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By David Gardiner

(This story may be reproduced in whole or in part for any non-commercial purpose provided that authorship is acknowledged and credited. The copyright remains the property of the author)


A story normally proceeds in a linear sequence. It starts at the beginning, carries on to the middle, and eventually it comes to an end. Even if it contains "flash-backs" or "flash-forwards" or its time-sequence is cut up in some unusual way, it is still a fully-defined experience. The closure belongs to the author, not the reader. As reader, your status is that of passive observer, the author is in the driving-seat.

Now, with hypertext, this does not have to be the case. There is no reason why you, the reader, should not participate and make choices that affect the eventual outcome of the story. Suddenly, the sequence does not have to be linear. It can contain branches, nodes or decision-points where you as reader can decide between different possible futures. In this respect it becomes more like a daydream, or the way that most of us see the real universe: an open-ended system, not something fully determined at the outset.

What follows is a very simple example of such a story. There are points along the way where you must make a decision - and your decisions have consequences.

The story you end-up reading will reflect your own personality and value-system almost as much as it will reflect those of the writer. Of course you do not have to make your decisions authentically, that is, "as yourself": you could assume a different personality - a hard-bitten street-wise Philip Marlow sort of person, perhaps; or a saintly, caring and selfless philanhtropist; or a reckless gambler who acts on hunch and impulse; or a ruthless self-seeking ego-maniac; or a laid-back amoral hedonist. It will make a difference, but what difference?

Well, that depends on the ground-rules of the "universe" in which you are operating. Is it a "moral" universe in which "good" behavior is rewarded, or a ruthless dog-eat-dog Darwinian universe where success goes to the strongest, or a universe governed by chance and coincidence where the consequences of actions can never be accurately predicted, or are you in the universe of Greek Tragedy where one's fate is sealed at birth and can not be evaded...... or is it a universe of some other kind entirely? That is the bit you do not know in advance. That is the decision that I make.

This story has a number of branches: points where you, on behalf of the central character, are asked to make a decision as to which of two or more possible options you are going to take. The possibilities will appear on your page as hyper-links, and the one you click on will determine how the story continues. You may also be asked to flip a coin, so that chance can play a part in the affairs of Multiverse, just as it does here. Please make sure that you have one handy before you start to read.

On a technical point, I began writing this story in the second-person present-tense (you get up, go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, then you go downstairs, etc.) to try to support the idea that you, the reader, are the central character. However, this produced a very stilted and inelegant narrative style, so I abandoned it and reverted to the more traditional third-person past-tense (he got up, went to the bathroom and brushed his teeth, then he went downstairs, etc.) which is a lot more comfortable to read. I don't think it is any big deal to remember that "he" is "you", and that although it seems to be happening in the past, it is being shaped by the decisions you make, right here and now..

The use of "he" highlights another (I think lesser) problem in that the central character needs to belong to one gender or the other. I have chosen a male central character, if you happen to be female then that is another adjustment you are going to have to make, which I hope doesn't interfere too much with your enjoyment of the story. I'm afraid I just can't think of a way around it. In any case, it might be interesting for you to look out from behind male eyes for a short time and see what you think of the view.

This is very much an experiment and a totally new departure for me, and I frankly found it quite difficult and demanding. In order to produce an average three to five thousand word branched story (depending on which of the many "world lines" you follow) I have needed to write in excess of 100,000 words of text. I have tried to test the story thoroughly for internal consistency but it is possible that some errors or bugs remain. If you find anything that looks like a jump in the narrative or an inexplicable event or missing piece of information etc. please tell me. Every world line should make perfect sense. Something else of which I have been very aware is that the fact that the story is interactive is not an excuse for any lowering of standards. First and foremost I have tried to produce a good engaging story peopled by characters that you are going to care about. If it falls down on this criterion then its technical construction is irrelevant. Whatever your thoughts on the story, I would be very grateful for feedback.

If you want to end up with a printed version of the story that you read, you will have to print it as you go along. Hit "print" at the beginning, and then hit it again every time you move on to a new branch.

Multiverse is a very dangerous place. Depending on the choices you make, you may arrive at a happy ending place, or a less happy one. If you screw-up badly, you may end up becoming a killer..... or a corpse. Mind how you go, but do enjoy your visit!

And now, it's time to begin the story.


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