The Saskatoon Covered Market

The covered market is a story in two parts. It’s a sprawling mass of cobbled-together buildings that sits abreast to an exactingly-made corporate palace; the people who go there are either so rich they can buy and sell you, or so poor that they’d cut off a leg for your paycheck; it sits in the heart of the UCAS’s jeweled city, but recognizes none of its authority. Legally speaking, it is a corporate enclave owned by the Morbux cartel. It does not recognize UCAS laws, and the people there are beholden only to the security firms working there. Poetically speaking, it could be described as the place where Saskatoon’s two sides meet—the focal point, around which the whole city turns. The covered market is where the highest rollers in town come to do business, and the greatest mercenaries in Canada negotiate terms. To a Toonpunk, an invitation to the covered market is a sign that you’ve made either a very good impression, or a very powerful enemy.

History of the covered market

To explain how the covered market came to be, we first need to explain lake Saskatoon.

During Bloody March, much of the land around the Saskatoon GenMu was deformed: numerous titanic bodies, ongoing melees, and cluster barrages by the RCA all helped to make the land virtually unrecognizable. One of the most notable terraformations was the formation of Lake Saskatoon, which came about as the result of a drawn-out brawl between an army of giant naked men from a horror manga and an army of giant naked women from an…other manga. The conflict raged for over two months, until a combination of flooding and artillery fire finally destroyed all the local instances of the combatants’ homepages. By the end of the fighting, most of the Western half of Saskatoon had been destroyed; and the river bed itself had been widened and twisted so badly it was commonly described as “a bit like a wizard sleeve”.

The resulting lake (2.25 km wide, 30 meters deep at its deepest point, 2 meters deep at its shallowest) proved to be a considerable pain for reconstruction architects at the time, and for citizens many years thereafter.

During the early reconstruction days, the UCAS-based think tank Applied Robotics in Nonhuman Animals used it as a chance to field test their new Ocean Sweeper project. The Ocean Sweepers were a school of rainbow trout which were cybernetically augmented with an “exterior stomach”—a small structure roughly two inches wide, which hosted a colony of waste-consuming nanobots. It tunneled into the creature and hijacked its stomach and brain, causing it to seek out and devour industrial waste (including plastic, polystyrene, and other commonly-discarded inorganic materials). Additionally, it hijacked the reproductive faculties of male fish so that their children would be born with a “dormant” version of the same augmentation, which would grow to full functional maturity alongside the fish. This was intended to continue for three generations; and then the augmentation would sterilize the male specimens. The fish would die off, allowing conventional specimens to take their place. This did not go as planned.

An error in the augments’ programming meant that this never happened. Instead of being sterilized, they continued to wildly propagate over the years—on one hand they devoured most of the waste in the lake in a matter of months; but on the other hand they quickly accelerated to vermin status. The ocean sweeper school in lake Saskatoon is today estimated to be roughly 200,000 strong, and are regularly fished for by the city’s poorer residents. While they taste like old socks and poop, their mechanical stomachs metabolize their food so well that they are reasonably safe to eat—reasonably enough that you will consider it while broke. They also earned their home the nickname “trash lake”—because in the years since it has become economical for citizens, companies, and even disposal companies to just dump their trash into the water and let the fish devour it. It’s gross.  <p/> It’s not half as gross, however, as what happened next. After the proliferation of the waste-eating fish, someone saw an opportunity. Richards Pharmaceutical Corporation—now defunct, and commonly believed to have been a Morbux-backed heatsink company—purchased 1.15 square kilometers in the center of the lake from the municipal government. They thereafter funded the construction of Richards Tower—now colloquially known as the Big Dick. Standing 10 stories tall, Richards Tower was completed in 2056 and operated for 11 years. It was an offshore research and development platform investigating the medical uses of ink. The important part of was not that it conducted research, but that it conducted research away from witnesses—and in the middle of a sea of waste-eating fish which could very easily dispose of evidence.

Today, it is whispered that the true purpose of this facility was a staging ground for illegal human experimentation in high-ink conditions—research which would have been prohibitively difficult to perform outside of Saskatoon, and impossible to conceal if performed within the more populated areas. Obviously, any and all hard evidence related to this was destroyed long ago; but correlated witness accounts at the time often report armed guards being posted around the tower’s base, with a number of forlorn and skinny-looking people often being sighted milling around in the tower’s ground-floor garden and gazing wistfully at the city. Soon after the these reports became public, the Richards company hastily erected a privacy fence around the base of the tower.

Far more concerning—and more alarming in its implication—were the 4 corpses which washed up on shore during the tower’s operation. In 2058, 2061, 2066, and 2068, the Saskatoon police department documented four similar cases: emaciated individuals, each bearing signs of long-term restraint, were found dead on the shore of lake Saskatoon. None had been in the water for more than 6 hours, and on autopsy each was found to have died from water inhalation. However, each was also found to have suffered from massive internal hemorrhaging, after having had their aorta cleanly severed. Most peculiarly of all, none of them showed signs of a fatal injury—their skins were all unbroken. At the time, the police department suspected the bodies to be the work of a serial torture-killer; but when the killings abruptly stopped in 2068, the case went cold and today remains unsolved.

When Richards Pharmaceutical declared bankruptcy that same year, Richards Tower and the Richards land were auctioned off. The lot was promptly purchased by the Keystone banking company, which then leased it out in three parts to Kingston Aeronautics, Langston Construction Company, and Woods Luxury Manufacturing company. While this is technically above-board, any punk worth their salt will note that all four of those companies share board members with the North American Morbux cartel—meaning that the entire property was effectively a Morbux-owned corporate playground where any investigation could be mired in multiple corporations’ worth of red tape. In 2071, the UCAS ratified Richards Towers’ status as an extra-governmental enclave, effectively removing it from Canadian jurisdiction. Despite no longer being beholden to the UCAS law, the property holders have been steadily increasing security around it ever since.

While Richards Tower has been steadily expanded on for the past 2 centuries—now standing at 83 stories tall—the most notable change to came shortly after its independence, when Keystone declared a most peculiar open-border policy: it planned to erect low-income housing on the water around the tower, and to let the first 300 people who volunteered to live there do so without paying rent. This offer was accepted by very few at first, for by then Richards Tower had acquired something of an ominous reputation. However, when months went by with no word of workers vanishing, or turning up dead, more and more people came to accept the offer. Soon the entire complement of 300 had been filled, with many bringing spouses or children. It was soon generally accepted that Keystone’s housing project was a ham-fisted attempt at removing the negative stigma surrounding the tower—and it was one which undeniably succeeded.

Today the shantytown around Richards Tower is highly expansive, having grown well past those initial few housing blocks. While Keystone banking lists the place as hosting roughly 800 factory standard floating houses, there are many more than that. The entire property is secured only by whichever corporate security firm the property-holders have hired on at the moment—which means that the sum total of law and order on the floating ghetto was “Do not damage company property”. When news of its relaxed borders and lackluster policing reached the criminal underworld’s ear, there was practically a run on the place from all sorts of shady characters. By 2110, the whole mile-and-a-half reservation had been occupied—not only by bank-owned housing, but by squatters who had rigged up small boats or barges to the rest of the structure.

Circa 2120, it acquired the nickname “the covered market”—for many of the squatters saw fit to drape sheets and tarps over the narrow walkways between dwellings, for to lock in the fleeting heat; and indeed, many services of a distinctly unsavory manner may be negotiated there. Today, these improvised dwellings tower over the water, as high as 15 stories in some places; and an estimated 2000 people live within the Richards Tower property. No attempt has been made by Keystone to remove these squatters. While their official stance is that they do not want to drive away people who have nowhere else to go, the more conspiratorially-minded among us believe that this was all part of a calculated gambit on their part: for now, any rabble-rousers who might seek to raid the facility must go through a meat wall some 2000 strong. More than that, though, disappearances are common within the covered market—and no one can say for certain whether the missing persons are falling victim to their fellow squatters, or to the sleeping corporate beast that anchors their community together…

The Covered Market Today

The covered market as it stands today is the unofficial wetwork nexus of the GenMu. Most of the business is handled there: people with ill intentions will meet openly to discuss things which, just a kilometer away, would be damningly illegal. Everything from high-rise robberies to assassinations can be decided over dinner in one of the shantytown’s grimy (but popular) meeting houses. A number of these establishments, bolstered by frequent business from wealthy and unsavory characters, approach a respectable standard. It is often remarked among Saskatoon’s criminal element that you can tell what kind of work you’re being hired to do based on where your contact offers to meet you, on the basis that more dangerous work merits a more enticing proposal. The code goes that if you get invited to a Schlock joint you’re being hired for B&E, trash fish for arson, real fish for asset retrieval, and steak or sushi for an assassination.

It is commonly said that in the covered market even the most infamous of criminals can freely show their faces; and while this does reflect the laissez-faire attitude of the place quite well, this is a considerable overstatement. It is true that criminals in the covered market do not take as many precautions to avoid detection—and indeed, many notorious toonpunks, contract killers, and other bad actors keep a permanent or semi-permanent residence nearby. However, nobody is bold enough to walk completely undisguised: more than once the UCAS has presented an order for criminal rendition; and the corporations have always been quick to comply.

As a criminal of any description—forger, hitman, bomber, etc.—you will likely do a lot of business here, assuming you’re good enough to get paid for it. An invitation to the covered market is usually a good thing—with one very notable exception: a number of criminal organizations in the GenMu (namely the Malorn family, the Rasputins, and several lesser gangs) observe the tradition of the “Red Letter”. When they mark a fellow criminal for death, they will provide the victim with an empty envelope made of red paper. This is an “invitation” to the covered market; and criminal tradition holds that if the marked man arrives there, he will be afforded a painless death. Anyone who runs, however, will be left to the mercy of the hired killer the mafia sends after them…

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The Brackish Bar and Grill

At the interior edge of the original housing blocks, no more than 20 meters away from the tower privacy fence, you will find the Brackish Bar and Grill. Founded in 2248 by Grimbles the Goblin, it was originally an Ocean Sweeper grill with a compelling selection of moonshine and not much more to its name. Over time, however, it became much more; and today it stands as shining proof of the fact that a good location can get a business through just about anything.

Its proximity to Richards Tower meant that the BB&G rapidly became a popular place to negotiate wetwork contracts. While it was theorized that people who lived or worked inside the tower itself were its main clients, a more conservative guess is that its patrons were otherwise unremarkable criminals with a dramatic flair: even the most pleasant of conversations can take on an aura of gravitas and menace in the tower’s shadow, and many clever negotiators used its proximity as a potent psychological weapon. Over time, as such discussions became more and more commonplace, Grimbles expanded his business—installing a pier around the bar’s back end, which proved an extraordinarily popular place to intimidate and execute unfortunate persons. The “murder dock” eventually became so popular that people had to start calling ahead and placing reservations.

By 2281 Grimbles’ humble establishment had become such a hotspot for nefarious meetings that he was able to buy out several neighboring habitats; and several generous donations from ‘regular patrons’ allowed him to renovate the interiors and the menu. Today, the BB&G consists of 5 different 2-story housing blocks, which between them provide 12 discreet meeting rooms, one fully-stocked bar and grill (which now serves real food), and a selection of running hot tubs. It is, much like the tower itself, an inordinate show of wealth amidst a sea of crushing poverty; and it is now considered the de facto meeting place for high-powered criminals who don’t like to work at home. It keeps its own team of armed guards and a small serving staff; but Grimbles himself still tends bar and works the grill, just for the love of the craft.

Grimbles the Goblin

Grimbles the Greasy Goblin is a frycook by trade, and he has been so since he graduated from the North Montana culinary school in 2283. At various points he has worked at pancake hut, Burger Nation, and Crab Venue 43. This is all he cares to divulge publicly. He refuses to talk of his past or his homepage, saying only that history has not been kind to it. For those of you who are unafraid of mysterious company, there is plenty to recommend about the man: his cheery demeanor is by all accounts very genuine; his steak rub has been known to elicit tears of joy; and he is as tight-lipped as a bear trap—having aced the Jackson-Pewit stooge test 28 separate times.

His ability to make and keep friends (he is known to keep an exacting list of birthdays, anniversaries, and murderverseries for every member of his vast circle of friends) has lead some to speculate that he was originally drawn as part of some obscure children’s program—or else is from some place of an entirely darker bent, where he had no friends at all. Of course, the fastest way to ingratiate oneself with him is to respect his privacy; and so all those who would be in a position to say for certain refrain from ever asking.

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Wuthering Heights

As the Brackish Bar and Grill is to professional wetwork, Wuthering Heights is to…well, the best way to describe it would be “nefarious miscellany”. This is where the cracksmen, drug-pushers, and anarchists go when they want to have a fancy night out. It is a hookah bar—that is to say, a bar where a number of psychoactive inhalants and venues to partake in such are provided for the clientele. It is by no means the only one in the covered market; but it is the only one that’s 10 stories tall. With a remarkable selection of narcotics (and the option to bring your own) it is a great place to get blasted out of your fuckin skull. It’s not just a popular recreational destination: it’s also often used as a place to negotiate low or mid-brow contrasct work—gang or city-sponsored hits, heists, and hootnannies that don’t quite reach corporate level. If you’ve worked your way onto the map but haven’t quite “made it”, expect to take a few dinners here.

Ms K

The owner and founder of Wuthering Heights, Ms. K is a skilled cook, a savvy businesswoman, an extraordinarily talented singer, and a generally able hostess. All of this, while appreciable by itself, is magnified by her origin as a single-panel gag in a bored ninth-grader’s marijuana-centric “humor” “comic”. By her own admission, she was disadvantaged from birth; and it took her the better part of a decade to overcome her sophomoric disposition. After her first 7 incarnations perished from drug overdoses, Ms. K resolved to live a marginally more restrained lifestyle—that is to say she stopped using and started dealing. She founded Wuthering Heights in 2265.

While she does have a full name, she prefers not to use it—in her own words it is a “vulgar reference to an unbecoming activity, with which 13-year-olds too often bother themselves; and moreover a genuinely dreadful pun”. The K, she insists, is perfectly respectable—even though it is generally thought to stand for “Kush”. She has never denied this; and indeed, urban legend tells that she maintains a grow-house somewhere within the covered market…though of course, she is not so foolish as to disclose its location.

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Richards Tower Today

In the center of the covered market, Richards Tower stands much as it always has: pristine, imposing, and mysterious. The privacy fence has been refurbished and expended 9 times since its initial installation. Today it stands 13 stories tall, and is dotted by numerous security cameras. The platform on which the tower is built stands some 10 meters away from the nearest floating house; but residents of the covered market hesitate to even come within view of it—there exists a popular urban legend of a young boy who fired a bottle rocket over the fence one day, and vanished without a trace the following night. Most people generally prefer to pretend it is not even there.

Goings-on within the tower remain as secretive as they always have, behind tinted windows and armed guards. From the sheer size of the thing, it is generally presumed that some 8000 people could comfortably work there; but traffic to and from the building is restricted to private skybuses which dock a mere 20 times each day across 4 landing pads—not nearly enough to move such a prodigious number. It is presumed, therefore, that the facility contains a good deal of living space. Either its employees live there full-time, or else it must be terribly empty. It is uncertain which of its tenants have taken which space; and theories abound for what they do there.

In mainstream discussion it is written off as nothing but an office for high-level executives fearful of corporate-sponsored assassination; or else as R&D for new ink-based technology. Among conspiracy theorists, more extreme ideas are floated: ink-based weaponry or mind control are commonly suggested; and there are some who posit that Richards Tower seats nothing less ostentatious than the key to absolute dominion over all of time and space; or else, that it is the place where The Rabbit has been confined for the last 250 years—and that breaching the tower would usher in a second age of cartoon anarchy.

Of course, all of this is nothing but speculation, and concrete information is unlikely to come any time soon: while many infiltration attempts were made on the tower in the past, over time it has come to be regarded as a needlessly elaborate form of suicide. Many spies and mercenaries dashed themselves upon its security in ages past; and now only the most foolish will try. External surveillance has yielded very little as well: emissions checks around the building reveal nothing out of the ordinary for an office building of that size, and the waste-eating fish ensure that there is nothing discarded which might offer a clue as to its real nature. The only thing which can be reasonably inferred about Richards tower is that its research or production, whatever it might be, is dependent upon high qualities of ink—else it need not have been built in Saskatoon. For now, it remains the city’s best-kept open secret…

USING THE COVERED MARKET

The easiest way to describe the covered market is with a phrase you may know very well: “A wretched hive of scum and villainy”. It is a place with no laws and long shadows: deadwood before the Dakota territory, or Nassau during the golden age of piracy. Here, the only authority is that which you can take and hold for yourself—if you let your guard down you might be shot, stabbed, robbed, drugged, hanged, or any number of other trigger words. In brief, it is a nasty place.

But that means it’s perfect for use in your campaigns. When you need a wild and cutthroat place where dirty deeds are done dirt cheap, the covered market is perfect. Here your payers may find a smorgasbord of illicit activities: dark deeds, negotiated in the crevices between shacks; frenzied fistfights on the decks of anchored ships; or subtle games of cat-and-mouse played in the bustling market streets. Conveniently, the absence of police means that you can spare your players any particularly harsh punishments without stretching your world’s credibility.

As a place of intrigue In the covered market, things which are elsewhere uedsnspeakably foul may be the topic of daylight conversation. If you want to tell a story of wild and cutthroat intrigue, start here: spying, assassination, and other covert business flourishes here. The dark corners, tight alleyways, and many-layered structures are perfect for thieves or killers on the prowl, while the thick and unruly crowd is perfect for socially-inclined characters.

As a place of action! If you have no interest in more subtle affairs, the market also lends itself to violent, untamed adventure. In a place without police, there’s nothing to stop people from picking fights other than the fear of losing. Guns, fists, and knives are all ways of life here; if you want to tell a straightforward story about beating up a rival gang, this is the place to do it.

Sample prompts: In the aftermath of a successful crime, the players take refuge in the covered market—they will have to lie low and outwit a veritable army of bounty hunters, all out to collect the prize on their heads. Alternatively, flip the scenario around and have the players hunting one or more incognito targets: put their detective skills to the test!

After a night of drinking and gambling goes hideously awry, the players have to make their way through the streets of the covered market back to their ferry, all the while dodging (or dominating) a sea of increasingly chaotic combatants.

While performing a deal on the deck of a moored ship, the players are pinned down by a sniper firing from an unknown location! Is it a police sting, which will force them down into the bowels of the ship? Or is it a single well-trained assassin, whom they must locate and evade without being shot?