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The Story:

A cloud was still trying to lift off of the mountaintop in the early morning sun. He struggled up the mountain’s side, using his hands to push off the knee of each planted leg, giving the next step a small boost. He was a stocky man, not suited for such a climb, but he would heave and sweat his way to the top as much as needed if it meant answers.

Before the day was over, he would check three more locations after Rec 147, log away and analyze all of his research. It was an exhausting routine, but these four experiments were all that were left.

They had allowed him 75. After those 75 failed, he convinced them to provide the funding for 25 more. At 100 he secured private funding for an indefinite number, but they cut him off after 46. The last four experiments cost every dime he had ever saved of his own money.

At Rec 147, he sat down and took a rest to catch his breath. If results from the last four continued to turn up empty, he wasn’t sure what he’d do. Gazing at the hazy valley below, he thought living alone in the mountains might be rather nice. At least that way, he wouldn’t be the subject of ridicule for all his failed experiments.

He sighed and stood up. Without looking, he reached above his head and pulled a ball from the bottom of a metal container hanging in a tree. Bringing the ball down in front of his eyes, he observed its color. Still orange.

After so many failures, so many years, this ball was finally the one to break him. He screamed and threw the ball down the hill. Then, he ripped the metal container out of the tree and threw it to the ground. A lid popped off the top, and dozens of red balls spilled out.

He stopped screaming and blinked away the tears to clear his eyes. Squatting down, he took one of the red balls. The orange one must’ve been the last in the whole container.

The red balls were proof—proof that he had been right all along. And now, everyone deserved to know the truth of what the government had done to the air. He looked into the valley once more, realizing that his retirement to solitude would have to wait.


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