Proximity Alert
sketch
g00d_d0ggie
D0G has been on patrol for six hours, thirty-three minutes, and seven seconds, plodding in a slow circle with a quarter-mile radius and the Borealis at its center. Ever since Shephard's scouting party left his scanning range five hours and two minutes ago, there has been nothing but flat scrubland as far as the optic can see.

Alyx had offered to send D0G with the scouting team, but Shephard declined. D0G doesn't really understand why, but it doesn't matter. Alyx is smart and Shephard is smart, and D0G does as he's told. And he's been told to patrol the perimeter, so that's just what he's going to do.

He can still think about other things, though. Like how upset Alyx was when he last saw her. D0G wishes he could have stayed with her to make her feel better, but this is where she wants him to be. Maybe she's feeling better now because of that. He can't really tell without going back, though, and that would make her feel bad all over again...

Homecoming
that's my name don't wear it out
g00d_d0ggie
It has been thirty hours, seventeen minutes, and twelve seconds since D0G's detour to Milliways. He's been traveling continuously for that entire time, aside from one instance where he caused a small rockslide and spent four minutes extracting his foot from underneath a boulder. The small repairs that Ed made are holding, if only just.

It's dark, but dawn is beginning to break. He'll be in Rowlesburg before sunrise.

Five seconds later...
zero-point energy
g00d_d0ggie
Slowly, quietly, D0G pokes his head back out through the door. Sure enough, the scanners are right where he left them, low in the western sky and moving slowly, almost lazily, toward his position. But he's not very visible with just his head poking out; if he stays absolutely still, he has a good chance of escaping undetected.

Robots are very, very good at holding still if the situation calls for it.

As they approach, the scanners descend and spread out, covering the entire ruined village at an elevation of thirty feet. A few of them descend further to investigate one building or another, but apparently find nothing of interest, because they quickly rise again to the level of their siblings.

If D0G had lungs, he'd be holding his breath just now.

Two minutes and fifty-one seconds later, almost all of the scanners have all passed through the town. Almost. There's one straggler. As it passes the building where D0G is hiding, it slows and turns to face the combat droid directly.

D0G's response is immediate and decisive. hmmmmm - TCHOOOM goes the zero-point energy gun, grabbing the scanner and smashing it against the wall before it can react. D0G immediately freezes again--did the other scanners hear that? Apparently not; they're rising back up to continue their journey east.

Once the swarm is out of sight, D0G bends down to get a better look at the creature-device-object he's just smashed. It's smaller than a roller mine, and irregularly shaped, with several antennas and a large optic on the front, now cracked and useless thanks to D0G's assault. The droid has never seen anything quite like it. Why is that?

D0G carefully wedges the remains of the scanner into his undercarriage basket, on top of Skitch and the battery pack Ellen Park made for him. Alyx will be able to figure it out, once he finds her.

Check Battery
sketch
g00d_d0ggie
Go to Alyx. Protect Skitch. Avoid being tracked by the Combine.

Each of these directives is simple enough in and of itself. Doing all three at once, though... that's trickier. If D0G travels at maximum speed, he risks having Skitch tumble out of his makeshift basket. If he takes the most direct route to Rowlesburg, down an old interstate highway, he'll be out in the open where anyone can see him. He has to go slow and stick to wooded areas, weaving between the tree trunks where he won't be spotted from above and where there's little snow in which he can leave a track.

Unfortunately, this means it will take a lot longer to reach his destination. D0G has been traveling for thirty-nine hours, forty minutes, and one second. Rowlesburg is still approximately one hundred and eighty miles away.

Skitch still shows no signs of life. D0G hopes that Alyx will be able to fix him.

Meanwhile, D0G has another concern: his batteries are starting to run low. He could pull out his solar panels, but at this time of year, it would take at least ten days to fully recharge--assuming a total lack of cloud cover and D0G remaining in standby mode for the duration. No, he'll have to find another source of power. Fortunately, he knows just where to look for it.

There's a break in the trees up ahead. It's difficult to tell with his optic as scratched as it is, but D0G thinks he can see buildings in the clearing. Where there are buildings, there is electricity, or the means to produce electricity. He should be able to find some means of recharging his batteries there.

He limps out into the open to get a better look at the area. It's a small town, or the remains of one, anyway. The nearer buildings are collapsed and nearly invisible under the snow, but there are more solid brick buildings further on, and a handful of still-standing utility poles pointing the way in. They seem to be clustered toward the far edge of town--could there be a power station there? D0G lumbers into the town, picking his way around the snow-covered remains of houses, seeking out the spaces with the least snow to track through.

The snow muffles sound to some degree, but not completely. As he reaches the first of the mostly-intact buildings, D0G can hear a faint humming noise coming from somewhere in the distance. He cocks his head, trying to pinpoint the sound's location and what's causing it. It doesn't quite sound like anything he's ever heard before... like Combine scanners, but not quite...

!!!

It's coming from the west, and there are scanners. Maybe not the same kind D0G is used to, but there they are, drifting in over the treeline like a flock of misshapen birds. In a few seconds, they'll be close enough to spot him against the snow, and then--

There is no 'and then.' Because D0G is going to duck in through the open garage door and conceal himself as best he can.

Damage Assessment
what's that?
g00d_d0ggie
Robots don't feel pain. This one doesn't, at least. He has sensors that detect when part of his hardware is damaged, or is under strain to the point that it might become damaged if he doesn't back off. The signals reported by those sensors don't constitute 'pain,' in the conventional sense of the word, but they're as close as he can get without a biological nervous system.

Almost every one of those sensors is reporting damage when D0G's system reboots.

Chassis: 34% damaged. Electrical connectivity: 33%. Optical sensor: 41%. Auditory sensors: 22%. Tactile sensors: 27%. Servomotors: 30%. Zero-point energy field manipulator: 5%.

D0G shifts his right arm and, slowly and laboriously, drags himself out from under the collapsed roof and pushes himself semi-upright. His left arm isn't responding at all, and, once the dust and static has cleared from his optic, he can see why; it's been torn clean off, shoulder joint wrenched straight out of the socket. The rest of him isn't in very good shape, either, but it's not enough to keep him from functioning.

He's been offline for twenty-one minutes, thirty-nine point two seconds, according to his internal system clock. There's no sign of the dropships and not much left of White Forest. Where there were low-lying buildings and radio towers, now there's nothing but rubble, twisted metal, and smoldering ashes.

Woooooooop? D0G calls, plaintively. There is no response.

Is anyone still here? Is Alyx still here? No, of course not. Alyx went on the boat. But the boat's not here anymore. Where did it go?

D0G picks his way through the rubble toward the ravine where the Borealis was parked half an hour ago. There's no sign the ship was even there, except... wait. That rock looks different. He limps over to get a better look.

The rock's surface is broad and flat, and six words have been hastily carved into it:

ADO -
TOOK BOAT
WENT HOME
- DAN

Dan. The only Dan at White Forest was Dan Shephard, Corporal Shephard's brother. 'Home' for Corporal Shephard is Rowlesburg, which is in West Virginia, almost due southwest of here. That's where Alyx is. That's where D0G needs to go.

First, though, he needs to look through the remains of White Forest. Just in case someone got left behind.



After seventeen minutes of searching, he finds someone.

Pinned under a slab of concrete in what used to be Alyx's workspace is a tiny white plastic form, limp and inert. D0G lifts the slab and pulls Skitch out, letting out a whine of concern. The little robot doesn't respond. D0G taps Skitch's chest, then his head, then rocks him back and forth, hoping to wake him. Still nothing. The tiny robot's eyes don't light, and his servos don't so much as twitch.

Mwooooooooaaaaaaaaaawwww... D0G bawls. Skitch can't be dead, he just can't be! Alyx could fix him, couldn't she? But Alyx isn't here, she's in Rowlesburg, hundreds of miles away...

That's it. D0G will bring Skitch to where Alyx is and then she can fix him. D0G knows how he'll do it, too. Seven-point-five seconds' digging through the rest of the workspace uncovers a small basketlike affair with four straps attached. Alyx had been fiddling with this in her spare time to see if D0G could be rigged with a harness to carry the twins once they're born. The carrier is little more than a crude prototype, but it'll serve D0G's purpose.

Hooking the straps onto his own undercarriage one-handed is tricky, as is placing Skitch in the basket without causing further injury, but D0G is patient and he manages. Eeep mwrrrp, he says consolingly to his little friend. Don't worry, Skitch, you'll be back with Alyx again soon.

But before they can go, there's one last piece of business to take care of. D0G has to make sure the Combine can't follow them to Rowlesburg. And if he figured out Dan Shephard's message, they probably can too, right?

D0G lumbers back over to the carved rock. His built-in gravity gun has been knocked slightly out of alignment, but it's still trivially easy to pull the rock out of the ground and fling it across the ravine, where it hits the cliff face on the far side and shatters into a dozen pieces. He watches it shatter, then nods in satisfaction and turns to the southwest to start the long trek.

Rowlesburg, here they come.

(no subject)
y hello thar
g00d_d0ggie
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