Filled with an eerie silence, tall dark stone buildings jutted from the stony plain. Eric walked through their shadowed canyons, his footsteps echoing. He glanced into a few doorways, but each was blocked by a silvery glaze that hid whatever lay inside.
At the building they called the museum, he paused and spoke into his wristcom. “Phil, where are you?”
“Inside,” came the muffled reply. “Watch your step.”
“Yeah.” Eric pushed through the silvery substance, which melted and reformed behind him. Inside shafts of subdued orange sunlight fell through a few high windows. He took a step and something squeaked underfoot, a squishy object. “Esk!”
He looked down at the small black creature that slid/hopped away from him. It bumped into another one, which said “Kovol!”
The floor was thick with them, bouncing, bumping, and uttering their sounds: “Esk! Kovol! Kovol? Esk!” A circle of them surrounded him, muttering in unison “Esk! Esk! Esk!” They reminded him of frogs, with slippery skin, big heads and slit eyes. From the left side of each head stuck a long thin antenna-like organ.
He stepped over them and made his way toward the oval tube that served as an escalator. Stepping inside, he rose effortlessly to the second story. Phil was bending over a glass case in the corner.
“Find anything interesting?”
“Figured out where the inhabitants went,” Phil said. “Take a look at this.”
“You're kidding. Did you find remains, or what?”
“It's sort of a pictogram of their progression – or should I say regression.” Phil pointed at the first figure in a frieze that reminded Eric of an Egyptian painting. Stylized, tall bipedal figures with small ears and prominent foreheads stalked from left to right. They gradually diminished, growing smaller and smaller.
“These must have been the builders, the architects of the city,” Phil pointed at the first figures. “Then look how they changed – something happened, and they began to kind of hunch over, then shrink.”
Mitch, the linguist, stepped off the elevator. Phil glanced up. “How you doing with the language?”
“What language?” Eric asked. “Have you found a Rosetta stone?”
“Not yet,” Mitch said. “So far all we have are the esk-kovols.”
“I just call them that,” said Mitch. “They only produce two sounds : esk and kovol. Esk is loosely translated bummer, and kovol I'd say means cool, or all right. Positive and negative. Its a binary system, 0s and 1s. But it's not an advanced system, it's degenerated from a complex language.”
“You're kidding,” said Eric. “Those little . . .frog things, are descendants of the architects? That's impossible!”
“Apparently not.” said Phil.
“But what happened? What could turn those creators into those mindless . . .squibs?”
“Is squibs a word?” asked Mitch.
“I don't know!” said Phil. “What did it?”
“My guess? Communication overload. They've all got inbuilt devices, some kind of transceiver imbedded in their skulls. Sort of like earphones, but they've somehow transformed from an acquired to an inherited characteristic. They're all communicating constantly with each other, but all they have left to say is “Bummer - Cool.”
“It's not unheard of,” Phil said. “Look at earth, end of the 21st century. If our ancestors hadn't gotten out to the stars, we'd all be saying esk kovol too.”