Today's Reading

The whole country was being held together by force and propaganda. Solidarity had risen from nothing and tried to eliminate the Soviets, but eight months ago Moscow finally had enough of concessions and ordered a crackdown. Overnight tens of thousands had been jailed without charges. Many more were seized, then bused out of the country. People simply vanished. All pro-democracy movements were banned, their leaders, including the famed Lech Walesa, jailed. The military takeover had been quick and coordinated. Soldiers now patrolled the streets of every major city. A curfew had been imposed, the national borders sealed, airports closed, road access to main cities restricted. Telephone lines were either disconnected or tapped, mail subjected to censorship, and classes in schools and universities suspended.

Some had even died.

No one knew the exact count.

A six-day workweek had been ordered. The media, public services, health care, utilities, coal mines, ports, railroads, and most key factories were placed under military management. Part of the crackdown involved a process that examined everyone's attitude toward the regime. A new loyalty test included a document that pledged the signer would cease all activity the government even thought might be a threat. Which was how many had been netted, including himself. Apparently his answers had not been satisfactory, though he'd lied as best he could.

The beating stopped for a moment.

He forced his brain into action and asked, "Who is he?"

"A professor of mathematics. He was arrested leaving a Solidarity meeting. That makes him, by definition, not innocent."

"Does he know anything?"

"That is the thing about interrogation," Dilecki said. "Many times it is merely a search for useful information. So what he knows remains to be seen."

A pause hung in the air.

"Interrogation also has other purposes. It can frighten those not being tortured, allowing us to break down their resistance and rebuild them in more...pliable ways."

Now he understood why he was here.

Dilecki's eyes narrowed as his gaze focused. "You hate me, don't you."

No sense lying. "Absolutely."

"I don't care. But I do want you to fear me."

His legs began to tremble.

Dilecki turned his attention back to the prisoner and motioned. One of the guards kicked the stool over, tumbling the beaten man hard to the concrete floor. The wrists and ankles were untied, and the man's bleeding body folded in pain. Still, though, he'd neither cried out nor said a word.

Which was impressive.

More so, in fact, than Dilecki's counterfeit fear.

So he drew off that courage and asked, "What do you want with me?"

"I want you to keep your eyes and ears open and tell me what you see, what you hear. I want you to report all that you know. I want to know about our friends and our enemies. We are facing a great crisis and need the help of people like you."

"I'm nobody."

"Which makes you the perfect spy." Dilecki laughed. "But who knows? One day you might be a big somebody."

He'd heard what the instigators and supporters of martial law liked to say. Poland was surrounded by the USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and Belarus, all Soviet-controlled. Martial law had been implemented to rescue Poland from a possible military intervention by those Warsaw Pact countries. Like what happened in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the Soviets crushed all opposition. But no one seriously believed such nonsense. This was about those in power keeping power.

Communism's entire existence depended on coercion.

Polish communism seemed an odd mixture of socialism and fascism, where a small group controlled everyone else, along with all of the resources, while the vast majority lived in hunger and poverty.

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