THE TOWER: in tarot, the 16th card of the Major Arcana. Its meaning:
Upright: sudden change, upheaval, chaos, revelation, awakening
Reversed: personal transformation, fear of change, averting disaster
In Old Prague, west of the Vltava, is a tower. Some ten years ago it had been home to a museum of alchemy, before the world turned its gaze to an augmented future and ceased to look back with such fascination at the past.
The aug incident left that future in the gutter. Now the tower and the house below it stand lonely and rotting, their once grand claim to have long ago housed mages and alchemists obscured beneath layers of graffiti and dirt. Along the narrow street leading towards the entrance, a pair of boots clack softly, silent walking augs not quite optimised to the cobblestones. They come to a stop in the archway over the entrance and augmented eyes peer through gold-black lenses into the dark.
By the door leading to the staircase, smart vision comes to rest on a figure huddled on the floor. A ragged coat hangs like a tent from a gaunt frame, though the rusting steel hands that attempt to pull it tighter are shaking from more than just the cold.
"You want her?" the figure mutters agitatedly, squinting towards the silhouette in the archway and managing to identify the faint gleam on augs in far better condition than his own. "She's still up there. Feeling stingy today, though. Told me I couldn't have any more doses this week. Don't know that you'll have better luck."
The silhouette takes a step closer, and shadows shift and soften into the shape of a man. When he speaks, his voice is a low rumble. "You always get your neuropozyne from here?"
Wary of the question, bloodshot eyes flit up and down, taking in the sleek shape of an expensive trenchcoat. "You don't, do you?"
"First time." It's said in a tone carefully modulated, giving nothing away.
"May as well go up, then. See if she's feeling more generous for you. Don't suppose you could do a favour for a friend, could you? Get some for me too. Ask if she'll let you have the first timer's deal."
The man tilts his head to the side. "Curfew's in fifteen minutes. You still gonna be here when I come out?"
The next sentence comes out through chattering teeth. "Ain't got nowhere else to be."
A glossy black hands slip inside the trenchcoat, and then emerges again clutching a single dose of neuropozyne still in its sterile packaging. Adam Jensen steps closer and drops the syringe into the man's lap.
"Word of advice," Jensen says, a silent footfall landing on the first step towards the tower. "Don't be here when I come out."
At the top of the staircase, there's an old heavy oak door waiting for him fitted with a far modern modern looking lock. The amber light blinking on the keypad says it isn't currently switched on, and tentatively, Adam reaches out to try the handle.
"Don't confront her yet," MacReady's voice reminds him over the infolink. "Just try and get a dose of the neuropozyne, see if we can match it to the stolen batch. Then we can hand this over to organised crime and be done with it."
"Yeah, I do remember the briefing, Mac," Jensen retorts, though his lips make only a slight movement as he leaves most of it subvocalised. Seems like the right call as, to his surprise, the door swings readily open. Almost immediately he's greeted by a voice from the room beyond.
"No," someone says sharply. "Appointments only after 8pm. You'll have to come back tomorrow. I'm not having people just randomly show up here thinking they can wait out the curfew." The voice is clear and cold with, to his further surprise, a crisp British accent.
"There's a man in the stairwell I think intends to do exactly that," Jensen says, not budging from his spot in the doorway as he takes in the circular room and it's sparse furnishings that place it somewhere between clinic and hovel.
"I don't care what he does in the stairwell, but fifteen minutes from now, I'm locking that door."
Just as Jensen takes a further pace inside, the speaker emerges from behind a free-standing cabinet located towards the back of the room. From this angle, the cabinet's contents are obscured from Adam's view, though he watches cautiously as the woman strides closer and sidesteps the old-fashioned dentist's chair located in the middle of the worn hardwood floor.
A black tanktop reveals the lengths of pale, organic arms currently crossed irritably over her chest, though what might be the beginnings of implantation scars creep up above her neckline where they halt like the Y-incision of an autopsy just below her collarbone. The markings on her face are easier to discern—a single vertical scar below her right eye, purpose unclear, while another scar forms a circle on her left brow with a line extending diagonally into a raven-dark hairline.
Late thirties to early forties, if Adam had to guess an age. There's something about her face that makes it hard to pin down.
She comes to a stop in front of him and glares.
"Why haven't you already?" Adam says.
A scowl. "I was getting to it."
"Look, we can make this quick. I'm just here for a standard dose of nu-poz. We make the trade, and I can be out of your hair."
She tilts her head, lips pursing, and already Jensen can tell she's suspicious. "When was your last dose?"
"Some two weeks ago."
"You don't exactly look any worse off for it. Come back when you're suffering."
"Please." Jensen had never been a theater kid in high school, but he injects a note of desperation into his voice and hopes he makes the play convincing. "I wouldn't normally come somewhere like this—"
"Yeah. That's obvious."
"—but I'm getting pretty desperate."
A beat. Considering, her grey eyes fix on him intently, as if trying to defeat the opacity of his mirror shades just by staring hard enough. "You know my rates?"
"I'm told you're the most affordable in Prague."
"That's what you heard?" The corner of her mouth twitches. "In so many words?"
"Enough banter, Jensen. Just make an offer. We don't want this investigation dragging out."
"Look, let's say fifty credits. Sound reasonable to you?"
The woman smirks. "Listen, Chromium. I'll tell you my rates." Already close, she takes another step towards him, pale eyes glinting with a hint of menace. "One dose of neuropozyne in exchange for one pint of blood. First timer's special, you can have two syringes for one and a half pints. Still want to trade?"
Caught off guard, Adam blinks, and is grateful she can't see it.
"Intel never mentioned that," MacReady's voice says in his ear, equally perplexed. "Not heard anything about blood harvesting, but this isn't my usual rodeo. The neuropozyne's the priority. I'll get some agents to look into the rest."
"Can I get a look at the merchandise first?" Adam says, voice hardening. She scowls back, and figuring this won't be straightforward, he surreptitiously switches on his CASIE.
"It's neuropozyne. Comes in a little packet with the Versalife logo stamped on it. I'm sure you've seen it before."
The CASIE is apparently having trouble registering a target. No data, flashes across his HUD, and Adam thinks it could have picked a better time to malfunction.
"Just want to be sure I'm getting the real deal."
"Shame. Door's behind you. Like I said, I'm locking it now."
She steps forward and plants a finger on his chest, attempting to push him back through the exit, and as Adam flounders for a reason why CASIE still isn't working he figures he'll have to do without.
"Wait. Fine. Let's do this."
She stops, steps back again, and smirks. He doesn't need a social enhancer to read the look of satisfaction her face. "Alright. Well, from the look of your arms, it's gonna have to be boots off." Her eyes pan up and down in an appraising once-over.
"You won't have much luck with a vein down there either."
The scowl returns. "Did you come here for the sole purpose of annoying me?"
Goes both ways, he thinks, and wonders why she'd turned down the man in the stairwell for blood if she's prepared to take his. "What do you want blood for, anyway?"
A shrug, and she turns away, crossing back to the dentist's chair as she adjusts it into a recline. Adam knows he's expected to get on. "I could give you a thousand guesses, and you'd never figure it out."
"What? Should I be concerned I'm dealing with a vampire?"
A soft chuckle, barely audible without the assistance of cochlear implants. "You want a serious answer, make a serious guess."
Short of stepping on her toes and arousing her suspicions further, Adam isn't sure he has one. He steps up to the chair, glancing round once more at his surroundings before he's content to climb in. Medical and laboratory equipment is strewn haphazardly across a table near the back of the room, currently being transferred without much care to the surface of a cart that she wheels towards him: hypodermic needles, disposable tourniquets and plastic tubing, accompanied by more blood collection bags than he thinks she strictly needs.
The only viable exit is the door through which he's entered. There's a window on the east face of the tower, but even while the drop on the other side is no concern, the narrowness of it seems like a greater obstacle than it is escape route. Then again, he's sure he's crawled through air vents narrower.
"Hop on," the woman prompts him irritably, and Adam shrugs the trenchcoat from his shoulders and takes a seat.
"What should I call you, anyway?" He manages to sound casual, but as he leans back with the scent of old leather and sour blood reaching his nostrils, unease begins to prickle more insistently along his spine.
"Whatever you've been calling me in your head."
He can think of several rude things he might have been calling her, but doesn't voice them. "Guy who told me about this place said your name was Morana."
He doesn't believe it's her name for a second.
Answering his unspoken question about what she even needs the tourniquets for, 'Morana' takes one of the disposable rubber ribbons and begins using it to fasten his wrist to the chair. Adam starts, briefly sitting up an inch straighter as he tugs his hand away. "Hold up, I didn't agree to that."
"Please." She rolls her eyes. "As if you couldn't break it if you needed to. I'm about to stick a needle in your neck. All I'm doing is encouraging you not to move."
"So you're going for the jugular, then?"
"It's either that or your chest. You got a preference?"
He decides that neck is fine.
With a deep breath, Adam leans back in the seat again, letting her finish securing his hands and realising the restraints really are barely restraints at all. He wonders what he should expect if she seems concerned about him flinching too hard.
"Small prick," comes the answer to his unspoken question. "Actually, no, not gonna lie. You'll probably think you're being stabbed."
He eyes the needle, conveniently held in his line of sight as she opens the sterile packaging. It seems unnecessarily large.
"What, you can't numb it?"
"Sure. But then it wouldn't hurt."
Like you haven't had worse, he tells himself, nonetheless unsettled as she moves around to the back of his head and out of his field of vision.
"I hope you know what you're doing," MacReady's voice growls in his head. "You fuck this up, I'm not sending more agents to come pick you up off the floor."
Adam would retort subvocally, but his mind is currently preoccupied.
"One and a half pints," the woman reminds him, "Then two syringes of fresh, top-quality nu-poz are all yours."
Adam grits his teeth and waits to feel the needle break his skin.