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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   Many BBS users gave false information in order to hide their true

   identities, and many operators didn't really care. Bowen, however,

   did. Running a hacker's board carried some risk, even before the

   federal computer crime laws came into force. Pirated software was

   illegal. Storing data copied from hacking adventures in foreign

   computers might also be considered illegal. In an effort to exclude

   police and media spies, Bowen tried to verify the personal details of

   every user on PI by ringing them at home or work. Often he was

   successful. Sometimes he wasn't.

  

   The public section of PI housed discussion groups on the major PC

   brands--IBM, Commodore, Amiga, Apple and Atari--next to the popular

   Lonely Hearts group. Lonely Hearts had about twenty regulars, most of

   whom agonised under the weight of pubescent hormonal changes. A boy

   pining for the affections of the girl who dumped him or, worse, didn't

   even know he existed. Teenagers who contemplated suicide. The messages

   were completely anonymous, readers didn't even know the authors'

   handles, and that anonymous setting allowed heart-felt messages and

   genuine responses.

  

   Zen was PI's sophisticated younger sister. Within two years of PI

   making its debut, Bowen opened up Zen, one of the first Australian

   BBSes with more than one telephone line. The main reason he set up Zen

   was to stop his computer users from bothering him all the time. When

   someone logged into PI, one of the first things he or she did was

   request an on-line chat with the system operator. PI's Apple IIe was

   such a basic machine by today's standards, Bowen couldn't multi-task

   on it. He could not do anything with the machine, such as check his

   own mail, while a visitor was logged into PI.

  

   Zen was a watershed in the Australian BBS community. Zen multi-tasked.

   Up to four people could ring up and login to the machine at any one

   time, and Bowen could do his own thing while his users were on-line.

   Better still, his users could talk request each other instead of

   hassling him all the time. Having users on a multi-tasking machine

   with multiple phone lines was like having a gaggle of children. For

   the most part, they amused each other.

  

   Mainstream and respectful of authority on the surface, Bowen possessed

   the same streak of anti-establishment views harboured by many in the

   underground. His choice of name for Zen underlined this. Zen came from

   the futuristic British TV science fiction series `Blake 7', in which a

   bunch of underfunded rebels attempted to overthrow an evil

   totalitarian government. Zen was the computer on the rebels' ship. The

   rebels banded together after meeting on a prison ship; they were all

   being transported to a penal settlement on another planet. It was a

   story people in the Australian underground could relate to. One of the

   lead characters, a sort of heroic anti-hero, had been sentenced to

   prison for computer hacking. His big mistake, he told fellow rebels,

   was that he had relied on other people. He trusted them. He should

   have worked alone.

  

   Craig Bowen had no idea of how true that sentiment would ring in a

   matter of months.

  

   Bowen's place was a hub of current and future lights in the computer

   underground. The Wizard. The Force. Powerspike. Phoenix. Electron.

   Nom. Prime Suspect. Mendax. Train Trax. Some, such as Prime Suspect,

   merely passed through, occasionally stopping in to check out the