2000 A.D.

"Dear, the Internet isn't working."

"Are you sure you're connected?"

"Of course I'm sure! The... the little 'icon' is blinking away. But when I tried to click on my e-mail, the bloody machine just told me.....'Not configured' or some such thing!"

An attractive young woman wearing jogging pants and a tank-top came into the study. Her skin glistened with sweat, and she tossed a towel over her shoulder as she smiled at the man who sat in front of the computer with a look of exasperation. She leaned over him, wrapping her arms affectionately around his neck, and peered at the screen.

"Oh, of course your e-mail isn't working! That's Microsoft Internet Explorer, not Netscape. You haven't configured Outlook with your POP settings yet, so you can't access your account. Just go back to Netscape and use Communicator."

"I have no idea what you just said," the man sighed. He turned his head, scratching the woman's forearms with his sideburns and beard, and looked helplessly up into her eyes. "Jenny, my dear, accept the fact that this electronic gimcrackery is as far beyond my ability to grasp and wield as a sextant and compass is beyond the faculties of a chimpanzee."

She chuckled and kissed him. "I'm not letting you give up that easily! No more about how you remember when a wheellock was 'high-tech.' I know you didn't survive for four hundred years by throwing up your hands in defeat whenever something new got invented."

He shook his head, looked balefully back at the computer screen, and pulled one hand free from his shoulders to kiss it. "Dear girl, I have adapted and even embraced new technologies over the years, yes, but you underestimate just how rapidly technology has changed in the last half-century. For most of my lifetime, clothing styles, farming implements, and weapons might change a bit from generation to generation, but no one used tools that his great-grandfather would find completely inexplicable, or be unable to learn how to use after a short bit of instruction. But now...." He waved a hand at the computer.

"Are you saying no immortals born before 1950 are computer literate?" she scoffed.

Suddenly he was on his feet, tense in a way she'd only seen a few times before, and in one smooth motion he shrugged free of her embrace and snatched a sword off the wall.

She held very still for a moment, and then was moving for the gun cabinet, looking out the windows to scan the Virginia beachfront. The land around the house was mostly free of vegetation, and no one could approach the property without being seen. She saw no one. When she turned back to John, holding a shotgun, he was still standing frozen in place, his sword poised in midair.

"John?" she asked quietly. He didn't answer. She looked out the windows again, then looked back. He was staring into space, and then he shook his head slowly.

"Is it the Quickening?" she asked. And he said "Yes...no..." He closed his eyes for a long time, then opened them again.

"What?!" she demanded, now looking frightened.

Jonathan Richard Smith, who was born in London, England, in 1584 in the Year of Our Lord, suddenly looked his age.

"Jenny, my dear," he said, in a voice that seemed to echo from someplace far away and centuries earlier, "I have to go."

On the top floor of a New York City office building, a man sat behind a desk larger than some New York City apartments. He had one eye on the Wall Street Journal, and the other on the stream of data flowing across his computer screen.

Massive fingers that looked like they could squeeze ball bearings glided over the keyboard with the grace of a piano player. And then suddenly they stopped, and his massive brow, like a sheet of black marble, lifted.

Teeth flashed white as ivory as a smile spread across his face. And a man who remembered when the wheel was high-tech slowly rose to his feet and looked out over the busy New York skyline.

"There will be only one," he said to no one.

Across the world, they felt it. Like the ominous footsteps of an approaching giant, like the tension building in a suspense thriller, they felt supernatural chills run up and down their spines, and they knew something was coming.

The Gathering.

It was a time spoken of in legends since the dawn of humanity. It was a time some had been waiting for longer than history. Some believed it, some scoffed at it, some feared it, some longed for it. But now, everyone felt it.

It is the time of The Gathering.

There can be only one.

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