Skyline City University, 1992. In a typical lazy campus morning, one of our heroes stumbles into a puzzling message on a faculty BBS: ‘If you want to know what’s going on, go to The Lab. V’.
‘The Lab’ is the name that refers to the Headquarter of the Architect, a.k.a. Archimedes Moore: a masked supervillain from the 40s, who went from being an ally of Starfarer, the first superhero, to one of his greatest nemesis till final defeat and imprisonment in the 50s.
The ‘V’ signature could possibly stand for the Veteran, former sidekick of Starfarer in the 60s, known as ‘The Rookie’ back then, till she enrolled for fighting in Vietnam. After the war she took a long hiatus from the superhero business, returning as a solo crimefighter under the new alias in the 80s.
The Lab nowadays is nothing more than a tourist’s attraction: a quirky museum of eccentricities from another time.
On arrival, it becomes immediately clear the place had been broken into, leaving the security guard unconscious at the entrance. A bunch of burglars tries to run off from a window at ground level, but get stopped and subdued by the heroes. Apparently, they were just trying to take advantage of the situation and are now realizing to be one man short too: ‘Joey’.
Proceeding on the inside, the heroes find out the Architect’s mask has been taken from its shattered glass box. Inspecting the interiors, they find traces of a slimy substance leading to the terrarium on the back. The place replicates a natural environment, with an artificial waterfall flowing to a small lake surrounded by trees and vegetation. The traces lead to a big slime cocoon hanging from a tree. As they try to reach and pull it down, they are assaulted by three creatures that look like hybrids of a cougar and a crocodile, oozing slime from their jaws. After dispatching the threat, the heroes recover a very shaken and confused Joey from the cocoon and decide to bring him along, notwithstanding his reluctance.
They uncover a secret passage behind the waterfall, leading to an underground hangar holding an ‘A-shaped’ stealth aircraft inside: the aptly named ‘Archi-Jet’. It seems the autopilot has been already set to a destination in the middle of the country. They get on board and push the takeoff button, but the hangar opening above is stuck!
Through combined feats of strength and cunning, they manage to unlock the mechanism and get into the air. The jet rapidly breaks through the sound barrier and activates an advanced camouflage system mirroring the surrounding environment to blend into it.
On approaching the destination, which seems to be in Kentucky, the engines stop and aerostatic balloons inflate to support the aircraft glide down. The descent goes smoothly till they are boarded by bipedal eagle-like robots that try to hijack the vehicle. A fight on top of the reflective jet ensues, ending with the attackers neutralized.
The jet lands in a clearing on the hills surrounding Quietbreeze, a small village on the shores of its namesake lake. On the way into town they pass by a church with a graveyard, where a lone man stands, Sam Miller, paying homage to his dears. He directs them to an old lady for information, who lives in a boathouse and knows much about the community: Greta Ellis.
The locals in town are not eager to help foreigners, so they go and see the appointed officer, Sheriff Milligan. He turns out to be a man of few words and rough manners, but eventually provides directions to Greta’s place.
The boathouse is picturesque as her owner is kind: a lovely lady well in her seventies, she invites them all in for tea and cookies. She has old pictures from about 50 years ago: some have Starfarer in there, when he came visiting Quietbreeze to take care of some matter (she is not sure what that was about); she stands there among the crowd too, in her twenties, with a radiant smile on her face.
Joey is not coping well with the rolling of the boat and goes out for a break of fresh air. Few moments pass before they hear a shriek from the outside.
Tracks of something being pulled in the mud lead into the wood beyond the shore. Rain starts pouring. Making their way through the foliage, they spot a net holding a body on top of a tree. Lighting strikes, revealing for a split second the silhouette of someone lurking in the dark wearing a fisherman waterproof cape. A psychic probe reveals the stranger not to be hostile, but still it starts pummeling them around with uncanny speed and effectiveness, till mysteriously vanishing by popping a flashbang.
They pull down and untangle Joey from the net, who keeps muttering about ‘scary fisherman ninjas’ and then head back to the boathouse, but it is not there anymore, with no traces left.
They walk back into town where an angry mob awaits, demanding answers on the whereabouts of Greta. The situation escalates as they create a diversion with an illusion of the old lady committing suicide in the lake, driving the mob into frenzy. It culminates with the heroes making an escape by hijacking a boat from the shore and rowing their way into the lake’s deeper waters, towards a small island in the midst.
The island seems deserted, but traces of human passage can be found in the vegetation around the rock peak at the centre. Offshore, seagulls flocks over the surface around a spot: Mr Muscle flies there to investigate and dives in, banging into something big that may be a robotic dinosaur and just managing to pull out of the water and fly off.
From the top of the rock peak, a water-filled cavity is visible underneath on the inside. The boathouse is there. A further search around the island reveals a stream coming in from the lake and flowing underground to the inside: it looks like the water level in the cavity had been lowered to let the boathouse in and the raised again.
Checking the boathouse, they find none in. Some pictures show Greta in her thirties with a kid that may have been her son. As they look around, aquatic-humanoid robots swim in and climb on board from both sides.
The fight is as messy as they come, with some of the heroes almost drowning halfway through it, but they manage to turn it around for the better and dismantle the assailants. The visors on the robots look like scuba masks employing the same glass type as the Archi-jet cockpit: when worn underwater these reveal a large camouflage dome hiding some kind of research facility underneath at the bottom. The structure features a large glass hemisphere across the main section.
They dive in, reaching a vertical shaft where water stops at the top. It works as an elevator to the, leading to the bottom, inside the dome. From here it is possible to access the facility via a palm pressure plate activated door, which the heroes manage to operate by via some remarkable shape-shifting efforts.
Exploring the complex reveals a wreak of some kind of space vehicle, clearly not built for humans. Lobster-like robots are intent dismantling (or repairing?) it, till they get alerted by the intruders and attack them – unsuccessfully.
The inside of the hemisphere holds a natural environment, much alike the one found the museum. Dismembered puma-gators leftovers lay across the ground. As they look for clues, a massive specimen of those fiends jumps on them. It it is a scary a vicious predator this one, taking all combined efforts to overcome and leaving its bite marks on the trespassers afterwards.
One of the doors from here has a ‘Lab V’ sign on it. On the inside this one appears to be a kid room, with toy scattered around, probably dating back to the 50s. There are sketches laying on the floor, depicting a little girl with red hairs – ‘Veronica’ – and her daddy – either in a wheelchair or standing up wearing a mask. Then Veronica sick in bed and then again her jumping around in a mask.
The next door leads to ‘Lab IV’, which holds several glass boxes with actual masks in, covering the wall: some are recognizable as those belonging to heroes and villains of the past. One is missing, from box 0001. The heroes place one of their own masks in there and a secret door opens up, revealing a descending stairway, leading to Lab VI. At the same time, from the windows they see water beginning to flood the inside of the dome.
On the lower level, underground, surrounded by dim, flickering neon lights, stands the lower half of the glass hemisphere. It is filled with water and has someone floating inside: a black girl with curly hairs and radiantly glowing, piercing purple eyes.