Toph is gripping her seat tightly, not used to being in mecha at such speeds when she is not the one at the rudder! This is not too different than Nap of the Earth flying in my Ajax, except I'm usually the one steering.
It was a very strange experience, being in a tank in the first place, much less one being literally dropped into flight like a pre-space jet fighter. Tanks weren't meant to fly! And yet here they were, maybe not flying exactly, but close enough for the record books. It was also very strange being in the "backseat" of an aircraft. Though she'd chosen the position herself, Elinor had to work to keep her hands from reaching for controls that weren't at her station. Trust in Cera, she told herself. Which you do, which is why she's driving and you're gunning. This is her craft, moreso than any desk-jockey engineer! Self-scolding over, Elinor let herself enjoy that wild ride down (or almost down) to the ground and off down the roads of west Florida."3... 2... 1... DROP."
Elinor also let out a whoop of exhilaration as they cleared the obstacle. Cera could really fly this thing! She also remembered something she'd come across in an old book: The map is not the territory. The file is not the man.* It meant that you could study all you want, but reality was more than any books could tell you. She grinned to herself. That, after all, was why test pilots were needed! And here she was, helping field-test a completely new mecha. Life was good.The Wild Cards saw the lesson firsthand - nothing could take the place of real training, though technopathy gave a person one hell of an edge!
Elinor nodded, though of course he couldn't see her, and added by way of reply, "Cool as cucumbers." Privately to Cera she continued, "He means that we should all stay calm and alert. It's not an order, because he doesn't outrank us; it's advice and camaraderie, squadmate to squadmate.""Keep frosty, everyone."
"Remind me later and I'll show you," Elinor replied. Time was a bit tight just then.Cera grunted as she kept her focus on the controls of the speeding Mjolnir. "Agreed, dentella. It cannot be an order because he is not leader. No male should lead an Ura-Meltrandi. I just wanted to know what a cucumber was..."
Elinor answered for Mack, who had other things on her mind. "Well, there's no point giving them information they don't already have. Scavengers aren't on anyone's side but their own. They're a bunch of thugs who don't care what happens to anyone except themselves, so they kill and steal from anyone weaker than they are." Her contempt was plain enough -- she had no respect for lowlifes like that. "I don't think he was so much giving intelligence as taunting and hoping we'd go after it, so he and his could pick up the scraps of what was left afterwards."Cera took the wide right turn onto the highway behind Mario. Soon, you were rocketing down rain-soaked streets with no further contact from the Scavengers. "Why do you not speak with these... Scavengers? If you are enemies, then why did he aid us with intelligence?"
"Yes'm," Elinor replied. "Muppet and I go inside for the rescue while you, Cera, and Mario take care of the heavies outside. Got it.""All right then," Lt. Mack replied. "Wild Cards, here's our play. When the General's Ajax squadron takes the bait (and here's hoping they do!), we move in on the safehouse! Drivers, stay with your tanks and hold off the Malcontents. If the safehouse gets blown to pieces then we probably lose anyone inside. Gunners? Get out of the tanks and into the safehouse, preferably before they lock the place up tight! We'll buy you time against the Malcontents until you can get The Colonel out! Got it?"
Toph looked down to her hips to discover there were no holsters because there were no sidearms. Out of the corner of her eye, she did spot two side-by-side storage lockers. One door opened both lockers unless they were separately locked. A single glance told her they were unlocked. In there (so her technopathy told her) there were two survival packs and rifles with ammunition, but hadn't Spaceman Sam "said" something about that? Reaching over,She then checks her sidearms, taking a moment to familiarize herself with the new weapons and being careful not to fire them. Sliding them back into the holsters, Toph takes up the gunner controls once more.
Mario pauses, then asks, "Does anyone know if these Malcontents are equipped with the standard gear of the Zentraedi of our time, or are they remnants of the Zeki-Zentraedi ship like that Beastmaster that Lt. Toph took out? It is always good to know your enemy."
Hearing Toph's voice, Professor Stein replied over the speakers with mock-gruffness. "You don't think you will know what? Are you replying to someone you are hearing, little Miss Muppet? Don't think I don't hear you!"Toph feels a slight chill go down her back, thinking about how close things came to a bad end. "I don't think we'll know until we are actually in close quarters with them. In any case, we have a job to do, and by God, we'll do it! Just be cautious out there."
Mario had almost missed this command as he was so focused on the mission, but Mack's voice snapped him out of it. "Yes, ma'am! Hmmm. Don't worry Cera. I promise not to make you look too bad out there when the bullets start flying. After all, between the two of us, I'm the one that's responsible for firing off those nukes to kill that Assault Scout in the middle of battle."The feisty Californian grinned. "Let's find out! We can spare a moment for some corporal bonding! Zuko! Tease Cera back! That's an order!"