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Empty Chairs by Jackie Emery

EMPTY CHAIRS

by
Jackie Emery


The Liberator sped furiously away from Earth, leaving behind the shambolic remains of Blake's failed mission and the body of his lost crew member. Nothing stood in their way; unchecked and unchallenged, the great white ship soared past the outer planets into the glittering dark regions of interstellar space.

Blake stood in the forward part of the flight deck, his eyes fixed on Zen's view screen. He was painfully aware of the angry, bitter crew behind him and looming above them all, mute and accusatory - Gan's empty chair.

After a while, there was a change in the engine tone. Zen had found a safe area and was now conserving energy.

"We should get some rest," Blake said. There was no response. He turned to see the crew positions had been abandoned. Silently, each had set their station to automatic and departed, leaving him alone on the flight deck. Gan is dead, he thought, but I've lost them all.

He glanced back up at the view screen. They were safe, for now. He might as well take his own advice and get some rest. Wearily, he made his way up the steps and headed towards his quarters. Halfway down the corridor, Blake halted, frowning. The door to Gan's cabin stood ajar and he thought he could see movement inside.

Approaching cautiously, Blake looked in, his guilt and grief turning to sudden fury at the sight of Vila calmly going through Gan's cupboards, helping himself to the contents. With an inarticulate cry, Blake launched himself into the cabin. Vila gave a squeal of fright; objects fell from his hands and scattered on the floor as he cowered, his arms over his head.

"You disgusting little thief!" Blake raged. "Gan's only been dead a few hours, but you just couldn't resist ransacking his cabin." He had raised his fist, but the sight of the little man cringing on the floor made him master his anger with an effort. "Oh, get up, Vila. I'm not going to hit you."

Vila clambered to his feet, straightening his tunic. "Ransacking Gan's cabin..." he repeated, shakily. "Is that what you think I'm doing?"

"Looks like it to me."

"Well, you're wrong, Blake." The word again hung in the air between them, unspoken. "Here," Vila took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and threw it at Blake. "Gan was my friend, and I'm keeping a promise."

Blake caught the paper before it fluttered to the floor, smoothed it out and began to read. He looked back at Vila in astonishment. "Gan wrote a will?"

"After that business with his limiter, Gan told me that he knew he was on borrowed time. If it malfunctioned again, the chances of finding another neurosurgeon..."

"But Kayn repaired it."

"Eventually... He took a bit of persuading. Anyway, Kayn's dead now and Gan was starting to get those headaches again. He said, that if anything happened to him – if he died – he'd like me to sort out his things. So here I am."

"I see." The last of Blake’s anger ebbed away, to be replaced again with guilt.

"I would never have ransacked his cabin," continued Vila. "In fact, coming in here was one of the hardest things I've ever done."

"And you're not referring to picking the lock," Blake said wryly.

Vila gave a sad smile. "You know I'm not. Besides, Gan never bothered to lock his door; he trusted us." He looked around, and sighed. "I can't believe he's gone. I keep expecting him to walk in, as if he's just finished teleport duty. For a moment, I thought you were him coming back – or a ghost - that's why I was so scared."

"Not because you thought I was going to hit you?"

"Well, that too," Vila admitted. "You know how I feel about violence." He turned away and began to pick up some of the things he had dropped; bottles and jars, which he placed carefully on the table. Painkillers. Salves. Two healing pads. "These should be returned to the medical unit." He stooped to pick up another jar, pretending to study its label. "Blake... is there any chance Gan could still be alive? You know, like Cally on Centero. Maybe Travis has just taken Gan prisoner, and is waiting for us to try and rescue him."

"No, I was with Gan when..." Blake wiped a hand over his face, remembering. "I saw him die. I'm sorry, Vila."

Vila's shoulders slumped and he turned away, busying himself with the contents of another cupboard. "At least Gan didn't die alone." His voice was muffled.

"Come on," said Blake gently. "I'll give you a hand."

"Okay." Vila passed him a stack of game boards and boxes of pieces. "These should go in the rec room. Or perhaps the flight deck." He weighed two large white pieces in his hands.

"Where did Gan get these?" asked Blake. "I've never seen them before."

"I picked them up," said Vila non-commitally. "Here and there. They were our secret. Gan's cabin is tidier than mine and he'd got himself a large armchair, so we used to spend time in here – relaxing, having the occasional drink. The games were to help me teach him things."

"What sort of things could you teach him?"

"I'm not stupid," said Vila defensively, seeing Blake's expression of amused disbelief, "and neither was Gan. He just wasn't very technical, that’s all - he found it hard to learn how to work the teleport controls and things like that. The rest of us picked it up fairly quickly, and he asked me to help him."

"But why you, Vila?"

"Take a wild guess. Avon sneered at him, and Orac was even worse. But I know what it's like when people think you're stupid, and I also know how to help someone without patronising them. I made it into a game, made it fun." Vila waggled the two pieces back and forth, simulating the teleport controls, then placed them in their box. "Clothes next, I suppose. I've been putting this off until last..." Reluctantly, he opened the wardrobe door. "You've got the will, what does it say?"

Blake read aloud:
"I would like Blake to have anything that fits him. The rest should be given to anyone who needs them, if there is the chance to do so."

Vila began to remove items of clothing from their hangers. Gan had kept the simple, ragged clothes he had worn on the London, together with the fine shirts and tunics he had selected from Liberator's vast store. Vila held up a white shirt. "Any good?" he asked, passing it to Blake.

Blake shook his head. "I don't think so. Gan was bigger than me." He draped the shirt over the back of Gan's chair. Empty shirt on an empty chair, he thought, gripped again by a spasm of grief. "Bigger in every sense of the word. He was a good man."

"An honest man," Vila agreed. He picked up the shirt and folded it, adding it to the neat pile on the bunk.

"Back on the London," mused Blake, "when Avon, Jenna and I were in the computer room, I told them that I wanted to see power back with the honest man, and Avon asked if we'd ever met one. Jenna said 'Perhaps', and I was flattered to think she meant me. But Gan deserved that title more than I do. I wish we could have given him a proper funeral."

Vila took the last piece of clothing out of the wardrobe - Gan's brown, hooded top. He folded it in half and put it on top of the pile. "Well, we can’t, but let's have a drink in his memory. There'll be a bottle of soma hidden somewhere..." he made a brief search, and located it under the bed. Seeing Blake's surprise, Vila explained, "It was a kind of game between us. Gan would try to hide the alcohol from me, and I would always find it. He wasn't very good at hiding things." He took two glasses from a shelf, filled them and passed one to Blake. "To Gan."

"To Gan." Blake took a sip, then sat down on the bunk beside the pile of clothes, while Vila perched on the edge of the table. Neither of them wanted to sit in Gan's chair.

Blake stared down into his glass. "Vila, what should I do?"

"You're asking me for advice?" Vila was incredulous. "You never think much of my opinion. Why don't you ask Jenna or Avon?"

"Because they're not here, and you are. And you do have an instinct for survival."

"Jenna calls it cowardice," sniffed Vila, "but I prefer to think of it as a heightened sense of self-preservation."

“It’s not just about preserving myself, I want to carry on the fight against the Federation. But how can I ask you all to follow me now? I have to decide what to do next…”

"You probably need some time alone," suggested Vila, "but I don't think locking yourself in your cabin would work. Why not find a quiet planet somewhere? I've heard that Del-10 is nice. We can all have a bit of a holiday while you’re doing your thinking."

Blake smiled at Vila's lack of subtlety. "Nice idea, Vila, but wherever it is, I should go down by myself. I'll ask Zen to find somewhere suitable."

Vila understood. "Well, if you're going to abandon us, I guess that's up to you." He sipped his drink contemplatively. "I expect there'll be some squabbling up here. Cally will want to continue the rebellion. Avon will want the Liberator for his own purposes and Jenna might put up a fight for it."

"What about you, Vila?"

"Me? I'll take whatever I need from Liberator's treasure room and retire somewhere warm. But whatever you decide, please let us know? Otherwise we could go looking for you when you don't want to be found, and end up dead ourselves."

Blake winced at Vila's blunt tone, but agreed. "I'll leave a coded message with Orac. You'll have to access it, Vila. I'm not telling the others."

"But shouldn't Avon be the one who..." Vila began, then changed his mind. "Okay, I'll do it."

"Thank you." Blake stood, and picked up the pile of clothes.

Vila filled his arms with as much as he could carry, and looked around at what was left of Gan's modest belongings. "I'm not doing it for you, Blake, I'm doing it for Gan. We can't have a funeral or memorial service, but I'll find a way of saying something nice about him and make it seem like solving the code would have been his idea. It’ll be my tribute to a good friend."


Vila: (Gan) was straightforward, wasn't always expecting to be cheated and double-crossed - not like us. He trusted people - he trusted Blake completely.
Cally: Vila, if Gan was here, what would he have asked Orac?
Vila: Something obvious: 'Did Blake leave us any message?'

(Trial)

***


© Jackie Emery, January 2015

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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