Author: David Barber

The new doctor mangles my name. “What is that, Iranian? Arabic?”

I have learned to be still while their thoughts congeal into language. To slow the movements they mistook for nervous tics.

“Is this part of the review?”

Speak slowly, so they can understand. This one reeks of nicotine and burned animal flesh. They have no idea how much they offend.

The doctor has been tasked to cut long-stay numbers by a quarter. Each patient gets ten minutes. He turns pages in a folder that lists the potions they put such faith in; documents my unusual resistance to drugs. The doctor blinks at the doses of Thorazine.

“Hmm. Says you were found wandering round Malmstrom Air Force Base. What were you doing there?”

“The silos hold missiles.”

A contest to see who can suffer silence the longest. He correctly suspects he achieves nothing worthwhile here, that his skills have the same pedigree as blood-letting and trepanation.

“Hmm. You say you’re from the future. Tell me about that.”

“I was given the chance to go back and see the Treasure of the Kut.”

“Kut, what’s that?”

“You are the Kut. It is what you are called in my time. What is the word for two people who repeatedly shoot each other?”

He takes off his glass prosthetics and rubs his eyes. They display their disabilities, their sores and blemishes openly. Unashamedly. Without nanoflora I would be crawling with their parasites.

“I don’t think there is a word for that.”

“Kut. Feel free to use it.”

This one is an improvement on the female doctor, who casually flaunted bare limbs. A wonder they don’t just copulate in public.

“In my time, archaeologists uncovered the ruins of missile sites. Robbed out long ago of course, but they were the wonder of your age. Those few missiles alone could kill tens of millions. Each crammed with a fabulous wealth of transuranics and beautifully crafted electronics; all brought together in devices of baroque complexity and lethal purpose.”

He purses his lips. I am not yet sure how he will decide about my release from this place.

“As you might feel about cathedrals of an earlier age,” I add. “Or the tombs of the Pharaohs.”

“But the military thought you were a spy?”

“I told them the truth. Eventually, they decided I was mad.”

“And you ended up here. That was in…” He flicks pages. “Hmm, you don’t look that old.”

“Something went wrong. My visit was supposed to go unnoticed. But the time engine will retrieve me, I need only wait.”

Exploring a delusional construct has no therapeutic value, yet many of my doctors have done so. This one has long exceeded my allotted time. I intrigue him more than the florid schizophrenics and catatonics filling this Bedlam.

“No futuristic gadgets?”

“You would not even recognise our technology.”

“How about predicting the future then? Our future, I mean. Your past.”

“Who remembers current affairs in Babylon?”

In my first years here, there was a doctor who played chess. The natural procrastination of the game disguised the slowness of his mind. It was almost like confronting an equal.

“If discharged, what would you do?”

“Return to the silos where they will come for me.”

The doctor scribbles something. I’m sorry, he says. “I’m not recommending you for release.”

You are the Kut, it is what we call you. I have experienced the world beyond these walls and it is a vast reeking abattoir inhabited by savages. I must continue to manipulate you until rescue arrives, sheltering here while the Kut remain safely locked outside.