Alter egos are an odd thing, Carson's discovered.
They aren't actually that odd in the way you'd expect. He's been living a double life since age seventeen, and balancing them both has been much easier than he expected. The odd part is figuring out which alter ego is actually you.
On workdays, he is Carson Lauritz. He's simply your average joe; making a living doing payroll at a car dealership and going home to an average apartment every night. He has a family, or, at least, parts of his family. He has a cat. He has to pay rent. He struggles to get by and to stay happy.
Carson is normal. Except when he's not.
When he's not, he is Shield Shifter: a superhuman quasi-hero fighting crime with a group of other superheroes. He generates forcefields, molding them into whatever he needs. He can use them to hover, or he can make baddies run into them, or he can trap his enemies with them. It's a pretty handy power to have, all things considered.
When Carson is Carson, nobody notices him. He's a background character in someone elses life, probably just somebody's comic relief. When Carson is Shield Shifter, or, Shift, as people sometimes call him, he's the public face of his group. Everyone who knows their heroes- Extras, as society has dubbed them- knows about Shift. He's one of the most well known Extras out there.
Carson is Shield Shifter is Carson. It sounds simple enough, but, unfortunately, it isn't.
His real identity is Carson, but he feels more himself when he's Shift. Does that make him Shift? Is Carson the alter ego? Or does Shift have to be the alter ego because he wears the mask?
All in all, it's a lot more complicated than he can handle.
Currently, he is boring old Carson, sitting in his cubicle, waiting for the end of the day. All his work is finished. He should be able to go home, change into his costume, and meet up with his group, but he's stuck here instead, waiting to clock out.
His fingers itch with the need to throw up a forcefield. He glances around and sees no one. He slowly raises his hands. Maybe he has time for just a little one.
"Hey, Lauritz," a voice behind him snaps.
Carson's hands slam to his sides before the shield can form, and he spins his chair around.
A salesman stands just outside his cubicle, sneering at him. His hips are cocked, and his arms are crossed over his chest. Dark hair, probably groomed meticulously earlier, falls in his face. Blue eyes survey Carson, and it's clear they aren't impressed with what they see. In one hand, the salesman clutches a piece of paper, which is quickly thrust into Carson's face.
"You're payroll, right?" the man asks.
"Yeah." Carson pushes the paper away a little, trying to see what it is. "Is there a problem?"
The man points at something on the paper. "I'm missing a commission. I sold a Raptor that's not on here, and that's a hard sum to miss."
Carson takes the paper, trying not to glare at the salesman. It's a pay stub, displaying the salesman's commissions for the week. Sure enough, there are no Raptors listed.
Carson sighs and swings his chair back around, keying the man's name into the computer. "Hold on; I'll see if I can fix it."
The disgruntled salesman hmphs, but says nothing.
"Was it sold after noon today?" Carson finally asks.
"Yeah. Guy had a problem with the bank. Took a few hours to sort out his loan."
"The commission will be on your next paycheck, then."
The man stalks closer, eyes dark as he glares at Carson. "What if I need it now?"
Carson keeps his face carefully blank, refusing to let the salesman think he's scared. "Then I can't help you. I can't count it for this week." He shrugs. "Sorry."
The salesman rolls his eyes and walks off, muttering "Prick," under his breath, just loud enough for Carson to hear.
Carson stifles a snarl, and casts a shield over his keyboard, just long enough to see the flash of orange that is his forcefield. Usually, even a tiny one like this is enough to take the edge off, but not today.
The best part about being Shift instead of Carson: Shift doesn't get called a prick by snarky salesmen.
Shift's group is one of the smaller ones out there: only five Extras, himself included. Well, four Extras and an apprentice of sorts. A 'sidekick', if you will, like in the old comic books.
Their leader, the one who brought them together, is Jumper, a skilled teleporter. She can travel as far as she likes with just a thought, and has the strategic mind required to use this against her enemies. All she has to do is jump, and when she lands, she's exactly where she wants to be.
Second in command is Light Runner. He's a speedster, and though he's about average among others of his kind, his power's side effect sets him apart. When he runs, the energy and friction it causes is released in a bright yellow light emanating from his body. He uses this to blind opponents, and then can take them down with ease.
Next is the Gymnast. Her amazing agility and flexibility let her run circles around baddies, incapacitating them with what Shift thinks is some chimera of yoga, karate, and simple brawling. She has a nasty temper, and though she's learning to control it, she still tends to be the most ruthless of the group.
The apprentice is Blue Jay, a kid just barely out of her teens. Her power-flight, sustainable for only a few miles as of now- is hardly impressive, but she wants to contribute something to the Extra community anyway, and Jumper decided to take her under her wing. Currently, Blue Jay works only as recon, flying above the battle and making sure no one can sneak up and complicate things.
And then, of course, there's Shield Shifter. He's the only one of the group to have a secondary power, though it's a small one: low level super strength. Extras with multiple powers are supposedly the result of two superpowered parents, but Shift doubts this. If his parents were Extras, they hid it very well. In any case, his super strength isn't the best out there. He's probably on par with olympic class lifters- average humans, as Extras can't compete. He just didn't have to work as hard to build his strength.
Extras have been around for a long time, though, not always under that name. The first proof of their existence dates back to the dark ages, though they were thought of as demons or witches at that point and usually burned at the stake. They didn't start dressing up in weird outfits and fighting crime until the early 1900's, when they stopped hiding their powers. Even though they're no longer hunted, society's morbid interest in them and their powers makes the masks mandatory. The few Extras who didn't hide their identities disappeared, and shortly after each disappearance, science miraculously figured out the genetics and reasoning behind their powers. There aren't any unmasked Extras anymore. Nobody's that stupid.
Technically, they are human. Technically. They are homo sapien, like everyone else; much like how Great Danes and Chihuahuas are both lupis familiarlis. Extras are a separate breed of human; the product of minute genetic mutations.
Shift's not really sure what any of this means. He just read it on the internet.
Costumed Extras and humans usually don't mix. Even the evil Extras tend to leave the humans alone. It's the humans that initiate most encounters between the breeds. Most Extras simply have no interest in them. Shift finds them mildly interesting. He wonders how they survive in such boring lives, without bad guys to fight and lives to save. They must be stronger than they look.
Being Extra may be the only good thing ever to happen to him. He can't imagine life without his powers. That's why he uses them. It helps that it's for a good cause.
The sort of power you're born with when you're Extra can go to your head pretty quickly, and not everyone can handle it. It can corrupt, and when that happens it's a danger to everyone. Shift, his group, and thousands of other Extras around the world, work to keep misplaced power from hurting more than it has to, and from destroying anything or anyone.
It's an important job, Shift thinks. And it's fun as hell.
Extra groups aren't named, they're numbered. Shift's is number 23. He doesn't know why. Jumper chose it.
Group 23 meets up whenever they can. They exchange any news they might've heard about the evil Extras- Eves, as they're usually called- plan missions to disband any alliances the Eves have formed, and practice fighting together.
Today, they are training. They've communed in an abandoned building on the Extra side of town, a place they've claimed and made their own, and have set up various obstacles to take down as a team.
These are Shift's very favorite exercises.
The Gymnast jumps from a high windowsill, and Shift throws up a forcefield for her to bounce off of. She lands on it in a crouch, holding it for just a moment before launching herself into a front flip and barreling into a pile of sandbags that's supposed to represent an enemy. Shift casts a shield just in front of it, where its legs would be were it actually a threat, while the Gymnast somersaults away, only to come spinning back and landing a jarring kick to where its back would be. Assuming they've moved quickly enough, they've brought the imaginary baddie into a face plant and won the fight.
Shift whoops, pumping his fist in the air.
"Not bad," the Gymnast says, nodding. "Shouldn't stay in one place though. There might be more piles of sandbags behind you."
Shift smirks. "I think I can take some sandbags."
"But they aren't always sandbags," Light Runner cuts in, pacing up to them. "She's right, Shift. You need to move around more. Moving targets are harder to hit." He's still glowing a bit from his own training run, fading more and more with every second.
Shift cocks his head to the side. "That's your motto, isn't it? 'Moving targets are harder to hit'."
Runner purses his lips. "Perhaps. As much as I have a motto. What's yours? 'A good offense is a good defense'?"
"Isn't it the other way around?"
Runner chuckles. "Not with the way you fight."
Shift sends a shield his way, with just enough velocity to knock him over. Runner sees it coming though, and with a flash of yellow, he's out of its path.
Runner grins. "Cute trick. Try to actually hit me next time."
He casts another one, a larger one, but Runner darts away. Shift throws an arm over his eyes to block the sudden light, and when he takes it away, Runner stands right in front of him.
"Boo," he quips when Shift jumps back with a gasp.
While Runner laughs at him, Shift generates another forcefield, hurling it at his teammate as quickly as he can. This one hits, and Runner is knocked backwards by the force.
The laughing stops abruptly. With a flash, Runner is gone, and a finger is tapping on Shift's shoulder. Shift flips around, hands ready to form another shield, but there's no one behind him. Running on instinct, he throws a shield over his shoulder, and hears a soft 'Oof!' behind him. When he turns, Runner is on the ground, rubbing at his back.
Shift smiles. "The best offense is a good defense."
The Gymnast, Shift notices, is standing nearby, hands on her hips and a smirk on her face. She's usually the one getting into fights; it must be unusual to be a bystander for once. Blue Jay is sitting up in the rafters, her favorite spot. She lies on her belly, head propped up by her hands, watching the scene below as if it's her favorite television program. Jumper is nowhere to be seen. This sets off warning bells in Shifts head, but he doesn't have time to dwell on it.
Runner growls and climbs to his feet. "Wow. You finally hit something!"
Before Runner can retaliate, Jumper materializes between them, and everyone freezes
"Boys," she says sweetly, and they both tense up instantly.
Nothing good ever happens when Jumper uses that voice.
"Not that your constant back and forth isn't adorable, but we're here to train." Her voice becomes a snarl as she spits the last word, and the dark skin around her mask wrinkles in what Shift interprets as a glare. "Keep the fighting to the sandbags."
Shift ducks his head. "Right. Sorry."
Jumper smiles at him, then turns to Runner. "And you?"
Runner's nose wrinkles, but he nods. "I got it."
"Good, good." She scuffs her hands together, as if clearing dust from them. "Now, we really need to work on incapacitating flying enemies. Flight might not be a common power, but we do encounter it, and we need to be prepared. I've worked out a way to train for it."
Blue Jay floats down from her perch, the Gymnast steps in closer, and Shift and Runner, after exchanging an annoyed glance, huddle in as well, butting each other with their shoulders and elbows when they're sure Jumper isn't looking.
And the meet goes on, same as it always does. By the end, Shift's pleasantly exhausted. As soon as he gets home, he pushes his cowl back, and he's Carson again. Boring old Carson, alone, save for his cat. Mundane, forgettable, friendless Carson. He sighs, the sound one of both exhaustion and frustration.
As he strips off his costume, he can't help but wonder what it would be like to always be Shield Shifter.