Seven months before his life started, his mother Aurora sat down with him at their little table and said, "Tell me about Chancellor Gattis. What have you learned about him at school?"
Bellamy was five years old, nearly six. He considered the question carefully and then he said, "The Chancellor is our leader, elected by the people. He or she is always noble and strong, and is chosen to make sure that everyone stays safe, works hard, and so that the human race survives, forever." He smiled at her, proud that he'd remembered all that.
Briefly, Aurora smiled back. She didn't confirm what he'd said, but she didn't argue it either. Instead she asked him, "And what do you know about the law? About people getting floated?"
Bellamy looked down at his hands and then said quietly, "Hunter's dad was floated. She was out of school for a while, but even when she came back, she was really sad. She still is."
"Do you know why her dad got floated?" Aurora asked him, gently. When he looked at her, her gaze was intense, and he sensed that this was important.
He nodded and whispered, "He stole."
"What did he steal?" she pressed.
Bellamy shifted uncomfortably, not used to such direct questioning. "Food."
Aurora drew in a breath and let it out slowly. Her dark eyes seemed angry as she said, "Do you think he stole food because he was bad?"
Tentatively, Bellamy met her eyes, and then he shook his head. "He stole because Hunter was hungry. He loved her, like you love me."
His mother's smile was big and proud. She reached out and stroked his hair for a moment, nodding. "That's right," she said. "And who gave the order to float her?"
Again, he felt uncomfortable, but he said, "Chancellor Gattis."
"Yes," she said, raising a hand and cupping his chin between her thumb and forefinger. "Do you think that was fair?"
"No," he said, so sure of that answer. His mother nodded her agreement, and then she stood up, putting his colouring book in front of him. Obviously, the conversation was over. He watched her walk to their tiny kitchenette and turn on the tap to fill a glass with water. The pipes rattled for a moment, releasing a few drops, but then the flow stopped and nothing more came out.
Aurora let out a heavy breath and told him, "The Chancellor has water all day, every day. Is that fair?"
Bellamy didn't reply to that, but he couldn't help but say, "My dad was floated." His memories of his father were brief and far away, but he knew that's why he wasn't here. He remembered his mother crying and crying, the way he'd threaded his toddler hands through her hair, trying to fix her broken heart.
He watched his mother freeze, and he regretted his words instantly. The intensity of her look made him squirm as he looked down at his colouring, wishing he hadn't spoken. Softly he whispered, "Sorry."
"No," Aurora said finally, softly. "You're right, he was floated."
"For stealing food?" Bellamy asked cautiously, not sure how far he could take this. His mother didn't like to talk about the past, didn't like to talk about her husband, his father.
"No," she answered, shaking her head. "For something else. But that wasn't fair either, Bellamy." She returned to the table and sat down next to him, taking her shoulders in her hands. He looked into her eyes as she said firmly, "What they tell you in school is a lie. The things that people are floated for… sometimes it is fair. Sometimes people do terrible things, like killing or hurting other people, and then maybe they do deserve to float. But stealing food to feed your family because you don't get enough, while other people have too much… like how some people have water all day every day, and we don't, but we all live on the same station. So is that fair?"
He could hear her passion, but he felt overwhelmed, not sure why she was telling him all this. The fact that he could sense how important it was to her made it seem even more urgent, and therefore made his uncertainty all the more upsetting.
Suddenly, he burst into tears. Aurora seemed to soften, and she crouched down next to him, pulling him into her arms and holding him close to him. "My brave boy," she said softly. "It's going to be okay."
"Mom?" he whispered, clinging to her. "Did you… are you going to get floated?"
When she didn't answer right away, he panicked, and his tears turned into sobs, and then into wails. She held him close, tightly, murmuring softly into his ear, but all the comforting words in the world couldn't chase away his fear. Finally, when he calmed down, she pulled back from him and held him by the shoulders, looking into his eyes. "Bellamy, listen- I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going to get floated, as long as you don't tell anyone about this conversation. Okay?"
He swallowed down his fear and nodded. "Okay. I won't, I promise."
She stroked a hand over his hair, and her smile was a gift as she said, "Good boy."