Klickitat Stories

If you’re interested in the backstories and histories of the items, objects and locations from my stories told in Klickitat, read more about them below. But only after you’ve read the stories. [SPOILER ALERT]

Objects found in the story Heavywater

Vemork Norway Raid, 1943 (From Heavywater)

Scientific research and experimentation conducted throughout the early decades of the twentieth century built the foundational understanding of atoms. Fission fully revealed itself in 1938, and after that, the race to control it quickly accelerated.

But could it even be controlled?

Some, thought not.

Deuterium (D2O), so called heavywater, is a pivotal component in controlling the propagation of high energy neutrons from fission.

The German scientists knew its importance, and their only source was a single hydroelectric dam facility in Vemork, Norway. Conveniently, the invasion of Norway by Germany in 1940, passed complete control of the dam and electrolysis-facility producing deuterium, to the Nazis.

The Allies understood heavywater, and committed themselves to destroying any, and all, German access to deuterium.

In November 1942, they launched a high-risk raid: two large, engineless gliders, each with fifteen soldiers and two pilots, were towed by two Halifax bombers from the UK to Norway. Once over the rendezvous point the gliders were to be released, and would land in a large snowfield where the commandos would coordinate with Norwegian resistance fighters on the ground.

But they got lost. Both gliders crashed as did one of the towing Halifax bombers. The commandos not killed in the crashes were rounded up by the Nazis and shot. Worse still, the Germans discovered maps, explosives, and plans: they knew that the Allies were after the facility at Vemork.

Undaunted — and knowing the Germans were expecting them — the Allies launched another raid, which culminated in the successful destruction of the production facility at Vemork in February, 1943. The successful raiders then went on a 250 mile cross country trek to escape over the border to safety in neutral Sweden. This amazing story is one of perseverance and courage in the face of steep odds, and is detailed in the book, Heroes of Telelmark: Sabotaging Hitler’s Atomic Bomb. Norway 1942-1944, by David Greentree.

Mt. Adams: The Castle (From Klickitat)

The Castle is a natural rock formation, arising from Battlement Ridge on the east side of Mt. Adams. The ridge and the Castle are flanked by the Rusk Glacier to the North, and the Klickitat Glacier to the South. There are many mountaineering routes to the summit of Mt. Adams; some of which are quite technical and dangerous. The vast majority of mountaineers follow the safer path of the South Spur Route.

The Castle was first climbed in 1921 by C.E. Rusk, who had explored and named many of Mt Adam’s features. It is especially difficult because of the rotten rock and abundant rockfall. Rusk’s ashes and a small memorial were placed at the top after his death in 1931.

Seldom climbed because of the risk, attempts dropped even further after a massive rockslide in 1997. It is unstable and many now consider it a death trap. (Author’s note: I will never attempt this climb.)

Objects found in the story Klickitat

Honjo Masamune (From Protectors)

The Honjō Masamune is a katana made by the legendary Japanese swordsmith Gorō Nyūdō Masamune, who lived in the Sagami Province during the 13th century. Masamune is considered to be Japan’s greatest swordsmith, and his blades were known for their superior quality and beauty. By perfecting the steel’s differential hardening process, his swords provided a very hard cutting edge without compromising flexibility. This is achieved by applying clay to the spine before cooling the hot steel. The visible hamon line along the length of the sword marks the interface in the differentially hardened steel, and Masamune’s blades were known for the distinctive ocean wave patterns of nie crystals in the hamon. Beautiful and deadly.

The Honjō Masamune is considered Masamune’s greatest work, and is a Japanese national treasure. The first part of the name is thought to reference Honjō Shigenaga, a samurai who acquired it after defeating Umanosuke who was wielding the blade. In legend, the blade split Shigenada’s helmet but he survived and won the battle, taking the sword as his prize. From there the katana passed through a line of samurai and lords, sometimes returning to a previous owner.

At the end of World War Two, the occupying American forces forbid the Japanese any edged weapons and required all swords be turned in to the authorities. Tokugawa Iemasa, the last known owner of the Honjō Masamune, obeyed the order and the sword subsequently disappeared. What happened to the blade remains a mystery to this day.

Objects found in the story Protectors

Cesium-137 (Cs-137) (From Signals)

Cesium is a metallic element in the alkali metal series of the periodic table (along with lithium, sodium and potassium). Cesium-137, a radioactive isotope of naturally occurring cesium, is a fissile byproduct of uranium and is created within nuclear reactors and by the detonation nuclear bombs. With a half-life of thirty years, Cs-137 is particularly dangerous because of its rapid airborne dispersion into the environment. The wide-distribution and penetration into water, including biological tissue, is also why its radiation, both gamma and beta, is so deadly.

The destructive nature of environmental contamination with Cs-137 is well understood, as the nuclear disasters at Fukushimi Dalichi and Chernobyl demonstrate. Beyond reactors and bombs, Cs-137 is found in medical radiotherapy devices and industrial gauges, and accidents have happened. One such was the junkyard decommissioning of a radiation therapy unit in Goiânia, Brazil, in 1987. The glowing cesium salts were a curiosity, but quickly killed a half-dozen people and sickened dozens more.

All of these features make Cs-137 one of the most feared elements in a dirty bomb: a conventional explosive that widely disperses Cs-137 — and/or other radio-isotopes — into the environment, contaminating it and causing immense harm for decades.

Objects found in the story Signals