"Fuck!" Traveler hollered, wishing he could slam the door of his time machine open rather have it slide open with a quiet whine. Instead he kicked the shit out of a small maintenance robot unfortunate enough to happen across his path at this moment. He destroyed the machine with his boots and scattered its remains across the deck as he stormed from his machine. The sounds of his anguished cry followed by the demise of the hapless robot echoed off the walls of the hanger space.
Rædis had gone down to where Traveler liked to park the machine to meet him. Traveler had only been gone a few hours but that meant nothing with regards to time travel. Weeks, months, years could have passed personally for his friend in the few hours of his absence.
Since becoming friends, Traveler was much less apt to go off on his own like this. Rædis was soon to discover why.
Whenever he did however, Rædis was very wary and concerned over the state his friend might return in. Traveler was not naturally born to move freely within time and found his personal homeostasis vulnerable to the rigors of such a remarkable thing. One of the most susceptible aspects of this to damage was the man's mind and though he'd never admit to it, his heart.
Over the years he'd spent cruising the fourth dimension, Traveler had come to rely on a somewhat loose but substantial regime of chemicals and various drugs from times across history to sustain the life functions ravaged by traveling in time, both physical and mental. The more the man used his machine, the greater his dependancy on these chemicals. Rædis could immediately discern by the condition of his friend that he had been using the machine extensively.
"Welcome home, Trav." was all he ventured to say. Traveler kept walking. He passed the beach chair Rædis was sitting in and the robot smoothly got to his feet and caught him up.
"How long?" he asked of his friend eager to know how much personal time Traveler had taken on this solo trip.
Traveler tore off his aviator sunglasses and threw them over his shoulder. They clattered to a stop on the shiny floor behind them. The left lens now cracked. He stopped and looked at his friend. His eyes were bloched as if he'd been crying recently and his pupils were so wide almost no color showed around his irises. He instantly wished he'd not removed his glasses.
"I'll tell you later." Traveler said and went to his quarters. Rædis did not see him again for four days. When he did, Traveler looked much better. He was clean shaven and smelled rather good. He was dressed as sharp and as interesting as usual. The metallic fabrics of his clothes giving him a bright appearance, almost an aura of rainbow light surrounding him as it reflected off his suit. Rædis himself was in his natural, robotic form. His bright eyes tracking Traveler as he entered the lounge that enveloped them in spacey oppulence.
"Hey Ræ." he said as he went to a small cube of a refrigerator for a drink. He withdrew a can of cherry Coke and popped the top. He switched one of the lounges screens on just to hear someone else talking besides himself for a change. This was a signal to Rædis that his friend was about to get serious. He had waited patiently for days to learn what had happened to Traveler. He leaned forward on the sofa he was sitting on.
"Traveler." Rædis said in greeting but that was all.
Traveler took a sip of his drink and lit a cigarette he had tucked behind his ear. He exhaled ordinary, gray smoke and looked levelly at the living machine.
"Eighteen months." he said. Rædis had thought his friend's recent excursion in time would have been a lot longer given the state he was in when he first got back.
"Tell me about it." Rædis simply said.
One of the things Traveler liked best about Rædis was he could launch into conversation with him without preamble or prologue. The machine wasn't big on small talk and had a limitless attention span. They could not speak for days and pick up conversation very easily.
"There was a world in trouble. I have some good friends there. A cool kid, a family of local animals that lived in a tree..." he paused. "...maybe a woman."
Rædis gave him a sarcastic look.
"Okay, maybe two." he admitted sheepishly.
"The point is their planet was about to get smacked by a killer comet out of deep space. Their science had seen it coming for years but they were powerless to do anything about it. They had tried to knock it off course but the thing was huge and they only managed to alter it enough for a glancing blow. It still would have destroyed their world, their civilization, everything. I knew I could save them. All of them, not just my friends." he took a drag from his cigarette.
"And you failed?" Rædis asked, sliding an ashtray across the coffee table between them. It was musical and played the jingle of the beer brewer that was labeled on the thing. Rædis instantly regretted doing this but it didn't disrupt his friend's tale.
"No! Of course not. It was a simple matter of celestial mechanics. Like playing billiards with really big balls." Traveler
"I thought I worked out all the temporal repercussions. That was the hard part. But I'm good at that..."
And he was. Really good at it. He could project his mind along multiple pathways through time. He could calculate outcomes and possibilities to exponential numbers. Even Rædis marveled at how his mind worked and the things he could do with it. As a machine, Rædis' thought processes were far too linear and logical to even begin to understand the twisted, abstract and plain fucked up things the way Traveler could.
"But I forgot about the cat." He sighed heavily and ashed the smoke.
"There was a cat?" Rædis interrupted. He loved cats.
"Yeah. There was a cat." Traveler said testily, in no mood for Rædis' cuteness.
"It was apparently more important than I reckoned." he said, crushing out the cigarette. He took a seat next to Rædis.
"In some way I missed, the cat needed to be in a specific place at a specific time, you know...the usual temporal bullshit that I have to take into consideration on these types of missions."
Rædis nodded. He had been made well aware of certain fundamentals of time travel through his association with his weird friend.
"But I didn't. And when I got back to the world, my friends were gone. Lost in the pool of time I can no longer find." Traveler's eyes welled up with tears but not a single one fell. He would not allow it. He'd been moving through time for far too long to shed tears of regret. His former tears were spilt out of anger and frustration. However he was still a man and not totally as heartless as he presented himself. Not by a longshot.
Traveler wiped his eyes and regained his cool exterior but the mirth he usually expressed did not return to his face. He settled back into the plushness of the couch and looked dejected.
"But you saved them all." Rædis said, offering consolation but his words seemed to bounce off his friend. Traveler said nothing, just sighed again and swallowed hard as if eating his own loathsome feelings. They sat in silence for a long time. The chatter from the screen the only sound save for Traveler's periodic, contemplative sighs.
Rædis concluded as he had before that being a time traveler is resigning oneself to a very special and cruel kind of isolation. While everything changes around a time traveler, they alone have to continue on with the knowledge of events that now never were or never may be.
Traveler turned just his head, met his best friend's eyes and finally spoke.
"Rædis..." he began then searched for the words he wanted to say.
"I promise I'll never use the machine again without you along. I couldn't take it if I ever did something to lose you in time. I..." he hesitated. "...I appreciate your consistency."
As soon as he said this he realised it was among the greatest of compliments he could have paid the living robot. Rædis beamed. The lights behind his odd eyes ticked up a several levels in luminosity. He smiled and said:
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, my friend."
Rædis realized it was not only because they had such fun together but Traveler needed a companion who kept the same time as him. He valued the machine's perfect memory and overall durability especially when it came to adventures in time.
"Do you want a hug?" Rædis asked the time traveler. Traveler's lips quivered until he could contain his grin no longer. He laughed.
"No." he stuttered through his chuckling. "I need a vacation!" He sprung up from the sofa with renewed vigor. "Let's go somewhere fun!" he said as he made for the lounge door with a spring in his step, heading for the bridge.
"That's the spirit!" Rædis smiled and stood up to follow. In his time spent with his friend, Rædis realized the one thing nature abhorred more than a vacuum was a paradox and that it would be merciless in keeping one from happening and do unspeakably strange things to somebody who tried to, willingly or not, create one. A thought occurred to him as he entered the bridge. Traveler was already creating a particularly bawdy holiday with the ship's computer.
"Traveler..." he said. "...you know anything is possible. You may find your friends again. And I'm sure they know it was you that saved them. They must still exist in a reality just waiting for us to discover." Traveler snapped his fingers and pointed at Rædis without looking from the monitor he was fixed on.
"Good thinking. I like that. Thanks pal." said Traveler with genuine cheer. His relentless optimism was returning.
"What'cha planning over there?" Rædis asked curious and relieved his friend's bouts of time addled depression were relatively short.
Traveler fixed him with a mischievous grin.
"You up for a race?"