The blinding flash subsided, and the room was silent again. There was the usual eerie moment of uncertainty before either one of them made a move.
"Right, let's go," Slade said, heading for the door.
"What is it?" he asked, turning to see what Holly was objecting to.
"I. I don't know," she replied. She was examining the watch, poised to strap it to her wrist. She held it up for him to see. "Something's wrong. Look."
He crossed the room and peered over her shoulder. Sure enough, the digits of the watch, which usually displayed how far into the past they had travelled, were all stuck on nine.
Slade frowned. "Digital readout broken?"
"This is serious, Slade," Holly said, waving the watch at him. "We have no idea how far we have travelled and no idea when we need to be back at the machine!"
"Well, let's take a look outside and see if we can work it out," he replied, opening the door that led into the hallway. At that moment, he felt himself lose his footing. There was a metallic skidding sound, and before he knew it Slade was flat on his back on the floor. He groaned.
"Are you all right?" Holly, keeping her voice low.
"Yeah, I'm sure the brain damage is temporary. Why are you whispering?"
"It's night-time. I don't want to wake myself up."
Slade nodded. He would never understand time-travel, regardless of how many times he experienced it. Putting out his hand to propel himself up, his fingers met with the very object that felled him moments earlier; a child's toy police car. "Is this yours?" he whispered.
"I've never seen it before," Holly replied, taking it from him and absent-mindedly setting it down on the telephone table - which wasn't there. Instead, the toy car hit the floor with an agonising crash.
"Where did my table go?" she exclaimed.
"There's something strange going on here, Slade. I don't like it."
"Well, while we're here we may as well try and solve this case," he whispered. "Have you got your car keys?" Holly patted her pockets.
"I keep them on the dresser in the bedroom. I must have left them there."
Slade made a move for the bedroom door, but Holly grabbed his arm to stop him going any further. He looked at her, quizzically.
"You can't go in there!"
"Why not? Do you sleep naked?"
"Of course not."
"Then why not? Isn't it better that I go in there rather than you? That way there's no chance of you making eye contact with yourself and causing a schism, or whatever it is that happens."
Holly sighed, and let her arm drop. "All right, but you have to be quiet. The keys are in a dish on the right as you go in - just get them and come back out again."
"All right," he agreed, throwing up his hands.
Holding his breath, Slade carefully turned the brass doorknob and slowly pushed open the door. He found himself standing at the foot of Holly's double bed, and it only took a fraction of a second for him to realise that something wasn't right. Holly lay curled up on her side, the covers pulled up to her chin - but she was not alone. Slade felt the bile rise within him, a burning sensation that surged from the pit of his stomach and threatened to engulf his body. He tried to pull himself together, but his curiosity - or should that be jealousy? - wouldn't be shaken off. Taking two silent steps forward, he was only a few feet from the side of the bed. The only noise to be heard was the breathing that came from Holly and her overnight guest. He had to know. He had to. The man shifted his weight slightly, and Slade backed off in surprise - there was no mistaking the identity of the man sharing Holly's bed. But how was it possible? His mind reeling, he retreated back to the hallway.
"Did you find them?" Holly asked, noting that Slade seemed to be empty handed.
"Er, we didn't do anything unusual in the last week or so, did we?"
"What are you talking about?" she asked. She tried to deduce what the expression on Slade's face meant, and when he didn't say anything, she didn't have any choice.
"Whoa, don't go in there!" Slade hissed. It was too late. Holly was already inside the room; she collected the keys, turned to leave and was greeted by the very same sight - she was in bed with Slade. She had to suppress a gasp, but there was no way of denying it. She watched as he moved closer to her - the other her - and wrapped his arms around her. Slade was in her bed. But how could she possibly be seeing this? It hadn't happened!
She closed the door behind her, and Slade noticed that she was reluctant to meet his gaze. What was that look on her face? Was she blushing?
"We would remember that.wouldn't we?" he said.
"This can't be happening," Holly said, distantly. She had to think.
"Oh charming. That bad, is it?"
"But we haven't..this hasn't, Slade, this is bad."
Slade didn't know what to think; he was struggling to get his head around what he had just seen. Holly was trying to look through the keyhole of the old-fashioned oak door, and suddenly she stood back up again.
"Oh my God," she said.
"Not me, me - that me."
Slade crouched to look through the keyhole, just in time to see the other Holly shove him - the other him - softly in ribs. She was climbing out of bed to get something from the other side of the room, and Holly was right, she was the size of a house. This was starting to mess with his brain, more so even than the concept of time-travelling. If he was in bed with Holly and Holly was, by all appearances, about eight-and-a-half months pregnant, then that meant -
"Where are we?" Holly said, a question clearly aimed at herself rather than Slade. "Maybe we've somehow travelled into a parallel dimension caused by some sort of warp in the temporal plane."
"Isn't it just more likely that we've somehow travelled into the future?"
Holly shot Slade a look.
"You know that's not possible; the laws of time prevent it. How could we travel to the future when - "
"When the future hasn't yet happened, I know. But look at the evidence. How else do you explain..that?"
Their thoughts were then interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a baby's whimpering. Slade and Holly looked at each other; her expression one of horror, his one of helpless bemusement. They took it in turns to peer through the keyhole, and sure enough, they both saw the other Holly reach into a crib in the alcove and try to sooth the baby's cries. The child, it seemed, was about eighteen months old.
"But, I don't know how to look after a baby!" Holly whispered.
"Not yet you don't," Slade replied, struggling to suppress a smile. "But I'm sure you'll pick it up."
The thought that somewhere, in some time, he and Holly were parents was astounding, mind-blowing. How had they reached this point? Well, he knew how, technically, they had reached it - but how and when?
"Hang about," he said, coming to a sudden realisation. "Who does the car belong to?"
"The car, the toy car I tripped over. If you're pregnant and there's one in the crib, then that means - "
"The spare room," Holly sighed, and without a word the two of them hurried down the hallway to the room that was once her father's. They didn't need to go any further than the door, because attached to it was a painted wooden sign declaring it to be 'Jack's Room.'
"I think there's more than one machine in this flat these days," Slade commented. Holly fired him a fierce look, and he shrugged apologetically.
"We need to find out where we are," Holly said.
"You mean when we are?"
"There must be a newspaper around here somewhere."
"If you say so." Slade, as everyone knew, never read the papers.
Rooting around the back room, which was strewn with objects and items completely unfamiliar to Holly, Slade found a TV guide. Folding it back to the front cover, their eyes became fixed on the date: 16-22 April 2005.
"That's impossible!" Holly exclaimed.
"We've travelled forward eight years!"
"No, no, we can't have. This must be some sort of- "
"Parallel dimension? Yes, you said that. But I don't think that's right. You said the machine had been acting strangely, and then you made adjustments to the photon whatsits - "
"I inverted them and lengthened some of them, yes - "
"So maybe this is the result."
"But that contradicts everything about time that I know to be true; everything that my father believed in, everything he taught me!" Holly was pacing now, trying to keep her voice down; trying to think about what to do next. If, somehow, it was true, and they really had left their lives eight years behind them, how were they going to get back? Would they be forced to spend eight years in limbo, trying to avoid their future selves?
"It's nearly six o'clock," she said. At least the old wall clock was still the same. "We can't stay here. One of us is bound to leave that room sooner or later, and that could be catastrophic."
"Not to say confusing."
The next couple of hours were spent wandering the streets of outer London; travelling on foot was the only real option open to them. The keys Holly had taken from the bedroom did not belong to her blue Peugeot, but to some other vehicle entirely. When she clicked the key-ring, she was greeted by the flashing headlights of a silver-green people-carrier.
"Family life," Slade shrugged.
If they took the car, they realised, eventually their future selves would discover it was missing and call the police. The potential outcomes were not even worth contemplating.
Eventually, they ended up in an all-night greasy spoon. Giovanni's, the café in which they used to have coffee, was still in existence, but there was no way of knowing whether they were still regulars, or what might have happened in the past eight years. Holly couldn't concentrate on her coffee, and scribbled frantically on a napkin, attempting to calculate what might have happened. Slade watched her, trying to contain his amusement. He knew he should be panicked, he knew he should be freaked out, but for some reason he felt strangely peaceful. If this really was the future, then it was one he felt more than content with. When he looked at Holly now, he couldn't help but wonder. Ever since she had introduced him to the machine they had been performing a delicate dance, moving closer to each other, closer to something else, but neither had made any sort of overt declaration. The moment had never been quite right; now it seemed it was only a matter of time.
Holly looked up at Slade and caught the expression on his face.
"Nothing," he said, trying to look as innocent as he could.
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"No. No, I'm not."
She shot him a look.
"Well, not all of it," he continued. "I think I might have some grey hairs in 2005."
"That's the least of our concerns right now."
There was a pause while Holly returned to her calculations. Slade continued to watch her, sipping thoughtfully from his polystyrene coffee cup. What would happen if Holly couldn't figure out a way to get back? Would the future ever happen? The past was inevitable and couldn't be changed, so did that go for the future too?
"What did you think would happen in the future?" he asked Holly, attempting to sound casual.
"I didn't really think about it," she said, distractedly. "The past and present were complicated enough. But three children and still living in the same flat weren't really on my mind."
Slade laughed softly. "Yeah. But what about us?"
"What about us?"
"Did you see me in your future?"
Holly looked up. This was what she has been worried about, ever since she had come round to the possibility that they really had travelled forward in time. Slade had a tendency to try to change the past or help it along; if it really was their 'destiny' to be married with children, then it would happen at the right time in the right circumstances. She was trying to focus on the science - if she started to think like Slade it could be disastrous.
"Sure," she replied carefully, keeping her eyes on her calculations. "You have a habit of hanging around like a bad smell."
"You know, if you're finished here, why don't we pay a visit to the station?"
Holly looked up at him, horrified. He seemed to be intent on putting them in perilous situations - almost, it seemed, just to irritate her.
"We can't. What if we meet ourselves? What if things have changed in eight years? We might not even work in the same place any more!"
"Well then, it'll be a nice little reunion," Slade grinned. He got to his feet and started to take off his jacket. He held it out to Holly, urging her to take it.
"What are you doing?"
"You're eight months pregnant, remember. Stick this up your coat."
Holly glared at Slade and snatched the jacket from him.
"Think it'll be a girl or a boy?" he grinned, narrowly avoiding Holly's hand as she took a swipe at him.
Slade was both relieved and mildly despondent that the station still looked the same in 2005. Grey, utilitarian and vaguely depressing. Some things did look different, though; the cars parked outside, the fact that every second person had a mobile telephone glued to their ear. He had been sure that would just be another passing fad.
Holly was just seconds away from exploding at Slade. How had he managed to talk her into this? How did he always manage to talk her into things? She almost had to break into a run to keep up with him, such was his obvious curiosity. She had to admit that if it weren't for the terror of having to live the next eight years like this, she would be slightly curious as well; was she, for instance, still stuck in that poky little office lifting fingerprints from kitchen knives?
As they approached the entrance, Slade suddenly stopped and turned Holly around to face him.
"What?" she asked, sceptically.
Without a word, he started to adjust the jacket hidden under her coat, plumping and shifting it like a pillow. Eventually, he stood back and admired his work with a satisfied smile.
"Positively radiant!" he smiled.
Holly glared, and followed him to the door. When Slade tried to pull it open, the door wouldn't budge. They exchanged glances. Slade gave it another yank with no success. That was when Holly noticed the keypad attached to the wall beside the door frame.
"That's new," Slade murmured.
"Well, I guess we'll have to give the office a miss then," Holly said, clearly relieved.
At that moment, a familiar figure came into view. Small, paunchy and balding, there was no mistaking Frank the desk sergeant - except for the fact that what was left of his hair was almost completely grey. Smiling amiably at them, and with a little shake of his head, he opened the door.
"Forgotten the code again, have you, Chief?"
"What? Oh, yeah."
"You know what he's like," Holly said to Frank.
Slade flashed her a brief hurt expression.
"Well, you'll have to start training him, Ms Turner, because I won't be around for much longer to let him in," Frank said, nudging her jovially.
"Why not?" Slade asked.
"Listen to him!" Frank chuckled. "My retirement do's next week - it was you who persuaded me to have one. I hope you'll come along too, Ms Turner? Unless of course something magical happens before then; then you'll both have other things on your mind."
It took Holly a second to work out that he was referring to her 'pregnancy'.
"Right!" she replied, brightly.
"Listen, Frank, we've only got a few minutes, so we'd better get going," Slade improvised, giving the smaller man a wink. "Can't keep the missus on her feet too long - not in her current condition."
Before Holly could do anything, Slade had draped his arm around her shoulder protectively, and was leading her to the lift. As soon as the doors closed, she shrugged him off.
"What?" he demanded. She was right, he was enjoying this now.
"Something tells me you're having much more fun than you should," she retorted. "Listen, Slade, we have to be careful, and we should spend as little time in there as possible. We have no way of knowing the damage we could be doing simply by being here."
"Relax, Holly. All I'm doing is pretending to be me - how hard can that be?"
The doors to the lift opened on the second floor, revealing an office that was more familiar than not. The layout appeared the same and aside from a fresh lick of magnolia paint, it was almost as though time had stood still. Not that time could stand still, Slade thought, imagining Holly's reaction to such a theory.
As soon as they rounded the corner they almost walked headlong into Nicky, who was carrying several large black files. Gone was his shock of curly blond hair, which had been replaced by a short back and sides, and he was actually starting to look like an adult.
"Chief!" he exclaimed, almost dropping the files.
Slade looked at him quizzically. "Very funny, Nicky."
"Is it?" he replied, puzzled.
"Nicky, it's lovely to see you," Holly said, keen to break the strange silence.
"You too, Holly," Nicky exclaimed, beaming. "You look.you look radiant!"
Holly didn't need to look at Slade to know that there would be a smug smile on his face.
"Thank you," she said. It was strange, but she was actually beginning to feel as though she was pregnant.
"She's even more beautiful than usual," Slade put in, before he knew he had even opened his mouth. He saw Holly shoot him a questioning look.
"If you don't mind me saying, it looks like you're carrying low, Holly," Nicky said. "It's just that when Lucy was pregnant with Alice, everyone said that it was a sign that the baby would be a girl. I've got a new photo, if you'd like to see it."
Without further invitation, Nicky dug into his wallet and produced a picture of a wide-eyed toddler with a mass of blond curls. He was smiling proudly, and Slade and Holly offered appropriate praise.
So Nicky was a father too - the future was a very strange place. Slade still couldn't get his head around the fact that he would be a dad - a dad to Holly's children. A strange, territorial feeling had crept over him and he placed a hand on Holly's shoulder, squeezing it gently.
"Oh, how is Freddie?" Nicky asked suddenly. "Is he any better?"
"Freddie?" Holly asked, before realising that they must have named their second son after her father, Professor Frederick Turner. "Oh, he's.getting better. Thank you, Nicky," she floundered.
"Well enough to go on the trip?" he continued.
Slade and Holly exchanged quick glances. What on earth had they got themselves into?
"I thought you were taking the boys to visit your father, Chief?"
"Absolutely," Slade improvised, brightly. "That's where we're going. Right after I get something from my desk."
"But I thought you had been prescribed bed rest until the birth," Nicky asked Holly, clearly confused.
"Yes.that's right," Holly said, faltering. "Sla - Jeff is taking the boys to see Jack. I'm going for a check-up."
"I'm dropping her off," Slade put in, nodding. He was impressed with Holly; she was really getting into the spirit of all this.
Slade started to make his way to his old desk when he realised that something wasn't right. It wasn't his desk anymore. Granted, he expected to find a new computer maybe, but he didn't think he was the type of man who would keep nail polish on his desk. Just then, Holly tapped him on the arm. He turned around.
"Hard though this is to comprehend," she began. "I think that's your office these days." She was indicating to Grisham's office which, when they approached the door, did indeed bear a plate with the name Jeffrey M. Slade, Detective Superintendent. Slade's face broke into a broad beam; Holly shook her head slightly, her eyes narrowed. He pushed the door open and stepped into his new life.
"When Nicky called me Chief, he wasn't kidding," he said, marvelling at his unlikely rise through the ranks. "I must have done pretty well for myself."
"You don't think it might have had anything to do with the machine?" Holly said, giving him a sideways glance.
"Give me some credit. You said yourself that I'm a good detective."
"And an even better manipulator."
"I don't think I work here anymore," Holly continued, "Someone else's name is on my door too." What was she doing?, she wondered. Looking after two-and-a-half children, no doubt.
Slade began to look around his office, which was certainly a sizeable step up from the booth in the open-plan office he used to have - or rather, that he currently had. There were framed photographs on the desk.
"Look, the happiest day of your life!" he said, showing Holly a photograph of the two of them that was clearly from the official wedding collection.
Holly rolled her eyes, and picked up the other frame. She gasped involuntarily. Slade came behind her for a better look. The picture showed the two of them in the gardens of the town hall; in one hand Slade was holding a framed medal, and in the other arm he held their younger son, still an infant. Jack, the older boy, stood in front of his parents, clutching his toy police car. He was a miniature carbon copy of his dad; dark hair and eyes, and a smile that could charm at a hundred paces. Holly tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
"So if I'm here, where's Grisham?" Slade asked, eventually.
At that moment, another familiar voice could be heard in the office.
"Oh no, I thought he wasn't in today!" moaned Morris, as he slouched into the office carrying a cup of coffee.
"Morris!" Slade grinned, striding back out into the office. Holly followed him warily, clutching her 'bump', which was threatening to drop out the bottom of her coat.
"Great to see you, Morris!" Slade said effusively. "Actually, no, that's not true. But some things never change. How's the case going?" he added, enjoying this role immensely.
"I've been in that freezing car all night," Morris replied, grouchily.
Poor Morris; still on surveillance duty eight years later. He wasn't going anywhere fast - at least, thought Slade, there was some justice in the world.
"When's the next one due?" Morris asked Holly, his hands shoved into his pockets.
"I can't believe you're allowed to reproduce," he said to Slade. "There should be a law against it."
Slade was just about to answer him when Nicky came bounding across the room again. "Postcard from Grisham, Chief!" He was brandishing the card, which Slade then took from him. Holly peered over his arm to read the text.
"She's in Australia," Holly noted.
"I wish I was in bloody Australia," Morris grouched.
"I think retirement's suiting her," Nicky enthused. "That's nearly a year they've been travelling."
"Good for her," Slade said. "Listen, we'd better get going - shouldn't keep the old man waiting to see his grandkids, should we darling?"
Holly was stunned for a second, but then remembered to smile sweetly and go along with it. "No, of course not, darling."
As soon as they were outside again, Slade couldn't contain his excitement. It was all too much to take in, too much to digest; he was a husband, a father and a career success! He flung his arm around Holly and squeezed her to him. Something felt different, but whatever it was it felt right. Holly felt herself blushing in Slade's unexpected embrace.
"Careful," she told him, smiling. "You'll squash the baby."
He laughed, and felt a lightness in his step as they walked along.
"What I want to know," she continued, "is why, if I'm supposed to be on bed-rest, was I the one getting up for the baby this morning?"
Slade groaned and rolled his eyes theatrically. "Could we have this argument in eight years time, please?"
"Okay, so where are we going?"
"Back to your place. I mean, our place."
"Slade, we can't. What about-?"
"Remember what Nicky said? Neither of us is going to be at home today - we can have a look around, maybe work out how we're going to get back."
Holly snorted. "If we can get back."
Slade reluctantly paid the cab driver - he wasn't looking forward to taxi fares in 2005 - and they climbed the stairs to Sundown Court. The silver-green people carrier was no longer parked outside.
Holly noticed a 'For Sale' attached to her old bedroom window, which provoked conflicting emotions in her. On the one hand, it was a relief that they were moving their growing brood out of a two-bedroom flat, but on the other hand she would be saying goodbye to the home she shared with her father. Memories lived within those walls; in some way, her father still did.
She stopped Slade on the top step, before they could go in.
"Slade." She took a deep breath, wondering whether she would regret this. "Was this what you had in mind all along? Was it always your intention to get me barefoot and pregnant?"
Slade looked shocked. Holly thought about apologising but decided to stand her ground. When she had started work as Science Officer, she thought she had her colleagues pegged; Nicky was sweet and naive, Morris possessed the intellectual horsepower of a baked bean, and Slade was a typical alpha male. But, over time, Slade had surprised her. He had never made an inappropriate pass at her, he respected her expertise and he showed the kind of loyalty and integrity that constantly amazed her. Against all rationality and her own better judgement, she had actually found herself attracted to him. However, there was now a niggling worry that his incredible powers of manipulation - and, quite possibly, seduction - had landed her in some sort of suburban nightmare.
"You're worried that all of this" - Slade gestured to the house and the jacket that was still stuffed under her coat - "has killed off your career?"
"Well, yes." Holly heaved a huge sigh, and tucked a stray strand of brown hair behind her ear. "Slade, I don't know what to think. I mean, what am I doing with three children? When can I possibly find time for my research?"
Slade nodded slowly. She was genuinely distraught by what she perceived her future to be, and he hadn't appreciated that. Still, at the same time, he couldn't help but feel a little hurt; she seemed to be ignoring the fact that she was married to him, which implied she more than slightly cared for him.
"Look," he began. "You're just seeing a snapshot of your future here. We have no idea what has happened up to this point. And how do you know that we didn't choose this together, that it wasn't just as much your idea as mine? Did you stop to think that maybe the future 'you' actually likes your life?" He took a step towards her, closing the space between them. "Listen, Holly, I would never ever force any of this on you. I don't know how we came to this, but we must have come to it together."
"Slade," she said, a warning in her voice.
"Don't worry," he said, his hands outspread. "I'm not going to try and rush anything. Things will happen in their own time, I know."
Then, suddenly, the door opened and they were face to face with Danny.
"Jeff, Holly. I thought you left ten minutes ago?" he asked.
They exchanged glances of mild panic.
"Forgot Jack's toy car," Slade improvised. "Can't go anywhere without it."
Danny chuckled, and clapped Slade on the shoulder; "A chip off the old block, that little lad." He was about to go past them when he turned around. "Oh, by the way, you've had a call about your flat, Holly - sounds very promising. I'll be sorry to see you all go, though; won't be the same without you."
"We won't be moving far," Slade assured him, thinking about the logistics of moving a time machine in a removal van without raising suspicion. "Come on, darling," he added, taking Holly's hand and offering Danny a parting nod.
Holly was relieved to discover that she had not changed the locks in eight years, and soon she and Slade were back inside her apartment. She thrust Slade's jacket back at him, and they made straight for the living room, which was also locked, presumably to child-proof the contents. When Holly opened the door, she stopped dead and as a result Slade nearly knocked her over. Puzzled, he tried to see what it was that stopped her.
"The machine! What's happened to it?" he exclaimed, still pulling on his jacket.
"I don't know," she replied, taking a step forward.
The jumble of wires, monitors and bare components was gone, and had been replaced by something far more streamlined and modernised. Not as minimalist as the machine created by Nigel Chapman and Ron Haywood (and hijacked by Stephen Marlowe), but still a world away from the sprawling, tangled behemoth that used to occupy Holly's living room.
"When we left this room earlier, in essence we must have exited 1997," Holly said, her mind still racing in several different directions. "This is how the machine looks in 2005."
"You must have been working hard," Slade agreed. "What, with two children and a time machine, I hope you've been making time for your husband."
She shot him another look.
"What have you done to it?"
Holly started to walk around the machine, examining it in a cloud of awe. It was beyond anything she could have imagined, but somehow she had created it. The work was incredible, and it looked expensive.
"How did I pay for this?" she thought out loud.
Slade, who was looking around the living room, suddenly stopped at a bookshelf. He pulled out a well-thumbed paperback and held it up for her to see. It was a popular science title by one Holly Turner.
"Something tells me you're a little more high-profile these days," he smiled. Together they read the author description on the inside cover of the book, and Holly gasped - according to the book, not only was she a successful science writer but she was also a hit on the lecture circuit!
"Slade, this is."
"Now what do you think of your life?" he replied in a low whisper.
"I think.that perhaps my views on Time may have altered, that perhaps the machine now does more than it used to."
Holly found the way to switch on the machine straight away and almost felt that she knew everything about it; that it somehow existed within her already. It was beautiful, perfect - no, science taught her that advances were always possible, but it was still remarkable.
"You don't think you've written a manual too, do you?" Slade asked, hunting around the living room for evidence of research notes or a set of instructions.
"Look at this!" Holly exclaimed. She had been searching for the watch that synchronised with the machine, but it was no longer there. It had been replaced by a more complex digital timer and when she switched it on she realised that one very vital thing had changed.
"Slade," she said as he came over to join her. "I think we can control how far we travel."
"Seriously?" Slade asked. How many times would he have liked to be able to do that? Sometimes time was incredibly tight, and they never did get sent back far enough to justify booking into a hotel.
"That's not all," she continued, scrolling through the options that appeared on the flat-screen monitor. "I don't completely understand it, but it seems as though the machine can send us forward in time too."
"Well we knew that."
"Perhaps there was some sort of glitch in time, maybe caused by our constant manipulation of it," Holly began, letting her fingers move over the shiny keypad. "Somehow we were dragged to the future by this machine, rather than transported into it by the old one."
"Is that possible?"
"I don't know; theoretically, maybe."
"Well, can we get back?"
Holly sat down in front of the machine, her face bathed in a bluish-white light, while Slade leaned over her. He watched as she keyed in some commands; the machine bleeped as his computer did when he assaulted the keyboard. He noted Holly's expression change from excitement to perplexed and then frustrated.
"I can't override the password," she told him before he could open his mouth to ask.
"Obviously another new addition; probably to prevent unauthorised use."
Slade recognised a dig when he felt it.
At that moment, they both heard the sound of a car approaching. Slade jogged across to the window and looked out, careful to make sure that he wouldn't be seen. The sight that greeted him made his heart leap into his throat. There, down on the pavement was the silver-green people carrier. As he watched, Danny came out to greet the car; he could just imagine the conversation Danny was about to have with them. It was actually surprising that the poor caretaker hadn't lost his mind by now.
"Bad news, Holly," he said, bounding over to where she was still working. "We're back."
"I could try and stall us."
"No idea, but I'm open to suggestions." He looked out of the window again and saw himself help Holly climb awkwardly out of the car, while Jack was enthusiastically demonstrating his toy car to Danny.
"Think of something, Slade! Think of a password!" Holly called, frantically typing every significant word and name she could think of. She tried every one of her family members, the name of everyone she knew at work, the names - God help her - of their children. But what if it was something that wasn't yet significant to her? What if it was just random?
"Oh, I don't know. Nicky? Grisham? Morris?"
"Morris?" she asked, incredulously.
"I'm saying the first things that come into my head!" he protested.
He was torn in two different directions, desperately trying to think of a likely password and wanting to keep abreast of what was going on outside. He was lifting Freddie out of his car-seat and setting him on the pavement, where the little boy took Holly's hand and started to climb the steps to the building.
Slade watched Danny pat Jack on the head before the little boy hopped up the steps to catch up with the rest of his family. He realised that he was pushing his luck when the future him, momentarily attracted by something, or compelled by an unseen cosmic force, looked up at the apartment window. Slade shrunk behind the curtain for cover.
Outside, the future Slade frowned. Great - now he was hallucinating about that old suede jacket Holly had made him give to charity. "They're going to be here in a minute," Slade warned Holly.
"Great! We're finished!" Holly cried.
"Wait, I could jam the lift somehow," Slade said suddenly.
"Oh, fantastic. You'd trap a heavily pregnant woman and two small children in a five foot lift?"
"Got any better suggestions?"
"The password must be around here somewhere," she said, more to herself than to him. She tried to think about what she would have done - what she must have done - in this situation. Where would she have got the password from?
Slade was now standing by the front door, trying to listen out for them coming. He'd always been curious by what Holly meant by a schism, but he didn't want to go so far as to meet himself in order to find out. They obviously hadn't taken the lift, and he could hear Jack clattering up the stairs, and then he heard himself telling the boy to slow down. Things were getting very weird, and they were about to get a whole lot weirder.
"Thirty seconds, Holly!" he called. "We need to get out of here!"
Just then, he heard a shriek. A familiar shriek, coming from the hallway. He pressed his ear against the front door; they were so close he could almost feel it.
"What's wrong, Holly?" the future him was asking.
"Jeff, you need to get me to a hospital!"
"Yes, now. My waters just broke!"
Slade felt his own heart miss a beat. He couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"I'll get your bag," he heard the future him say.
Slade felt a wave of panic course through him; the last thing they needed was the future Slade coming back into the flat.
"You can get it later," the future Holly replied, clearly distressed. "Right now I just need to get back in the car."
"Slade, what's going on?" Holly called from the living room, using the same anxious tone.
He held his hand out to reassure and silence her, intent on hearing the rest of the conversation. The next voice he heard was his son's.
"Mummy, what's happening?"
"I'm fine, Jack," Holly replied. He could hear that she was trying to act calmly.
"You know how mummy's going to have another baby?" Slade said to his son. "Well, the baby's ready to arrive now."
"Now?" the boy replied, excitedly. "Annabel's coming now?"
Suddenly, Slade had a brainwave. He dashed through to the living room, where Holly was still typing word after word into the machine, her face flushed and harassed.
"Do you mind telling me what's going on?" she demanded, barely looking up to acknowledge his presence.
"Try 'Annabel'," he told her, leaning on her chair.
"Annabel. Try it as a password."
"Just try it, Holly!"
She typed the name out on the keyboard and hit the 'enter' key. The screen flashed white for a second; Slade held his breath. After an agonising few seconds, an electronic voice said, "System Open. Please enter time co-ordinates."
"It worked!" Holly cried. "How did you know that?"
"I'll explain later, but right now we need to get going."
"Why?" She knew to be suspicious where Slade was concerned, and she'd heard something in his tone.
"Because there's about to be a new addition to this family, that's why. Can you get this thing to work?"
"Wait a second. I'm about to have the baby?"
"Yes, now come on!"
"Well, is everything all right? What's going on out there? Is something wrong?"
"Everything's fine!" Slade assured her, feeling the panic rising in his throat. "I've done this before."
"Have you?" she replied, bewildered.
"Well, I'm assuming the future me has, so yes, everything's going to be great. I think it's going to be a girl."
Still distracted by the close proximity of their future selves and the fact that a birth was imminent, Holly turned her attention back to the machine. There was a separate keypad on an arm that extended from the heart of the machine, and, checking the date and time on her own watch, Holly typed in the correct coordinates. The case they had intended to solve was far from her mind now; it would have to be left to old-fashioned detective grunt-work. This was the last time, the absolute last, that she would allow Slade to talk her into using the machine. But that was the thing - she knew it was all too easy for him to talk her into anything; that was his strength and he was her weakness.
The same electronic voice said, "Initiate time-travel."
"Slade," Holly said, turning away from the machine. "There's no guarantee that this will work. I mean, I don't know what the effects could be on us travelling forward and then travelling back in such a short space of time." She felt herself struggling, as she always did when she moved away from the safety of scientific discourse.
"We'll make it," Slade said.
"But what if we don't?"
Holly's fingers lay poised over the initiation switch and, his eyes still fixed on her, Slade lay his hand over her smaller one. His heart was beating quickly in his chest.
"Then I'd say we've made a pretty good team." He took her other hand in his spare one, forming a perfect circuit. Her eyes told him everything he needed to know, as they pressed the button.
The room was filled with a familiar whirring noise; lights flickered in the machinery and everything went dark before being bathed once again in wreaths of brilliant white light.
Out on the street, the future Slade was helping his wife back into the car, trying to recall the quickest way to the hospital. Suddenly, the vehicle took on a life of it's own: the windscreen wipers flicked, the lights flashed, the alarm wailed, and the radio flipped through every station in the frequency. He and Holly instantly looked at each other, the current emergency briefly forgotten. In the back seat, Freddie Slade responded to the sound and light show with uncontrollable, babyish giggles. Slade opened his mouth to ask Holly how this was possible, when he felt a tug at his coat; Jack was pointing up at the window. Waves of white light were pulsing through the flat, one after another. He then remembered the jacket he thought he saw.
"Jeff?" Holly said questioningly, her breathing ragged.
"Don't worry, Holly," he said, with a knowing smile. "The electrics in this place were always pretty shoddy."
Back inside, Holly noticed that her fingers had become entwined with Slade's over the button, and his arm had snaked protectively around her middle. She had only a moment to acknowledge the comfort and thrill of the warmth from his body, before the machine abruptly stopped and the room fell silent. It took Slade a moment to realise that he was holding Holly in quite a tight embrace; she blushed as he relinquished his grip, but he knew it wasn't from embarrassment, but from something else entirely.
"Did it work?" he whispered.
As they made their way through to the kitchen, Holly noted that her hall table was back in its usual place. Slade scooped up the TV guide and displayed it to Holly with a triumphant smile. Holly sighed with relief, and her head dropped to her chest. When she looked up, Slade was still grinning, the elation in his expression obvious; he had that spark of electricity that he always got when something excited him. Holly flopped down into a chair at the table, the fatigue rushing in to replace the burst of adrenaline. She still couldn't mentally process everything that had happened, everything that it signified.
Slade drew back the chair beside her, turned it around and sat astride it, as he usually did. "Are you okay?"
"I think so. It's not quite how I expected to be spending the afternoon, though."
"So just how disappointed are you?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm not disappointed," she smiled. "I mean, sure, if all that we've seen is true - and not just some kind of bizarre joint hallucination - then it challenges absolutely everything that I believe about the nature of time. But on the upside, at least I know where my research will be going for the foreseeable future."
Slade shifted slightly in his seat. "No, I mean, everything else."
Holly's face spread slowly into an enigmatic smile. "I'm not disappointed," she said, softly.
Slade's smile returned, his ego skyrocketing, and his machismo instantly restored by her reassurance.
"In that case," he said, "When do I move in?"