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If you'll pardon the expression, I should have seen this coming.

It's been a dozen years now since I moved the bulk of my social interactions to cyberspace, and for the most part I never had any reason to regret so doing. People in Real Life™ are so much harder to deal with. Give me a screenful of ASCII any day.

Of course, there was always the question of actually meeting some of these net.people, a question I never worried much about answering, since most of them were in some far-off land like Cleveland. Well, okay, Cleveland isn't so far off, but it might as well have been Glocca Morra, for all I cared.

So when she first suggested that she visit, I was more than a trifle surprised; I hadn't thought I had made that much of an impression on anyone. At least, not a favorable one. I had plenty of misgivings — who wouldn't? But I figured I was probably suspicious enough by nature to avoid going totally overboard, and should she turn out to be a gold-digger or something, well, she'd go back to Glocca Morra or wherever with an empty pan.

One lingering question remained, and I stuck it at the end of my last piece of E-mail to her: "So how will I know it's you? I mean, what do you look like?"

Her reply was somewhat cryptic: "Oh, I don't look like much of anything, but you'll definitely know it's me."

I read the message over again. "What does she mean by that?" I said to myself.

"She means," said a voice at my shoulder, "that she's here."

A chair never designed to swivel nonetheless did about a 160-degree turn, and I stared at — nothing.

"Remember me?"

Desperate to sound something other than scared, I opted for wisecrackery. "I, uh, didn't recognize your face."

"Very funny," she said. "Actually, I don't normally make an entrance like that, but you had your nose stuck so far into the screen that I couldn't resist. And besides, you forgot to latch the deadbolt."

I turned toward the door; it was shut, and the deadbolt was indeed unlocked.

A few eons passed, and finally I cleared my throat and said, "I am not in the habit of conversing with my hallucinations. Unless, of course, they can explain why they're occurring despite the