"There's got to be a morning after—"
"Oh, Christ, if I have to hear this fucking song one more time," Cartman said irritably, throwing his fork onto the tablecloth and pressing his hands to the sides of his head. It seemed to be the band's signature song; this was the third time tonight they'd performed it.
Mr. Acres set a fresh drink in front of Cartman. "They're not so terrible, Mr. Cartman." He had to speak up to be heard over the noise of the hundreds of people around them. His full staff of stewards was on duty, making their way through the crowded dining room, refilling drinks and clearing away dessert dishes.
"Yeah, I know Acres. You 'rather fancy them.' Sorry if I don't fancy the sound of a cat being strangled with a bagpipe, but I just don't get the appeal."
Stan almost spat a mouthful of chocolate mousse pie laughing. "Jesus, Cartman! They're not that bad."
"Nothing that an icepick in the eardrums won't cure." Cartman tossed back half his drink in a single gulp, then sat back and loosened his tie. They were all dressed in their finest suits; Tweek was even wearing a black tux.
Stan looked behind Wendy and spotted Robin making his way across the crowded dining room toward their table. He smiled and patted the back of the empty chair next to him on the opposite side from Kyle, and Robin sat down.
"My mom and dad are arguing again," he said without preamble as he leaned his arms on the table. "I thought I'd come and sit with you guys for a while, if that's okay?"
"We're glad to have you, Robin," Stan told him. He felt Kyle's hand on his leg underneath the table.
"I wrote this down for you," Robin said, removing a slip of paper from his suit pocket and handing it to Stan. It had a phone number and two email addresses written on it. "I really hope we can stay in touch after this cruise is over."
"I'd like that too," Stan said. "And you can find me on Facebook. I'm Stan Darsh." He spelled it for him as Robin wrote it down, and also gave him his email address, their phone number and Kenny and Butters' home and business numbers.
Robin stayed with them for fifteen minutes, enjoying being with people who were laughing and having a good time instead of constantly arguing. He and Tweek made plans to play Missile Command again tomorrow morning before the ship docked. He finally looked at his watch. "Hey, it's 11:40," he said. "I guess I'd better get back to my table before midnight."
"Okay, Robin," Stan replied. "Stop by our cabins in the morning to say goodbye if you get a chance."
Robin nodded. "I will." He offered his hand and they shook. "Thank you, Stan. I really mean it." Robin looked at everyone at the table individually. "I'm glad I got to meet you guys." He walked off to rejoin his family on the other side of the dining room.
"Who's the kid?" Cartman asked.
"Just someone I played Missile Command with a few times," Tweek replied. He was starting to feel nervous and twitchy again and thought about going for another walk around the ship after the party was over.
Kenny and Butters were whispering together; they looked up and Kenny said, "Guys, we've decided not to stick around for midnight. I've got a headache and Butters is tired, it's going to get noisy as fuck in here...anyone else want to leave early?"
"I'll go just to get away from that music," Cartman grumbled.
Stan and Kyle nodded to each other. Stan asked, "Where do you want to go, Kenny?"
"Let's go up on deck," Kyle suggested. "We can ring in the new year under the stars."
"Yeah!" Tweek said happily. "I can do my ten mile walk! If I start at midnight, I'd be done before 2:30."
Stan seemed agreeable to this idea as well, but Kenny was shaking his head. "Guys, that storm we had yesterday really cooled things down. It's pretty cold up there, and with a thirty mile an hour wind, it might be really uncomfortable."
"We've got jackets with us." Kyle seemed eager to get going. They'd finished their meals half an hour ago, and everyone was just waiting around to ring in the New Year.
"Where do you want to go, Kenny?" Stan asked again. "As long as it's somewhere we can all be together at midnight, I don't really care."
Kenny smiled and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Well, I don't know about midnight...but I do know I want to be balls deep in Butters by 12:30."
"Sick, dude!" Cartman cried while everyone else at the table laughed. Butters put a hand over his face blushing, and Kenny nudged him affectionately.
Kenny continued, "Seriously, why don't we just go hang out in the hallway right outside our cabins? I don't need to hear hundreds of people shouting 'Happy New Year' and singing Auld Lang Syne. I bet it'll be deserted there...and it could be just the seven of us." He turned to Tweek. "And if you still want to do your ten miles, I'll go with you if we can start at seven tomorrow morning."
"And I'll go too" Butters said. "Well, maybe not the whole ten miles, but I'll go as far as I can."
"Maybe Mr. Acres will let us sneak out of here with a couple bottles of champagne and a bottle opener," Kyle said, holding up a fluted glass and draining it in one gulp." Acres, ever the perfect steward, was right there to refill his glass. Butters caught his sleeve and whispered to him, and Acres smiled and walked off.
"Consider it done Kyle," Butters said, grinning.
Acres returned a minute later with a small cardboard box with no less than four bottles of champagne, a stack of small plastic cups, and a bottle opener. "I'll just pop round tomorrow morning to pick up that corkscrew," he said, handing the box to Butters, who immediately passed it over to Kenny.
"Thanks, Mr. Acres!" Kenny said as they all rose from the table at once. "Happy New Year!"
"Same to you sirs, thank you!" He was already moving toward another table to refill someone's glass. The seven of them walked toward the nearest exit. From across the room, Robin held up his hand in a wave, and they all waved back, even Cartman.
They made their way down the corridor toward the grand staircase, laughter and conversations echoing in the empty hallways around them. It seemed they were the only ones on the ship who weren't in the dining room; apart from them, this part of the ship was deserted. Cartman had already confiscated one of the champagne bottles from the box Kenny was carrying and was digging the corkscrew into the top of it as he walked.
"This is going to be the best New Year's ever!" Wendy said as they reached the grand staircase. They made their way down two flights of stairs to their deck. The champagne bottle in Cartman's hands opened with a bang, the cork bouncing off the ceiling and landing at the bottom of the steps. A geyser of foam erupted from the bottle. Cartman slurped up some of it as the rest ran down his hands onto the carpet. Kenny took the bottle from him, took a swig from it and handed it to Butters who took a small sip and passed it to Tweek. Stan stopped long enough to pick up the cork and put it in his pocket. A thirty second stroll took them past the room with the vending machines and they spread out along the wall by their cabin doors. Cartman, Wendy and Tweek formed their own group a short distance away from the other four, who had paired off.
"What time is it, Kyle?" Kenny asked. Kyle had set his watch earlier to the ship's chronometer.
"It's..." he looked at his watch and paused for a moment. "Exactly two minutes to midnight!" He kissed Stan, pressing their lips together hard while his arms circled Stan's back. He could see Kenny and Butters doing the same; Butters had Kenny backed up to their cabin door with his forearms framing his head while Kenny's hands were molded to Butters' ass through his dress pants.
"Jesus, Kyle!" Stan whispered urgently, pressing himself against Kyle while their tongues mapped the familiar territory of each other's lips. "At this rate I'm not even going to make it to midnight."
"I know," Kyle breathed. "Just a few more minutes..."
Cartman was still standing with Wendy and Tweek, and had an enormous cigar in his mouth that he was lighting and puffing into life.
Even from two decks below and at least a hundred feet away, they could hear the emcee in the dining room say: "Ladies and gentlemen! It is exactly...fifty seconds to midnight!"
"He's four seconds slow," Kyle said, looking at his watch.
"Christ, Kyle!" Cartman said. "If you hurry, you might be able to get there before midnight and tell him."
Kenny opened the second champagne bottle with a loud pop. He gulped at the foam that shot from the mouth of it and handed it to Butters. Butters took a sip while Kenny started on the third bottle. Wendy and Tweek both had their cameras out and were taking dozens of pictures.
They heard the countdown from ten start and joined in, Kyle pointedly staring at his watch and counting off numbers four lower than everyone else. When everyone else was on "four", he shouted, "Happy New Year!" His voice echoed through the empty corridors.
At the stroke of midnight they heard bedlam from the dining room two decks above them. The Poseidon's horn blew a single mournful blast. The tattered strains of the band playing 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow' filtered down to them.
They heard the enormous crowd beginning the familiar melody of 'Auld Lang Syne'. All seven of them joined in, unselfconsciously belting out the words, their voices echoing up and down the empty halls. Cartman had his thick arm over Tweek's shoulder and they were crooning together with surprisingly good harmony.
The second verse of the song came around. The seven of them looked around at each other for a moment; only Cartman and Tweek knew the lyrics and continued the song, looking at each other for a second, each surprised that the other knew the words. Their harmony was astonishingly good
And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I'll be mine !
And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
"What does that even mean?" Stan asked.
"It's an old Scottish poem," Tweek said. None of them had ever seen him look so serene as he went on. "I...I think it's about two strangers who meet in a bar, and they don't know each other well enough to buy each other drinks, so each...buys their own pint, and then they drink a toast to the old times together. At least that's what my dad told me once."
"Stan, this is it!" Kyle said, looking into Stan's eyes and going on to explain what he meant as if Stan didn't already know. "This is my perfect oh holy shit moment. When this cruise is over, this right here is the time I'm going to remember most from it."
Wendy raised her camera and snapped a picture, Kyle barely looking away in time from being blinded by the flash. "There!" she said happily. "Now you'll have something to remember it by."
Kyle pressed Stan against their cabin door. His lips brushed the rim of Stan's ear as he kissed it and continued, "I figured something else out just now. This whole trip has been one big oh holy shit moment. Meeting Robin, and his coming out to you? The sex we had outside when we went through the Strait of Gibraltar? Even when I thought I was going to puke up Cartman's kidney...that was an oh holy shit moment too. You took such good care of me, Stan...and I knew you wouldn't let me die."
"It's about time, Broflovski," Kenny said, his words muffled by Butters' lips against his mouth. Butters snorted laughter and glanced sideways at Kyle for a moment, then turned his attention back to Kenny. Butters had Kenny backed up against the wall eight feet away and was slowly humping his leg.
"Jesus, dude," Stan said, also watching them. He backed Kyle against the wall, framing his head with his forearms, and gave him a deep kiss. "They're not going to make it until 12:30, and at this rate neither am I." Kyle kissed him back, and then looked in the other direction; Wendy, Tweek and Cartman were doing some kind of almost group hug, their faces inches apart, sharing something. Wendy was saying something to Tweek so quietly that they couldn't hear, but Tweek was nodding vigorously. Kyle turned his head to look the other way again. Butters now had the side of his head resting on Kenny's chest, looking straight back at Kyle and smiling contentedly. "Oh yeah fellas..." he breathed.
"I love you guys," they heard Cartman mutter. There was a long moment of silence, the only sound the faint and constant background drone of the engines that powered the ship.
That sound was something they had become so accustomed to that when it changed suddenly, its timbre growing louder and deeper, they all looked around nervously at each other. They felt the ship shudder as its engines revved and begin leaning gently to starboard as they felt it going into an abrupt turn. A moment later, an alarm began ringing, an urgent claxon horn joined a moment later by a second alarm, a shrill ringing bell that seemed to be coming from everywhere.
"Hey, what the hell!" Kyle cried, pulling away from Stan. Butters had his hands pressed against his ears and was looking around nervously. For some reason, the ship was turning very sharply, and they found themselves abruptly having to lean against the wall to stay on their feet. The ship was heeled over every bit as much as it was yesterday during the storm when they had been certain for a moment it was about to roll over. They could hear things falling over inside the cabins around them.
Tweek found himself standing between Cartman and Wendy with his back pressed against the wall to keep his balance. He was the only one who saw the danger looming above them as the ship canted even farther over: The three large vending machines behind the glass wall. Cartman seemed oblivious to the obvious danger.
"We have to move!" Tweek screeched, tugging on Cartman's arm. He eyes never left the menace across the hall. Wendy was already hurrying toward Stan and Kyle, her hand sliding along the wall as she walked to keep her balance.
"Those machines are chained down, Tweek!" Cartman said, not sounding entirely certain. Tweek could barely hear him over the sounds of the alarms.
"Come on, you idiot!" Tweek screamed, yanking Cartman's arm until he had no choice but to follow Tweek down the hall, not stopping until they were with Wendy again. The seven of them were now clustered together, waiting for the ship to right herself again. They looked up as a sound reached them from outside the ship like an approaching train, only it came much too fast, and as the noise rumbled over them, they felt the ship rise up like an elevator ascending too quickly and then slam down into the sea on her side with a deafening roar, throwing all of them off their feet.
Kyle found himself face down on the wall, which had suddenly become their floor. He knew he was screaming, but it was drowned out by the noise of what sounded like the ship tearing itself apart. Stan crawled on top of him, his arms and legs trying to wrap themselves around every part of Kyle from above as Stan said loudly against his ear: "I love you, Kyle!" Kyle realized that Stan thought this was the moment they were going to die, and knew with sudden terror and certainty that he was right. He turned his head and met Stan's eyes and mouthed "I love you, Stan," too frightened to find his voice. Stan wouldn't have heard him anyway.
All three vending machines toppled forward, two of them crashing through the glass wall in a shower of broken glass and flying soda cans. The third machine along with the Missile Command game fell through a moment later, the latter slamming into the wall three feet from Cartman. The chain that once secured one of the machines to the floor slashed through the air and struck Cartman on the side of the head. Tweek was lying on the wall with his hands over his ears shrieking, and none of them could hear him over the ear shattering roar of the ship.
Kyle looked from Stan's terrified eyes to what was happening next to them. Kenny was lying on top of Butters with his arms wrapped around his head, face pressed to his ear, probably telling him the same thing that Stan had said moments ago. Kenny suddenly reared his head back, glaring up at the opposite wall which was now looming above them, large shards of glass still falling a few feet away from them. "Come on you bitch!" Kenny screamed, as it still seemed for a moment there was some chance the ship might somehow right itself again.
Objects—furniture, luggage, pieces of broken walls and ceiling—started tumbling down the connecting hallway thirty feet away. Kyle realized with horror that a few of those objects were people, who landed hard on the falling debris and stopped moving.
The ship lay on its side for only a moment longer and then continued its relentless roll. They found themselves sliding or rolling up—no, down—the wall toward the ceiling as, outside, the upper decks of the ship thundered down and buried themselves beneath the sea.
The noise grew to an earsplitting crescendo as suddenly, three decks now above them, everything in the engine room that once powered the great ship broke loose from their mountings under stress they had never been designed to withstand. Generators, turbines, enormous boilers each holding 1,500 gallons of scalding water, metal tanks filled with fuel and oil, all broke away from the floor and landed on the ceiling of the engine room, the fuel tanks exploding and killing dozens of hapless crewmembers in an orgy of death and destruction.
The noise started to abate as the ship finally settled, now upside down in the water. They all heard Kenny say wonderingly: "Jesus Christ, this fucking ship just capsized."
Then the lights went out, plunging them into complete and utter darkness.