"You are human Arnauld Fauvier?"
The enormous Grodon officer glowered down at him. "Your status has changed. You must leave these quarters immediately and report to the class D passenger area."
The class D passenger area was steerage. Cramped, hot, no privacy. "I'm class C. I paid for my tickets with—"
"You are now class D."
"Sol System is now an Association possession. You and all other humans are now class D. If you would like to apply for individual class C status, you may do so at a sector capital. Either way, you are required to vacate these quarters immediately and report to the class D passenger area."
It had to be a mistake, but there was no use arguing with the brute: Grodon — at least the ones in Association service — are uniformly rigid, officious, and uncaring. "Fine. I'm already packed. There wasn't really any room to un-pack."
The Grodon just stared at him. They hadn't even bothered to send soldiers with him. What trouble could a human possibly be? He grabbed his bags and his own datapad, and made for the lift.
"You will use the ladders. Lifts are off-limits to class D passengers."
Arnauld made his way down the ladders towards the outer hull, past crew quarters, through cargo sections, growing heavier all the time. At the bottom, he felt like he weight three hundred pounds, and he was sweating profusely.
There were aliens of all descriptions in class D, dozens of different races, all at the bottom of the Association pecking order. He found a group of humans. "Anyone know what's going on? Some Grodon kicked me out of my—"
A woman said: "They invaded Earth. Three weeks ago. Terrible."
A man continued, "The UN didn't make enough trade concessions."
An older man scoffed, "They would have invaded eventually no matter what. Just a matter of time. I've read up on their history. They wrote it, so it's whitewashed all to hell, of course, but you can still see the pattern. Everybody gets absorbed by the Association one way or another. If not at their terms, then at gunpoint."
"So we're class D now." The lowest socioeconomic class: serfs, for all intents and purposes. He looked around. There was a pair of Oblogo sitting a little ways away, on one of the few benches against the compartment bulkhead. "What are they doing here? Aren't they class C?"
The younger man cautioned quietly, "Stay away from any higher-ranking races. If they should be higher class, and they're in steerage, it means they're criminals. We've been here two days already; that big Oblogo killed a Llinth. Just killed her for getting to close. Threw the body in waste disposal. Nobody seemed to care. And there are cameras everywhere, so, somebody saw it."
Arnauld felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. Everything was suddenly different. But at least they were in space: it would be worse, so much worse on Earth.