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by Ken Liu


On the second day after the spaceship Princess of the Nebulae left Earth, God spoke to Rebecca.

“Rebecca Lau, listen to me. I need you.”

The ten-year-old girl took off her headphones. The cabin was silent save for the faint rumble of the spaceship’s engines. “Dad, did you say something?”

“It’s me, God.”

“Right.” Rebecca climbed onto a chair to examine the speakers in the ceiling. The voice did not seem to be coming out of them.

She climbed down and peered closely at her computer. “If I find out you had anything to do with this, Bobby Lee…” she muttered darkly. Bobby had been jealous when he heard that her family was going on this cruise to the vacation colony on New Haifa for winter break. It was entirely possible that he decided to play a trick on her by programming her computer.

“Bobby has nothing to do with this,” God said, slightly miffed.

“So which god are you?”

The God. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Your God! Jason Engelman explained me to you over lunch last semester.”

“Oh, so you’re Jason’s god. The Jewish one.”

“You are a Jew.”

“Um.” Rebecca sat down on her bed. “I’m Chinese. We live in New York. You must have confused me with my friend Yael Wasserstein. Now I know we’re the same age and we both have long dark hair, but—”

“Be quiet! I need you to make a golem and catch all the rats on this ship. I’ll explain everything.”

BACK IN THE NINTH CENTURY, Jewish merchants from Persia settled in Kaifeng, the capital of China. The community grew so numerous that they built a synagogue in 1163. The Kaifeng Jews became known to their Chinese neighbors, who always paid lots of attention to food, as the “People Who Remove Sinew.”

For a thousand years, this community on the fringe of the Diaspora flourished and prospered. But over time, the Kaifeng Jews intermarried and gradually forgot most of their traditions. Many of them even forgot about God.

But God never forgot about them.

“SO I’M DESCENDED FROM ONE of these Kaifeng Jews?” Rebecca asked. “How come Mom never told me about this?”

“She doesn’t know either. I haven’t… er…”

“You haven’t needed to look us up,” Rebecca said, “until now.”

“I’ve been busy,” God said, a little stiffly. “You try to keep an eye on every molecule in the universe for a few days.”

Rebecca tried out the idea of being a Jew. Her eyes gradually lit up. “I get Hanukkah? And all the presents?”

“You get to celebrate Hanukkah, yes. The presents are up to your parents, not me.”

“Can I keep Christmas? And Chinese New Year?”

“That’s up to you,” God said. “I’m not—”

“Deal! But You need to make your presentation a bit punchier. That history lecture needed visual aids.”

Rebecca strained her ears and swore she heard God muttering. “What I have to work with… the closest thing to…”

“Hey!” Rebecca was hurt. “You came to me, remember?”

“Yes,” God said. “Don’t remind me. Can you get some mud?”

“Back up a minute. Why are there rats on this cruise ship? And what’s the big deal about rats? Aren’t they Your creatures, too?”

“Some family snuck aboard a pair of pet rats on the last cruise,” God said. “They escaped and multiplied. And now a hundred and fifty of them live in the walls of the ship. Ordinarily, I neither favor nor disfavor rats. But if these rats get to New Haifa, it’ll be a disaster.”


“There’s nothing in the ecosystem there to keep the rats in check. They’ll eat everything in sight, grains, crops, the eggs of songbirds, and baby chicks. Worst of all, there’s a virus on New Haifa that normally doesn’t affect people. But if the rats get there, the virus will infect them, and I can already see how the virus will mutate into new forms that will be very dangerous to people. It’s just one of those unforeseen interactions when you bring species across the galaxy together.”

“That sounds like a planning error on Your part.”

“Don’t start that again,” God groaned. “Everyone wants to blame me. You try to create all these worlds all by yourself, on the first try, no mistakes or oversights allowed.”

THE PRINCESS OF THE NEBULAE had a number of restaurants. Rebecca’s family favored the Chinese buffet, which had a good selection. But since Rebecca wasn’t sure exactly which foods were kosher (she knew that pork and shellfish were no good, but that was where certainty ended), she took only a plate of rice and bamboo shoots.

God was no help at all.

“I’m used to looking the other way at Chinese restaurants,” He declared, and refused to say anything more.

At their table, Rebecca made the announcement to her parents. David Lau and his wife Helen looked at each other and turned back towards their daughter.

“Is this like when you said you wanted to be Italian when you were seven?” Helen asked, cautiously. “Because you wanted to sing opera?”

“I don’t remember that. But no, it’s not.”

“You know,” Helen continued, struggling to keep her tone even, “when people say that the overseas Chinese are the ‘Jews of the Orient,’ it’s not meant to be taken literally.”

“Mom, I really am Jewish. So are you.”

“And God wants you to catch rats on this ship because they’re about to destroy an ecosystem? That’s not some metaphor I’m too old to understand?”

“No metaphors. God wants to protect the beaches and animals of New Haifa. And to prevent a plague.”

“Can I speak to God about this? He’s taking my daughter and I don’t get a say?”

“No,” God hissed at Rebecca. “Jewish mothers are bad enough. Chinese-Jewish mothers are worse. You deal with her.”

“God only talks to me,” Rebecca said. “He chose me to be his helper. You’ll have to ask a rabbi how this works.”

“Rebecca, you have an overactive imagination. If you invested one-tenth the energy you spend acting crazy on your school work—”

Mom, I’m telling you the truth.”

Aiya, David, are you listening to this? Talk to her.”

“What am I supposed to say?” David Lau shrugged. “According to her, she’s Jewish because of your side of the family. You read all the books on child development and psychology. Don’t they have chapters about stuff like this?”

“Don’t make fun of me. None of this would have happened if you paid more attention to her instead of always working.”


Rebecca excused herself and quietly slipped out of the dining room.

REBECCA SCOURED THE DECKS and the halls, peeking into the theaters and dining spaces. The ficuses were in hydroponic planters, not soil. The flowers were fake. Metal, wood, and plastic gleamed everywhere. Not a smidgeon of mud in sight.

“Didn’t You realize that with all the cleaning robots running around, it’s impossible to find mud on a spaceship? You’re God. You’re supposed to know these things.”

“It would help if I had a more competent assistant. You could have questioned my plan ahead of time and saved both of us from wasting time.”

“As if! What would You have said if I had expressed doubts about Your plan?”

“I would have told you to not question me,” God admitted.

REBECCA TOOK ADVANTAGE OF God’s temporary silence to go to the library. The cruise ship’s collection on religious studies was rather sparse. The Children’s Guide to Judaism was the best that she could find.

“Have you thought more about how to get mud?” God interrupted.

“Shhhh. I’m reading about how to be Jewish.”

“Can you do that later? We need to focus on acquiring mud.”

“Mud, mud, mud. I’m sure we’ll come up with something. It’s more important that I study. Do You want Your helper to make silly mistakes and be laughed at?”

It exasperated her mother to no end that Rebecca was all or nothing about everything. If she had no interest in something—piano, calligraphy, the spelling bee—she refused to spend even one minute thinking about it. But if she was interested in something—computers, baking, the history of gunpowder—she would spend every waking moment studying it, neglecting everything else.

She had decided that she was interested in being a good—no, a great—helper of God.

“But we don’t have time! It’s already Friday, and the ship docks tomorrow. You need to get out there and find mud.”

The ship’s lights dimmed as God spoke. It was now evening, ship’s time.

“Wait,” Rebecca said. “Explain to me exactly how we go about making a golem. It’s Shabbat. I don’t want to break any rules.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“Very serious. A helper of God must be a role model. Eek, I forgot to light the candles. Please forgive me.”

“. . .”

“God, I couldn’t understand a word You just said there. It sounded like You were choking, or maybe You gurgled ‘like a convert.’”

“Trust me, no rules will be broken. First, you gather the mud—”

“Gathering is one of the melakhot,” Rebecca said, looking at the list in her book.

“Only if the produce gathered is in its natural place. And we know that there is naturally no mud on this ship, so what we gather won’t violate the rule. I cannot believe I’m even debating this with you. Anyway, next, you form the golem out of mud, much like how I once shaped Adam—”

“That sounds like kneading, another melakha.”

“Only if you do the mixing on Shabbat. All right, so we’ll focus on getting pre-mixed mud. After you shape the golem, make it smooth—”

“Smoothing is—”

“Fine, FINE! Leave it rough, what do I care? As long as it can walk. Finally, after you’ve made the golem, you must write emet, truth, on—oh.”

“Writing is—”

“I know. Forbidden.” God sounded so dejected that Rebecca stayed quiet.

After a moment, God brightened. “If the rats get to New Haifa, there’ll be a plague. The Shabbat laws can be broken to save lives.”

“Doesn’t it take a while for the virus to mutate? If we don’t catch the rats, can’t we evacuate the people in time?”

“Well, yes, that probably can be done. But convincing people will be a lot more work.”

“More work later is not a reason to break the rules now.”

“Wait, there’s a more immediate threat. The rats will eat all the stored grains.”

“People will starve?”

“Well, no. They have lots of freeze-dried foods that the rats won’t touch. But they will have to go without whole grain bagels for a while.”

“I don’t know,” Rebecca said, flipping through her book again. “The connection seems too tenuous. I think You’re stretching that saving-lives loophole beyond the breaking point.”

“You’re arguing against me based on some rules you read in a book?”

“I’m studying to be a good Jew. Don’t You want this?”

“But I’m telling you to do this! I command you.”

“But You can’t just make an arbitrary, random exception against all Your settled commandments and rules. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Why not? I’m God.”

“I thought we’re way past the stage where You act like a despot now.”

The argument went on for an hour. Rebecca’s zeal was implacable.

FINALLY, GOD NOTICED THE GLOBe on Rebecca’s nightstand. He would have slapped His forehead if He had a forehead (and hands).

“Rebecca Lau, listen to me. It’s not Shabbat.”


“Shabbat begins at sundown, not the dimming of the ship’s electric lights.”

“It must be sundown somewhere on Earth now though.”

“Good thinking, except that due to relativistic effects, the ship is in a different frame of reference than Earth. By my calculations—let’s see, carry the one, add the ten—it’s Tuesday or Wednesday on Earth. And it’s not Shabbat anywhere.”

“You sure about this?”

“You can argue with me, but you can’t argue with Einstein.”

“So we’re allowed to do what we need to do.”

“No restrictions. Let’s get to it.”

Rebecca would have high-fived God at that moment if God was into high-fives (or had hands).

Rebecca begged to accompany her mother to the ship’s spa in the morning.

Helen was touched. She hadn’t felt close to her daughter for some time now. She seemed to be always yelling at her daughter, pushing her to do this or that, to be more disciplined, to try harder. It would be nice to relax together in the spa.

At Rebecca’s insistence, Helen ordered both of them mud facials.

With her eyes closed, Helen found it easier to talk to her daughter. She wasn’t constantly reminded of what a bad mother she was by Rebecca’s unfocused ways. All her friends’ daughters could play at least two instruments and never got less than a 99 out of a 100 on tests. The feeling that Rebecca’s lack of accomplishments was her fault gnawed at her.

But this sudden interest in Judaism could be a blessing in disguise. The Jewish kids at Rebecca’s school all did so well. Perhaps they’ll be good influences on her. She just hoped it wasn’t another one of Rebecca’s crazy enthusiasms that she couldn’t understand.

“Why don’t you try harder at school?” Helen asked.

“I’m just not interested,” Rebecca said. She sat up and, keeping an eye on her mother, quietly scraped off the mud on her face, putting it into a plastic bag.

“Most things worth doing aren’t interesting until you get good at them. You have to do the hard work first.”

Rebecca made non-committal noises. She gathered up the mud from the bowl by her mother.

Helen decided to change the topic. “You should spend more time with your father. One of the goals of this vacation is for him to take a more active role in your discipline. I just don’t know what to do with you.”

“I don’t know what to say to him. I only ever hear from him when he’s arguing with you or when you tell him about my grades and he yells at me.”

Helen felt a pang of guilt. “Aiya. That’s not how we wanted it. Your father works so hard because he loves you. You should give him a chance.”

But Rebecca was gone already. She had gathered enough mud.

“She’s right, you know,” God said. “Honor your father and mother. Big deal in my book. Big in Confucius’s book too.”

“I do honor them,” Rebecca said. “I’m just tired of being a disappointment all the time. I’m not a very good Chinese daughter.”

“There are many ways of being a good Chinese daughter,” God said. “Not just one way. Just like there are many ways of being a good Jew, even if some people think there’s only one way. Being a Jew is about being part of a family. Families aren’t perfect, but they’re always there for you.”

“Yeah, wish my parents believed that.”

God started to say something but stopped. He sighed to Himself.

Rebecca went on shaping the mud. She was not a great sculptor, but since God gave her dispensation to be “rough” and liberal in her interpretation, she finished quickly.

“What do You think?” Rebecca asked.

“It’s very modern,” God said, diplomatically.

The mud statue was about a foot tall. It had two very long arms, a stubby head, and eyes and a nose carved with fingernails. Rebecca had pinched tiny earflaps on either side of the head. One of the legs was longer than the other.

“I ran out of mud.”

The statue fell over. Rebecca blushed, and fixed the legs so that they were more even in length. Now the statue stayed upright.

“What’s next?”

“Now we practice calligraphy.”

TWENTY MINUTES LATER, God was as frustrated with Rebecca as He had been with Jonah.

“Of all the Chinese girls, I had to be stuck with the only one who doesn’t know any calligraphy. Don’t you know how to write legibly?”

Rebecca wiped her sweaty forehead, which was now covered by mud. “Don’t yell at me! How was I supposed to know this would come in handy? I hated brush-writing. I’ve always typed or dictated.”

She had tried over and over to etch the Hebrew letters for emet into the forehead of the golem with a chopstick. The Children’s Guide had examples of what the letters looked like. But time and again, she failed—the proportions of the letters were wrong, the lines were squiggly, the letters ran into each other. She had to wipe out the half-formed letters and start again.

“This is the problem with modern education everywhere. Penmanship is just not valued.”

“Sounds like a design flaw. Why did You make writing so hard and typing so easy?”

“Again with the blame.”

David poked his head into the room.

“Hi,” he said, awkwardly. The fact that his daughter’s face was covered in mud didn’t faze him. He had seen his wife often looking similar. “Your mother suggested that I take you for an ice cream on the promenade deck. If you’re free.”

“I’m a little busy, Dad.”

“What are you working on?” He came in and sat down on the bed.

“Making this golem. But God is mad at me because I can’t do calligraphy.”

Since most conversations David had had with his daughter consisted of him yelling at her at Helen’s direction for some failure on Rebecca’s part that he didn’t fully understand, this actually made some sense.

“Your grandfather was the same way with me,” he said.

“You didn’t like brush writing either?”

“Hated it. I preferred to draw pictures during those classes. The teacher told my father, and I got into a lot of trouble. But I eventually learned to like it.”

“What happened?”

“Your grandfather was good at making paper lanterns for the Lantern Festival. Back then, in China, every kid ran around with a homemade lantern for the Festival. He told me that I had to write the characters on the lanterns myself. And if my bad calligraphy ruined a lantern, he would have to start over and make me a new one. I felt so bad about making him do extra work that I practiced a lot and got really good. And then I enjoyed making the lanterns with him every year.”

Rebecca liked that story.

“Can you help me with the golem?” She asked.

She showed him what the letters had to look like. He held her hand and, together, they made the letters on the forehead of the golem.

The two stepped back to admire their work. It wouldn’t win any awards. But it was functional.

“Thank you,” Rebecca said. “Dad, can we get ice cream another time? Right now, God has more things for me to do.”

When David was little, he had thought he could fly. In comparison, Rebecca’s belief that she was working for God seemed far more reasonable.

“Good luck,” he said.

AFTER DAVID LEFT, Rebecca asked God, “Why isn’t it moving?”

“Give it a minute. It’s still getting its bearings.”

The golem sat up, rubbed its eyes, and stood unsteadily on its feet.

“It worked!”

“Now the really hard part begins,” God said. “Golems are strong but extremely stupid and literal-minded. You have to give this one very precise instructions to get it to catch all the rats.”

Rebecca brought the golem to a little-trafficked corner of the ship. She knelt down and loosened the screws securing the grille over a wall vent. Then she opened the grille and pushed the golem inside the ventilation duct.

“I command you to go catch a rat.”

The golem stumbled around, looked left and then right, and went down the right side. Gradually, echoes of the golem’s footsteps faded.

Rebecca waited.

Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed.

“You never told it to come back,” God said. “Remember: very literal-minded.”

Rebecca leaned into the vent and shouted, “Come back.”

After a moment, she stuck her head back into the vent: “With the rat!”

“Now you’re learning,” God said.

Within a minute, pattering footsteps approached the vent, along with loud squeaks.

The golem appeared dragging a struggling white rat by its tail. The rat tried to dig its claws into the sides of the duct but could get no purchase against the smooth metal surfaces.

Rebecca clapped. She directed the golem to deposit the rat inside a shoebox, which she carried back to her cabin. She released the rat in the dry bathtub, a temporary holding cell.

“One down, a hundred forty-nine to go,” God said.

THE NEXT EXCURSION DIDN’T go so well. The golem came back to the vent dragging another squealing rat. But five more rats followed the golem. As soon as they were sure that Rebecca could see the golem, the rats attacked together.

They jumped onto the golem, bit through its arms to free their companion, and then turned together to face Rebecca and bared their teeth, grinning. She thought one of them even licked its teeth and smacked its lips. Then they ran away, leaving the broken golem behind.

Rebecca crawled in and dragged the writhing pieces of the golem out. Luckily, mud arms were easy to reattach to mud shoulders, and the golem was soon as good as new.

“What’s in the mud?” God asked.

Rebecca smelled the newly repaired golem. “Jujube, apples, grapes… and honey, I think.”

Aiya. That explains the problem. When I told you to get mud, did you think I meant ‘sweet mud?’”

“Now you sound like my mom. ‘Go get mud! Go get mud!’ You didn’t say anything about what had to be in the mud.”

“Are you a mindless golem? Do I have to specify everything? God’s servants show initiative!”

“I did the best I could. Seems to me that the flaw was the lack of detailed instructions.”

“Again with the blame.”


“Wait a minute,” God said. “What’re you sprinkling on it?”


“No. No no no no! I told you to use salt.”

“But MSG is better. With this much MSG, even a rat would think twice about eating the golem.”

“You think rats care about the health effects of MSG? When I told Noah to use gopher wood to construct the Ark, do you think he just substituted cedars? No. When I tell you to do something, you do it exactly the way I tell you. No modifications!”

“‘Show initiative!’ ‘No modifications!’ I’m getting conflicting messages here.”

“I get that complaint a lot. Join the club.”

God waited as Rebecca sprinkled salt over the golem. “More, more. Lots more. Make it inedible to the rats.”

“I’m going to get a taste of this at Passover, aren’t I? Parsley in salt water?”

“Where do you think I got the idea? All Jews remember the taste of tears. It comes in handy.”

NOW SOAKED IN SALT, the golem was having a much easier time fending off the attacking rats. One after another, it captured the rats and brought them back. Soon, the bathtub was filled to capacity. The rats climbed over each other. A few almost jumped out.

“This isn’t going to work,” God said. “You need a bigger tub.”

Rebecca decided that the best way to hold all the rats was to use the entire bathroom.

She opened the fan vent in the ceiling of the bathroom, and ordered the golem to herd the rats towards that opening until they dropped down into the locked bathroom.

“Whatever you do, don’t go into my bathroom,” Rebecca said to her mother and rushed off before she could ask any questions.

“JUST ONE MORE rat to go,” God said, excitedly. “I think we’ll be able to do this.”

The last rat was strong, fat, about the size of a cat. His black-and-white fur was getting patchy in places. He waddled a bit when he walked, but he could still put on a sprint when he needed to.

Not for nothing was he the smartest rat on the ship. He knew that he was being herded, and he dodged the golem in the maze of HVAC ducts, refusing to go anywhere near Rebecca’s room.

Rebecca ran through the ship, following the skittering and pounding footsteps overhead. She ran through the promenade deck, dodging couples standing by windows full of red-shifted star fields; she excused herself as she rushed into and out of a seminar room full of startled cruise passengers listening to an investment lecture; she ran up and down flights of stairs, hoping to help the golem.

Finally, the rat decided that it was better to reveal his existence to the ship’s crew than to be captured by the lumbering, terrifying mud monster. He dropped out of one of the overhead vents and landed in the middle of the kitchen.

Rebecca burst into the kitchen from the dining room and lunged after the rat, but he changed direction at the last minute, leapt onto a nearby stack of boxes, and jumped onto the stainless steel counter.

The head chef, sous-chefs, waiters, and busboys stared, mouths agape. A fat rat was running loose in their kitchen; a little girl was yelling and chasing after it; and plop, a pile of mud fell out of the vent over their heads, landed on top of the counter, and stood up like a little person.

The head chef fainted.

“Get him!” Rebecca yelled. “I’ll cut off his retreat.” She rushed to the other end of the counter, hoping that the rat, trying to get away from the pursuing golem, would skid right into her waiting plastic bag.

The rat kept on running towards Rebecca. But why was the rat grinning?

In the middle of the counter was a sink, half filled with water and dirty dishes. The rat jumped right into the sink and swam across the soapy water with little effort. It climbed up the other side and turned around.

Oh no, Rebecca thought. Water and mud.

“Stop!” She shouted at the golem and waved her arms frantically, smacking the face of a busboy who was trying to get a closer look at the animated mud statue. “Sorry!” Rebecca glanced at the boy to be sure he was okay while still shouting instructions to the golem, “Go around! Get him on the other side!”

The golem tried to stop, but it slipped on the soapy puddle next to the sink and fell into the water. It sank immediately.

“What happens now?” Rebecca asked.

“I’ve never seen this,” God said. “None of this is very orthodox, you understand.”

The water in the sink bubbled and churned, and finally, a much wetter, more amorphous golem emerged, climbing up the other side of the sink. It now lumbered forward like a walking starfish. The water had dissolved most of its facial features, but the eyes were still vaguely there, two small pits.

The golem paused, looked around, and went after the busboy standing by Rebecca. It passed right by the rat, chittering next to the sink, and launched itself into the air. Before anyone had a chance to react, it latched onto the startled face of the busboy, and began to punch his nose and bat him about the ears.

“Aw! OUCH!”

Rebecca yelled at the golem to stop, but the golem ignored her.

“It can’t hear you,” God said helpfully. “The water’s dissolved the ears, which you should have made bigger. The last order it heard from you was ‘get him on the other side.’ Since you were looking at the busboy, the creature thought that’s who you meant.”

Rebecca ran to help the boy. She grabbed onto the slick and soapy golem. But it was like trying to grab onto a jellyfish, her hands slipped and the golem easily slithered out of her grasp. The creature turned around and stuck out a pseudopod of mud, and punched Rebecca in the lips.

Rebecca reeled back, seeing stars. She could taste the MSG, too. Mixed with salt and apples and grapes. And soap. Blech.

The boy was now on the ground, rolling around and trying as best as he could to protect his face with his hands and forearms. The golem was strong and relentless. Rebecca could see bruises and swelling on the boy’s face.

“It’s really hurting the boy,” Rebecca said. “How do I make it stop?”

“You have to erase the aleph from the emet on its forehead,” God said. “Turn emet into met, or ‘death.’ That will stop the golem.”

“Which one is aleph again?” Rebecca asked in a panic. “Remember I’m new at all this!”

God groaned.

Rebecca turned around and faced the rat, still chittering on the counter.

“Listen,” she said. Her heart pounded. She had no idea if this would work. But God’s helpers were always creative, weren’t they? They showed initiative. She was going to be the best Chinese-Jewish helper of God ever.

“I need your help to stop the golem. If you do this good deed, God will help you and the other rats find good homes.”

“I will?” God asked.

“I’m God’s helper. I can speak for Him.”

“You can?” God asked.

“It’ll be much better than hiding on this ship and stealing people’s table scraps,” Rebecca said.

The rat looked at Rebecca quizzically, chittered some more, stroked his whiskers, and then launched himself at the golem.

“Good rat,” Rebecca said, and went after the golem too.

The rat dove into the golem. The golem let go of the boy and tried to defend itself. It wrapped its limbs around the rat and squeezed, like a python. The rat squeaked and his eyes bulged out.

Distracted by the rat, the golem couldn’t pay attention to Rebecca. She leaned in, and with the palm of one hand, wiped away the Hebrew letters on the golem’s head. Grabbing a chopstick from the floor, she wrote the Chinese character for ‘death’ in their place.

“Good thing I can read Chinese,” God said. “And I’ve gotten used to your chicken scratch.”

The golem stopped moving. It was just a pile of shapeless mud on the ground now.

REBECCA SAT ACROSS THE large oak desk from the captain. In the middle of the desk was a pile of mud, the remains of the golem. The office was large and spacious, but she felt claustrophobic. She was boxed in and had nowhere to go.

Her father sat to her left, her mother to her right, and behind her, blocking the door, stood a line of stony-faced witnesses: the head chef, sous-chefs and their staff who had to scrub the kitchen all afternoon, as well as the busboy whose eyes were swollen almost shut.

“Mr. and Mrs. Lau,” the captain said, drumming his fingers on the smooth surface of the desk. “Your daughter has caused a great deal of trouble for Blueshift Cruise by bringing contraband creatures onto the ship. There are reasons that pets like your daughter’s rat and this exotic alien creature that wrecked my kitchen are forbidden! But she apparently thinks rules only apply to other people.”

Rebecca silently seethed at the injustice of the accusation. There was no point in arguing. Her parents always thought she was in the wrong whenever authority figures like teachers were involved, so of course they would believe the captain. Indeed, they might even interpret her “crazy” rants about rats yesterday as evidence of her guilt. She was as good as convicted.

The captain went on, “Now, we need to discuss the matter of compensation–”

“Indeed, we should,” David said. “Starting with how you’re going to compensate my daughter for accusing her unjustly.”

Rebecca stared at her dad in surprise. He smiled at her and patted her hand.

“I suggest you send someone to take a look in Rebecca’s stateroom. You’ll find that she did not bring any animals, rat or otherwise, onto your ship.”

Oh no. Rebecca started to speak, but her father gestured for her to remain silent.

Rebecca cringed at the thought of the discovery of the rats trapped in her bathroom. She wished the floor would open up and swallow her before her parents were disgraced because of her.

The captain looked at the Laus suspiciously, but he ordered a steward to do as David suggested.

You have a plan for this? She mouthed silently at God.

“Plans are not as good as surprises,” God said.

“Now, while your man is gone, I’m going to address your ridiculous claim about the ‘exotic alien creature.’ That’s clearly just a figurine made of mud, no more alive than any of the plastic flowers that fill this ship.”

The captain sputtered indignantly, “I’ve got a whole room of witnesses—”

“Does this thing look alive to you?” David poked at the remains of the golem. “I made this with her. I know what it is.”

Helen got up to examine the mud. “This is from our facial at the spa.” She sniffed it and made a face. “And it’s gone bad. What did your people put in this?”

“But, but—” the captain sputtered.

“The mud is from your spa,” Helen said. “If anything was causing this to move, then you might want to check your spa for alien infestations before other customers complain.”

The captain sat down sullenly and kept his mouth shut. Helen put an arm around Rebecca, who was too stunned by the turn of events. Not only was her mother not mad at her, but she was actually defending Rebecca.

“Parents, they sometimes surprise you, eh?” God said.

Rebecca wished this moment would last forever. She wished the steward sent to her room never returned.

The door to the captain’s office banged open. The out-of-breath, sweaty steward rushed in, came to a halt by the captain, and bent down to whisper to him what he had found in Rebecca’s stateroom.

Rebecca closed her eyes and waited for her doom.

“What have you done to MY SHIP?” The captain roared at the family sitting across the desk. “Her bathroom is filled to the ceiling with rats!”

David stood up and leaned across the desk to stare the captain in the face. “That’s what I wanted you to see. The rats came from your ship, not Rebecca. You should be thanking her. She was smart enough to trap the rats in her bathroom.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“If you check your ventilation ducts, you’ll find months worth of rat droppings and hair. Rebecca didn’t bring the rats on the ship. She’s the victim of your poor pest control procedures! She told us that she was going to catch the rats on this ship, and you’re lucky she succeeded.”

The captain dispatched several men to go examine the ventilation ducts and confirm David’s statement. But his face was ashen. He remembered the reports about odd droppings.

“Now, just imagine if you actually docked at New Haifa and allowed the rats to escape. At a minimum, Blueshift Cruise would be fined, and the press would have a field day writing about the lack of sanitation on Blueshift Cruise ships. I’d wager that you’d be fired in a second. So, let’s discuss the matter of compensation.”

The captain considered this. After a moment, he smiled. “How would you like to have your cabins upgraded to first class for the return trip? We’ll refund your tickets. And we’d like you to stay as our guest on New Haifa. We’ll pay for everything.”

David and Helen smiled back. “And daily passes to the spa for me and my daughter,” Helen said. “The full treatment. With very healthy mud.”

“Of course.”

“And the rats,” Rebecca spoke up. All the adults turned to look at her. She blushed, swallowed, but continued, “What’s going to happen to them?”

“I’m going to throw them out the airlock,” the captain said, irritated.

Come on, God, You promised, Rebecca thought.

She could have sworn that she heard God sigh.

“That doesn’t feel right to me,” Helen suddenly said. “It wasn’t the rats’ fault that they were put where they didn’t belong. Besides, they are descended from rats kept as pets. Hey, I just got an idea. I think you should bring them back to Earth and find families to adopt them.”

“Or we can always describe our rat-infested cruise to Travel and Leisure,” David added.

“Fine,” the captain said, defeated.

Thank you, Rebecca mouthed to God.

“YOU DONE GOOD,” God said. “Enjoy yourself on the beach down there.”

“You aren’t coming?”

“I could use a vacation,” God allowed. “Thinking about the effects of relativistic dilation on the timing of Shabbat gave me quite a headache. But there are too many things in the universe for me to worry about.”

“I’m glad I got to know You,” Rebecca said. “God, don’t be a stranger.”

She walked off the disembarking ramp with her family, into the bright sunlight and salty breeze of New Haifa.

Ken Liu ( is an author and translator of speculative fiction, as well as a lawyer and programmer. His fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov's, Analog, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among other places. He has won a Nebula, a Hugo, a World Fantasy Award, and a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Award, and been nominated for the Sturgeon and the Locus Awards. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.

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