It started in the dark, as these things often do. A dark, windowless room, wherein a long table of oak resided. Around the table sat dozens of men and women, generals and politicians, the most powerful people in Comeria, and at the head of them all sat General Woolf.
He was a large man, entering his later years, but still strong. He had a strong figure, a strong voice, and a strong presence. His dark skin had become blotchy, and what remained of his black hair was considerably thinned and grayed. He wore a uniform, like so many others in the room, a dark wine red, decorated with medals, ribbons, and stars. Five stars, to be exact, the sign of the highest ranking military officer in the country.
Woolf was proud of this fact, though he didn't make it a point to talk of it often. Instead he showed his pride in other ways, namely through taking exquisite care of his uniform. He would never tell anyone this, but he liked to shine his metals and stars to the point where the light bounced off them and flashed in the eyes of the other officers. A subtle show of power on his part.
At the moment, Woolf was the only one in the room still fully awake. He couldn't blame the others for their glazed eyes, and half-dead stares, the day had been a particularly long one. At his best guess, he'd say they'd been in the room for sixteen hours. The sun hadn't yet risen when they'd begun, and it had long since set. It didn't help that the business of the day had been heavy. The invasion of the Snake Coast was a disaster, yet another defeat to add to the long list Comeria had suffered in the eighteen years since the war's start.
Woolf's jaundiced eyes drifted to the room's entrance, drawn by the entry of two uniformed men. He was well acquainted with both.
The first he knew as Lieutenant Colonel Twain. He was forty-three, tall and lean, his skin tan white, with dark black hair and eyes that matched it. He served as secretary to Comeria's executive committee, and was Woolf's personal clerk on the rare occasions he set up camp in the field. He moved rigidly, as though every single step was before an inspector.
The second man was Colonel Joyce. Joyce was shorter than Twain, but older, a man of forty-nine, with fifty fast approaching. His hair, formerly chestnut brown, had lost nearly all of its color, though his dark green eyes still had a youthful glow. Indeed, Joyce moved with a fire unmatched by any other in the room, even those years his junior. Woolf allowed the corner of his mouth to twitch upward for a moment. The two had served together in the early years of the war, and had remained in close contact since then. It was partially because of their friendship that Joyce was there tonight, though Woolf knew he would've found his way into the room sooner or later.
"For the final proposition of the night" spoke Twain, his voice stilted as his movements "we shall hear from Colonel Michael Joyce regarding item number 1031. Colonel, you have the floor." Twain took his seat near the foot of the table while Joyce remained standing. The Colonel gave him a small nod of gratitude, before beginning.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the executive committee, I would like to thank you for seeing me today." His voice was far rougher than Twain's, though he spoke with an almost youthful candor, disarming, open, and personable. "The footage you are about to see" he continued, as a screen lowered from the ceiling "is classified, for the eyes of only the highest ranking members of our military. Which means most of you have already seen it, but for those of you who haven't..."
Joyce took a few steps to the side as the screen illuminated. Upon it appeared the sigil of the Comerian government, a wolf, standing proudly before a sunrise. Lately it's looked more like a sunset Woolf suddenly thought, bitterly. Underneath it, the motto of the nation: 'Lupus ad spiritus, Vires ex lumentis.' Spirit of the wolf, strength of the pack. After that, a black screen, CLASSIFIED over it in thick white font. A final countdown, and the video began.
It was shaky, and slightly distorted, though easy enough to make out (especially since Woolf already knew what it was), as battle footage, taken from the helmet cam of a soldier. The sounds of gunfire and explosions pervaded the scene, rocking the videographer from all sides. The ground looked wet and muddy. Dirt mixed with blood, adding an extra layer of grit and grime to the scene. The soldier was able to find a brief respite, taking cover behind a rock as the battle continued to rage around them. A sharp scream drew their attention, causing the soldier to turn to the right just in time to see a severed head landing at their feet.
Woolf grimaced. Despite seeing the video several times by now, the brutality of the act still caught him off guard.
About ten feet away from the soldier, a newly headless body crumpled to the ground, giving a clear view of the executioner. It was a soldier, or it at least looked like one. Unlike the light armor and cloth uniforms of everyone else on the field, it wore sleek black plated armor around its entire body. Its face and head were completely covered by a helmet of the same material, six dark red lights shining from it, emulating eyes. Its most striking feature was its back, or rather what was protruding from it. Four spider-like limbs of crackling red energy. A shocking enough image on its own, made worse by how the spider-soldier stared directly into the lens of the camera.
It flung itself forward, using its energy legs, just as the videographer managed to level their rifle. Bullets bounced harmlessly off of the spider-soldier's armor, as it got closer and closer to the camera. When it was within five feet of them, the thing thrust one of its legs into the soldier's abdomen, the force of it causing the helmet to fall to the ground. The impaled soldier's feet could be seen, dangling a foot or so off the ground, until the camera suddenly shut off and the room was plunged into silence once more.
Joyce took a moment before continuing. It seemed the video still shook him too. "That was taken six months ago, and until recently it was treated as a one off anomaly, as no other information on the 'spider-soldier' could be found. That is, until about 22 days ago." Joyce tapped a device on his wrist, before making a flinging motion towards the table, illuminating it with dozens of images and videos of the same soldier, as well as a great many documents. Along the top of each piece of paper, and watermarked on every video and image was the word SPARROW.
"Captain Arcon and his team infiltrated a Solux research station. Inside they found hours of footage, and dozens of documents all about the soldier from Luto Ridge. On top of discovering what exactly he is, we also found something quite alarming. Some of these documents mention others." The executive committee, already steadily growing in investment, gave a mix of gasps and murmurs. To most of them, this was new information.
"And I assume" Woolf's deep, resonant voice filled the room, causing the other occupants to once again fall silent "your proposal is on some form of countermeasure?" "Correct, sir." Joyce responded. "I believe we should start our own program, similar in nature to Solux's. Unfortunately none of the recovered information gives us insight into how the spider-soldier obtained his powers. However, I've recently been interfacing with Dr. Nolan Carpenter, a brilliant mechanical engineer, and he had some very interesting ideas involving the application of ladvernium."
Ladvernium Woolf thought with disdain. The 'precious resource' that had started this whole war in the first place. Just a pile of purple rocks in his eyes, its uses be damned. "Sounds expensive." "No doubt it would be sir, hundreds of millions of cunias I should think. But I promise you, it will be worth it." Goddammit, Joyce was convincing, he'd give him that much. Woolf still had reservations though, and he could sense that some of the other senior officers felt just as apprehensive.
"Do you have any soldiers in mind for this task? Special forces? Perhaps the wolf pack-'' "As much as Brigadier General Whitman would love that" Joyce interrupted ", testing the weapons and armor would take time, as well as training our soldiers in their usage. That's time I don't believe we can afford to have them out of commission. I've already put together some dossiers on candidates I believe would be suitable for the task."
Bullshit. As much as he didn't want another notch in Whitman's belt either, Woolf didn't like making matters of military political. He wouldn't dispute his friend though, not in front of the others. Besides, Joyce did have a fairly solid argument.
"Is there anything else we should know, Colonel?" "If you approve, I'll need a site to operate from that fits the requirements I've listed for you, and three months to set everything up." "Three months? Quick turnaround" "I work fast." Woolf allowed himself a small smile.
"If that's all..." Woolf paused. Nobody interrupted with any questions. "...then I believe we should put it to a vote." He nodded to Twain, who rose from his seat. "Is there a motion to approve?" Woolf raised his hand, and an officer to his right seconded it. Within a minute, the motion was passed unanimously. "Lieutenant Colonel Twain will be your second on this." No objections. "And I will oversee the program personally." Again, no objections. "If that's all, then this meeting is adjourned."
There was the usual post meeting banter Woolf had grown accustomed to as he stepped forward to catch Joyce on his way out. "Colonel, I forgot to ask, does this program of yours have a name?" The Colonel gave him a smirk. "The Centurion Program."