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The Magnates of Malarkey

Long ago, on a far-off world called Vega VII, an explorer approached the summit of a mountain that the ancient Wise Ones said rose higher than any other on the planet. Does Wisdom perish with its purveyors? Some say yes, some say no. The explorer pulled himself up over the last ledge and saw sky and land and sea all around. Then he saw someone else there, sitting on a rock.


The climber approached the figure: a man gazing at the horizon. The horizon-watcher did not notice the climber until the climber tapped him on the shoulder


"How did you get here?" asked the climber.


The man turned. "I staggered up last night," he said.

"Why do you sit so still?"

"What else should I do? I have conquered the highest mountain. I now reign as the Ruler of the Realm."

A ball of cloud hung around the Ruler's head. As the climber stood near it, the cloud began to grow and blur his vision. The climber fanned the air to clear the mist away from his eyes.

"Could you have made an error?" asked the climber.

"How so?" asked the Ruler.

"Maybe a higher mountain exists."

"Nooo," said the Ruler. "The Wise Ones have spoken."

From his backpack, the climber withdrew a sighting device to measure how high the two men stood in relation to the surrounding world.

"Let's see," said the climber.

The mountaineer took sightings. Far away across the sea, he saw the peak of an island rising above the point of the cross hairs in the scope.

"I see a mountain higher than this one!" the climber cried.

"Nonsense," said the Ruler.

"Check for yourself," said the climber.

The Ruler arose, muttering under his breath. He shuffled to the scope and squinted through it. The cloud around his head followed, enveloping the sighting equipment so that it lost its focus.

"Rubbish," said he; "We stand on the highest peak in the world. The ground beneath that mountain rises higher than the ground under us, pushing that mountain up artificially. You see only an illusion."

The mountaineer folded up his apparatus and put it back into his pack. Throwing the bundle over his shoulder, he said, "Goodbye, O Foolish One." Then he set out toward the sea. When he reached the shore, he procured a boat and embarked for the island.

Upon conquering the island mountain, the climber found no one else there, so he assembled his sighting equipment to verify that he had reached the highest peak on Vega VII. After scanning in all directions, he found no other peak that came near the point of the cross hairs. He shouted to the sky, "I've conquered the highest mountain; I now prevail as the Prince of the Planet!" He sat down on a boulder and lost track of time.

There came a voice. "Why do you sit so still?"

The Prince turned around and saw the silhouette of a child. He could not tell if a boy or a girl had addressed him with such impertinence, because a thick mist had invaded his vision.

"How did you get here?" asked the Prince.

"I scrambled up this morning," said the child.

"We stand upon the highest summit in the world," said the Prince.

"How do you know?" asked the child.

"I, the Enlightened One, have proven it," said the Prince.

"Show me," said the child.

"How can I do that," said the Prince, "with these clouds all around?"

"I see no clouds," said the child.

"You play irreverent games," said the Prince, "and you shall receive justice in due course." But he arose nonetheless; and as he lifted the child to the eyepiece, he sensed that the child would someday grow into a woman. The girl squinted through the telescope.

"What do you see?" asked the Prince.

"A mountain," said the girl.

"Behold the second highest peak in the world," said the Prince.

The girl got down and opened her backpack. She took from it a box with buttons and a screen. She sat on the ground and pressed the buttons and looked at the screen.

After a short time, she said, "You have made a mistake."

"Noooo," said the Prince. "My instrument works to perfection."

"Aha," said the girl. "The world curves; the horizon bends down away from us. The ground under that peak falls below the ground under ours. That mountain looks lower only because of an illusion that you see. In reality, it ranks first, and we rank second below it."

The girl showed the Prince the calculations and deductions she had made using the box with the buttons and the screen. The Prince of the Planet saw the screen, but because of his failing eyesight, he could discern none of the symbols it displayed.

"Ridiculous," said the Prince. He walked back to his boulder and sat down.

The girl said, "Goodbye, O Dying One," and departed for the higher peak. She took the Prince's equipment, as he had no further use for it.

The girl spent years crossing seas and ascending mountains, each time finding a higher peak on the horizon. She grew to womanhood, climbing and seafaring until her legs could hardly carry her weight, until her arms could hardly draw back an oar. Her hair shone the color of newfallen snow, and her skin had the texture of primeval stone, when she reached top of a mountain and deduced that it rose higher than any other.

The woman set up the sighting apparatus, checked in every direction, and then used the box with the buttons and the screen to make certain that no other peak could challenge her, even taking into account the curvature of the planet, even imagining all sorts of illusions and distortions. Then she exulted to the sun, the sky, and the sea: "I now command as the Queen of the Cosmos! I now speak as the Wise Ones before me!" Her voice traveled out into the air and dispersed. She sat down on a great pile of stones. Clouds rolled in and then she saw nothing, withdrew into dreams, and lost her soul in eternity.

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Welcome to Vega VII. We wish you a memorable adventure. Please let us recommend that you take one of the aerocopter flights into the mountains. Junkets depart every hour, on the hour. Have you a clue as to what awaits you up there? Have you heard the tales, the myths, the legends? The mountains of our world harbor the Magnates of Malarkey. Visit their crumbling castles, pick through their bleached bones, hear the murmurs of their mirth, and may Wisdom arise, advance, and abide in you forever.