There was the muted noise of machinery working, and then a bridge started to lower down from the cave ceiling, suspended on chain link. It hit the rocks on either side of a deep chasm with a loud, echoing clunk, and then the five travelers who had crossed the Stretch started their ways across it.
On the other side, Talar shook the hands of the newcomers and gave hugs to Laquin and Orn.
“Is Cine behind you?” he asked.
“No,” said Laquin. “He didn’t make it.”
The news seemed to hit Talar deeply, but he recovered quickly and nodded acceptance. “So it is. Come this way. We’ve been anxiously awaiting your return.”
Through a short archway that necessitated crawling under, the group entered the largest chamber of the cave yet. There were many lights all around the huge space, blinking or steady, in many different colors. Around some of these lights were crowded groups of people, working or talking. In the center of the space were three airships like the one Cine had crashed, and another such vehicle that sat on wheels. An underground river ran through the cave, crossed over by numerous bridges. There was a large mechanism along the banks of the river that looked to be a sort of holding tank, from which a network of tubes ran in and out. Beside this was a large kitchen area, with several long tables situated all around it. Talar led the newcomers over several of the bridges spanning the river, back and forth, until they reached the seating area.
“Please, sit,” he said. “I’m sure you’re all very hungry and thirsty.”
“We are,” said Orn. “Thank you.”
Talar went to the large tank that dominated the seating area and started to fill a ewer.
“They’ve returned!” said a woman working at one of the stations perched up the cave wall.
She and three others descended down a spiral staircase to where the team was drinking and starting to set into a bowl of food Talar put out for them.
“Where’s Cine?” one of them asked.
“He didn’t make it,” Talar answered.
The man’s knees buckled and he fell down onto a bench. “Didn’t make it?”
“I’m terribly sorry, Yin,” said Orn. “He saved our lives with his piloting, but there were three drones after us and he wasn’t able to escape them all.”
Yin didn’t seem like he was ready to accept Cine’s death.
“Are you sure?” he asked. “You’re sure he’s dead? Perhaps if I were to conduct a survey mission, back to the crash site…”
“There’s no way he’s was alive,” said Laquin. “He was in the cockpit when it smashed into a rock fin. I’m so sorry.”
“Well we can’t leave him out there,” Yin said. “We have to recover his body.”
Another offered, “I will help you, if that is possible. Cine wouldn’t want us to risk our lives or security for him.”
“How am I supposed to go on without him?” Yin asked.
“We are all here for you,” said Orn.
Yin rose from his seat and walked slowly off into a dark recess.
“It is certainly tragic that we have lost one of our greatest,” said Orn. “But it was not in vain. We accomplished our objective. We recovered the amulet from the fallen spacecraft.”
“That is some good news,” said Shan, another of the greeting party. “Great news.”
“And who are these newcomers to Haven?” asked Talar.
“This is Xala, and Anaxis, and Mills,” said Laquin. “They themselves were investigating the crash when we were besieged by Gnirean’s drones. They are from the village of Talx, from the western desert.”
“Welcome to Haven,” Shan said to them.
“Thank you,” said Xala. “I must say, this place is most intriguing.”
“Do you all live underground, all the time?” asked Mills.
“For the most part,” said Talar.
“What do you do down here?” asked Anaxis. “What are all these lights and machines?”
“After you eat,” said Talar, “I’ll show you.”
“Get ready,” said Laquin. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”