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Short story entry: Fortune Smiles Upon Pure of Heart The boy was down below, rooting among dusty books, their rustling leaves a relic of a soon to be, past age. His watcher rubbed arthritic knuckles against stubbled chin. He wondered at the tenacity of the child. How he had learned of the fortune was beyond the old mans ken but the fact remained he had and no doubt would find it, for his youthful energy and focus were greater than the older more decadent members of the household. Besides they had searched for years and nothing had come to light. His brother, the man with one eye on the future had left his fortune and legal affairs in a disorderly manner with no guide for anyone who might choose to make a claim. His untimely death while traveling the world, left his family, mostly cousins and reunited brothers and sisters, with no idea of how to lay hands on the wealth his absence created. No legal will nor instructions were left and the banks at that time had no clue on how to access his fortune, neither did his legal representatives, though they had a record of it’s amount. Some two billion Australian dollars in crypto, at todays valuation. Of course the boy wouldn't have understood the significance of this as the banking and legal professions were almost invisible now. At first the old man had though his brother a fool, living on wishful thinking, outpacing his creditors one country at a time. But as the years passed and no consequences befell him, the new paperless currency grew (offspring of a quark, a spark and some contemptible math) and his certainty turned to dismay. The new currency named XRP brought with it enormous winds of change. Subtle at first and ultimately overwhelming. His brother, an artist had invested his modest wealth into it. He was a maverick and refused to use his natural gifts against others but he loved trade. Loved it with a passion and delighted in finding things of value to exchange with others. His paintings were infused with that sense of energy and knowledge and their creation guided his path. The old mans life had been the opposite, designed to slide among diplomatic alleyways, it was thrown into chaos by the dawn of digital currencies and with them the freedom from the influence of middlemen. People no longer needed to vote and civilization was no longer centralized within the control of elite groups. No anonymous organization took a percentage of every transaction. Contracts were no longer obscure things and legal training was not required to understand them. People could control their own destinies and information had historical force. Such a world was not one a bureaucrat such as he, could survive in. He felt scarred and betrayed by the change. He had prided himself on being a man of special gifts. His skill lay in the selective application of laws so complex and varied that by definition, no one was innocent and all were subject to his whims. His was a monarch among men but not subject to public influence. No army could storm his castle. No vote could remove him from office. He was an incumbent and a powerful one, pulling the strings of those whom others believed powerful. He could dictate wars and have others fight them. He was the manservant who had taken over and entrenched himself, in the seat of power. He was not alone of course. Many thousands, to greater and lesser degrees found themselves in the same situation. They had fought at first but some among them, infiltrators and the witless, welcomed the change. He was lucky to have survived, humbled, living on what he had amassed and a meager pension, in the property which his brother had left with several distant relatives. Not distant enough. The boy was one of theirs. He would have to thread lightly here for he knew a confrontation was coming and nothing but success could protect him. With fondness he remembered the luxury of diplomatic immunity, the utter freedom, completely free from even the least of punishments. The boys name was Alex and the dust made his nose tingle. As he turned the pages he though of the books his uncle Wilfred had amassed. Some were stories of artists lives and others were various forms of science and particularly geometry. He enjoyed some which explained the subtleties of music but it was art and the complexities of human nature which held his attention the most. Alex had never met his uncle but he knew this house and the library had been his. Uncle Wilfred and uncle Jared had not shared brotherly affection. The story of the lost fortune in XRP had been wistfully told to him by his mothers sister Agnes. What if, someone could find it. Why would Wilfred have put it so far out of reach. He had dreamed of it and the consequences of finding it. Of course everyone knew all about XRP now. It was one of the main currencies of the world. Everyone would accept it, if they could get it. At the time of Wilfreds death it was still quiet young and largely unknown as it competed with more glamorous currencies but what XRP had lacked in glamor it made up for in function and potential function. It was so well designed with so many uses that it grew tracks and sidelines in every direction without needing to fork from the original. Forking was one of the ways other cryptos had lost their force. They had become more and more fragmented while XRP continued to build steadily. It had become autonomous, strong and continued to hold yet more untapped potential. So it grew both in use and value. Now there simply wasn’t enough to go around but somewhere out there uncle Wilfred had hidden 75,000 of them. At the news of his death, there was silent celebration among his relatives. They expected a windfall, between the property and the XRP itself. They got the homes but not the XRP and since then, they had been afraid to change anything in case they might inadvertently destroy a cache of hidden code that would lead them to the fortune. That was a couple of decades ago and people had pretty much given up now but the habit of not throwing out or changing anything remained. It was like living in an elegant museum. One day while reading through poetry by Coleridge, he came across a note written in the side column of a piece entitled Xanadu. It described a painting Alex had never seen. He searched but no one knew of it. Months later he came to the conclusion that the painting might be hidden inside another and indeed when he approached it that way, he found it. A scene within a scene painted by his uncle. The intriguing title was ‘Xanadu Reflects in Peace’ and beneath the painting a section of the poem read, “and a thousand circlets spread, And each mis-shape the other. Stay awhile, Poor youth! who scarcely dar'st lift up thine eyes— The stream will soon renew its smoothness, soon The visions will return! And lo! he stays, And soon the fragments dim of lovely forms Come trembling back, unite, and now once more The pool becomes a mirror.” It seemed to be speaking to him and reminded him of the legendary ‘Ripple’ the first company to use XRP. The first letter of each word in the title ‘Xanadu Reflects in Peace’, also echoed the crypto. Could there be something hidden in this painting or the words? He stared at it. wondered, played with their meaning for weeks but nothing came to him. Eventually he gave up but not before Jared noticed his interest. Jared had searched and had come to a similar conclusion years before. He had taken the painting down, examined it in minute detail. Explored the frame looking for hidden compartments, scanned the image at high resolution and had gone over every inch of it. Nothing! So now he watched, hoping that fresh eyes and pure heart might find what he could not. Well right now, fresh eyes and pure heart were sneezing and snot was running down his chin as the dust from the old books made tears gather in his eyes and his breathing difficult. He decided to go out to the pool room and get some fresh air by the water. The house was still beautiful and well maintained, despite the dust. He sat up on the edge of a plinth beneath the statue of a Chinese dragon which faced the entrance of the drawing room and amused himself by throwing pebbles into the water, watching the ripples spread across the surface. They broke the reflection of the room and the big window of the study into a thousand parts. He was still staring at them when suddenly he felt like he’d been hit by a brick. His breathing stopped and his eyes bulged. He was literally staring at the answer and couldn’t believe it. As the waters calmed and the smooth surface returned he saw his own reflection in the water and the words of the poem returned to his mind. Beside his reflection and directly above the dragon, the pattern of black and white tiles making up the ceiling took on a particular pattern. He was sure he couldn’t be mistaken. It was an ancient QR code. The other tiles were larger and made of more geometric forms but this was random and seemed pixelated. It had to be code. Jared hadn’t been far away when the sneezing faded. He deduced that the boy had left the room so took himself down off the shelf where he had been lazily surveying and climbed down the library stair. Dusting himself down he managed to restrain the urge to cough. His long black clothes were hung about him like some ancient college professors gown but they were more grey than black now. Something in the air about him seemed different and an urgency tingled his senses. He put it off as probably the effects of some digestive upset. He disliked upset and preferred a calm, predictable pace. Nonetheless he found himself hurrying in a furtive manner across the room toward the large window overlooking the pool, arriving just in time to see the curious expression on Alex’s face. He was quiet sure that the boy was about to vomit and almost called out in concern for the purity of the water rather than the boys welfare when he realized there was something more substantial in his expression. A look of awe and stunned awareness were spreading across his face and it echoed in the tense posture of his body. Jared stepped back into the shadows. His heart felt cold and his stomach clenched. An anxious anticipation had settled over him. Alex looked up above his head to the spot where the reflection should have come from. The QR code had disappeared. Looking back into the water he could see it again. The dragon and he were framing it’s reflection from the ceiling. He wondered how this hadn’t been seen before and stepped away from the statue. The vaulted ceiling was constructed in curved sections and the QR code was a part of that. He understood vaguely, from his uncles books on geometry that it was hidden in an anamorphic perspective and couldn’t be seen directly. Clearly Wilfred had designed this and only sitting beneath the dragon would show the code flattened in the water. It was pure chance that he had stumbled on it. Was it that simple, after all those years of searching that to resolve the mystery all he would have to do was scan some code reflected in water? He withdrew his phone and at that moment, the lights came on and the reflection disappeared. Jared was standing large as life in the library window. They both stared at each other, neither knowing what to say or do. Finally Jared broke the silence. His voice squeaked as his throat constricted. ‘You’ve found it, haven’t you boy’ The only reply was his echo off the vaulted ceiling. He stepped towards the pool, one hand reaching into the air as though to grasp at something invisible joining him to Alex. The movement shocked Alex into action. He gathered his willpower and as though breaking whatever invisible bond there might be, he slashed at the air between them. The action seemed to stun Jared. He took a step back and Alex spoke. “Yes, I’ve found it”. Jared stared, eyes bulging and feet looking as though they were ready to leap forward. It’s in your wallet, already? It’s not possible. How? When? It’s not yours, it’s mine! With that he took a rush towards Alex and the dragon, aiming for the phone in Alex’s outstretched hand. It had been many years since Jared had moved faster than a shuffle and to suddenly move at a run threw his body into a disjointed locomotion. As he leaped forward his gown caught beneath his shoe and he lost his balance, plunged past Alex headlong into the dragon plinth, which he bounced off, straight into the water. He entered, unconscious at about the spot where the QR code would have been. His heavy gown and wide girth dragged his body down for a moment but he bobbed back up, face down. Alexs wiry 17 year old form wasn’t designed for swimming but he plunged into the pool. As soon as his head was below water he wondered what the hell he was doing. He hated water. He could drown. He bobbed back up, he head bouncing his head off the motionless body of his uncle. The contact shocked him and he recoiled, pushing back further into the deep. Getting a grip on his fear he forced himself forward trying to keep his head above water. He cried out for help as he pushed the body to the pool edge. The weight was too great to turn and it just pushed Alex’s further below water when he tried. Eventually his cries for help were answered and hands reached down to pull the floater from the pool. When Jared opened his eyes, he was staring at his bedroom ceiling. His head was bandaged and one arm in a cast but his thoughts were clear. One thought in particular. He found it. The boy, he found it. It never occurred to him to wonder what ‘it’ was but the thought propelled him half upwards. Pain shot through his arm and he became conscious of his head in ways that even the worst hangover couldn’t have prepared him for. He rested prone and eventually low moaning attracted the soothing attentions of one of his cousins. Once it was established that Jared was going to be fine the family gathered around Alex to hear what had happened. No one expected it to be anything more than a report of a slip and general sympathy rested with Alex for the obvious shock he was in. Besides the patient was out of sight and not in any condition to receive consolation. Alex was grateful for the the moment reprieve to consider the possibilities and what would happen if he told them of Jared’s reaction. His last words “It’s mine” echoed in his mind and Alex wondered if anyone else here might share that sentiment. What was ‘it’ anyway. A few minutes ago he had been sure that all he needed to do was scan a QR code and his wallet would be filled with the missing fortune. Now he wasn’t so sure. His eyes met those of his aunt Agnes. She stared at him with a curiosity that had nothing to do with sympathy. She had never been like the others and had always been there, with stories from her own life to give him gentle nudges in the right direction. Her wispy blonde hair and normally dreamy look were transformed into something sharper, more awake and focused. He wondered if he should speak to her first. He decided not to. It would make her a lightning rod for any bad responses. Grasping his fears he stood up, his posture demanding silence. “I found something”, he said. “A code. Jared wanted it and charged me but slipped into the water. I don’t want him stalking me so I’m just going to tell you, he thinks I found the treasure and he believes it’s his”. Stunned silence, followed by babbling voices and reaching hands. Hands that seemed to grasp at the air, the way that Jareds had, as though to claim a connection. He stepped away, turning his back on them while gathering his breath. Then someone said, “well did you?” It was Agnes. He turned around to her, smiling, despite his fear, suddenly filled with some sort of confidence. "I found something, hidden in the pool. A reflection that makes up a QR code". Everyone turned to the lapping water and stared at it, trying to see what he might have spotted. Nothing showed of course and noises of disbelieve and confusion followed. Everyone had swum here for years and the pool wasn’t prone to surprises. There followed noises that sounded like accusations. A voice piped up (he wasn’t sure whose) accusing him of over exciting Jared. Mumbled agreement followed. The mood had turned sour and only a supportive glance from Agnes gave him confidence enough to step toward the light switch. The sudden relative darkness silenced them and he stepped towards the pool edge. Looking down into the still gently moving waters, he could see the code because of the light coming from windows at the end of the room. It lit the surface of the water gently and the ceiling reflection wasn’t washed out by the overhead illumination the lamps created. He pointed and everyone stared. Gasps of surprise followed and while they waited for the ripples to come to a halt, he told his story. At the end, a feverish excitement had gripped everyone and they could see the code coming into focus as the waters began to still. The accusations had turned to speculation and congratulation. He had enough time to at least tell them that he wasn’t even sure what the code would lead to but they didn’t seem to hear that. Agnes stepped beside him and grasped his left hand. The moment of truth was almost there. Finally taking his phone once again from his pocket, he aimed it down into the water with his camera active. He snapped a photo first. Then activating the wallet code reader he scanned the QR. Nothing happened. Silence gripped the room again. Alex tapped the screen and activated the pure code reader with no wallet attached. Pointing it at the QR he once again scanned the image. This time the holographic display lit up his phone and an image of his uncle appeared. It seemed to survey the room, as though it was the projection of a living person, rather than a memory. His cousins were transfixed. Finally Wilfreds long dead voice echoed through the room. “Well done, someone among you has figured out the message I left. I hope it’s not too late of course and that you are all still young enough to enjoy the fruits of my adventures. No doubt you expected this to be a direct connection to my fortune and a simple process of eternal revelry would follow. I don’t want that. You would all just end up like my worthless brother Jared and spend your lives feeling superior to everyone else less fortunate than you. No doubt you’d also distribute the funds unequally. So here’s my plan. I intend that you should not have the fortune without earning it. Unfortunately for the person who has to do the earning I’m sure that it will seem to be a miserable task too but not without some benefits. My fortune is scattered among many wallets, which I’ve secreted all over the world on my travels. Each is connected to a QR code such as this one and hidden in such a manner, in plain sight. I require you to elect someone who will become your leader. It has to be someone you trust and as the journeys will take several years, someone relatively young who will grow in character as they travel. The first cache of treasure is nearby and it’s a simple matter of collecting it by scanning a wallet. I’ll explain later. The journey won’t be an easy one and may be difficult for the person undertaking it. They won’t simply collect the fortune as they travel either. That would be too simple and I want you all to develop a vested interest in maintaining the persons health and well being as they go along their journey. Instead of what you might expect, each code will provide a small supply of funds and a section of a larger QR code. When all the codes are collected and joined together they may be used to retrieve the full amount which remains. If things have gone as I hope then this will be a substantial amount by the standards of your time. I want you to grow to like each other and to learn more about the consequences which great wealth may bring. There has been no love lost between my brother Jared and I over the years but if he is still alive and dependent on my inheritance then things will have turned out as I expected. He is your problem, though I know you don’t understand yet what that means. Choose your champion well. He, she or they must have qualities that you may not always acknowledge or reward in normal times but honesty, integrity and responsibility as well as a desire to build family rather than merely take them for granted will be essential. Wisdom is something they’ll earn on the journey. Sometimes naivety is a very good starting place. With that I present you with the location of the first code. A small fortune and a key containing a message for the person whom you choose, are your reward. There are 15 others to search out. Each one will provide a small cache of wealth and a piece of the puzzle leading to the larger deposits.” A that point, his image was replaced by the eye of the dragon beside which they stood. That was it. Then the image blinked out. Alex didn’t hesitate. He was tired of talking and leapt onto the plinth he looked up to the dragons eye. He was disappointed to see that it appeared perfectly normal. To keep his balance he grasped it's paw and scrutinized the eye, pushing and prodded it. Finally he swiped it aside and it rolled over like a ball bearing revealing the other side and a code against a white background where the pupil of the eye should have been. Again his phone scanned the image and this time the wallet was activated. It immediately filled with XRP. Far more than he had ever seen before. His heart was thumping but there was no key. His uncle had promised there would be a key for the person they chose. Of course, they hadn’t chosen anyone yet. Perhaps that was the next thing to do. He turned to see upturned faces filed with awe and anticipation. “It’s here. The wallet is full. I’ve never seen so much XRP“ He threw the phone to the nearest outstretched hand. A cheer went up and everything was forgotten in that moment of immense relief. All the words of his uncle were wiped out of their consciousness and only the glowing wallet made an impression. To Alex it seemed as though time had slowed down and every moment of the last few minutes stretched out into hours. He felt the weight and excitement of his uncles words and hoped beyond hope that they would allow him to accompany whomever was chosen to lead the search for the lost treasure. Agnes came towards him and placing her arms around his shoulders gave him an affectionate squeeze. It spoke more than words ever could and he was grateful for the acknowledgement and concern expressed. Soon they would have to meet and discuss the future of the family but that could wait. Clearly a lot lay ahead.