Prospero's Legacy - Part XXXV
Thursday, December 4, 2008

Maya. Post-BDM. River and Mara meet for the first - and last - time, but who wins? NEW CHAPTER


She was inside. Her twin. Torn from her family and perverted into something warped and mentally misshapen.

River stared at the door a moment longer, then slowly took off one of the belts crossed over her chest. She laid it on the ground, leaning her rifle against the wall. No sense in asking for trouble, she told herself, nor handing Mara weapons that might be turned against her. She’d keep one gun, though. Just in case.

The lock on the door was another keypad, and for a second she considered just shooting it, but then the code was in her mind, placed there with a delicacy she had to admire. Touching the numbers, the door slid open and she stepped inside.

The room was just four bare grey walls, but the cot that served as a bed was full of toys, all sitting facing her expectantly. As was the young woman in the absolute centre of the floor.

“I've been waiting,” Mara Tam said. “I knew you’d come.”

“It was inevitable.”


River took a moment to study her genetic sister and realised she’d been right. A mirror image but distorted, twisted beyond normal reality. Mara may have been technically a year or so younger, but physically they were twins. Her hair was longer, reaching almost to the small of her back in lank tendrils, and she didn’t have the overlay of delicate muscles River had. But it was the eyes, the window to the soul as one Earth-that-was philosopher had once put it … they were the immediate giveaway.

Mara’s eyes were insane. The pupils were almost the entire size of the iris, black and unforgiving, radiating fury. And they made the mental contact even stronger as the dark twin attacked her mind.

Even in her most terrible moments, when she took out the Maidenhead on Beaumonde, or sliced a room full of Reavers into cat food, River had never felt rage like this. It battered at her defences, trying to find a crack, to force through and take her down with it. It scared her, but the adrenaline rush that pulsed through her body allowed her to push back on the mental assault, and she lifted her chin in defiance.

Mara was impressed. “You’re stronger than I expected.”

“Did you think I’d let you see the real me?” River countered.

“No. But then, no-one’s seen the real me, either.”

“Not even Quintana?”

“Of course not.” She gestured to the dolls, to the child-size tea set on the floor. “That’s what he sees. A child. To be nurtured. Loved.” The last word had disgust dripping from it. “He’s a fool. And very soon he’ll pay.”

Mara put her head onto one side, and for once River saw what the rest of the crew had, when she’d first arrived on Serenity, broken, streaked through with hidden danger. No wonder they’d tried to sell her, put her off the ship, been afraid of her.

River shook her head. “The hybrids are gone,” she said softly. “They’re dead. All of them.”

“I know.” Mara barely blinked. “I felt them die.”

“Don’t you care?”

“No. Why should I? They were tainted. Impure. My friends are all I need.” She hummed in anticipation, and glanced up towards the ceiling, perhaps seeing beyond to the battle going on above the atmosphere. “They’re going to take me with them. And we’ll have such fun. We’ll play until the streets run red.”

“But they were flesh of your flesh –“

“Ripped from me. Taken against my will.” Mara took a step closer. “Why do you feel the need to try and talk to me? Implore me to reason? In your place I’d kill you where you stand.”

“What they did, what Quintana did, was wrong, but they were still your family.”

“Like your son?” She smiled twistedly. “Perhaps I should send my playmates to Lazarus. Imagine the feast they could make of your friends. Your children. It would take just a suggestion …”

It was in that moment River understood. There was no option. No coming back. She went to draw her gun, but Mara had a speed that surprised her, and her mental walls gave nothing of her intentions away. She slammed the back of her fist against River’s wrist, the weapon spinning away into the far corner of the room, then Mara was past, running out into the corridor, her laugh raising goosebumps on everyone who heard it as it rang through the complex.


Gou niang yang duh,” Jayne breathed, tossing the man he’d found waiting for him into the wall and running on.


River was after her immediately, pausing only to grab her rifle and other gun from where she’d left them, her hair flying behind her, ignoring the pain in her hand. She caught a glimpse of bare heels rounding a corner, and found a burst of speed from somewhere.

A man tried to stop her, wearing body armour, purple, but River swung her rifle into his chin, not watching him go down.

Mara was heading upwards, taking one of the stairwells towards the surface, although she knew River was gaining. Too many days strapped to a chair, and not enough with regular exercise, and she was losing her advantage. With a twist of her body she slipped through a doorway, finding herself in a large room.

It looked like it might have once been a refectory, but now was just a cemetery of rotting tables and old chairs piled haphazardly into one another. Somewhere water dripped through the sagging roof, and dirt and mould covered everything.

“Wait!” River shouted only a few feet behind her.


“I want to talk to you!”

Mara stopped, turning. “I thought you were like me. I saw the cracks, saw the reality beneath the mask you wear, but you’re not. You’re like them. The rest of them.”

“Let me help.”

On the mental switchback of the clinically insane, Mara laughed. “Will you play with me? I need a friend, someone I can enjoy life with. I haven’t had a friend, not since I was so much younger, since before they all became afraid of me.” She stepped forward. “Will you be my friend?”

River, her finger already taking the slack out of the rifle’s trigger, paused. Her mind roiled with the possibility that perhaps she could do something, take this broken mirror image and paper over the cracks, perhaps make her if not better, then at least less liable to kill everyone and dance on their graves. “Mara …”

“Hold it!” A man came in through the other entrance, another Alliance Federal, a clumsy weapon held tight against his shoulder. “Put your guns down!”

River calculated the odds of being able to take him, to knock him out before he could fire, but even she couldn’t cross the distance between them fast enough. And there was something about the gun he held … Slowly she lowered her rifle to the ground, the pistol joining it.

Mara eyed him, her head on one side. “Are you going to play with me?” she asked.

He stepped forward, just one pace. “Against the wall. Both of you.”


“Quiet!” His face was hard, but both women could feel anger tinged with fear pouring off him like a red tide.

Mara turned to look at River. “He doesn’t want to play,” she said, then winked. A moment later she’d kicked her twin in the chest, throwing her backwards, and ran for the man.

“No!” River screamed, but the soldier ignored her. He fired, and the gas pellet exploded on Mara’s breast.

She breathed in without volition, and her eyes glazed. A moment later a roar ripped from her throat, and she picked up a chair, throwing it at the soldier. It impaled him to the wall with two of its legs, and he died gasping.

Mara turned to River, who had managed to lever herself to her feet.

“Fight it, sister,” River pleaded. “We can help. I can help.” She advanced slowly, the tiny hypo of AntiPax in her palm. She didn’t know if it would work, but had to believe.

Mara stared at her. “Fight it?”

River had to swallow hard as the mirror image tilted her head a little, trying once more. “You can come with us. We can teach you. All you have to do is -”

“Fight it?” Mara finished. She saw River raise her hand, about to inject her.

“We’ll teach you control. Freya can teach us both. She’s so strong. She can help you.” River was only a couple of inches from -

“No!” Mara swatted the hypo from River’s fingers, breaking two in the process. “Not now. Not when I’m free!” She laughed, sheer insanity in her eyes, and a wave of psychic energy spread through the complex.

River keened, falling to her knees and holding her head.


Freya, two levels down, was knocked against Alex as if by a physical force, her eyes wide in anguish.

“What is it?” her brother asked.

She held onto him tightly. “Run-tse duh fuo-tsoo.

Mal, still doggedly following Simon via the palm reader, stumbled, clutching at the walls. He had no idea what it was, but the hatred that washed through him left him panting, his heart beating a thousand times a minute.

Everyone who was a potential felt it, and even those who weren’t had their teeth set on edge, out beyond Hera’s atmosphere.

On Whitefall Patience looked up into the sky and shivered. On Mead, the jockey Howell turned over in his sleep in his room above the stable and whimpered as Casmir kicked the wall beneath, more than a little disquieted. The other side of the system, as Theo Hawkins gave a performance of Lear, for the first time in more than a decade he faltered over his lines, and saw his anxiety echoed in Noni’s eyes.

And on Lazarus Bethie screamed in unison with Ethan, even as Sam and Inara administered the Heretofen.


“My legacy!” Mara was crouched next to River. “Mine! For all the years I sat in that chair, doing what they said, just so they would stop hurting me. Now it’s my time. Mine!”

She howled, and River could almost hear the answering call from the Reaver ships above.

“No.” She shook her head, gathering all of her mental strength, drawing it from the rest of the crew, even if she couldn’t physically touch them. “I won’t let you.”

“You can’t stop me!”

“I can.” With that River launched herself upwards, catching Mara under the chin with her head, pushing her backwards, following her into the dirt and the crud.

It wasn't fair, gouging and kicking as they were, but it was never going to be. This was survival, and each knew they had to kill to win.

River landed some good hits, but Mara seemed to shake them off, counterattacking by tugging on her twin’s hand, on the broken fingers, eliciting a yell but not stopping the onslaught. River swung her elbow, but this time it didn’t land. Mara didn’t have the Academy training, but she had Reaver impulses coursing through her bloodstream, and her own psychic ability allowed her to forecast moves before they were made, and block them. River had to rely on the skills the Alliance had forced into her, but she knew she was weakening.

She swayed, and Mara took her down, her entire body weight on her chest, raining blows into her face. She felt blood spurt into her mouth as her teeth lacerated her cheek, and she spat, watching it fleck the other woman.

Mara reached out, grabbing the rifle. She pressed the barrel across River’s throat. “Mine,” she hissed. “Mine.”

River felt the air cut off from her lungs, and no matter what she did she couldn’t dislodge Mara. Gulping, trying to breathe, her vision began to darken at the edges, and she knew she had little time left.

Then, a spark. Something her brain recognised on a basic level. Someone coming.


He ran into the room, staggering to a halt at the sight in front of him.

They looked the same. Bloodstained, dirt encrusted from the floor of the refectory, he couldn’t tell which was which. And no matter how hard he thought, how much he tried to mentally contact her, River was silent again.

One of them was losing, taking more damage, her face bloated with bruises and cuts. But still he couldn’t tell which one to shoot.

“River!” he yelled, and the woman on top paused, looking at him, but only the one on her back on the floor reached out a hand, bruised and swollen, an intricate tattoo on the third finger …

Jayne fired.

The sound echoed through the refectory, bouncing along the corridors of the complex, seeming to override all other noise until it faded, leaving nothing but an actinic memory.

He stood silent as one of the women disentangled herself, using the rifle to get to her feet. “River …”

“Jayne …”

A moment later and she was in his arms, held against his chest as his felt his heart start beating again. “God, River, if I thought …” He couldn’t finish.

“Not dead,” she said from the depths of his embrace. “Hurting, but not dead.”

He let go, guilt flooding through him. “Hurting?”

“A little,” she admitted, smiling shakily.


“Not your fault.”

Jayne glanced down at Mara Tam, and felt something twist inside him. Bile rose in his throat as he studied her face, so familiar, and Boo’s handgrip was slick with sweat against his palm.

“She’s not me,” River said, leaning into him and wiping at her nose, grimacing slightly at the pain in her hand.

“Know that, moonbrain. It’s just …”

“You had to. To save me.” My Jayne, he heard in his mind, caressing him.

“I’d die for you.”

“I know. But I'm glad you haven’t.”

“Was this …” He glanced down, seeing the madness in the other woman’s eyes even though they were fixed, dead. “Would you’ve been like this?”

River shrugged. “Possibly. My genes, but …”

“She was insane.”

“So am I.”

He took her back into his arms. “No, Riv. Crazy, maybe, but insane … no.”

She could feel his blood pounding in his veins, and his heat chased the final chill from her body. “You ground me.”

“Long as you want it, girl.”

“Then it will be forever.”

“That’s fine by me.” He looked down into her dark eyes, almost wishing he could dive into them.

She allowed herself to revel in his gaze for a moment, then held out her hand. “Set them,” River demanded.

Jayne felt his blood run cold at the sight of the mangled fingers. “Moonbrain …”

“Do it. It will hurt, but I need to … please.”

“Yeah.” Taking his knife from the sheath at his waist he cut a strip from the bottom of his t-shirt. He slid Binky home then took her hand gently in his. “If you wanna, you bite on me. Won’t be like it’s the first time.”

She smiled, then took a sharp breath that turned into a moan as he straightened her fingers. “Just … hurry.”

“Fast as I can.”

“She could have stopped me,” River said, watching him bind her fingers and trying to ignore the white hot stabs of pain that jabbed their way up her arm. “If she’d known. Used her ability. My brain would have run out of my ears.”

“Glad she didn’t.” Jayne concentrated on his task, jarring the bones as little as he could.

“So am I.”

At this he looked up, seeing tears run down her cheeks. “Hey, hey, no need for that,” he said, pulling her to him. “We dealt with her. Between us. You and me, Riv, like it was always supposed to be.” He closed his eyes, breathing in her distinctive scent, overlaid with over odours. “But we still got work to do, dong mah?”

“Yes, Jayne.” She let go and picked up her hand gun, leaving the dirt-clogged rifle next to the body of Mara Tam as they jogged from the refectory.

to be continued


Thursday, December 4, 2008 9:41 AM


Ooh .. I can't help but feel that Mara may return. && a part of me wishes she could have turned good, after all ... but of course she couldn't. She is the product of the alliance after all. Loved.

Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:11 PM


Sooo good. I love the tenderness between Jayne and River. She and he are a good match.

Thursday, December 4, 2008 2:57 PM


I really hope that is the last of Mara, right?

Thursday, December 4, 2008 3:08 PM


I always had the sneaky feeling that when push came to shove River wouldn't be able to kill Mara in cold blood and that hesitation would be all Mara would need to get the upper hand. Thank Buddha for Jayne! Can't wait for Quintana to be dealt with and our crew back together again, hopefully safe. Ali D :~)
You can't take the sky from me

Thursday, December 4, 2008 7:08 PM


I knew River would win in the end, but and the fight was even, but thank goodness Jayne saved the day.

Friday, December 5, 2008 5:04 AM


Riveting chapter... think I held my breath the enitre time...or at least until Jayne showed up. Looking forward to the next chapter. :)


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