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Alan Detman tapped his pen on the hand-carved oak table twice in rapid succession. Click-click.

I met Alan's eyes. His face was neutral, but I've worked with Alan long enough to read his mind. How can we expect Silverman to be interested when you're so obviously not?

Yeah, well, go to hell Alan, I thought, hoping he could read my mind, too. I stood and walked over to the elegant tea service.

The tingling had turned into a mild burning in my sinuses. I tugged at my collar, damp with sweat even though the room was a perfect 68 degrees. I poured myself a glass of ice water, downed it, and returned to my seat.

Su leveled his laser pointer at the prototype browser projected on the wall screen. "Persona," he said in heavily accented English, "incorporates a heuristic search algorithm that works like the human mind."

A trickle of sweat traced a slim line down his left cheek. Under pressure, Su's slow, deliberate English turned into rapid-fire Mandarin, but somehow he was holding it together.

He needs this bad, I thought. His face was gaunt from years of privation and his dark hair was streaked through with gray. I doubted he had the energy to start over if Persona bombed. This was his last shot at a big IPO payout. Su was in it for the money.

Not Silverman. Oh, if he invested and Persona hit (and it would) the deal would be worth eight figures to him, but lucre wasn't the real motivation. Getting in on the ground floor of a radical new technology would prove he was smart. The old man leaned forward in his chair, eyes marking Su's every move. Silverman didn't know anything about browsers (he probably didn't even know what "heuristic" meant), but you don't claw your way to the top of the Hollywood power structure without understanding people. So he studied Su, trying to figure out if this Chinese engineer knew what he was talking about, because Silverman surely didn't.

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