Chapter 6: Midnight minus 1 day 17 hourswritten by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by Hausinge and Sifl-senpai
"Oh God!" Tweek screamed in the blackness. "Oh my God!"
"Somebody make a light!" Kenny shouted at the same time a spark flickered by Cartman. It took him three tries to get his lighter lit, and when he finally did, he held it over his head, its weak light only reaching a few feet around him, revealing the upside down nightmarish landscape around them.
They were lying on the ceiling of the hallway, the carpeted floor now eight feet above. The thin faux mahogany veneer of the ceiling had been interspersed with squares of frosted glass for lighting. Now reversed to become the floor, everything was broken and crumbled, exposing the thin steel girders that formerly held the ceiling in place. The single light from Cartman threw harsh waving shadows on everything. Everyone began talking loudly at once; Tweek was crying hysterically, seeming about to panic and run blindly into the darkness.
"Guys!" Kenny shouted, his voice rising above the din enough to get everyone's attention. During the moment of silence that followed, he said, emphasizing each word: "We're still floating."
They looked around and realized he was right. A few moments ago it had appeared that the ship was about to plunge to the bottom of the sea. But now, even though they were upside down and everything around them was in ruins, the ship was floating as calmly as it had been twenty minutes ago. Cartman began slowly walking toward the others, holding the lighter over his head. They all instinctively walked toward him as well. A moment later, a few lights along the ceiling—their new "floor"—flickered on, casting a wane glow on everything.
"Oh thank God!" Tweek breathed. They could look around now and see the full scale of the disaster. One of the most striking things was all the knobs on the cabin doors lining both sides of the hallway were now at head height.
"Shit, Cartman, you're bleeding!" Stan said. The dim lights had revealed a cut across the side of Cartman's head; the collar of his dress shirt was drenched with blood. Wendy rushed over to him, pulling a handkerchief from her pocket to press against the side of his head.
"It isn't that bad of a cut, Cartman," she told him a moment later. "Scalp wounds always bleed a lot; you're going to be fine. Here, hold this against it."
She turned around to look at the others. "What do we do now?"
"We don't stay here," Kenny said immediately. "I don't know how long we're going to float, but we don't want to be in here if this ship does sink. We need to find a way to get outside."
"Then what?" Tweek asked desperately. "Even if we're outside! If this ship sinks—"
"They would have sent out an SOS," Stan said, facing Kyle but speaking to everyone. "Help is on the way."
"How do you know they sent an SOS?" Tweek was desperate, still looking ready to panic and bolt.
"Tweek!" Kenny snapped. "Those alarms started going off at least a couple minutes before we turned over. They had time, trust me."
"We all heard the engines speed up, even before those alarms went off," Wendy said. "They knew something was about to happen."
"Exactly!" Kenny put an arm over Butters' shoulder. "We have to get outside the ship while it's still floating. Even if it goes down, there'll be enough stuff floating around afterward that we can hang onto something until help gets here. Come on guys...let's talk about it while we're doing something, okay?"
"Oh God, Kyle!" Tweek screamed. "What if we'd gone up on deck before midnight, instead of coming here? We'd all be dead!"
Kyle shook his head; he had something else on his mind. "What about all those people in the dining room?" he asked desperately. "Our friends were down there!"
"I don't think we can help them, Kyle!" Stan said. "They were two decks above us before the ship turned over. They're two decks below us now—"
"And even if we could get to them," Kenny added. "That dining room went the full width of the ship. A lot of those people in there must have fallen..." his voice trailed off as he thought about it. A lot of the New Year's celebrants in the crowded dining room would have fallen a hundred feet or more when the ship capsized. "We were in about the best possible part of this ship."
"Robin was down there, Stan!" Kyle cried. "And the Rosens! And—"
"Kyle!" Kenny grabbed his arm, and once he had Kyle's attention he shook his head. "We can't help them."
Kyle stared at Kenny for a moment, then looked away. There was a low rumbling from the ship, as if something enormous had shifted deep in her bowels. He realized the hopelessness of it; they would be lucky if the seven of them got out with their lives. There was no way to know how long the ship could float this way.
"We have to get ourselves out of this," Kenny said, looking away from Kyle to speak to them all. "If we make it out, we can send help for them...but we have to get moving. We're floating...but we don't know how long we're going to be."
"Acres said they couldn't fill the ballast tanks with water," Stan said hopefully. "If that means they're full of air, and they're above us now, that might help us float for a while."
"That's right!" Kenny said. His confidence was beginning to rally them. "Guys! The easiest way to get outside is how we've been doing it for the past ten days. We just have to get down that hallway and we're there. It's only a hundred feet or so, and once we get out there, we can just camp out on the hull of the ship until help comes."
"Shit!" Tweek screeched. "Let's go!" He started to walk off and Kenny grabbed his sleeve.
"Guys, wait!" Kenny said, letting go of Tweek and holding up his hand. "Look...let's don't panic. Someone should probably check and make sure we can get out that way first before we all go. We'll just be wasting time if we get there and those doors are locked or something. Does anyone need anything from their cabins? Butters? What about us?"
"I don't need anything except you Kenny," Butters replied immediately.
"I could use my medical bag," Wendy said, eyeing the cut on Cartman's head.
"And my keys have a flashlight on them!" Tweek said. "I should get those in case these lights go out again."
"All right," Kenny looked around, clearly taking charge at that point. Stan looked at him gratefully. "You two get what you need, and someone should check out that hallway and make sure we can get through. Why don't I go and do that?"
"I'm going with you Kenny, okay?" Butters said, stepping closer and grabbing his hand.
Kenny looked down the passageway they would have to go through to get to those double doors that led outside. Even with everything upside down the whole way, it looked as safe as anything else around them did. He wanted to keep Butters occupied to try to keep his mind off what was happening, and he didn't want to be more than a foot away from him right now. He came to a decision.
"All right. Butters and I are going to go down that way and make sure we can get through. You guys get what you need from your cabins." He looked Stan in the eyes as if putting him in charge of this detail, not sure how he'd suddenly become their leader but happy to assume the role. Someone had to, and getting Butters to safety wasn't something he was willing to trust to anyone else.
Stan met his gaze and nodded, relieved to be taking on the role of second in command. He turned to look at Wendy. "Let's get the stuff from your cabin first."
"This is surreal," Kyle said a minute later as he watched Wendy fit her key into the doorknob of her and Tweek's cabin, now almost a foot above her head. The door swung open, and she stepped over the foot-high transom into the room.
The bedframe was the only thing that had been bolted to the floor. It hung suspended above them; the mattress and all their luggage had been tossed around and scattered across the ceiling. She spotted her bag immediately and retrieved it. Tweek rummaged through the debris and luggage under his feet and came up with his keys. He turned on the small penlight on the key ring for a moment, satisfying himself that it worked.
Kenny and Butters made their cautious way down the dark hall toward the exit doors. It was extremely slow going; they had to step between the steel girders and around the broken ceiling panels, walking on the metal decking underneath. It took nearly ten minutes to walk a distance that used to take only one. The exit doors were open and swinging freely on their hinges to the gentle rocking of the ship.
"Oh Buttercup, look at this!" Kenny said reverently. They looked out the doors, and Kenny realized that getting away from the ship would simply be a matter of jumping into the water some twelve feet below and swimming a short distance. Two of the ship's lifeboats were floating nearby, tethered to the Poseidon by the ropes that would have been used to lower them into the water during a less dramatic emergency. The sea was so flat and calm that it had an almost oily quality, the reflection of the full moon flittering like quicksilver on its smooth surface.
"We're going to be okay!" Butters said, looking at Kenny hopefully.
"I'm tempted to leave you here," Kenny told him. "While I go back and get the others. But that's not going to happen."
"Don't you dare leave me alone here, mister!" Butters replied. He was still terrified, despite the easy exit that lay ahead of them all. Kenny nodded, taking his hand as they backed away from the door.
"Okay. Let's go back and get the others so we can get the hell out of here."
They made their way back down the hall, approaching their group five minutes later. Their progress was faster now that they had become accustomed to walking between the steel girders under their feet. Wendy had her medical bag, and was putting a large bandage on the side of Cartman's head.
Kenny called ahead to them, eager to give them encouraging news. "Guys, we just have to get down that hall and we're outside, and then it's—"
Something enormous rumbled loudly overhead, and a bright flash of orange light lit the hallway like a giant flashbulb.
A 500 gallon propane tank, one of twelve that had once been a part of the equipment lining the deck of the engine room and supplied the enormous kitchen as well as the Poseidon's heating system, had finally broken loose from its mounting brackets, fallen thirty feet to smash against the ceiling of the engine room, ruptured on impact and exploded. The blast tore through bulkheads and deck plates, reaching the deck where the seven people from Colorado were about to attempt to get outside. The shockwave knocked Kenny and Butters off their feet and sent a wave of superheated air billowing past them.
"Oh, Jesus!" Kenny screamed, whirling around to see the fire, and the tons of twisted steel and debris that had turned the hallway into an alien landscape of burning wreckage. The still burning remains of the propane tank had landed midway between them and the exit doors, setting everything around it on fire. Butters grabbed Kenny's arm fearfully, both of them thinking the same thing: If they had delayed their return by less than a minute, they'd both be dead now.
Kenny realized something even more disturbing: Their easy escape route had just been hopelessly blocked.