The dog didn't bark as Thanh unlocked the door with the stolen keycard. She slipped into the dark with a bag slung over her shoulder. The dog slapped its tail against the hardword floor. Thanh pressed her finger to her lips but the dog did not recognize the gesture and only wagged harder. Thanh rolled her eyes and walked quietly past. The dog got up and padded along.
She found the bedroom, with clothes strewn on the floor, and a man, about seventy, sprawled in the middle of a king-sized bed, snoring. Thanh placed the bag on the floor and the dog sat next to it, watching her eagerly. She pulled out a small dart gun, armed it, then shot the man in the chest. He woke up, grunting and disoriented, then screamed when he saw Thanh at the foot of his bed. The dog ran around to the side of the bed, hopped up onto the man and started licking his face with concern. The man struggled to get up, but quickly became quiet.
"I have given you a muscle relaxant," said Thanh. "You will be awake for the next five minutes or so. Then you will sleep deeply. You will remember that I was here, but you will not be able to find me."
"Hurnnng," gurgled the man.
"It will be best if you keep quiet. Because I have a story to tell you."
Thanh pulled the dog down from the bed, then sat next to the man and pulled the dart from his chest. He was starting to slobber from the medication.
"Shall I begin?" she asked. "Yes I will. This has taken thirty years of my life. You do not know this. It is not revenge, precisely. I merely want you to know what I saw. What you did and you probably don't even remember. Not the specifics anyway. Do you remember Can Tho? March 2023. You were there, in spirit. I was there, all of me. I was six years of age. I was playing by myself in a grassy field next to our house. The metal men fell from the sky, all curled up in their boxed form. They had red parachutes. They were like flower petals. It was beautiful. Then my grandmother screamed for me from the other side of the field. She ran towards me and her hat fell to her back. She had lived through the Vietnam war when she was herself a girl. I didn't know what she was screaming at me for.
"Then the metal men began to land, and the ground shook. They unfolded, and stood on all fours, their backs bristling with guns. They targeted my grandmother because she was moving. She was cut in half by the bullets. I did not know what was happening, even though I could see it plainly. Then they converged on her, with their flamethrowers and burned the ground around her."
The man in the bed began to cry silently. Thanh wiped away his tears with a gloved hand.
"Yes. You have correctly surmised that you were the controller for one of those metal men. There is more to tell you. One of the metal men ran to me. Its cameras looked at me; examined me up and down. The guns pointed at me. I was frozen, but I could see. I saw the worn edges of the armor--the signs of the metal man's previous use, in what I later found out to be eighteen incursions. Drug busts. Insurgent captures. Crowd control. I did not know this at the time. I also saw a stenciled image. A white dove, with its wings outstretched. To me it looked like it was dead and pinned down, but that's not what you intended, was it?
"No. You painted that stencil, not as an ironic statement of the futility of seeking peace with a weapon of war, but as a genuine statement of how you saw yourself. A peaceable man. An officer of the peace. You believed yourself to be good. At that is why, behind the metal man, behind the signal, behind your distant bunker on an aircraft carrier out to sea, you decided to not shoot me. You turned and ran off, and left me in the field as you helped your fellow soldiers burn my house down, and then the houses of my neighbors, in an effort to smoke out a drug lord. But what you didn't know, or didn't care to acknowledge, is that you sought out a drug lord who didn't even exist. You burned our town for nothing."
Thanh shifted her weight and turned away from the man. She bent down and patted the dog.
"I lost everything I loved. My grandmother, my parents, my siblings, my friends. Even my school teacher. All because you were given some bad data."
Thanh stood and looked down at the man. He was breathing evenly, but his eyes were wrinkled up in fright.
"To have revenge," she continued, "I would have to destroy all that you love. This ridiculously large house perhaps. That fat car outside. Your dog here. Maybe your two ex-wives and the child who hates you and only calls you on Christmas. Yes I know all that. I do my research. You are the last of the metal men I have visited. The others got revenge."
She walked to the foot of the bed and picked up her bag, then went to the doorway.
"You however, will not get that. I wouldn't call it a reprieve though."
Thanh left the room and closed the door behind her. The man gasped, then fell into a tormented sleep.