The stars and planets slowly returned to stationary positions at the end of one of our time leaps. The cameras, one by one, went through their readjustment phase and began showing clear images on the monitors. We started the routine of data collection, changing and labeling new discs for updates of everything on record, a chore that would take weeks. We didn’t begin with Alpha 17, as its cameras were still readjusting, but we were getting updates from Sigma 2 when Jim interrupted us with the news.
“There are lights on Alpha 17,” Jim said plainly, as a matter of fact.
“What do you mean?” Adams asked.
“There are lights that weren’t there before our last time leap.”
Our crew waited patiently for Monitor One to establish a clear focus to Alpha 17. Eventually we saw the planet’s night side. Although the oceans and landmasses were in darkness, the contours of the water and land could be identified, as well as tiny points of light twinkling through the atmosphere. Light sources beaconed to us from landmasses across the planet, concentrated around coastlines and rivers.
“Could it be fires?” Whitney asked.
“Fire has a different spectrum and wavelength,” Jim said.
“Pick a light and go in closer,” Adams said, tapping his clipboard on his desk.
Jim picked a light source and zoomed in. As the shot went ever nearer, we realized we were looking at thousands and thousands of individual lights.
“What is it?” Jim asked.
Adams stood motionless, staring at the monitor. Whitney had the same wide-eyed expression of disbelief. Adams looked at me, pointed at the monitor and broke out into nervous laughter. It took a moment for the reality to hit us, but when it did, we started shouting and laughing uncontrollably. We danced around the lab room, yelling absurdities and staring in shock at the recent addition on Alpha 17.
“What’s going on?” Jim repeated, becoming impatient with us.
“It appears to be a city,” Adams said with amazement.
“How did this happen?” I said in shock.
As Jim’s focus penetrated the skies and scanned the metropolis, we saw structures everywhere. The streets were lined with buildings and cars moved by them. We saw factories with smokestacks, boats docking at a harbor and small planes taking off from a runway. We could even see a residential area where the homes were packed together in neat little rows.
“Jim, can you confirm the duration of our last time leap?” Adams finally asked.
“About fifty thousand standard orbits as scheduled.”
“Surely that couldn’t have been enough time,” Adams said, fumbling through his notes on the planet.
“Enough time for what?” I asked.
“You don’t go from primates to this in fifty thousand years!”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Evolution takes time, Jon. Usually huge amounts of time, like millions of years! Not fifty thousand.”
“How do you know? No offense, but have you done this before?” I said, pointing to the monitors.
“It’s just not reasonable.”
“Reasonable or not, there it is,” Whitney said.
“We must have missed something,” Adams insisted.
“Like what?” Jim asked.
“There must have been tribes we didn’t see. There must have been primates walking upright on two feet. There must have been a link from ape... to this!”
“Maybe they just evolved quicker than you thought they could,” Whitney offered.
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