Shelly switched off the engine and let the boat drift, bobbing on the gently rolling Pacific waves. Ahead of her were more boats, a great dirty sprawl of them, connected by ropes, cables, even improvised walkways between masts and superstructures.
“I must be in the wrong place,” she said to no-one but the empty ocean. That was one of the reasons she had come out here, as far from land as it was possible to get. No-one could judge her for talking to herself if there was no-one around.
She switched her navigation system off and on again. Instead of showing her the real Point Nemo, the spot in all the seas furthest from land, it pointed again at the cluster of boats, this chaotic shanty town of rusted metal and salt-stained boards.
She hit the box. Still no change.
Her dreams of this moment had been so clear. The perfect calm of being all alone, knowing that so-called civilisation was over sixteen hundred miles away. The peace she longed for.
Instead, Point Nemo was full of people.
Patience wasn’t the strongest of Shelly’s virtues, but if that was what was needed then she could wait for the floating monstrosity to move on.
An hour passed. An afternoon. A whole night. The next morning, that floating blight was still where it had been.
Engines started up on some of the ships and Shelly’s spirits lifted. She watched as a mass the size of a small town was pushed through the water. It was an impressive feat – she could concede that much now that they were going.
The engines stopped. She glared from the ships down to the map. All they had done was adjust the centre of their sprawl, so that it lay perfectly upon Point Nemo.
Shelly drummed her fingers against the wheel and forced herself to take deep breaths. She didn’t know that these people planned to stay. The only way she could find that out was to go and talk to them.
Reluctantly, she started the engine and motored towards them, while her foot tapped briskly against the floor.
A row of low boats connected by planks formed an improvised harbour on one side of the floating town. Shelly pulled in there. A young man with tanned skin and clashing clothes caught her mooring rope and helped secure her boat.
“Welcome to Port Nemo,” he said as she climbed over to his yacht. “The most isolated place on Earth.”
“It doesn’t look very isolated.” Shelly glared at the inhabitants of the nearby boats.
The young man chuckled.
“You’re here for the quiet, huh?” He pointed across the decks to the far side of town. “Then you’ll want The Murmurs. It’s the district where all the isolationists live. Strict rules there about keeping quiet and leaving each other alone.”
The idea of people gathering together for isolation was baffling enough, but if they were only a district then there was more to this strangeness.
“Who else lives here?” she asked.
“All sorts. Oceanographers. Ichthyologists. Scavengers hoping to retrieve space junk. Did you know that hundreds of satellites and spaceships splash down around here to avoid hitting people?”
“Of course I know that. I did my research.”
“Didn’t we all.” He winked. “But this place still surprised me.”
“And how long will you people be here?”
“Forever if we can. This is our home now.”
Shelly scowled. All the effort she’d put into coming here, gone to waste. It wasn’t fair.
“I’m sorry,” the man said. “I know how you feel.”
“No you don’t.”
“I came here to be alone too.”
“Then why are you with all these people?” She waved her arms wildly.
“It turns out that there are people I get on with after all. A lot of them come here. That’s the beauty of Point Nemo.”
Shelly looked around, trying her hardest not to just see a filthy, noisy mess. She saw the murals on the sides of ageing tankers, the restaurant signs hanging above luxury yachts, the lady sitting in the sunshine with her cat as they watched the fish swim by.
People like her. That had some appeal.
But she had come this far to be alone, and she wasn’t going to let that dream go.
“Where’s the next most isolated spot?” she asked.
He pulled a strip of paper from a bundle in his pocket and handed it to her. On it were scrawled a string of digits.
“Enjoy your voyage,” he said. “And remember, if you found us once, you’re always welcome to return.”
As she sailed away, Shelly kept her back to Port Nemo and enjoyed the solitude of the sea. Using the new coordinates, her navigation system pointed her towards a fresh opportunity for isolation.
It was much later that she wondered why the man had those coordinates ready.
* * *
Point Nemo is a real place. The port isn’t, as far as I know. Thanks to Al, Gemma, and Ben for helping me turn an interesting fact into the inspiration for a story.
If you enjoyed this story, you can get more like it to your inbox every week by signing up to my mailing list. Or come back here next week for something steampunk.