~ Jaden blinked and looked around himself. By all appearances he was standing in a rolling meadow... Alone.
"Andy?" he called, as loudly as he dared. When he got no answer he tried again. "Anybody?" Still no one answered. He quickly pulled off his pack and unzipped one of the front pockets, dumping out a couple of nutri-bars in his hurry to get at his radio. Jerking open the zip-lock bag it had been protected in, Jaden flipped the radio on.
"Team 6, this is Jaden, please respond." A moment passed and Jaden repeated his call. There was silence for a second more before the radio crackled.
"Takyle here, where are you and is Andrew with you?" With Takyle's message Jaden was simultaneously hit with relief and fear.
"Andrew isn't here and I don't know where 'here' is. I'm in some sort of grassland or something."
"Me too. Give it a minute, maybe Andrew will key in." Takyle advised calmly.
As if called by prophecy that second the radios buzzed one more time and Andrew's voice came through, tinny and distant sounding.
"Team 6, Andrew here, please respond."
"We're here Andrew," Takyle answered.
"Oh, thank Ishvara," said Andrew.
"Andrew, do you know where you are?" Takyle interrupted.
"Ok, then I'd guess that this is an independent level."
"Is that normal?" asked Jaden.
"Not extraordinarily so," said Takyle. I remember them putting one in six years ago."
"So what, Boss?" asked Andrew. "Explore but maintain radio contact?" Takyle was silent for a short moment.
"Yes, that would probably be best. Be careful."
"Yes Ma'am," Andrew and Jaden both answered.
"Good. Takyle out."
"Ditto," chimed in Andrew, and Jaden's radio went quiet. He tood a deep, calming breath and then tucked the walkie talkie into one of the pouches on the back of his utility belt. Swinging his pack back onto his shoulder, he took another look around. A bush bearing pinkish flowers grew a few yards to the left. Not as good as a tree, but it would do as a landmark.
Jaden snapped one of the branches off and lay it on the ground, pointing in the the direction he intended to go first.
"I'll call it "North"," Jaden murmured to himself as he started off. As he walked, Jaden kept up a running commentary under his breath, partly to cement anything that might be of importance in his memory and partly just to fill the void of no one else to talk to. He found himself tending toward mildly disabling continual curiosity about what his surroundings might signify.
"Those rocks are sort of in an arrow shape. That's encouraging."
"Wind to my back, that's always a good sign."
"The sun's still high so there's probably more than enough time to finish whatever this is before dark."
"A pair of geese flying in the same direction that I'm walking; How could that be anything but a good omen?"
"If a grasshopper jumps out of the way when you're walking... What does that mean?"
"Shut up," his mind ordered.
"Fine, geez! What's your problem?"
"No really. Shut up."
And so Jaden did. ~