She is one of the most willful, courageous, endearing and vengeful Valkyries I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She is also a crux in Cyberwar. And I love her.
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Once again, Waltz found himself checking his pockets for the A-block phone that was not there. He walked slowly to the end of the hall in the dark and felt wholly unprepared. Before his hand could touch the door there was a buzz and someone spoke to him.
“Tell me who you are and why you are here,” said a silky voice.
“My name is William Waltz. Is this Xera?”
“Is that why you’re here? What do you want with Xera?” she said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’m not comfortable discussing business with someone from the other side of a door,” he said coolly.
Shadows draped the hallway and added to his unease. He was not used to being given the third degree before even getting a look at his interviewer or his surroundings. Fear gave way to anger and annoyance. He turned to stalk away.
“Business, Mr. Waltz?” He stopped and rounded back.
“Yes. With Xera. Is there a way I can see about meeting with her?” he asked.
“She is indisposed for the foreseeable future I am afraid, Mr. Waltz,” said the voice growing playful and sultry.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come back another-“
“I can’t! You tell her that a powerful client is going to be dead if she doesn’t intervene right now,” said Waltz quickly. “If I seem on edge, it’s because I’m not used to being the one that’s threatened, but there it is.”
“Looks like I’ll be able to coax more than one word conversations out of you after all. Last question: where did you hear the name Xera?”
“Smokin’ Joe Ricca. He’s a bit of a slob, but not a bad guy. I occasionally barter with him in Port,” answered Waltz.
“I’m going to buzz you in. I can’t get to the door just now, but you can come in and tell me all about your . . . business,” she said. A loud buzz shook plaster dust from the ceiling. He stepped into Xera’s and was happy to see that at least one lamp was on.
* * *
Despite a single lamp on an end table, Xera Finn’s place was a house of shadows. The deep gray lines and black circles criss-crossed and draped Xera’s, keeping the place hidden in every way. Only a bathroom at the far end of the hall offered any real light, and it spilled from the door that was ajar, like sunlight following a lunar eclipse. He squinted and heard rain begin to pelt the roof outside.
In actuality, the light in the bathroom was not that bright. William Waltz entered the doorway and saw that two lampshades, made of thick frosted glass, covered a pair of fifty-watt incandescent bulbs that protruded from each side of the wall behind the sink; he would not have been able to shave in that kind of light.
He stepped fully into the room and stared down at an extraordinary pale woman. She was stretched out in a corroded iron bathtub with one stocking-ed leg over the rim, while her head rested back on a rolled up towel. Her dark, piercing eyes looked at him in a relaxed, observant manner and her hair hung in wet strands toward the floor, as though it were fingering her very brain. He caught his breath.