November 28, 1701
Dirk, Scott, and William, having been marooned in the earliest days of the 18th Century as the result of Dirk spilling Gin on the TimePilot, have made due for nigh on three months by working as pamphleteers. Each week they deliver the Stationers Scandalous sheets telling of Phantastik Sojourns in lands yet to be imagined, which are printed before the Sabbath and distributed by mercuries of all sexes, sorts and sizes, two pence a piece, to a waiting audience on the Streets and in other places of Publick resort, and also in the Coffee Houses.
Drinking glog and smoking Virginia tobacco in Meerschaum pipes, the Unknown are debating the publication of certain Printed Matter laid before them, as they are wont to do on a Tuesday. Around them pyrates, usurpers and experimental philosophers of ill-repute sit before their own scandal sheets, spreading gossip about the nature and propriety of the facts or rumors disseminated by them in the week before.
Born Hacks, the Unknown churn out a new stack of pamphlets each week: telling Romantick Tales of Adventures Beyond the Seas, Three Centuries hence, in a place of Make-Believe when Amerika is a nation separate from the Crown, wherein the Hacks' very owne images are projeckted through a device of peculiar opticks onto a screen as the shadows of a dancing flame are cast upon the wall in Cities with such names as Lost Angles. The Stationers and the booksellers provide ample beer, mutton, and rashers for this Mysterious trio of Hacks and on certain occasions even greet them in their Parlors for talk of Politicks and Philosophy. Christopher Wren and sometimes even the President of the Royal Society, Sir Isaac Newton, discourse in heady matters of Physicks with the Unknown Hacks, who are warmly greeted as true Curiousities oft known to provide hours of Amusement with tales of themselves bewitched by Extraordinary Elixirs.
Dirk works on a manuscript, quill ascrawling, while Scott and William argue.
S: Fudd? Fudd? What have we come to, that Fudd is distributed in the Streets under the imprimatur of the Unknown? No offense, Dirk.
W: The mercuries report that Dirk's libretto doth selleth very well. Indeed, mightily well, such that match-girls can be heard tweeting it about the Commons.
S: Jesus, would you stop with the fake accent? And what's with this Disc Golf sequence? In Hawaii? How does that advance the central plot of the nov—
W: Novels haven’t been invented yet.
S: Right, right. Serial Phantasy.
W: Nor has disc golf, though Wren, having met with great Amusement upon receipt of this Fancy, hath sworn to design Throwing Discs to our specifications.
Dirk cocks an eyebrow and ceases scrawling.
W: Indeed. Glog?
S: Me too, please. What are you working on, Dirk?
D: A sonnet.
S: About the Restoration?
D: No. It’s about Bugs Bunny.
S: Ye Gods!
D: Homesick again?
S: I have not heard my lover’s voice for nearly ninety days.
There is some commotion as Christopher Wren rushes towards the Unknown’s table carrying a double latté. He bumps into William, who spills glog on the copies.
D: Ruined! Ah well.
CW: Goodly Unknown! Have ye heard the scandal spilled recently about St. Paul’s Churchyard, legends of ill repute staining your very owne names?
W: What ho?
After using the remainder of Dirk’s ill-fated poem to sop up the spill, Wren unrolls a printed notice of poster-size.
An Advertifement of Mr. Marquardt, about the Lofs of many of his Writings: Adreffd to Mr. J.T. to be communicated to the thofe Friends of His, that are Unknown, which may ferve as a kind of Preface to most of his Mutilated and Unfinifh’d Writings.
s for the Report that doubtlefs has reach’d your ears, of the Lofs of feveral of my Manufcripts, and the Defacing of divers Others, ‘tis but too true: and I am very fenfible of it. But yet ‘tis not barely upon my own Account that I am fo, but very much upon that of my inquifitive Friends, and Mr. J.T. in particular. For I cannot but be troubled that I find my felf difabled to anfwer the Expectations they had, that I should gratifie their Curiofity, by entertaining them with feveral Tracts upon Philosophical Subjects: And that fome unwelcom Accidents that have of late befallen me, oblige me to diffwade them from expecting henceforward that I fhould prefent them with almoft any Treatife, Finifh’d and Entire. When not long fince I had occafion to review and range my Writings, I found to my Suprize, as well as Trouble, that I wanted four or five Centuries of Experiments of my Own, and other Matters of Fact, which from time to time I had committed to Paper, as they were made and obferv’d. How all these should come to be loft, whilft fome other Centuries of Notes and fhort Memoirs, fome of them Speculative and others Experimental, efcap’d, I can as little declare, as recover them. It brings me a great deal of sadnefs to fpeculate that it might poffiblie be mine own brothers in the Unknown who have made off with thefe Difcourfes, but reports have come to me that thofe penny-fheet Hacks known as Mr. W.G., Mr. S.R., and Mr. D.S., have fpoil’d my owne reputation by afferting that certaine workes of my owne auth’rfhip belong to them. I conteft this forgerie, and demand it brought to a ftop. Likewife, I hear tales that certain workes of ill-repute have been Hack’d in my owne name by thefe Pyrates of my goode name. Pleafe report any knowledge of thefe defpicab’l and treachr’s actes of Plaigiarie to Mr. J.T. at Spread Eagle Inn, who actes on my behalf in this matter. May God have Mercy on their fouls!
CW: So you have heard of this man? Surely, what this broadsheet implies is not true?
W: That’s just Frank. He bears some grudge against our pennysheet, which has seen such great distribution around the churchyards and bear pits.
CW: So Ye did not secret away his writings to claim them as your own?
S: Chistopher, Christopher, my good man, you see us in here every day working diligently on our own works Comick and Philosophical. Surely you don’t think that that we need the words of this Frenchman—this crapaud!
CW: ‘Twould indeed surprise me, you seem men of great virtue. But you must make haste to dispell these vile rumours. The coffee houses of London are alight with the news, and even the Royal Society has heard some whispers that you are Charlatans as a result of it. Make haste to reply. Your very name and the import of your Experiments are at Stake.
D: Where is this Spread Eagle?
S: And who is this J.T.?
The three leave the coffee house, sinister voices whispering of pyracy all about them. Wren hails a taxicarriage, which forthwith comports the four gentlemen to Spread Eagle Inn on Gracechurch Street. At the Spread Eagle, who should be sitting at the bar dressed in black preparing to dig in to a Ploughman’s lunch matched with the house strong brew but Joseph Tabbi, editor of the Electronic Book Review.
CW: So this Dutchman is behind the slander?
S: Beg pardon. Joe Tabbi, Christopher Wren, an Architect and Experimental Philosopher of some considerable repute. Wren, Tabbi, an Editor, Critick, Flaneur and Provacateur of some repute overseas.
JT: Pleasure. I know your work.
CW: I know you not. So this libel-spreading Dutchman purports to be your friend?
D: Christopher, all our friends spread libel on our account. Come over here, boy, have a cigar. Just arriv’d from the New World.
W: So Tabbi, did Marquardt really send you?
S: And how did you get here?
JT: Two pints for the Hacks. Gentleman: a word?
S: By all means.
JT: Wasn’t Marquardt who sent me, tho I was sent. Hadn’t heard from Rettberg for some weeks, and thus concerned, made an exploratory visit to your Unknown office where I found this device.
W: Aha. The lost TimePilot.
JT: Made a quick study of it and spent some weeks in an NEH Summer Symposium twenty years in the future, that is in 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota, where I learned some dreadful news of the consequences of your behavior.
S: What could we have done? Does disc golf take off during the American Revolution?
JT: No. It’s not so much a matter of what you did and what you didn’t stop doing.
W: Shrooms? Absinthe? Hemp? Glog?
JT: No. Writing. Writing The Unknown. You never stopped writing The Unknown, any of you. It grew and grew, like a cancer. It drew quite a bit of critical attention, at first. Then the critics got sick of it, because it never stopped growing, scene after scene, year after year. It sprawled on and on, and never arrived. The detritus—fact of the matter is that in the future, The Unknown takes up most of the Internet. You can’t do a search on Google anymore without getting smacked in the face by it.
W: So we’re famous in the future?
JT: Famous? In the future you’re reviled. Graduate students who wrote their Dissertations on your work in ‘02 found that their work was completely outdated by ‘03. You made a mockery of the idea of literature, so much so that people decided that it was better not to read anything purported to be literary, for fear that they might run across another reference to or in The Unknown. In the future, the MLA is bankrupt and the verge of collapse, because The Unknown has driven the majority of its customers away. Nobody wants to read anymore.
S: Gee, that’s awful.
Dirk, overhearing this discussion, sends Wren on his way and orders an ale of his own.
D: That’s awful. So in the end, The Unknown is bad for the kids?
JT: Only those who can read. Few are left in the future that you’ve made. Most of the books were burned in retaliation, and text was eventually banned from the Internet for good.
S: Oh man. Well, what can we do about it?
JT: You can do what you should have done years from now. You can come back with me and end construction.
W: End Construction?
JT: That’s right. End Construction. Cease and desist. Not go changing. Fix The Unknown once and for all, and print your book, and be done with it.
D: Stop writing?
JT: Pause for a moment. Arrange. Print. Bind. Send to circulating libraries overseas. Leave The Unknown to its rightful place in the margins of literary history. And move on to the next project.
There is a moment of solemn silence. The Unknown eye each other cautiously.
S: There’s been talk of this before. William asked me to stop, and I stopped, and then he started again.
W: And then I stopped and then he started again.
D: Don’t look at me. I was at work on my Warner Bros. sestina series when they dragged me back in again and then we got the TimePilot and off we were to the Paleolithic—wait just a gosh darned minute—
S: What is it, Dirk?
D: This isn’t a scene in The Unknown! We finished that years from now!
W: Well, what the hell is it then, I see Unknown all around me—
D: This is a scene from The Unknown Time Machine, the second novel we conceptualized in the back of Cynthia’s car on the way back from Albany but never got started—
S: A sequel? To The Unknown?
Tabbi mournfully shakes his head, muttering “End construction. End construction.” Tabbi selects 2001 from the TimePilot’s pulldown menu. There is a flash of blinding light. The innkeeper shakes his head and draws himself another pint.