The station smelt.
Even in the hangar, Cia could taste the tang in the air: oil and grease, metal glowing under the heat of welding torches, something unrecognizable cooking at a food stall nearby.
Out in the corridors, the smells were stronger. A sickly blend of perfumes drifting from a gaggle of girls clattering and chattering past with their gazes sliding over the off-shift deckhands and dockhands slouching towards the bars and clubs on Recreation Row; a warm wave of fetid stench from the waste-cans as they were dragged through the access alleys; the thick simmer of spices poured over food protein to give it some illusion of flavor.
There was no reason the station cyclers should be weaker in Syndicate than in Heimatar. No reason at all, Cia told herself.
The station still smelt.
She swallowed hard and tried to ignore it. "Anything, M'ser Burke?"
Tanith Burke, dressed in a faded jacket with the shoulder patch that marked him as a Mordu's veteran, shook his head. "Couldn't find anyone who said they'd seen her."
"But that's just Mordu's Legion, isn't it?" Cia asked. "I mean, Ami was with the, the ... 'Bunnies'. Did you ask them?"
"It's not," Burke said, "Quite so simple."
"That's not a good enough answer, M'ser Burke." Cia turned on her heel so fast her head spun and she had to stop for a moment.
"Maybe we should go back to the hangar," Helmi said quietly.
"I'm not going anywhere until we find - " A gust of air carried the smell of sweat and onions and beer from a couple wandering past with their arms entwined and Cia stopped, gagging.
"They're not going to be faster with watching over you at the same time," Helmi said.
"You mean I'm in the way," Cia said. "Am I in the way, M'ser Burke?"
"I wouldn't put it precisely that way," Burke said.
"Well, how would you put it?" Cia felt her eyes sting with tears and blinked hard. "She's my sister, M'ser Burke, my sister and I can't just sit around and - " A sob escaped, despite her best efforts, and she covered her face with her hands.
"Perhaps you should get some rest," Burke suggested. "We are professionals, Captain Roth. Do you know the old saying about the man who buys a dog and barks himself?"
Wiping her eyes, Cia shook her head. "But I think I take your point. I'm sorry, Tanith. I didn't mean to shout at you."
"I'm sure it's been a very trying time for you," Burke said noncomittally.
Cia sighed. "Do you think you'll find her soon?"
"We know she's on this station," Burke said. "But things aren't quite as straightforward here as you might be used to. People are very wary of strangers, especially strangers asking questions." He offered his arm, and when Cia took it, tactfully turned her in the direction of the hangars. "It may take some time to build up the neccessary contacts and trust."
"How much time?"
"I won't mislead you, Captain. Months, rather than weeks."
They walked in silence a moment, and then Burke cleared his throat. "Of course, there is an alternative."
"You could hire the local knowledge. In the person of a local operative, of some description. Of course, that would mean expanding the group of people aware of the situation, by one, at least."
"Oh," Cia said. "I don't want to ... but, months?"
"At least, Captain."
"Oh." She looked up at him. "Do you think that's what I should do? Hire someone?"
"I do," Burke said.
"Oh. Then, will you find someone for me to hire?"
They reached the hangar entrance and Burke stopped. "I'll look into it, Captain."
"Quickly, please," Cia said, having to blink back tears again. "I don't ... I don't like it here." She made herself smile, made her voice light. "It smells terrible. Like ..." Welded metal and cheap perfume, bulk spices and liquor and sweat. "Like the end of the universe."
One of Burke's eyebrows went up at that. "Sydnicate is not quite the end of the universe, Captain," he said. "There is still Solitude. And the Outer Ring."
"Well," Cia said. "We'd better hurry, then. I don't think - " She bit her lip. "I don't think it's a good idea."
To let her get any further away.