In a station far above some far flung planet of some anonymous yellow dwarf, a chief scientist compiles reports from his team. He checks in with the signals intelligence operatives, and tries to clarify what he's been getting. "So they've mostly stopped all activity, and are idling?"
"That's what we're reading," the spy confirms. "Weak transmissions have spiked, but we're still tracking large numbers of heat signatures within their structures."
Chief ends the call in frustration. He can't bring himself to confirm what had been a fringe suspicion for the entire mission. It had been a joke. These creatures aren't what he expected at all.
After updating the latest report to reflect this hypothesis, he submits it to his boss. Not a moment after he finishes cleaning up, the Boss steps in.
"Why is this report so short?" Boss yells. "Is your reporting equipment broken?"
"No, sir," Chief explains, "the reporting equipment isn't broken. Have you tried reading the report?"
"I never read these things! They're always too long! What's going on?"
Chief feels a sense of loss as this mission could have been spent completely goofing off, while feeding bogus data to the higher ups all this time. He quickly brushes it aside.
"Something big just happened," Chief says, with hesitation as he carefully chooses what to say. "All of the humans have started to behave erratically. All of them, everywhere. We've never seen this happen on such a big scale before."
"Erratically how?" Boss says, befuddled.
"The humans have largely stopped moving around. They've slowed down movement between different portions of their planet, and even in their cities. Aside from going on periodic resupply missions, they are mostly staying put."
"Are you sure that they haven't started using invisibility fields?"
"Very sure. We don't even have invisibility fields that work that well. I spoke with signals, and they confirmed that they aren't moving and haven't turned off." Chief decides to flaunt his credentials, being the foremost of his kind on human studies. "Besides, human technology evolves along predictable lines. The first iterations are a clunky result of banging space rocks together. Usually after a while, they begin to understand what they've done, and start to optimize for energy and space efficiencies. I can't fathom what their initial invisibility implementation would look like."
"Any ideas on what happened to them?"
"They appear to be undergoing some kind of disaster, but we can't tell. They seem to be acting as if 90% of other humans have permanently deactivated, but they seem to be mostly fine inside their structures. We've observed this behavior in all of their societies and groups all around their planet. No disaster is ever that big! We suspect that something triggered a hidden routine in most of them. One of our most remote theories might be true, but I'm having a hard time coming around to it. We think that most of them are cyborgs, and would rather inhabit virtual worlds most of the time."
"Cyborgs? That would mean lots of artificial equipment..."
"Not necessarily. According to mission parameters, we continue to observe from afar, so we've never been able to pull a sample. None have passed beyond their planet's gravity well to capture, and all of the probes they've sent out are completely sterile. We've never examined a specimen, so in which ways their biology is structured is a complete mystery. Their cortexes might be far more amenable for interfacing than ours."
"What disasters have you ruled out?"
"Because they aren't moving away from a particular area, we've ruled out disasters that affect a specific area, like adverse storms, conflict, geology, or spontaneous combustion. So, it's not any obvious disasters we can think of. There's lots of planetoids in their planet's vicinity, but no big ones are set to collide as far as we can tell. If we're having this much trouble tracking those rocks, I can't think of how exposed they are. Since they're staying in place, mental states are almost certainly the driving force."
"You mentioned something about resupply missions," Boss recalls. "Do they normally do that in a disaster?"
"Yes. Many try to hoard energy and safety supplies when they know something is coming. We are observing that right now." Chief activates his personal hologram, and begins to access a file. "In fact, whenever humans do this, my team always makes compilations of these behaviors for our own personal enjoyment. As for specific types of supplies, the favored material this time appears to be used to wipe their backsides." A video begins to play of humans punching each other in a distribution facility.
"How did you get those?"
"Signals has been able to decode some of their transmissions for at least 50 (timespan). Several are visuals. That brings me to my next point. Humans have these little things, like ideas, designs, and personal effects, that a significant subset acquire quickly. They appear fast in well connected cities with no obvious point of origin, and fade out quickly over time. What's happening now could turn out to be one of those, but we haven't seen an event of this magnitude or scale." Chief starts to access a different file. "We've been seeing this image all over their visual transmissions of late, and we suspect that their virtual world heavily involves these. We've never seen this from them before, but it bears a similarity to one of our (untranslatable)."
A blocky image appears on Chief's hologram.
Boss jumps. "How did they get those?"
"We don't know how, but we're pretty sure we haven't tipped them off. That shield was a close call."
Chief sighs. "Every one of our reports for the past 3 (timespan) have mentioned it, but we heard nothing back about it. Remember when your nephew visited a while back?"
"Yes, what about him?"
"You know that he always ejects his warp shield into space whenever he goes anywhere. Do you recall how we specifically warned him to not do that when he came by?"
"Don't tell me..."
"Yes, I'm telling you. And the humans found it."
"(expletive) those (untranslatable)! WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME?"
"IT'S BEEN IN THE REPORTS! Why have you not been reading them?"
"You're supposed to tell me these things!"
"We aren't mandated to do that; only to put it in the reports. You need to read these things. Most of my team are dedicated to doing nothing but reporting! If you aren't reading them, I might as well assign most of them to, I don't know, decode one of their hundreds of languages!"
"While that's a long term goal, you know we don't have the resources. Do the humans suspect we're here?"
"I don't think so. They appear to think it's a natural rock from beyond their star system. They were never able to launch a probe, so they weren't able to get a close look. They were only able to identify its speed, mass, and that it blinked."
"They weren't able to determine a (untranslatable) from it?"
"Good update. I'll determine if we need to get the local (fourth sub-captain 3) involved with our alleged cyborg colony. Headquarters will be very interested about our situation. It might be a key piece of what we're looking for out here."