On the fortieth floor of this office building, a receptionist is thinking about lunch. She looks up in time to see the clean glass doors swing open, and the man walk in. He is dressed in a neat charcoal suit but has removed his silk tie and draped it over his right shoulder.
She smiles and opens her mouth, “How can I—” she begins, but, though he smiles in return, he walks past her in silence, storming into the office block beyond.
“Excuse me! Excuse me. Sir.” She is put together tidily, with an auburn bun, carefully chosen glasses and a dress appropriate to her station and her figure. She is beautiful, but her brow begins to wrinkle. She stands, brushes her skirt flat, and walks after him. She’s wearing practical shoes. She catches up and places a hand on his shoulder.
“Oh, hello again. Yes?” He spins around, but continues to walk backwards as he faces he pleasantly.
“You mustn’t come back here, sir. 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—” She realizes that he 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!”
He turns around, so that he is once more watching where he was walking; but he does not stop. “You seem to misunderstand rules. Perhaps you’ll let me explain?” He smiles charmingly.
“If you’ll stop.”
“Hmm.” He pauses, and thinks. “Fine. But you force me to be brief.”
He steps two steps to his left, into a cubicle. From it, he drags an office chair, on which he sits facing the receptionist.
“Rules,” he 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?”
She does not reply, thoughtfully.
“Good!” He claps his hands to his neatly pressed trousers, spins once in his 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,” he turns again, spinning on his heel to fix her 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.”
She 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. He 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?” she says. “There is no other way. You have to come with me.”
“I though we covered this,” he 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, he reaches into his jacket, into the interior breast pocket, and from it draws a steel tool with a heavy glass handle. The tip is stubby but sharp.
He smiles, gives a little bow, places the nub against the glass, and leans his bulk against the handle.
She gives a little gasp, and the glass window shatters.
“You really can’t go out that way!”
“ENOUGH!” he bellows. “That’s not even a rule you’ve been told! You’re just assuming. Look; there are three kinds of rules.”
She is reaching for the phone on the vacant desk.
“No.” he says, and she stops. “Listen.” he says, and she does. The wind slows its gusting for a moment.
“There are three kinds of rules.” He counts on his 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 in those rules than many people suspect.”
He holds up his three fingers, fixes her in his eye, and steps backwards out the window.