Liberty (A Prosperity Story)

Liberty (A Prosperity Story), by Alexis Hall
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This title is #6 of the Prosperity series.

This title is part of the Liberty & Other Stories: A Prosperity Collection collection. Check out the collection discount!

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The wars of the future will be fought not by men on horseback, not with lances or with cannon or with ships, but with weapons fashioned from the very stuff of creation.

Scholars of military and international history have long held the destruction of the British Empire’s 4th Skyfleet above the pirate town of Liberty in 1866 to be the first recorded use of modern aetherweaponry and to constitute a turning point in international and interdimensional politics.

The pertinent documents, declassified in 1958 and compiled here in a new edition, are not only an invaluable resource for the interested amateur, but also a fascinating tale in their own right, revealing as they do the story of Captain George England’s hitherto secret work for the Aethermatic Operations Executive, his infiltration of the now legendary aethership Shadowless, and his final confrontation with the historically controversial pioneer of militarised aethermancy, Samuel Hardinge.

In these times of social unrest and multiversal upheaval, the events of 1866 have a new relevance, and it is our hope that the modern reader will find this narrative as pertinent as it would have been a hundred and fifty years ago.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.

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The following collection of documents details, as best this council can manage, the events surrounding the incident of 17 March 1866, which destroyed the 4th Skyfleet, nearly precipitated war with Prussia, and led to the official dissolution of the Aethermantic Operations Executive.

These documents have been declassified as part of a thorough review of National Intelligence Policy following the introduction of the Public Records Act, the Aetheric Services Act, and the International Convention on the Uses of Telepathy.

Many of the security implications of these papers have ceased to be pertinent in the wake of the Martian invasion.

Dame Esmeralda Hawthorne

Permanent Secretary, Home Office

12 July 1958



For the consideration of the court, herein are collected a number of witness accounts, items of personal correspondence, and formal reports to and by the former head of the Department of Aethermantic Operations and Intelligence. These papers have been collated in order that the court may pass judgement on Captain George England in the matter of his involvement in the events of 17 March 1866.


16 September 1854

My dearest mother,

Thank you for your most recent letter, and the tea, which could not have been better received. I shared it with my new friend Nolan, who, while foreign and a little stand-offish, is a most remarkable fellow. He has travelled all over Europe, and indeed the world, having trained in Tulln and served in the armies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before being granted his commission in the Dragoons. He is teaching me many things.

Since my last letter, we have left Varna and arrived in the Crimea proper, some short distance from a town called Eupatoria. The journey has been hard for many of my fellows, who have suffered much from illness, but I remain secure in the rightness and honour of our cause. The last of our horses are being disembarked even as I write, and I find myself filled with a tremendous swell of pride at being part of so grand and glorious an operation as this. Why, even as we arrived, the local Tartars flocked from their villages to trade fruit and supplies with us. I told Nolan that I felt as though I was at the beginning of a great adventure. He scoffed at me.

I must cut this letter short. I lack a table, and in writing on the ground I fear that I am spoiling good paper, which is also in short supply. I shall write again soon when circumstances are more favourable.

Your loving son,



30 September 1854

My dearest mother,

Much has occurred since my last letter. A mere two days after I wrote you last, we had our first skirmish with the Russian bear. It was not a true battle, you understand, but our Light Brigade clashed with a small force of cossacks near the river Belbec. The engagement was brief and our casualties restricted to a few horses and some men injured by round shot, but we were victorious nevertheless. I had arranged for Nolan to ride alongside the lancers that day, and I fancy that he fought especially valiantly. But perhaps I am letting my knowledge of the man’s good character affect my recollection.

Our first true battle took place only two days later, at Alma. News of this victory has, I am sure, already reached you at home, for it was truly a triumph. Our infantry advance seemed unstoppable, the Russian muskets not nearly a match for our fine British rifles. I cannot put into words the splendour of it. My one regret is that the day saw little opportunity for we cavalrymen to prove ourselves in like manner. I commiserated to this effect with Nolan after the battle, but he assured me that I would see action enough before matters were concluded. I have come to very much value his council.

Although recent days have seen much cause for rejoicing, the campaign has not been without its sorrows. Many good men are dead today who were alive just a fortnight past, and the camp is slowly filling with the wounded, and their moaning in the night can be quite fearful. We lose yet more to cholera and to dysentery—why, Col. Lawrenson himself has been taken so ill that he has been forced to leave the front. He is a fine man, and no doubt the whole 17th is praying for his speedy recovery.

I fear I may not be able to write for some time. We are approaching Sevastopol, and the grim and glorious business of war may now be expected to begin in earnest. You shall doubtless hear from me again once the city has fallen.

Your loving son,



18 November 1854

My dearest mother,

I hope that the weeks since my last letter have not been too difficult a time for you, and that whatever concerns or uncertainties you may have had about my fate have not affected your health. Know first and foremost that I am alive and, for the most part, well.

News of our defeat at Balaclava, and of my regiment’s role in the battle, will doubtless have reached England weeks before my letter arrives. You must, therefore, have heard how we were ordered to charge the Russian guns, and how we rode through a hell of cannon fire to do our duty. I can only hope that the valour of my fallen brothers-in-arms will be remembered by our countrymen as it deserves to be remembered.

My memories of the battle are hazy. I had been placed in command of the 17th after Major Willett died of cholera on the 22nd, and although I like to feel that I honoured my charge as well as any man could have in the circumstances, I was the least seasoned of the officers commanding the regiments of the Light Brigade on the day of the battle. Were it not for Nolan’s consistent support, I fear I should have felt quite out of sorts. Even with his ever-steadying presence, I felt that there was much confusion and much disagreement during the battle about the proper disposition of the cavalry. At last the Light and Heavy brigades were separated, against the advice of several of the officers, and we of the Light Brigade were left upon the plateau.

It fell upon Nolan, who always excelled in such matters, to relay orders between Lords Raglan, Lucan, and Cardigan, and it was he who relayed the final order from Lord Raglan to seize the guns. Seeing only one set of guns, Lord Lucan instructed Lord Cardigan to lead our brigade into the valley, towards the Russian cannon. I recall that my heart at once was seized with a mix of joy and trepidation. Joy that I was at last being called to serve my country in open battle, tempered with a dreadful sensibility of the peril we were about to enter, for there was not a man in the brigade who did not understand the danger we would face were we to charge, alone and unsupported, into the teeth of the Russian artillery. But we were the death-or-glory boys, and we would show no fear.

I rode at the head of the 17th, front and centre. The 11th Hussars were to our left, the 13th Light Dragoons to our right. Lord Cardigan led the charge, riding ahead of the line. Nolan, by my side, seemed agitated. We were all keenly aware of the great Russian batteries ahead, and the banks of guns on either side, but Nolan’s concerns seemed to run deeper. And to my sudden surprise, he did what was unthinkable and broke ranks, riding to overtake Cardigan, waving his sword above his head and shouting. What he shouted I do not know and will never know, for that was when the barrage began.
A shell exploded ahead of us, and Nolan’s horse fled back towards our lines. It was only when he passed me, when I heard his awful, piercing screams, that I knew he had been fatally wounded. But I had been trained well, and my personal sorrow at seeing so great a friend so brutally cut down was not a part of my duty. We pressed on towards the Russian guns.

I will not write you of the din of battle, of the roar of the shells and the cries of dying men and horses. It will do neither me, nor you, nor the country good for me to dwell on the men I saw shredded by grape, or engulfed in the fires of phlogiston rounds. I will say only that I do not know how I reached the Russian lines, only that I reached them. And those few of us who had survived that gauntlet of fire and iron fell upon the gunners and the cossacks that rode to support them with a fury that would make Britannia weep. I saw Garland cut down three men before he fell, Taylor—bleeding from a dozen wounds—still taking the fight to the enemy until he was overwhelmed. I did not, at the time, know how many times I had been struck, or cut, or shot. I knew that I was in pain, but I knew also that I had a duty to perform. I pressed through the line, striking blindly to left and to right as the Russian bear closed in around me. And when at last we were through, I found that we were alone. The Heavy Brigade had not come up in support; we were isolated and surrounded. And so we swept around and retreated.

I do not remember returning to camp, or being taken down from my horse. I remember lying on a stretcher, bleeding it seemed from every part of me. I remember being brought by army airship to the hospital at Scutari, and from there to Mr. Brunel’s remarkable new facility at Renkioi. My legs, it transpired, had been ruined by shot and sabre. My arms had fared a little better, although a deep cut to my left had severed nerves and tendons. At Renkioi the biometallurgists and neuropneumaticians set about repairing the damage with their strange and marvellous contraptions. My arm they fixed with the minimum of transfiguration, but my legs needed extensive rebuilding. They tell me that they are now more than fifty percent brass and steel, but that I shall soon learn to walk again, as effectively as ever I did. Perhaps more so, they say.

I hope that you are proud of your son, mother. He has done his duty to Queen and country, and—if God be willing—he will return to you soon, and then once more to the service of his nation.

Your loving son,




The pertinent material begins here. Previous entries stricken from court records for reasons of relevance and security.

Witnesses confirm that the voice on this cylinder is that of Samuel Hardinge, late of the Department of Aethermantic Operations and Intelligence. This entry dated 17 January 1858, London, 4:17 p.m.

. . . final candidate is Captain George England. 17th Lancers. Veteran of Sevastopol. Biometallurgically reconstructed after Balaclava before returning to his old regiment and serving with distinction in India. Our aether-scientists are not certain whether the man’s augmentations will make him more or less suitable as a candidate for the program, but all the records suggest that he is both an excellent physical specimen—injuries notwithstanding—and that he shows an unswerving willingness to give of himself in service to his country.

Such a man could prove useful.

Necessary actions: Send aetherogram to regimental headquarters explaining necessity of secondment. Arrange transportation from India against the eventuality that Captain England proves a satisfactory candidate. [Here Mr. Hardinge appears to laugh to himself.] Transportation to England, for England. Fly to India. The aetherways are clear, and seem set to remain so. The time it takes for my message to arrive will be enough to finish what business remains in the department, and the journey will be brief.

[Footsteps audible, the scratch of a needle being removed. The log ends.]



Record of interview between Samuel Hardinge, late of the Department of Aethermantic Operations and Intelligence, and Captain George England of the 17th Lancers. Record dated 21 January 1858, Dehli, 3:02 p.m.

This log presented unexpurgated.

[The scratch of a needle being set on a wax cylinder.]

E: I was asked to report to this office, sir.

[Witnesses identify this as the voice of Captain George England.]

H: I am not a knight, nor an officer, nor a schoolmaster, Captain England. Mr. Hardinge will suffice.

[Witnesses identify this as the voice of Samuel Hardinge.]

H: Please take a seat.

[The sound of a chair being scraped across the floor.]

H: Do you know who I am?

E: No, Mr. Hardinge.

H: Would you care to take a guess?

[Here there is some manner of interference on the recording, as if the needle became suddenly agitated, or was detecting vibrations of an alien nature.]

E: [Inaudible over interference] . . . but I have only heard rumours of such things.

H: Are you a man who puts great store in rumours?

E: No, Mr. Hardinge.

H: Commendable. But as you see in this instance the rumours were well-founded. I am what the world has taken to calling an aethermancer. When I worked with the War Office, I oversaw Mr. Lovelace’s ill-fated voyage to the upper skies, and when the lights of the aurora bathed our vessel I became [there is more interference] as you see now.

[There is silence on the cylinder for some time.]

H: Have you nothing to say, Captain England?

E: In the Lancers, sir, a man does not give his opinion unless he is asked for it.

H: I am asking you for it.

E: I fear that I have none. I had always taken the story of Mr. Lovelace’s last voyage to be a fanciful one, but your presence here would seem to show that there is some truth to it.

H: I cannot tell if you are mocking me.

E: Sir! I would do no such thing.

H: I shall come to the point. I have secured funding from Her Majesty’s Government to re-create the final voyage of the Endeavour with the express purpose of fashioning more individuals who are as I now am.

E: To what end?

H: To the only end that matters. The defence of the realm, the advancement of the Empire. Surely you saw for yourself the atrocities carried out last year, in this very country? The destruction that the mutineers brought down on honest British women and children? Why, it can scarcely be borne!

E: But what does a rebellion in India have to do with a flight to the upper skies?

[Again, the recording dissolves to static. The previous transcriber insisted that—if this section of the cylinder is played back and the listener pays close attention to sounds on the edge of hearing—ancient and blasphemous voices can be heard in the chaos. The previous transcriber has since been committed to a sanatorium, and no attempt has been made to confirm his claims.]

H: [Inaudible] . . . dare to stand against us? What rebel? What empire? I have stared into the heart of the aether and witnessed its limitless power, and it showed to me a great and simple truth. That the nation that rules the aether rules the world. That the wars of the future will be fought not by men on horseback, not with lances or with cannon or with ships or even with airships, but with weapons fashioned from the very stuff of creation. Weapons that burst like stars over cities, that do not merely destroy, but transform the land that they touch. Weapons so terrible that they will kill war itself and allow the empire that wields them to build a glorious peace the like of which has not been seen since the days of Rome itself.

[The previous transcriber also insisted that when he played this section of the cylinder backwards it instructed him to build a mighty tower of stone and to stand atop it calling out to the blind God-King who dwells in a seething furnace at the heart of the universe. The truth of this assertion remains untested as it is the opinion of the court that only the content of Mr. Hardinge’s conversation with Captain England is pertinent to the current case.]

[There is silence on the recording for some moments. For accuracy, let the record show that it is indeed broken by a faint and eldritch whispering.]

E: That sounds terrible.

H: It is terrible. But it is also true.

E: But surely such weapons would never be used by civilised men.

H: Perhaps not. But in this world there are a great many uncivilised men. Many of them in command of mighty nations or empires. Once a thing is known to be possible, it is only a matter of time before it is done. And those who hesitated, who said, “No, that bridge is too far, that price is too high,” are left to stand, and watch, and tremble.

E: Forgive me, but I am still uncertain what you feel my part should be in all of this.

H: When I repeat Mr. Lovelace’s voyage, I will, unlike that unfortunate gentleman, take only the best and the strongest. Men who have proven themselves capable of facing the sorts of extreme conditions that we will experience in the upper skies. I will go not to study the aurora, but to use them, to make for Her Majesty a new cabal of aethermancers, the first such group in the world.

E: And I am to be stationed to this group?

H: I will not lie to you, Captain England. It will be an arduous program of training, and a dangerous journey. You will see things most believe live only in nightmares. But if you are successful, you will have the opportunity to serve your country in a manner which the men of earlier and less enlightened ages could not even have imagined possible.

[There is silence on the record again.]

E: Thank you, Mr. Hardinge. It would be my honour to serve.

[The sound of a chair scraping along the floor. The sound of footsteps. A door opening and closing. The scratch of a needle being removed from a cylinder.]

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