June 25, 1822
Berlin, Brandenburg, Prussia
The man known to the literary world as E.T.A. Hoffmann sighed querulously. He was quite fatigued. Although not so terribly old, his body was wracked by the effects of illness and life's struggles. Fanciful as it might seem, even for a purveyor of fairy tales, Herr Hoffmann sensed that tonight was the night he would be visited by the Angel of Death. He wondered how he would be remembered, or even if his name would outlast him.
His weary gaze traveled about the room and fell at last on one of his particular treasures. He wished he possessed the strength to pick up the small, bright blue wooden box just once more and look inside. He thought of calling for his wife to fetch him the box, but knew she'd dismiss his request as foolishness. Anyway, he knew what the it contained.
The front panel split open into two hinged doors, and tucked inside were two small porcelain dolls that he'd had specially commissioned. One was a man, dressed in a purple frock coat. The other was a lovely brunette lady gowned in white muslin with scarlet trim. They had encouraged him to keep writing his stories. They had told him that his words would live forever.
"So, where are we?" Clara asked.
"Earth. Dresden. 1813," the Doctor replied.
"Got some wonky readings. Thought it might be interesting," he replied offhandedly.
"As good a reason as any, I suppose," Clara chuckled.
"Why don't you pop along to the wardrobe and find something suitable to wear?"
Clara glanced down at her little red dress and clunky black boots and had to agree with him. As she set off down the corridor, something about the time and place niggled at the back of her mind.
"Took you long enough," the Doctor quipped, straightening up from the console at the sound of soft footsteps. "Blimey," he breathed.
"I'll take that to mean that this is suitable?" Clara laughed, twirling slightly to show off her gown.
It was soft white muslin, scattered with small scarlet flowers. A scarlet satin sash gathered the dress at the bosom. Her dark hair was smoothed into an elegant bun, but her eyes sparkled mischievously. In fact, the entire ensemble was an odd juxtaposition of Regency demure and twenty-first century spunk. It was very…Clara…the Doctor decided.
"Right then," he smiled warmly at her, extending his arm gallantly. "Shall we?"
"We shall," Clara replied, linking her arm with his as they stepped out into the city.
At first glance, it was the picture-postcard image of Old World charm. There were elegant, spired buildings and cobbled streets.
"What's that?" Clara asked, gesturing to a breathtaking domed structure that soared above all the other rooftops.
"That's the Frauenkirche. That particular version is about seventy years old now. Remarkable feat of Baroque architecture. We should come back and take a look some day. Well, someday before February 1945."
A prickle of disquiet disturbed Clara's thoughts as she drew her gaze away from the church's stunning façade and focused on their more immediate surroundings. They crossed what should have been a bustling market square, only to find it eerily empty. There were also piles of debris shoved into corners and some burned out shells of buildings. The silence was thick and unnerving. There were few people in the streets, and those appeared to be mostly men. They walked swiftly, with their heads down, pressing close against the fronts of the buildings.
Clara tightened her hold on the Doctor's arm uneasily. "Tell me again, exactly when and where are we?"
The Doctor stopped suddenly and slapped himself in the forehead. Once again, his idiotically insatiable curiosity had led him to barge into the middle of something without heed for the consequences. Yes, the anomalous readings were fascinating, but not worth exposing Clara to the horrific dangers about to descend upon this place.
"Thick. Thick, thick, thick!"
"That's not helping, you know," Clara chided.
"We've got to get out of here right away," the Doctor decided, spinning them about and heading back towards the TARDIS.
"What is it? What's wrong?"
"Clara, think. Continental Europe. 1813."
"The Napoleonic Wars?" Clara guessed, her stomach sinking in dread.
He didn't bother to answer, just wrapped his arm around her waist so his own momentum would help her move faster. And that was when the bombs started to fall.
Clara screamed, and the Doctor dragged her into the shelter of the nearest house, pressing her in against the wall, and sheltering her with his own body. Artillery fire continued to pound the city, shaking the ground and shattering glass. Clouds of dust billowed up and shrieks of pain cut the air.
Suddenly, the Doctor heard the scrape of a bolt being thrown and a man wrenched open the door of the house that they were leaning against.
"Are you crazy, man? Get inside!"
The Doctor pushed Clara inside, then helped the man to bolt the door and slide a heavy wooden table in front of it.
"What were you thinking, taking your wife outside today? Did you not know that the armistice was ended? The artillery is bad enough, but if those soldiers get loose inside the city!" He bit his lip sharply, recalling that he was speaking in the presence of a lady. "You must think of your wife's safety," he added, staring at the Doctor and hoping that his warning was understood.
It was, all too clearly. For once, neither Clara nor the Doctor uttered the automatic "But we're not -" They were both a bit too shaken to bother correcting their benefactor.
"You're quite right, of course," the Doctor replied, after taking a too-long moment to gather his wits. "I'm a doctor, you see, and I thought I might be of some use. My…er…wife often serves as my nurse."
"You must have missed the last bombardments. There will be scant need of physicians, I'm afraid. Only gravediggers. Forgive me. Ernst Hoffmann, at your service," he introduced himself, bowing politely to Clara, and noting absently that her frock seemed a bit fine for nursing.
"I'm the Doctor, and this is Clara."
Herr Hoffmann raised an eyebrow at the casual introduction. "Herr Doctor. Frau Clara," he intoned, bowing again.
"Ernst Hoffmann…not E.T.A. Hoffmann?" Clara asked.
"Indeed, madam. Writer and musician, by trade."
"I love your work!" she said enthusiastically.
"Not the best time, Clara," the Doctor muttered, nudging her gently.
"Once this is all over, I should be delighted to sit and discuss literature or music, or anything else you might fancy, Frau Clara, but for the moment, we must get to safety. My wife has taken shelter with the women and children in the Frauenkirche. It seemed the most secure place."
"What about you?" the Doctor asked.
"I wanted to try and secure my home, if at all possible. I was just gathering some important things. I think the downstairs kitchens are the safest place. " He quickly gathered stacks of papers and stuffed them into a leather satchel, along with a jingling coin purse. Looking a bit sheepish, he picked up a carved wooden nutcracker and weighed it in his hand, wondering if he could spare the space. "My late daughter's," he excused himself.
"It's lovely," Clara said.
"From Erzgebirge, isn't it?" the Doctor inquired.
"Indeed. It was my daughter's favorite plaything. I started to write a story about it for her, just a silly little fairy tale, really, but I lost interest in finishing it, after her death."
"Take it," Clara urged, with a sympathetic smile.
Herr Hoffmann smiled at her gratefully and stuffed the toy into the bag. "Let's get you both downstairs, where it's a bit safer," he said, as another barrage shook the city and plaster dust rained down on them.
There was another sound outside that caught the Doctor's attention.
"Right this way, Frau Clara," Herr Hoffmann was saying, as he politely ushered Clara towards a staircase. "Herr Doctor! Do come along!"
The Doctor raised his hand for silence. "Wait. D'you hear that?"
"I hear the sounds of battle," Herr Hoffmann said impatiently. "We must get your wife to safety!"
"No. I hear it too," Clara said. She frowned, and her eyes met the Doctor's. "I've heard that sound before. The night that all the shop window dummies came to life. But that's not possible!"
"No, it isn't possible, but we are, in fact, hearing the sound of Auton weaponry in early nineteenth century Dresden."
"What are you two going on about? We must get below stairs, quickly!"
The Doctor was prowling the windows, but they were shuttered from the outside. Finally, he found a broken pane and managed to fiddle the shutters open a crack and peek outside.
"Doctor? Is it…?" Clara asked.
"Yes," he replied simply. "Only one, near as I can tell."
"And what are we going to do about it?"
"It takes radio waves or intense heat to take down an Auton. Both are a possibility, but I need to get back to the TARDIS."
"Herr Doctor, I really must insist -" Herr Hoffmann interjected.
The Doctor turned back to Clara. Her face and dress were smudged with dirt and a few strands of hair had worked loose. She looked utterly beautiful to him. He reached out to gently wipe a bit of grime from her cheekbone with his thumb. "You should go with him, Clara."
"No! You don't leave me behind, mister. Not ever." It was a promise they'd made to one another, after Trenzalore.
"Bossy," he whispered affectionately.
"That's why you like me."
He wrapped his hand tightly around hers. "Don't let go."
Sighing, the Doctor turned back to their host. "Herr Hoffmann, thank you for your hospitality, but we really must be going."
"Sir, you cannot think to take a lady out there!"
"Try telling her that. Look, you write fairy tales. You've a fine imagination. Use it, and believe what I say. There's something outside that doesn't belong there. It's deadly dangerous and must be stopped."
"And how can a physician do that?"
"Well, when I say I'm the Doctor, I don't just mean that I'm a physician, although I am licensed to practice medicine in at least seven different solar systems. I'm a traveler, and I've encountered what's out there before, and I know how to stop it."
"There is artillery fire out there, Herr Doctor, and when that is through, there will be soldiers with rifles and bayonets. I do not need to imagine anything worse."
"That's all right," the Doctor said kindly. "Stay here, and when it's all over, write about it, so that people know what happened here. Who knows? Maybe, someday, you lot will finally learn from your own history. Bar the door again, after we leave."
"What exactly is it that you think is out there?" Herr Hoffmann asked, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
"It's a sort of mechanical person, and it doesn't belong here."
"You are mad, sir!"
The Doctor smiled crookedly as he unbarred the door. "You're hardly the first to think so. Take care of yourself, Herr Hoffmann. The world needs your stories. Come along, Clara."
The artillery fire seemed to have paused for the moment, but the Doctor hustled Clara along as quickly as possible, just the same.
"How did an Auton end up here?" she wanted to know. "And why is there only one? That night, back home, there were hundreds of them."
"My best guess - and generally, my best guesses are spot on - is that it's detritus from the Time War. A single Auton, fallen through a crack in time and space. Wouldn't be the first time it happened. It can't replicate itself in any way, because there's no other plastic here."
"Because it hasn't been invented yet."
"Herr Doctor! Wait!"
Clara and the Doctor turned to see Herr Hoffmann running after them. His satchel was slung across his chest and there was a pistol tucked into his belt.
"Here," he puffed, draping a nondescript grey cloak over Clara's shoulders and pulling up the hood to cover her hair. "It's safer if she's not so obvious."
"Thank you," the Doctor said gratefully.
"And this is for you." He pulled a spare pistol from his satchel.
"No," the Doctor said firmly. "Those are no use against what we're fighting."
"But they are of use against soldiers, or common ruffians. I must insist."
"And I must refuse."
There was a flicker of something hard and unyielding and ancient in the depths of the Doctor's green eyes that made Herr Hoffmann stop. "Then I shall accompany you."
The Doctor started to protest, but Clara laid a hand on his arm. "Herr Hoffmann knows his way around the city," she reminded him. "What if we need to hide or find a back way into someplace?"
"Clever girl," he said affectionately. "All right then! Come along, Ernst. You don't mind if I call you Ernst, do you?"
"Splendid! Off we go!"