The Coincidence Factory
The factory where all the world's coincidences were manufactured lay in a wooded plain less than three miles outside the small town of Brenington, Massachusetts. When Hector Binalden pulled up to the area in his Range Rover, he couldn't see it. The factory's invisibility bubble shielded it from all prying eyes.
Hector parked the vehicle in the weeds near the Wenasi River, took out the modified glasses that Coincidences Inc. had given him and slid them over his regular glasses. Suddenly the building appeared in front of him, as if by magic. All of the vehicles had been parked in the invisible parking lot. One of them looked exactly like the 1951 Studebaker he had bought for his seventeenth birthday and refurbished, but that could have just been a coincidence.
The stark, green-brick building was located near the edge of the river. At first glance, it looked like nothing so grand as an old-fashioned textile mill. Its smoke stacks spewed wastes into the air, wastes that the edge of the bubble dissipated.
After a few seconds of looking through his glasses, Hector's eyes began to ache. He took them off, pinched the bridge of his nose and looked around some more.
Nothing was there. Wind blew red and gold leaves off a nearby tree. They floated along the air current until they reached the bubble and then disappeared. He sighed, put the glasses back on, started up his Range Rover and drove over the bridge and down the road until he reached the bubble.
As he passed through the bubble, the fillings in his teeth buzzed uncomfortably and his sinuses ached. For a split second, he blacked out. Then a moment later, the sensation passed.
Two security guards with deactivated amnesia collars stopped Hector at the main gate. Hector took out his division ID, opened the window and leaned it out.
"Hector Binalden to see Ed Galberg."
The guard took his ID, looked at it for a moment and then handed it back and said, "Go on through."
Hector looked at the guy. Could it be his second cousin from Guatemala? Of course not, unless he indulged in some of the company's product.
The gates opened and Hector drove onto the factory grounds. He parked his car in the space closest to the factory. As he got out, several robot workers walked past him. Aside from a few humans collared or conditioned to secrecy, Coincidences Inc. staffed the factory with robots and other machines that shut themselves down at the end of the work day.
Hector went inside the factory. The sound on the floor was grating and he had to put on earplugs. Huge event generator machines shaped like windmills scanned through the space-time continuum, looking for possible coincidences. Once found, robot factory workers called pluckers snatched these chance encounters from the continuum and machine filters removed all impurities that might negate or lessen the coincidence in question.
The spheres full of contained space-time coincidences floated down conveyor belts through each filter station. At the end, a robot operator carefully reinserted the coincidences back into the continuum through a dropper, a device that looked like a chromed wind tunnel.
Hector watched with a mixture of awe and concern. The factory was generating five times the amount of coincidences that it was designed to do. Normally the high volume of production would be a good thing. But the sudden surplus of coincidence could potentially threaten the very fabric of reality.
A hand patted Hector's shoulder. He gasped and whirled around. His old friend and manager of the factory, Ed Galberg, stood next to him. He was a tall, lanky man with brown hair that he combed over his bald spot and a face that had been through several dermabrasion treatments to remove the deep acne scars.
Ed said something that Hector couldn't understand and held out his hand. Hector shook his friend's hand and pointed to the earplugs with the other.
Ed let go of his hand and nodded up to his office. Hector nodded back and followed his friend up the green-painted metal staircase to the second floor. They entered the office and Ed closed the door. The men took off their hearing protection, though the whine of the machines still penetrated the white concrete walls and glass windows of the office.
"Nice to see you again, Hector," Ed said. He walked around the desk and gestured to the coffeemaker. "Want a cup of coffee?"
"No thanks, Ed. Look, Division sent me down here to talk to you about the production problem we're having."
Ed laughed, took a black Ace comb from his pants pocket and combed some more hair over his bald spot. "What production problem? We're running at peak capacity, churning out coincidences like there's no tomorrow. We got back orders from clients in Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Liberia we have to fill." He finished combing his hair and dropped the comb back in his pocket.
"That's the problem." Hector gestured to the chair. "May I..."
Hector sat down. "You're producing too many coincidences and it's starting to destabilize the fabric of reality."
"Ridiculous." Ed dismissed him with a wave of his hand.
"Oh really. Farconi sent me down here with these figures." Hector opened his briefcase, took out a spreadsheet with the latest production figures and placed them on Ed's desk. Ed pushed them aside.
"I don't get you. We're selling more than we ever have before and he's complaining! What kind of corporate thinking is that?"
"It's not the product itself. It's the amount of it. As I stated, we don't want reality to get unhinged, so I'm asking you to cancel all of the orders I've highlighted in red on the sheets. Also, I want you to deactivate all the robots and shut down the factory over the weekend. When you come back Monday, you can resume production at one quarter capacity, at least until reality balances itself out. After that, you can go back to a normal level of production."
"No way," Ed said.
"Excuse me?" Hector blinked several times in shock.
"I'm not shutting down production just because of a few hiccups in reality."
"It's not a few hiccups. If you keep going the way you're going, there might not be a reality."
"I don't buy that," Ed said. "This is my factory and I'll run things the way I see it."
Hector swallowed hard. "No, you'll run it the way we tell you to run it."
"By whose authority?
"The Chief's. And mine." Hector stood. "Now I'm ordering you to shut the factory down and send your human staff home. And you're going to do it."
Hector's stomach churned with acid. "If you won't do it, then I'll fire you and get someone in here who will do it."
Ed chuckled. "You don't have the authority."
Hector's face warmed with anger. "Says who?"
"Reamers. He gave me the authority to run at peak capacity."
"I don't believe this."
"Get it from him yourself. I'll call."
Ed picked up the phone on his desk, dialed a number and spoke to someone on the phone. He said, "Yes, he's right here." A muted voice came over the line. Yeah, I told him just what you said. Here, I'll put him on for you."
Ed held out the phone to Hector and said, "Reamers wants to talk to you."
Hector took the phone with a trembling hand and said, "Yes, sir."
"What's going on down there?" Reamers said.
"Sir, CEO Farconi sent me down here to put a temporary halt to production. When I attempted to do so, Ed refused. I told him that if he didn't do so, I would fire him and shut the factory down myself."
"Are you crazy?" Reamers' voice rose with anger.
"Sir, I'm under orders from the Chief. The factory must be shut down."
"I'm countermanding those orders."
"On whose authority?"
"Mine," Reamers said. "The Chief has fallen ill and I am currently acting head of the corporation."
Hector frowned. Something was wrong. When he last spoke to the Chief, the man sounded fine. Now Reamers was saying he wasn't. He didn't buy it. But what was happening?
"Sir, if that's the case, then I'd like to speak to the Chief directly," Hector said.
"He's in the hospital right now undergoing surgery," Reamers said.
"Then if you give me his number, I'll talk to him afterwards and get this matter straightened out."
"Do you have a hearing problem, Binalden? I'm telling you to leave the factory at once."
"With all due respect, sir, I can't do that. I was given specific orders to shut down the factory and I can't go against them without Farconi's consent."
"Then you're fired."
For a second, Hector just sat there. He couldn't believe what Reamers was saying. He was only trying to do his job and now he was being fired. Impossible.
"Excuse me, sir?" Hector said.
"You are terminated," Reamers said. "Give the phone back to Galberg."
Feeling like he had landed on another planet, Hector handed the phone back to Ed. His friend listened for a few seconds, then nodded and said, "Yes, sir," a few times, then "Are you sure?" then "Yes, sir, I'll do it right away. Good bye."
Ed hung up the phone and frowned. "Reamers said you're fired. Turn in your badge, ID and glasses."
Helplessness slammed into Hector like a tornado. He stood and stepped back. "Ed, what are you doing? We've known each other for ten years. How could do this to me?"
"Because I'm under orders." He reached under his desk. A few moments later, two tall, beefy, human security guards entered the room. They carried tasers and mace in their belts. Hector glanced at them, unable to believe what Ed was doing.
"I'm sorry, but you'll have to turn everything over. Security will escort you off the premises. I needn't remind you that you are also still under the corporation's non-disclosure agreement."
Shaken, Hector took out his badge, ID and glasses and handed them over to Ed. He opened a drawer in his desk and dropped the items in there.
"This isn't right, Ed," Hector said. "Something's wrong here."
"I'm sorry, pal, but I have to follow orders the same as you." Ed nodded to the guards.
One of the guards grabbed Hector's arm. Hector jerked it away and said, "Don't touch me!"
The other guard reached into his belt for his taser.
"No!" Ed said, and put his hand up. "It's all right! Let him walk out under his own power."
The guard hesitated for a moment before releasing his grip on the weapon.
Fuming, Hector glared at his former friend for a second before he turned and walked out of the office. The guards followed close behind him, making sure that he didn't deviate from the path.
At the parking lot, Hector got back in his Range Rover and drove away.
As he emerged from the protective bubble, he looked back and wondered what was going on.
Were Ed and Reamers up to something? Why would they be manufacturing too many coincidences? Were they trying to destabilize the fabric of reality deliberately? Or was it something else?
Hector drove back to the spot where he first saw the factory, took out the cell phone from his belt pack and flipped it open. He tried calling Farconi two times, but he received busy signals both times. Frustrated, Hector tried his secretary. Still no luck.
Shaking with fear, Hector tried other numbers for Coincidences Inc., but he received nothing. Finally, after a few more futile calls, he flipped his phone shut.
What's going on here? Had someone bought out or shut down Coincidences Inc.? Had the U.S. government or some other government found out about the secret sale of coincidences and the corporation's hidden monopoly and put a stop to it?
Hector was just about to go directly to the main branch of Coincidences Inc. when his cell phone buzzed. Frowning with surprise, Hector flipped it open. He had an email message. He opened it and read it. It had only five words:
"Look under your seat. Farconi."
Hector sighed, reached under the driver's seat and pulled out a package. He blinked and opened it. Inside was a second pair of glasses and a couple of coincidence packets labeled one, two, three, etc. A note said "open packet one now." Shocked, he popped open the first packet and a new coincidence entered reality.
A convenient DVD player and DVD appeared next to Hector. He put the DVD in and Farconi appeared with a grave look on his face.
"Hello, kid," Farconi said. "If you're listening to this, then I'm out of the picture. I suspected Reamers was trying to take over and he bought off your old friend Galberg to help him."
Hector started to open his mouth and say, "Why?" but his boss beat him to the punch.
"I suspected he did, but I didn't have proof till you went in. And before you ask why, it's simple, son. Money and control. A number of legal and illegal organizations offered Reamers and his people a lot of money if they made coincidences for them off the books. Conveniently rigged elections in the U.S., the convenient misplacement of certain monies from Swiss banks, the sudden and unbelievable escape of a known dictator from a prison in Morocco. Reamers was selling so many coincidences without our knowledge or approval that eventually he couldn't hide it and decided to get me out of the picture. But before he did so, I made some provisions, which I've given to you."
Hector looked over the packets.
"Each one is time-stamped to be opened at a certain date. Do not open them before or after. Do this right, kid, and we'll get Reamers and be back in the game in no time."
"Before I go, I'm sure you're wondering, why me?" Farconi said. "Because I trusted you. I know it's a pain to go against your old friend, but he's been bought and paid for already, son. You're my only hope now. So don't fail me."
Farconi saluted him, then the DVD ended.
Hector sighed. Part of him didn't want to go against Ed. But his boss was right. He had been bought and paid for and he had to go down.
After reading the instructions for the packets, Hector drove back to the factory. One minute before he reached the bubble, Hector tore open packet two at the exact moment, activated the coincidence and drove through the bubble. The guard on duty suddenly had to leave the booth because all the coffee he drank hit his bladder at that exact moment. He abandoned his station and allowed Hector to park.
Hector got out. The two security guards that had escorted him out of the factory earlier emerged from the building. They saw him. One said, "Stop!" and the pair rushed towards him.
Hector took out packet three, waited ten seconds and then tore it open. The first guard yanked out his taser, accidentally turned it on his chest and shocked himself. Stunned, his partner staggered to a stop and turned to help the man. But as he did, he tripped over a small groove in the pavement, hit his head and knocked himself unconscious.
Smiling, Hector strode past the fallen guards and walked inside the building. The machines were roaring. Hector tore open packet four.
A conveniently placed group of ear plugs appeared nearby next to a conveyor belt. He slid them on as the robots turned and sounded an alarm.
Hector counted to three, then pulled packet five and activated it. A previously undetected failure in the factory's wiring occurred and spread through all the machinery, causing a sudden, drastic shutdown. The robots started towards him, but the deactivation caused a crane on the ceiling to drop crates full of coincidences down on every robot in the building and crush all of them, while missing everything else.
Ed burst out of his office with a couple of emergency packets full of coincidences in his hand. Hector gasped and reached for packet six. But before he could open it, Ed activated the first of his packets.
Hector grabbed the tab to tear open packet six, but it chose that moment to snap off. Horrified, Hector yanked and tugged on the packet, but it wouldn't open. Hector frowned. Farconi hadn't said anything about this.
Gasping, Hector tried to rip the packet open. While he worked, Ed activated another coincidence.
A sudden, sharp pain stabbed Hector in the left knee. It was an old knee injury from football, one that hadn't bothered him much in over twenty years. But now it hurt like crazy.
He dropped to the ground, released his hold on the packets and gripped his knee, moaning in pain.
Ed walked down the stairs and reached for another packet.
"You shouldn't have stirred up a fuss, old buddy," Ed said. "I could have made you a very rich man."
Hector groaned. Packet six's coincidence wouldn't open. The boss said open them in order, but he had no choice. Desperate, he grabbed packet seven and activated that coincidence before Ed could activate his.
Shaking, Ed tore open the next packet and activated the coincidence.
"What?!" Ed jerked and pulled at the coincidence, but it wouldn't trigger. He looked it over and gasped. "It's defective! Three million perfect coincidences produced and this is the first one that's defective!"
Hector smiled at Farconi's ingenuity. He had made a coincidence that would just happen to cause one of Ed's own coincidences to be defective, giving him just enough time to reach for packet eight.
Ed screamed and tried to run at Hector, but it was too late. Hector activated packet eight.
A barrel full of conveniently placed ball bearings, that were there for no other real reason, suddenly chose that moment to tumble over. They spilled in front of Ed and he slipped and tumbled to the floor.
Hector groaned, limped over to Ed and snatched up the remaining emergency packets from him.
"That's enough for one day," Hector said, and tucked the packets under his arm.
One hour later, Coincidence Inc. authorities entered the factory and made sure the machines were all off. The men had already captured Reamers and the men took Ed into custody. He would be sent to one of the corporate islands to be rehabilitated.
As Hector got ice for his swollen knee, Farconi limped inside the building. The old man looked more sprightly in reality than he did in the video.
"Hi, boss," Hector said. "Feeling better?"
"Yep. As it turns out, a doctor just happened by at my yacht club and noticed that all I needed was a shot of insulin for my type II diabetes." Farconi tapped his chest twice with the flat of his hand. "Now I'm right as rain."
The old man slapped him on the shoulder. "Good work here, son. I mean it. I couldn't have gotten the factory back without you."
"I have just one question," Hector said.
"Packet six. Did you deliberately intend that one to fail? And all of this? Did you know beforehand that Reamers and Galberg were going to turn on you?"
The old man smiled and mimed zipping his lips.
Hector smiled back and said, "What a coincidence."