Ian Johnson was just like the ninety-nine percent of the human population in the year of 2500. He was thin, weak, and worst of all, poor. He'd grown up in the poorest neighborhood of Liverpool, a city that was home to more than ten million residents who fought for survival in a world were extremes were the norm.
The gap between rich and poor had become so great that they're literally (and officially) considered as being different species. The rich were considered divine beings blessed with grace from the heavens while the poor were condemned to live a life full of suffering, misery and hunger. Ian understood that. He lived it every day of his short life. On his seventeenth birthday he'd received no presents, no congratulations, no hugs and no birthday cake. He was an orphan and lived a gray life at an apartment building near the city hall.
It was early in the morning and Ian had no time to celebrate. He had to go to work at a local bakery around the corner. But before leaving, he did his special morning ritual, one that he'd been doing since he had memory. In one of the walls of his claustrophobic studio flat in the seventh floor, hung a poster of the most amazing city in the entire world.
"London." He sighed looking at the rugged colored poster that faced his bed.
The poster depicted Crystal Castle, the new official residence that the royal family had built in the middle of the city along the entire northern length of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. It showed the castle being illuminated with light while tall buildings in the background competed with each other to touch the night sky. That image was for Ian nothing but a vision of heaven for London was considered by all "the only paradise one should wish to go to."
Every day, right upon waking up, Ian looked at the poster and then closed his eyes, trying to image how it would be to live in that beautiful paradise called London. He did his best to picture himself wearing new and sharp clothing while taking a walk in the famed Kensington Gardens and not worrying about a thing in the world. He visualized other rich people, eating delicious food at posh restaurants, smiling, laughing and enjoying life.
He felt great in that imaginary world. He felt free to do anything he could possibly dream of. He felt blessed to be alive and full of life, glad that his existence was nothing but extraordinary, nothing but perfect. But as soon as he opened his eyes, reality snapped back at his face, bringing him again to the sad fact that he was just a working slave who worked for twenty pounds a week. He couldn't live in London. It was impossible. Just the train ticket to get there cost five hundred pounds, not to mention that he needed a passport and a visa to enter the capital city as a "non-londonus".
"Homo Londonus." That's how rich people had been scientifically named almost two hundred years ago when it was clear (for the rich) that they had nothing in common with the struggling Home Sapiens who seemed destined to serve them and be at their command at all times.
Ian stood up, looked at the poster, then looked at the window (a cloudy day was waiting for him outside) and then sighed as he left his flat looking down and feeling a horrible pit in his stomach as it demanded nourishment.
That's why most people in the world were thin and weak. That's why Ian looked nothing like a seventeen-year-old of old times. Food was expensive. It was now a luxury, one that Ian enjoyed once or twice a day, at his break at work and right before going to bed.
He stepped out into the light. The street was busy. The sun rays made his red hair shine brightly as if his head was on fire.
Walking down the street, he noticed a large gathering further down, right on the electronics store. He approached it with curiosity as the crowd was silently paying attention to the televisions on display. He listened carefully too.
"Queen Anastasia and Princess Sophie's arrival to Liverpool is scheduled at exactly four in the afternoon," said the news man in an expressionless tone. "They'll be visiting the dying Duke of Merseyside as the whole of central England prepares for his imminent passing away. The duke, at his 99 years of age, is surrounded by his family and loved ones and will be meeting with the queen and the princess at his residence, the Royal Liver Building. We'll have a special transmission this afternoon to cover the royals' visit to Liverpool. On other news, London's mayor, Dante O'Collins, has proposed to impose an entry tax to all non-londonus coming to the capital city with the purpose of working."
"What?" exclaimed Ian in shock.
"I know, right?" said an old woman next to him. "It's incredible. They're killing us with taxes!"
"No, not that," said Ian hoping the entry tax wasn't going to be approved by the parliament. "I didn't know the queen was coming. How could I have not known about it?"
"It's been all over the news," said the woman. "Where have you been?"
Ian thought about it for a second. He'd been working day in and day out with no day off, like he'd been doing so for many years now.
"WORK!" exclaimed Ian at once, so unexpectedly that the poor old woman jumped. "I'm going to be late!"
He left the scene running, zig-zagging his way across the sea of people. The woman looked at him as he disappeared from sight and then turned her attention back to the televisions.
Ian turned the street and kept on running. His legs seemed to have forgotten the term "weak" as they'd been suddenly filled with a rush of vibrant energy. And there was a good reason for it. Ian's boss, Gordon Thomson, punished his employees (only two people) that arrived late by not allowing them to eat for free during their break. If Ian didn't arrive in time, he was going to have to pay for food. And that was something he could simply not afford without going homeless as his flat's rent was ten pounds a week, which left him with ten pounds for food that was enough for a piece of bread every night.
As he rushed inside the bakery, Ian was stopped by a towering figure and a disgusting mocking face. Gordon was shaking his head and his crossed arms meant he wasn't happy. His robust physic was typical of the business owner. He was fat, tall and his dark hair reflected his soul’s color, or at least that was what Ian liked to think.
"Late again, boy," said Gordon in a deep voice. "You know what it means."
"No, please," muttered Ian as he breathed his way to normality. "Please. I want to eat."
"You know begging doesn't work with me."
Ian stayed silent. There was no use arguing with Gordon. He was going to have to wait until he was off to eat something. It was going to be another long day for him, the kind of day where he couldn't think of anything else but the delicious breads that were being made and sold at the bakery.
"The Queen's visit is going to drive sells up," said Gordon in a softer voice. "You can have your free lunch but please make sure you arrive on time from now on."
"Really? THANK YOU!" said Ian so happy that he had had no problem hugging Gordon if it hadn't been because he had a lot of chores to do.
Ian headed straight to the back of the store, put on his black apron with the Gordon's Bakery logo on it and started getting all the utensils he needed to begin work.
"Happy birthday!" said Remi appearing with a wide smile across his face.
Remi was Ian's best friend. He was a pale dark-haired boy that was just as thin and bread-hungry as Ian. He was an orphan too and that had created a bond between them when they'd first met at the orphanage where they used to live. They'd become like brothers ever since, always together, trying to get ahead in life in the full-of-obstacles world where they lived. They'd share the same apartment if it wasn't for the ridiculous law that banned unrelated people from living together, a strategy used by the government to collect as much rent and property taxes as possible.
"Thanks," replied Ian as he put on a table a large container with flour.
"I really wish I could give you a present but… you know."
"Don't worry," continued Ian. "Your friendship's my present. You know that."
"Late again," said Remi changing subject. "You better be careful the next time."
"I know," replied Ian while he searched for a spoon. "It's just that I was listening to the news at the TV store. Did you know that the queen is coming? She'll arrive this afternoon with her daughter, the princess."
"Of course I know," said Remi with a smile. "Everyone's talking about it. Didn't you know?"
"I didn't," replied Ian stopping for a moment, his gaze lost. "I just found out this morning."
Remi knew about Ian's dream of living in London. He knew of the poster that hung in his room. When younger, they'd fantasize about living in a castle, eating feasts and meeting with foreign ambassadors. But Remi, unlike Ian, had stopped dreaming a long time ago. He believed dreams to be just that, dreams only meant for naive kids.
"Will you go?" asked Remi. "We can watch the queen from my flat's window. It'll be better than trying to get a glimpse amongst all the people."
Suddenly, as Ian was about to speak, Gordon appeared behind them, making them turn with scared expressions.
"What are you doing, boys?" said Gordon in a serious tone. "You're supposed to be working. I'm sure you want your free meal. Work for it!"
"Yes, sir!" exclaimed Ian and Remi at once.
"One more thing," added Gordon as the boys prepared the dough that was going to be used for making bread. "I need you both to stay until late this afternoon. I'll be going to see the queen. Understood?"
Ian and Remi looked at each other. They both knew working extra hours meant more bread on the table. It was an offer they couldn't refuse, even if they wanted to.
"We will," said Ian nodding.
"We'll take care of everything," added Remi.
"Good," said Gordon putting one of his big hands on his even bigger stomach. "I've always dreamed of seeing the queen. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I never thought she'd get out of Crystal Castle. Well, get to work. It's going to be a busy day."
Gordon left the two boys alone. He headed right to his small office where a small TV was broadcasting the national news.
"Sorry," said Remi putting a hand on Ian's shoulder. "We won't be seeing the queen."
"It's alright," said Ian trying to sound as if he wasn't hurt. "It's not like she'll be giving bread away. We'll better stay here and work."
And that's exactly what they did the whole morning. They made bread, sold it and kept the store in pristine condition.
However, Ian could not stop thinking about the queen and her daughter. The fact that the country's monarch was actually visiting Liverpool was something that made Ian daydream. It was one of his many fantasies: meeting the queen in person. Meeting no other than Maximus Londonus, the most powerful person on Earth. He wondered what she talked like. He wondered what she ate. He wondered what her thoughts were and he even wondered if she possessed a super power other than having all the money in the world.
If he could only be a londonus boy. That was his biggest fantasy. He would share all his wealth with the poor. He would change the system so everyone could benefit. He would change the world so it would all become a paradise, the heaven every single being deserved, even if they weren't londonus by birth.
It was something Ian couldn't get his head around. He simply couldn't understand what made rich and poor different. They all looked alike. They spoke the same language. They lived in the same planet. What was different then?
"Happy Birthday," said Ian to himself as he stood behind the bakery's front counter looking at the people as they passed by the store. "Happy Birthday."