The daytime was not pleasant to a sneaking special forces candidate. The bright sun forced Spyker to stay low to minimize any chance of detection. His six-foot-tall frame was proving to be a hindrance, as it was not easy to bend over and stay that way for extended periods of time as he was being forced to do. It was made easier as Spyker could use the forest for cover, but that was coming to an end shortly.
Coming to the edge of the forest, Spyker saw that it gave way to a flat, plains-like area covered in tall grasses. There was no easy way through here, and even crawling would have given him away. The risen sun made his implant useless due to the residual heat from the solar rays beating down on the ground below, and the grasses concealed any patrols that would be visible from the ground.
Moving to his right, Spyker shimmied up a tree that would give him enough concealment to look over the field. Finding a fork in the branches, he shifted to gain a comfortable vantage point over the field. Using his hand to shield his eyes from the sun, Spyker scanned the area, searching for any sign of life. Now that he was up higher, he could see far more of the land, and carefully observed what lay ahead. The golden grasses were split into several farms, with roads, paths, and even a river running in between them.
A rustling and movement in the grasses caught Spyker's attention. Two other signs of movement also drew his eye, and he was able to identify these as patrol units who had spread out to cover a larger area. Their vantage points weren't great, but Spyker did manage to spot a pair of remotes high above. Their presence gave Spyker cause for concern. It was likely that they had thermal imaging sensors that would be able to pick out his heat signature from the ground below. Continuing his recon of the surrounding territory, he noticed that the river seemed to meander its way down towards the extraction point. The water would mask his thermal signature, and it did not seem like any of the patrols were searching the waterway. Dropping from the tree, Spyker stayed in the woods and moved towards where the river came out of the forest.
As he reached the riverbank, he took a quick moment to pop one of the ration cubes and drain one of the canteens of water. Dropping the remainder of the ration cubes into the now-empty container, he tightly screwed the cap on to keep them dry, then clipped it to his belt. He powered down his implant and suffered a bit of vertigo as his mind adjusted to the loss of sensory input from the optics, then swam out to the middle of the river and floated in a deadman's position, with just his face showing above water so he could breathe. He drifted lazily downstream, the easy current allowing him to conserve his energy. The water was warm, but its innate properties still served to mask the infrared signature of his body from the remotes overhead. Even from above, any signature that registered was likely to be discounted by their programming as a smaller mammal caught in the estuary.
In this fashion, he floated towards the extraction point far faster than he would have been able to move, all the while conserving energy and extending his supplies. Every so often, he would pull himself out of the river to dry off for a while; the fabrics in his clothing worked with the heat to both dry him rapidly and keep him cool in the hot sunlight before his next travel downstream. Using the river, it did not take him long to get close to the extraction point.
Pulling himself out of the water again, he noticed the sun was beginning to set, and with it was his time limit. He repowered his implant to make sure it had not suffered water damage, and it turned on without incident after running a short-duration self-diagnostic. Once again, he found himself in a forested glade, only he was less than a klick from the extraction. After coating his fair skin with mud to darken it, he moved like a ghost in fog, darting from shadow to shadow and stepping as lightly as possible so as to avoid noise from the sticks and leaves lying on the ground beneath his feet.
When he was about 25 meters from the clearing, he stopped and dropped into a crouch. Moving forward to see the extraction point, he saw that a LAAT/i had already landed, as if it was waiting for him. There were several people with what looked like E-11 carbines slung across their backs standing watch near the landing craft. The fading light of the planet's star cast an orange glow over the scene as Spyker drew back and thought of how to deal with this final challenge.
Picking up a rock, he crept forward again and concealed himself behind a tree. He threw the rock with enough force to draw the attention of one of the guards, then dropped prone. He could hear the reaction of the guard as he spoke to his comrades-in-arms.
"Hey, I think I heard something. I'm going to go check it out." Drawing the rifle from his back, the guard walked over near where Spyker lay. The corporal waited until he was out of sight of the other guards before springing up. Grabbing the barrel of the E-11, Spyker brought it up into the surprised guards face, smashing the nose and stunning him long enough for Spyker to disarm him and hit the side of the man's head with the rifle with just enough force to knock him unconscious. As the enemy soldier fell unconscious, Spyker dropped to a knee and listened for any sign that the encounter had been heard. Hearing no response, he turned the now-unconscious man onto his back, then stripped off his communications gear. Putting it on, he could hear the chatter of the other guards. Spyker listened intently as he hid the fallen guard under leaves and other forest matter.
"Hey, where'd Kal go? He's left his post."
"Said he heard a noise. Probably taking a leak. Want me to go look for him?"
"Do it. If you aren't back in two minutes, we'll come looking for you, too."
Having crept back to the edge of the clearing, Spyker could see a second guard move towards his position. Pulling behind a tree, Spyker waited for the man to draw close before reaching out and snaking an arm around his neck. He squeezed tightly for several seconds before he saw the man's eyes roll back in his head; that was the signal for him to release the chokehold. Gently lowering the man to the ground, Spyker checked to make sure the man was still breathing before covering him up and moving back to the edge of the clearing. Circling around until he was out of view of the remaining guards, he quickly and quietly moved to the rear of the LAAT/i.
Peeking around the corner of the craft, he saw one of the guards move to the other side to talk to the other remaining guard. Slinking to the now-blindside of the guards, Spyker crept on board, being very careful not to make any noise. There was no pilot on the ship, but that was no matter to him. Hiding himself in the rear section of the troop bay out of sight, Spyker waited for an opportunity to steal the craft and complete the operation. He didn't have to wait long before his stolen COM crackled.
"Kal, Darin, where are you guys? We need you back on station, pronto. Guys?"
When he got no response, the COM crackled again. "Aran, you're with me. We're going looking for them. Get a remote in the air."
Spyker could hear the high-pitched whine of a remote fade away as it moved away from the transport. Spyker knew he only had a few minutes before the guards found the two men he knocked out, and so he made his move towards the cockpit.
Peeking out of the open door, he could see the other two guards disappear into the woods on the same vector as the earlier two had. Spyker slipped into the pilot's chair of the LAAT/i, and performed the same abbreviated preflight he had done several long weeks prior at Dathomir during that fateful mission that saw him captured. Satisfied that everything was in working order, he hit the button to close the hatches on the side, then the switch to start the repulsors. A few seconds later, the shocked voices of the guards came over the headset COM.
"How the hell did he get past us?!
"If we get back, we might be able to catch him!"
Before they could make it back, Spyker had already dumped power into the craft's collective, rapidly gaining altitude. He squeezed the throttle and flew over the trees. As the LAAT/i retreated towards the base where Spyker was stationed for the exercise, he could hear the troopers left on the ground say one last thing.
"Damn it. Aran, get the Sarge on the horn; he got away with our LAAT. That's endex."
"Tell me why, Corporal, you saw fit to assault two Federation soldiers and steal Federation property?" Sergeant Malacross leaned over his desk, a hit of malice apparent in his voice. Undaunted, Spyker calmly and evenly replied to the inquiry.
"Sir. They were out of uniform. Their weapons were set to lethal levels, as evidenced by the rifle I brought back. They failed to identify themselves. They were in the way of the extraction point. There was no other choice, sir." A faint smile seemed to cross the Sergeant's face as he listened to the junior non-commissioned officer. He sat back in his chair as Spyker remained at crisp attention.
"Congratulations, Corporal. You passed your E&E."