On the fortieth floor of this office building, a receptionist is thinking about lunch. He looks up in time to see the clean glass doors swing open, and the woman walk in. She is dressed in a neat charcoal suit but has removed her silk bowtie and draped it over her right shoulder.
He smiles and opens him mouth, “How can I—” he begins, but, though she smiles in return, she walks past him in silence, storming into the office block beyond.
“Excuse me! Excuse me. Ma’am.” The receptionist is put together tidily, with auburn hair, carefully chosen glasses and a clothes appropriate to his station and his figure. He is beautiful, but his brow begins to wrinkle. He stands, brushes his trousers smooth, and walks after her. He’s wearing practical shoes. He catches up and places a hand on her shoulder.
“Oh, hello again. Yes?” She spins around, but continues to walk backwards as she looks at him pleasantly.
“You mustn’t come back here, ma’am. Not without an appointment. You can’t.”
“Oh. Oh. I’m sorry.”
“That’s fine. Now, if you’ll just come back to my desk, I’m sure—” He realizes that she has not stopped walking.
“Ah. No. I am not going to go back to your desk. I’m just sorry you haven’t figured it out yet. This could be mildly traumatic. Still, nevermind. It had to happen sometime.”
“Figured out what? Wait, no. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now, or I will call security.”
“Ahaha! Now we’re getting closer to the heart of the matter. I’m breaking the rules, am I?”
“Yes! Now turn around! You can’t be here!”
She turns around, so that she is once more watching where she was walking; but she does not stop. “You seem to misunderstand rules. Perhaps you’ll let me explain?” She smiles charmingly.
“If you’ll stop.”
“Hmm.” She pauses, and thinks. “Fine. But you force me to be brief.”
She steps two steps to her left, into a cubicle. From it, she drags an office chair, on which she sits facing the receptionist.
“Rules,” she lectures, “do not define what you can and cannot do. They are merely the way that kindly people explain how they will respond to certain actions. I keep going, you call security. Rules are ways of making the rule-makers predictable. Right?”
He does not reply, thoughtfully.
“Good!” She claps her hands to her neatly pressed trousers, spins once in her chair, and stands, returning it to its cubicle before heading deeper into the office.
“I will call security if you don’t leave this area. I have to.”
“Well. Yes, I suspect,” she turns again, spinning on her heel to fix him with clear eyes, “I suspect you would. But you MUST understand that you don’t HAVE to.”
“Yes. Fine. Whatever. I don’t HAVE to. But they’ll fire me if I don’t.”
“And so you’ll make the call if I stay. Excellent. Fortunately, I won’t force you to do any such thing. I’ll leave.”
“Thank you.” With relief. “If you’ll just come this way…”
“Ah, no. I think I’ll leave the other way.”
He looks around. They have reached the outer shell of the skyscraper, where the cubicles end and the offices begin, each with a glass-covered view of the city and the plains beyond. She brusquely test a doorknob, and finding it unlocked, turns it. The office beyond is well appointed and empty; there are no other doors inside it.
“You see?” he says. “There is no other way. You have to come with me.”
“I though we covered this,” she starts.
“Ugh. Fine. You should choose to come with me. But really. This isn’t about rules. You can see that there is no other way out.”
“Ah! But wait!” with a magician’s flourish, she reaches into her jacket, into the interior breast pocket, and from it draws a steel tool with a heavy glass handle. The tip is stubby but sharp.
She smiles, gives a little bow, places the nub against the glass, and leans her bulk against the handle.
He gives a little gasp, and the glass window shatters.
“You really can’t go out that way!”
“ENOUGH!” she bellows. “That’s not even a rule you’ve been told! You’re just assuming. Look; there are three kinds of rules.”
He is reaching for the phone on the vacant desk.
“No.” she says, and he stops. “Listen.” she says, and he does. The wind slows its gusting for a moment.
“There are three kinds of rules.” She counts on her fingers. “One, someone tells you. They tell you what they’ll do if you break their rule.
“Two, you assume. Invisible rules. You’re blind to alternatives because you never imagined there might be any.
“Three, the important ones. Physics. There are no consequences because they can’t be broken. But! There’s more leeway even in those rules than many people suspect.”
She holds up her three fingers, looks him in the eye, and steps backwards out the window.