John Fish B.Sc. Publishers of Tenby in Wales (UK)


The Scatterlings


Ricardo Primos

e-mail: Ricardo Primos










Initial Setting

The date is 2040. The location is Ilha do Sal, Cape Verde Republic. Against a background of a depopulating planet ravaged by AIDS, a young South African expatriate and his Cape Verdean girlfriend realise that they are now alone on the island, having discovered that the few remaining inhabitants have left. They realise it is time to leave.

Main Characters

The main protagonists are Mark Coulson, twenty-five years old, and his girlfriend Maria, twenty-four. They have been close friends since school, on the island, and are now lovers. Mark wants to leave the island and somehow get to Brazil to try to find work there.

He arrived on the island at the age of five with his father who runs the SAA offices at the airport until he is killed in a plane accident. Terrorists in Pretoria killed Mark's mother, and his father left the country, wanting nothing more to do with it, influencing Mark's perspective.

General Theme

This is one possible future that South Africa, and the world, could experience - depopulation, a crime-ridden and largely purposeless existence for the surviving inhabitants, where the military is the only secure option for young men and their future is very uncertain. Values are skewed by the unrelenting violence and morals are based on fear of the ever-mutating viruses associated with the original AIDS pandemic.

An evil plot to wipe out "inferior races" by a central European scientist manifests itself in the many alleged cures being distributed, to counteract the viruses, being themselves the sources of more strains of the disease, a spiral that threatens the very existence of humanity. These viruses have been developed and distributed by him.


The general tone of the story is one of eventual hope in very difficult times and circumstances - hope for the future and for mankind in general despite huge obstacles being placed in the path of the main characters.


The population of the island of Ilha do Sal has been dwindling for a long time - AIDS has ravaged the islands as it has the nearby continent of Africa. The islands are vulnerable to pirates raiding them for their women, as the plagues have taken a terrible toll on females in particular. The two main characters decide to leave in a small sailing boat for the capital of Praia on another island in the Republic. They are caught in a fierce wind and drift out into the open ocean.

A passing single-handed British yachtsman, Jonathan Cox, miraculously rescues them. Thus begins an adventure that takes them via a Brazilian island, where, after an encounter with drug-running criminals, an American woman of dubious background and past joins them.

A brief encounter off Recife follows where they are given a briefcase by an American Naval contact, accompanied by a mysterious partner, with "the latest serum cure for the current virus", and asked to deliver it to his contact in Cape Town. They are also asked to try to find the Naval Officer's son Warren who is known to Mark from his youthful schooldays when Warren's father was stationed at the UN Base on Sal, and has now gone missing in South Africa.

Mark and Maria are promised a large sum of money and citizenship of the States if successful in their mission.

Apparently the country (South Africa) is increasingly xenophobic and has closed its borders, and it is impossible to deliver the vaccine through the normal channels. The yacht calls in briefly at Tristan da Cunha before being blown around the Cape to land at Durban, having been battered by a violent storm.

On arrival, Mark is unwillingly inducted into the army to do his compulsory national service, applicable only to whites - Zulus are given the option of volunteering. Intelligence officials detain the others in the port where they are more or less confined to the yacht. There is some mystery surrounding the exact contents of the briefcase that is taken from them by an Intelligence agent who had been tracking the yacht's progress across the Atlantic, thanks to a device installed on the yacht off Recife without their knowledge.

A short interlude with Mark's future army colleagues follows as they respond to a terrorist incident in Durban followed by a more deadly encounter with some renegades up the coast where the group has gone to surf. They lose one companion and the renegades are dispatched after backup arrives. Two prisoners who have been captured by the renegades are taken back to base in Durban.

The country's infrastructure is badly damaged by rioting and crime, and the story reaches a climax as a military convoy, including Mark, is escorting commercial vehicles up to Gauteng and stops overnight on a farm complex in the Midlands. They are also escorting his American friend Warren, who was one of the two captured by the army from the gang of bandits who held him after his plane was shot down, and were defeated by Mark's army buddies before Mark joined them. Warren is now being transported to Pretoria for interrogation. He is feigning amnesia, and is suspected of being involved in drug dealing. Mark is unable to get any information out of him.

Warren escapes into the mountains and is hunted down by Mark and his companion, a Zulu tracker. They find him dying of snakebite. He gives Mark the information they seek - namely the name of the main character involved in drug manufacturing and distributing. It transpires that the drugs are supposedly cures for the various strains of mutating viruses, but the manufacturer has been adding "attachments" which are more lethal than the viruses they are supposed to cure, which accounts for the unending strains of the virus continuously appearing.

As they return to Durban, Mark is informed that things in the country have changed again and all conscripts who desire it are free to be discharged. Voluntary military service is reintroduced, and he returns to the yacht and Maria. Jonathan and Ruby, the American woman, have decided to sail off to the States anyway, and the story ends with the owner of the yacht and the American woman, now his lover, deciding to get married in Cape Town where they are heading, on the yacht, and which prompts Mark to propose to Maria. The latter two have decided to stay in the country, which at long last appears to offer hope for the future.


Introductory lines "And we are scatterlings of Africa..." final chorus from "Scatterlings of Africa" by Johnny Clegg, produced by Hilton Rosenthal, published by H.R. Music B.V.





Sample Chapter

And we are scatterlings of Africa

Both you and I

We are on the road to Phelamanga

Beneath a copper sky

And we are scatterlings of Africa

On a journey to the stars

Far below we leave forever

Dreams of what we were

(From the Scatterlings of Africa by Johnny Clegg)

Part One - The Islands

Ilha do Sal

Chapter One

Solitude was not a problem with him - he was used to it. Most of his life had been spent on his own, fishing, hiking and sailing around the island. It was the empty silence, especially now in the gathering dusk, that weighed heavily on Mark. As he walked along the deserted beach, the crunching of shells underfoot was the only sound he heard.

Even the sea was quiet; the hot afternoon wind had died away completely, and in the lee of the island the ocean had flattened and lay limpid, its pale blue surface reflecting the very last rays of the recent sunset. Red and orange spears of light spiked heavenwards from below the southwestern horizon, and the cloudless sky was darkening perceptibly in the opposite direction.

Away in the east, a single bright star shone steadily; presumably Jupiter or Saturn, or maybe even Mars; it was certainly red enough, but maybe the dust-laden air tinted it while it was still so low down. He made a mental note to check the almanac when he reached home.

The thought of Maria waiting there spurred him on, and he quickened his pace. Off to his right, the empty, purple landscape lay, still shimmering after the heat of the afternoon. The flat land lying across the dusty plain up at Terra Boa no longer showed any hint of green.

The small crop of maize and sorghum that they'd managed to grow this year had been harvested, dried and ground, and lay bagged in their storeroom together with the food they'd salvaged from the old NATO airbase next to the airport up at Espargos. The village was now mostly ruined, with the inhabitants having moved down to Santa Maria on the southern tip of the island long ago.

His boots crunched noisily on the broken shells and bits of coral littering the high tide mark between jagged patches of black lava, and a small flock of gulls swooped noisily in front of him as he approached the last outcrop of rocks before the crumbling sea wall began.

He stopped at the top of the wall, surveying the ruins of the little village of Palmeira. No matter how many times he arrived back here, he always optimistically scanned the buildings and the conical hills behind for any signs of life. As usual, all was empty and still.

Three days of tramping alone along deserted beaches and through empty villages had affected him more than he cared to admit, and he shrugged his shoulders as he started off along the broken blocks of coral and concrete that still effectively kept the winter's stormy seas at bay.

The gentle watery sounds now coming from beneath his feet inside the sea wall had a calming effect, and a pair of dark sea birds, winging their way silently across the bay added to the sense of tranquillity and peace which pervaded the scene.

Ahead, he could see a little yellow light shining through one of the windows of a ruined building that lay in the darkening gloom of the pervading salty dust haze - a beacon welcoming him home.

He brushed a wisp of sun-bleached hair from his forehead and eased the straps of his backpack as he started off again towards the light. A thin wreath of smoke crept up from the building and threaded its way across the rooftops, levelling out and dissipating into the thick air along the dusty roads. He called out as he neared the building, with its faded, peeling paint and crumbling plaster looking less dilapidated now than it did in harsh daylight.

"Maria," he called again, listening to the breeze that was beginning to whisper quietly in the cooling evening, raising tiny dust swirls among the deserted buildings around the little harbour.

He dumped his heavy backpack on the reinforced concrete apron fronting the building and stretched his back, raising his arms slowly.

Her faint reply came across the water and he turned to see her outlined against the last of the fading sunset, a small, lithe figure running along the concrete wharf. He met her at the base of the dock, catching her as she flung herself into his arms and smothered his face with kisses.

Her legs were wrapped around his waist so tightly that he could hardly breathe, and he laughingly pulled away to look into her dark, liquid eyes, flashing with the reflection of the orange sky behind him. Her breath was coming in short sobs, and he lowered her to the ground. He stood a whole head taller, and bent over to kiss her upturned face.

"Don't cry, my love, hush now. It's all right; I'm here now. Come," he took her hand and led her along the dock and through the open doorway into the light of the small group of abandoned storerooms they called home. Cooking smells wafted through from the kitchen area, and his mouth began to water.

"What kind of fish?" he asked as he approached the pot hissing on the charcoal burner.

"Parrot. I speared one inside the reef just outside the harbour this afternoon. I just knew you'd be home today. Something told me you were near. I was so lonely, I missed you too much."

Mark hesitated before speaking again. He regarded the small, lean girl in front of him for a while, considering how best to break the news to her.

Finally, he led her through to the main room and sat her down at the table, reaching for the bottle of wine and glasses she'd put out for him. Pouring two glasses of the thin, pale coloured wine salvaged from the freezing plant private stock a year ago, he took her hand in his and cleared his throat.

"Well, it's as we thought. We're all alone now, my love."

She stared at him for a long moment before replying. "You went all around the island, and there is nobody left? Even at Santa Maria?"

"Even there. I walked around the whole island, inland to Espargos, across to Pedra de Lume and right down to Santa Maria. I went into every house and ruin I could find, and there's nobody on Ilha do Sal but us now. It looks like the remaining people at Santa Maria left recently - the boats have all gone. Even the old watchman and his boy at Pedra de Lume are nowhere to be found.

"I thought I saw a ship off Pedra, but it was so hazy I couldn't be sure. I couldn't get the radio working either - somebody's cannibalised the set there. Oh, by the way, I picked up some food we can use," he added, standing up and moving out to the front to retrieve his backpack.

Hauling it inside, he undid the straps and emptied the contents onto the table. There were cans of tuna from the factory stock at Santa Maria, a few dried bacalhao codfish in vacuum bags, some cans of mango juice from Cuba, and packs of flour, powdered milk and sugar.

"No coffee, I'm afraid. Not much of anything left now." He watched her face, studying her reaction.

"No sign of where Arnaldo could have been, even?"

"No. Sorry, my love. No sign of anyone at all. Not even closed up - the buildings were open, left to the wind and dust. They didn't even bother shutting the windows. I did."

Maria was quiet for a while. He guessed that she had finally accepted the disappearance of her brother three months ago, and decided he must have managed to get across to one of the other islands in the Cabo Verde group. Occasional large motorised dhows from Africa, and the very occasional freighter from Europe had visited the island infrequently over the past few years, but nothing had been seen for almost a year now.

That wasn't to say some vessel hadn't been to the island - just that he didn't know of any. Pedra de Lume, on the west side of the island, had a small but reasonably safe harbour.

Built in the early twentieth century to export salt when the salt mine created by flooding a volcanic crater was in production, it was deserted now. The breakwater was still intact and the wharf in good repair. A ship could moor there for a while without anyone on the eastern side knowing about it.

Maria had been deeply depressed when Arnaldo moved off to Santa Maria, down at the southern tip where the island's few hotels were situated, and they hadn't heard from him again. Nobody down on the south side of the island knew where he was.

He had simply vanished a month after leaving Palmeira where he'd shared the harbour warehouse storerooms with Mark and Maria. She appeared to have resigned herself to his disappearance now, and he changed the subject.

"Any more wine in the back of the old freezing plant?"

"Not there, but up at Espargos there's a small warehouse still locked at the back of the airport terminal, behind the old Cubana airline offices. Maybe something of value there, I think. Maybe we can go up tomorrow and have a better look. I couldn't break the lock - it was very strong steel."

"When were you up there?"

"Two days ago. I walked up there so I could see you with binoculars from the end of the airport runway when you got to Mordeira Bay, but there was too much haze. I couldn't see anything, so I came back here."

"OK. Let's see about it tomorrow. We still have enough food for a long time, with the fish we catch. The water's not so nice here, but still better than the stuff down south. Man, it's foul there. The cisterns are full of algae and stuff - it stinks. I ended up filling my water bottles from a well outside the Hotel California."

They sat quietly for a time, listening to the night birds down on the beach as they sent their mournful cries across the water. Mark studied Maria as she sat quietly sipping wine in the flickering candlelight. Her slim, boyish figure was hidden under her worn T-shirt with its faded picture of Marcellino Rocha, the current PAICV President. For all they knew, Senhor Rocha may well be dead or replaced by now, and the Partido Africano da Independencia de Cabo Verde no longer functional.

As an entity, it had presided over the rise in standards of the small island Republic off and on for the best part of seventy years. But it had all come crashing down to pre-independence levels of deprivation and poverty as the AIDS pandemic swept across from Africa and through this remote group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving its awful legacy of death, poverty and misery in its wake.

Maria's long, elegant legs reaching down from her ragged denim shorts and the swell of her small, firm breasts under the thin cotton started his blood moving, and he smiled at her.

She was watching him, an impish grin on her full lips. Her dark, tangled curls fell around her oval face, framing her olive features perfectly. She looked so much like Arnaldo, and he thought again about her brother, the man who had been so important a part of her life.

The disappearance of Arnaldo, the gentle giant who had cared for her during the eight long years since their parents perished in a fiery inferno when a hijacked Cubana jet had crashed into the terminal where they worked, had left a huge hole in her life.

Even after Maria had moved in with Mark, her companion since school days at the NATO Base school at Pedra de Lume, Arnaldo had still had a big influence on her life. He earned his living fishing from his little boat, the 'Tania Joao', when there were still enough people around to buy his fish.

When the trickling exodus from the island became a torrent, he and Mark, with Maria's assistance, had kept the airport serviceable for a while, but when the last airline closed its offices, they moved to Palmeira permanently and merely existed, fishing, scuba diving and beachcombing and dreaming about leaving.

Mark's father had died in the same accident - the incident that, perhaps even as much as the AIDS pandemic, had precipitated the eventual virtual evacuation of the island. The burned-out terminal was never rebuilt, and they operated from the warehouse office and the old military control tower only.

As the population dwindled, services slowed and eventually ceased; tourists stopped coming to the island and ships bypassed the small community that suddenly had to become almost totally self-sufficient. Central Government on the main island of São Tiago, seated in the capital Praia, was unable to provide even the most basic help, and the relatively few hardy independents remaining on Sal had struggled to keep their heads above water.

Now it appeared that the two of them were the only ones on the island. The time had come to seriously reassess whether or not they should leave like the rest had done.

"You know what I'm thinking, don't you," he said, taking her hands in his across the table. "We definitely have to consider leaving now. There's no future here, let's face it. No shipping, no air traffic, well, we're isolated completely and even if we contact Praia they won't be able to do anything to help.

"The last time I spoke to them down there, it sounded like they were about as badly off as we were. The time has come, I think."

He held her hands as he spoke, and she looked into his eyes, a hint of tears in the gleaming darkness of her own eyes as she tightened her grip on him.

"Yes, I know it. We both know it; maybe we have for a long time really. There's no future here, for sure. But where do we go? To Praia? And then?"

"There's more chance of getting across to Brazil or Africa from there. Let's face it, if we could make our way to Africa I could sort out something there, maybe. Look, I know you're not keen to go anywhere near Africa, and I also know my father vowed and declared that neither of us would ever set foot on the continent again, but he never really explained why. My mother was killed in South Africa. I know it, but I really don't have many memories of her any more and I can't see why I should avoid the country. After all, it is the only place I can claim nationality."

"What do you mean, Praia has given you-"

"Permanent residence only," Mark interjected. "It's not the same thing. I can't claim any of the rights a citizen here can, not that there are many things anyone could claim anyway, but it means something to me. I'm not stateless."

They were quiet for a moment, the sounds from the sea filtering quietly through the open doorway. Mark broke the silence again.

"The news from Pretoria was of improving conditions; the last time we contacted the SA Airways office in Johannesburg from Espargos they sounded upbeat. We could possibly make a decent living there. Maybe we could get a ship going south from Praia.

"Look, Africa may not be an option anyway. If we managed to get across to Brazil, we could sort out something there, if they'd let us stay. It doesn't sound so bad there, the last we heard. We also have that money from the airport - it will be valid anywhere. Fifty thousand US dollars would help start us off, for sure."

"You're absolutely one hundred percent sure that money isn't accounted for, Mark?" It was a contentious subject, one that had caused many arguments since he had found it in a bag beneath a cupboard in a storeroom at the airport. All cash was kept in a safe there, and accounted for, and he had to presume that it once belonged to drug smugglers or worse, and could not be traced by anyone.

There was no point in revealing it to anyone else; he had argued against her inherent honesty that insisted they surrender it to the Central Government in Praia.

He sighed deeply. "Maria, Maria. We've been through this so many times. Look, my love, no matter who we tell, somebody will claim it. It's been lying there for years by the looks of it. The notes are all dated prior to 2030, ten years ago, and I'm sure it was dirty money to start with. Nobody knows where it came from, for sure. It's our nest egg, and that's that, OK?"

They were quiet for a long time, eating the meal of fish and rice, and even later, after making passionate love long into the night, they didn't speak. Both knew the time had come. They'd discussed it before, many times.

Mark's original home had been back in South Africa near Pretoria, but his father, a civil engineer, had brought him to Ilha do Sal when he was five years old. His mother had been killed in a car bomb explosion that brought down the section of the shopping mall where she had been buying groceries one fresh spring morning. The blast was never claimed by any of the lunatic terrorist groups seeding their mayhem and destruction through the early decades of the twenty-first century. There was some speculation that it was one of the many copycat explosions set off by mentally unstable idiots looking for attention.

Joshua Coulson, however, was convinced it was the work of one of the Afrikaner resistance movements active in the area at the time, and his hatred of the country and its people remained with him for the rest of his life.

The twenty dead and two hundred injured were merely more statistics added to the growing total of worldwide victims of a multitude of murderous causes. After the horrific World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks in 2001, with the subsequent international hunt for all known terrorist groups, the world had become a dangerous place for most of humanity.

The off-on so-called International Jihad initially instigated by Al Qaeda still took its annual toll as the shadowy forces of good and evil, depending on which side you were on, raged against each other across the globe. The only results seemed to be in an increasingly growing number of innocent bodies left after each incident or follow-up retaliatory operation.

Joshua Coulson had brought his young son with him when he was awarded the contract to lengthen the already adequate runway at the Amilcar Cabral International Airport to accommodate the next generation of SST heavy troop transport aircraft that the United States Air Force was introducing.

The proximity to Africa was of much importance then - the Americans were operating all the oilfields from West Africa down to Angola at that stage. It was part of their burgeoning 'Assured Access to Strategic Resources' policy that included mining and drilling operations scattered across the globe.

The huge security force necessary for safe working that accompanied all their overseas operations resulted in a large contingent of US Military Forces stationed on the island as well as on the platforms themselves.

They oversaw the transport air traffic from the States themselves, from a high security base underground at the opposite side of the runway to the terminal. They had similarly constructed bases at all airports in the "free" world at that time.

Coupled with a small but burgeoning European tourist boom, there was fairly heavy air traffic through Ilha do Sal. The Island Republic had been 'discovered' as a safe holiday destination in the sun, and as Sal had the only land flat enough to accommodate a large airport, it became the hub from where helicopters and ferries transported vacationers to the more tourist-orientated islands to the west.

The long-range helicopters operating to and from the oil platforms scattered along the coast of Africa added to the large volume passing through the airport.

Joshua Coulson, when the construction contract ended, managed to secure an appointment as General Manager at the airport, and they had lived there ever since. Maria's family was also employed at the airport, and the two youngsters had been school companions from a very early age.

Although he hadn't been back to South Africa since he'd arrived in the winter of 2020 at the tender age of five, Mark still felt an affinity with the country.

His father had remained adamant that he would never send his young son back, and his own recollections of the land were sketchy at best, but he'd read as much as he could about the country, and spoken to as many people who had been there as he could find. He had a reasonably good idea of what it would be like to live there, even though the apparently high rates of disease, terrorism, crime and poverty were something that had to be taken into account.

He and Maria had discussed the possibility of going to South Africa at length. They had more or less decided it would be the most reasonable course to take, if Brazil, their first choice, stuck to its guns and, in common with the rest of the world, refused any immigration from Africa.

The oilfields had eventually begun to dry up, tourism was a distant memory and the last aircraft to touch down at the airport was a US Air Force transport carrier taking part in a global survey to verify the status of the world's strategic airports.

They'd had no feedback and no further touchdowns of any aircraft. The staff had dwindled accordingly, until just Mark and Arnaldo had manned the airport. Maria, who had also been tutored earlier by Joshua Coulson in the intricacies of commercial transactions, stock control, customs regulations, immigration and financial laws and equipment maintenance, ably assisted them.

The earlier American transports had always arrived with much needed freight and supplies, and departed with what the island could muster in the way of exports - frozen rock lobster, canned tuna, cigars from Cuba and whatever else they could lay hands on. The staff at the airport had later watched with frustration as the continuing air traffic in the skies sped by high overhead.

Their radar and tracking systems gave them a clear picture of the volume of traffic, and the comm and video links with the supersonic aircraft speeding overhead served merely to depress them both.

They eventually put out a message to all concerned that the airport on Ilha do Sal would remain unmanned, but electronically alive and cleared for emergency landings.

They spent a lot of time communicating with the second space station, the one being constructed in lunar orbit, and even managed to help relay some crucial information to the main base at Canaveral when communications were disrupted for a time by a series of massive nuclear explosions in the Middle East. But eventually they shut up shop and the three of them moved to Palmeira and the beaches.

It was there that Mark and Maria had discovered that they had more in common than they realised as youngsters and both simultaneously progressed from teasing experimentation to experience fully their sexual awakenings.

As Maria laughingly remarked later, it was a good thing they both experienced them together. They lived and loved as a couple from that time on, with the tacit approval of Arnaldo, which surprised Mark. But now they were alone, and it was time to leave.