The young woman looked vastly out of place standing in the line of people waiting to file through the debarkation gate and receive their billeting assignments. Tall and lithe, beautiful and dignified, she stood out like a tulip growing in a cactus garden. The rest of her queue-mates were the scum of a dozen worlds. Virtually all of them, male and female alike, were graduates of the roughest schools in the galaxy—the imperial prison system. They were tough and, for the most part, ill-educated. You could tell their planets of origin by the brand of slang they spoke and the choice of obscenities with which they peppered their conversation.
In contrast, the young black woman was striking in her cleanliness. Her clothes fit her precisely and were fashioned by one of Earth’s finest designers. Her eyes had a deep look of intelligence to them, and her short hair was neatly trimmed. Her stance, the way she tilted her head, the expression of cool self-assurance—all testified that this woman was something special, born to wealth if not to the dvoryane itself.
She stood patiently in the corridor that had once been painted white, but was now scratched and faded to a dismal shade of gray. Her eyes stared straight ahead at the tables where the data entry clerks were feeding people’s information into their quietly humming machines. She seemed totally unaware of the lecherous glances from the men around her, or of the envious stares from the women. When the person at the front of the line was finished, she moved forward with the rest. But as for any other interaction with her queue-mates, she might as well have been a statue.
Finally her turn came. She uploaded her data to the woman at the front table, who checked them routinely without even looking up and began making notes about them into the computer. “Name?” the clerk asked in a bored tone.
“Hazel Whiting,” the young lady replied. “It’s on the screen, if you’d bother to look.”