GUIDELINE 1: PARENTING
Parent: Legal guardian of a person under the age of sixteen.
Child: Person under the age of sixteen.
Family: The network created by listing legal and former legal guardians and their children.
A parent should be firm, consistent, and impartial. They should provide reasons for expectations in terms that the child can understand.
A parent may not use physical force as a teaching mechanism for any reason. They should improve and work with their natural rational faculty.
Whenever possible, a parent should teach their child self-sufficiency. A child should still be supervised at all times.
A parent should spend holidays with their child. Family should be included, within reason.
A parent is responsible for filling out their child’s Life Plan. A parent is responsible for the child’s compliance with their Plan and with the Guidelines.
Any adult that is not a parent can advise any child about adherences to Guidelines, so long as a parent would have given the same advice, were they available to do so.
A child should not be told about the Architect, Guidelines, or Life Plans until they are ten years of age. It is the sole responsibility of parents to explain these topics when they are of age.
LIFE PLAN 1: TELLING A CHILD THE TRUTH
“I… I don’t expect you to understand all of this right away. Even though I’ve been thinking, for a long time, about the best way to explain it—about what I should say, and how I should say it. I’m concerned that it may sound strange to you, or unbelievable, even though it’s the absolute truth. You’re so young! But old enough, no doubt that you’re old enough. I’ve decided that I’m just going to put it simply, and go from there—there’s a man named James Macomber, and he decides everything that gets to happen in the world. That’s vague, let me try again—he decides what should happen, and when, and where, for pretty much everything. Like when the grass needs mowed, or when to take the trash out. It’s not just me and mom bossing you around all the time, like you love to complain about. Haha. When we tell you to do something, we have a good reason—and that reason is because Mr. Macomber says so.
“Because of what he does, deciding everything, he’s called the Architect. You know who the President is, right? Well, he’s kind of like the President—except the President changes after four or eight years, when people vote. We don’t vote for who gets to be the Architect, since he’s the only one that can be. He’s a special man. Born the same as the rest of us, into a normal family, but he came a long way from there. People recognized, over time, that he’s got a quality of judgment that nobody else has. But it’s not just that—he has incredible empathy, a perfect memory, and an amazing character. He has a superior knowledge of the way things are and the way they should be—politics, economics, spirituality, all of the important stuff. You put that all together, and you have something invaluable—a man that knows the best way to live life. More and more people looked up to him, from the time he was about your age—friends, experts, leaders—until eventually it was everyone. And it’s been that way for a while now.
“Eventually, they… they made a book out of all of his ideas, his Recommendations, and now everybody has a copy. It tells you the absolute best way to live your life. There’s two parts to this book. There’s the Guidelines, which apply to everyone—they’re a list of rules that any reasonable person can agree to. Always be as nice as you can, obey traffic laws, get eight hours of sleep every night, spend the holidays with your family, that kind of thing. For the most part it’s stuff you already know about, stuff that you’ve already been doing—but now you’ll be able to read about it, and know exactly what’s required. In fact, you’ll have to memorize some of it in school. Some people memorize the whole thing. I have an award from a competition, actually, that I won in high school. I’ll show it to you sometime. Anyway, that’s the first part, that’s the Guidelines. The second part of the book is the Life Plan—your very own life, specific to you, planned out from start to finish. Each one is unique. And as you go through life you follow it, and fill it out.
“There’s a lot of great things about the Life Plan, but the best part is that you’ll never have to doubt a decision that you make. People used to have doubts, a long time ago, but they don’t anymore. Just follow the Plan. You will always know exactly where to go, exactly what to do—when to say yes, when to say no. If something fits into your Life Plan, you do it. If it doesn’t, you don’t. And if there’s any uncertainty at all, you can talk to an Auditor about it. They’re people that are certified to provide guidance about what the Architect would want, if you were able to talk to him directly. They’re really good at what they do. They’ll clear everything right up for you, whenever you need it.
“Without doubt, the world runs better now than it ever has before. There used to be wars, wasteful wars, but there isn’t anymore. They weren’t in anyone’s best interest, so the Architect decided—why have them? And greedy corporations used to contaminate the world, ruining the environment and leaving lots of people in poverty, but not anymore. You used to have to pay to see a doctor—can you believe that? A huge mess, really. But people followed the Architect’s Recommendations, and all of those problems disappeared in a matter of years.
“That’s the kind of power and foresight that he has. It’ll make sense, then, that your best bet is always to just follow your Life Plan as it was written. You may not understand why certain things need to be done, and you may not want to do them—you’ll ask yourself, ‘Why can’t I just do this other thing instead?’ But I promise you that his Recommendation, the way he wants you to do something, is always the best possible way. He knows things that you don’t—you just have to have faith. A lot of people find that out the hard way—they think they’ll be better off on their own, and disregard their Plan. Horrible things happen to people like that. Or, at the very least, better things could have happened to them if only they listened.
“But if you really do want to make a change, despite what I’ve said, there’s something you can do without abandoning the Plan. You can fill out a special form, called an Exception Form, and have the Architect sign it. Yes, it absolutely has to be the Architect that approves of the change that you want to make. Auditors can advise you, and they have to notarize your Form as part of the process, but an Exception is something only the Architect can make. And he’s very particular about how the Form is filled out—you have to have an abstract, a thesis, supporting evidence, proper references. The Exception has to be clearly defined, and only one change—it can’t be multiple changes on one Form. It has to be double-spaced, twelve-point font. Times New Roman. They’ll show you how to write it in school, so don’t worry about all the details right now. But once you’ve written it, and got it notarized by an Auditor, then you have to find the Architect so that he can sign it.
“I’m telling you all of this so that you won’t think the system is unfair—you still have control of your life, and can make changes if you have to. There’s just a process that you have to go through, and it isn’t that hard. The hardest part of the whole thing is finding the Architect, although it’s very worth it when you do. To find him, you have to know what he looks like and where he might be, so I’m going to tell you about that.
“He lives in Denver, although he often travels. He’s exceptionally tall. A slight overbite, but nothing that requires orthodontics. Grey hair, combed over, seeing as he’s fifty-seven now. His birthday is in two weeks, as a matter of fact. That’s why we celebrate October 22nd every year—I’ll have the day off and Grandma and Grandpa will come over for dinner. Anyway, he always wears dress pants, dark but not black. With a button-up shirt, short-sleeved in the summer and long in the winter. And a very nice watch, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual. That’s the surest way of identifying him, since there were only five of that model made. He has excellent posture, holds himself amazingly upright at all times. He always holds doors for people, and always says bless you if you sneeze. That’s also a good way to identify him—sneeze, and see if he replies. No reply, and it’s not him. But it has to be a convincing sneeze, he doesn’t bless sneezes that are obviously fake. You might have to practice.
“You might be wondering—why do I have to know all of this? Why can’t I just go to his office, and meet him there? Well, he doesn’t just sit around in an office, waiting for people so that they can change their lives. He doesn’t even carry a pen—if you want a Form signed, you have to bring your own. And that’s because, as far as he’s concerned, everyone’s Plan has already been made. It’s not his job to constantly be changing his Recommendations, which were already perfect. He’s got better things to do—he’s still coming up with more ways to improve society, and he also has his own life to live. He’s a person. He loves golf, and eating breakfast in diners. He does his own shopping, drives his own car. Almost an ordinary life, really, out there with the rest of us.
“Because he’s out in public so much, with so many people looking for him, he’s often got large crowds around him—someone recognizes him, and stops him to have a Form signed. More people notice, and soon there’s a whole mob. Nice people will raise a call whenever they see him, so that everyone can take advantage. But if you’re lucky, and a little more selfish—if you really want to change your life, you can catch him behind some hedges or something, and have him sign as many Forms as he’s willing to sign, before he decides that he’s helped you enough.
“There’s a story about a man that had a whole stack of Exception Forms, enough to make a whole other book. The man really wanted to live someone else’s life, apparently. And he was able to get the Architect on his own, and handed him the whole stack. The Architect read a few of the abstracts, then looked the man over. He told the man, ‘Pick two. I won’t sign them all. For instance, you can buy the car and quit your job, but then you can’t leave your wife. Or you can leave your wife and buy the car, but then you’ll have to keep your job. But not all three.’ Isn’t that the funniest thing you’ve ever heard? No? Well, when you’re older you’ll understand better, and then it will be. It’s funny because it’s true—large changes, large deviations, aren’t meant to happen. Of course, he wouldn’t sign anything he didn’t approve of, but it’s still best to just Live Life by the Book.
“As you may have guessed, I have my own book. And here it is. Like I said, the first half is the Guidelines, the second half is my Life Plan. Here, you can look at it… this is my Life Plan. The first few years of my life the Architect wasn’t around, so I had a bad start. My parents didn’t plan to have me, and they were poor when they did. Normally he’d choose where I was born, and when—to parents that are mature enough, mentally and financially. That’s the way it should be. Anyway, because of when I was born, my parents had to have all of these sections marked out. But by the time I was in elementary school the system was finally in place, and my parents filled it out until I was sixteen. Everything the way that it was meant to be. This page says the career I was meant to pursue… this next page has the details about the woman I was meant to be with—your mother, she has the same page, except it’s about me instead of her… and here’s the page saying that we’d be living here, with a copy of the deed right there next to it. Here’s the page saying that we’d have you… a page for the promotion I got a few years ago. You’ll see for yourself, how Fulfilling it is to get through these pages. You have a book of your own, and I’ll show it to you when you’re ready.
“You can see—or maybe you can’t—that I have hardly any Exception Forms. That’s a yellow one, like this. They’re copies, unfortunately you can’t keep the originals. Anyway, I got my honeymoon changed from Cancun to the Dominican Republic, and I had the Architect sign off on it. That’s right, I’ve seen the Architect. He thought that it was a great idea, said so himself. People that have larger changes, sometimes they have to get the future parts of their Life Plan reprinted, with a different Plan, but mine is the original that was given to my parents when I was five years old. I’ve kept on track, I’ve Lived Life by the Book.
“You can’t fill out any Exception Forms of your own—not until you’re sixteen. Before you’re that age, it’s the responsibility of your parents. Feel free to talk to me, anytime, about changes that you think you want. But remember what I said—the judgment of the Architect is rarely to be doubted. Sometimes you have to really talk about it with someone else to realize that, though. And I’m always happy to talk about it.
“Or you can talk to an Auditor. When we go to the Audit Center on Sundays, while you’re playing with all your friends in the daycare, we’re talking about all of these things with Auditors. About the Architect, Guidelines, Life Plans, Exceptions, everything. They give encouragement and advice about the best ways to stay on track, and how to create Fulfillment. Then they Audit us all, one by one, to make sure we’re doing everything right.
“Next week you’ll be old enough to listen to the Auditor, instead of going to the daycare. I want you to pay really good attention, since what he says will be very important. And then he’ll Audit your book, and you can see what he has to say. But don’t worry—you’re very much on track. I’d never let you stray, that’s my duty as a parent.
“Well… I think that’s it. It’s a lot to process all at once, I know. But you’re a smart kid, right? Do you have any questions?”
They’re sitting across from each other in the living room, Marcus and his father. The chairs that they occupy are identical, but they inhabit them differently—the father sits on its front edge, his back erect and knees together. His posture exaggerates his slim figure, his thick glasses emphasize his myopia. He’s staring intently at his child, who is silent and collapsed in on himself, his hands crossed in his lap and head held askance, his long nose pointed off to one side. A table stands between them, and on top of it is a thick three-ring binder. In bold letter across its front the binder says: Daryll Hunt, Guidelines and Life Plan. The plastic is worn and yellowing at the edges, probably because the father has decided that replacing it would require an Exception Form, which of course he is intent on avoiding.
Something in the air is stagnating. It’s only four in the afternoon, but the room feels dark. A clock ticks in the distance, a multitude of shadows cover the walls and furniture with somber tones—a perfect setting for a serious conversation. The window disagrees, though—it suggests a much brighter world, somewhere outside. The possibility of blue sky is there, and leaves, colorful and swaying. For half the one-sided conversation, Marcus had been distracted by the window.
His father takes a long drink of water, trying to recover from his dissertation. How long had he been talking? While practicing before, he had clocked it at twenty minutes, but this time it felt longer than that. For months he has been thinking of what to say—he has talked to Auditors almost weekly, written four versions by hand, practiced in the mirror, lost sleep. He’s developed extensive bags under his eyes, from the strain. Proposing to his wife, whom he’d never met at the time, wasn’t nearly as hard. What he wants, more than anything, is for his son to have the right first impression of the Architect. That’s more than he was given, as a child.
His own dad never took the matter nearly as serious. The truth was just dropped on him one day, offhand and undeveloped. Such an approach could have easily set him behind in his Fulfillment, if he wasn’t so studious and self-motivated. He learned about the grander workings of the Architect on his own, through hard spiritual labor. At around the same age—ten years old. It’s hard for him to remember how he had reacted to the truth, as stilted as his exposure had been—but he imagines that he was in awe, and a little excited. It’s possible that he’s reinterpreting his past to align with his current perception, since apparently that happens a lot. Regardless, what is important is how his child reacts. For his part, he feels like he’s done an adequate job. He presented a broad swath of information, in what he believes to be a lucid manner. He continues to stare at his child, waiting for a reaction. Will he be in awe? Will he be excited?
The information was, in fact, too much for Marcus to process in one sitting. He’s hardly internalized any of it, actually. He was careful to sit there obediently, as was expected of him, but that’s a majority of what he accomplished. Still, he does have an impression—there’s something terribly intimidating about the book, he feels, but he can’t identify why that is. He has to fill out his own? Guidelines and Life Plan. There’s a man that decided his life? He has doubts, misgivings, but he can’t and won’t put words to them. Instead he just sits across from his father, in silence.
During the lecture, his mother had looked into the room several times—but never came in. She hadn’t said anything either, just looked in then left. Why is it only his father that’s talking to him about this?
They sit there for longer than is comfortable for either of them. His father’s expectant look slowly fades to something like disappointment. Marcus knows what disappointment looks like. His father says, “Well, if you have any questions, let me know before next Sunday. And we can bring them up with the Auditor, if you want.”
Finally, his father stands up and leaves the room, taking the book with him. Marcus is left on his own. His mind can turn to other things.
It’s bad enough that summer had to end, and school had to begin again—a reality that Marcus still hasn’t quite recovered from. But then he’s made to stay inside on one of the rare good days remaining, just to listen to things that don’t mean anything to him. And he still has homework to do, before the next day. How is any of it fair?
Hope blooms eternal—the day isn’t completely lost yet. If he asks, it’s possible that his mother will let him go outside before dinner. And then he could do homework after that. That would be the best way to do it. But the decision, ultimately, is not his to make.
EXCEPTIONÆTTE: PEOPLE DRIVE
As a matter of practical necessity, she works while she waits. Capitulizing time, she calls it. Part of her attention is on the numbers, as the line at the DMV drains stiltedly towards her, but the large majority is directed into a small laptop that goes everywhere she does, one of many natural extensions of herself that needs plugged into a wall from time to time. She has a report to write, documents to approve of, and various communications to carry out in parallel. For a variety of reasons, she shouldn’t be sitting there with her legs crossed, balancing a coffee on her knee and doing her best to ignore the loud conversation behind her. She doesn’t care.
Finally the numbers align, and she takes her turn at the service counter, opposed by a joyless man with glasses so thick that his eyes aren’t visible. Correlation, not causation, she thinks to herself. She knows at least one happy person that wear glasses—but maybe only one.
“How can I help you?” he asks, with Saharan aridity.
It initially disconcerts her that she can’t make eye contact with the man. If the focal point of his glasses are on the near side of his retina, he shouldn’t be able to see—and these glasses don’t even give his cornea a chance. Probably came down to a miscalculation by his optometrist, she gauges. And she envisions one of their appointments—the man would say, “I still can’t see very well,” and the optometrist would respond, “We’ll go thicker, then,” never once considering the opposite approach. She knows doctors like that.
“I’d like to get a driver’s license, please,” she responds.
“Name?” he asks, and positions his hands over a keyboard.
She provides her name, and waits for him to pretend to be able to read the screen’s response. “Well,” he says, hesitates, mechanically stumbles, then restarts. “Well, you don’t seem to have an appointment. Is there another name it could be under?”
“Only the one name. And you won’t find an appointment because I don’t have one. But as you can see,” and she shuffles around her personal effects, until she comes up with several pieces of paper, “I’ve passed the practical exam, just two days ago. And these are the results for the written portion. So if I could just hand those to you, and in return you hand me a driver’s license, I think we should be settled?”
More mechanical failure. “It’s impossible, it really is impossible, to do any of these things without an appointment. I’m sorry ma’am.” With a timid hand, he pushes her papers back in her direction.
She doesn’t pick them up. “Explain to me why it’s impossible.”
“Well, when you have an appointment, you see, we are provided in advance with a government-recognized birthday, you see, and your approval status, and your license term limit, none of which can be assumed,” he says, his tone all the while implying the futility of what she is asking, with a finality at the end that said, “And that’s that.”
“I could provide all that information.”
“I wouldn’t even know how to input it.”
“You can see, right?” With feigned concern and genuine interest.
“What was that, ma’am?”
Tactless, retreat. Instead, she plays a card that she wanted to do without. “May I speak to your manager, please?”
He ambles away, to a man partially obscured by an imitation cubicle. She catches only a few fragments of their exchange—doesn’t, appointment, senile, maybe, age on license, doesn’t, Architect’s green earth. Then the manger stands up, and with the glasséd man assumes a reinforced position at the counter.
“I’m afraid that everything you’ve been told is entirely accurate—we can’t help you if you don’t have an appointment.”
“He must have misheard me,” she replies, rapidly improvising. “I was told by an Auditor that everything would be arranged by the time I came in today. Perhaps they sent an email that hasn’t been read yet, detailing my situation?”
The manager points to a relic from another century, dominating a nearby table. “They would have called, and no one has called. Perhaps try another day?”
“It would really have to be today,” she says, thinking of her work schedule for the next week and all the time she has wasted if she fails now.
“I’m sorry, but without that phone call…”
“Can you give me a few minutes to find out what’s going on?”
“We run an efficient machine here, ma’am. We’ll have to serve the next person, as I’m sure you’ll understand. But you’re welcome to take a new number whenever you like.”
“Fine,” she says, grabbing her papers and hurrying away.
At least forty people are waiting in line. If she starts from the beginning again, that would be another hour. So she selects a person she knows arrived fifteen minutes after herself, a frail old lady dressed in pastels, and says, “Trade? If you go right now, it’s your turn.” She glances back at the counter, where indeed the red LED has yet to advance. It matches the paper ticket in her hand, which she now extends.
The lady is understandably taken by surprise. “I don’t think… didn’t you just?” she starts.
“Like they say in my field, the numbers don’t lie,” she insists.
“All… all right.”
With her new number in hand, she sits down in the vacated seat and quickly gets to work. She ignores the ensuing confusion at the counter, where the nature of sequential numbers becomes heavily contested. Instead she writes a message to a coworker of hers, flagged as urgent: “I need you to make a phone call to the DMV on 17th street, claiming to be an Auditor from Our Lady of Consummate Compliance. Tell them I’m approved for a license, and that I need an appointment. They’ll ask for a term limit, which for my case will be six years. And my birthday, which if you don’t know then I’m disowning you as a friend. If you can’t do that within the next five minutes, I won’t be coming in to work today. Consider that a threat.” Sent.
An empty threat, though, because within seconds of hitting send she’s working again on her report, only stopping to listen when she hears the jubilant rattling of the phone. The glasséd man answers, and to her distaste he proves himself a liar—he had explicitly said that he wouldn’t know how to input her information even if he could, and yet there he is with the receiver cradled between ear and shoulder, typing away. Her anger flares, but she suppresses it. And when her new number is called, there she is again.
“Why are you still here? And how did you get through the line so fast?” he asks, frowning. “Let me see your number.” He had simply believed it was her turn the first time, but she’s breached that trust somewhere along the way. Fortunately, the numbers match.
“I believe I have an appointment now?” she asks, calm and diplomatic.
The frown deepens. “Name?”
“Still the same.”
Five minutes later she is standing in front of a camera, trying to follow the instructions of a man who somehow chooses to wear a bandana for his government job, triangular and draped across his left shoulder. He says, “Smile!” and leads by example, displaying disheveled rows of ochre, where the compasses have lost all bearing and every tooth looks like an incisor.
“I’d rather not,” she returns in dry imitation of his tone, a song-sing voice that she evacuates of all melody.
“The police, believe it or not,” he says, unperturbed, “they’re less likely to give tickets to people who have smiles on their license. So what we do is to help you out, really. By having you smile. And yeah, it’s not required, but wouldn’t you want to be less likely to get a ticket? I can tell jokes if it helps.”
The smile she gives should have haunted the deepest of catacombs, the outermost reaches of space, the most forlorn of wanderers searching for the smallest sign of life. In her ironic gesture is a denial of existence, and everything good. She simply does not want to hear what his interpretation of a ‘joke’ might be.
“I drove here in my car,” she tells her coworker, eight days later. “My license arrived in the mail just yesterday. Technically I wasn’t supposed to drive until then—they refused to issue me a temp back at the DMV, probably because they didn’t like me—but I’d already arranged to buy my car three days ago, so I might have made some unlawful bodily movements on the interim. I wanted to thank you, ’cause I haven’t yet, for impersonating a government official for me.”
“It’s not the worst thing you’ve had me do,” her coworker responds, smiling wanly as she looks out the window towards the mountained vista beyond. “There was that time you had me smuggle that RPH. I’d take lying over physical discomfort any day.”
“That’s the spirit,” she replies. As always, she is only half focusing, even during a face-to-face conversation—she has her laptop out, composing three emails and watching the stock price of Valeant disintegrate. The coworker doesn’t mind.
“What I don’t understand, though,” the coworker says, “is why you didn’t just fill out an Exception Form. You know, take the proper channels like a normal human being.”
“And go through the trouble of finding the damn Architect? You do understand—you’re just pretending not to. I’m an adult, I know how to take care of things without appealing to the deity. I’ve never filled out one of those Forms and I never will.”
The coworker laughs. “Everyone fills one out eventually. It’s like a psychological fact. Or are you above all of that? Psychology, facts.”
“I’m most definitely not—in fact, the main reason I refuse to fill one out is that the paper has to be yellow. There’s a psychological fact for you. It would have to be blue paper, if I was going to write one, but that’s not ‘following the rules’ so of course I’ll never do that.” She wonders to herself—why blue?—as she sips from a coffee. “Everyone fills one out eventually… Everyone? What about you., what Exception could you possibly want to make? Is your job satisfaction not enough to get you by in life?”
“You’re a hypocrite, and you’re not as good of a boss as you think you are. I was much happier at the car wash, coming out of high school, for your information. The only thing my boss ever complained about was the outfit I was wearing. I didn’t have to put up with your incessant demands for ‘quality’ and ‘decent performance’.”
“A car wash?”
“It’s true that the winters got me down a little…” A car passes on the street outside, and its reflection of the sun blinds them both. The coworker abruptly pulls out of her feigned reverie. “Anyway, it won’t be as hard to find your Architect as you make it sound. He’s coming in for a tour of the facility today. Surprise.”
The keys stop clicking. “A tour? No joking, a tour? The Architect?”
“He’s very interested in what we do, by the sound of it. I’ve only got the details secondhand, so it could be all exaggerated, but they’re saying he’s like really interested. And they wanted you to be the one that gave the tour, so if you could clear some time…”
The clicks double. “Have that lab assistant girl give him the tour. She’s got that vibrant energy that men love to see, that southern lilt she picked up in Iowa. He’d enjoy the tour more out of her.”
“Well, the thing is, he’s specifically requested you. I wasn’t going to say it, but here you’ve made me. You.”
“That’s absurd!” she almost yells, perhaps overindulging in melodrama. She tones it down. “You know how busy I am. We have a very firm deadline. Next Saturday, you know that. And I have enough work to last me for at least a month, if I give up on sleeping. And I have, I’ve given up on sleeping. The empty bottles, on the other hand, won’t miss that lab assistant for half an hour. You have to help me properly allocate resources here, you really do, or we’re lost. Got it?”
The coworker becomes atypically serious. All smiles fade, from voice and face. “He’s the Architect. If we make the right impression, we’d never have to use words like ‘deadline’ again. If he thinks we’re a vital part of society, he can bend the world around us. I know what you want, you want to bend the world yourself so that you don’t have to feel indebted to anyone, and I’m fine with that—but then you make it sound like everyone else is not doing enough to earn our success, when really you could make it so easy by just swallowing some pride for once. You know, I do have some Exception Forms that I’ve wanted signed for years now, and the Architect will be in the very building I work at—but I’m not going to ask him, because that could make a bad impression. I have given and I will give a lot, for a damn company, of all things. All we’re asking for, is for you to give a tour to the most important person in the world.”