29 Oct 2000 1200H. Zgierz, Poland
The temporary truck/train encampment stirred into life as Maks’ train was given clearance to continue on to Soviet-held Zgierz. From there, they would continue on to Łódź. The Baron’s representative, Maj Wilk, would negotiate trade relations. Maks wanted coal for the long trip by rail to Bremerhaven.
Arriving in Zgierz, Maks could see the stories were true. The Soviets here were indeed sitting on mountains of coal mined over the last summer. They were also well-protected, with two heavy gun emplacements covering the tracks and nearby highway. Maks recognized one of them as a turret from a T-72, salvaged and placed onto a hardpoint. Another placement appeared to be built around a turret from an American M-60 tank.
Turrets (and so many other relevant military objects) at this site.
The Soviets had their own train waiting for them in Zgierz. Maks’ train was directed to a siding, and Maks, Wilk and Bowen travelled alone into town.
The view from the Soviet train was impressive. Łódź [wo-oj] was still a mostly-functioning city, and perhaps an economic equal to Kraków. Maks also noted that despite the metropolis being held by the Sov 20th Tank Division, and the HQ of the 4th Tank Army, he saw no tanks. Other than the salvaged turrets of course.
Once in Łódź, they were transported to the opulent Herbst Palace Museum, which the Soviets had taken over as their headquarters
Maks rolled his eyes, as the setting was at odds with communist ideals. As a Pole, he well knew the abundant hypocrisy of the communist elite.
Major Wilk went in first, and Maks was directed to sit and wait. And wait. And wait.
After several hours, Wilk came out. He and Soviets seemed upbeat. He nodded at Maks and departed, as Maks was directed into the room with the Soviet officers. Bowen was directed to remain outside.
In the room waited a Soviet general and a colonel. And guards at each door.
20th TD: General R.N. Zhelnin [Diamond King “Selfish”; Spade 6 “Moderately ambitious”] Aging, doesn’t look well.
124th MRD liaison from Piotrokow: Col Suvorov [Club Ace “War leader”; Spade Ace “Charismatic”]. Young. Has an arm in a sling.
In Russian, Suvorov greeted Maks. “Lt. Col. Maksymilian Zając [Zay-onts]. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Maks greeted him warily.
Maks cringed inside, as he realized they’d met earlier in Piotrokow, at the food meeting with General Mikhailov, CO of the 124th MRD. Except then Maks was disguised as “Captain Sławomir Młynarski”, a loyal Polish officer. Did Suvorov recognize him?
I use Interrogation as a sort of “verbal combat” ability, and the skill that lets you “read people”. I had my brother roll a Difficult:Interrogation to see if he could sense recognition from Suvorov. Success! I told him that the colonel did seem to note Maks with faint surprise, but he said nothing.
“The personnel file the GRU gave us on you… ends rather abruptly. Good service record with Wojsko Polskie (Polish Military), with above-average marks, until Winter 1997, where you are recorded as AWOL, and a presumed deserter.”
Zhelnin, voice like gravel, intoned, “We should hang this traitor to the Workers’ Struggle.”
Suvorov nodded slightly, but otherwise didn’t acknowledge the general.
I had my brother roll Difficult:Leadership. He failed by one point. I told him something felt off between General Zhelnin and Colonel Suvorov, who was after all only a liaison officer here representing the 124th MRD in Piotrokow. Yet the colonel seemed to be in the lead.
The Soviet colonel appeared to not require an answer from Maks, and continued:
“Your Americans have caused us so much trouble. Starting with that raid on our POW camp at Szczercow on 23 July 2000. Terrorists posing as loyalist Polish troops infiltrated, attacked, and freed American POWs. Who subsequently joined Polish partisan groups, and have made a nuisance of themselves all summer.
“General Zhelnin thinks that you led that raid.” Zhelnin scowled, but said nothing, staring at Maks intently.
This time I rolled Interrogation for Suvorov and my brother rolled for Maks. It was an “opposition” task roll (Twilight 2000 v2.2, page 135). He rolled a success, but didn’t know the outcome of Suvorov’s roll. (As it turned out, both succeeded, but Maks succeeded better.) They were both watching each other closely for tells, and Maks sensed that Suvorov only wanted a plausible denial.
Maks denied the raid, saying he was in Kraków at the time, and quickly reiterated their goal: He had family in America, and he was going to take his Americans that he’d subsequently banded with to the evacuation fleet massed at Bremerhaven, Germany. Knowing that food supply was an ongoing problem here, Maks offered to take any Americans that the Soviets were still holding.
Suvorov smiled. “Indeed. That is a topic we’ll discuss later.”
“Since the defeat of the Americans, it seems you have been an agent for the late Markiz of Silesia, then Krakow, then Sandomierz, then for the factions opposing the Black Baron of Warsaw. And here you are, in the company of the Baron’s emissary.
“Your affiliations seem rather… promiscuous.”
Maks retorted, “I swore no oaths to any of them, and what few oaths I make, I keep. Further, times have changed, and we must adapt to them, yes?”
General Zhelnin laughed – which turned into hacking and coughing – and went over to a table to pour himself a drink. He rested on a couch across the room.
Suvorov said, “Well, you want things from us. In return, I want to know everything you know about the major entities in this region.” He wanted the full scoop on Warsaw & Silesia & Krakow. Everything.
Maks went on a long dissertation of his knowledge of the players in the region, holding back only a few damning details. Suvorov was particularly interested in his views on the Baron, and curious about their train experience thus far.
Zhelnin poured himself drinks in succession, and was soon snoring on that same couch.
Suvorov seemed to relax.
“Shortly, we will be freeing 270 NATO POWs. They will be released to you in a general amnesty.” A pause. “Take them – and take yourself – away from here before we change our minds.” He nodded significantly at the sleeping general.
Maks was taken aback. He doubted he had food stores for that many people, and certainly the Soviets did not either.
“We cannot release the POWs into the region, as many will surely take up arms against us.” Suvorov muttered in rough English: “As a Pole, you are doubtless familiar with the Katyn Forest incident during the Great Patriotic War?” He fixed Maks with a stare. “No, the Americans must go, now.”
The Soviets were shuttering the coal mines for the winter, and no longer needed the forced labor or the mouths to feed.
Maks asked for Bowen to be brought back in the room.
Maks and Suvorov agreed: Maks would not take anyone against his will to Bremerhaven, but would not let any American off the train closer than 100 kilometers to Łódź.
The Soviets would contribute 24 tons of coal, and 9 box cars to Maks’ project.
Bowen reminded Maks to ask about a CT scan machine for Elizka, who was suffering from some sort of chronic pulmonary issue, and was increasingly weaker every day. Suvorov sent a runner to Lodz University Hospital to inquire.
Maks was allowed to visit the POWs. They were mostly American, with a few Europeans mixed in. All were scarecrows, and their uniforms, sooty rags.
Each NATO POW has several fatigue points from starvation, and so they are mostly worthless as personnel until their diet returns to normal.
Maks spoke to their CO, imploring him to prevent any incidents, as he was currently negotiating their release.
Suvorov wanted Maks’ BRDM, OT-64 and the two amphibs (MAV and BAV). What would Maks trade for them? The Soviets were eager to have amphibious vehicles for some reason. Rumor had it many Soviet units would head home come Spring. If so, these Soviets would find that their trains would only run as far as the Russian border, where the track gauge changes.
The Soviets had an excess of towed guns, such as recoilless rifles, quad-AA assets, and so on to offer in return.
His group was soon going to number over 300 souls. What Maks really needed was food.