Roof Runners

The roof runners are Mixed children from the Blue. Occasionally a human from Red or Green attempts it as well, but they are often injured or killed because they lack the extra instincts or agility necessary to survive the attempts. A few succeed, and some Mixeds and humans continue into their twenties or thirties, but for the most part all roof runners are Mixeds between eight and fifteen. The most common are feline varieties, along with geckos, goats, deer, and primates.

Roof runners often travel in groups of two to ten, although three to five is most common. Being in a group allows for protection from thugs and thieves who prey on runners returning from the wealthier Sectors. Sometimes a family of children will run together, the older experienced ones training each sibling as they come of age. More often, the team is simply a collection of friends who have each others’ backs. Teams are also helpful in case of a failed jump, since another member can help pull someone holding onto a ledge to safety. Running alone is very risky and only a few of the younger runners choose it. Older runners often have lost the rest of their team, and so are more likely to go alone. However, most of them stay and find a young team to mentor and train in their own particular routes and style. There are actually several ‘schools’ of running techniques that have developed over time, with varying routes, jump techniques, and special traditions.

The roofs have open areas to allow gardeners to walk and tend their gardens, and seasoned roof runners can almost always land on the paths. Gardens that have berry bushes in them are universally hated because sometimes the spiked stalks drape over into the paths, and they are harder to avoid. Some gardeners who want to keep runners off their building will plant a hedge of briers all around the top of their building. Rolling into a bush is considered a rookie mistake.

The roof runners have a very strict code of conduct and one of them who breaks it will often be kicked out of the team they were running with, sometimes injured in a way that leaves a permanent scar to show other teams not to accept them because they are a rule breaker. Such a scar carries implications into adulthood, because the Mixed will be regarded as a cheater and is less likely to succeed in a business venture in the Blue. Roof runners do take food from the roof gardens, but they will never take more than they can eat while on the move. If the household is known to have many children or to be very poor, no food is taken. As a matter of fact, some roof runners will leave food at these places, or help the owners with chores like weeding or picking. They often help elderly residents (of which there are few because of the harshness of Blue life) and some roof runners become full time gardeners for these people, since the actual owner can no longer climb to the roof. This is a way for some homeless children to find a place to stay that isn’t charity.

Outside the Blue, rules are different. The same idea of not stealing from the poorest still applies, but in the White runners will often sit down and enjoy a larger portion of food. They also steal from the ground markets, especially items that are lower quality in the Blue, or are completely unavailable. The runners bold enough to cross sector lines make a good profit from this. There is a massive black market of medicines, well-made clothing, and leather and tech goods in the Blue, run out of abandoned homes, bars, and some of the small businesses. The places are known by word of mouth and almost everyone in the Blue knows where to go to get what they need. Each fronting store is supplied by a different runner, and the stores fronting runners who make it all the way to the White get more business than those whose supplier only steals from the Red or Green markets.

Roof runners have developed their own jargon, some of which has slipped into everyday use in the Blue. “Hitting the berries” is the term for a big or stupid mistake, coined from the action of new runners failing jumps and rolling into briers. New initiates are called “sorefeet” because for the first few weeks the soles of their feet are burned by the roofs or cut from gravel, since most runners who stay in the Blue do not have shoes. A “honeybee” is a runner who leaves the Blue and returns with goods to sell. ┬áTaking a foolish risk is taking a “storm jump”, taking a big but worthwhile one is “running the White Sector”. “When the Gold Sector hears feet on the roof” and variations on the phrase is a term for ‘never’, since runners cannot cross the Gold Sector walls because the houses are too far away on either side.

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