Philo's Stories

Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Evelyn rolls the ball down the lane and watches it hit only one pin
she could use magic and cheat, but she isn't that desperate to win, so she just sighs and walks back to her friends

bowling wasn't her first choice, but spending time with friends she hadn't seen since high school made it worth it
she pours herself some soda from the pitcher on the table and passes it to Jessica

as Jessica takes the pitcher, their hands touch for an instant and Evelyn feels the familiar tingle of magic on her skin
Jessica walks up to the lane and bowls a perfect strike for the first time all evening

she walks back to the table and gives Evelyn a knowing wink, turning their casual game of bowling into a magical battle of wits
next comes Evelyn's turn
she quickly traces a rune on the ball and lets it go
it races towards the end of the lane and abruptly heads toward the gutter

she makes a sharp motion with her hand as it reaches the end of the lane, sending it flying out of the gutter at the pins, toppling all of them
even though it's obvious to the two witches, none of their other friends seem to notice the bowling ball's open defiance of physics

as the night of bowling comes to a close, Evelyn accepts Jessica's offer of a ride home from the bowling alley and they walk out to Jessica's car together

she's finally alone with the girl she had a crush on all through high school and is too flustered to say anything

"you're not in a hurry to get home, are you?" Jessica asks
"the longer I'm away from getting misgendered and judged by my parents, the better" Evelyn replies
"good; we'll take the long way back"

they pull onto an empty stretch of road at the edge of town, Jessica pulls a lever next to the gearshift, and the car rockets forward
"it's magic, isn't it?"
"yep, I wrote the spell myself"
she steers the car with her left hand and reaches her right hand towards Evelyn

by magic, she pulls Evelyn's left hand towards hers
it's just a weak spell that she could easily dismiss, but Evelyn sees her intention and takes her hand
"I didn't want to say anything, but I've had a crush on you since freshman year" says Evelyn
Jessica blushes

"I'd be lying if I didn't say the same" replies Jessica
she shoves the lever back into place and pulls the car off the road next to an abandoned silo
"too gay to drive, eh?"
"I'm too gay to keep my power under control and keep the car on the road"

Jessica undoes her seatbelt, makes a gesture, and stands up as the small hatchback unfolds into a decent-sized room with a couch in the middle
Evelyn recognizes part of the spell; it starts from the one that every witch has on their bags to make them bigger on the inside

"I built this to have somewhere to myself away from my roommate and my tiny dorm room last year" Jessica says
"it's beautiful" replies Evelyn as she leans towards Jessica to steal a kiss

Jessica embraces her, and with a snap of her fingers, the couch at the center of the room becomes a bed
they fall onto it together and roll around wrapped in each other's arms
Evelyn suddenly pauses

"you're sure you're okay with this, right?"
"you're sure you're okay with me being a trans girl? I know you said you're not bi and I don't want to.."
"of course I'm okay with you! you're a girl, you're hot, and I really like you" Jessica interrupts

"you need to kill the TERF in your head and just embrace being a lesbian" she continues
"yeah, but..." Evelyn trails off, clearly trying to stop herself from saying something transphobic about herself
Jessica kisses her and begins reaching further down Evelyn's body

two states and a couple hundred miles east of Jessica and Evelyn, Becca braces herself and her broom against the whipping winter wind and tightens the mounting bolts holding the box to the tower
she hasn't been longing for another fight with Bell, but this could start one

the Long Lines tower she attached the box to was part of a network of hundreds stretching across the country, the crown jewel of American Telephone & Telegraph

even though cheaper communications technologies, such as fiber optic lines, exist, they do not meet the FCC's stringent call quality requirements for domestic long-distance calls and Bell is still required to operate the expensive network of towers

as she flies back towards home, Becca passes what's she's pretty sure is a Cessna 172
she waves at the pilot and he gives a confused wave back as she zooms off
if he reported her to the FAA, they'd question his sanity and pull his license, so witchcraft remains an open secret

she feels a bit of comradery with small-plane and glider pilots on nights like this; they're all dealing with the same wind conditions and don't have the sheer power of a larger jet to just push through wind and weather
she can fly much faster than the Cessna's 175 mph, though

she lands on the sidewalk in front of her apartment, her cherry-red Doc Martens bringing her to a stop
she heads upstairs, takes a tool roll from her bag and sits down at her desk

if the mess of surplus soviet chips, rings of birch wood with sigils carved into them, and hurriedly-programmed microcontrollers she attached to the tower works, she should be able to tap into secret government communications and confirm the rumors about an impending crackdown

rumors have been flying for the past month that every major government agency, from the FAA to the FBI to the CIA, had decided that mages' secrecy is clearly evidence of an international criminal conspiracy, and Becca is determined to figure out what's going on

although magic is not actually illegal in the United States (except in Massachusetts, where 17th-century colonial laws prohibiting witchcraft remain in force), mages tend to be secretive for their own safety
but legalization is not liberation, and it's risky to be seen as a witch

witches and mages are often seen as "others" and blamed for everything if people find out
there are some neighborhoods in major cities where magic can be blatantly practiced in broad daylight, but many witches outside of major cities have to try and fit in to normal society

even though magic is not a crime (outside of Boston, where mages have taken the world of organized crime by storm), secretive exchanges of strange artifacts and cryptic messages leads to suspicion from law enforcement

Becca's theory is that the FAA finally decided to do something about the mysterious fast-moving shapes that show up on their air traffic radars
based on her and Katy's calculations, her broomstick lights up the radar like a christmas tree flying at 220 knots in bravo airspace

she could add radar absorption to the spells on her broom, but she's pushing the limits of how much magic she can put on it and would have to sacrifice some of the speed or the 6 Gs of acceleration it's capable of doing and protecting against

she unrolls the tool roll, takes a tool out, and twirls the knurled beryllium-copper handle between her fingers
it spins through a perfect circle and her fingers move around it like she's holding a pencil
she pushes power into it and begins weaving spells around a Baofeng radio

enchanting an object and weaving spells into its very essence is a process often described by witches as a combination between lockpicking and crocheting
the more an enchantment changes about something, the harder it is to get it to stick

in this case, Becca isn't doing too much and is just making the Baofeng into a receiver for her telephone tap, which is very close to the type of receiving it already does
with her other hand, she clips the magic lenses to her boxy frames

she could probably do this without looking, but it's always easier when you can see
the BeCu tool she's using is overkill; she could definitely do this with the stainless steel one of the same tool on her keyring, but the high thaumic conductivity of BeCu makes everything easier

with a flourish of the tool, the enchantment is done
she excitedly turns on the Baofeng, dials in what should be the correct frequency, and gets nothing but silence
she turns the dial, sweeping it over the frequency band, but can't find what she's listening for
she swears

she looks over her spell again and realizes the tiny mistake she made
enchantment is not programming, but they both have the same feeling of making the universe do what you want and can both be derailed by equally tiny mistakes
she fixes the enchantment and turns the radio on

as she dials in the correct frequency, she hears a 2600 hertz tone
the secret government long distance trunk is currently empty, but she's receiving it loud and clear
she turns down the volume on the Baofeng and connects the headphone jack to an audio recorder

while Becca is working on tapping government communications, Alice is rummaging through drawers in her bunker
she finds what she's looking for underneath a pile of mathematics textbooks
it's a plastic slab with the tangled wire from a pair of earbuds wrapped around it

it's the Microsoft Zune she used until she finally got a phone with enough storage to hold her library of music that was definitely legitimately acquired
she touches the earbuds and untangles the wire by magic and turns it on on a whim
to her surprise, the battery still works

she puts the earbuds in, hits play, and immediately turns the volume down as the music hits her ears
she recognizes the song pretty quickly; it's the final third of Austra's Spellwork
this must be her moderate depression playlist from early high school

as she sits down on her bed and lets the music overtake her, she thinks about how that was her favorite song on that album even before she became a witch
she still has this playlist in the Zune app on her Windows Phone and listens to it sometimes when she's moderately depressed

her nostalgic wallowing in her old depression playlist is rudely interrupted by her phone buzzing in her pocket with a text from Becca
she reads the message, reads it again, and calls Becca

back in Ohio, Jessica pulls her Mazda 2 into Evelyn's driveway
they lean towards each other and share their final kiss of the evening

as she steps from the car, Evelyn notices that the light in the kitchen is on, even though it's well past midnight

she quickly checks her phone for passive-aggressive messages from her parents and sees only one text from Becca that she'll look at later
as she walks down the snow-covered driveway, she wonders how much of this magical evening was real and how much was a dream

reality doesn't normally behave like it did when they were together and all she wants is to do it again
she heads inside and finds her brother at the kitchen table eating pizza rolls and watching anime
"I see *someone* had a good night. she was hot, wasn't she?" he says

his use of she in that sentence surprises her
as far as she remembers, she's only come out as a lesbian to her closest witch friends
"there's a lipstick kiss on your cheek, and it's not as if you really tried to hide how gay you are" he says, noticing her surprise

"I'm gay and she's hot as hell" she replies, smiling at the thought of Jessica
Evelyn takes a burrito from the freezer and checks her phone as it spins around in the microwave
she reads the message from Becca and swears, shattering the plate her brother's pizza rolls are on

she sighs as she realizes what she just did by accident and the explanation it will entail
"I know that made no sense to you, but what I'm about to do will make even less sense" she says
she picks up the largest fragment of the plate and scratches a rune into it with a key

she pushes the fragments close together and snaps her fingers
the two pizza rolls remaining on the plate when it shattered float an inch above the fragments as they fuse back together
her brother looks on in confusion
"what. did. you. just. do." he says

as he says this, the microwave beeps to tell Evelyn that her burrito is now the temperature of the surface of the sun
"I'll explain after I eat. the bowling alley's pizza has somehow gotten worse, so I haven't eaten all day" she says

she traces a counterclockwise circle with her right hand over the burrito and steam stops coming out of it
she takes a bite that would almost certainly burn the roof of her mouth if she hadn't just cast a cooling spell on it

"well..." she says before hesitating for a minute
"putting more thought into this than you did the last time you came out as something, eh?" her brother replies
"Chris, I'm.. I'm a witch with enough power to make a lot of the laws of physics merely suggestions"

Chris is at a loss for words
"oh right, and the military is trying to recruit me or kill me or possibly both at once" she continues
"both at once? is.. uhh.. what's the word.. necromancy a real thing, or is that too far outside how magic works"

"I don't think they'll puppet my corpse to commit magical war crimes, but if that's what you mean, but they'll definitely do some fucked up stuff if they capture me"
"so.. you're going to get the gang together and fight them, right?
"I guess so"

Becca, Alice, Katy, and Sophia are all gathered in Alice's bunker, returning the large table in the center of the largest room to its intended use: looking at maps and satellite photos
a crystal ball with a rune scrawled on it in grease pencil sits at the center of the table

Sophia scoots the crystal ball towards her, holds it over the map, and gazes into it
"it looks like they're preparing for some sort of Ritual" she says, the R in Ritual clearly capitalized in her voice
she passes it to Katy, who casts a spell that makes it glow softly

"those are liquid helium tanks and I'm pretty sure those are electromagnet coils" Katy says
the light from the crystal ball changes to a deep red and fills with numbers
she writes begins sketching what she sees and writing measurements and equations from what the orb now shows

her sparkling nails fly over the keys of her trusty TI-84, which leaped from her bag with a snap of her fingers
she mutters physical constants as the other witches look on, wondering what she's calculating
she triumphantly hits enter and sets down the ball, its light extinguished

"if I scried correctly, they're building a particle accelerator powerful enough to probably do object enchantment on the whole world" Katy says
"is that as bad as I think it is?" Becca asks
"if anything, you're probably not worried enough about it" Alice replies

"you've fallen down another government document rabbit hole, haven't you?"
Alice sighs
"yes. yes I have"
"anyway, they'll probably finish building it within a couple weeks and we need to plan a road trip out there to do something about it" Sophia interrupts

"we can't do a road trip because my car's still in the shop, but we do have time to take the train out to Grand Forks" Katy says
they spend the next couple of hours planning their trip and coordinating with Evelyn

the next morning finds the witches at their local Penn Central Railroad station waiting for a train west to Chicago, where Evelyn and Jessica will meet them and catch a Burlington Northern train west to the prairies and menacing concrete structures of North Dakota

the train ride is mostly uneventful, apart from Becca getting very drunk in the bar car and trying to magically defenestrate a guy who hit on her as the train passed through Indiana
all she managed to do by flailing with drunken magic was slamming the man to the ground

as the train approaches Grand Forks, Alice hands Becca a test tube full of inky black liquid
she drinks it, grimaces as she tastes it, and clenches her teeth as the alcohol in her bloodstream is transmuted into water
it hurts, but she needs to be sober for what they're doing next

in the parking lot of the Burlington Northern station, each witch takes her broom from her bag and kicks off, heading west towards the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex and a few related military bases in the prairies of North Dakota

the radar pyramid at the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in North Dakota was turned on in 1975 and has been off for a total of 17 hours since then as it unceasingly blasts radio waves in all directions
its power output is classified, but is estimated to be in the megawatts

in the early 2000s, military scientists discovered that people who walked in front of the antenna were not killed by the sheer amount of energy being pumped into the air around them, but instead displayed causes of death usually only observed among Witchhunters in Massachusetts

officers of the Massachusetts Commonwealth Witchhunters have the highest fatality rate of any job in the state and are often found with injuries and causes of death inconsistent with the laws of physics, a fact which has been extensively covered up by the state government

any mage with a cursory knowledge of accidental enchantment would be able to tell you pumping megawatts of power into a something constructed from the fear of a nuclear-armed empire is a recipe for death by magic, and the pyramid in the prairie is no exception

the magitechnical operation is, like most of the rest of the Safeguard Facility, directed from the nearby Cavalier Air Force Station, where Jessica, Evelyn, and Katy are headed, and Grand Forks AFB, where Alice, Becca, and Sophia are headed

their plan is to infiltrate the bases, steal as many documents as they can and then use those to break into and stop the particle accelerator of malevolent magic in the shadow of the pyramid

Grand Forks AFB is well-secured from the ground and against enemy aircraft and missiles, but doesn't really have any measures against aircraft they're expecting

the electronic warfare officer was the first to notice that the radar had gone completely blank

he tries to radio to the base, only to find that the radio isn't working either
he hears a strange thump from below and then the bomb bay doors open
that is definitely not supposed to happen this close to landing
he enters the bomb bay and is met with something wholly unexpected

a young woman in a shimmering dress and a witch hat looks back at him from the doorway
as he starts to cry out, Sophia casts a spell by doing finger guns and he collapses to the floor
she beckons for the other two witches to advance

the corridor from the flight deck to the bomb bay inside a Boeing B-52H is normally a tight fit, but Sophia's height and magic have a way of warping space around her and making tight spaces into ordinary passageways

Becca sneaks up behind the pilot, Alice takes out the co-pilot, and Sophia holds the controls steady while knocking out the navigator
Becca pulls the pilot from his chair, balances his pilot hat on top of her witch hat, and giggles a bit

she's logged quite a few hours in flight sim games, but nothing quite prepares her for the excitement of actually holding the controls and flying a plane
Alice takes the navigator's seat as Sophia goes to take care of the weapons officer, the final remaining member of the crew

"negative rate, gear down" Becca says
"sounds good. looks like we're on a nice straight approach vector" Alice replies
as the bomber's wheels touch down on the runway, Sophia returns to the flight deck
"we're alone in here now and I closed the bomb bay doors" she says

as they taxi towards the largest hangar Becca's ever seen, Alice and Sophia check over their spells and protective wards
Sophia unclips the copper chain going from her left earring to her helix piercing and clips it to a tiny brass grommet at the collar of her dress

if either of the other witches had their glasses on, they would notice a tiny spark flying from the dress to the chain
Sophia's dress shines with copper threads throughout and helps her more effectively channel her magic

the chain she clipped on balances the thaumic field around her, as imbalances can prove dangerous during the rapid-fire spellcasting she's about to do
with a longer chain, the dress can also be electrically grounded for working on delicate electronics, but she doesn't need that

the witches step from the plane and manage to escape the attention of the mechanics at work in the hangar until a voice calls out as they're about to leave the hangar
"you think you can get away with not wearing uniform out here on the tarmac?"

without even turning around to look, Sophia sends the officer who shouted flying up to the ceiling of the hangar and back to the ground
"the same'll happen to anyone else who challenges us" she says
in response, the air force mechanics train their pistols on the witches

she twirls, her dress flaring out around her, her spell scattering the bullets harmlessly onto the floor
Becca snaps her fingers, sending all of the dozen soldiers collapsing to the floor
their next stop is the Army Corps of Engineers office near the end of the runway

Alice traces the shape of a door in chalk on the unguarded rear of the low, boxy building
she gives it a kick and it falls inward, opening into a room full of filing cabinets
it would take days to search through all of them, so Becca prepares a spell to find what they're here for

she draws a circle in chalk on the floor, sprinkles paperclips and staples around its perimeter, concentrates on what she's looking for, and applies magical force to set the summoning circle into action
drawers open and shut with papers occasionally flying from them to the circle

Sophia puts her palms on the floor and adds her power to the circle
more papers and even blueprints hit the door of the room with a splat and slide under it
once the papers stop coming, the witches shove them into their bags and make their escape

they get out their brooms and kick off from the end of the taxiway, heading for the Safeguard Complex
as they fly off, sirens begin to blare from the base
the Air Force has finally noticed that something is up, but they're still looking on the ground

while Alice, Sophia, and Becca are breaking into Grand Forks AFB, Jessica, Evelyn, and Katy land on the satellite alignment target at Cavelier Air Force Station
they cut through the trees separating the office building from the concrete target and approach the back of it

Jessica takes what looks like a screwdriver with a strangely long handle from her pocket
with a click, it extends, revealing a strange spiral ratchet and a shining beryllium-copper tip
she stabs it against the wall of the building
it locks back into place with another click

she takes Evelyn's hand and steps through what still appears to be solid wall
"how did you just do that?" Evelyn asks
"it's an extremely directed type of object enchantment that I rigged up this old Yankee screwdriver to do" Jessica replies

the building they find themselves in is much smaller and emptier than the office the other witches broke into
only one room matters to them - the radar control room
the base houses a radar that serves as a backup for the one in the pyramid and likely has similar magical effects

in the control room, they find a soldier idly playing solitaire on the control screen
"oh hi Jim. I didn't expect you to come back today" he says as he hears the door open
to his surprise, three witches, not Jim, enter
"excuse me, but we need the control panel" Katy says

he closes out of solitaire and starts to stand up before he realizes that someone who he's never met is trying to seize control
"who the hell are you and what do you want with me?" he asks
in response, Evelyn snaps her fingers and he collapses to the floor

Katy takes his seat and directs the radar to steadily increase its power output to 150% of nominal
the power electronics in the radar array are surprisingly delicate for something that handles megawatts of power, and she knows that it's usually run near the limit

the steady increase will increase the chance of permanently frying something, and any replacement to the custom-built parts will take months
their work done, the witches kick off on their brooms towards the pyramid in the prairie

when they arrive, the other witches have already arrived and are poring over the plans and documents they stole
most of them are only tenuously related to the project they're here to sabotage, but among the papers they find an explanation of the use of the particle accelerator

the accelerator is being built for an ongoing Ritual to ensure American global hegemony by enchanting the entire world to make it literally impossible to resist American military force
Katy stares at the blueprints, types some numbers into her TI-84, and frowns

"it's even more powerful than I calculated it to be, and that was already absurdly powerful" she says
"if it's that powerful, can't we imbalance it and make it tear itself apart?" Sophia suggests
"if we do that, what's stopping them from building another one?"

"can't we also use it to take out the pyramid? it cost them billions to build and there isn't really political will to spend that much on continuing to fight a nuclear cold war" Jessica suggests
"you'd better turn that poli sci concentration into a minor" Evelyn gently ribs her

the witches get to work subtly sabotaging the particle accelerator
from the documents they stole, they know that none of the military's engineers are mages and they outsourced the spell design to Bell Labs, which encoded the spell as a set of bismuth crystals

they'd notice if the crystals went missing, but they'd have no way of knowing that someone had changed the spells they contain, so Becca does just that
by doing that and carefully filing down precision parts inside the ring, they all but guaranteed it will tear itself apart

satisfied with their work, the witches make sure that no evidence of their presence remains and head back to Grand Forks to catch a train east - a sleeper this time; they've earned it

the next month, a top-ranking general admits to Congress that the pyramid was destroyed the previous week in an experiment increasing its power to detect missiles further out
the pyramid was long considered a boondoggle, and Congress votes against funding its rebuilding

by this point, the spring semester has started and the witches are back at college
that night, Jessica arrives from the art college she's attending and the witches celebrate on the roof