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Adjustment Team

Philip K. Dick


  Philip K. Dick


  Adjustment Team

  About the Author

  About the Series


  About the Publisher

  Adjustment Team

  It was bright morning. The sun shone down on the damp lawns and sidewalks, reflecting off the sparkling parked cars. The clerk came walking hurriedly, leafing through his instructions, flipping pages and frowning. He stopped in front of the small green stucco house for a moment, and then turned up the walk, entering the backyard.

  The dog was asleep inside his shed, his back turned to the world. Only his thick tail showed.

  “For heaven’s sake,” the clerk exclaimed, hands on his hips. He tapped his mechanical pencil noisily against his clipboard. “Wake up, you in there.”

  The dog stirred. He came slowly out of his shed, head first, blinking and yawning in the morning sunlight. “Oh, it’s you. Already?” He yawned again.

  “Big doings.” The clerk ran his expert finger down the traffic-control sheet. “They’re adjusting Sector T137 this morning. Starting at exactly nine o’clock.” He glanced at his pocket watch. “Three hour alteration. Will finish by noon.”

  “T137? That’s not far from here.”

  The clerk’s thin lips twisted with contempt. “Indeed. You’re showing astonishing perspicacity, my black-haired friend. Maybe you can divine why I’m here.”

  “We overlap with T137.”

  “Exactly. Elements from this sector are involved. We must make sure they’re properly placed when the adjustment begins.” The clerk glanced toward the small green stucco house. “Your particular task concerns the man in there. He is employed by a business establishment lying within Sector T137. It’s essential that he be there before nine o’clock.”

  The dog studied the house. The shades had been let up. The kitchen light was on. Beyond the lace curtains dim shapes could be seen, stirring around the table. A man and woman. They were drinking coffee.

  “There they are,” the dog murmured. “The man, you say? He’s not going to be harmed, is he?”

  “Of course not. But he must be at his office early. Usually he doesn’t leave until after nine. Today he must leave at eight-thirty. He must be within Sector T137 before the process begins, or he won’t be altered to coincide with the new adjustment.”

  The dog sighed. “That means I have to summon.”

  “Correct.” The clerk checked his instruction sheet. “You’re to summon at precisely eight-fifteen. You’ve got that? Eight-fifteen. No later.”

  “What will an eight-fifteen summons bring?”

  The clerk flipped open his instruction book, examining the code columns.

  “It will bring a friend with a car. To drive him to work early.” He closed the book and folded his arms, preparing to wait. “That way he’ll get to his office almost an hour ahead of time. Which is vital.”

  “Vital,” the dog murmured. He lay down, half inside his shed. His eyes closed. “Vital.”

  “Wake up! This must be done exactly on time. If you summon too soon or too late—”

  The dog nodded sleepily. “I know. I’ll do it right. I always do it right.”

  Ed Fletcher poured more cream in his coffee. He sighed, leaning back in his chair. Behind him the oven hissed softly, filling the kitchen with warm fumes. The yellow overhead light beamed down.

  “Another roll?” Ruth asked.

  “I’m full.” Ed sipped his coffee. “You can have it.”

  “Have to go.” Ruth got to her feet, unfastening her robe. “Time to go to work.”


  “Sure. You lucky bum! Wish I could sit around.” Ruth moved toward the bathroom, running her fingers through her long black hair. “When you work for the government you start early.”

  “But you get off early,” Ed pointed out. He unfolded the Chronicle, examining the sporting green. “Well, have a good time today. Don’t type any wrong words, any double-entendres.”

  The bathroom door closed, as Ruth shed her robe and began dressing.

  Ed yawned and glanced up at the clock over the sink. Plenty of time. Not even eight. He sipped more coffee and then rubbed his stubbled chin. He would have to shave. He shrugged lazily. Ten minutes, maybe.

  Ruth came bustling out in her nylon slip, hurrying into the bedroom. I’m late.” She rushed rapidly around, getting into her blouse and skirt, her stockings, her little white shoes. Finally she bent over and kissed him. “Goodbye, honey. I’ll do the shopping tonight.”

  “Goodbye.” Ed lowered his newspaper and put his arm around his wife’s trim waist, hugging her affectionately. “You smell nice. Don’t flirt with the boss.”

  Ruth ran out the front door, clattering down the steps. He heard the click of her heels diminish down the sidewalk.

  She was gone. The house was silent. He was alone.

  Ed got to his feet, pushing his chair back. He wandered lazily into the bathroom and got his razor down. Eight-ten. He washed his face, rubbing it down with shaving cream, and began to shave. He shaved leisurely. He had plenty of time.

  The clerk bent over his round pocket watch, licking his lips nervously. Sweat stood out on his forehead. The second hand ticked on. Eight-fourteen. Almost time.

  “Get ready!” the clerk snapped. He tensed, his small body rigid. “Ten seconds to go!”

  “Time!” the clerk cried.

  Nothing happened.

  The clerk turned, eyes wide with horror. From the little shed a thick black tail showed. The dog had gone back to sleep.

  “TIME!” the clerk shrieked. He kicked wildly at the furry rump. “In the name of God—”

  The dog stirred. He thumped around hastily, backing out of the shed. “My goodness.” Embarrassed, he made his way quickly to the fence. Standing up on his hind paws, he opened his mouth wide. “Woof!” he summoned. He glanced apologetically at the clerk. “I beg your pardon. I can’t understand how—”

  The clerk gazed fixedly down at his watch. Cold terror knotted his stomach. The hands showed eight-sixteen. “You failed,” he grated. “You failed! You miserable flea-bitten rag-bag of a womout old mutt! You failed!”

  The dog dropped and came anxiously back. “I failed, you say? You mean the summons time was—?”

  “You summoned too late.” The clerk put his watch away slowly, a glazed expression on his face. “You summoned too late. We won’t get a friend with a car. There’s no telling what will come instead. I’m afraid to see what eight-sixteen brings.”

  “I hope he’ll be in Sector T137 in time.”

  “He won’t,” the clerk wailed. “He won’t be there. We’ve made a mistake. We’ve made things go wrong!”

  Ed was rinsing the shaving cream from his face when the muffled sound of the dog’s bark echoed through the silent house.

  “Damn,” Ed muttered. “Wake up the whole block.” He dried his face, listening. Was somebody coming?

  A vibration. Then—

  The doorbell rang.

  Ed came out of the bathroom. Who could it be? Had Ruth forgotten something? He tossed on a white shirt and opened the front door.

  A bright young man, face bland and eager, beamed happily at him. “Good morning, sir.” He tipped his hat. “I’m sorry to bother you so early—”

  “What do you want?”

  “I’m from the Federal Life Insurance Company. I’m here to see you about—”

  Ed pushed the door closed. “Don’t want any. I’m in a rush. Have to get to work.”

  “Your wife s
aid this was the only time I could catch you.” The young man picked up his briefcase, easing the door open again. “She especially asked me to come this early. We don’t usually begin our work at this time, but since she asked me, I made a special note about it”

  “Okay.” Sighing wearily, Ed admitted the young man. “You can explain your policy while I get dressed.”

  The young man opened his briefcase on the couch, laying out heaps of pamphlets and illustrated folders. “I’d like to show you some of these figures, if I may. It’s of great importance to you and your family to—”

  Ed found himself sitting down, going over the pamphlets. He purchased a ten-thousand-dollar policy on his own life and then eased the young man out. He looked at the clock. Practically nine-thirty!

  “Damn.” He’d be late to work. He finished fastening his tie, grabbed his coat, turned off the oven and the lights, dumped the dishes in the sink, and ran out on the porch.

  As he hurried toward the bus stop he was cursing inwardly. Life insurance salesmen. Why did the jerk have to come just as he was getting ready to leave?

  Ed groaned. No telling what the consequences would be, getting to the office late. He wouldn’t get there until almost ten. He set himself in anticipation. A sixth sense told him he was in for it. Something bad. It was the wrong day to be late.

  If only the salesman hadn’t come.

  Ed hopped off the bus a block from his office. He began walking rapidly. The huge clock in front of Stein’s Jewelry Store told him it was almost ten.

  His heart sank. Old Douglas would give him hell for sure. He could see it now. Douglas puffing and blowing, red-faced, waving his thick finger at him; Miss Evans, smiling behind her typewriter; Jackie, the office boy, grinning and snickering; Earl Hendricks; Joe and Tom; Mary, dark-eyed, full bosom and long lashes. All of them, kidding him the whole rest of the day.

  He came to the corner and stopped for the light. On the other side of the street rose the big white concrete building, the towering column of steel and cement, girders and glass windows—the office building. Ed flinched. Maybe he could say the elevator got stuck. Somewhere between the second and third floor.

  The street light changed. Nobody else was crossing. Ed crossed alone. He hopped up on the curb on the far side—

  And stopped, rigid.

  The sun had winked off. One moment it was beaming down. Then it was gone. Ed looked sharply up. Gray clouds swirled above him. Huge, formless clouds. Nothing more. An ominous, thick haze that made everything waver and dim. Uneasy chills plucked at him. What was it?

  He advanced cautiously, feeling his way through the mist. Everything was silent. No sounds—not even the traffic sounds. Ed peered frantically around, trying to see through the rolling haze. No people. No cars. No sun. Nothing.

  The office building loomed up ahead, ghostly. It was an indistinct gray. He put out his hand uncertainly—

  A section of the building fell away. It rained down, a torrent of particles. Like sand. Ed gaped foolishly. A cascade of gray debris, spilling around his feet. And where he had touched the building, a jagged cavity yawned—an ugly pit marring the concrete.

  Dazed, he made his way to the front steps. He mounted them. The steps gave way underfoot. His feet sank down. He was wading through shifting sand, weak, rotted stuff that broke under his weight.

  He got into the lobby. The lobby was dim and obscure. The overhead lights flickered feebly in the gloom. An unearthly pall hung over everything.

  He spied the cigar stand. The seller leaned silently, resting on the counter, toothpick between his teeth, his face vacant. And gray. He was gray all over.

  “Hey,” Ed croaked. “What’s going on?”

  The seller did not answer. Ed reached out toward him. His hand touched the seller’s gray arm—and passed right through.

  “Good God,” Ed said,

  The seller’s arm came loose. It fell to the lobby floor, disintegrating into fragments. Bits of gray fiber. Like dust. Ed’s senses reeled.

  “Help!” he shouted, finding his voice.

  No answer. He peered around. A few shapes stood here and there: a man reading a newspaper, two women waiting at the elevator.

  Ed made his way over to the man. He reached out and touched him.

  The man slowly collapsed. He settled into a heap, a loose pile of gray ash. Dust. Particles. The two women

  dissolved when he touched them. Silently. They made no sound as they broke apart.

  Ed found the stairs. He grabbed hold of the bannister and climbed. The stairs collapsed under him. He hurried faster. Behind him lay a broken path—his footprints clearly visible in the concrete. Clouds of ash blew around him as he reached the second floor.

  He gazed down the silent corridor. He saw more clouds of ash. He heard no sound. There was just darkness—rolling darkness.

  He climbed unsteadily to the third floor. Once, his shoe broke completely through the stair. For a sickening second he hung, poised over a yawning hole that looked down into a bottomless nothing.

  Then he climbed on, and emerged in front of his own office: DOUGLAS AND BLAKE, REAL ESTATE.

  The hall was dim, gloomy with clouds of ash. The overhead lights flickered fitfully. He reached for the door handle. The handle came off in his hand. He dropped it and dug his fingernails into the door. The plate glass crashed past him, breaking into bits. He tore the door open and stepped over it, into the office.

  Miss Evans sat at her typewriter, fingers resting quietly on the keys. She did not move. She was gray, her hair, her skin, her clothing. She was without color. Ed touched her. His fingers went through her shoulder, into dry flakiness.

  He drew back, sickened. Miss Evans did not stir.

  He moved on. He pushed against a desk. The desk collapsed into rotting dust. Earl Hendricks stood by the water cooler, a cup in his hand. He was a gray statue, unmoving. Nothing stirred. No sound. No life. The whole office was gray dust—without life or motion.

  Ed found himself out in the corridor again. He shook his head, dazed. What did it mean? Was he going out of his mind? Was he—?

  A sound.

  Ed turned, peering into the gray mist. A creature was coming, hurrying rapidly. A man—a man in a white robe. Behind him others came. Men in white, with equipment. They were lugging complex machinery.

  “Hey—” Ed gasped weakly.

  The men stopped. Their mouths opened. Their eyes popped.


  “Something’s gone wrong!”

  “One still charged.”

  “Get the de-energizer.”

  “We can’t proceed until—”

  The men came toward Ed, moving around him. One lugged a long hose with some sort of nozzle. A portable cart came wheeling up. Instructions were rapidly shouted.

  Ed broke out of his paralysis. Fear swept over him. Panic. Something hideous was happening. He had to get out. Warn people. Get away.

  He turned and ran, back down the stairs. The stairs collapsed under him. He fell half a flight, rolling in heaps of dry ash. He got to his feet and hurried on, down to the ground floor.

  The lobby was lost in the clouds of gray ash. He pushed blindly through, toward the door. Behind him, the white-clad men were coming, dragging their equipment and shouting to each other, hurrying quickly after him.

  He reached the sidewalk. Behind him the office building wavered and sagged, sinking to one side, torrents of ash raining down in heaps. He raced toward the corner, the men just behind him. Gray clouds swirled around him. He groped his way across the street, hands outstretched. He gained the opposite curb—

  The sun winked on. Warm yellow sunlight streamed down on him. Cars honked. Traffic lights changed. On all sides men and women in bright spring clothes hurried and pushed: shoppers, a blue-clad cop, salesmen with briefcases. Stores, windows, signs . . . noisy
cars moving up and down the street. . . .

  And overhead was the bright sun and familiar blue sky. Ed halted, gasping for breath. He turned and looked back the way he had come. Across the street was the office building—as it had always been. Firm and distinct. Concrete and glass and steel.

  He stepped back a pace and collided with a hurrying citizen. “Hey,” the man grunted. “Watch it.”

  “Sorry.” Ed shook his head, trying to clear it. From where he stood, the office building looked like always, big and solemn and substantial, rising up imposingly on the other side of the street.

  But a minute ago—

  Maybe he was out of his mind. He had seen the building crumbling into dust. Building—and people. They had fallen into gray clouds of dust. And the men in white—they had chased him. Men in white robes, shouting orders, wheeling complex equipment.

  He was out of his mind. There was no other explanation. Weakly, Ed turned and stumbled along the sidewalk, his mind reeling. He moved blindly, without purpose, lost in a haze of confusion and terror.

  The clerk was brought into the top-level administrative chambers and told to wait.

  He paced back and forth nervously, clasping and wringing his hands in an agony of apprehension. He took off his glasses and wiped them shakily.

  Lord. All the trouble and grief. And it wasn’t his fault. But he would have to take the rap. It was his responsibility to get the summoners routed out and their instructions followed. The miserable flea-infested summoner had gone back to sleep—and he would have to answer for it.

  The doors opened. “All right,” a voice murmured, preoccupied. It was a tired, care-worn voice. The clerk trembled and entered slowly, sweat dripping down his neck into his celluloid collar.

  The old man glanced up, laying aside his book. He studied the clerk calmly, his faded blue eyes mild—a deep, ancient mildness that made the clerk tremble even more. He took out his handkerchief and mopped his brow.

  “I understand there was a mistake,” the old man murmured. “In connection with Sector T137. Something to do with an element from an adjoining area.”