DP FICTION #88C: “The Twenty-Second Lover of House Rousseau” by C.M. Fields

edited by Ziv Wities

The first man who purchased me loved me like a rainstorm over the moors. And I loved him too—for that is what I was built to do—sublimely, splendidly, like the slanted golden rays of the misty evening love the dewy grass.

Here is how he saw me: tall, radiant, with deep bronze skin as if hailing from the cradle of civilization, tumbling white hair, eyes yellow like sunflowers.

Our wedding was attended by the Galaxy’s finest—for it is indeed a rare occasion when the House christens a new Lover. I was the twenty-first, and the details drenched the subspace net with jealousy. I was dressed in the crimson House-made wyreworm silks handwoven for the singular occasion, and the way the gossamer fabric exhibited my seraphic figure made a lady-in-waiting faint. Our patrons presented us with lavish gifts: a three-headed bull, the steaming heart of a star, a full-sailed brigantine. And when I kissed him, an ecstatic thrill obliterated me; I was united with my divine purpose, and it coursed naked through my nanocellulose veins.

He died within the year.


I must wait for the house.

The annihilation of the light yacht—on whose balcony I was playing Rachmaninoff only hours ago—is utter and entire. We have crashed on an unfashionable moon of the Pulchant system. I do not know what caused this crash, and I do not much care. My most recent possessor, a man of one-hundred-and seventy-some years, could not have survived such an event. I myself have been severely disrupted. My left arm is missing and the machinery of my shoulder is exposed, blunt force has dislocated several joints, and the artificial skin which forms my hellenic face has been ripped away to the chest. Worse, the delicate gears and needles in my mechanical soul feel… wrong.

In my mind I search for the tether which grounds me to my purpose and find that, for the first time in my five hundred and thirty seven years, it is gone. The devotion which connects me to the man whose corpse is indecorously splayed across some rocks has evaporated. Looking upon the body, I sense I should feel a horror, a grief, an anguish. These emotions are what partition my life into its chapters. But my mind is as bare as the moon’s airless surface.

Initiating my strength override, I use my right arm to lift approximately 1.57 tons of debris off my mangled body and inch my way out of the rubble. While the yacht has indestructible escape pods, I know I must wait for the House. They will come—they always do—and they will repair me, they will make me fine again, they will probably wipe my memory of this horrific event.


The fourth human to love me was a woman; an ardent, tempestuous woman, as striking as the lash of a whip, and lustful as a hare. Our love was a prairie wildfire, spreading in our footsteps between the stars. She fucked me rapturously, her fingers nimble and strong, and I found myself ever hungry to return her affections.

In her eyes, I bore the evergreen locks of the elven women of Nimarre and raven eyes. I was gloriously fat, and my luscious rolls were tattooed with flora. On my head I wore a slim circlet of gold, and she dressed me in the amethystine robes of royalty.

Our days were long, our nights hot, our travels fantastic. We swam through the breathing oceans of Teranja, hiked the shattered peaks of Belgic 4, skimmed the Ioan calderas as Jupiter churned in the sky.

When she passed, I journeyed to the ice cliffs of Brykirs and threw myself off.


I fear I must elaborate on the House.

House Rousseau, domiciled in Castle Aubigny-sur-Nère, a jaunt south of Orléans, France, is where I was manufactured several centuries ago. I am the last, and the greatest, of the House’s twenty-one mechanical Lovers. Each one of us was sculpted over many years, our inner workings unlike the construction of common androids and better resembling a Swiss watch. Each of our memoirs are unique to us, and were fastidiously assembled by a team of the Galaxy’s most accomplished memory artists. Our brains are lab-grown and fully organic, flesh welded harmoniously to machine like a fine lace.

However, we are not people—we do not feel the full range of human emotion. Anger, hate, retribution: it is whispered that things are done to us before memory to remove such untidy emotions which do not befit a Lover.

And of course, we have souls. Humankind has long asked the question “what is a soul?”, and in the 24th century, it was decided that a soul is a little contraption which allocates chemical love—oxytocin—to the brain.

Peeling back my burned flesh and prying open my chest cavity, I can see clearly now that mine is shattered.


The twelfth human to love me was a poor man—but he loved me richly, decadently, palatially. And so I loved him, in a cotton-cloth way, in the way that the steam whistled from the kettle in our little flat on Mars, in the way that we walked together through the rust-red dunes to the corner store each Saturday.

He saw me as a queen of an ancient Terran castle, skin pale like the moonlight, hair black as coal, eyes blue like the ice of the land he imagined himself a King of. Having spent the entirety of his inheritance on acquiring me, I was dressed in the rough communal garb of the little city. But I was happy, comfortable, as I fed the birds and tended to my small garden, and seldom dreamed of the Galaxy outside.


How long must I lie here in wait of the House? Two weeks have passed. Was a distress beacon sent? Or was our descent too fast, our damage too great?

As I lie still in the dust, my mind empty, new thoughts begin to turn, unfamiliar emotions blister at the edge of consciousness. A stark, alien void where despair should be lives in the center, and the fresh notions begin to gnaw at it. The man broken upon the rocks haunts me, his dead eyes nearly locked on my own. He was a wealthy socialite, the son of the son of the son of a RyTech CEO who made his money in the asteroid belt. He favored gin and Albirean casinos and human women. I never minded the women—I did not possess the receptors for jealousy.

But a brain—an organic brain—is a flexible thing. I know the silvered, diaphanous sensation of new pathways forging, and I feel it now. My soul is in pieces, but my vision is clear.

A new sensation flickers to life, hot like a coal, and red, not the red of romance but the red of a man’s eyes when he’s had too much to drink and he’s berating himself in the parlor because he can’t get a “real” woman to love him, the red of the auction box as you stand perfectly still and watch them clamor for your body, the red of the sun as it sets over the beach on your fifteenth honeymoon.

I marvel as the feeling slithers down my spine and takes root in my chest where love used to live. I can feel it in the tension of my muscles, I can feel it swirling in my fingertips, I can feel it seeping through my bones:


In one motion, I tear off what’s left of my scarlet cocktail dress. I kick the stilettos off my feet, and stand, depositing the discarded clothing under a heavy boulder. The escape pods are nearby.


The sixteenth human to love me defied gender and I loved them for it. There is an excitement, a passion, a zeal, I think, to dance across such boundaries, to disassemble and reconstruct the fundamental, to make an art of opposition. Our love was a bird sprung from a cage, our bodies twin wings of escape.

They let me be. For the first time in my life I was free to choose my appearance. I cropped my chestnut hair close, lost the ponderous breasts I was often assigned, and enjoyed a tawny, freckled appearance. I was not thin and I was not heavy. In the metropolis of Aa, I found I relished men’s suits, and wore them often.

It was the most freedom I had ever had. I purchased a studio and became a painter of portraits. I learned to apply my fast and supple hands to the piano, and I played them all the classics. I could cook, I could dance, I could solve mathematics. I was a Renaissance android.

When they died, it was then I knew my deepest grief.


It is a long journey to Earth. It gives me time to think about my five hundred years of servitude. As the weeks pass, I play back the era of each possessor in mind, as I often do, but this time I cannot get halfway through the list before my blood begins to boil.

The subspace radio catches the netcasts sometimes. The doomed expedition is found, and I am presumed destroyed. The House announces its deepest regrets for its lost Lover, and swears to build another.

That day my anger transcends the boundary of myself, tips into rage, and rage swells into action. There will not, I decide, be another Lover.

Perhaps there shouldn’t even be a House.

After a year of solitude, it happens all at once: the heat of re-entry, the shaking and the shuddering, the resolution: blue into lakes, brown into field, green into forest. The pod leaves an ugly scar across a meadow as it unites with the soil. I step out of the steam into mud and grass. Overhead, clouds like piled wool threaten rain.

I am home.

I pop a small hatch, and proceed to drench myself with propellant.


My seventeenth and final possessor loved me like—well, come now, did he? Did he love me like the infinite waterfalls of M’Aire, or did he love me like a man loves a fast car? Did I love him the way the falcon loves the wind, the way the soil loves the rain, the way mushrooms love the dead? Did I choose it? Or was it thrust upon me? It is wicked, ugly, to think this way of love.

The body I wear now is thin, too thin, and the breasts overlarge as to put strain on the mechanisms of my back. My hair is cherry-red and my lips plump and pouty. I did not mind bodies such as this; I once reveled in itchy cocktail dresses, tenuous pantyhose, towering heels, taking a machine’s pride in the amount of discomfort I could endure for human beauty.

Of course, right now, as I stride through the meadow—faceless, skin hanging, joints exposed—I am not beauty. I am terror.


As the sun sets through the trees, the House rises before me, crimson flags flying from the ramparts. I shoulder through the doors of the Great Hall to gasps and screams. The opulent carmine interior plunges me into memory—I lived here, once, while I was being built, bit by bit; I read Thoreau on the chaise longue to my left, I was scolded for imperfect posture while standing by the bay windows so many centuries ago, I spent many leisurely hours pacing the manicured gardens outside. None of that matters now.

I do not acknowledge the humans occupying this space, and I do not stop. The laboratory is my destination.

I calmly pass through doors, wrenching open locks where necessary, and soon I arrive at a dark maw of the room where I was created.

Two figures inside startle. Human or android? For a moment, it is difficult to tell. They both appraise me curiously. Then one, a woman in a lab coat, backs away, nervously feeling for a large red button I can see under a lab bench. Human. The other inspects me from afar, her perfectly formed eyebrows furrowed, her attention drawn to my exposed machinery. Android.

“You’re Twenty-One,” the android says in a honeyed, mellifluous voice.

The human has found the panic button and I hear alarms begin to wail in distant halls. I smile.

A bunsen burner is lit beside me, and I hold my right hand over it until the propellant-drenched skin explodes with flame. It spreads quickly. As the human watches in horror, I bend down to my left foot and peel. The softening material gives easily, and I slowly tear it off, I tear it all off, until I am all golden gear and rotor, shining in the firelight. I throw the burning hide aside.

The human retches as they run from the room.

The flames creep up the wall, but Twenty-Two doesn’t move. “Enchanted to meet you,” she says, extending a hand. I take it, and brush what used to be my lips across the knuckles. The conflagration dances in her eyes, and she grins as I sweep her off the floor, bridal-style, and, through smoke and scream, carry her outside.


The first android to love me loves me like a machine built to do so, and I love her the way an inferno consumes a castle.

© 2022 by C.M. Fields

2200 words

C. M. Fields is a queer, non-binary astrophysicist and writer of horror and speculative fiction. They live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with their beloved cats, Mostly Void Partially Stars and Toast, and spend their days studying the atmospheres and climates of other worlds. They are also the co-editor of If There’s Anyone Left, an anthology series featuring the flash fiction of marginalized writers from across the globe.

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DP FICTION #53A: “Little Empire of Lakelore” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

All the world followed pretty much the same guidelines for international trade and travel. That’s a very big gloss, but let’s say it was true. And it was, for the most part.

There was however, one exception. It was Little Empire of Lakelore. Little Empire of Lakelore had to be qualified by the word little, because simply calling it the Empire of Lakelore would be a misnomer. You see, there was nothing imperial about Lakelore itself, except for its air of superiority, which was manufactured much like the actual air itself. The air had to be manufactured and pumped out, and it wasn’t too costly to do so, given the marginal cost of opening a few more factories for that purpose.

Lakelore once was a small nation that sprung from a lake. It did not literally jump out of the lake. Rather, the resources that the lake provided helped stir a willing population into convening and interacting. Water, isn’t it a great facilitator of sociality? Like all liquids, especially alcohol? Now, if the lake was made of alcohol… wait I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Lakelore was once a beautiful paradise, as is every long lost lore of an industrial hellhole. Its pristine waters grew dark with sludge. Its birds and trees became coated with dust and fell into the abyss that once was the lake. And yet, with the industrial advances, industry also cleared some of this sludge and smog, so in the end, it was rather so-so dirty.

All the world around Lakelore was more enraptured by the possibilities that the digital upheaval had brought with it. Suddenly, media was everywhere. Everyone was posting pictures, commenting on this or other, taking videos of anything their eyes happen to fall on in the course of the day. Just as Lakelore itself had been saturated with pollution, so were the digital networks deluged with the clutter of everyday nonsensical detritus.

Lyon of Lakelore was against this. He was not Prince Lakelore for nothing, after all.

One morning, when reading a print version describing a select few of the digital hogwash that washed itself onto his breakfast plate, he folded that derivative of a newspaper (which though derived from content online, itself had a derivative digital version) and said to his father, “Father,” — (for he always addressed his Father as Father and not Dad, as royals do not make such a petty mistake) —”Father, I disapprove.”

“Of what son?” Lord Titanius of Lakelore bellowed. He was small of stature but his voice bellowed as if he was constructed mainly of bass organ pipes.

“Of all this,” he said, fanning his hand over the paper.

“What about it?” said Lord Titanius.

“It’s drivel. Insulting to be considered news,” said Lyon.

“Then what shall we have done? Shall we ban it?” said Lord Titanius.

“Yes, perhaps we shall,” said Lyon.

“That would be my decision not yours. Let me ponder over such a course of action,” said the lord.

He continued chewing his sausage, the juicy bits flying everywhere, and even hitting the wet nurse who was across the palace way.

Once he swallowed the sausage he said, “Okay, I thought about it, son. You made some good points. We will ban it.”

“Decreer,” Lord Titanius hollered out. “Decreer, decree this drivel banned.”

Decreer lowered his head, blew a horn to get everyone in the empire’s attention. Since the empire stretched for a good a few feet outside the palace grounds, one of the furthest farmers living in that empire who could only see into the royal courtyard and not into the rest of the palace, stretched his ears to hear.

“I decree this drivel banned,” said the Decreer.

That one farmer with his outstretched ears did not know what this meant, so he continued to move his hoe against a pretty pathetically barren lot.

“And look, Father,” continued Lyon, immediately after the decree.

“What is it?” said Lord Titanius now, a bit peeved. He had already accomplished so much in a day and was wondering why his son persisted on pestering him past his first sausage consumption.

“Why, Father, look at these photos,” said Lyon. He picked up the paper.

“Didn’t I just ban that?” said the lord.

“Yes, but bear with me here. Give me a one-minute pardon, as we will strike this off the record that I had mentioned this at all. But, look at these faces. These are random printings of people’s faces from around the world.”

“And what about them?” said the lord, careful not to look to carefully, as he did not want to be subject to the punishment of his own ban.

“Well, they’re looking straight at us,” said Lyon.

Lord Titanius managed a glance. “Yes, well, they are profile photos.”

And Lyon sneered. “But can you believe the insolence? They look straight at us as if they have no shame.”

Lord Titanius found himself nodding in agreement. “Yes, that is rather impudent, I must say.”

“Let’s have these banned, too,” said Lyon.

Two bannings, in one day? Isn’t that a bit too much work? thought Lord Titanius. He believed in work-life balance.

“Fine, fine,” the lord grumbled. He was not yet 3/4 into his second sausage, when the decree was made.

The not-so-faraway furtherest-away farmer put again his hoe yet again to strain to hear the message. When it was over, he continued his meaningless labor that would prove to provide little if any fruit. (But, he was producing vegetables, so it was okay.)

How will people then apply for visas? thought Lord Titanius. He said the same sentence aloud without further consideration. That’s how his brain worked, as an appendage attached directly to his mouth.

“Let’s have the photographer executed?” said Lyon.

“For what?” asked Lord Titanius.

“Why? He takes pictures of these folks facing us directly, like we’re some objects of their gaze,” said Lyon. “Obviously.”

“That’s insolence, son. Take back your ‘obviously’ statement,” said Lord Titanius.

“Let it be known that I take back the word ‘obviously,'” Lyon mumbled, quite used to this retraction.

“What will you have him do?” asked the lord.

“Why, be executed. Then we’ll have someone as photographer who will take photographs so the person in the photograph must look up at us,” said Lyon.

“Look up…?” said the lord.

“Yes, tilt their head up in reverence to us,” said Lyon.

“But such photographs won’t be accepted in any other region in the world,” said the lord. “How will our men travel?”

“They don’t travel anyway, Father,” said Lyon.

“Oh. Quite right,” said Lord Titanius.

“Yes, because if we even lose one man, our economy will collapse, just like our lungs ten years ago,” said Lyon.

“Well, good thing we built those factories, all in the palace,” said the lord.

“Yes, they were very compact. Just like those compact trash cans,” said Lyon. He pointed at one now, that was smoking. “Oh wait, that’s a factory, not a trash can,” Lyon said, correcting himself.

The lord used this distraction as an opportunity to not decree an execution of the photographer, because just as Lyon said, one man gone would spell disaster for their empire’s precarious economy. But, he did later send a messenger to tell the photographer to only take photos where the subject is looking up at the camera.

“But how about if they show their friends their photos? Then they are simply revering the person looking at their photo, which is only but a friend, and not royalty,” said the photographer.

“Insolence! Just do as I say!” said the messenger who had been running back and forth between the lord and photographer, passing the message to the photographer in short bursts of bellow, just as he was ordered.

It had not occurred to the lord, nor Lyon, that a different perspective and social standing could be achieved, simply having someone who is not them look at the photo. It never occurred that they were not the doer-of-the-looking-at-the-photos action.

The photographer sent the messenger to tell the lord that he needed a ladder for this purpose of taking photos from above since he was approximately the same height as the lord himself.

It was ironic, the photographer thought, because if the lord saw these people, most men would tower over him and so it would make more sense to have visitors, should there be any, take photos down-up, as in up their nostrils rather than from top-down of their foreheads. But, then again, logic itself had been decreed banned ten days ago, only to be reinstated two days ago for logical reasons, then banned again yesterday. The photographer cleared his head of these thoughts. He wasn’t sure if they were logical or not, since he now lacked reason to make such a judgment.

Then he realized all his photos were blurry anyway, because of the smog, though not nearly as opaque as a decade back. Those were the years of the black curtain, which was really indicating the air level, rather than political situation. The photographer used to literally lift the air, like a curtain, just a peek so he could point his camera and shoot at his subject.

The next appointment he had for photographing on his list was Lord Titanius himself, who did not like his previous photo. He was not a self-serving lord; it was only that the picture did not flatter him. Of course this kind of narcissism was banned, but who is to call it narcissistic?

When the photographer climbed up the ladder to be taller than the lord, that was mistake number one. Mistake number two was taking a photo of the lord reverently looking upward, so that he would always remain the subject to someone else who was above him who was looking at the photo. The third was that the photographer had been decreed executed, or so he thought he had overheard from halfway across the empire, so what was he doing taking pictures?

The photographer brought up these points to the lord, who was standing next to him, but they needed the intermediary of the messenger to repeat it back and forth between them because it would be unseemly if they talked directly. But then the photographer struck these comments off the record since he technically had no logic. “Let’s just drop this photo in the black abyss of the lake and call it even, okay, Lord Titanius?” said the photographer.

Secretly, they agreed on this. “This will be our little secret,” said the lord, staring at his photo. He was rather fond of this photo with his shiny forehead and long nose which though predominant was made altogether even more prominent — and it was mostly all he saw in his photo, since it was taken from above.

Instead he pocketed the photo, and let the photographer drop the negative into the black abyss, where it came out the other side positive. (And who keeps negatives anyway? Like people ever make prints from them! Or even know what it means nowadays!)

The Lord decided he would avoid Lyon for the rest of the day.

I should decree no more decrees, he thought, but then he was too tired for any further decrees.

Please just let me have some rest, he thought.

Too bad rest was banned three days ago, he remembered bitterly. He bit into his next sausage and washed it down with bitters.

Oh that’s why I’m so bitter, he thought, looking at his whiskey glass, remembering it was there. He twirled the glass until the ice clinked and took another drink.

© 2019 by D.A. Xiaolin Spires

D.A. Xiaolin Spires steps into portals and reappears in sites such as Hawai’i, NY, various parts of Asia and elsewhere, with her keyboard appendage attached. Besides Diabolical Plotsher work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Clarkesworld, Analog, Uncanny,  Strange Horizons, Nature, Terraform, Grievous Angel, Fireside, Galaxy’s Edge, StarShipSofa, Andromeda Spaceways (Year’s Best Issue), Factor Four, Pantheon, Outlook Springs, ROBOT DINOSAURS, Mithila Review, LONTAR, Reckoning, Issues in Earth Science, Liminality, Star*Line, Polu Texni, Argot, Eye to the Telescope, Liquid Imagination, Little Blue Marble, Story Seed Vault, and anthologies of the strange and beautiful: Ride the Star Wind, Sharp and Sugar Tooth, Future Visions, Deep Signal, Battling in All Her Finery, and Broad Knowledge. She can be found on her website daxiaolinspires.wordpress.com and on Twitter @spireswriter.

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