Chino Hills, 2017
Val Hernandez is imagining playing a first-person shooter, Field of Fire 2046. She gets dressed and goes down, and her father Carlos reminds her that he called in a favor to get her the job interview with his brother Pedro and she hasn't had a job for months. He asks her to pick up her grandma when she's done, and Val reluctantly agrees. Outside, she gets into a car with her boyfriend Evan. She changes in the back seat and explains that her father thinks that she's going to a job interview. Val figures that if she wins first place she could make $10,000 and go pro, and Evan tells her that Roy Torvald--"Killohertz"--is making a surprise appearance.
Val and Evan arrive at the arena for the competition and Evan reminds Val--"Speedrun"-- that she just has to qualify, not win. She figures that she can take Killohertz and goes to her computer. Val takes an early lead but Killohertz starts stealing her kills. She keeps up until their scores are tied. Val goes for a glory kill rather than taking down Killohertz, and Killohertz takes her avatar out from behind.
As they leave, Val wonders how Killohertz beat her when she isn't that good. Evan assures her that she had an amazing game, but Val figures that Killohertz wrecked her in the game and will wrecker her in the finals the next day. Killohertz comes out and mocks Val briefly, then goes to take selfies with his fans. Evan tells Val to crush him and they kiss. A man, Kojima, comes up and says that she had a good game but she'll lose in the finals. Kojima tells Val that he's her fairy godmother and gives her his card. He says that she's right and no one is as good as Killohertz was,. When Val wonders what's going on, Kojima walks off.
Val returns home and Carlos tells her that Pedro called and she didn't show up. He almost lost his job to pick up Grandma, and Val tells him the truth. Carlos says that she's going to go to Pedro the next day and beg for an interview. When Val says the finals are the next day, Carlos tells her that she lied to him and let him down, and asks if she thinks about anyone but herself. Val says that she thinks about Carlos' crappy job and life, and she plans to do the opposite. Her father warns her that she's on thin ice, and Val tells him that it's no wonder her mom left and goes to her room.
Later in her room, Val contemplates an application at a fast food place, and then watches a podcast about the game. She finally rides her bike to his place, The Gold Saucer, a gaming cafe. Kojima has her sit down and play, and walks off. Val sits down and plays, picking the hardest difficulty level. When she loses, Kojima handles her an energy drink, Impulse 9. When he cracks the lid, all of the other gamers glance around. Kojima pours out a cap full and gives it to Val. She drinks it and time seems to slow for her. She defeats the video game and then finds herself sitting across the table from Kojima. Kojima explains that Impulse 9 stretches time. The harder it's stretched, the harder it snaps back. Val was out for an hour. Kojima offers her $500 for one bottle. When Val balks, Kojima tells her that Killohertz doesn't think that it's cheating and takes his call. Val glances over at the high scores that she racked up and goes to get the money.
At the competition the next day, Val puts the bottle of Impulse 9 next to her keyboard. Killohertz sits down and Val takes a drink. The game begins and everything runs in slow-motion for her. Killohertz drinks Impulse 9 as well to catch up and pass her by three points, and Val drinks the whole bottle. She takes out Killohertz and wins, and everyone cheers. Val and Evan kiss as the bottle falls to the floor and shatters.
Val suddenly snaps out of a fugue and finds herself sitting in a cheap house holding a baby. Evan runs in and takes the baby, and says that they have to get ready. As Val stares at her now-adult body, a young girl Sophia comes up and calls her "Mommy." There's a young boy, Max, sitting at a table, and Val throws up in shock. She runs out and finds the neighborhood in disarray, and people living in tents on the street. Evan comes out and reminds her to wear her gas mask, and goes in to take the kids to school.
Chino Hills, 2029 AI (After Impulse)
As Val and Evan take their children to school, Evan says that he'll be scavenging the wastelands and then working gate duty. The teacher is in the middle of the streets with desks but no classrooms, and reviews what to happen if they see a death lizard. Before Val can explain to Evan what happened, a jogger runs up and tells "Sheriff" Val that Jana's husband snapped back the previous night. Deputy Dan drags a "Pulser" out of his tent, and the Pulser insists that he was studying for a final. Evan isn't impressed and says that when people snapped back, it caused the apocalypse. Dan confirms that the Pulser can't do anything useful to help them survive, and says that they've got no place for him. Val plays along and tells Dan to send the Pulser away. Evan asks what Val wanted to tell him, and she says that she feels sick. Meanwhile, Dan escorts the Pulser to the gate, gives him a point stick, and shoves him out into the wasteland.
As Evan kisses Val goodbye, the weather alarms go off and everyone puts on their gas masks. Back at home, Val tries to work out what's happening. She sees an urn with Carlos' ashes on the mantle, and finally braces herself and summons up the spirit of her soldier avatar. Dan calls her down for latrine duty, and tells her that she's the sheriff and sanitation commissioner and scavenger and mom. He jokingly tells her to hurry up or he'll have to toss her out into the wasteland.
Soon, Val finishes cleaning the latrines and goes home. Evan gives her the baby to hold and goes to guard the gate. The days pass and Sophia gives her a sketch she made of her. Back at home, Val finds Evan peddling a bicycle to power up a game console for game night... once a month. Val agrees to play one game for the kids, and Evan goes to the bug roast. She rocks at the game and teaches her children how to run. Evan finally runs in and Val realizes that she missed her shift. Her husband tells her that Dan tried to get in when a death lizard attacked, and she wasn't there to let him in so he was killed. Dan's wife is furious at Val. As Val tries to leave, Evan tells her that she needs to finish her shift.
Later back at home, Val tells Evan that she can't do it anymore. They toil and suffer and if they take a minute off, someone dies. Evan tells her that she'll have to figure it out for herself and goes to bed. Val writes a note for him and the next morning Evan finds it. She admits that she's a Pulser, and she understands why they send Pulsers out to die because they have no part in the new world. She hopes that she'll find a bottle of Impulse 9 somewhere.
Val comes to an abandoned building and realizes that it's the Gold Saucer. She goes in and Kojima greets her. He recognizes her and explains that solar panels keep the place going. Kojima doesn't look any older, and declines to explain why. He realizes that Val just snapped back and admits that they ruined a lot of lives. Kojima says that he won't do refunds but he will offer store credit and takes out a bottle of Impulse. Val will never snap back and can spend her existence doing what she loves. After a minute, Val asks if he has Field of Fire.
Kojima takes Val to the game and says that he'll see her on the other side. As Val prepares to take the Impulse, she looks at the drawing Sophia made for her. After a moment, she walks out and goes back to the community. Evan is at the gate, and figures that she wants back in because she's realized how hard it is. Val tells him that he wants to be the person in Sophia's drawing, and she wants to make it work. Evan explains that Val proposed to him, and Val says that they can start over.
Gunfire sounds in the distance and Evan yells that the "death lizards" are coming. The alarms go off and Val slips inside. One woman tells her that they're going out to the ravine, and they don't have a choice because their deputy is dead and their sheriff is a Pulser. Val insists that it's their home, and the woman says that it isn't anymore.
Val gets her children but then tells Evan to take them while she stalls the Death Lizards. Evan says that she doesn't have to do it, and Val kisses him and tells him to go. She then goes out the gate to confront the raiders, picking up a bottle of Impulse as she goes. The raider leader is Roy, and they recognize each other. Val tells him to leave or die, but Roy says that they're going to kill and eat her, and then kill the survivors and eat them, too. She tosses the empty bottle in front of Roy and then goes into personal accelerated time. Val shoots a nearby canister of fuel, setting it on fire, and opens fire. One raider shoots her in the shoulder, and she kills him.
Roy comes out and he fires a shot. Val shoots him dead and collapses. After a moment she manages to shoot a flare, signaling the others that the Death Lizards are dead. As Evan sees it, Val dies.
Written by Gadfly on Apr 26, 2017