“Do you have any intention of staying in town?” He addressed both of them directly, making it clear that he was not fooled by their trick.
The man placed his hands on his belt, closer to his weapons, Bruce noted. “Certainly,” he said, obviously forcing himself to be cordial with the University officer. “We’ll set up camp within the city walls and stay for the week. Once we’re restocked and repaired, we’ll move out.”
Bruce glanced behind them, past the glow of the plasma lantern to the caravan. The collection of people was clustered around the few lanterns they had, and he could see that they were also of all ages and looking rather poorly groomed. Their faces looked beaten and filthy around their masks and goggles, and matted hair stuck out from under traveling helms. These were typical traits of people who traveled in the open air, or who even worked outside in the city without some type of shelter around them. However, since water was difficult if not impossible to find inland, bathing daily was not possible. He noticed that among all of the masked faces, however, there were children - young children, no older than two or three by the looks of them - who were not wearing dust masks. Considering that they were conversing in a dust storm, Bruce had to force himself to suppress a shudder of horror at the sight.
“I don’t see a problem with that,” he said flatly. “You’ll have to hold a residence pass with you, unless you have travel papers written up already.” The man pulled a bound packet from his jacket. It was worn and the cover in near-tatters, held in an old binding, but covered all of the appropriate information for such a large group. “All right. You’ll find some open land in the far West end of the city, along the wall. You can find a place to set up camp there.” He filled out the visitation page as he spoke, then handed the packet back to him. “Welcome to Torenz.”
The trio returned to their group with a quiet thank you, and the group collected their belongings and children to mobilize again. Bruce went to his radio and called for the inner guards to open the main gate to allow the travelers through. As the gates opened and the caravan moved through, Bruce watched them carefully as they passed. The amount of children without masks was small, but they certainly had a presence. Bruce took a mental note of the oddity, but pushed it to the back of his mind as the gates closed behind them and he was left alone again on guard duty.