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Monday, 23 December 2013

Austerity and Cutbacks - A Christmas Story 2013 - Pearl's Awakening In Second Life

Pearl Walters loved her career, she worked for the local council.  She had been thrust into a plum job near the top of the pile at the local authority housing and environmental department, she had shown her talent as an aggressive “go get ‘em” control freak right at the very beginning,  and the bosses just loved her;  She had been singled out by the people who ran the courses in the council because of her hard attitude towards other people and she was given enough power by those shadowy managers at the top to carry out their vicious regulations and austerity cuts on the local population.  Many people all over the country were finding life increasingly hard as they were swept into non-ending poverty by the uncaring and spiteful career politicians. 

Pearl prided herself on her lack of passion, she was in charge of a section that dealt with sustainable development, welfare and housing and she also made decisions about how large sums of money were spent throughout her allotted area.  She had been programmed into the mindset that ‘populism’ should be crushed, it didn’t matter what the people wanted, she would enforce whatever rulings she could, rigidly and without consideration against those vulnerable,  poor and disabled people whom she secretly despised.  Anyway she enjoyed her job which allowed  her to meddle in people’s lives, it gave her a thrill.  She also  had her own plans, one day she would have a job with the elites and the only way to do that was to screw every penny out of the local people and to make their lives as uncomfortable as she could so she would get noticed by her bosses.  So Pearl looked happy watching the heavy snow falling outside as she  waited in her warm apartment for the taxi to arrive, all expenses paid of course, to pick her up and take her to work. 

It was the week before Christmas and Pearl, head held high and with her nose in the air, walked passed the desks of her  many staff.  There was a deathly silence as she walked through to her lush office at the back of the building.  There were no Christmas decorations, Pearl made sure of that, the people should feel privileged to work there and they didn’t need to be distracted by Christmas. They weren’t even allowed to mention the word ‘Christmas’ it was just something else Pearl and her bosses could cause misery over, much to their delight, they loved to upset the staff.  How downtrodden people were, they just put up with it and she sneered at their compliance.  Pearl’s staff were frightened of her, frightened of losing their jobs;  She kept it that way so that the staff were wary about bringing work cases to her that they thought should be appealed against.  Who cares if some disabled granny was being thrown out of her house because she couldn’t afford the new ‘bedroom tax’, a government initiative to make poor people even poorer, not Pearl that’s for sure.  Pearl had her nice apartment looking over the Thames, she even claimed expenses  for her own living costs from those idiots the tax payers, granny included!  

She spent her working day surfing the internet, shopping on line and visiting Second Life where she had a fashion business, yes she even had time to design clothes to sell to the virtual world residents.  She made sure she charged as much as she could to screw the people in SL as well.  Second Life had been good for her local authority department too, she could use it as a propaganda tool to push the Agenda 21 ‘going green’ spin through.  Make people feel they are the ones harming the planet and expect them to restrict their own lives so severely that they want to end it all, or accept living like peasants.  It was right up Pearl’s street, exploit, exploit, exploit, that was the name of the game for Pearl.  Or OysterPearline as she was known in SL.   She had come up against opposition in the virtual world however, just like any other community there where “do good’ers” in there trying to help and advise people on how to survive in these troubled times.   Pearl had never had any real friends, only those people who hung about with her because they had inhuman tendencies too, just like her, but of course they would try to upstage her, just as she would try to manipulate them if she could, so it was all just a game, not friendships at all.  

Pearl sat in her comfortable leather executive chair and logged into SL.  She, watched her avatar rez into view, let those mugs, her staff, do all the work, sending out letters informing people that they had to move out of their homes because they could not afford the rent or demanding that they should have their disability benefits cut, while she played in SL. The plan was to cut the staff’s wages too after the holiday, she couldn‘t wait to see what they thought about that.  That will teach them she thought, a  smile touching her thin painted red lips.  She was expecting a big bonus this year for all the cuts she had made;  How sweet life is.  

She looked back at the Second Life window and she could see her avatar, the glamorous OysterPearline, but there was a little elf like figure running around her, getting in her way and bumping her.  Speaking to him in ‘voice’ she told him to "Bog off and leave me alone or I’ll report you”  The little green elf  looked her straight in the eye and said in a deep masculine voice “I am the spirit of 2014 and I want to show you your future Pearl”  Who was this griefer? she thought as she touched the menu to report him there and then, but when she searched for his name he was not listed.  His name was SevenStars and no matter what she did he clung to her avatar.  She tried logging off and then on again at different locations, but there he was, his pale grey eyes not leaving OysterPearline’s face.  She was furious, she decided to turn the computer off altogether and get her secretary to pour her a coffee. She hit the computer’s shut down button with frustration.  

Looking back down at her keyboard she noticed that her hands suddenly appeared different, the fingers were slender and smooth and she gasped as the recognised the rings she wore in Second Life.  She blinked as everything in her office blurred slightly, only to reappear exactly like her virtual world environment; She had entered the body of her avatar! her computer and her office had gone, vanished! she was looking through the eyes of OysterPearline.  She felt sick, panic engulfed her, she hadn’t really felt fear before and to make it worse the little green elf stood looking at her with a wry smile on his cheeky face.  “Welcome to your future Pearl” he said.

“What is this?“ demanded Pearl, but this time her voice quivered with fright.  SevenStars told Pearl that her real world was only an illusion too, and that the earth was a hologram of different scenes and times.  He told her it was how people acted out the scenes and what changes they made that determined how they would proceed to the next level of their actual true existence, that of pure energy and eternal oneness with the universe.  Pearl, even in her sorry state as an avatar, wanted to argue with him.  “What a load of rubbish” she said. “I enjoy my life being superior to all those parasites in the real world, they aren't spiritual beings, they are mugs, my life is very real!”  The elf looked at her and shook his head.  This one would take some cracking he thought, she would be left in the darkness unless he could make her see that her actions caused so much misery to everyone and eventually she would be a victim too.

Pearl was suddenly aware of a collar being put around her virtual neck and she tried to get it off  but couldn't, SevenStars laughed at her as he picked up the long chain attached to the collar and flew off with it as Pearl hurtled through the air after him.  

They landed with a thud at a crowded sim, it looked like a cinema with a massive screen at the front of many rows of seated avatars.  There were two seats free in the first row and SevenStars tugged Pearl down the aisle and sat down, dragging Pearl down too, into the seat next to him.  She was stunned, she sat there as the screen flickered into life and she gasped as she saw her real life image appear before her.   She recognised the large office where her staff worked and she could see her team members gathered around her stern looking figure.  “I’m not staying to watch this” she declared to SevenStars as she tried to leap out of her virtual seat, but he simply pulled the leash with a sharp tug, pulling her back down, she was helpless.  

The real Pearl on the screen began talking to the poor wretches who worked for her, they were already on low wages and many of them had second jobs in the evenings just to pay the bills.  “We had a good year in 2013, implementing the austerity cuts that we could, we have achieved approximately 15% of our target figures advised by the government”  The staff looked on, feeling apprehensive  and wondering what this was leading up to.  “So” Pearl continued “although we had made a good start, we have to make more changes and produce sleeker working practices within the department as well now we are in 2014.  Our bosses are insisting that we must also reduce our staff and regretfully, the remaining workers will be put on zero hour contracts, so people will only be called into work when they are needed for their particular projects. So your wages will be restructured too”  The staff looked wide-eyed and upset, how would they manage? who would be picked to stay and who would go?

The avatars in the audience at the back of Pearl and SevenStars began to murmur their disdain and Pearl could feel their eyes staring into the back of her head.  “Shame on you” shouted one avatar “Yes shame” the others shouted.  Pearl shrank into her seat as the screen flickered into life again.  She saw her office once more and the real Pearl was at a meeting with her immediate bosses.  The calendar in front of her said 25th August 2015.  She was receiving some type of award, the stuffy looking red faced man who ran the department gave her an official letter with a bonus cheque for £20,000.  “Well done!” he declared “Your idea to make it illegal to live on the streets and making the homeless families do community work for their hostel rent has really caught the imagination of our grand masters!”  he drawled, extending his sweaty hand for a limp handshake which Pearl grabbed enthusiastically.  Once again the avatars in the audience started to shout at her and she could feel the hatred directed at her cowering figure as she tried to sink even further down into her chair.  SevenStars jerked the chain making her sit up straight in her seat, there was no escaping.  Of course, in real life all this would be going on behind closed doors, she would never have been named and shamed in public for her ideas to thrash the poor homeless people once again, grinding them into the ground.  She had even suggested passing a law that made it impossible for people to give the starving families on the streets food and drink, but someone had already beaten her to that idea.  She had a lot in common with most of the other people in authority, how they loved baiting the peasants. 

The screen flickered again, the calendar read January 2016, and she could see herself sitting at her desk. This time her eyes were red with crying and she angrily ranted to herself, howling in disbelief.  There was a screwed up letter in front of her and a security officer standing just behind her  to make sure that she left the premises as soon as possible, taking only her personal belongings from her desk with her.  The letter had of course, told her that her duties were no longer required.  She had been so good at her work, so excellent at enforcing eviction notices and cutting welfare benefits, that she only had a few people working for her over the last few months and just as her staff had been made redundant, now it was her turn, her job done, her days of being a ‘big-shot’ over.  Only the harsh reality outlined in the letter had disclosed that her own contract had been reviewed without her knowledge,  and the small print that had been added  meant that by agreeing to take bonuses, any redundancy, pension or golden handshake would become void  on her dismissal.  The avatar audience sniggered, there was no sympathy for Pearl, she turned to SevenStars and shouted “get me out of here, this is lies!”  SevenStars sat motionless, there was another chapter that Pearl should watch, just one more. He said nothing as the screen flickered into life again.

On the large screen there was a figure hunched up in a shop doorway, it was freezing cold, the snow was on the ground and avatar Pearl screamed “No!!” as she recognised herself as the vagrant.  The real life Pearl looked pale and weak as she huddled under a blanket. She was trying to get some sleep, her stomach empty and her bones aching as she lay on the hard concrete floor.  However, two police officers arrived on the scene, both dressed in their combat uniforms as was now the norm nowadays, tasers at the ready.  “Come on lady, up you get” one officer barked as he roughly pulled Pearl to her feet.  “You know you are breaking the law and you can’t sleep here” he said.  “But it’s not my fault I’m homeless” Pearl muttered “I lost my job and couldn't afford my rent”   The officer shrugged, it didn’t affect him, he didn’t give a damn, he had been trained well, he felt no empathy for anyone, and besides he had been told that he and his family were immune from prosecution, as long as he followed orders.  He laughed as he pushed Pearl over, lashing out with his foot, “Don’t argue with me” he hollered as he bent down to put handcuffs on poor Pearl.  Once again Pearl was aware of the avatar audience around her, they seemed to be changing, feeling some sympathy for the now pitiful looking woman on the screen.  “You have a choice” Said the second policeman to bruised and broken Pearl. “You can either go to the workhouse or to prison, it’s up to you”.  Pearl stayed silent, either way she would be scrubbing floors or picking up litter without any payment, a slave to this incredibly harsh society she now found herself in, and yes, she finally admitted, a society she had helped to create.

The big screen suddenly went black and the lights came on in the cinema, revealing the audience sitting behind Pearl. She turned and looked at them.  To her horror she realised that she recognised the names above the avatar’s heads. The people she had laid off, the people who had worked for her at one time or another, the people whom she had loved upsetting.  They looked at her with a gentleness now, it made her want to weep with sorrow, how could they forgive her? Especially after she had been so mean to everyone.  But forgive her they did, they were wiser than her, they had their spirits in tact, it was Pearl who had been the blind wretch who would not see, or care to see, what the future would hold for her.   The people she had adored, the people who had created this society of harshness and punishment had abandoned her, as they would in turn be abandoned too, once their uses were over as well.  Pearl could see what an idiot she had been, there was no immunity, each and every person working for the dictatorship system would be  dealt with in the same way. They were nothing to the people at the top, they were all dispensable, no matter how high up the ladder they thought they were. 

She stood up, her avatar facing the audience “Please forgive me” she pleaded “I can’t tell you how sorry I am and I will try to put things right”  She became aware of the collar falling from her neck as SevenStars smiled up at her.  He winked at her and his image began to fade.  As Pearl looked back up at the other avatars their images too were fading.  Suddenly she was back in reality, she was sitting at her desk, she couldn’t believe it, the relief was incredible.  She looked at the pile of redundancy letters she was about to give to some of her staff.  How could she, she gulped as tears ran down her face.  For the first time in her life she felt a unity with other people, she actually felt concern and sympathy for them.

Getting to her feet she went out to the large open office and stood among the workers at their desks;  Her staff hardly dared to look up at her.  “I have an announcement to make” she said.  “Because it’s Christmas week I want to buy some decorations to cheer the office up at bit”  People looked stunned, was she ill?  they asked themselves.  Pearl continued “I know the job we have been doing is very depressing and I’ve decided that we should make some changes to our policies.  We need to review each case before we turn people out onto the streets and we need to save the people’s benefits, those who really rely on them”  The staff looked at one another in disbelief, some of them smiling at this new Pearl.  “I also want you to forgive me for not taking more of an interest in you personally, I know some of you are finding it hard to manage your own lives.” She continued “The managers wanted me to cut back on my team, but I think we can make a good case to keep everyone on and there must be other ways we can keep within our budget.  I would welcome some of your ideas if you would do me the honour of assisting me.”   

Suddenly one of the team began to clap his hands enthusiastically, he shouted out “Thank you Ms Walters” and the rest of the people joined in, cheering her and clapping their approval.  Pearl felt something she had never felt before, a warm glow inside her, a slightly choking feeling of joy in her throat, tears in her eyes, her heart pounding. An emotion so strong that it changed her completely there and then. She had found humanity and therefore she had found this enormous wave of love that now engulfed her. She had been rewarded by her new found compassion.  

Pearl had been true to her word, she knew how the system worked, so she could slowly rebuild her working practices to make everything run efficiently, just as it should have been run in the first place. She was also recognising just how wonderful and how skilled her staff really were.  It seemed to be rubbing off on those bosses above her too; Her managers began to worry about their own futures as Pearl pointed out to them that if they destroyed the regions in which they lived and worked, eventually they would destroy their own lives too, especially once they were no longer needed by the elitists, those few people who were trying to dominate the world and make slaves of the planet’s peoples.  

From small acorns great trees do grow, and slowly but surely word spread to people far and wide throughout the earth.  People were finally awake, conscious to what had been so wrong in their lives and they were determined to put everything right.  Pearl hadn’t been the only one this Christmas to have been visited by SevenStars, the little elf had his work cut out, but he knew that love and humanity would always defeat evil and hatred, no matter how long it would take.  Christmas 2013 had been special  a time for people to evolve, to find out just what amazing and wonderful creatures they really were and by helping their fellow human beings, they would help themselves too.  

Have a Brilliant Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!

Janey Bracken

Behind the Green Mask - Rosa Koire


Ed Follet said...

I'm glad the story had a happy ending Janey... Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year :-))

Janey Bracken said...

Thanks Ed, Yes all stories should have a happy ending, and they do! eventually!! Happy Christmas to you too and a prosperous and merry 2014 xxx

Hibiscus said...

A Christmas Carol for SL! It is good to see that there are happy endings, let's look forward to some in 2014.

Janey Bracken said...

Thanks Hib, yes happy endings are the aim for 2014 and always!!! xxx