Footsteps in the Sky

Footsteps in the Sky

by Greg Keyes


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The pueblo people who landed on the Fifth World found it Earthlike, empty, and ready for colonization . . . but a century later, they are about to meet the planet’s owners

One hundred years ago, Sand’s ancestors made the long, one-way trip to the Fifth World, ready to work ceaselessly to terraform the planet. Descendants of native peoples like the Hopi and Zuni, they wanted to return to the way of life of their forebears, who honored the Kachina spirits.

Now, though, many of the planet’s inhabitants have begun to resent their grandparents’ decision to strand them in this harsh and forbidding place, and some have turned away from the customs of the Well-Behaved People. Sand has her doubts, but she longs to believe that the Kachina live on beyond the stars and have been readying a new domain for her people.

She may be right. Humans have discovered nine habitable worlds, all with life that shares a genetic code entirely alien to any on Earth. Someone has been seeding planets, bringing life to them. But no other sign of the ancient farmers has ever been discovered—until one day they return to the Fifth World. They do not like what they find.

Originally written in 1994, Footsteps in the Sky is finally being released in digital form by Open Road Media.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497699915
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 05/26/2015
Pages: 298
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.67(d)

About the Author

Greg Keyes was born in 1963 in Meridian, Mississippi. When his father took a job on the Navajo reservation in Arizona, Keyes was exposed at an early age to the cultures and stories of the Native Southwest, which would continue to influence him for years to come. He earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Mississippi State University and a master’s degree from the University of Georgia. While pursuing a PhD at UGA, he wrote several novels, including The Waterborn and its sequel,  The Blackgod. He followed these with the Age of Unreason books, the epic fantasy series Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, and tie-in novels for numerous franchises, including Star Wars, Babylon 5, the Elder Scrolls, and Planet of the Apes. Keyes lives and works in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife, Nell; son, Archer; and daughter, Nellah.

Read an Excerpt

Footsteps in the Sky

By Greg Keyes


Copyright © 2015 Greg Keyes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9991-5


2442 A.D.

SandGreyGirl finished washing her mother's hair, her narrow face clenched around the tears it hid.

What killed you, Pela? She asked in the black shadow of her mind. What ended my mother's life?

She stepped back, relieved to let her cousins close in and do the rest. They tied prayer feathers to Pela's hands and hair, gifts for the ancestors. No doubt some of the ancestors—the ones from the Fourth World, Earth—would be confused by the feathers. There were, as yet, no real birds other than turkeys on the Fifth World. The feathers were grown in sacred culture tanks.

The white cotton mask they placed on Pela's face was real. Pela had grown the cotton herself. Now it would be the cloud which hid her face when she came back to bring rain to her people.

SandGreyGirl was beginning to feel sick. She stepped out of the little apartment she shared with her mother for some air, aware even as she did so that the others would talk, call her a bad daughter.

But they already did that, didn't they?

She let her gaze drift across the box-hive of native stone dwellings and poured concrete facilities that were Tuwanasavi, the town of her birth. Of her mother's death. Father Sun was resting in his noon-time house, and his light inked doorways and windows in sharp relief. Beyond the edge of the mesa, the land stretched off, hazy and unreal, a cloud tinted grey and green.


She didn't turn at the voice. Her father was the last person she wanted to see right now.

"Sand, I'm sorry. There was nothing any of us could do."

Sand bit down on her lip, resisted the urge to spin around and howl at him, scream like the cyclone winds that rushed up the valley in spring. Instead, she slipped her words into him softly, each a tiny dagger.

"You could have taken her to the lowlands. Whatever she had, they could have cured it."

"You know the elders wouldn't have agreed to that."

"The elders can't stop a Dragonfly from slipping off into the air. I could have taken her. If you had called me."

He had no answer for that, and she expected none. She heard his feet shuffle uncertainly.

"She didn't want you to see her die," he said at last.

Sand finally turned to face him, and she fixed her eyes on his own until he looked away. His round face, as always, bore that pitiful expression that she so despised. It was both apologetic and sneaky. Daughters and fathers were rarely close amongst the Hopitu-Shinumu, but her feelings for him were deep and fetid.

"Why do you hate me so?" he asked.

"You shouldn't have to wonder that," she replied.

Under her hot stare he wilted further and finally retreated towards the room where his wife waited, dead.

The sun moved on, rested for the moment. Sand paced across the roof of the main house, arguing bitterly with the image of her father that she kept in her mind. With her other relatives—with herself.

After a time, the clan chief came to get her.

"It's nearly time," he said.

Yuyahoeva was an old man, at least fifty. His face was like the tortured, frozen rock of a lava flow. Sand gathered her resolve to confront him.

"I want an autopsy, Ina'a."

Yuyahoeva's stone face trembled, as if it were about to become live magma. But he mastered himself. Anger was an evil thing to show. And yet, as had she with her father, he made his feelings clear in whispered, stinging words.

"You little two-heart. How can you suggest that? Your mother was a good woman. She will not be cut up by those lowland butchers."

"I want to know what killed her."

He regarded her as he might regard a clot of night soil on his shoe.

"Don't you know, after all this time, that what you want is not important? Your schooling with the lowlanders has spoiled you." The word he used for "spoiled" implied decay, corruption.

"She was my mother."

He dismissed that with a sharp chop of his palm. "She did not belong to you. She would understand that. She belonged to all of us. And there will be no more talk of autopsy. If there is, you will be banned from your kiva. Do you understand?"

Sand faced him for an instant longer, her breath harsh and salt threatening to sting her eyes. Then she turned away.

"She was murdered, I think. Somebody killed her." An unwanted note of pleading crept into her voice.

"She was sick," the old man replied, more softly.

"Sick with no disease we have ever known. Diseases such as they can create in the lowlands."

"The lowlanders are all two-hearts," he replied. "But they do not live here. They do not single out individual Hopi to torment."

"Some do," she muttered, casting a meaningful glance at the room where her father was helping to dress her mother's corpse in bridal finery.

"Enough of this, I tell you," Yuyahoeva snapped. "Come and help to carry your mother's body."

Sand glared at him again, and then reluctantly nodded. The shadows were lengthening.

Later, with her mother in the earth facing the sunrise, Sand became a Dragonfly and went to bury yet one more thing.

She could make the change quickly now. When she first became a member of the Dragonfly Society—three years ago—it took half an hour of chanting, wearing the full garb and mask of the Dragonfly Kachina to unlock the inner space where her own Dragonfly slept. Now it took a mere moment; a breath of air, her mind sinking down, crystallizing, becoming simple and strong. When she mounted the Dragonfly itself, crouched behind the windshield at the fore of its long silver body, she was already a part of it. When the underjets popped and then roared to life, she saw the pathway in the air open before her like a rainbow.

Airborne, she let the wings fold out, gossamer and unbreakable. She kicked on the afterjets and the world became a tunnel, wrapped around her. The mesa city was gone, melting into the shadows of fast-approaching night. Pela nosed east, and the quavering black shadow of the Dragonfly ran ahead of her, seemed to slide up the steep valley wall like a predacious jet amoeba, devouring meters and kilometers with unassuagable hunger. The lip of the canyon rushed down to meet the shadow, and Sand smiled as her afterjets brushed the black stone and gravel with clear heat, reveling in the absolute speed of her reflexes, the almost audible calculations in her head, the sense of seeing everything and nothing all at once.

"You will not see a stone or a tree or your own all-important thoughts," Her teacher had told her, in the quiet of the kiva. "You will hear and see and smell the world as a single thing. Or you will die."

Now the completeness that was the world was a thing of coal and rust, blood colored oil on a pool of night, the moon a cobalt blue marble rolling on the north-east horizon. Deep inside of SandGreyGirl, a skeleton sorrow danced, but it was a distant grief. As the Dragonfly Kachina she was above all human cares.

Black ridges pushed up through the skin of the earth like the sharp edges of broken bones. The basalt towers waxed in her vision, devouring the sky, the wholeness of the earth, so that the Dragonfly began to leave her. The machine she straddled became just that—a hovercraft, long and thin—large enough to carry two people but perfect for one. She retracted the wings and cut the underjets on full, to break her fall, and now Masaw came dancing out of her, the death god, filling the shadows with grief and dread.

Too bad she couldn't always be the Kachina, with its shiny steel heart.

Sand stepped wide, avoiding the hot sand beneath her jets. The metal of the Dragonfly began to tick and ping as it cooled in the chill night air.

"Well, here I am," Sand remarked, as much to herself as to any spirits who might be listening. She patted the sealed pocket at her hip to reassure herself that her little burden was, in fact, there.

Her mother called this place, "Where the Kachina Touched Me". Sand had been here with her a few times, but her mother came here every month, a pilgrimage that she missed only the last time, as her body wasted with lightning speed, as her eyes clouded and ceased to understand light. Sand made this last pilgrimage for her, to bury her sacred things in the place most sacred to her. Somewhere here, in the heart of her land.

My land now, Sand thought miserably.

But where was that? These cliffs were large. Sand carefully paced across the black soil, searching for the spot, the very place her mother had seen the Kachina itself. That was easily done—her mother had shown it to her on each trip they made together—but there was nothing to signify a special place. Sand knew what she should find: a small shrine, a few prayer-sticks keeping vigil, something like that. Where?

The little bundle in her pocket seemed to be getting heavier. Sand thought back to when she was a child: her mother's story of the Kachina from the stars frightened her, fascinated her. The immense black stone had seemed poised to fall upon her, crush out her tiny life, but Pela was always unafraid. She was always able to soothe Sand, show her the beauty even in fear.

Some of those memories—the ones of their camping trips together—were the best. At fifteen, her mother had given her her first whiskyberry here, and the two of them had gotten drunk, drunk and very silly. It was that night that Pela confided some things about Jimmie, her husband—SandGreyGirl's father. Things Sand could neither forget nor forgive. It was that night that she had fallen in love with her mother.

Sand smeared the tears across her face, let a single, wracking sob tear loose from her chest. She could use some of those whiskyberries right now.

Sand knew, then, and she picked her way up the broken stone until she came into the little dark cove where she and her mother camped that night. She crossed beyond a certain big stone and saw the whiskyberry plant, their plant. Its stubby body offered her five or six ripe fruit, but Sand regretfully ignored them. She flipped on her torch and carefully scanned around. She smiled wanly at the little cornbrake her mother had begun before Sand was born, hugging the damper sand near the black stone. Some of it was tasseled, almost ready to produce the little blue cobs that her people so cherished. Each year the roots of the corn spread a little farther, and each year more stalks came up to savor the moisture that collected here. It was tenacious, like her mother had been, stunted by the desert but still bearing fruit. Sand pushed carefully through, unwilling to damage a single stalk. What she was searching for should be behind, somewhere....

There. Long ago, gas had slowly forced its way up through cooling magma. It had formed a bubble and then been frozen there when the molten rock cooled, until the corrosive forces of the winds had eaten through the stone itself. The hollow that remained was a semi-circular cavity, mostly filled with sand. The torch revealed four small prayer sticks there, colors dimmed by time.

Hello, mother, Sand thought, and began to cry again.

The moon had made his short arc across the north and set before Sand gathered the courage to do what she must. With a surprisingly steady hand, she pulled the little bundle of amulets and items that her mother had cherished. Near the little pahos, the prayer sticks, she brushed a depression on the sand.

"I will bury them here, mother, and then close up the opening. You will still know where to find them." If what the old people say is true. If she really leaves her grave in four days and comes here to reclaim her things.

And as she doubted, her fingers encountered something buried in the coarse grit.

Sand hesitated. What had her mother buried here? She gritted her teeth, summoned all of her skepticism about ghosts and spirits to armor herself with. These are just things, she thought. But this inner assurance seemed lost in a shadowy realm, a dark house populated by the dancing forms of the Kachina and the souls of the dead. Nevertheless, she resumed her digging.

The object she dug out of the black powder was a book. Sand lifted it gingerly, reverently. The nearly flat, translucent rectangle was smooth and cool in her hands. She stared at it. Only one word was visible, so dim that it was obvious that the book had long been away from the revitalizing strength of the sun.

Laughs-with-me, it said.

That was her name, the name Pela had given her that night she had first been drunk.

Sand touched the contact that would wake the book up. A tiny message appeared, as dim as the first.

"Key necessary".

Sand nodded. Carefully, so carefully, she unrolled the little bundle she had brought to bury. Two little amulets, carved of the black stone of these very cliffs. A small silver star that a man named Tuvenga had given her long ago. The magical odds and ends of a too-short life.

And there was a little coded bar, twisted into the shape of a ring. Sand put the ring on and touched the book again. This time, the pale writing filled the cover of the box.

"Sand, my daughter. There are some things you must know, now...."

Sand thumbed the box off. The letters were too pale, and she was too tired. The morning would bring them both more energy.

She checked carefully in the sand around the pahos and found nothing else. She buried her mother's magic things and blocked up the tiny cave with stones. Afterwards, Sand sat looking at the pile of rocks for a moment that seemed to become the whole night.

Finally, she trudged reluctantly back down to the Dragonfly and opened up the cargo hatch. She took out an alcohol stove and a wire-mesh bowl that fitted over its burners. She set the stove up with the mesh bowl, kindled the stove, and filled the bowl with the densest rocks she could find.

Another trip to the hovercraft brought her back with four long, flexible shafts and a sheet of polymer cloth three meters on each side. Sand thrust the sharp ends of the shafts into the ground so that they arched up towards the sky. When all four were planted, she had the skeleton of a dome with the rapidly heating rocks in the center. Finally, she pulled the cloth over the dome and weighed it down on the edges with rocks. Her sweatlodge was finished. She placed a small bag inside, where the heat was already beginning to grow fierce. Then Sand stripped off her tough flight suit, a one-piece garment of reinforced Densedren. The plateau breeze prickled bumps on her exposed skin as she also removed her cotton shorts and shirt. She tried not to hurry, to maintain the dignity of the ceremony. Thus she stood for a moment, her lean body fully exposed to the sucking breath of the sky, as if to express her disdain for it. She took down the elaborate braided rolls on either side of her head that signified her unmarried status, letting her dark brown hair fall thickly to her waist. Then Sand bent down and entered the sweat house.

It took only instants for her chilled pores to open up. She rocked back and forth in the furnace heat, and sweat soon slicked her body completely. I am like my ancestors, the fish she hummed to herself, recalling her clan's version of the origin. Fire seemed to walk back and forth across her dark skin, searching for a way in.

And found its egress through her nostrils, as her lungs seemed to expand with live flame.

Sand opened up the bag and pulled forth a small swatch of green branches and a thick, resinous piñon cone. Reverently, she placed the juniper branches on the now-glowing red stones. She placed the piñon cone beside it. Both of these things were rare and precious; as sacred plants, both piñon and juniper had been brought from Earth, but required much care.

They began to smoke, and the thick resinous odor of them filled the sweatlodge. The smoke covered her and filled her up, and now she was a fish in the dark depths of a juniper sea. The smoke scrubbed her, lifting away the touch of her mother's corpse, the cold plastic feeling of it. The smoke was fragrant purity, and the breath of a ghost could not long withstand it.

Goodbye, Sand told the smoke. Goodbye, mother.

She began to sing and did not stop until the cloth of the lodge was soaked with the earliest light of dawn.


Excerpted from Footsteps in the Sky by Greg Keyes. Copyright © 2015 Greg Keyes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Footsteps in the Sky 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice good humor.