Disclaimer: I don't own any Azumanga Daioh characters.

Note: Another (stupid) take on the meaning of life.


Cotton

Tomo ran down the sidewalk, her book bag clenched in her hand. It was Monday and, as a rare occasion, she was anxious to get to school. On Friday, Ms. Yukari had mentioned her plans for the weekend which included a bowling match between herself and Ms. Kurosawa. Dependant upon the outcome of this match was whether or not there would be a vocabulary quiz today, and of course Tomo hadn't even bothered to study. She had deliberately left her study sheet in her desk, having told herself that she studied better under pressure.

Coming to the intersection, she pressed the button by the crosswalk and waited for the light to change. She then rested her hands to her knees and attempted to catch her breath. For a moment she wondered why she even cared so much about this test. She had failed so many others that by now it just seemed like the thing to do and no one expected any differently of her. With every test came the chance to endorse these beliefs, but that was not important to Tomo. What was important was the accompanying chance to prove them wrong.

The light changed and traffic slowed to a stop. Tomo straightened and stepped out to cross the street, but she was stopped suddenly by a bright light that came from somewhere off to her right. At first she thought the light to be headlights of a truck, but the light grew steadily brighter until it blocked out almost everything else within view. Tomo raised her arm against the glare and stepped back onto the sidewalk.

"What the Hell is that?" she muttered.

From the light, the stern of a grand wooden boat appeared as though from a fog. The boat was a long construction and had two massive sails on which were painted the same image of a grey cat. Its sides were low and carved with intricate patterns that resembled flowers and vines, and sitting right in the center of it was a large, orange cat that waved to Tomo and smiled.

Tomo's jaw went slack, but she caught herself quickly and squared her expression as though she saw this sort of thing every day. Though she was utterly amazed by the sight, if it turned out to be some sort of a practical joke, she didn't want anyone pointing and laughing at her surprise. She arched an eyebrow and protruded her lower lip in a defiant, bored expression as she watched the boat emerge from the whiteness.

The boated turned so that its side faced Tomo, and the orange cat stood and unlatched a door in the side panel. The door swung open, and from the hull, a plank extended and lowered to the ground. The cat descended the plank and stood at the bottom of it, his smile never fading.

"Congratulations, Tomo," he bellowed.

"Huh?" Tomo stood her ground and kept her posture relaxed. She wanted to scream, or at least run circles around the boat and take pictures, but she did neither. She was sure that she wasn't dreaming. The presence of a large boat floating out of nowhere was enough to alter her opinion of reality, and it was an opinion that she accepted as gracefully as possible.

The cat folded his paws together and bowed graciously. "You've done it. So many of us were counting on you, and you didn't let us down."

"What're you talking about?"

The cat straightened up with an air of grand importance. He paused and watched the look on Tomo's face before replying. "You've completed your purpose in life."

Tomo blinked and felt her entire body go lax. The bookbag dropped from her hand and her jaw dropped just an inch. She then caught herself and gave a vigorous shake of her head. "My what?"

"Your purpose. The reason you were born. You've accomplished your ultimate goal."

"When did I do that?"

"Just now by pushing that button. Do you see that man in the truck there?" He pointed to a young man hunched over the steering wheel of a white truck. The man was swarthy of the face and he wore backwards a dirty baseball cap from underneath which there showed unkempt hair that had been dyed a yellowish brown. His right ear that faced Tomo had been pierced three times, and around his neck were several gold chains. He seemed very tense as he tapped his fingers to the wheel, keeping his gaze on the red light before him.

"Yeah," Tomo replied.

"He's on his way to the airport," the cat said, "but thanks to this three minute delay, he's going to miss his plane."

"So what?"

The cat took a breath. "Had he gotten on that plane, he would have made it to Australia where he would have met at baggage claim the woman who would become his wife. In about three year's time, they would have had a son who would play high school baseball. While batting at a game, the boy would hit a homerun that would send the ball flying out of the field and into the windshield of a passing car. The car would swerve and run into a girl on a bicycle. She would be taken to the hospital where she would befriend one of the nurses and later get introduced to her son. Some years later the girl and the nurse's son would marry and have two daughters. The younger of the two daughters would have grown to middle age before getting married to a nuclear physicist and later having an affair with his brother. The result of this affair would be a young boy who would grow up hated by his father. Because of-" He stopped himself with a shake of his head. "Actually, it's a long story that I don't have time to iterate. To shorten it, I'll say that it would lead to the beginning of the end of the world.

Tomo was silent for a long time before slowly pointing her finger towards herself. "So," she ventured, "I saved the world?"

The cat seemed to glow with pride. "Yes. You have no further reason to live. Anything that you do from now on will be irrelevant. It's time for you to come with me." He turned and ascended the plank and stood just off to the side of the open door, his paw held out as an indication for her to follow.

Tomo recoiled from the invite. "Wait a second," she snapped. "Why me? I'm not ready to go! Why don't you prevent the boy from hitting the ball or something?"

"Because it's easier to have someone do something that they're supposed to as opposed to preventing them from doing something that they're supposed to."

"I don't get it."

"What's the point of having someone here just to throw them off course? There's no deletion. Only addition. If something needs to be altered, another person must be added to alter it."

"But you're deleting me!"

"That's because your time is up. This isn't deletion. It's completion."

"If you're so sure that all of this would have happened without my presence, why was a path made in the first place that would lead to earth's destruction?"

"Because all existence inevitably leads towards its own destruction. That just makes for more necessary addition, as you might notice by your rising populations."

Tomo stomped her foot. "Screw populations! What about the rest of my life? My friends and family and all that crap?"

"They'll understand. As soon as you hop in this boat, your worldly body will cross the street and get hit by a drunk driver. I wish that something cleaner could have been arranged, but it's not easy working under a deadline."

"Wh-what do you mean 'cleaner?'"

"I'm sorry to say that your death is going to be a bloody mess, meat and bone everywhere. Don't feel bad though. The driver was born to run into you, and he's much older."

"That's…that's…" Tomo stuttered for the correct words. No matter what the cat said, he couldn't make her believe that this wasn't a deletion of her life. She'd had big plans for herself, and she couldn't help but think about all of the class time she had spent daydreaming about her future career as an officer of Interpol. It was frustrating to think that all of her life experiences were irrelevant fodder. Her teeth clenched and she pointed angrily at the button. "You're saying that I was born to press this button. This button here that I've passed almost every day for the past two years."

"Exactly."

She fisted her hands, thumbing through memory upon memory of her life. Birthdays, schooldays, weekends, vacations, late nights, television shows, best friends, best enemies, roller coasters, and everything else. But then there were all of the things that she had not experienced and had been looking forward to. Things like driving a car, getting drunk on alcohol that she bought herself, watching Yomi marry an ugly man because he'd be the only one who would, graduating high school, getting a real job. She had lived sixteen years worth of life, and yet she felt as though she hadn't been given much of a chance at all. It was only at that moment that she realized how young she really was.

"That's such a waste of life," she cried at last.

The cat only shook his head in a reprimanding way. "Quite the contrary. Yours is a life now fulfilled."

Tomo bowed her head, casting an angry glare at a wad of gum by her shoe. "It doesn't feel that way."

"That's because you're a human, and humans are stupid. What else did you expect from your life?"

"That I'd grow up, get rich, marry a gorgeous guy, be loved by the world, and amass millions of followers who would idolize me and put me in history books."

"How very frivolous," the cat quipped with a shake of his head.

"What do you mean 'frivolous'? That's immortality!"

"And temporary. One day there will be no universe, and then no one will know you anyways."

"Being known until the end of the world is still better than not being known at all."

This time the cat frowned and flattened his ears back. He pointed to a seat in the boat beside his own. "Just get in the boat."

Tomo stepped back as though in preparation of a swift getaway. "You can't make me!'

The cat held up his paw. "One, two-"

"All right, all right!"

Tomo, like most children with mothers who followed through with their threats, knew that nothing but bad things happened at 'three'. Sulking, she dragged her feet to the door of the boat and stepped in. "I hate cats," she muttered.

The cat shut the door behind her and took his seat. "Cheer up. There aren't any where you're going."

"Where's that?"

The cat only chuckled as the boat pulled away from the street and disappeared back into the light. When the light shrank down to nothing, life resumed its pace and the traffic signals changed.

Still standing on the street corner, Tomo shook her head and crouched to pick up her bookbag.

"Weird," she mumbled and stepped out into the street.


Note: I'm not going to nibble too much on the predestination cookies. They were baked, but you don't have to take one if you don't want one.