The thing swooped down the nave, and the sisters scattered, wimples fluttering.
The Mother Superior sighed. To think that she had retreated to the cloister for peace and quiet.
They had tried all the usual approaches. Exorcism, pest control, the bat preservation people, and all that. Fr Francis thought it was a physical, rather than a spiritual, infestation, and Mother Anne was inclined to agree. It had not seemed to understand what was going on when they had brought out the bell, book and candle. Nor had it proved susceptible to rat poison. And it was far too big to be any known species of bat.
Resisting the urge to shield her face (because what sort of example would that set for the novices?), Mother Anne watched as it hurtled out of the west door (they had taken to leaving it open after having the window replaced the third time). It moved too fast to get a proper look at it in daylight, but it was definitely big, dark, and slightly furry. When the pest control people came, she had led them up the tower and looked at it, with them, under the artificial lights. Even then, it was difficult to make out more than fur and a snarl.
Outside, the air was cool, the first few stars twinkling in the deepening summer sky. Mother Anne ambled round the herb garden, and thought about things.
So far, the creature had seemed to keep close to the chapel, at least in daytime. This was a mercy. She had no idea what it ate; this worried her. To her untrained eye, it did not look herbivorous. Whatever it was living on, she hoped to goodness that it was doing it discreetly. Relations with the village were excellent, and she intended to keep them that way.
The situation was hardly one that could be allowed to go on indefinitely, but they had exhausted the conventional avenues. Mother Anne gave herself a mental slap across the wrist, and did what she ought to have done in the first place.
'I'm stuck on this one, Lord,' she confided as she brushed her teeth, 'have you any ideas?'
And she went to bed.
Revelation comes in dreams, often; so do memories. In this case, the two combined to form a nightmare. A crowded room, loud as a factory and hot as hell. An old man. And herself, trying to warn him – warn him of what? - but the only thing that would come out of her mouth was a lie. She had left, she never wanted to go back, and they had tied her up and were dragging her... they were coming at her with a dagger... fire and the sword...
She cried out, and woke. As she sat up in bed, the nightmare subsided, and the idea remained.
Of course. How obvious. But what a long shot.
All was quiet at Matins, but that was usual. The thing was obviously nocturnal. Afterwards, when the sisters had departed to take up their various duties about the grounds, Mother Anne retired to her study and wrote a letter.
She was just sticking the stamp on it when the peace was shattered by a regular screeching sound. 'Good heavens,' she said, and hurried outside.
It was very much as she remembered, a sight that took her back to her teenage years in more ways than one. On the flawless lawn, a shabby police phone box – she'd tried to use one once – but only once. Now, the door opened.
'Doctor,' she said, 'how very punctual of you. I hadn't even posted the letter! I might have expected it of you, though...' And she stopped.
It was not the Doctor. It was a much younger man. Her heart sank; but of course she should have thought of that, he was old when she knew him, and that was fifty years ago. And now this poor young man – a relative, surely; perhaps a grandson? - was going to have to break the news to her that she should have worked out for herself.
But he was striding towards her with a grin a mile wide. 'Dodo Chaplet, as I live and breathe! Look at you!'
'Oh, but she's not Dodo Chaplet any more!' someone said from behind him, 'she's Mother Anne!'
'Polly! But – I've only just written to you...'
'Good grief,' the young man said, 'she runs off without a word of good-bye, and then she forgets everything about the TARDIS.'
'You wouldn't believe,' Polly said, 'how long it took me to get hold of the Doctor. And yes, my dear, it is the Doctor. About nine months from receiving your letter, at a guess.'
'I did think it was a long shot, this morning,' Anne admitted. 'However did you do it?'
'Networking, my dear. Keeping in with the British scientific establishment; they all know each other. My Professor Brett worked with a chap called Watkins for a while, and I'm still in touch with his niece Isobel. Isobel pointed me at a Professor Jones; his wife Jo travelled with the Doctor at one point. She hadn't heard from him, but she suggested I look up a journalist called Sarah Jane Smith, who knows everybody. And everybody includes someone who knows the Doctor's phone number. And here we all are.'
From where she stood at the foot of the stairs, she could hear him talking, half to himself, half to the creature. 'Now then, let's have a look at you. Where are you from, then? Not round here. You're not a bat. You're like a bat, but you're too big and you have too many legs. You're not from Earth and you don't like it here.'
She had thought that might be the case.
'Dodo, come up here,' the Doctor called, softly, 'and sit very still.'
She felt her way up to the ledge where he was perched. A sliver of sunlight fell across the floor and illuminated a hollow in the wall and, within it, furry bodies. And there was another one, perched on the ledge and gently nuzzling the Doctor's hand.
'Goodness. I didn't realise there was more than one.'
'This seems to be a breeding pair. The young will be out soon, hunting.'
'Ah. What do they hunt?'
'Oh, nothing bigger than chickens, I wouldn't have thought. Whatever they eat on their home planet, I doubt they can get it here.'
'What is their home planet, then? And, out of interest, do they have a name?'
'This is a guess,' the Doctor said, 'based on having seen one stuffed in a museum three hundred years ago on the other side of the Milky Way, but – do you remember that planet where we left Steven?'
'Oh, yes – do you think...?'
'That they come from there? It would make a lot of sense. And it would explain why they're here.'
The inter-galactic bats took a fair bit of persuading out of their roost, but they managed it in the end, with the help of some of the younger and more athletic sisters. Polly supervised their transferral to the TARDIS' spare cloakroom.
'They'll be fine if we put the lights out,' the Doctor said, 'they might feel more at home in the Cloister Room, but I don't want them that near the Eye of Harmony.'
The operation took the best part of the afternoon, and it seemed only fair to invite them to dinner, though this was most irregular. 'You don't have to come to Compline,' she told the Doctor, 'I know it's not your sort of thing. But do stay, because there is something I want to say to you.'
And she strode off to the chapel, for the first undisturbed evening service in weeks.
Polly tactfully declared her intention of having an early night, and catching up with her properly in the morning. The rest of the convent safely in bed, Mother Anne showed the Doctor into her study and poured him a drink.
'Thank you for your help,' she said. 'I'm still not sure that I deserved it.'
The Doctor stared into his glass for a little while. 'They came for you, you know,' he said at last. 'They came because you were here. They knew that you were someone who had walked on their planet, had been in their caves, and they were lost and afraid, and they came to you because you were the closest thing to home that they could find. '
'You'll be able to take them home?'
'What? Oh, yes, no problem at all. No problem.' He relapsed into silence.
She looked at him steadily. 'I'm sorry.'
'You know what I'm talking about.'
'You left me. You left me without saying good-bye.' He looked reproachful. 'No one else has ever done that to me.'
'Ye-es. I did the best I could, you know, sending a message with Polly and Ben, but I would have liked to have seen you off in person. I just – couldn't face it.'
'Mmm. You've changed, Dodo.'
'It's a long time since I was Dodo.'
They were silent for some time.
'I still don't get why you went,' the Doctor said. 'There was so much more I wanted to show you.'
'Why did I go? The simple answer, I suppose, is that I was scared. When the machine warped my mind, when I came round and realised what had happened, I was terrified – of myself.
'I had a lot of time to think about it when I was down in the country, staying with that nice general's wife. Complete rest. All the more time to think about what had happened in my mind. To realise that there was so much that I didn't know about myself. I said that it was a long time since I was Dodo. That's not entirely true. She's still there, but there's a lot more to me now than there was back then.
'At first, I just wanted to get away from it. From everything. I know you were offering me the universe on a plate, but I didn't want it, not if it could do that to me.'
'I have desired to go,' the Doctor quoted, 'where springs not fail, To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail, And a few lilies blow.'
'Yes. Exactly. Though if I ever thought that was true I was very naïve. What you don't seem to realise, Doctor, what you never have realised, is that this planet is as real as any of the ones you could have shown me, that I've lived as much here as I could have done if I'd travelled with you for the past fifty years. Even leaving giant flying alien six-legged bats out of it, my life hasn't been dull.'
'Now, that I don't believe. Think of the excitement I could have shown you.'
'You showed me the end of the world You showed me human nature at its very worst. You showed me a noble race fallen to sin, humans controlled by their own creation, and slaves turned tyrants. And in all that, the only thing that truly scared me was – myself. My own capacity for evil, for harm, unwitting or unwilling. I could never leave that behind.'
'So why not keep travelling with me? Only think, Dodo – if you could face the whole universe without fear – imagine what you could have seen. If you had to take your self with you, why not take it somewhere exciting? Fifty years, Dodo – fifty years in this same place? I don't know how you haven't gone mad.'
She laughed. 'The thing was, Doctor – you were right. Absolutely right. I needed complete rest and quietness – not just to get over the hypnosis, but to work out who I was and who I was meant to be. I dare say I could have done that in orbit around Io, but it's considerably easier in your own place and your own time.'
'I wouldn't know,' the Doctor said.
Mother Anne waited, but he seemed not to want to expand upon that. She said, 'You always went out of your way to help people, Doctor.' A slight exaggeration, but allowable, she thought. 'I've tried to do the same. To make things better where I could, and to leave well alone where I couldn't. The difference is, I found plenty that I could do on my own doorstep.'
She topped up his glass, and her own. 'Keep up the good work, eh?' she said.