"Leila?" I call softly, tapping the door with my tail because my hands are full. There is no answer, but I ease the door open and tiptoe in anyway.
She is almost invisible in a nest of white sheets, and looks like she's been buried in an avalanche. Despite being asleep, she somehow manages to sense my presence and her eyes flicker open.
"Hey," she mumbles sleepily, rubbing her eyes. I'm not sure if she's awake or sleep-talking.
"Hey," I reply. I put the tray on her bedside table, but Leila takes no interest in it whatsoever.
"Did you bring the book back?" She lies back down and closes her eyes again.
"Yes." I take the book out from under my shirt, where I've been hiding it, making my chest look even flatter than usual.
"Take another if you want."
"Really?" I feel like clapping my hands with joy.
I wouldn't, if I were you. You can't keep reading late into the night like last night, your work will suffer.
Damn it. I disregard the Voice's comment, although part of me knows it's true, and approach the bookshelf, pretending the Voice is still asleep or whatever it was doing yesterday. It's a shame, really. I'd been enjoying the peace.
I slide the Planetary Colonies book back into its slot on the shelf, and wiggle out the one next to it. Its spine threatens to rip away from the pages, which are crumpled and made of thick yellow paper, like the stuff we sometimes used at home. I open the book at a random page, and see that it is all handwritten. On closer inspection, I notice that the handwriting is the same as the curly print on the cards describing the fossils. "STARSHIPS OF THE ALLIANCE" is scratched on the leather cover.
"Is this one any good?" I hold the book up to Leila, and she responds with a muffled grunt which could mean anything.
I decide to leave her to sleep while I clean her room, which doesn't really need cleaning but I do it anyway because I'm in no hurry to meet Mistress, who will undoubtedly have a hangover after last night's party. Hangovers always put her in an even more hellish mood than usual.
After I'm done and Leila's room is literally spotless, I hurry out of the family's home with the book stowed under my shirt. Luckily, the guards are engaged in a debate about whether Mistress's breasts are real or implants, and they don't seem to notice me.
Once in my room, I shove the book under my pillow and take the opportunity to confront the Voice.
"Where were you yesterday?" I demand. I feel rather stupid, standing alone in my room with my hands on my hips, trying to look as stern as possible. I'm certain it sees my body language; it sees everything I do, after all. I still feel stupid, though.
In your head. Where do you think?
"No, you weren't. You didn't say a thing! Not even one catty remark!"
I was still there, being quiet doesn't mean I'm gone. You should try being quiet sometime, it gave me lots of thinking space. Maybe you should try thinking, too. It's quite enlightening.
"Well what were you thinking about? Must've been something big, if it took you all day to think about it. You've been acting really weird since we went to the market."
You're calling me weird?
Don't you have a job to do?
I bite my lip. I really want to carry on talking, but I don't fancy tempting Mistress's wrath, especially without her husband around to pacify her.
"We'll talk later," I snap, and hurry back to work. I don't know why, but something about the previous minutes fills me with a cold dread. I suppose I always knew that the Voice had a mind of its own, but this is something different. It's never been brooding for this long before, and then there was that time in the market. It was only for a moment, but I said words that had never entered my mind, like I wasn't in control of my own tongue. Suddenly, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I no longer want to be alone. I hurry into the apartment, and for once I'm glad to see Mistress waiting for me.