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   other Melbourne hackers. Electron had grown beyond Powerspike's

   expertise just as Phoenix had accelerated past Force. They were moving

   away from X.25 networks and into the embryonic Internet, which was

   just as illegal since the universities guarded computer

   accounts--Internet access--very closely.

  

   Even Nom, with his growing expertise in the Unix operating system

   which formed the basis of many new Internet sites, wasn't up to

   Electron's standard. He didn't have the same level of commitment to

   hacking, the same obsession necessary to be a truly cutting-edge

   hacker. In many ways, the relationship between Nom and Phoenix

   mirrored the relationship between Electron and Powerspike: the support

   act to the main band.

  

   Electron didn't consider Phoenix a close friend, but he was a kindred

   spirit. In fact he didn't trust Phoenix, who had a big mouth, a big

   ego and a tight friendship with Force--all strikes against him. But

   Phoenix was intelligent and he wanted to learn. Most of all, he had

   the obsession. Phoenix contributed to a flow of information which

   stimulated Electron intellectually, even if more information flowed

   toward Phoenix than from him.

  

   Within a month, Phoenix and Electron were in regular contact, and

   during the summer holidays they were talking on the phone--voice--all

   the time, sometimes three or four times a day. Hack then talk. Compare

   notes. Hack some more. Check in again, ask a few questions. Then back

   to hacking.

  

   The actual hacking was generally a solo act. For a social animal like

   Phoenix, it was a lonely pursuit. While many hackers revelled in the

   intense isolation, some, such as Phoenix, also needed to check in with

   fellow humanity once in a while. Not just any humanity--those who

   understood and shared in the obsession.

  

   `Caboodle. Caboose, `Electron went on, `Cabriolet. What the hell is a

   Cabriolet? Do you know?'

  

   `Yeah,' Phoenix answered, then rushed on. `OK. Cacao. Cache. Cachet

   ...'

  

   `Tell us. What is it?' Electron cut Phoenix off.

  

   `Cachinnation. Cachou ...'

  

   `Do you know?' Electron asked again, slightly irritated. As usual,

   Phoenix was claiming to know things he probably didn't.

  

   `Hmm? Uh, yeah,' Phoenix answered weakly. `Cackle. Cacophony ...'

  

   Electron knew that particular Phoenix `yeah'--the one which said `yes'

   but meant `no, and I don't want to own up to it either so let's drop

   it'.

  

   Electron made it a habit not to believe most of the things Phoenix

   told him. Unless there was some solid proof, Electron figured it was

   just hot air. He didn't actually like Phoenix much as a person, and

   found talking to him difficult at times. He preferred the company of

   his fellow hacker Powerspike.

  

   Powerspike was both bright and creative. Electron clicked with him.