Given its size, Phoenix had a relatively low population. As far as Hector could tell, this had up sides and downsides, just like most things. A lower population meant fewer Empowered for the Citadel to deal with. Lower population density meant that Citadel operations had to cover a relatively large area with the same resources that would normally be used to deal with a tenth of the same area.
Of course, limited resources weren’t as big a problem for Hector as they might be for most operatives. All across the city and its suburbs, he was active. Some of him were working at what he considered his ‘side jobs.’ Other hims were just having a good time, dining out, browsing bookstores or just browsing the shelves of one store or another. All of him were armed, at minimum with the standard operative’s load out but, in a few cases, he was carrying his ‘special’ bag, the one he mostly hoped he’d never get the chance to use in the field.
Out of all his activities, the most important thing he was doing at all of those locations was simple, he was watching. Every day, he provided witness testimony or video evidence for minor crimes and civil disputes, everything from shoplifting and traffic accidents up through attempted murder and sexual assault. In more than a few cases, especially in the later categories, he’d been able to intervene, to help someone. That wasn’t the point, technically, but it still felt pretty damn good.
The point was both to be seen, a visible testament to the Citadel’s readiness to act when necessary, and to give him information. That data, simple patterns of activity and mood and a hundred other things besides, was what he needed to do his job as an analyst. He was supposed to predict problems before they got too big to miss and, when he failed at that, to figure out why. It was that last little bit that he was concentrating on today.
He and Jason had fought Lord Reaper on their first day in town. Well, Operative Grave had fought him and Jason had killed him. Reaper had been a member of a group called the Four, the least of them. From what Hector had been able to learn since, the Four were a group of minor Lords, subservient to a city Lord, one who had run afoul of Stainless. The Four had fled the Battlegrounds, under the guise of conquering a Weakling city.
Funny how he’d spent so much time near or on the Border but he’d only just learned the Battlegrounder’s term for the rest of the country.
It hadn’t been a surprise when Lord Taker, another of the Four, had entered the Challenge Circle. Hector had fought him and, eventually, he might’ve won. It had seemed like a better bet to let Jason take over. Hector was sure that Jason could’ve won- would’ve won- if not for the other half of the Four, if not for Hectors’ fuck up.
Phoenix was a Border city. Lords would periodically try to take any city on the border. That was a given, just business as usual, the reason why operatives stationed to those cities were almost always amongst the Citadel’s most dangerous. Those Lords would be accompanied by servants and hangers on, again, business as usual. At the time of Taker’s attack, Hector had been cleaning out what he’d thought was a group of the fallen Lord’s servants.
He’d had good reason to believe the information that led him there. It made sense and it had been confirmed by an Empowered officer in the Phoenix PD. In fact, it hadn’t been wrong. It just hadn’t been complete. Hector had found Reaper’s servants alright, he’d also found a hundred more. The men and women that belonged to Taker, Viral and Starve, the last of the Four.
The numbers he could’ve handled. As far as Hector was concerned, being outnumbered was something that happened to other people. Starve had been dangerous, able to shut down his individual selves with a glance. Viral… Viral had almost killed him. Hector hadn’t been ready for that. On so many levels, he hadn’t been ready. Hector didn’t like that feeling.
He knew Jason could kill, had known ever since he’d looked in the other boy’s eyes. Grave… he might be able to manage it as well. He’d be flat out shocked if Bruce Richards hadn’t figured out some way to do it. That was it. As far as he’d been concerned, he’d been safe from everyone else. But… out of nowhere, Viral had shown up and damn near done it. Liz had saved him, and his mother. He’d been lucky.
The worst of it? He hadn’t known they were even there. He should’ve. A few people could enter the city unobserved. That was a given. A few dozen? Tougher, but it was certainly doable. A hundred? No. That shouldn’t have been possible, not by anything like conventional means. So now, Hector was looking for the unconventional means that must’ve made it possible. Not just because of what had been done to him, because he wanted to make sure the next Lord that tried to take Phoenix away from them had to do it without a small army of servants.
The nice thing about all those hims that were out drinking coffee, eating steak and- today- a particularly nice piece of cheesecake? People got used to it. Sure, they all knew he was Citadel. He wore the uniform, some of him had visible weapons or body armor, but that had a tendency to… fade. Hector was just the nice young man that was always bugging Big Harry to share the recipe for the dry rub he used on his steaks, the guy that helped old lady Christner when she dropped bag of groceries in the middle of the street.
When the friendly fellow that helped you push your stalled car back to your garage asked you an innocent question, even one you wouldn’t answer coming from a stranger and definitely not from a cop… well, why wouldn’t you answer?
One of the first things Robert Grave had told Hector about the city, there was a thriving subculture of Battlegrounds immigrants and smugglers. Most of the immigrants were actually refugees, no threat. Smugglers were more likely be sneaking things into the Battlegrounds than out. So long as it was it medicine, generators and fuel… well, that might have been a crime but it wasn’t a high priority. Bringing people out, especially people that posed an active danger to the still functioning part of the country… that was a different matter.
It had taken weeks, but Hector thought he’d found the man responsible. Now, all he had to do was wait, watch. When he was certain, then he could act.