A Second Opinion

Robert Bagnall

When death looms, we will always search for answers.

In facing mortality, we'll go to nearly any lengths for answers, for assurance, for cures. And some things may never change. Enjoy. -the Ed

The girl called it nadi pariksha, a pulse examination. The only difference Alsatia could tell from the cursory procedure of a run-of-the-mill MD was that she closed her eyes while gently pressing her slender fingers on Alsatia’s wrist. That and the frieze of blue people on the walls, holding lotus flowers, their long limbs improbably angled.

“‘Nadi’ is Sanskrit,” the girl intoned, releasing Alsatia. “It means motion, flow, vibration. Nadis weave through our physical and spiritual selves. They are the consciousness matrix that supports our physical presence in the world…”

Said with enough calm, Alsatia mused, anything could be made to sound plausible. But the girl had already glided on.

“Ida is associated with the energy of the moon. Also with the feminine. It controls the function of parasympathetic nervous system…”

“Please,” Alsatia began.

The girl paused, smiled, appreciating that Alsatia was not there for philosophy. The muffled sound of kindergarten recess drifted up from outside, shrill squeals forcing their way through the closed windows. Alsatia fancied she could make out snowball fights.

“It is through the nadis that the prana, your life force, circulates. Your ida is blocked. Your prana can no longer flow freely.”

Stepping back out onto the sidewalk the bright winter sunshine made Alsatia blink.


The yogi was not as old as Alsatia expected, but he made up for it with a fixed frown, furrowed brow beneath close-cropped hair. She wondered whether the serious expression was there to counteract the joyfulness of the saffron robes.

He had her lie on a couch, her eyes closed, and asked her questions that meandered like a leaf on a lake blown by the breeze. He asked about money, her home life; desires and pleasure; fears of rejection. A tang of joss-sticks hang in the air masking some other smell; carpet freshener, perhaps. The hum of a heater became a Buddhist Om.

Alsatia snapped to, suddenly realizing that she had no idea of the time, of how long she had been there. She had been counting the flecks in the wallpapered ceiling, talking about daily routine, fatigue.

When she sat up she felt slightly woozy and for a moment, wondered whether this had all been a ruse; a nagging fear that she had been drugged and violated.

“…kundalinī shakti is spiritual energy. It has its roots in the mūlādhāra chakra, but it is slumbering. Awaken the potential that lies within the mūlādhāra chakra and we work our way towards the light of knowledge, attain the rewards of self-realization…”

“What exactly are you telling me?”

“Your chakras are your energy centers. To release the trapped, stale energy you need to unblock your chakras."


The third was a tarot reader. Why were all these healers up at least two flights of stairs, Alsatia wondered. And always impossibly narrow and steep at that.

She had donned the robes of the circus fortune-teller, an attempt to create an air of mysticism, but which only produced an effect of amateur dramatics. Beads and bangles, the trappings of the gypsy. Madame Spisene, she called herself. Outside she was no doubt something more prosaic, a Patti or a Cath.

As each card was turned over a phrase fell from her lips, dark eyes avoiding Alsatia’s gaze, as if weighed down by the headscarves. With neither beginning nor end, a stream of thoughts briefly vocalized before falling back out of earshot.

“…that which is soon to be a memory…”
“…you are the secret and the secret is you…”
“…the phoenix is rising, you are coming out of the ashes and being reborn…”

Alsatia’s eyes wandered around the room, settling on the bird caged bird that constantly fluttered and settled, fluttered and settled, as if in a cycle of discovering and forgetting its bars. She wondered when she’d be told that she would meet a tall dark stranger, go on a long journey.
And then Madame Spisene turned over what looked like grinning incubi sprawled over a spinning wheel. Inked in gothic script at their feet: The Wheel of Fortune. “Fate doesn't turn to greet us, but we turn to greet our Fate.”

And then the wannabe Roma paused, and for the first time sounded thoughtful, no longer sleepwalking through a script. “The wheel represents not only fate but flow. Flow of power, flow of energy.”

Madame Spisene turned over one last card.

And it was the skeleton Death, rictus grin and scythe.


“It’s like death, isn’t it?”

It took Alsatia a moment to remember where she was, to construct the moments up to that point. Who was the laughing man, looming at her, reeling in a cable as she lay back in a reclining chair. All was stark white, like looking into the sun. Details coalesced. A small windowless room, functional. Desks, monitors, technical equipment. Charts. A scribbled-on year planner.

A defaced and dog-eared motivational poster, photocopies of cartoons.

“Alsatia, my dear…”

A friendly, open manner, even amidst the continual nervous movement. He knew her. Or was this an act? A sense that she had only been here a short while came over her, but that they had shared, that she had opened up to him.

“…you have to be realistic about your age.” A pause, a thought. “You’re still readjusting, aren’t you? That’s what I mean. I had to take you offline to run a full diagnostic.”

Apologetically, he held up the snake of cable as he fed it back into a wall-mounted holder into which it sucked itself greedily, ending with only its multi-pin plug dangling. Alsatia felt her stomach for the equivalent socket before the doctor leant in and smoothed the plastiskin back over.

“There are whole generations of androids that have come along since you. Yours was the first that truly emulated the human animal, right down to the nuts and bolts, corpuscles and capillaries. But one day we all show our age.”

“So, what is wrong with me, doctor?”

“I’m not a doctor, I’m just a technician,” he said, spinning a swivel chair from one desk of monitors to another, checking readouts. “A doctor couldn’t do what I do.”

“So, what’s wrong with me?”

He shrugged, waved his hands vaguely. “It’s a capacitance issue. A resistance problem. Circuit outages. Voltage drops. Amperage fluctuations…”

“Energy flow? Blockages?”

The technician smiled, stilled by Alsatia’s assessment. “Yeah. You got it. Blockages to your energy flow. Hard to be more precise.”

Alsatia considered. “What happens now?”

“Well, before you make any hasty decisions you have every right to look for a second opinion.”