Character Profile: Alatumbra

Today’s post is a profile of “a secondary character who took over.” I’ll begin with that story, then describe her, and lastly summarize her story within the Shine Cycle.

I was in the eighth grade, working on a very early draft of The Invasion, the first entry in what would become my planned “Game of Life” sub-series while waiting with a group of my peers to go off to a winter retreat. I noticed someone I thought I remembered as a former classmate (I didn’t write her name down, and can’t find anyone matching her description in any class pictures or yearbooks, so I now think I was mistaken), and thought of writing her into the story (see my post on what I called “Anti-Tuckerization”).

So I did, making my then-protagonist startled to find a familiar face on his return to Earth, and having him awaken her as a mage and take her as his apprentice. I had him say that her “true name” was “Alatumbra Cantabile,” and that that meant “old friend who frowns.” (I’ve since dropped that “meaning” entirely, reduced that name to just “Alatumbra”, given her a name by which non-mages know her (which I’ll get to later), and, with the timeline revisions, made them no longer previously acquainted. And even the other half of the “meaning” no longer applies either, since she’s no longer the sort of person who spends much time frowning.)

Several years later, I abandoned my drafts of both that story and its sequel—tens of thousands of words, dozens of pages, in—when I realized that the character I considered the protagonist was too obviously invincible: because he solved every challenge I threw at him fairly neatly, with his only obvious limitations his inability to be in more than one place at a time and his tendency to work himself past the point of exhaustion, the stories were nearly turning into picaresques. (The Alliance, especially, didn’t seem to have a “main” problem or conflict at all, just “complications” that were dealt with straightforwardly in short order.) When I came to that realization, I abandoned both drafts for quite some time.

The solution to that problem that I eventually came to was to switch focus. Instead of making the dauntless “Enemy of Gondolor” the protagonist, I decided to make Alatumbra the heroine, and to remove her teacher the former protagonist from the picture when things looked bleakest and she needed his help most. And while I’ve still taken drafts in directions that Did Not Work, this choice has, I think, restrained my worst tendencies—though I still have yet to finish a draft of any of the stories in the “Game of Life” sub-series, I have to admit.

Anyway, Alatumbra—Miss Alice Hansen to everyone but her teacher and the “military advisors” he brings in to help bootstrap Earth’s defenses—is a no-longer-quite-young woman working for the defense contractor that has the DARPA (or whatever the twenty-second-century equivalent is) grant to create “the bi-nucleic man,” using genetic engineering to match the legends’ descriptions of werewolves. Her degree is in linguistics, giving her credibility when she’s the only one who can understand the transmission that is the “first contact” that opens The Invasion (though the fact that she’s a potential mage is more relevant), and she has a reputation for solving difficult problems in all kinds of areas, but she’s nominally employed by the project’s public relations department as a copywriter.

Alice grew up in the SCA (or another similar group), and in fact both was offered and took this job partly because of that experience: One of the conditions of the grant (the government for once being more sensible than the scientists) was that the project be conducted in a castle in a remote location somewhere in one of the western states and be guarded by both modern and quasi-medieval security, since should it succeed a “werewolf” would be essentially immune to most modern weapons but deliberately vulnerable to the traditional defenses. So while she’s not directly involved in the security, she has copious opportunity for combat practice that wouldn’t be available elsewhere, and no one looks at her oddly for wearing chain-mail (or, since others on the staff are likely to have similar backgrounds, a gown) to work.

She’s somewhat tall, with hair that was once jet black but has now begun to turn grey. And while not “classically beautiful,” nor by any means “cute” (except for her face, which looks far younger than her age) Alice Hansen—Alatumbra—has a somewhat striking appearance, neither slender nor too-obviously athletic. And there is (as a character in Pride and Prejudice once said) “something in her air” that renders her nearly invisible at times but impossible to ignore when she wishes.

Alice has a somewhat younger brother, who’s in seminary training to become a pastor at the time of The Invasion, and a much younger sister who’s not yet a teenager at that time. I also had the thought that she might be widowed with her own children of about that age, but I’m not sure about that.

Unlike most Earth-born characters I’ve profiled, she enters the tapestry of the Shine Cycle quite late, in the story for which I originally conceived her, The Invasion. She serves as the liaison between the United States government and the Shine and Wild Empire until some time after the last of the “Battles of Earth,” in each of which she plays a major part. After she is identified as a potential mage in the opening scenes of The Invasion, she receives training and a great deal of experience under fire, proving something of a not-quite-prodigy, but once the first “battle” is over she leaves her job to pass on her training to other potential mages.

Eventually, she leaves Earth and makes her way to the Shine and Wild Empire, where she studies at the Imperial Academy for a time. I’m not yet sure what she does after that—serve in the United States consulate or embassy? Stand for Parliament? Or something else entirely? And does she return to our world when it comes to an end? We’ll see.

Any thoughts or questions about this character?


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