend Elena Benz left, accompanied by her father, the faithful Sgt. Benz. They made an odd trio. He was small and stunted, bred for centuries to be comfortable in the cramped confines of the family car, while Elena and her father were tall and lanky, as befitted the extra seat space of their namesake. They set down in Londinium, the capital of the theoretically neutral Breta company. Miles shivered as he saw evidence of the evil Lamborghinis in port. The Lamborghinis had nearly taken over the entire Bayrische Motor Werke in a bit of corporate piracy involving high explosives, as well as stock manipulation. As it was, Breta was too close to the encroaching Toyota Empire--why, it was only a few parsecs to the borders of Infiniti.

Miles was started to see a man apparently counting goldfish in a wall tank, and even more so to see the fellow fishing for them. After a few drinks, it became clear that the fisherman was a member of the discredited Mercedes faction. Sgt. Benz ground his teeth in disgust, but accepted Mercedes' presence without comment. Intrafamily feuds had long been a popular sport at home, and the losers were supposed to disappear. Miles thought it was time to heal this particular wound, though.

After a few days he was bored. When a contract became available to service an entire fleet of vehicles, Miles was foolish enough to accept it. After all, he could always subcontract. Sgt. Benz pointed out how it'd look for a Volkswagen to offer his services outside the family. Miles understood. But what name to sign? Aha! The small sept of his mother's clan who was still speaking to her wouldn't mind. It was time for a proper nom-de-repair. Soon he was accepted by the Fix Or Repair Daily Co. as Chief Mechanic Morris Minor. Granted, there were problems, but considering the company's struggle against the evil Lamborghinis it was the least he could do.

It was his duty to make it through the picket line thrown around the entire plant, as inspired by the notorious Count Ferrari Testarossa. He was going to need help, even though Mercedes, Elena, and Sgt. Benz were a formidable team all by themselves.

He never expected to need an entire army. Before it was over, though, he did. His soldiers included some all the way from the Toyota Empire, including Commander Hyundai. Miles seriously considered purchasing the holding company for Rolaids during the struggle. By the time it was over, however, he was the proud leader of a fleet of armored vehicles (meticulously maintained), which burst through the picket line with ease. His squad of highly trained mechanics then swarmed over the company fleet and put it back in order. He was dismayed to find his payment consisted of 'company scrip' good for Fix Or Repair Daily products all over the galaxy--or at that plant, the company's only current location. However, he still had the squad of armored vehicles.

Unfortunately, due to his preoccupation with parts logistics, Elena fell in love with Mercedes. As a Volkswagen, it was his duty to allow the two sundered branches of the family to reunite so peacefully. The strain of acting as matchmaker told on him, and he took refuge in strong drink--to the extent that he became a rum baba. Elena still changed her name to that of Mercedes-Benz.

Even more unfortunately, the mother of the bride appeared and disposed of Sgt. Benz over the champagne punch. Their acquaintance had been much shorter than Miles had imagined, and failing to send her an invitation was apparently the last straw.

Miles sadly returned to Bayrische Motor Werke to lay his new army at the feet of Emperor Volvo. Volkswagen was shocked to find himself charged with treason. Evidently starting an independent fleet was Bad Form. What could he have done, though? He'd pledged his name to a contract and had to fulfill it! How could that bug anybody? Things looked bleak when a power surge wiped the contract from his computer's memory.

It was his cousin Ivan who stepped forward and saved the day. Someone had accidentally faxed him a copy of the contract, and he'd used the back of it for a love letter. Once his cousin had retrieved it from the intended recipient, laboratory analysis revealed the terms of the agreement. One look at the company scrip set the whole Board of Directors into howls of laughter--until Miles discussed the stock options in detail. Fix Or Repair Daily used to be a reputable firm, and could be again under proper management. His father beamed with pride.

Miles' fleet was accepted as an auxiliary of BMW under the direction of Simon Audi. Only the Chief Inspector could make sure all work was up to proper standards. Even though Miles was ordered to lead his people under the name of Morris Minor, the reputation of BMW was at stake. Audi's first act was to make sure Miles got the right training at the Mechanic's Academy--with an extra seminar in the proper use of power tools.

Later, his mother shook his head. "Miles, how do you do it? Only you could go on vacation and end up being tried for treason!"

Miles shuffled his feet. "I suppose you could call it forward momentum--or as Dad puts it, VORvegnügen!"

© 1996 by Jean Lamb, (

Current version by Michael Bernardi,

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Last updated: July 13th 2001