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   After that they spoke regularly both on Altos and on the phone. For

   weeks after Par returned to California, Theorem tried to cheer him up

   after his unfortunate experience with Nora. By mid-1988, they had

   fallen utterly and passionately in love.

  

   Electron, an occasional member of Force's Realm group, took the news

   very badly. Not everyone on Altos liked Electron. He could be a little

   prickly, and very cutting when he chose to be, but he was an ace

   hacker, on an international scale, and everyone listened to him.

   Obsessive, creative and quick off the mark, Electron had respect,

   which is one reason Par felt so badly.

  

   When Theorem told Electron the bad news in a private conversation

   on-line, Electron had let fly in the public area, ripping into the

   American hacker on the main chat section of Altos, in front of

   everyone.

  

   Par took it on the chin and refused to fight back. What else could he

   do? He knew what it was like to hurt. He felt for the guy and knew how

   he would feel if he lost Theorem. And he knew that Electron must be

   suffering a terrible loss of face. Everyone saw Electron and Theorem

   as an item. They had been together for more than a year. So Par met

   Electron's fury with grace and quiet words of consolation.

  

   Par didn't hear much from Electron after that day. The Australian

   still visited Altos, but he seemed more withdrawn, at least whenever

   Par was around. After that day, Par ran into him once, on a phone

   bridge with a bunch of Australian hackers.

  

   Phoenix said on the bridge, `Hey, Electron. Par's on the bridge.'

  

   Electron paused. `Oh, really,' he answered coolly. Then he went

   silent.

  

   Par let Electron keep his distance. After all, Par had what really

   counted--the girl.

  

   Par called Theorem almost every day. Soon they began to make plans for

   her to fly to California so they could meet in person. Par tried not

   to expect too much, but he found it difficult to stop savouring the

   thought of finally seeing Theorem face to face. It gave him

   butterflies.

  

   Yeah, Par thought, things are really looking up.

  

   The beauty of Altos was that, like Pacific Island or any other local

   BBS, a hacker could take on any identity he wanted. And he could do it

   on an international scale. Visiting Altos was like attending a

   glittering masquerade ball. Anyone could recreate himself. A socially

   inept hacker could pose as a character of romance and adventure. And a

   security official could pose as a hacker.

  

   Which is exactly what Telenet security officer Steve Mathews did on 27

   October 1988. Par happened to be on-line, chatting away with his

   friends and hacker colleagues. At any given moment, there were always

   a few strays on Altos, a few people who weren't regulars. Naturally,

   Mathews didn't announce himself as being a Telenet guy. He just

   slipped quietly onto Altos looking like any other hacker. He might

   engage a hacker in conversation, but he let the hacker do most of the