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   when he met Theorem he turned to her for a bit of support. He had

   travelled from California to meet Nora in person in New York. But when

   he arrived in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, without

   warning, her conservative Chinese parents didn't take kindly to his

   unannounced appearance. There were other frictions between Nora and

   Par. The relationship had been fine on Altos and on the phone, but

   things were just not clicking in person.

  

   He already knew that virtual relationships, forged over an electronic

   medium which denied the importance of physical chemistry, could

   sometimes be disappointing.

  

   Par used to hang out on a phone bridge with another Australian member

   of The Realm, named Phoenix, and with a fun girl from southern

   California. Tammi, a casual phreaker, had a great personality and a

   hilarious sense of humour. During those endless hours chatting, she

   and Phoenix seemed to be in the throes of a mutual crush. In the

   phreaking underground, they were known as a bit of a virtual item. She

   had even invited Phoenix to come visit her sometime. Then, one day,

   for the fun of it, Tammi decided to visit Par in Monterey. Her

   appearance was a shock.

  

   Tammi had described herself to Phoenix as being a blue-eyed, blonde

   California girl. Par knew that Phoenix visualised her as a

   stereotypical bikini-clad, beach bunny from LA. His perception rested

   on a foreigner's view of the southern California culture. The land of

   milk and honey. The home of the Beach Boys and TV series like

   `Charlie's Angels'.

  

   When Tammi arrived, Par knew instantly that she and Phoenix would

   never hit it off in person. Tammi did in fact have both blonde hair

   and blue eyes. She had neglected to mention, however, that she weighed

   about 300 pounds, had a rather homely face and a somewhat down-market

   style. Par really liked Tammi, but he couldn't get the ugly phrase

   `white trash' out of his thoughts. He pushed and shoved, but the

   phrase was wedged in his mind. It fell to Par to tell Phoenix the

   truth about Tammi.

  

   So Par knew all about how reality could burst the foundations of a

   virtual relationship.

 

   Leaving New York and Nora behind, Par moved across the river to New

   Jersey to stay with a friend, Byteman, who was one of a group of

   hackers who specialised in breaking into computer systems run by Bell

   Communications Research (Bellcore). Bellcore came into existence at

   the beginning of 1984 as a result of the break-up of the US telephone

   monopoly known as Bell Systems. Before the break-up, Bell Systems'

   paternalistic holding company, American Telephone and Telegraph

   (AT&T), had

   fostered the best and brightest in Bell Labs, its research arm. Over

   the course of its history, Bell Labs boasted at least seven

   Nobel-prize winning researchers and numerous scientific achievements.

   All of which made Bellcore a good target for hackers trying to prove

   their prowess.

  

   Byteman used to chat with Theorem on Altos, and eventually he called

   her, voice. Par must have looked pretty inconsolable, because one day

   while Byteman was talking to Theorem, he suddenly said to her, `Hey,

   wanna talk to a friend of mine?' Theorem said `Sure' and Byteman

   handed the telephone to Par. They talked for about twenty minutes.