I was heading home with a human I caught for dinner when I ran into Vavar coming up the stairs to our apartment. He'd spent the night writing a ten foot high “MUTANTS RULE” right outside Ratmaster territory.

“Successful night for both us,” he said, raising his four brows at the sight of the man slung unconscious over my shoulder.

 “Yeah.” I shrugged. “Caught this guy slinking around by Canal Street. He shot Bogar and kept calling us freaks before I knocked him out. Racist prick.”

“Dinner today?”

“Well, we could keep him trussed up until we finish the leftover megaroach.”

“Sounds good. Let's go, sun's coming up.”

Later, once we'd gone to bed for the day, Vavar tried to kiss me again. I pushed him aside and he went back to his side of the bed. It's complicated between us. We love each other, sure, but he has feelings for me that I don't have for him. Physical ones. Really, I don't know if I have those kind of feelings for anyone.

Ura says that I've internalized negative body image issues learned from pre-Catastrophe society. She says that I should learn to love myself as a new race. Ura's my therapist, which is like a mind-shaman, I guess. She says that in the old days, everyone in New York had one. For someone who wants me to embrace myself as a new race, she spends a lot of time digging up human stuff from the library, all “Cyborg Manifesto” this and “intersectionality” that.

I started seeing her because I had a lot of stuff weighing on me, and it started to interfere with my murder and pillage duties. I don't know, of course I want to conquer New New York for Lord Ungar, but at times I wonder what the point is.

Most days, I just try to lose myself in work. After I brought home the human, we started our campaign to clear the Feral Folk out from Central Park. It was a solid fight. All they had were sharpened wood spears and no brains, but there were so many of them: little hairy dirty people screeching and throwing themselves at us in endless waves. It took a week before we were finished and I could return home.

When I got back, I was surprised to see the human still alive. Vavar had kept him strung up in a back room.

“He says he's on a special mission,” Vavar told me. “Looking for a satellite with pure food samples. To save humanity or something.”

“What's wrong with normal food?”

“Says it's tainted. From the Catastrophe.”

“Good enough for us, isn't it? So we eating him yet or what?”

“Keep him for a while,” Vavar said. “I like his stories.”

Vavar had a point. The human wore a leather jacket and tall boots and an eye-patch on his tough face. He could survive daylight unharmed and said he'd ridden a motorcycle across all kinds of places. He was full of these marvelous tall tales and told us he came from many miles to the west. It was hard to believe. I knew a few mutants who went to New Jersey. Only one survived. Said it was a poisonous wasteland. I'd listen to the human's stories, though, and imagine a whole other world out there.

I should've been in a better mood for the victory celebrations. Lord Ungar was holding a grand party for the conquest of the park. He'd commissioned a new mural from Vavar to mark our hold on New New York. Technically there were still the Fishmen to the south and the Ratmasters across the river, but we all got the sentiment. Plus, there would be plenty of Feral Folk to feast on.

The party itself was a rager. There was salvaged booze, a giant barbecue, and Lord Ungar gave a rousing speech about how Manhattan was now in the iron grip of the mutants. The ground shook with all our stomping and hollering.

The only thing wrong was Vavar's mural. Fair to say it was a disaster. He'd dutifully painted the phrase “Mutants Rule New New York,” but the letters were abstracted to the point of near-illegibility, overwhelmed by an incomprehensibly stylized battle scene whose profusion of screaming, split-faced figures made our conquest look more sad than valiant. I saw it and thought I wasn't the only one with body issues.

Lord Ungar was less than pleased, and we all knew you didn't want to make Lord Ungar unhappy. Still, Vavar was hands-down the best draftsman among us, so he was simply given a stern reprimand from one of Lord Ungar's lackeys: he would not be painting something like this again.

If I were Vavar, I would have been happy to have survived. But he just lay against me in bed that day and cried. He was blind to the danger, instead bemoaning how nobody understood his art and its pre-Catastrophe references. Hell, I couldn't say I understood his art either. All I really understood was that he was something special and I wanted him to be happy.

I held him against me until he calmed down, then closed my eyes and slowly, tremulously brought one of my mouths to his, imagining us not as two misshapen beings hiding from the light but as one of those couples in the sad songs of other places I could hear the human still singing softly from the other room, even in the depths of his desperation and ours.

Aaron Fox-Lerner was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Beijing. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Puritan, Bound Off, Thuglit, and other publications.