They helped Robin up first, Stan climbing the rungs directly behind him to brace him against the ladder, and Kenny reaching down to help lift him up by his armpits. Once Robin was in the engine room and Wendy and Tweek were with him, Kenny climbed back down to join Stan again to keep everyone moving and help carry supplies up.

Butters was the third from the last of their group to go up. He had a long coil of rope over his left shoulder. "You'll be up soon, right Kenny?"

"Of course I will. I need to talk to Stan for a second, and we'll be right up." He watched Butters climb up and disappear through the first hatch, then took Stan's arm and led him back out into the main hall.

"What is it, Kenny?" Stan asked.

Instead of answering, Kenny shined his flashlight down the dark corridor toward the bow of the ship. Perhaps fifty feet away, they could see debris choked water lapping against the shattered ceiling. As they watched, the edge of the water slowly crept closer.

"We have to hurry," Kenny said quietly. "We don't have much time."

As he climbed the second ladder behind Kenny, Stan thought they would be home free once they'd gotten to the engine room. As soon as he emerged from the second hatch, he realized they had just traded one set of problems for another.

The engine room was three decks high, and ran the length and width of the ship. There were no upside down staircases to climb; instead there was the wreckage left after the ship had capsized, turning the once orderly engine room into a mountainous pile of wreckage and corpses. Nearly a third of the ceiling toward the front of the ship was underwater, the water's edge slowly creeping closer as they watched. Several fires burned out of control throughout the room and the air was hot and acrid.

Kyle wandered a couple dozen feet toward the bow and sat down on a tilted section of catwalk. Next to him was the open pit of a stairwell, and four feet below where he was sitting was a pool of water that descended into darkness.

Robin was looking around in wonder. He had spent many hours in this auditorium-sized room, and seeing it in its current state was mind boggling. His gaze was drawn to an area high overhead near the stern of the ship, and was about to tell Kenny and Stan why this was the place they needed to try to get to when Kyle abruptly cried out.

"Hey, what the fuck?" Kyle yelled in surprise, jumping to his feet and looking down into the water-filled stairwell. Stan and Kenny rushed over to see what the matter was.


Perhaps ten feet below the surface of the water, someone was frantically waving a flashlight. After several seconds, whoever was down there hadn't made any effort to surface.

"Jesus Christ, someone's down there!" Stan cried. All three looked over at Robin, realizing it might be someone from the group he had been with earlier, and that whoever it was might be drowning at this very moment.

Kyle pulled off his dinner jacket and dropped it at his feet. He took the flashlight from Stan and said as he sat down, "You know why I have to do this."

Stan nodded, knowing exactly what he meant, why he was the right person for the job, and unhappy about it anyway. Kyle always could hold his breath longer than any of them. He dangled his feet into the stairwell and then jumped feet first into the water, flipping himself around underwater and swimming down. What he saw a moment later confirmed their suspicions. Reverend Frank Scott was pinned by a large piece of debris, frantically waving a flashlight, air bubbles starting to escape through his mouth and nose. A long piece of rope tied to his waist disappeared into the gloom in the direction he had come from.

Kyle braced his feet against the wall of the stairwell, grabbed onto the debris—a large section of bulkhead he had become trapped under—and pulled, lifting it enough for the reverend to pull himself free. He swam past Kyle with barely a glance and shot to the surface. Kyle watched him until he saw he had reached safety and was about to continue swimming the other way to see where the rope went when he was met by another completely unexpected sight: Plump, cherubic Belle Rosen swimming down, her clothes billowing around her like giant sails. Their eyes both widened in surprise as they met. Kyle pointed in the direction the reverend had gone and frantically gestured with his hand, pointing up. She nodded and continued on, surfacing a few moments later. Kyle waited until her frantically-waving legs disappeared as she was helped from the water and he knew she was safe, then aimed the flashlight toward the rope and continued swimming that way. He had plenty of breath left

He pulled himself along the rope another dozen feet and came to another stairwell. He rose quickly, shooting to the surface a moment later.

The first thing he saw was Mike Rogo crouched down on a steel catwalk at the edge of the stairwell two feet above the water's surface, holding the other end of the rope Kyle had followed. His wife and Manny Rosen were behind him, the latter looking anxiously into the water and startling when Kyle appeared. Kyle noticed several other people—Mr. Martin and Robin's older sister among them—and he was suddenly filled with rage when he saw Robin's parents, standing several feet apart from each other, looking at him curiously.

Kyle pulled himself up out of the water, shaking off Mike Rogo's hand as he tried to help with a loud "Get off me!" His eyes were locked on Jane Shelby's as he strode angrily over to her.

Kyle wanted to be anywhere but here. His once-nice clothes were heavy and cold; his feet were soaked inside his dress shoes and his ankles chafed painfully against his wet socks. He wanted a hot shower in a clean and right side up bathroom. He wanted to be in a bed with freshly laundered sheets and Stan next to him. And he wanted to punch this mousy looking woman in the face; but instead he told her what he knew she most needed to hear right now.

"Your son is thirty feet away on the other end of that rope, and he could really use his mother right about now."

"Robin?" Jane said, her hands flying to her mouth. "He's over there?" She brushed past Kyle, never slowing down until she was at the edge of the catwalk about to leap into the water.

Kyle saw what she meant to do, and a moment before she jumped in, Kyle shouted, "He's hurt!" He winced as she leaped feet first into the water and disappeared, realizing that his words were probably echoing in her mind as she pulled herself underwater along that rope, imagining all sorts of terrible things.

"Belle?" Manny Rosen cried fearfully. "Did you see her? Is she all right?"

"She's fine, Mr. Rosen," Kyle hastened to assure him. "She passed me just as I was freeing Mr. Scott from some wreckage that had fallen on him. I watched them both swim up to the engine room together."

"Oh, thank God! She went in to help him."

"Why the hell did she go?" Kyle asked, looking pointedly at Mike Rogo who was a good ten years younger and 50 pounds lighter.

Mike caught his look and lowered his eyes. "She was some kind of underwater swimming champion...thirty years ago. Manny agreed she was the one who should go after him."

Robin's father walked over to Kyle "What...happened to Robin?"

"He fell down in the dark, and someone stepped on his hand. He's got two broken fingers." Kyle was looking at the rest of this group: He was relieved to see that Mr. Martin had survived as well; he was comforting the young woman singer from the ship's band.

Mr. Shelby bowed his head. "But...he's all right?"

"No, he's not all right!" Kyle snapped, his fury now directed at Robin's dad. "I just said he has two broken fingers! He's scared shitless, and the two of you have been acting like your arguing is more important than taking care of him. Why the fuck was he ever more than three feet away from you?"

Kyle felt a twinge of guilt as Richard Shelby lowered his eyes and turned away to walk toward where his wife had disappeared moments ago. "Look," Kyle said, grabbing Richard's arm. "One of us set his fingers for him. He's going to be fine. But...he could really use the two of you to act like goddam parents to him, at least until we get off this ship. Or until we..." Kyle's voice trailed off. Until we sink and die.

Robin's dad nodded miserably. He looked like he was about to say something, but then just turned away again and jumped into the water.

"So, you've been to the engine room?" Mike Rogo asked.

"I just came from there. I saw Mr. Scott's flashlight waving around underwater and jumped in. Something had pinned him, and I got him out just as Mrs. Rosen was swimming down. Look, we all need to get back over there. I don't know how much longer this ship is going to stay floating." He looked at Robin's sister and added sarcastically. "It was nice of your dad to make sure you got across okay. Do you want me to help you?"

She shook her head. "No...I can do it." She sat down on the edge of the catwalk, took ahold of the rope and lowered herself into the water.

"What about you two?" Kyle asked the Rogos. They looked like they'd be okay as well. He looked at Mr. Martin and the singer. "Can you two make it?"

"We'll be fine," Mr. Martin replied, but the young woman he was with looked terrified.

Mike surprised Kyle by asking: "Is...Stan all right?"

Kyle cocked an eyebrow at the unexpected question. "Yeah. He is. In fact, our whole group is okay, except for some cuts and bruises. Um...thanks for asking."

"Yeah," Mike replied. He lowered his voice. "We're going to go next. Can you give Manny a hand getting across?" Kyle nodded.

"Come on, hun," Mike said, lowering himself into the water and reaching up to help his wife down. A moment later they had disappeared, and Kyle turned his attention to the almost-elderly Manny Rosen.

"Just take a real deep breath," Kyle told him, "and pull yourself along that rope. It's only thirty feet or so; I'll be right behind you."

In less than a minute, Kyle rose to the surface, coming up alongside Manny. A very relieved Stan was right there to help him out of the water. The water level had risen a foot in the short time Kyle had been gone.

When everyone in both groups was finally together in the engine room, Frank began to explain what they needed to do; Kenny was relieved to pass leadership of both groups over to him.

"Can we take a five minute rest?" Wendy interrupted Mr. Scott quietly, holding Belle Rosen's plump wrist with two fingertips to take her pulse. "Mrs. Rosen is not going to be able to do much more climbing, and I'm also worried about Eric Cartman. I think he may a concussion." They both looked at him sitting on a section of steel catwalk holding his head and looking dazed.

He nodded grimly. "Five minutes, and then we've got to get moving again." He looked around for Robin. "Robin, what were you saying earlier about the hull being thinnest next to the propellers?"

"Right up there is where we need to go sir!" Robin replied, pointing with his left hand. "See that red valve?" They could easily see what he was pointing to. Perhaps 25 feet above them was a large valve; it was round, had six spokes like a wagon wheel, and was bright red. A small wisp of steam from a defective weld rose from the pipe connected to it. "Right behind that is the entrance to shaft alley. That's where the hull is thinnest."

Mr. Scott looked at Kenny and pointed. "We should be able to start climbing there." Kenny looked where he was indicating and nodded.

The engine room had once contained a series of wide steel catwalks running along the outside walls, all connected together by ladders and other walkways crisscrossing the width of the ship. When the Poseidon had capsized, much of this had been torn away by the tons of falling machinery that had once made up the ship's engines and other mechanical systems. Kenny ran his gaze up the catwalk, mentally mapping out a possible route up to that valve.

They began the slow, arduous climb up. Kenny and Frank Scott alternated the lead, plotting out the safest route for the others to follow. The group gradually spread out forming a human chain about thirty feet long with the Rosens bringing up the rear, Mike and Robin's father staying back to help them, and Tweek helping Cartman who was having increasing trouble with his balance. After 45 minutes, they finally reached the summit and began making their way toward the stern.

Kenny and Frank had just inched their way across a particularly narrow section of catwalk, leaving a dozen feet to go to the red valve and the entrance to shaft alley. Kenny turned and anxiously watched Butters, who was next in line. Butters looked down nervously; below him was a sheer drop of some 25 feet with twisted wreckage awaiting anyone unlucky enough to lose their footing and fall from here. He sat down, not trusting his sense of balance to walk across it and scooted along until the catwalk widened again and he got up onto his knees. Linda Rogo was behind him; she walked across the gap while her husband watched from the wider part of the catwalk behind her, her arms outstretched for balance. One of her hands was close enough to Butters that he considered reaching up to take it to help her across.

There was a brilliant orange flash and an appalling explosion as one of the ship's boilers suddenly exploded two hundred feet away. The ship rocked violently; Linda's terrified eyes locked onto Butters' as her arms pinwheeled madly and she tipped backward with a scream toward that awful precipice behind her.

Without even thinking, Butters reached out and grabbed one of her wrists, yanked hard on it and fell backward, pulling her back from the brink. She tumbled forward, landing fully on top of him, their faces inches apart. Her eyes were hard and amazed.

From twelve feet away, Mike Rogo had seen everything. His Linda, thrown off balance and tipping toward the abyss below, certain he was going to watch her fall to her death as her arms flailed helplessly. Mike was a bitter, hateful man; no one else knew the tenderness Linda could bring out in him, at odd moments during the day or in bed late at night.

He felt his entire life slipping away when Linda fell toward that pit, and then that strange little man with the platinum blond hair had grabbed her arm and somehow pulled her back.

He had enough time to lock eyes with her for a moment before there was another explosion, this one less powerful but much, much closer. Mike was thrown face down onto the catwalk, and when he looked up again, an enormous cloud of hot water and steam was pouring onto the catwalk ahead of them from a break in the pipe next to the red valve.

"Reverend Scott!" Robin Shelby shouted. "The hot steam! It's blocking our escape!"