"Chancellor Griffin?" Lieutenant Miller poked his head through one of the double doors, looking apologetic. "Bellamy—er, Councilman Blake is here."
"Not a councilman yet." Kane frowned, looking even sterner than usual. "I'm not vacating this seat for…" His eyes darted to the clock. "…thirty more minutes."
Clarke hid a smile behind her hand. Marcus Kane was still a stickler for the law, although he'd loosened up a bit over the years. The stern face was more of a mask now, and the people loved him despite it, ever since the bomb over a decade ago that had left his mother paralyzed and hundreds stranded in Tesla station. Kane had risked his life crawling through a ventilation shaft to save them. Now he was one of the old guard on the council, about to retire…in half an hour.
Clarke dropped her hand, putting on her serious chancellor face. "Please tell Mr. Blake I'll speak to him after this council meeting is over." She spoke the words in a crisp, clear tone, all too aware that the subject of their conversation was probably standing on the other side of the closed door next to Miller and listening to every word she said.
The lieutenant shifted his eyes to the side. Probably looking at Blake. Clarke raised an eyebrow. "Is that all, Lieutenant?"
"Yes, ma'am." He dipped his head briefly, shutting the door behind him.
Clarke folded her hands on the table in front of her. "Now. Where were we?"
"Clarke," Wells said in a low tone. "Are you sure this is a good idea?"
She shot him a look that said Nice change of topic, Wells. He'd been her best friend for the better part of thirty years. They didn't even need words to communicate anymore. He just looked back at her stubbornly.
Glancing around the table, it was clear the other council members were interested to hear her answer. Clarke sighed and rubbed a hand across her forehead. "We've discussed this to death. Class tensions were at an all-time high during my predecessor's term." She shot an apologetic glance at Wells. It hadn't been his father's fault, but rather how Ark society was structured. It could have happened at any time, but it'd been Thelonius Jaha a rebel group of workers had tried to assassinate with that bomb, secretly led by former Chancellor Diana Sydney. Sydney and a dozen others proven to be in on the plot were all caught and floated, but tensions had remained high for years afterward. "I'm going to do everything in my power to keep that from happening again. Everyone should be represented here." She glanced meaningfully around the table. "Besides, he won the popular vote by a landslide."
Kane shook his head. "Bellamy Blake is too charismatic by half. He could convince a starving man to give him his rations for a year." He scowled. "Wipe that smile off your face, Councillor Jordan. This isn't a laughing matter."
Clarke glanced at Jasper out of the corner of her eye. He was their top chemist, the youngest council member, the first former juvenile delinquent to be elected…and still terribly intimidated by Kane. The goofy smile dropped off his face.
"Do I detect a note of jealousy, Marcus?" Clarke swiveled her head back in the other direction to glare at her dad's engineering buddy. He slouched back in his chair, grinning at her, unabashed.
The corner of Kane's lips slanted up. "Hardly." Wick was one of the few people who could get him to smile. The two men had a good-naturedly antagonistic friendship that Clarke couldn't begin to understand.
"I agree with the chancellor." Verne pushed her long black hair over her shoulder and met Clarke's eyes across the table, giving her an encouraging smile. "I was the first council member from Agro station in decades, and it seems to be working out fine."
“Agro isn't full of disgruntled workers," Wells insisted, his dark eyes serious.
Wick popped his council pin off his collar and flicked it carelessly onto the table, starting it spinning like a top. "Seems to me the best way to gruntle them is to put one of them on the council."
Clarke's eyes darted to Ursula. She was the oldest council member, a sweet grandmother with strong opinions, but she rarely voiced them until appealed to. "Bellamy Blake was voted into office, everything fair and official," she said smoothly. "It's useless to argue against the same process that gave all of us our own seats, whether we like the results or not. Unless you intend to unretire, Marcus?" She gave him a small smile.
He fidgeted in his seat, a rare sight to see. "No. My mother needs my full attention at present."
Clarke could see the stubborn light still glinting in Wells' eyes, so she grabbed her gavel and rapped it on the table before he could say anything else. "That's quite enough discussion about Bellamy Blake," she said sternly. "We still have three issues to vote on." She gestured at Jasper. "Councilman Jordan, you're up."
He sat up straighter, flicking through his tablet to find his presentation. He'd come up with a new process for growing vegetables with his best friend Monty Green, but since every tiny change on the Ark had to be voted on by the council before it could be implemented on a wide scale, they needed to follow protocol. Clarke pushed the inconvenient irritation on the other side of the door out of her mind and focused on Jasper, who always grew ten times more confident and well-spoken when he was talking about a field he was an expert in.
Three unanimous votes and forty-five minutes later, they broke open a bottle of champagne to toast Kane's retirement and years of service. Everyone lingered, chatting, and Clarke was secretly hoping they would stay long enough for Blake to grow impatient and leave. Then she wouldn't have to deal with him until the next council meeting, the way it was supposed to happen before he decided to take it into his head to ignore protocol.
After another twenty minutes or so, they started trickling out the door. Wick cornered her with his usual jovial grin before he left.
"Hey, I've been commissioned to tell you we have to reschedule our little dinner party. Rav has to work late tonight. Some space debris hit one of the thrusters and I guess it's a huge repair." He waved a dismissive hand, which was probably not the way a senior engineer on the Ark should be reacting to something as serious as space debris, but Wick was…Wick.
Clarke shoved away the little twinge of disappointment. She'd been looking forward to it, since she'd been too busy to see any of them the last couple of weeks, and she especially valued time with Raven, one of her few female friends. One of her few any friends, if she was honest with herself. "Oh, that's fine," she said, trying to sound cheerful. "Another time."
Clarke winced. "Sorry, I can't. Hydra station inspection."
Wick shook a mock-stern finger at her. "Friday night, no excuses. Rav worries about you, Clarke. Sitting around in your huge, fancy chancellor's quarters, all alone."
Clarke raised an eyebrow. Sitting around was inaccurate, huge was pushing it, fancy was outright ridiculous…but she couldn't deny the alone part. "Okay, Kyle," she said, drawing out his name because she knew he hated it and she enjoyed ribbing him about it. "I'll be there. Tell Petra she and Auntie Clarke are overdue for an epic game of hide-and-seek."
"Epic?" he snorted. "She hides in the same spot every single time." He rubbed the back of his neck and glanced up at the ceiling. "Um…wear your nicest rags, okay?" Suddenly, he seemed in a hurry to leave. "Okay, see you then!"
Clarke grabbed his arm. "Wick!" she growled, exasperated. "If you two try to set me up with Finn Collins one more time, I'm going to—” His expression was guilty, so she punched him in the arm.
He danced away, rubbing his arm theatrically. "Geez, Clarke, no need to get violent about it."
"Go float yourself, Wick," she shot back as he disappeared out the door. She glanced around, suddenly noticing the room had emptied out while she was distracted.
"Not the kind of language I'd expect to hear out of the chancellor's mouth," a deep voice said behind her. Clarke clenched her jaw. Just the person I want to see right now. She spun around slowly to face him, head tilted and a coolly appraising expression on her face.
Bellamy Blake was sitting at the council table, in her chair, legs sprawled apart and elbows on the armrests like he belonged there. He had on a worn, dark gray jacket over a green shirt, hair a tousle of black curls, several days' growth of beard, eyes dark and focused on her. She could see the dusting of freckles over his nose even at this distance.
"Councilman-elect Blake," she said frostily. "I'd offer you a seat, but I see you've already found one." The wrong one. Get off of it, she said with her eyes, but he didn't budge.
Instead, he leaned back and placed both booted feet on the table, one at a time, smirking at her all the while. "Chancellor Griffin," he said. "So nice of you to see me. And I only had to wait an hour and a half."
Clarke seated herself primly across the table from him. "I'm so sorry. The council meeting ran late." Her tone said she wasn't sorry at all. "If you'd scheduled an appointment with me, I needn't have wasted your time." She smiled, sickly sweet.
His smirk widened. He saw right through that. He leaned further back in her chair, tipping it onto two legs. Clarke clenched her hands together in her lap.
The problem with Bellamy Blake was that he was disturbingly handsome, and he knew it. He had charisma to spare, that was undeniable, but his looks played a part in it. Clarke wasn't above leveraging her own looks now and then, but he did it shamelessly. Or so she'd heard.
He'd started out as a cadet—whip-smart, talented, a quick learner. She'd read his file. But fate—and the Ark's no-tolerance policy for law-breaking—had other plans. One wrong step and his hidden sister had been discovered and put in lockup, his mother floated, his promising career ruined. They'd meant to punish him, Clarke knew, by assigning him to janitorial duty, and he'd languished there for a few years. Self-inflicted, she supposed, because his promotion rate after that was nothing short of astonishing. Head of Janitorial Services within a year, a position that on paper sounded more managerial than anything else, then it appeared as if he'd somehow bounced through the ranks of every blue-collar job on the Ark, right to the top. Chief Officer of Operations and Maintenance Services, as far as someone with his background could get.
And now, a council member.
His file could only tell her so much. The most basic facts. The what, not the how that Clarke was more concerned with. As for the why, she was pretty sure she could guess.
What she really knew about Bellamy Blake was from hearsay, word of mouth. He was arrogant, confident, well-spoken, rash, yet calculating at the same time. He knew how to influence people, how to inspire them. He was the king of Factory station, basically. And he was dangerous.
“Chancellor,” he said again, smiling up at the ceiling. “Youngest in Ark history. I suppose congratulations are in order.”
“That’s hardly necessary,” Clarke said stiffly. She’d been chancellor for over a year now; it was basically old hat at this point. And she hated being reminded of her age. It felt like an attack on her authority. “I’d like to offer my congratulations to you, however. I’m sure you’re looking forward to your instatement next week.” She placed slightly more emphasis on the words next week. Maybe passive-aggressiveness was beneath her, but she couldn’t bring herself to explicitly point out how inappropriate it was for him to show up here in the middle of a council meeting, before he was even an official council member. If he’d thought she would let him into the meeting, he was dead wrong.
He tapped his fingers against the arms of the chair, blatantly ignoring the subtext in her words. “My people are looking forward to it. That’s enough for me.”
Clarke sat up even straighter, if that was possible. She already felt like her spine was a steel rod. “Your people?” She raised an eyebrow. “Surely you mean our people.”
“No, Princess, I mean my people.” The chair, still balanced on two legs, didn’t waver a fraction of an inch.
Clarke couldn’t keep a frown from tugging at the corners of her mouth, and only partially because of the nickname no one had dared to call her in years. This was exactly the kind of thing she was trying to avoid. Class divisions, factions banding together, people identifying with only one group. She was working for unity. It shouldn’t be this difficult—there were only a few thousand people on the Ark. Human nature, Clarke, her mother’s voice said in her head. Human nature is to tear everything apart. “We’re all citizens of the Ark,” she said out loud, and she didn’t know if she was protesting against Bellamy Blake or her mother.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” His tone was harsh, derisive.
Clarke struggled to keep hers even and soft. “I don’t need you to quote Orwell at me.”
“Don’t you.” It wasn’t a question, and his eyes were heavy on her face, like a challenge. The words were punctuated by the sharp, heavy clank of the other two chair legs hitting the floor.
One of Clarke’s hands escaped the iron grip of the other in her lap and made its way up to pinch the bridge of her nose, all seemingly without her permission. The last thing she needed was to give Bellamy Blake the satisfaction of seeing her frustration, or any reaction at all other than placidity. “Why are you here, Mr. Blake?” she asked quietly, dropping her hand and looking up at him again. So much for subtle avoidance of the topic. She decided to lay all of her cards out on the table. “Why are you here now? You’re not formally a member of the council until next week, and I think you’re well aware I was never going to let you into today’s meeting, even if you had arrived on time and made your presence known less…rudely.” Clarke clamped her mouth into a tight line. She’d said a little more than she’d meant to, but she didn’t regret the challenge. It wasn’t about the council meeting, not really. He’d wanted to assert some sort of dominance, get under her skin, and then meet with her alone afterwards. But why? She raised an expectant eyebrow.
Bellamy Blake drew his boots off the table slowly, one by one, and sat up straighter in Clarke’s chair. All traces of the self-satisfied smirk from before were gone. His eyes were black and sharp, like the obsidian arrowheads she’d read about that ancient cultures used as weapons. He didn’t need arrows; he was his own weapon. “We don’t like the system,” he said, and his tone was low and silky and sent a shiver down her back.
“The system is all we have,” Clarke replied evenly. “The system is what keeps us alive. Without it, there would be chaos.”
He leaned forward, and she could see the clench of his jaw beneath the stubble of his beard before he spoke again. “What’s wrong with a little chaos? Entropy is the natural order of the universe.”
Clarke’s mouth dropped open slightly. “You can’t be serious.”
The only answer she got was a lift of his eyebrows and a tilt of his head.
Clarke blinked, staring at the smooth, metallic expanse of the table as she tried to take in that information. At last, she said, “So you’re…what? Warning me that you’re going to lead some sort of coup?” She paused to bathe her voice in disdain, then added, “Isn’t that antithetical to your plans? Now I know what to prepare for.” She spread her hands out on the table, palms up.
One corner of his lips twisted up. “Maybe I came here to kill you myself.” The words were a low, serious rumble.
Clarke turned her hands over so her palms were flat on the table, then leaned forward in the chair that wasn’t hers, never taking her eyes off of his. “No, you didn’t,” she said flatly, confidently. “You’re too shrewd for that.”
He chuckled, slicing through the tension in an instant and slouching back in the chair again. “That a compliment, Princess?”
Clarke arched an eyebrow. “If you want to take it as one.”
He stretched a hand out to rest it on the table, tapping his fingers restlessly and eyeing her gavel where it lay discarded to the side. “You’re right,” he said at last, so quietly she almost missed the words. “This,” he gestured between the two of them with his other hand, “is why I came today.”
Well, that was unexpected. She hadn’t thought he’d actually admit it. She watched him silently, waiting for further explanation.
He picked up her gavel absently, twisting it in his fingers. For some reason, Clarke’s eyes settled on his hands—the play of muscles across the back, the deliberate movements of his fingers. “We live in two separate spheres. I’ve heard so much about you. I wanted to get the measure of you. Myself.”
Clarke’s breath hitched involuntarily at the words. If these were any other circumstances, if she were any other person, she’d say his tone had been downright seductive. What game did he think he was playing? She tore her eyes away from that damn gavel and looked up to find he was watching her with interest.
Clarke clenched her jaw. “And?”
Bellamy Blake’s smile was slow and sinful. “It’s a work in progress.”
Clarke gave him an unimpressed look. “I could say the same.”
“What do you have so far?”
He actually looked curious to hear what she had to say about him. Clarke decided to indulge him. She couldn’t see any harm in it. “I think you’re good at misdirecting. I think you study people like books, and you use that information. I think you want me to view you as a threat.”
“And do you?” he asked wryly.
Clarke’s only reply was an enigmatic smile. Or at least, what she hoped was an enigmatic smile. She wanted to ask what he had so far about her, but her pride prevented it.
He crossed his arms over his chest, looking amused. “Can’t tell you yet, Princess,” he said, like he’d overheard her thoughts. “I’ll get back to you.” They regarded each other silently for a few long moments, then he fidgeted suddenly, pushing a hand through the tangle of his hair and clearing his throat. “Also…I came to say….” He leveled a serious gaze towards her. “I’m here representing Factory station. I’m their voice, and I’m here now, and I’m here to fight. I don’t care if every other damn council member disagrees with me, I’m never going to play nice and roll over just to keep the peace.” His voice grew in intensity as he spoke, and Clarke felt like she was witnessing one of his infamous speeches she’d heard so much about. “So they might not like it—you might not like it—but that’s how it’s going to be.”
Clarke blinked a couple of times, processing his words. He didn’t sound self-absorbed, or blindly ambitious, or any of those kinds of things she’d heard about him. He sounded like a man who genuinely cared about the people he was representing, and she didn’t know how to match that to the man she’d been steeling herself to square off against ever since she heard the election results. She had a feeling matters on the council were about to get a lot less black and white, and a lot more gray once he took his seat at the table next week. She couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing, and for whom.
Startled out of her thoughts by several sharp raps on the table, she jerked her head up to see it was Bellamy banging the gavel like he was dismissing a meeting, hard enough to leave a dent. Irritation blazed through her at his audacity, but if he noticed he didn’t care. He stood up, pushing her chair back heedlessly as he did.
Clarke decided to recover some of her pride by pretending she hadn’t witnessed any of that. “Are we finished here?” she asked with only the slightest trace of annoyance. “I have patients waiting in the med bay.”
His eyebrows shot up. “You’re still working in the med bay?” He frowned and clamped his mouth shut like the words had escaped it involuntarily.
Apparently he didn’t know as much about her as he liked to pretend. She was actually surprised he didn’t know that particular piece of information. It wasn’t like she broadcasted it, but it wasn’t exactly a secret either, and she assumed he made it his business to know more about her than she did about him. “Short hours. When I can find the time. Council members continue working in their fields.” She didn’t know why she was explaining herself to him.
He had a strange expression on his face. “Chancellors don’t.”
It was true. Chancellors usually didn’t. It was a full-time job all on its own, but Clarke liked working in the med bay. Helping people was her passion, and being chancellor was less of that and more of being bogged down in politics. It wearied her; it made her long for the simplicity of stitching cuts closed and setting broken arms. So she found the time for it. She crawled into bed exhausted nearly every night, getting up too few hours later to do it all again, but she found the time.
“This chancellor does,” was all she said, and if her voice was a little haughty at his assumption, she didn’t mean it to be.
Bellamy Blake’s eyebrows furrowed like he was frowning, but his mouth didn’t match, and he looked down at Clarke—still sitting stiff and prim in the chair that wasn’t hers—like she was an engine he wanted to pick apart, piece by piece, so he could understand the mechanics of it. She suddenly found it difficult to look back at him.
Abruptly, he headed for the door, and she was still debating whether to stay in the chair, facing away from him, or get up to watch him leave, when his confident footsteps stopped. She could almost feel his eyes burning into the back of her head, so she met herself halfway, twisting to sit sideways and propping an arm on the back of the chair.
“My sister voted for you.” He had a hand on the door but he didn’t make a move to open it.
It was Clarke’s turn to furrow her brow. “Did she?” She didn’t understand why he was telling her this, but her lips curled up despite herself. “I’m glad.”
“I didn’t.” The words were blunt, unapologetic.
Clarke’s smile widened. “Even better.”
He hesitated briefly, giving her that strange, contemplative look, then he yanked the door open and disappeared.