“As with all things, the problem comes down to chi,” said Dr. Guthrie-Xue.

“Don’t you mean qi?” said Marietta. “I think that’s how you’re supposed to say it.”

“No, I mean chi,” Guthrie-Xue said, eyes narrowed. “Don’t interrupt.”

Marietta thought of a blistering response but thought better of it. She sat fiddling with her teacup for a moment waiting for the good doctor to continue.

“Based on your description, I’m 99% sure what’s happened,” Guthrie-Xue said after that uncomfortable silence. “They call the process you’ve undergone chi deshielding–literally 破气盾 or ‘broken chi shield.'”

“So what does that mean? I need to hire a geomancer, get some feng shui up in my life? Restore the flow of positive energy?” Marietta was anxious to show her cultural sensitivity even if it stemmed from a single Chinese Culture 107 class and the forewords to the half-dozen holistic cookbooks floating around her kitchen.

“You wish. This insidious attack–which can only be performed by a master in perfect tune with their own acquired and innate chi as well as that of the world–means that you can no longer accrue or process positive chi. Lactose intolerance would be a decent metaphor. Tell me, did anything inauspicious happen on your way here today?”

Marietta nervously scratched the back of her hand. “Well, there was a black cat. And that mirror in the stall on 48th. I had to walk under a ladder to come down here because they’re painting the shop upstairs. And I was almost hit by a cab and lost my metro pass, which I know aren’t traditionally inauspicious but they damn well ought to be.”