To say he was a shapeshifter would be inaccurate. There were several such species in their own rights throughout the known universe. While it was possible to change his appearance (even now he looked nothing like his default visage), it was not a trait which defined what he was.
Shadows fell over the buildings along Prince Dakkar Boulevard. Within minutes dusk blanketed all of New Babbage, lending to an almost surreal appearance. Warm lights from shops, erratic blue flashes and flickers from factories and labs… they struck walls and dark windows with brief shocks of definition.
A low grunt startled him. An inebriated man in a nearby alley. A quick sniff: Absynthe and rye.
The readings spiked.
He fiddled with the device, unaccustomed to its new configuration and ornate switches. It whirred and the display lit up with a pattern of flip-flopping zigzags. They straightened into stripes, then consolidated until a simple, phosphorescent blip chased across a dark green background. He frowned over it having to take extra time to interpret the triangulation.
Suddenly a mass caught him in the side. A young urchin had dashed from a courtyard at full run. They staggered back, but he managed to keep them from falling. “There there now,” he said, “where are you going in such a hurry?”. The child wriggled in an effort to break free, but his hold was firm. Before turning toward the anticipated direction of a pursuing shopkeeper, he caught in a glimpse the flesh of the child’s hand. Without hesitation he straightened up while keeping a grip on it firmly.
The man arrived from the alleyway in a white apron, dusty with white powder. His great hand clutched a loaf of bread.
“Is there something the matter?”
The man was tall and wide in girth, with a tier of chins draped by a dark mustache. A receding hairline of dark curls glistened from unnatural exertion. The man, clearly a nearby baker, huffed and puffed in an attempt to speak.
This gave the stranger an opportunity to speak first. A quick squeeze of the hand and the urchin understood and relaxed. “I engaged this child to purchase a loaf of bread on my behalf. If there was some misunderstanding then I take full responsibility. For what do I owe you that? It looks like raisin walnut…”
The baker blinked.