Published by Spatium
Written by David J Meyer
“I’m sorry Mrs. Finch,” Cerim said with an unsympathetic voice. “We cannot allow you another exemption.”
Mrs. Finch broke down in tears. Cerim rolled his eyes; he had dozens of conversations like this every day and he was sick of it.
“Mrs. Finch, Mr. Marlo gave you an exemption from the Ceremony last year as a special thanks for your 60 devoted years as professor of mid-22nd century studies.”
“No, please! There is so much more I can teach!”
Cerim stood up in a flash, “Mrs. Finch! We cannot give out exemptions every time it’s someone’s birthday, anniversary, job promotion, or wedding! It throws the odds off to give out too many exemptions!”
“But, Mr. Cerim-”
She was cut off by the guard Cerim waved into the office. There were only 5 days until the Ceremony and Cerim’s office was filled all day with people begging for exemptions.
Cerim was the new CEO of Locket, a job he never really wanted. He started working at the company because all executives were exempt. It sounded easy; he was sadly wrong. The previous CEO, Marlo, had surprisingly stepped down one week before the Ceremony. When he received his heart-shaped locket back, a huge smile crested on Marlo’s face as he waved goodbye to everyone in the office.
Cerim understood the temptation to retire now that he was one of the most powerful men in the world. Controlling the fate of people’s existence was a dark and heavy job.
Cerim left the office exasperated to meet up with his friend, Larry, at the local pub. They met most days to share a cold beer and talk about the pains of the world.
Larry had worked for Locket for almost a decade as an engineer. Tired of the system, he now ran an underground organization that gave lockets guaranteed odds. Someone like Mrs. Finch could pay him a few thousand dollars and Larry’s algorithm would guarantee more than 50% odds she’d turn tails. To the public, he was their savior. To Locket and the world government, Larry was a wanted criminal and a ghost.
Cerim didn’t care about any of that, though. He loved that someone was courageous enough to try and change the world.
“I’m telling you, man. CEO? Maybe we can finally end it!” Larry always hoped Cerim would get control of Locket and take it down from the inside.
“I don’t even know how we’d do it,” Cerim said, taking another sip of beer.
Larry was exuberant, “just let me install my algorithm, then voila! Everyone turns tails! System failure!”
Cerim looked down and shook his head. “Larry, wouldn’t that just put us where we were 100 years ago? I mean, the history of what life was like before the lockets? Poverty, abandoned children. Mrs. Finch told me about-”
Larry cut him off, “Mrs. Finch? That old nut bag! What? Did she tell you that people ate their children so they wouldn’t starve?” Cerim stared at him, “those are all ghost stories designed by the system to keep us in check! Isn’t that the same woman that begged you for an exemption today? She’d do anything to turn tails, man.”
“I don’t know, Larry. Maybe the lockets,” his voice trailed off. He couldn’t believe the words coming out of his mouth, “maybe they do save lives.”
Cerim felt Larry’s hard hand slap the side of his face. “Save lives!? A locket that opens once a year with a coin inside. If it’s heads, you die, tails you live another year? How many people do you see every day begging for exemptions, offering you unthinkable things just so they have a guarantee to live another year!?” Larry’s face turned bright red. “That’s not saving anyone! People are depressed year-round. Those that survive the Ceremony have to mourn their loved ones for a year only to endure it all over again. The only people in bliss are the dead ones!”
“You’re right. It’s all deplorable.” That’s when it hit him! Why didn’t he think of it before? “Wait!” Cerim exclaimed. He grabbed Larry tight on the shoulders. “Can your algorithm make specific changes?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, man!”
“No. Like not just all tails, but specific changes.”
“Yea, I guess. But,” his eyes narrowed, “what are you thinking?”
A sly smile rose on Cerim’s face. “Just trust me.”
They left the bar and planned to meet up the day before the Ceremony, giving Larry 4 days to prepare the algorithm.
The next day, Cerim decided to visit Marlo, his old boss. He knocked on the door and was surprised when Mr. Marlo opened the door with his huge smile still on his face. “Cerim! Good morning! Come in, my boy!” Cerim was thrown off; he’d never seen Marlo in a good mood before.
“Good morning to you too..” Cerim said with caution as he stepped into the house.
The next thing Cerim knew, Marlo put a cup of coffee in his hand and asked him to sit down by a cozy fire. “I was just about to make breakfast! Hungry?”
“I’m fine, thanks, sir.”
“Sir? No need for that anymore! We’re friends now. Just call me Marlo. Let me tell ya, retired life is great!”
“Actually, sir,” he caught himself and started again, “I mean, Marlo. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Marlo was confused, “My name? Well, it was my great-grandfather’s name.”
“No, no. Not your name. Retirement.”
“Ohhh! Yes! Best decision of my life!”
“I’m just wondering why you retired so close to the Ceremony?”
Mr. Marlo walked back into the room, leaving his bacon sizzling. “Cerim. You have had the job what, two days now?”
“By now you can see how toilsome that job is. By now you’ve seen how demented the whole system is, right? A heart-shaped locket to control someone’s heart. Pure evil, I say. I couldn’t take it anymore. The sweet taste of death is going to be so much better than that job.”
The two of them drank coffee and discussed the happiness of life. Marlo told him about his dear wife that turned heads almost 10 years ago. How much he missed being with her and missed all their adventures traveling the country. He talked about their 4 wonderful children, 3 of whom turned heads the year before. Cerim finally understood. Life on earth was no longer what Marlo wanted. He wanted to go home.
Cerim got up and shook Marlo’s hand. “Thank you for the coffee, sir.”
Marlo let him out and Cerim walked home contemplating life. He never got married; he always focused too much on the job. He’d grown up afraid, not willing to take risks. That’s what led him to Locket in the first place; it seemed the only way to guarantee survival. Now that he had it; now that his cowardice had finally saved him, he realized it was all for nothing.
“I know what I need to do,” Cerim said to himself, feeling a sense of boldness he’d never felt before in his life.
Larry was only 10 minutes late for their meetup the night before the Ceremony. “You ready, Larry?”
“Sure am, man! Let’s take down the system.”
They snuck into the building, Cerim led the way through all the halls and into the massive server room.
“Are you sure your program can handle this?”
“I’m serious, man. This has to work!”
“It will, don’t worry. Just plug it into the main server over there,” Larry pointed to a tall machine. He helped design all the servers in the room and knew exactly where to infiltrate.
“Ok, then I can pick who turns tails and who turns heads?”
Larry raised his eyebrow, “right. But we’re just turning all tails? That was the plan, right?”
Cerim didn’t respond, which scared Larry a little bit. This behavior was erratic even for Larry, let alone Cerim.
“Look, Larry. I think you should go.”
“What? No! I’m here till the end, man.”
“No, seriously. You shouldn’t be involved. If we get caught,” Cerim's face fell, “I just need someone I can trust out there.” Larry knew there was no sense in arguing and left. As he approached the door to leave, Cerim added, “and Larry?”
“Yea?” Larry said, turning back.
“I’ll meet you at the pub. We’ve got to count it down together!”
The streets were filled with pandemonium that night. The first few years of the Ceremony people would do deplorable things the night before. The police and government had a good grasp on things nowadays. Mostly just protests and the occasional broken window.
“All set?” Larry asked, still a little perturbed he couldn’t be there.
“Yup. Now we just watch the clock tick down.”
As the night went on, the festivities settled as the fear set in. 11:59 pm was the scariest minute of the year. For 10% of humanity, it was their final minute alive. It used to be 50% but Locket decided those odds were too high and would lead to extinction. Each year they tuned the percentages so the population of the earth was always 5 billion.
They all counted down, “5!...4!” The whole pub shouted together like they did every year. Usually, at least 10 of them died when they hit one. “3!...2!...1!” Everyone looked down as their heart-shaped lockets opened to reveal a shiny coin. The coins started to flip and heart rates rose. One by one they all dinged tails!
Larry looked at Cerim, “it worked man! It worked!”
“It sure did, buddy!” Cerim said with a smile.
The news flashed on to give the annual report of who turned heads. “This is it, man. They’re about to announce that everyone is tails!”
The reporter came on looking white in the face. “This year the Ceremony took a strange twist. We aren’t sure if it’s a glitch or not. We only had 312 heads turn this year.”
“312?” Larry whispered to Cerim.
Cerim said, “Larry. I am stepping down as CEO and making you the leader.”
“What are you talking about?” Larry asked, but they were interrupted when the reporter came back.
“Very sad to report that the recent retiree of Locket, Marlo, has turned heads. Surprisingly, he retired only a week ago, putting his assistant Cerim in charge. Why he didn’t wait another week, we don’t know.”
“Mr. Marlo? Why, Cerim!?”
“Just listen, Larry.”
“But that’s not the biggest news! It turns out that the entire world government, every single leader in charge of Locket has all turned heads! This leaves CEO Cerim in charge of the entire world!” The reporter looked off-camera and asked someone, “I don’t know what else to say?” The stream went black and the entire pub stood in silence. They weren’t sure whether to look at Cerim as a savior or a mass murderer.
Cerim stood up and announced to the bar, “tomorrow, Larry will be made CEO of Locket!” They all looked bewildered, “and I have full confidence that not only will he destroy all the lockets, but I believe he will lead us into a new age of life. One full of hope every day! One where we aren’t filled with dread for the following year’s Ceremony.” The whole pub was shocked and silent. Finally, amidst all the silence one small gentleman started clapping. His clapping led to more and eventually the whole pub was cheering for Cerim, their savior. News spread like a wildfire and soon the whole world was filled with hope. A feeling that hadn’t been felt in generations.
“What are you going to do, Cerim?” Larry asked.
“I think I’m going to settle down. Fall in love, get married, and maybe have some kids. I had a nice chat with Mr. Marlo and he made me realize there is a lot more to life than just trying to survive it.”