A serious-looking but pleasantly featured bald man made his way across the campus of National Taiwan University, nodding politely to pupils and fellow instructors as he hurried on his way. He wore a modest suit that was slightly worn at the elbows and had fraying cuffs. Still, there was a certain charisma or inner glow about him that caused others to both notice him and defer to him in spite of his somewhat timid manner.
Humming softly to himself, he gathered his thoughts and prepared himself for what was both an exciting and a frightening prospect. Liang Xih-k’ai approached an open space on the narrow campus and nodded appreciatively at the sight of a small but hastily assembled speaking dais.
He caught the eye of an attractive woman with short dark hair and a studious manner about her. She wore a pale blue dress with flat-heeled shoes. Her thick glasses almost masked her keen eyes as they darted left and right and finally settled on Liang with something of relief etched within them.
“Jiang, I am pleased to see you. I feared my moral support would be lacking due to my sudden entry into the world of politics,” he said as he approached the younger woman and smiled broadly for the first time that day.
Jiang Pao-Chen looked at the middle-aged professor and fumbled for her words as she tried to express her devotion to him without sounding like a shameless sycophant. “Professor, my feelings for you — my belief in your ideas — makes it impossible for me to ever fail to support you in your vital work,” she said. As her glasses slipped off her nose, she grabbed for them as Liang moved forward as well. They bumped heads and exchanged embarrassed apologies as she retrieved her glasses.
Liang frowned as he thought, I am as bashful and clumsy with women as ever I was as a simple youth in the fishing village before I became a scholar. Perhaps it stems from the many years I spent in the exclusively male confines of the Academia Sinica. He then stepped up to a microphone and looked at the small crowd of students, teachers, and media figures.
I see the free press is here en masse — both reporters are here! he thought with a touch of the ironic humor that had always made him something of an outcast among his fellow academicians. He knew his humor was nothing more than an instinctive means of reacting to the world around him. It did not diminish his passion for social change nor his delight at the fact that, since martial law ended in 1987, free papers were finally more than an idle dream.
Liang looked at the crowd and thought, How strange it seems to have to pretend to need an artificial magnification device to ensure that my voice will be heard. If I wanted to, I could sweep the crowd into the sea with one shout! He referred to the fact that he possessed superhuman power in his voice, allowing him to accomplish numerous remarkable stunts through various uses of his altered vocal cords. It was to his credit that the humble scholar had chosen to use his gifts to serve his nation and the world as the heroic Thunderlord, member of the famous Global Guardians.
Now he spoke clearly, passionately, and persuasively as he outlined his platform and defined the method by which he would bring about social change if he was elected in the upcoming free elections for regional administrator of Taipei.
“No longer are our choices limited purely to the Kuomingtang or Nationalist Party. Nor must we heedlessly race into an opposite extreme. We may find a middle ground in which to converse and discuss the proper methods by which our nation may find its own free voice at last!” The crowd cheered, and Jiang gazed at him with a look of adoration.
He missed the look completely as he wrestled with abstract ideas and concrete expressions that would appeal to the audience or at least give them something to think about before making up their own minds.
Free thought was precious to him. He had deliberately left the restrictive government-regulated Academia Sinica to take a lower salary at the college. It was one of twenty-five such colleges operating in or around Taipei. Still, he knew he owed his amazing powers and much of the life he had led to the private government-sponsored research institute.
He stepped off the platform to talk more intimately with the reporters and others who expressed a desire to learn more about his ideas. As he did, he failed to notice that he was being watched very closely by more than one pair of hostile eyes.
Later that evening, as the scholar made his way to his small apartment, he reflected on how his life had changed years ago during an eventful night at the Academia Sinica. He had been selected to work at the linguistic department of the government facility, and his passion for the common and divergent elements of the three main dialectics spoken in the Republic of China had served him well.
Mandarin, South Fujian, and Hakkasian dialects had dominated his studies, but his brilliant mind had easily found time to do work with other ancient and modern languages. He would have been happy to have remained secluded and solitary in the stark facility, except for certain misgivings about the work taking place in other sections of the institute.
His passion for words and languages naturally led him to cherish free speech in every form. This desire burned within him even as he labored at the government-sponsored research center and secretly lamented the restrictive nature of the martial law that controlled every aspect of daily life in Taiwan.
Still, he kept his feelings to himself and tried to make the best of the only situation he had ever known. This might have remained his lot in life had he not distractedly wandered into another part of the base one evening and been caught in a terrible and life-changing accident.
Radiation of an unknown type had leaked out of a damaged containment unit, and Liang Xih-k’ai had been exposed along with dozens of others that night. While none of the others died, all were altered in some level. Some of them became superhuman monsters, and they were dealt with in a secretive and highly effective manner by the military. Others gained super-powers and entered a government-sponsored training program. Perhaps they would emerge some day as China’s version of the American Justice League. In any event, Liang had resigned from the Academia Sinica after demonstrating no discernable powers.
Months later, however, those latent powers emerged, and he became the heroic Thunderlord. His activities received no exposure in the press, since there were no free papers at the time, and the government had no desire to publicize this renegade super-being’s existence who, for all they knew, could have been an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. What cannot be controlled must be denied.
Liang had worked when needed and had savored every moment. Super-heroic action had opened his life up to new experiences beyond his wildest dreams. He had vowed to use his gifts to make life better for his people. If that meant working secretly within an oppressive system, that is exactly what the scholar-turned-hero would do.
However, in time he had been accepted by the government, having proven his good intentions and having demonstrated no obvious desire to try to overthrow the government, nor any communist sympathies. He merely wanted to protect and serve. Peaceful social change must come from within, he had thought. It can never be forced upon a nation, or it becomes little better than the more aggressive forms of government!
When the martial law that had dominated life in Taiwan for generations came to a sudden end in 1987, Liang had rejoiced and vowed to become a leading advocate for a more democratic system.
Now, he tried to focus his thoughts as phrases ran through his mind, along with thoughts of Jiang Pao-Chen. He was attracted to her, and try as he might to resist such desires, he wanted to know her better and share his feelings for her before it was too late. I am too old for her. I will look like a fool! he thought as he brooded.
He did not have long to ponder his romantic or political problems, since an explosion shook the street, and he whirled to see part of the nearby Sun Yat-sen Freeway explode into rubble. He knew that Taipei was the single most congested city in Taiwan, and the lack of traffic lights on the expressways that circled the city did little to make it easy for a traveler to elude the racing motorcycles, scoters, and passenger cars that sped around him.
Liang saw a scene of horror as a truck sailed through the air on shockwaves from the explosion that had shattered part of an expressway above. He had no time to change his clothing; he merely raced forward while others fled in horror. The scholar stood firm and raised his head to face the projectile.
Before it could strike him with crushing impact, he screamed. His altered vocal cords enabled him to project waves of sonic power that acted as a physical buffer to slow and finally deflect the truck to safety. He then removed his suit and hurried forward in the light blue costume he always wore as Thunderlord.