“Atomic Missions” by Michael Andre-Driussi

“Atomic Missions” by Michael Andre-Driussi

1. Operation Olympic

“Where were you the day the first atomic bombs were dropped?” Pierce asked Buddy Dutchman.

They were at a seedy cantina on the beach, a few miles away from San Diego. It was sunset at the end of a hot day. Pierce and Granberry were wearing sombreros and drinking bottles of beer, sitting on a bench surrounded by Mexican peasants all betting on the fighting roosters in the ring.

“Miyazaki,” said Buddy.

“The first will always be remembered,” said Granberry.

Winslow and the other four were all watching the sunset intently, swearing and saying cockfight-things like “Look at him go!” and “Get ’em!” The eight Anglos were using their old flash goggles as sunglasses.

“I dunno, it’s all a part of X-Day,” said Buddy.

“Still, our one bomb put a dent in those three Jap divisions, I’ll betcha,” said Granberry.

Empty bottles lay on the ground and the hollow remains of a piñata dangled from a beam.

The sunset was getting brighter. Buddy thought, It’s strange, like a film running backwards or the sun rising in the west. Probably just one of those optical illusions right at sunset where the sun splits in two with a green flash.

“I taste lead,” said Pierce, looking askance at the bottle in his hand. “You taste lead?”

The beach reminded Buddy of Miyazaki. He wondered what it had been like for those Japanese soldiers, guarding the beach against the landing force on the horizon. The odds had been three to two in favor of the Allies, but a successful invasion required odds of at least three to one. Buddy figured the Japanese soldiers had felt confident and ready, seeing better odds than the Germans had faced at D-Day, six months earlier. It was a classic strategic scenario, and by the numbers revealed they could see that the Allies did not have the strength left to enter the endgame on the proper footing. But then the fire had hit the beach out of the blue sky and the odds were changed in an instant.

It was funny and it was sickening. Buddy wanted to get off the beach and walk down the road to take shelter in the safety of a population center.

“Where you going?” said Winslow to Buddy.

“Stretch my legs,” said Buddy.

“Good idea. It’s a long trip back.”

He walked into the cantina and found himself inside a log cabin. On the wall was a collection of tools: a pickaxe, a shovel, and a placer pan for fishing gold out of the American River. There was a big new radio like the kind he had at home, its wooden face like a cathedral. There was a table with a few smaller radios, a vacuum flask, eight metal coffee cups, and a map of Japan. Buddy looked over his shoulder and through the open doorway he saw the Sutter’s Mill replica. He was in Coloma, the Sierra foothills town where gold was discovered in 1849: Ground Zero of the Gold Rush.

A science fiction serial was softly coming from the radio: “…thirty megaton thermonuclear warhead! That’s a city-buster!”

Buddy snickered at such gobbledegook. That Buck Rogers stuff is always like that, pushing things to absurd levels, jamming “scientific” words together into gibberish like “megaton” and “thermonuclear.”

“And now, in one stroke, I’ll remove all obstacles from my path and take my rightful place as master of the world!”

He turned down the volume and caught the beginning of a song coming from one of the other radios: “I’m as restless as a willow in a windstorm…”

At the back of the cabin there was a trapdoor in the dirt floor and a half-door in the wall. The half-door was high up, like the upper half of a Dutch door.

He went up the short stepladder and through the back door, looking for a toilet or an outhouse, but found himself sitting in a little boat floating in a Tunnel of Love ride at the Long Beach Pike, cool in the dark, shaded from the hot California sun. Sitting next to him was Dee Dee McTeague, looking both prim and alluring in her WASP uniform. Everybody at the B-29 field at Windover, Nevada had thought that the new bomber was too dangerous to use, and it was, but then Dee Dee had flown Lady Bird in, shaming them into it. Buddy didn’t have his arm around her yet.

Keep your hands in the boat,” said a recorded voice. “Don’t rock the boat.”

The scene on the right bank was a romantic one of a lady and her knight. Dee Dee gave a sigh of pleasure, and Buddy, leaning over, caught a whiff of her cotton-candy breath.

“It’s all about chivalry and codes of war,” murmured Buddy.

“It’s Romance,” said Dee Dee.

“And we live in Romantic times,” said Buddy, putting his arm around her. “Just like them.”

“How so, good knight?”

“Population centers are like the old castles. We can lay siege to them but we cannot target non-combatants. All fighting is between professional soldiers.”

“And the peasants who get in the way,” said Dee Dee.

“Like in olden times, I guess.”

Keep your hands in the boat,” droned the recording. “Don’t rock the boat.”

He twisted around to kiss her in the awkward confines of the boat, but she turned her face away, so he felt for the step with his foot.

He found it and climbed down into the card room from the ventilation duct, closing the grille behind him. The three gunners sat around a green felt table, smoking cigarettes and playing poker.

“Hey, it’s the bombardier,” said Tuller. “The Man of the Hour.”

“How’s it look up there?” said Eastman.

“Did you hit your mark?” said Yeldham.

“Yeah, I think so,” said Buddy. “But as you could see, I might have been off by a thousand feet and it would hardly matter.”

“Yeah, that was sure something all right,” said Eastman. “Now just the long flight back.”

“You want to play a few hands?” said Yeldham.

“Naw,” said Buddy. “I’m just heading for the can.”

“Suit yourself,” said Tuller.

Leaving the plush card room, Buddy entered the tiny lavatory of the B-29 bomber. In the claustrophobic confines he lowered his pants, sat on the toilet, and dropped a load.

He rested his chin on his fists. With his eyes closed it was almost an attitude of prayer. He was relieved that the mission objective had been completed: six bombers had each dropped a bomb, three on the beachheads and three on the inland reserves. He was thankful Luke the Spook hadn’t been shot down yet. Six magic pumpkins planted, a sudden mushroom forest sprouted, towering over Southern Kyushu. The Allied troops would land on Miyazaki’s blasted beach in an hour. He was hoping that the war would come to an abrupt end now, so they could be home for Christmas. That goal had seemed more likely before the October typhoon had set everything back a month.

When he opened his eyes again he was at the bombsight in the nose of the plane.

* * *

2. Operation Coronet

The Plexiglas nose cone made Buddy think of a round cathedral window with all the leading and the glass. A stained-glass picture of blue sky above and tan earth below, the view from a cloud.

He shook himself.

No time for daydreaming or thinking about last time.

The tail-gunner had been singing over the intercom early in the flight, and now in the silence of the bomb-run the song ran through Buddy’s head: Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay.

Through the bombsight Buddy looked down on rice paddies about fifty miles northwest of Tokyo. It was 1 March 1946, and their objective was to soften up the interior for the invasion of Tokyo Bay. Others from the 509th Composite Group were nuking the beaches in preparation for the largest amphibious assault in history — four times the size of the Normandy Invasion — using American, British, and Australian forces. Just like they had done in Southern Kyushu three months before.

My oh my what a wonderful day.

Ota was a rural town with a factory building fighter planes, a railroad connecting the prefectural capital to Tokyo, and some troop concentrations on the south side. The place had been hit several times with conventional bombs—a B-29 or three had even gone down in the area—but that was the old way.

Plenty of sunshine headin’ their way.

Buddy released his atom bomb on the bulls-eye, between the railroad and the Imperial Army, two miles outside of city limits. As the bomb fell away, the bomber made its customary sharp turn for the flight back to Miyazaki.

Buddy closed his eyes as he put on his flash goggles. When he opened his eyes it was dark. Too dark. He lifted the goggles for a peek and found it was night.

* * *

3. Operation Hudson Harbor

What the hell? thought Buddy, startled. It seems like I’ve been on this plane for days, forever. Why did I have my goggles on already? Just to see what I could see — yes, that’s right, an experiment.

It was a night flight in the moonless dark of 6 April 1951. An atomic armada of forty B-29s filled the air on their way to bomb all the Red Chinese airbases and depots strung across the Manchurian side of the Korean Peninsula, from Antung in the west to Hunchun in the east.

The area near Antung had been known as “MiG Alley” ever since some B-29s dropping iron bombs had been surprised by the first Soviet-made MiG jet fighters in Korea. That was in November, five months ago.

Buddy was at his station in the nose of Luke the Spook, looking out into the darkness as they entered MiG Alley. He thought about the mission:

First nukes for the U.N. If we can get the Chicom and the Soviets out of here, then we can be home for Christmas. The Chicom can’t nuke, but if the Soviets want to fly a bomber over to nuke an airbase in Alaska, they can try. And they know what they’ll get in response — they’ve only got around forty bombs, and we’re using that amount right here, right now.

There were a few shudders through the bomber, an explosion, and Buddy saw the fiery tail of a MiG swoop down in front.

The bail bell rang. Buddy fumbled into his parachute harness and grabbed the precious bombsight while the other airmen shouted and scrambled. When he opened the bombardier escape hatch he was sucked out into the blackness at 30,000 feet.

We’re dead, he thought. My God, we’re dead when our pumpkin goes.

Even through this sense of doom he counted out the seconds for a long fall.

Could Remington have gone in there to disarm it after the bail bell rang? Sacrificing himself to give the rest of us a chance? Gone in there with an air mask and his tool kit, opening up the bomb and pulling out the trigger?

With a jerk Buddy was floating in the quiet. He strained to see the stricken bomber, still counting the seconds since he had jumped. He wondered how far away from the atomic blast he would have to be to survive in the air, with a fragile silk parachute.

Eight miles for the plane to survive, so maybe twenty miles for me in the open? That would be how many seconds at our last speed?

He closed his eyes in concentration. Two hundred thirty miles per hour is about four miles a minute, so I need five minutes. He saw light through his eyelids.

Here it comes! He instinctively opened his eyes.

It was like a dream. He was floating down on a beautiful, clear day, and all of Japan was out there before him, Mount Fuji near the horizon.

What was that? I must’ve blacked out from the pressure change. It’s Y-Day.

Buddy looked around for the mushroom clouds but there weren’t any to be seen. He looked south to Tokyo Bay where the amphibious landings would be happening, but the bay’s shape and orientation were wrong.

It’s funny how Tokyo Bay is a miniature version of the Yellow Sea, where the Boso Peninsula sticks out like Korea. But this one looks more like the San Francisco Bay than either of those.

What he had taken for Mount Fuji was Mount Shasta of California. He drifted down to Sonoma.

No, it’s not Y-Day. Luke the Spook, my old bomber, was shot down over Korea. I thought I was going to die. Maybe I did? It’s just a memory brought on by being in a parachute again, revisiting that trauma. The war’s over — Korea is free.

There was a crowd seated on bleachers on the plaza before the Spanish Mission, where some American adventurers had just replaced the Mexican flag with a bear flag of their own design when Buddy landed in the plaza. The spectators gasped and cheered. Children ran to touch the silk.

The band played. A politician gave a short speech about the town, calling it the meeting place of two worlds.

“The last Spanish mission was built here, 700 miles up the Camino Real from the first one in San Diego. And here the bear flag was first raised, marking the birth of the Republic of California!”

Afterwards Buddy toured the mission and found they were working at restoring it. “Here in the garden we are building a monument of clear glass blocks,” said Simonson, the man leading the tour. “It is a miniature of the Mission, to serve as a memorial to Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Kokura, and Niigata.”

“Why those cities?” asked Buddy.

“The Bomb,” said Simonson.

Buddy shrugged. “Sure they were bombed, a lot of Jap cities were bombed.”

Atomic bomb.”

“What are you trying to pull?” said Buddy, scoffing. “Is this some kind of Commie prank? No cities have been nuked!”

“Now look here — ”

“No, you look!” said Buddy. “I was there — I dropped the bomb at Miyazaki, at Ota — ”

“What are you talking about? Where’s Miya-saki?”

Buddy wanted to punch Simonson in the face but instead he turned and stormed away into the church. He sat at a pew, closed his eyes, and tried to ease the rage in his heart.

When he opened his eyes again he was at the bombsight in the nose of another plane.

* * *

4. Operation Vulture

Buddy felt a chill run up his back.

It seems like I’ve been on this plane for days, but we just took off. Took off without an engine fire — that’s it, I’m just relieved. Mind plays little tricks under the pressure.

They were fifteen minutes out from Miyazaki heading west, so it was the time to arm the bomb. Buddy heard them talking about it over the intercom and found himself curious about the arming process, or more precisely the emergency disarming process.

“Mind if I watch?” he asked.

“No, not at all,” said Redford. “Come on.”

Buddy left Necessary Evil‘s bombardier station, walked away from the cockfight (this time behind a meat packing plant within sight of Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles), and entered the Sierra cabin. Warton was sitting at the table, marking up a map of Southeast Asia, and Nichols stood beside him. Buddy went down the trap door this time and stepped out into the heat and humidity of an Indian spring.

They were on a dock, with cargo ships at berths all around them. The bomb was hanging horizontally from a scaffold, reminding Buddy of the log used to ring a temple bell in Japan at the Slag Buddha of Kamakura. It was as big as a trashcan, and Redford was underneath it like a mechanic working on a car.

“Welcome to the bomb bay,” said Redford. “Here we go again, huh? Seems like every couple or three years we got another pumpkin run.”


It was 6 April 1953, and the mission was to relieve the French at the siege of Dien Bien Phu. A very small scale operation, using only three B-29s to drop three bombs in Northern Vietnam, it would be the first “surgical strike.”

On the mat next to Redford were tools, bomb plates, and a pumpkin core.

Oh life could be a dream, sh-boom,” sang Redford.

“I don’t know about that ‘boom’ part,” said Buddy.

Redford groaned.

“He ain’t alive for a while yet,” said Redford. “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, had a wife and couldn’t keep her,” he chanted as he worked the wrench. “Put her in a pumpkin shell … and there he kept her very well.” He put the wrench down. “Hand me that core, will you?”

“This must be the wife, then,” said Buddy, giving him the cylinder.

“Yup, you got it.”

“You know, I was in Bombay back in April of ’44.”


“It was a big staging ground for X-Day.”

“You don’t say,” said Redford.

Buddy looked up at the English cargo ship beside them at berth number one, read the name painted on her side: Fort Stikine.

“There was a cargo ship, the Fort Stikine — we were joking that it should be called ‘Fort Stinking’ because it had a ripe cargo of fish manure, but it also had fourteen hundred tons of munitions.”

The stevedores had quit for lunch. After they left there was a wisp of smoke from the cargo hold, as if the cargo was taking a break, too, and having a few cigarettes.

“At four o’clock I was walking around, looking for a place to get a beer,” said Buddy. “I must’ve been a half-mile from the docks — I could tell they were fighting a fire down by the water but it seemed pretty minor.

“I was asking this English officer for directions when there was a huge explosion — and I mean huge, it was nearly atomic. All the windows around us were blown out, and when I looked down at the dock I couldn’t see anything but a big cloud of smoke covering the whole area.

“That was all in a second or less. I turned to the guy beside me and he wasn’t there anymore. I looked around and his legs were over here and his upper body was over there. He’d been cut in half by a piece of metal plate.”

Buddy had tried putting the Englishman back together, then he got sick for a while.

“It was a mess, with the blood and the fire, and the smoke, and the choking stink of fish manure everywhere. People were screaming and running around. Some were saying it was Pearl Harbor again, that the Japs were attacking the ships. I tried to help people in the area.

“That’s when the second explosion came, and it really was a mushroom cloud — the ship itself went a thousand feet straight up, on a pillar of smoke. Everybody ran for cover and all the metal bits came down like hail, killing more.”

Redford came out from under the bomb, saying, “A little pumpkin for the Viet Minh.”

“So it is pretty complicated to arm it — ” said Buddy.

“Not much to it.”

“But if we had to ditch…”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Redford.

“It’s just — ”

“I know, I know,” said Redford. “You’re just spooked about Luke.”

“Well, yeah.”

“But it didn’t go off, did it?” asked Redford. He struck a pose and sang in his Dean Martin voice: “When you walk in a dream but you know you’re not dreaming, signore, ‘scusa me, but you see, back in old Napoli, that’s amore.”

Buddy went up from India into the miner’s cabin, then into the Tunnel of Love. He was with Dee Dee again, and a new scene appeared on the left: a group of women with bamboo spears killing a downed airman.

“Scary,” said Buddy.

“Yes,” said Dee Dee, huddling close.

The women were Japanese, with disheveled hair and tattered kimono. Their eyes were wide in their dust-streaked faces, their mouths twisted in savage grimaces.

Keep your hands in the boat.”

“I thought the tunnel ride was supposed to be either scary or romantic,” said Buddy.

“Now it’s both,” said Dee Dee. “Super modern.”

On the horizon behind the amazons was a mushroom cloud, painted in Halloween colors of orange and black. The supine airman had two spears stuck in his gut. A scattering of spent brass casings showed his pistol was out of ammunition.

“They blur the line between non-combatant and soldier,” said Dee Dee. “That’s what makes it scary.”

“When they take up weapons they become combatants,” said Buddy.

“They were told they would be raped and murdered,” said Dee Dee. “They fight to defend themselves.”

“They are still combatants.”

Don’t rock the boat.”

“They were fierce,” said Dee Dee. “That there are any Japanese left is a miracle.”

“Yeah. There aren’t enough to run the place, though. Indians in the British sector, Koreans in the American sector, and Germans in the Russian sector.”

She kissed him hungrily, her slim tongue spiraling around his own. It was a little frightening, but he closed his eyes, relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, even though there was a sudden stitch in his side.

“Wake up, Buddy,” said a man’s voice. “No time for napping.”

Buddy opened his eyes. He was sitting in a chair in the wait room of a Stateside bomber field.

* * *

5. Operation Pluto

“Rough night last night?” asked Wolcott.

“No,” said Buddy, finding his voice. “Smooth…tunnel of love.”

Through the window Buddy could see their “Buff” being loaded up: the crew installed the plutonium bombs into the belly of the B-52 using the latest motorized gear, a far cry from the atomic pits at Okinawa and Miyazaki.

“You dog,” said Wolcott with a leer. “You want some pep pills?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Buddy. “Give me a couple.”

The Buff was ready. The six airmen walked out to it.

‘Cause I’m the wanderer — yeah, the wanderer,” sang Buddy. “I roam around around around.”

“That should be your theme song, Buddy,” said Wolcott. “You’re like the Flying Dutchman.”

Buddy gave a laughing huff. The weather was comfortably warm and humid, a typical October morning in Louisiana.

“And you,” said Buddy, “you’re the Duke of Earl.”

The job in front of them was a dream case of nukes-at-sea. Pure military, with no possibility of fallout on civilians: the interception of a Soviet ship carrying atom bombs to Cuba. Navy had wanted to do it, naturally, but they had the blockade to deal with.

The airmen climbed in and took their places on upper and lower flight decks. The cockpit was in the ruins of Mission San Luis Obispo this time, and the unbroken piñata swayed in the breeze. There was no Plexiglas nosecone on a B-52, no windows on the lower deck, just the banks of machinery and radar screens in a crypt beneath the church. Buddy sat at the radar/bombardier station, with Wolcott at the radar navigator station beside him.

Before long the eight Pratt & Whitney turbojet engines were moving them down the runway. Buddy was tense, but reminded himself that this wasn’t a B-29 with engines that would sometimes catch fire on takeoff. Still, he closed his eyes and said a little prayer for their safety.

“You okay, Buddy?” asked Simonson.

Buddy opened his eyes. He was back at Mission Sonoma, meeting place of two worlds. He turned in the pew and looked Simonson straight in the eye.

“I don’t believe in your four radioactive cities, or in your Godzilla, your giant ants, your ICBMs, or your megatons.”

“It would be a better world if there were no atomic bombs,” said Simonson.

“I’m sure some people said the same thing about the first cannon, the first musket,” said Buddy. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, you can’t outlaw the new weapon.”

“Poison gas was outlawed,” said Simonson. “So were fléchettes.”

“But those are in a different category,” said Buddy. “Gas is indiscriminate, unguided, just like the Nazi rocket bombs. And fléchettes were designed to maim and wound.”

“If you could change anything, what would it be?”

“I’d find out about Bombay,” said Buddy. “Maybe that fire could have been avoided, and that materiel would’ve helped the invasion, made the war end sooner.”

“How about ending the war a year earlier by nuking a few population centers?” said Simonson. “Miyazaki had a population of a couple hundred thousand, right? And you say you bombed that.”

“The cut off for a population center was two hundred thousand, and Miyazaki only had one-sixty,” said Buddy. “But it was a known battlefield — the Japs knew we were coming there.”

“Still, you say three towns were bombed that day,” said Simonson. “If each one was half the size of Hiroshima, that still adds up to one and a half Hiroshimas.”

“It wouldn’t work and it is too barbaric to consider,” said Buddy. “Firebombing Tokyo and Dresden, that was bad enough. Why do something even worse?”

“It sends a message.”

“You want to send a message, use a telegram.”

“You okay, Buddy?”

“I bombed a cathedral in Germany,” said Buddy. “An iron bomb, before we had nukes. That’s what I hate about the old way, bombing targets in cities, with flak popping all around and enemy fighters swarming like hornets. I made a mistake — I dropped too early, and ruined a medieval church.

“That’s why I’m working here at the Mission, to atone for that. I don’t believe in your four radioactive cities. It’s all an insane dream, your Nazi missiles with super-atomic warheads, all of them pointing at population centers. Generations living with guilt and the fear of apocalypse coming at any moment.”

Buddy closed his eyes. “In my heart the memorial is for Tokyo, Dresden, and Hamburg. As I build it, when I put those glass blocks into place, I think of them.”

He opened his eyes. He was at his station in the Buff and he had just nuked Germany.

* * *

6. German Reunification

“Where were you the day the first neutron bombs were dropped?” Palmer asked Buddy.

They were in the cemetery at Mission Dolores, safe in the bosom of San Francisco. It was sunset at the end of a hot day: Palmer and Godfrey were wearing sombreros and drinking bottles of beer, sitting on a bench in front of the ring. They were surrounded by a busload of tourists: Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Vietnamese, and Russian sailors with their white hats. All of them were betting on the fighting roosters in the ring.

“Fulda Gap,” said Buddy.

“The first will always be remembered,” said Godfrey.

The three Americans were using their flash goggles as sunglasses.

“I dunno, it’s all a part of the Big One,” said Buddy.

“Still, our one bomb put a dent in those Russky divisions, I’ll betcha.”

It’s the end of the world as we know it,” sang Godfrey. “And I feel fine.”

Empty bottles lay on the ground and the hollow remains of a piñata dangled from a beam.

“Where you going?”

“Use the can,” said Buddy.

“Good idea. It’s a long trip back to Lakenheath.”

The sunset was getting brighter. Buddy thought, It’s strange, like a film running backwards or the sun rising in the west. Probably just one of those optical illusions right at sunset where the sun splits in two with a green flash.

Michael Andre-Driussi had a banner year in 2014, with the publication of several stories as well as two reference books, True SF Anime (about Japanese cartoons) and Handbook of Vance Space (about the worlds of SFWA Grand Master Jack Vance). He lives in a far northern border town of the once and future State of Silicon Valley. He has no cats.