Jin was typing away in his dimly-lit room, deep into the smog-filled Shanghai night, when the little bot bumped into his leg, interrupting the writing of his dissertation. It let out a disappointed whistle, then rotated ninety degrees and continued on its way.
Jin watched as the tiny thing skittered into the darkened corners of his apartment, barely enough mobility to make the most rudimentary directional adjustments on impact against solid objects. He glanced at the timer glued to its chrome black surface as it went past. Counting down the hours and days in bright red lettering until the next upgrade. He thought a lot about what he’d say to it upon completion, but had not been able to come up with anything good.
Less than twelve hours left.
They kidnapped him a few hundred kilometers south of Kraken Mare. He had been in contact with prospective interviewees during the data-gathering phase of his dissertation and had meant to meet one in the mining settlement by the methane sea. However, an EMP fizzled his automated vehicle near the destination and he was soon staring out the window at a group of Formicidae closing in. Their abdomens swished with the liquid methane they were harvesting.
One of them crawled up and leaned in so close that Jin could see the darkened lens of their camera eyes rotating, scanning the inside of his vehicle.
“Put your suit on and get out.”
Their voice, despite semi-muteness through the glass, carried a quality like an old celebrity his grandfather had doted on. Jin would have chuckled under a different context.
A Formicidae requested that he get on their back. Politely, of course, there was no need for intimidation in a situation like this. They carried him all the way to the other side of Kraken Mare to a place he hadn’t seen on any maps of the area. A small community of ramshackle homes made with pieces of scrap metal. They took him inside one and gave him a tube which pumped him full of Terran atmosphere. It was bitingly cold despite his insulated suit.
The little bot was in the corner of the mostly empty room, next to a pile of scrap electronic parts. It was too early to even call it a bot. It was a round, metal shell that whistled, really. The hollow space where the cameras would go spooked Jin the most. It wasn’t the emptiness, but the promise of something there that wasn’t. A timer ticked down on the wall directly above the bot – around one hundred and sixty-six hours left.
Another Formicidae pointed him to a computer.
“Fifty million,” they said in the voice of a sonorous woman he didn’t recognize. It must have been a much older celebrity, perhaps famous before he was even born. “Do you or your family have that?”