High-Opp by Frank Herbert
EMASI! Each Man A Separate Individual!
That is the rallying cry of the Seps, the Separatists engaged in a class war against the upper tiers of a society driven entirely by opinion polls.
Those who score high in the polls, the High-Opps, live in plush apartments, with comfortable jobs, every possible convenience. But those who happen to be low-opped, find themselves crowded in Warrens, with harsh lives and brutal conditions.
Daniel Movius, Ex-Senior Liaitor, rides high in the opinion polls until he becomes a casualty, brushed aside by a very powerful man. Low-opped and abandoned, Movius finds himself fighting for survival in the city’s underworld. There, the opinion of the masses is clear: It is time for a revolution against the corrupt super-privileged. And every revolution needs a leader.
by Frank Herbert
Copyright 2012 Herbert Partnership Ltd.
Kobo Edition 2013
eBook ISBN: 978-161475-037-6
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People averting their faces as they walked past the office door finally wore through his numbness. Daniel Movius began to clench and unclench his fists. He jerked out of his chair, strode to the window, stared at the morning light on the river.
Far out across the river, in silver layers up the Council Hills, he could see the fluting, inverted stalagmites of the High-Opp apartments. And down below them, the drabness, the smoke, the dismal carpet of factories and Warrens.
Back into that? Damn them!
Footsteps. Movius whirled.
A man walked past the door, examined the blank opposite wall of the corridor. Movius raged inwardly. Sephus! You son of a Sep! A woman followed. Bista! I’d as soon make love to a skunk!
Yet only yesterday she had made courting gestures, bending toward him over her desk to show the curves under the light green coveralls.
He hurled himself into his chair, sent the angry thoughts after them, the words he dared not use. “Avert your faces, you clogs! Don’t look at me!”
Another thought intruded. In Roper’s name, where was Cecelia? Was she another averted face?
Two men appeared in the doorway pushing a handcart loaded with boxes. Movius did not recognize them, but the LP above their lapel numbers told him. Workers. Labor Pool rabbits. But now he was one of the rabbits. Back into the LP. No more special foods at the restricted restaurants, no more extra credit allowance, no Upper Rank apartment, no car, no driver, no more courting gestures from such as Bista. Today, he was Daniel Movius, EX-Senior Liaitor.
One of the workmen at the door coughed, looked at the desk plaque which Movius had not yet removed. “Excuse me, sir.”
“Yes?” His voice still held its tone of command.
The workman swallowed. “We were told to move the Liaitor files to storage. Is this . . .”
He could see the workmen’s manner change. “Well, if you’ll excuse us, we have work to do.” The men came in with an overplayed clatter of officiousness, banging the handcart against the desk. They turned their backs on him, began emptying files into boxes.
Stupid low-opp rabbits!
Movius finished dumping the contents of his desk drawers into the wastebasket, topped the pile with his name plaque. He saved only a sheet of pale red paper. The message chute had disgorged the paper onto his desk less than an hour ago, as he’d been sorting the morning mail.
“On this date, the Stackman Absolute Sample having been consulted, the governmental function of Liaitor is declared abolished.
“For tax economy reasons, would you favor elimination of the supernumerary department of Liaitor?
“Yes: 79.238 percentum.
“No: .647 percentum.
“Undecided: 20.115 percentum.
“May the Majority rule.”
With motions of thinly suppressed violence, Movius folded the paper, thrust it into a pocket. “For tax economy reasons!” They could get a yes-opp matricide for tax economy reasons!
One last look around the office. It was a big place, scaled for a large man, an orderliness to it under the apparently random placement of desk, filing cabinets, piled baskets of papers. There was a smell about the room of oily furniture polish and that kind of bitter chemical odor found in the presence of much paper. It was a room with an air of dedication and no doubt about it. Dedication to quadruplicate copies and the-right-way-of-doing-the-job.
Movius noted that his phone had been dislodged from its cradle beside the desk. He replaced it, ran a hand through his stubble of close-cropped sandy hair, unwilling now that the moment had come, to say goodbye to this space in which he had worked four years. The room fitted him like an old saddle or like the body marks in a long-used bed. He had worn his grooves into the place.
Low-opped! And with so much unfinished work. Bu-Opp and Bu-Q were going to be at each others throats before the month was out. The government was damned soon going to find out it had need for Liaison. The bureaus were too jealous of their domains.
He stared at the workmen. They had cleared two files, were emptying a third. Movius was ignored; another discard to be stored away and forgotten. He wanted to fling himself on the men, knock them into a corner, scatter the papers, wreck things, tear things, destroy. He turned and walked quietly out of the office, out of the building.
On the front steps he paused, his eyes seeking out his parking slot in the third row. There was Navvy London, the driver, leaning against the familiar black scarab shape of the car. THE CAR—a primary token of authority. Sunlight shimmered on the flat antenna which spanned the curving roof. Movius looked up to the left where the scintillant red relay ship hovered above the spire of the prime generator, sending out its invisible flagellae of communication and energy beams from which the city sucked its power.
He wished for the strength to hurl all of his pent-up curses at this symbol of authority. Instead, he lowered his eyes, again sought out the car, that tiny extension of the relay ship. Navvy leaned against the grill in his characteristic slouch, reading a book—one of those inevitably deep things he always carried. The driver pulled at his lower lip with thumb and forefinger, turned a page. Movius suspected that some of Navvy’s books were on the contraband lists, but the man was the kind to carry it off. A look of youthful innocence in his brown eyes, a wisp of black hair down across his forehead to heighten the effect. “A contraband book, sir? Great Gallup! I didn’t think there were any more of those things drifting about. Thought the government had burned them all. Fellow handed it to me on the street the other day when I asked what he was reading.”
Seeing Navvy brought back a disquieting thought: How had Navvy known about the low-opp? How did a Labor Pool driver get official information before it became official?
Movius slipped between the First Rank cars, the Second Rank cars, slowed his pace as he approached the relaxed figure of the driver.
Navvy sensed Movius’ presence, looked up, pushed himself away from t
Movius drew a deep breath. “How did you know?”
The contemplative look was replaced by casualness. “It came over the LP grapevine.”
“That’s what you said before. I want to know how.”
“Maybe you’ll find out now that you’re an LP,” said Navvy. He turned toward the car. “Anyplace I can take you? They haven’t assigned me yet. They’re still upstairs wrangling over who’ll get my carcass.”
“I’m no longer privileged, Navvy. It’s forbidden.”
“So it’s forbidden.” He opened the rear door of the car. “They know where they can put their forbiddens. One last ride for old time’s sake.”
Why not? thought Movius. He shrugged, slipped into the car, felt the solid assurance of the slamming door. Navvy took his place in front.
“Where to, sir?”
“The apartment, I guess.”
Navvy flicked the power-receiver switch, turned to back the car from its slot. Movius watched the concentration on the man’s face. That was one of Navvy’s secrets, a power of concentration, of storing up. But what about the other secret?
“Why won’t you tell me how you came by the information?”
“You’d only accuse me of being a separatist again.”
Movius felt a humorless smile twitch at his lips, remembering their conversation that morning on the way from the apartment. Navvy had said, “Sir, probably I shouldn’t be talking, but I’ve word they’re going to low-opp you today.”
It had been an ice-water statement, doubly confusing because it came from his driver, someone like an extension of the car.
“Nonsense! Silly scuttlebutt!”
“No, sir. It’s over the grapevine. The question was put on the eight o’clock.”
Movius glanced at his watch. Ten minutes to nine. They almost always were passing the Bu-Psych Building about this time. He turned. There was the grey stone pile, early workers streaming up the steps.
A question on the eight o’clock? Movius could picture the returns ticking into the computers—Shanghai, Rangoon, Paris, New York, Moscow . . . The Comp Section, working at top speed, could have results in two hours. It was impossible that anyone could know the results of an eight o’clock before ten. He explained this fact to Navvy.
“You’ll see,” said Navvy. “Those autocratic High-Opps have you picked for the long slide down.”
And Movius remembered he had chuckled. “The government doesn’t function that way, Navvy. Majority opinion rules.”
What a trite set of mouthing’s those were when he thought back on them. Right out of the approved history books. Right out of the Bureau of Information blathering. But these thoughts brought a sense of uneasiness. He twisted his lapel, looked down at the pale mauve and white of his coveralls, code colors for Tertiary Bureau heads. All of his clothes would have to be dyed. He fingered his identification number on the lapel, the red T stitched above the number. That would be ripped off, LP replacing it.
Labor Pool! Damn them!
Penalty service could scarcely be worse.
The car was climbing through the privileged section now, Gothic canyons of silvery stone interspersed with green parks. There was an air of seclusion and reserved quiet in the privileged sections never found in the bawdy scrambling of the Warrens.
Movius wondered if the word already was out to his apartment manager.
The Bureau of Psychology had a special suite of rooms atop its building on Government Avenue, fronting the river. In the forenoon, the ledges outside the office windows were a roosting place for pigeons which watched the riverbanks and the streets for signs of food. A flock of them strutted along the ledges, cooing, brushing against one another. The sound carried through an open window into one of the rooms.
Two walls of this room were taken up by charts covered with undulant squiggles in colored inks. In the center of the room, spread out on a table, was another chart bearing a single red line, curving, dipping, ending in the middle of the sheet like an uncompleted bridge. A white card rested on this chart near the red line’s terminus. One corner of the card was weighted by a statuette of an obscene monkey labeled “High-Opp.” A strictly subversive, forbidden statuette.
Three people occupied the room—two men and a woman. Or, rather, they inhabited the room. They seemed fitted to it by an attitude of absorption. One got the feeling they had been initiated into the secrets of this room through a deeply esoteric ritual.
Nathan O’Brien, chief of Bu-Psych, stood up, closed the window to shut out the noise of the pigeons. He returned to his chair at the end of the table. O’Brien was a ferret of a man, who wore his Top Rank black with an air of mourning. He had the reputation of possessing a photographic memory, was conversant with seven of the pre-Unity languages, and was said to have a giant library of forbidden books of the ancients. Things were rumored of him that one would expect to hear about a man whose position could command privacy. There was about him a sense of remoteness, as though thoughts passed between his greying temples that no other men could fathom.
Quilliam London was a snorter. He snorted now, meaning he had been about to get up and close the window himself. Damned pigeons! He did not sit his chair, he rode it as though it were on a pedestal or a podium. Quilliam London had once been a professor of semantics before such teaching was low-opped and a heavy penalty put on infractions. Now he was on the retired rolls, serving an occasional afternoon at his district infirmary, filling out treatment cards, or visiting Nathan O’Brien at Bu-Psych, an activity carried out quietly. He was a rail of a man with the face of an eagle and hunter’s eyes. His seventy years were carried as though they were fifty. Thin wrinkles down his cheeks, thickening veins and greying hair gave him away, however, as did a tendency to be short of temper when talking with anyone under thirty.
Grace London, Quilliam’s daughter, turned away from the window where she had been watching the pigeons. She had rather enjoyed their cooing and was sorry when O’Brien closed the window. She was a woman with too much of her father’s thinness of face to be beautiful and people often were disconcerted by her habit of turning a piercing stare on whomever she addressed. There was youth in her, though, and the kind of sureness which comes with health and vitality. It gave her a sparkle, a crispness which some men found attractive.
“I believe he’s the man,” said O’Brien. He nodded toward the chart on the table.
“That’s been said before, Nathan.” His voice rumbled.
“But this time there’s a higher probability,” said O’Brien. “Look at his sorter card. Loyalty index ninety-six point six. Intelligence in the genius range. His decision chart is around here somewhere. Six questionables in twelve years.”
Grace London moved restlessly along the table, following the red line on the cart with a finger. “What does Cecelia say? Is he another Brownley?”
O’Brien looked up at her as though she had interrupted a thought. “She says not. She’s been watching him four years now, and her opinion is pretty trustworthy. We’ve just run a Malot-final on him from her completed reports. It’s uncanny how closely he fits the classic requirements.”
“I’m being overly cautious,” said Grace. “Brownley was such a disappointment.” She moved the monkey statuette to a more central position on the chart.
“Brownley was a result of poor timing on our part,” said O’Brien. “We were too eager.”
Quilliam London scratched his chin with his thumb. “That high loyalty index could backfire on us. With our treatment, Movius might turn it inward, go all out for number one.”
“That’s the chance we take,” said O’Brien. “Even if that does happen, he’d be useful to us up to a point. We could get rid of him, blame his death on . . .”
A door behind him opened and a blond man stepped into the room. “Chief, Cecelia Lang called. Movius just left her apartment. She says everything went off as
O’Brien straightened. “Get moving, Grace. You have to beat him to the Warren. I’ll have supply rush a make-up kit down to the car. You can change on the way.” He brushed a hand through his thinning hair. “Wouldn’t want Bu-Con recognizing you out there and asking questions.”
She nodded, followed the blond man out the door.
Quilliam London arose like a folding ruler being stretched to its limit. “I’d best be getting along, too. Has Marie Cotton been warned to look out for Movius?”
“She was in yesterday,” said O’Brien. “She had a relayed report on Warren Gerard and the latest Bu-Trans maneuvering.”
“That’s a funny thing about Gerard,” said Quilliam London. “What prompted him to send those specifications through the sorter at this particular time?” He pointed to the card on the table. “Gerard is going to be surprised when he finds out who his specifications fit.” He rapped a knuckle against the chart on the table. “This Movius is encouraging. I’ll have a long talk with the man tonight, see if he measures up to his psych card and to Navvy’s judgment.”
“He had better be right,” said O’Brien. “We don’t have time for another wrong move like Brownley.”
Navvy let Movius out of the car half a block from the apartment. “You understand, sir. No sense rubbing their noses in it.”
“Yes. Good opps, Navvy.” Movius stood a moment on the curb, watching the car grow smaller, finding it difficult to realize that had been the last ride. His watch showed almost eleven. He turned, hurried toward the grill and glass front of the apartment building. In the lobby there was an atmosphere of refined gloom, thick carpet underfoot, a whirring of air-conditioning fans.
The manager had been notified. He darted across the lobby as Movius entered. “Oh, Movius?”