Phoebe A. Xavier – Silver Lining



2458 Terran Standard Time

Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik

Hospital Olympus City, IKP Sector, Mars


Dr. Beatrice Konevi approached the Mortal Care Ward with somber steps. She was in good shape for her forty-two years, though her gait and shoulders sagged with sadness. Her dark skin and sweeping mahogany hair contrasted sharply with icy blue eyes – orbs reflecting the artificial lighting of the long, low, white hallway.

The hospital had been constructed centuries ago, before the terraforming of the planet was complete, so it did not feature windows directly bordering on the developing atmosphere.

Rather, Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis was ensconced in a ten foot thick shell comprised of two layers of composite metal sandwiched on either side of a thirty billion cubic foot concave sea of water. The solid part of the radiation shield was a nano-rendered amalgamation of tin, antimony, tungsten, bismuth and lead. There was a single surface level entry point in the original construction, though eventually breathable atmosphere made underground access logistically possible and subway ingresses were built.

As a whole, the complex was a testament to early colonial Martian hardiness. Yet for all the hope the faculty managed to muster over time, an undercurrent of anxiety pervaded it like a colorless airborne pathogen.

Doctor Konevi, breathing the same air as everyone else in the hospital, plodded along. The tiny bit of news she had to share with her patient’s mother this morning was not very promising, and the situation was already dismal. Padding a train wreck with a silver lining – presenting the horrors of loved ones dying in torment as something less than a grating barrage of despondency – was a nuanced bullshitter skill she had not yet mastered as a physician, but you go through the motions:

Slake till you make.

You finish the work day.

Earn the bloody paycheck.

Save who you can. Eat your own food.

Defecate. Vomit. Sleep. Repeat.

Die on your own time.


She sighed as she entered the room. The only other audible sonic register was a low volume chorus of beeping life support systems assuring concerned parties, at least for now, that the various denizens of the Mortal Care Ward were still legally alive. With its symmetric rows, twelve-by-twelve, the large room was a bivouac base camp on the path to death partitioned into one hundred forty-four relatively small squares. Each square contained a bed, which in turn contained a patient.

Dr. Konevi surveilled the room, which had a ceiling lower than the hallway’s. Most of the care here was automated, and no other staff members were present.

Shuffling quietly past the visual cloak provided by the ghostfield that the Fuselage family was spending an extra 1700 credits a day to keep in place, Dr. Konevi saw the sad mother and her broken son once again. The forcefield could screen out anyone not authorized to be within his care space; but grudgingly mayhaps, Dr. Konevi was cleared to treat and appraise Tomp Fuselage.

It was growing to be a traumatic thing for her, however.

“Like stick a fork in it already, OK? He’s not just in a coma, ma’am. Mrs. Fuselage, he’s suffering from unwakable depths of Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and is showing brain activity that indicates he is also looping in Glacken’s Quandary. Virtual Reality Constriction is real. The particular badcase, niche affliction which your son has is horrific. So please, for fucksake, can we just pull the plug on the poor sod before it costs you another 18 million credits in medical bills you can’t afford?

“Please, ma’am? Please?!?”

She must have been staring with that look of disbelief mixed with bridled rage on her face long enough to disturb Mrs. Fuselage, who broke her surly trance state with a timid-yet-agitated greeting. “Dr. Konev... Konevi, are you alright?”

“Oh,” the doctor stammered. “Oh yes, I’m sorry Mrs. Fuselage, I have had a long day.”

Her long day was dwarfed by the visceral eternity that was eating this poor woman’s son. Krienhoffer’s Syndrome was one of the most exquisitely horrid maladies contracted exclusively through use of advanced human technology. Cancers of the distantly memorable Age of Information paled next to this 25th century bio-tech med concern. Fatal Radiation Saturation (FRS) would be a cool relief compared to the simmering agony Tomp Fuselage was stuck inside.

For it was mostly suspense and searing emotional pain he suffered from in his comatose state. He was beyond the realm of meaningful physical pain, Tomp was looped in Krienhoffer Space. She pushed the negativity out of her head and completed her Mortal Care Ward rounds.

On her way out of the room, she encountered one of her medtechs, an intern named Jona Aureliano, who was on his way in.

“Hello Dr. Konevi,” the young man greeted her. “Anything urgent to address in here today?”

She shook her head. “Hi Jona. Nothing urgent, just the usual diagnostic readings. Also, Mrs. Fuselage is here. Please don’t disturb her.”

“No ma’am.” He nodded, and they passed each other.


* * *


That night, Jona again found himself on the internet reading about Tomp’s condition, obsessing over the available data modern science had accrued on Krienhoffer’s. The glowing holosoft pages scrolled in front of his face slowly.


Krienhoffer’s Syndrome:


A physiologic/cyberneuro condition defined by a person's

consciousness being locked in, or prone to being stuck inside,

distressing loops in Virt space. The condition is understood to be

caused by immersion into grossly miscalibrated Virt, whether by

glitch or sabotage. Through testimony and analysis, it is known

to be a hellish torture wherein the anxiety of being trapped and

the simulated/insinuated pain create an escalating feedback loop

that forever maximize your psychological suffering.


Treatment has had limited success at best. Many victims of the

syndrome remain effectively vegetables until contractually

absolved of living; others only fall into the state occasionally at

first, but it is an escalating condition.


The increasing incidences of this tech-based misfortune has led

to a number of legislative initiatives that better prepare the

families of coders who work in capricious and theoretical Virt




Glacken’s Quandary:


A hypothetical paradox defined by hyper-serendipity that builds

into reality failure. It is presumed/projected to occur in Virt

circumstances wherein a person does not realize they are

trapped in the Virt but their subconsciousness is trying to alert

them to their condition. One resolution produced by the

fragmentation of sensation that the Quandary creates could be

waking from a Krienhoffer Loop, while the other could be a

reset of the same Loop.


Clinical assessment of over four thousand Krienhoffer’s victims

has shown a common, recurring incidence of Glacken’s

Quandary which exacerbates the primary condition. Further

studies show that the longer a person is afflicted with Glacken’s,

the more frequently the sensation leads to a reset of their

Krienhoffer loop rather than an awakening from it.


Contemporary physicians & SOLCorps Judges who have

overseen long-term Glacken’s patients locked in Krienhoffer

Loops advocate removal from life support as an ethical

response. While numerous courts have upheld this to be legal,

families of victims are often hesitant to pull the plug.


- SOLCorps Medical Database


Exiting the webspace that hosted the official, scientific consensus on the matter, Jona dug deeper. He came across a quote from one of the Solar System’s most elusive and infamous hackers.


“Call it a script. A written algo. Some wizard’s virus or hack. You’d be wrong, but if that helps you visualize it, then use those terms. Whatever you see it as, just know that Krienhoffer’s is consistent. It is real. It is a Virt math that has held up against a million human minds that didn’t know how to out-think it. Minds that eventually sunk into it forever – trapped in a VR dead end that is excruciating. I’ve watched it happen too many times to not speak out.”

-Tank Turing (attributed {bevəl})



“It's the unreasonableness of it that gets to me the most,” Jona Aureliano would say to his girlfriend, Marisol, on a holosoft call the next day.

“You’re still adjusting to our gravity,” she replied teasingly. It was a subtle attempt to change the subject, but she was correct to a degree.

Jona wasn’t fully attenuated to the planet just yet. The twenty-seven-year-old was born on Earth and had moved to Mars for his education. Jona was blessed to have come from an influential politically plugged in family, or he would have never secured the visa. Now, wasn't he lucky to have gotten off Earth, which was ravaged with radiation and disease? Travel from Earth was very restricted because of the virus, Umbra, an airborne mutation of Ebola with a 87% fatality rate among Earthlings. The affliction occurred elsewhere, in the Asteroid Belt and on the outer moon colonies, but not on such a prodigious scale.

“It's so pointless,” he complained further. “You should see his face, always frozen in a grim frown. The closer I look at various anecdotal cases, the more sickening it feels being the natural born optimist that I am.”

His experience on Mars had all occurred so far in the IKP Sector, Incorporated Kitsucom Protectorate, a corporate province overseen by interplanetary science and ballistics company Kitsucom. Through his education at MKU and his current internship at Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, he was earning citizenship on Mars in general, but that would only become available after graduation, which was two years off.

Jona was further disheartened by the fact that Mrs. Fuselage seemed to spend all of her waking hours next to her son. He saw how suffering is contagious even when the primary affliction isn’t. As often as he could, he began to bring her the fanciest food available in the hospital, or sweets that Marisol baked when she was in town.

Internship, empathy and cookies had brought him closer to this beleaguered family than anybody else around the hospital, and he well understood the basics by now.


In the actual accursed Krienhoffer Loop, Tomp was always stuck in the vicious Hell of it. That’s the way the glitch works. It pits you in a cyberspace that is infinitely and exponentially aimed at your phobias and triggers.

Tomp had been a good student albeit socially timid in school. He was also a gamer, ever eager to load up his consciousness into some Virt video game once his studies were done for the day. Being the only child his parents could afford, he felt blessed with constant emotional support where financial support sometimes lacked. His dad drove a recycling truck, and his mom worked part-time at a daycare center.

Ideally, they’d be a happy lower class family. He didn’t deserve his virtual torment, not in an ethical world. He had come unstuck from time and was evermore in a Krienhoffer Loop.

To be clear, Sagan Krienhoffer was not the person who invented the code that ate people’s awareness in a K-Loop, he just happened to be the one who got his name attached to it. The code's origins are not truly known, could be AI-generated. His tragic life as a digital cod kicker and widower paid off in immortalization of the name, mostly because of his dead wife, who got logged as the first confirmed case of the syndrome. Krienhoffer did put in a good deal of morose work to earn his footnote on the medical databases, however. He personally clocked & compiled enough of the data surrounding his wife’s unbound disintegration to make sense of her torturous final chapters, giving the syndrome a list of symptoms and a timeline of progression that would be used to classify it.

It had been occurring before her, just never got a name tag until then. Paired perfectly with her toe tag, refracted through a dark lens.

Most people wouldn’t know who she was, even amongst the victims of the condition and the neophytes in pursuit of conquering it. Tomp knew who she was, though; he’d done his homework like he always did. In fact, she was such a fixation of his that he used her name as a starting point he always reset to. His re-spawn thoughts in the stab-you-in-your-worst-fears Virt he had grown to see as his final home were always routed through thoughts of Adelaide Krienhoffer.

Common to the plurality of people who fall victim to the syndrome, Adelaide had been attempting to fight a phobia using Virt Immersion, or VI. She had almost drowned once, while in university. It had been a transformative event, the worst experience of her young life. It shattered her being in a way she’d never recover from. For years, the moment would resurface at the worst possible times, making her an anxiety-ridden mess at the mere mention of large bodies of water.

Years of conventional therapy had softened her to the idea of attempting a foray into reliving the conditions of her trauma in controlled, safer environs. Virt Immersion as a therapeutic practice was not new, nor widely practiced. More commonly, troublesome memories would be surgically removed. Adelaide had lost a loved one in the incident in which she’d nearly drowned, as her childhood friend Marisa was in the car with her. When the small automated vehicle short circuited and careened off the road into a man-made lake, the girls hugged each other, screaming in terror. The windshield cracked, and both their lungs filled with water. Adelaide woke in the hospital a few days later, but Marisa was not as lucky. Despite how harrowing the tragedy was, there was no way she was willing to deprive herself of that last devastating moment with her friend, so memory editing was not an option.

Inside monitored Virt, she would be presumably safe. Regrettably, marketing and consulting firms don’t prioritize safety, but quietly pay their way out of any damage they’ve done. The process read as a completely innocuous and therapeutic one when viewing the superficial skin that stretched across the bony face of the reporting & research on VI therapy, which made up the top 5% ranking on search engines at the time.

Up to that point, these firms had kept the lawsuits buried, and no one had yet correlated the symptoms shared between the various deaths and hospitalizations that VI clinics were being sued for. The Solar System is a vast space. In hindsight, there were glaring data points, but it took poor Sagan Krienhoffer and his cursed wife Adelaide’s sacrifice to shed scientific light on the spreading condition.

Even with their contribution and all the subsequent research that would churn up a broader understanding of the digital plague, there were still more questions than answers. No one really knew what the victims experienced once they sunk into that final permanent dormancy. For better or worse, no technology had plunged its litigation of metrics into the actual consciousness of a Glacken’s victim.

Most Krienhoffer patients passed on when the plug was pulled on them, but 0.047% of the victims that passed into the Glacken’s phase died naturally, impromptu.

There was no glimpse into that marginal set’s minds to offer any explanation for their particular exit from the K-Loop. It was a mysterious subset of escapees who somehow shorted out of the nightmare space either by accident or autonomy.

But to hear those last thoughts they had... to see the last things they saw. What would that mean for science and posterity?


Jona Aureliano wasn't too sure. He was very committed to his studies and his eventual ascension to becoming a doctor, but he was also a serious gamer inside the Virt. Marisol spent as much time on VI games as he did, actually that was how they met, and he had come to view their hobby as potential exposure to Krienhoffer’s.

Working under Dr. Konevi, he had learned about Krienhoffer’s Syndrome and Tomp Fuselage’s condition, which made him worry for the first time about a medical condition that might be even worse than Umbra. The vegetative and comatose patients he spent his days caring for didn’t usually depress him, but Tomp’s condition in particular threatened him with its mysterious and random onset and the enigma of its origins.

At least Umbra made sense: research and development in a bio-warfare division somewhere on Earth had weaponized an already virulent virus, making it easier to direct and spread. From there, it was a simple application of Murphy’s Law, and it spread across the globe in a few decades.


* * *


“Adelaide Krienhoffer. Textbook example of the Eternally Suffering. Aeterno tacitus pati.

That’s my mantra I chant under my breath upon reset. Sometimes, I’ll say it six thousand times before I move any other muscles, before I dare to even open my eyelids. It’s a soft murmur that gets drowned out by the howling winds that course around me on this virtual pinnacle, the highest attainable point in a CG rendering of the ancient city of New York.

On Earth. After World World II but before the third. A biplane trailing a Yankees banner flits off to my left flank below, and I ignore it this time, even though my neck ticks. That plane has jerked my attention towards it over seventy-eight thousand times. Every time I fell. I’d rather die than fall, and in this custom rendered meta- Hell, that’s a tandem ticket either way.

I’m on the Empire State Building. I’m always here. Like some Gothic, death-defying superhero, perched over the territory I’m supposed to protect. Only I’m fucking terrified of heights, and none of this is close to OK.

I knew what this was the moment it started happening to me. A lethal fear of heights. It was inside a video game, “Cloudstalkers X-Nein.” It’s a VR immersion game you play as part of a mercenary squad that specializes in aerial attacks. I was getting queasy from the simulated heights. It was far too real, and the balance wasn’t automated; so unless you had a background in gymnastics, you’d fall a lot.

When you fell, they wouldn’t put you through a full on groundsplatter, but they’d make you go through a quarter mile drop before you timed out, to drive home how high up you’d been – you could feel the sandbag punctuated, simulated gravity pulling you down, somersaulting your guts through a blender. It felt smothering to me.

I would get caught in rapid-fire loops of that pitfall while other players on my squad went about the mission, glitch free. It was a startling shipwreck-on-reef introduction to my paralyzing acrophobia. I simply was not wired to handle heights.

Heights kill me. Far too much.

But back while I was still IRL-alive and stupid, my mom talked me into trying the VI treatment because it was cheaper on her insurance than the memory wipe. So I went along with it. I don’t wanna tax anybody, especially not my mom and pop. We knew about Krienhoffer from a buncha online scares, but poor people don’t always get the best information.

You know, we can’t always afford to pay attention, monthly payments on the jumpcar or ​​ even for groceries subsidized by the city...

Not a splendiferously pretty picture, but still it’s mine.

So yeah, I went to Tactile Cerebral Laboratories to level up on my destruction, because of course.

Affordable healthcare alternatives, that’s what they call those places. Very affordable psychological maiming, just plug your skull full of fears right into this jack right here – and Presto! Get stuck in your first diagnosed twelve-hour Krienhoffer loop, clinging for sanity on a thousand story building’s roof.


That first time locked in the loop, I think I screamed every time I fell. I never held on for more than two minutes. My sweat always ruined my hands’ chances eventually. I held on for fucking fear of death, and got a harrowing plunge and startling reset instead.





















































































































































* * *


The day had come, Tomp was getting his upgrade. It was the best Dr. Konevi could do, and would suffice to absolve her of her own guilt even if it stood no chance of improving his condition in any way. At least, his family’s financial suffering would be lessened considerably. She’d arranged for Tomp to be brought under the hospital’s financial umbrella; the Fuselage family would accrue no additional debt.

Maybe there was no way to save the poor boy stuck in the machine, but she’d stopped the slow bleeding of credits that would have eventually bled them bankrupt – already, they must be hundreds of thousands of credits in debt. An additional clause stated that if Tomp died of natural causes while plugged in, the family would receive a forty million credit life insurance payout. 0.047% is such a small number, nearly naught.

She didn’t want to think about it much more than she wanted to contemplate the hell that Tomp remained relegated to.

“You sure he’s going to be OK in this new room? It seems like less space, even if it is his own private place now,” Mrs. Fuselage asked with concern, although she seemed to approve of the move overall.

“Yes Ma’am. Tomp will be fully monitored and attended to in this wing of the building,”

Dr. Konevi assured her. “Under the SOLCare coverage that he qualified for this year, he gets his own room and is on the route of a dedicated team of medtechs that monitor the Hamasaki Wing. Each room is personally checked upon 4 times daily. This really is a step up from where he’s been the last twelve years.”

Mrs. Fuselage’s face cinched up in a sad trembly pout, and she brought her knobby fist to her chin to itch a pain that could not be relieved. “Oh... okay.” She accepted that explanation for now.

Dr. Konevi looked at the depths of pain in the older woman’s eyes, and did her best not to wince at the grim reality that is existence. “I have to make rounds now Ma’am, but you are welcome to stay at any hour. Food can be brought to you from the café as well when the medtechs make their quarterly rounds. Everything is a bit better now Mrs. Fuselage, I promise you.”

“Thank you Dr. Konevi,” Mrs. Fuselage managed as she found her way into the comfortable seat next to her unmoving, ever frowning son. “I think I’ll sit with him a bit now, yes.”

Dr. Konevi nodded, then left without further comment. Things were a bit a better, but she was sad all the same.


* * *


I got out of that first deep K-loop after twelve hours, which had for me in the Virt stretched to uncountable years of time-dilated panic attack and a fragmenting, abused mind. I couldn’t even talk for a few days. I never once played video games after that, didn’t dare to get on the net and port up into the Virt. I couldn’t muster the gusto to so much as leave my bedroom for almost a month. I just lay in bed and watched holosoft movies. I must have binged every teevee show that came out in the Solar System that summer.

My mom and pop didn’t pressure me to get back to school, or work, or even to go out and socialize. I think Mom always held a guilt about me since she took me to Tactile Cerebral, so they were content to let me quietly turn into a human bedsore if I was comfortable doing so. And I was, at first. Because I didn’t understand yet that staying off the web was not enough. I had full-blown Krienhoffer Syndrome, and that sets in no matter what you do once it’s begun.

It was after a little over a month of living in my bed, scared to move, that I sank into another Krienhoffer Loop without being online in any way. I spontaneously found myself back in the Virt space they had placed me in at the VI clinic, where you start hanging off the top floor of a mega skyscraper. No matter how strong my grip was, the metal rail would be lubed with my sweat in a minute and a half, and then not much longer till the drop.

I don’t know how long I was in there that time. I actually thought I’d stroked out in my bed and that I was really dead and in Hell. But when I woke up in Our Lady of Impeccable Diagnosis Publik Hospital, where they told me that Krienhoffer was for life and you couldn’t hide from it by playing Luddite. They wanted to plug me into a less jarring VI space. I would still enter K-loops randomly – that was never going to go away – but the new Virt space would allegedly be less abrasive then the Tactile Cerebral program my brain was currently resetting into.

So now I live on top of 20 West 34th Street, New York, New York, circa 500 years ago.

And I have to admit, Her Lady of Diagnosis does have a nicer VI space by far. This old New York Virt space was not originally coded for this specific use, it had actually been made for academic purposes in archaeological research. The year and the season would change randomly over long periods of immersion, but it was set in the span of years when the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, from 1931 to 1970.

Weather patterns would also change. Human patterns. Bird patterns.

Six billion ways to die, and the Krienhoffer Syndrome had checked off ‘all of the above’ for me. The resolution was off the charts. This was real. I mean, if real was real, then this was too. Real horror, pitched against the truest blue sky; true and real, pealing my being to a bloody core one fall at a time.

I’m not perched up on the antenna, I re-spawn to this ludicrous platform that was built for disembarking from a dirigible. You know a zeppelin? Those ancient airships most famous for the one named the Hindenburg, which exploded and ended their popularity? Interesting fact, the unpredictable and volatile wind made it nearly impossible to dock up here. Me, on the other hand, whenever I’m not falling, I’m always docked here.

After what’s felt like centuries of simulated Hell, I’ve eventually reached for new definitions of comfort. Any relatability I can cling to.

I’d try to anchor to the flashes of silver-cutting veins of lightening around the tall cumulonimbus tufts which often lined this world of vertigo and panic. I could tell the lines of those clouds were beautiful, but my brain was not allowing me the peace of mind that caliber of beauty used to instill in me. In my prior life outside this Hell. Elation was blocked by a wall of the sheer terror the simulated circumstance drove into me.

I fucking hate heights. Sickening, till-I-puke-my-lungs-out heights.

I’ve actually vomited while falling off a skyscraper a thousand times. Nosediving into the flotsam of my own projectile bile, because I hadn’t made it to terminal velocity and the projection was lighter than the mass of my body. It’s even less fun than it sounds, stinging sinuses from puke pushing up my nostrils and into my eyes.

Then splattering death, usually before I hit the ground – intensely painful, but so instantaneous as to be negligible.

A paralyzed kicking in the womb of Nothing charged by the humming terror of reboot.

I’d never heard anything as thunderingly loud as Silence till I experienced the Void between death and life in Virt. And here. In this Glacken’s Krienhoffer mishmash of my own personal Gehenna. It’s a mindfuck too, everything here is. Sometimes, the passage through the underworld is a blink, your return to your fears is immediate.

And then you’re back, thinking how’re you gonna die this time?

Let’s see, highlights of my unending deaths include: a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashing into the building, a dozen times that the VI glitched to a construction phase of the building – I usually get impaled on iron girders then, rainstorms are a definite death sentence, that time I was attacked by Russian jets, a few times I was attacked by hawks, and the absurd number of times I fell asleep and tipped over the edge. I don’t even need sleep, I’m in a coma for fucksake.

Un-fucking-fortunately, I have to do this forever, eating the shit of this fate every few minutes into infinitude. And it’s a way fucking more forever forever than people think forever really is. Hate becomes this monumental whetstone that shears off the rage response.

I dull myself to all emotions. Slowly. Death after death. Impaled infinitely in my perfectly articulated, Escher-esque inferno of wind and falling. I’m not familiar with this feeling I have now.

This is new. Or restored.

I don’t care anymore. The fall doesn’t scare me. I’m gonna make this fun, I’m ready to fly. This time, I don’t fall, I jump.


* * *


Mrs. Fuselage was sitting with him when he passed away. She knew about the outrageous amount of money the family was set to inherit because of his unexpected passing, but that meant nothing to her. What mattered to her was that as he flatlined, Tomp was smiling. Finally, the VI had worked, he was truly free.


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