Chapter 10: Midnight Plus 6 Hourswritten by fallingwthstyle - illustrated by Hausinge and Sifl-senpai
Kenny was exhausted. He had done all he could to get them this far, and now the only path to the place they needed to be was blocked by a scalding cloud of steam. He was ready to curl up and die, and falling asleep seemed like a really good idea right now. He realized that things had gone from extremely bad to completely surreal when he noticed that he was starting to hallucinate as well.
Except for him, nothing in this enormous room was moving, and everything had gone deathly silent. It was as if time had frozen: Robin Shelby was standing with his left arm out pointing, his lips pursed in the midst of saying a word, Reverend Scott was glaring angrily at the broken steam pipe, and Linda Rogo was pushing herself off of Butters. They were like statues; even the smoke and flames from the numerous fires below were motionless.
Kenny turned his head and looked at the cloud of steam. It was no longer a cloud; now, it was a million tiny droplets of water suspended motionlessly in the air, each one no bigger than a pinprick. There was no sound.
He turned his head at a movement out of the corner of his eye. A man he had never seen before stood up behind Robin's parents. He wore a white robe and had a soft halo of gold light over his head. Kenny was not a religious man, but he had seen enough paintings in his life to recognize him immediately: It was Jesus Christ, the son of God. Jesus stepped around the Shelbys and walked across the catwalk to stand in front of Kenny.
"Hello, my son," this person who couldn't possibly be standing there said.
Kenny dropped to his knees, because he didn't know what else to do. He looked up into the kind face above him.
"We're...we're all going to die now, aren't we?"
Jesus didn't answer; instead he said: "Kenny, I know you don't remember me." Jesus raised his hands, about to lay them on Kenny's head.
"Jesus, please," Kenny begged, reaching up to take the Lord's hands. The fact that the son of God was standing before him could only mean one thing. "I don't care what happens to me. Just...please. Let Butters go to heaven. And Robin. And Stan and Kyle...and Tweek..." Kenny stopped, realizing he was praying while he was clutching the son of God's hand. Nothing seemed real anymore.
"My son," Jesus said, very real and somewhat urgently. "There are things you don't remember that I have to remind you of, and there's not much time left. It is why my father has stopped time for us now, but we have to hurry." He pulled his hands away from Kenny's and held them to the sides of Kenny's head. "If you'll permit me..."
Kenny could only look up at the Son of God with hope. If it meant saving Butters, he would do anything. He whispered: "I don't remember you. But I know who you are." He nodded, giving Jesus permission to do whatever he had to do.
Jesus pressed his hands against the sides of Kenny's head...and Kenny's vision went black and he almost passed out as a flood of memories he had forgotten came rushing back, things that felt like they had just happened yesterday.
Memories of dying hundreds of times, of being shot, of burning to death, of being hit by every sort of vehicle imaginable, being torn apart by animals, being killed when Cartman's Trapper Keeper went on a rampage, being electrocuted...He remembered clearly the last time he had died, when he had been told by this very same man (while they were both in hell) that he would return to live a normal life, with no memories of all these past deaths. That had been some three years ago, and until this moment he had forgotten about this as well, being freed from that lifelong curse of endlessly dying and returning.
Kenny remembered talking to Jesus (and Satan!) dozens of times in the past, and spending time in both heaven and hell. Hell had always seemed like a much more interesting place, but all he wanted right now was to go to heaven with his friends. He remembered how much dying hurt no matter what form it came in, and hoped the people around him would have a quick and easy death...especially Butters and Robin. He had suffered enough with his broken fingers and indifferent parents. And Butters! If the ship went down with them still inside, Kenny would hold him and kiss him while everything around them exploded or flooded or whatever it did during their final moments together. Kenny would hold Butters' face against his chest, shielding his eyes and ears and head from whatever final death blow the ship dealt them. No matter what happened, and no matter how terrifying and loud and painful it was, Butters would know during the final seconds of his life just how much he was loved. Kenny would make sure of it.
Kenny counted on Stan and Kyle to take care of each other during those moments, and hoped Robin, Cartman, Wendy, and Tweek managed to find comfort in each other as well. He had done all he could do to save them, and having Jesus appear to him was a sign that it hadn't been enough.
But no matter what happened during their last moments, Kenny was certain of one thing: At least they would have to go through the agony and terror of dying only once.
Kenny looked up at the son of God, no longer worshipfully. He was angry, and it was building up to a white hot rage
"What the fuck, Jesus?" Kenny was suddenly on both speaking terms and a first name basis with the son of God. And he was furious to be in this position. "So now that I remember all this shit, all those times I died before. What—"
"Kenny." Jesus' calm voice quieted Kenny at once. "You are not all going to die. Just you...and just for a short while. You'll be back very soon. It was necessary for my father to call upon you to do this, to prevent a much greater tragedy."
Kenny remembered how much dying hurts and felt his heart clench at the thought of having to do it again.
"My son, even before Leopold won that money, you knew you would be here, didn't you?"
Kenny thought back to that night at their house and realized it was true. He had pretended to have the normal amount of doubt, but deep down inside himself he had known with absolute certainty that they would be aboard this ship. Now he knew why: It had all been orchestrated for some reason.
As if Jesus had read his mind, he went on: "You are here for a reason, my son. This disaster wasn't supposed to happen, but my father foresaw it months ago, and ordinarily he would have simply allowed it to happen; unfortunately there are a few people who would die on this ship who cannot be allowed to. Your group, and you especially my son, are here to prevent that."
"By dying myself," Kenny said bitterly. "Even if I come right back, it still hurts...and I'm sure Butters will have to see it happen." He sighed. "Who is it I'm saving?"
"Belle Rosen, for one. She's on her way to meet her grandson in Israel. If this meeting never happens, and she never becomes the great influence on the child that she is supposed to, he will not go on to find a new method of crop production for arid regions of the world. Linda Rogo will have a son who becomes a very influential politician. Robin Shelby will one day make a discovery that makes it possible to produce nearly unlimited amounts of electricity safely and at very little cost, again in the world's poorest places. And finally, Reverend Scott's writings about his missionary work will someday be highly influential, and affect the policies of many big governments in third world countries. These writings are what bring the other three together."
Jesus looked at Kenny sadly. "You and your group have already saved three of them. But unless you act soon, Reverend Scott will die, and if he does then his books on his missionary work will not be written, and the work of the other three will never take place. You'll not only be saving another life on this ship now, but you will be saving tens of thousands more later on."
Kenny was beginning to realize what he was expected to do: Someone had to stop that cloud of scalding steam so they could reach their final destination, shaft alley. The valve that would do that was almost at eye level to them but three feet beyond the edge of the catwalk and some four feet below the former floor of the engine room. Had the ship been right-side up, reaching it would have been a simple matter. With the ship capsized, it was just outside of reach from the catwalk, with a sheer 25 foot drop below it.
"Reverend Scott is about to sacrifice himself by jumping from this platform to grab the valve, closing it, and falling to his death. You don't have to do this, Kenny. But if you do, I promise you will be back in minutes, and you will have secured your place in my father's mansion someday...you and Leopold's.
Kenny looked down at the deadly abyss he was expected to fall into once he'd closed that valve. He knew falling from that height might not be immediately fatal, leaving him battered and broken but still alive, and Jesus read his thoughts.
"Kenny...you might want to try to fall so you land on your head; otherwise you may not die in time for you to be resurrected before the ship sinks."
"I know, Jesus." He knew his time was growing short. "I just—don't want to do this!"
"I know how much it hurts to die, my son. After all, I did it myself, once."
Kenny took a deep breath, steeling himself for what was about to happen. "Okay...let's do this."
Jesus nodded to him, and the particles in the steam cloud began moving, Robin lowered his arm, and Reverend Scott shouted while looking up angrily: "What more do you want of us? We've come all this way, no thanks to you!" He was already tensing to leap out into the void and grab the valve. "We did it on our own with no help from you!"
Kenny strode three steps to Mr. Scott and pushed him back just as he was about to jump. "Uh uh, Preacher!" he snapped. "I'm doing this."
Kenny took one last look at the valve, carefully gauging the distance to it and leaped. His hands caught the rim of the valve just as a child's hands would catch the rungs on a set of playground monkey bars,
"Kenny!" Butters shrieked. "What are you doing?"
Kenny ignored him, ignored everything around him except his fingers and their grip around the outer rim of the valve. He tightened the fingers of his left hand and reached up with his right, grabbing one of the spokes of the valve and pulling it down toward him. As soon as the valve had made that first one-quarter turn, the amount of steam being pumped from the broken pipe was lessened by half. Encouraged by this, he allowed himself to rest for only a moment before letting go with his right hand again to reach up and give the valve another quarter turn. Two more quarter turns and the valve was closed, the cloud of steam gone. Kenny could feel the valve vibrating in protest under his trembling fingers. Water dripped from the walls where they needed to go next. "You can get through now!" he shouted, still holding on to the valve, not yet ready to die. "Keep going!"
Butters tore his eyes away from Kenny and looked around at the others desperately. Everyone else was staring helplessly at Kenny as they waited for the last of his strength to fail and for him to fall. Butters was the only one actually trying to do something, but he was shaking so badly that he couldn't even tie a simple knot in the rope in his hands, let alone any sort of lasso. "Somebody help me!" he screamed.
Richard Shelby saw what he was trying to do. Memories of two years of cub scouts with Robin suddenly came back to him as he grabbed the rope from Butters' hands, quickly tied a small loop in one end and then passed the other end of the rope through it, creating a much bigger loop.
Reverend Scott saw what Robin's father was doing. "Kenny!" he shouted. "We're going to get a rope to you! Just hang on!"
Butters screamed: "Hold on, Kenny!"
Kenny's hands were already slipping on the red paint of the valve. "You'd better hurry!" He wrapped his fingers around the metal, his arms getting weak even as hope suddenly blossomed because Butters was trying to save him.
Richard Shelby had the rope and was estimating how hard to throw it to get the loop to fall over Kenny's head. He took aim and threw the rope, and it glanced off the back of Kenny's neck and fell toward the abyss below.
"Again!" Richard cried, hauling the rope back up and preparing for another attempt. This time the loop fell directly over Kenny's head, and with a couple careful movements of his neck, Kenny got the rope down around his neck. If he let go now, he would be hung. With a yell, Kenny let go of the valve with his left hand and managed to work that arm through the loop so the rope was now under one armpit. He managed to repeat the maneuver with his other arm.
Several people moved forward to grab onto the rope behind Richard and Butters. Stan observed, "As soon as he lets go of that valve, all the slack's going to go out of that rope and he's going to slam into the wreckage underneath us. He might not be able to hang on."
"No he won't!" Mike Rogo said angrily. He grabbed onto the rope as close to Kenny as he could and lay face down on the catwalk, holding his arms straight out over the void. "Now listen to me all of you! I can't hold his weight; you have to do that! I'm just going to stop him from hitting the catwalk too hard."
Butters was already grabbing onto his piece of the rope tighter, understanding what Mike wanted to do. Stan, Kyle, Linda, Reverend Scott, Tweek, and both of Robin's parents grabbed onto the rope behind him.
"You have to take all his weight!" Mike said again, grabbing his part of the rope tighter. "The moment he lets go, start pulling in all the slack. I'll keep the rope as far away as I can."
"Mike!" Kyle cried, letting go of the rope and removing his dress shirt, leaving him in just a now filthy tee-shirt. "Put this around your hands at least!" He handed Mike the shirt, and he took it and wrapped it around his hands to protect them from rope burns.
"Kenny!" Stan shouted. "You see what we're going to do?"
Kenny nodded, staring down at the hell he had been expecting to die in. I love you, Butters, he thought wildly.
"Just let go, Kenny!" Mike called out to him. "We've got you."
Kenny held on a moment longer, than released his grip on the valve. He plunged straight down...then the slack on the rope disappeared as eight people hauled back on it, and even as he was jerked upward and toward the catwalk, Mike managed to stop him from slamming into it. The rope whizzed through Mike's hands, ripping Kyle's shirt away immediately and tearing painfully into his palms, but he still held on long enough for Kenny to swing against the catwalk gently. Mike rolled away, clutching his hands to his chest as the other people on the rope pulled Kenny up to safety.
Kenny looked up to see Jesus, standing between Reverend Scott and Frank Shelby. He smiled at Kenny. "That's not quite how we planned this, my son...but okay." Kenny blinked and Jesus was gone. A moment later numerous hands were helping him up onto the catwalk, where he collapsed and rolled onto his back.
"Why did you do that, Kenny?" Butters screamed, falling on top of him, hugging him and covering his face with kisses. "You could have been killed! Why did you do that?"
Kenny wrapped his arms around Butters. "Because I knew you would get that rope to me in time." He looked around, suddenly confused. Why had he done that? For just a second it had seemed like there had been someone else in this hell with them...but that was impossible.
He looked up at Butters' soot and tear streaked face. "I knew you'd get me out of there." Kenny didn't know anything of the kind; he was certain that when he had leaped for the valve, he would die soon afterward.
Butters laid his head on Kenny's chest, and turned to look at Mike Rogo. Linda was crouched next to him, and they were both staring at Butters while Wendy reached for Mike's hands to examine them. There was an expression on both of the Rogos faces that seemed foreign to them: Compassion and understanding.
"Thank you for helping him," Butters said simply, looking at the blood on Mike's hands.
"I guess we're even, huh?" Mike replied gruffly. His expression didn't match his voice at all.
Linda smacked him in the back of the head. "You bastard! He just saved my life. Say 'thank you' to him!"
Mike kissed her and said, "Okay, hun, Jesus.
Kenny and Butters stood up together and were about to move toward Mr. Scott, when they each felt a hand on their shoulders. They turned to face a very humble looking Mike Rogo, who looked directly at Butters as he said: "Thank you."
Butters pulled away from Kenny and wrapped his arms around Mike's barrel chest. "Thank you!" Mike looked around helplessly, his bleeding hands upraised behind Butters' back.
"Come on," Mr. Scott said from the front of the line. "Let's get moving!" He crossed the final few feet and opened the access door to shaft alley. As soon as the panel was open, they all heard it: Noises, lots of them, coming from outside the ship.
"Oh, Jesus Christ, someone's out there!" Kenny shouted. He looked around desperately, spotting a short piece of pipe that had broken off of some piece of machinery. He picked it up and started hammering on the underside of the hull with it. Mr. Scott and Mike found similar pieces of wreckage, and within moments all three of them were beating on the hull over their heads and yelling at the tops of their lungs.
"Hold it!" Mr. Scott shouted. They stopped for a moment, the sounds overhead coming from outside sounding closer and more urgent.
"Again!" Kenny screamed and started beating on the hull once more. The noise they made was deafening; Susan Shelby held her hands against her ears crying while her brother and parents tried to comfort her. Kenny held his hand up a moment later and shouted: "Wait!"
They stopped, and this time they heard ten solid metallic knocks from outside the steel hull of the ship, directly over their heads.
"Yes!" Kenny screamed, hammering the piece of pipe against the hull three more times before stopping and throwing it to the catwalk. Butters threw his arms around him and they hugged each other tightly.
A moment later, they heard a faint hissing sound from outside the ship. A spot on the steel hull over their heads the size of a quarter glowed red, and a shower of sparks and molten metal fell from it. The acrid smell of burning iron filled the air. "Get back everyone!" Kenny shouted.
They moved back from the shower of sparks and watched as the spot slowly moved away from them, beginning to form a line. Someone outside the ship was using a cutting torch of some kind to cut a hole through the hull. The line slowly grew longer, letting a thin ribbon of daylight in; once it was three feet long, it turned a corner and continued on. Two minutes later the torch had made a three foot square cut through the steel, and with a couple of powerful blows the section of the hull fell and crashed onto the catwalk in front of them. Two men, both in red life jackets and one of them wearing the uniform of a Coast Guard captain looked down on them through the hole. Kenny had never been more relieved to see the sky behind them.
"How many of you down there?" the captain called down with a thick Greek accent.
Kenny and Stan looked at each other, both of them realizing that they had no idea how many people were now in their party. They both started to count, but Mr. Martin saved them the trouble when he called up, "Eighteen!"
The captain exchanged glances with the other man outside. "Is that all?"
"Did you save anyone else? Anyone from the bow?"
The captain shook his head. "No." He stood up, and the eighteen people began surging forward. They helped Robin and his sister up first, followed by Belle and Manny Rosen. Five minutes later, Kenny and Mr. Scott were the last two left below and as Scott pulled himself outside, Kenny took one final look around before climbing up through the hole. He looked around in wonder at a world where, except for the hull of the capsized ship beneath his feet, everything was suddenly right side up again.