"Unspeakably joined, mutually loathing. They are two halves of a whole."
I looked into the mirror, but didn't recognize myself. It was a stranger's face that stared back at me, a man dark of eye and countenance, unshaven, unkempt. If I had to give him a label, I would have called my reflection dangerous. There was trouble brewing behind those guarded irises, trouble like a nest of vipers waiting for the next footfall. Trouble like a shape changer trapped on a backward, alien planet.
"Hey, you gonna take all day in there, or what?" The voice shattered my thoughts and scattered my worries like chaff on an angry wind.
There was only survival, now. No time for regret or denial. Only survival.
The unknown man beat on the door several times and cursed loudly. "I got kids out here. They need to use the bathroom too, you know."
Indeed I could hear the cries of irritated children outside, could hear their stomping feet, the father's frustrated grunts as he tried to keep them in line. Three. I could feel three life forms beyond the door; two tiny, fresh ones, and one great, hulking ogre of an adult.
Unbidden, my mind slipped into his. I vaguely wondered if he could feel the fingers of my thoughts coursing through the synapses of his brain.
But there was a certain amount of comfort to be found on such an isolated, primitive planet. These animals named human beings no more knew what was taking place in their own brains than they knew how stars burn or how comets are born. They weren't aware of their own essence occupying their bodies, much less the essence of an alien presence.
With the speed of long experience I examined the man's mind and chased through the hallways of his visions, worn smooth by time and long nights of dreaming. There was nothing there of value. He was a dull life form, having led a dull life.
"C'mon, man!" pounded the human on the door, rattling it against its hinges, "Hurry up in there!" He was becoming angry, violent, a primitive emotion that had its roots in the primordial jungles of evolution.
I had his pattern now, though. With a pulse of my own life energy, I delicately altered the course of the man's thoughts, and lead him down the dimly lit hallways of his own mind. He took his children and left, probably wondering why he was doing so even as he forced his protesting offspring into his car.
With raw, delicate senses I tested the web of life, waited as their energies blended with the flow of humanity surrounding me, until they all but disappeared entirely. Good.
They hadn't forced me to shift shapes again. There was still hope.
But there wasn't much time. Again I turned my attentions to examining the body I had occupied. Before I could leave, I knew I had to be familiar with every nerve ending, every muscle fiber. I must function well to pass for normal.
Again I looked into the mirror. As always I was taken aback by the strangeness of my form.
At least these human beings were bipedal. So many times in the past my journeys had carried me to water worlds of tentacled, blind, liquid breathing life forms, or to hot, arid desert lands of scales and insect forms. I was at least grateful to have an endoskeleton instead of a shell.
It was a simple pattern to read, this body I inhabited. It had a single, simple sensory organ surrounded by a mobile carrying case of flesh and bone. Ten digits on the upper appendages, ten digits on the lower. Everything was symmetrical. Two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, eyebrows, arms, legs, testicles, and lungs. Plenty of back-up.
When I noticed there was no back-up for the heart muscle, I became uneasy for the first time. A single mistake could ruin my physical form. At a critical moment in conflict when energies were low, such an error might mean death, even for a shape changer.
Caught in the open, a sentient being in the form of a fragile life energy, I would be an easy target for any one of my many enemies. On the planet Earth, caution was the key to survival.
I traced my digestive tract and all the glands involved with that process. I traced my vascular system and all the billions of capillaries that supplied the countless single cells that formed my collective whole. I ran the memories of the human's brain through my thoughts and gleaned enough information to get a sense of who and what I was. Suddenly I knew I could read and write a language called English. Suddenly I knew how to manipulate the biological motors attached to my bony frame. I could move my arms and legs at will.
I was blinking; breathing; forcing the heart to pump oxygen to my starving cells. How to make a set of kidneys work? How to maintain a comfortable level of adrenaline from the pancreas? How does a human liver work? What enzymes fuel my physical existence?
All these questions and many, many more. Answered with the speed of a taste bud registering the flavor of a fine wine.
When I looked into the mirror again, my frame was no longer strange. After all, it was just me staring back. Wasn't it?
Had it been so long that I couldn't even remember my own uniqueness?
This doubt startled me. For a shape changer, there were two forms of death; biological (for our energies are of that primitive origin), and sentient.
Sentient death is a mystery even my people have yet to understand. It's a kind of forgetfulness, a kind of fading away.