Nostalgia is a funny thing, as soon as you’re old enough to remember yesterday, you don’t care about today… but sometimes that’s because today fucking sucks.
Saanvi watches the sparse vegetation passing by outside the passenger side window, depressing beige sky in the background. She can’t help but think about how many of her past todays and yesterdays have sucked. About how she hasn’t had a today and a yesterday back-to-back that didn’t suck since almost a year ago. The Sand & Sea Festival in Ocean City. That was the last time.
Rashida stops at a red light and sighs. Saanvi glances over at her. She’s sighing because a group of 20 homeless people are on the corner with their signs. It’s not a sigh that lacks compassion. It’s a sigh that lacks understanding of how exactly we got to this point. That fateful day, April 6th, 2046, obviously the catalyst of these tattered times… this shattered shell of a world. But how did we reach the point in which we, as a country, needed to bomb ourselves?
The light turns green and the brightness of the light stings Saanvi’s eyes. Rashida zooms off, but Saanvi savors the bright green as long as she can. There’s not a lot of green left anymore. Saanvi used to see green vegetables every day at work, back when she had a job. Her parents always told her “Get a job that stands the test of time.” Vegetables. That was safe. A job in the field of science, with something that would never go away. Right?
When your country launches a new weapon that hasn’t been tested enough and it wipes out 30% of humanity… humanity isn’t the only thing affected. The weapon killed and extinct tons of species. Rhinos, mountain lions, eagles, 70% of frog species, koalas, and the painted bunting to name a few. The painted bunting, a bird Saanvi never knew existed until she found out it no longer existed. A beautiful and bright, multi-colored bird. She was saddened to learn she would never see one in person. The weapon killed and extinct a lot of crops too. No more peaches, raspberries, strawberries, or limes for instance. Bakers and dessert makers around the world were saddened, assuming they weren’t killed by the blast. Carrots, celery, cucumbers, asparagus, and broccoli… all gone. Half of Saanvi’s work right there. Her company went under, and Saanvi was unemployed.
Oh… and they lost potatoes! No more warming times visiting family… Saanvi and her mom making her grandmother’s famous samosas. Never again will she, or anyone in the world, taste a wonderful samosa. Rashida looks over at Saanvi.
“Saanvi, your shirt’s bleeding again.”
That’s correct. Saanvi’s shirt is bleeding. A small circle of blood expands just below her left shoulder. She lifts her shirt up and exposes her skin. Underneath the blood spot, her skin is clean and untouched. No cut, no scrape. She lowers her shirt back down and reexamines the blood spot.
“When are you going to get rid of those clothes?” Rashida asks. “They’re so freaky.”
“I think you forget...” Saanvi replies. “I can’t afford to get rid of these clothes.”
“But that’s just– it can’t be– good…” Rashida sputters.
“There are no other clothes. Just… these bloody clothes.” Saanvi’s only jokes nowadays tend to be dark.
Some say it’s insane to keep the clothes of a dead man, especially since he’s the reason for the downfall of this planet, and especially since his clothes bleed on their own. But Saanvi says it’s necessary.
Sanvi was jobless. The world was in disarray. There were no other jobs she could get. She lived in her nice apartment building on that nice street with her favorite coffee shop down the block. She had her favorite neighbor ever, Bernie Smith. Beyond a neighbor. A friend. A savior when she went through a bad break-up. A desire… someone Saanvi saw herself ending up with. Someone she felt a connection with. After a few months she could no longer afford the apartment. She needed to downgrade, but she didn’t want to leave this spot, she didn’t want to be too far from Bernie.
Across the street was the rundown building with the first-floor apartment that had already had a murder-suicide happen in it. Then, there was the next murder that happened in it. April 6th was the day of the worldwide shitshow. The weapons that ruined the world. The President launched them because he was told by a member of his cabinet, Connor Clancy, that they were ready to go… that they were harmless… that they’d inflict temporary paralysis and would allow authorities to capture terrorists around the world. Clancy knew the weapons weren’t ready, but he said they were anyway. The team of scientists that created the weapons sold Clancy out… and on April 7th, an angry mob chased him down Saanvi and Bernie’s street. He made it into the abandoned first-floor apartment… but the angry mob turned it into the site of one more murder.
Clancy fled with a suitcase. Likely an attempt to get away and lay low after this debacle. He had a few slip-ups in his tenure with the President already. After one terrible decision months prior, Clancy had done exactly that. Disappeared for months, waited for the public to forget about his awful and unpopular policy. The last time he disappeared without a trace. On April 7th he disappeared… with plenty of traces.
So, the landlord of this murder-suicide-murder apartment wasn’t asking for much. And ‘Not Much’ was smack dab in the middle of Saanvi’s price range. She scooped the place up. When she found Clancy’s suitcase full of clothes tucked away, she decided to sell her clothes. She had no income, and her clothes were all high-end. She earned some money and kept the mediocre clothes of the man who ruined the planet.
Not ideal. Then again, what is ideal? A world that still had samosas, for one.
Rashida’s car putters up the road. They can see NOSTALG14 up ahead. Saanvi glances back at Rashida.
“Thanks again.” Saanvi says sheepishly. “I promise, I’ll pay you back, eventually.”
“It’s cool.” Rashida reassures her. “I’m really excited to go back and see the Sand & Sea Festival. Everyone else is too.”
“Thanks for convincing everyone else to go too.”
“Well, we needed 10 total.” Rashida smiles. “By the way, you know Bernie will be watching us like a hawk.”
“I just need one brief distraction from you, and I can slip the note somewhere.”
Rashida doesn’t like the plan. But she has accepted they’re going through with it. It’s the only way Saanvi can end up with Bernie. She can’t ask him out now. She missed her window at the festival. Present Saanvi just needs to give Past Saanvi the sign she was looking for.
As they pull up close to NOSTALG14, Saanvi starts wiping frantically at the blood spot on her shirt with a napkin.
“Seriously Saanvi! Let me buy you some non-haunted clothes!”
“It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been haunted.”
It’s true. Saanvi’s always been ghost-bait. Her first home, she witnessed spirits in the house often. The first apartment she moved into… haunted as well. Ghosts would talk to her, play tricks on her. Not the building where Bernie lives. But her current place… absolutely. This most recent spirit that’s been haunting Saanvi… he also hates Clancy. Always moaning Clancy’s name… Clancy is probably the reason this man was pushed over the edge and took his own life. But to keep hearing that name moaned through the nights… occasionally in the days… the fact that the voice follows Saanvi even when she leaves her home. It’s getting to be too much. That’s another reason Saanvi wants to go back to March of 2046. Most people who use NOSTALG14 services want to go back further… 2044… 2040… 2030… long before Clancy started fucking up the world with his awful policies. But early 2046, just 11 months ago, that was when Saanvi lived in the same building as Bernie. That was when Saanvi was happiest. They were friends whose relationship grew more and more… until Saanvi was convinced they were going to become more than friends. But each one was shy and nervous… neither would make a move. Both afraid of jeopardizing their friendship. Even Rashida could see it.
That’s why the Sand & Sea Festival is so important. That was the time it felt like it was actually going to happen. Saanvi felt it in her bones. But Bernie wouldn’t make a move. Even after a night on the beach, cuddled under a blanket for warmth, watching the bands, watching the ocean. Saanvi asked the universe for a sign. If the universe presented one to her, she would ask Bernie if he wanted to take their friendship to a new and different place.
Not surprisingly, Saanvi received no sign. She missed her window, and it slammed shut when the world went to shit. Saanvi fell into a depression. Bernie could sense it. They remained friends, but it became clear his feelings for Saanvi had changed… they had faded, just like her cheery persona. The solution: Saanvi will travel back in time. She’ll leave herself a note in that hotel room. She will be her own sign from the universe.
Don’t wait. Go for it.
Lost in thought, Saanvi is surprised when Rashida’s car screeched to a halt in the parking lot.
Bernie helps his boss, Javi Martinez, hand out the A-Masks to the group. Everyone is trying them on and checking their reflections in a mirror to see the artificial face they will possess. One of their friends, Andy, pulls his mask off with a big smile.
“Almost as handsome as the real thing!”
Everyone laughs raucously. Bernie approaches Saanvi and Rashida and hands them their own A-Masks. Saanvi places her mask on, fits it to her face, and it fades from her vision. Invisible to her eye. So light she can barely feel it. Bernie holds up the mirror and Saanvi sees a Japanese girl. She looks so real, full of life, detail, character. It’s astounding to think this is not a person at all. Saanvi nods to Bernie.
“Looks alright.” She says simply.
“Just a few hours, then you’ll have your face back.” Bernie’s tone makes Saanvi realize she sounded negative just now. Something she can’t help nowadays.
“Good, we all got a look at ourselves.” Javi starts his speech. “Remember your own faces, your friends’ faces and your guides’ faces. Now, just as a reminder, no taking anything, no leaving anything, no actions that will alter the course of time. We’re simply going to be there to observe and have fun on our excursion. Think of it like a tour guide into the jungle… except we’re traveling through space and time. Any questions?”
“Yeah, why didn’t you ever share this technology with people who can use it for good rather than to just monetize it?” Andy asks bluntly.
“There are changes we could make to history.” Javi has a response ready. “But who’s to say we should? People had their chances. They made their choices. They made their mistakes. If we go back and constantly change all our mistakes, then we’ll never learn from them. Besides, I created this technology. So, I can do whatever I want with it.”
Andy nods and sucks his teeth.
“Okay, to introduce us all.” Javi continues. “As you know, I’m Javi Martinez, founder, creator and CEO of NOSTALG14. I’ll act as a guide. And three other guides will be coming along. Our Operator, DeMarcus. The Chem for this trip, Heather. And the Mech, who it seems you all already know, Bernie.”
Bernie shyly waves at everyone. Javi takes DeMarcus and Heather, and they begin to set up the 14-seater Marti-Cart for departure.
“What a job!” Andy exclaims to Bernie. “I knew it was a mistake to switch out of Mechanical Engineering. Let’s catch up and I’ll buy you a beer after this.”
“Don’t drink beer.” Bernie says shyly. “Or really… anything anymore.”
“I thought you used to drink… what was it… that fancy thing…” Andy is lost in thought.
“Mojitos!” Saanvi finishes the thought before anyone has a chance.
“Oh, that’s right!” Andy exclaims. “Oh! But no more limes! Ugh. That sucks. Wait, have you tried it with lemon? Maybe it’s almost as good?”
“Mint is extremely rare.” Bernie explains. “It’s more expensive than gold. If you find a place that makes a lemon mojito it’s like putting a down payment on a car.”
“The mojito market really took a hit in 2046.” DeMarcus pops up from behind everyone and unleashes humor dryer than the current vegetable market. “We’re ready to roll.”
The next few minutes are spent loading everyone into the Marti-Cart, strapping bodies into seats. It’s not too dissimilar from getting tourists into a ride at Disney. Saanvi focuses on Rashida and Bernie as they fit their A-Masks on. These are the faces she will most need to be familiar with on this tourist attraction that Saanvi has turned into a life-altering mission. Rashida is now olive-skinned, looking to be Mediterranean. Bernie somehow looks like his own cousin, less handsome, less friendly eyes. Just then, she hears that familiar whisper just off her shoulder.
Instinctively, she turns. No one there. Never is anyone there. The whisper lingers in her ear. This spirit must be ready to go for a ride.
As explained, the actual time travel portion hits everyone differently. DeMarcus is working the controls while Heather and Bernie are watching several different digital readouts. The Marti-Cart begins shaking and rumbling. The whole atmosphere gets noticeably warmer and strange sensations swirl throughout Saanvi’s body. She begins to feel slightly ill. And that’s when Sanvi passes out. A common occurrence for time travel.
Saanvi’s eyes flutter open. Rashida is gently rubbing her shoulder. Slowly Saanvi regains her full vision and cognitive strength. She looks around the Marti-Cart. Three of their other friends are being awoken as well, including Andy.
Once everyone is back to full strength, the Marti-Cart doors open, and everyone exits. Next, it’s a quick 20-minute drive into Ocean City. They split up into groups to explore the area, the festival, anything they want. Bernie works it out so he can be the guide for Saanvi and Rashida.
“Right to the festival?” Bernie asks.
“Let’s go see the hotel room first.” Saanvi responds.
“Really? What’s so special about the hotel room?” Bernie is confused.
“I have some good memories there.”
It’s the truth. Saanvi remembers the hotel just as fondly as the festival itself. The three of them shared the room but Rashida made herself scarce. This meant for a lot of one-on-one time for Saanvi and Bernie. Sharing breakfast in that King bed. Watching a movie in their pajamas, sipping mojitos. It was as if they had their own home together. It was a taste of what could’ve been.
“We can’t just go into the hotel room. The ‘us’ from the past are in there.” Bernie explains
“We can wait outside until we leave.” Saanvi is already in phase one of her plan.
“Even if we do that, we couldn’t get in.” A solid point by Bernie.
“I figured a way through those card scanners.” Rashida has now jumped into her portion of the plan with great ease. “Messed around with something at work.”
Rashida waves a little mechanism she created. Bernie is surprised. His eyes bounce back and forth off Saanvi and Rashida, realizing they have planned this… though, he doesn’t realize how much they have planned.
“I don’t know. It’s risky. We’re essentially breaking into a room.”
“Bernie.” Saanvi holds Bernie’s shoulder. “You brought stuff to make mojitos that weekend. Remember? The hotel room… it’s got everything you’d need.”
Bernie’s eyes light up. Saanvi swears they changed to a minty mojito green.
“Come on, how can you pass up a mojito? A free one.”
“I haven’t had a mojito in almost a year.”
“It’s strange staking out a hotel waiting for your own self to come out.” Rashida wonders aloud as she, Saanvi and Bernie hang at a cafe across the street.
“I feel like we should be hiding our faces.” Saanvi admits.
“We won’t recognize us.” English teachers’ heads around the world implode at Bernie’s sentence.
Just then, there they are. The three of them, exiting the hotel. Saanvi notices what a weird sensation it is to see yourself like this. It’s unsettling. Her stomach is in a knot. She wonders how twins handle this. The group glances over at the cafe and at the three of them. It’s brief, but it’s uncomfortable. The group meanders off, unaware their future selves were a mere 60 feet away.
They quickly scamper across the street to the hotel. Bernie has a pep in his step and excitement in his voice. He doesn’t break the rules often… or ever.
“Do you remember how many mojitos we drank that weekend?” He asks, cheerful like a kid. “The ingredients were nearly tapped by the time we left. But I didn’t remember drinking quite so much.”
“All the signs of a great weekend.” Saanvi answers.
It was almost a year ago that the three of them were last here, but as they were in the hotel hallways, they all are flooded with memories. Everything feels like it was just an evening ago. The smell of the hall freshly vacuumed. The moisture in the air from the nearby ocean. It’s comforting.
Rashida pops out her mechanism and runs it on the door lock. The mechanism whirs for a second. It pops the lock open. She opens the door. They hesitate for a moment… and then step inside.
For three minutes they feel like trespassers. But then they feel right at home. Living life in a world not yet affected by a massive weapons strike. Living life in a hotel where a carefree weekend was had. Saanvi explains that they likely have an hour or so before they’d need to leave. She remembers they left and came back at this time because they had all forgotten their wallets. But an hour is plenty of time.
Bernie gets to making those world-famous mojitos. Saanvi allows herself to melt into relaxation. She hasn’t felt this in a long time. She hears a faint “Clancy” over her shoulder but immediately shuts it out by distracting herself.
“Don’t you love the smell of the limes and the mint?” She asks them.
They both nod. It’s true. Bernie serves them their mojitos and they all enjoy them together. Saanvi was never even a big mojito person. But she always drank them with Bernie, because he was strangely obsessed with them. Quite honestly, he made the best mojito she ever had. But it’s funny, finding out you’ll never have something ever again… and then being able to have it once more… it will make that ‘alright drink’ taste like the best damn drink you’ve ever sipped.
Bernie finds a piece of paper on the table. Saanvi’s handwriting is all over it. He studies it and then lights up.
“Do you remember this Saanvi? Our plan for that trip we were going to take up to Niagara Falls… then see your parents in Buffalo?”
“Oh yeah.” Saanvi remembers. “So, that you could have real samosas.”
It’s silent for a moment as they all realize that trip never happened. And now, what would be the point? There are no samosas left to be had and Niagara Falls is a wet crater.
Most of the rest of the time passes silently as they examine the room. Saanvi realizes there isn’t much time left for her to exact her plan. She gives a sly look to Rashida. Rashida jumps up.
“Bernie!” She suddenly shouts. “I just remembered; I have to show you how you can see the festival from the bathroom window. The vantage point is so good!”
Bernie is hesitant and confused as to why he is following Rashida into the bathroom, but he does so anyway. As they disappear beyond the doorframe Saanvi reaches into her pocket. She pulls out the note. The message: Don’t wait. Go for it.
She needs to place this where only she would find it. She doesn’t want to leave it on the nightstand, anyone could see it. She scans in a hurry. Her suitcase is in the corner of the room. On top of it, her wallet.
Saanvi stands up, glances back at the bathroom. Rashida still has Bernie in there. She’s about to move towards her wallet when a loud thumping out in the hallway catches her attention. She stops. She hears more thumping and the distinct sound of a slap. Then, she hears an angry voice… a voice she knows all too well. She can’t place the voice, but it’s so distinct. Something about it makes her stop in her tracks. Something about it makes her forget what she is doing and causes the hair on the back of her neck to stand.
She shoves the note back into her pocket and moves closer to the door. She continues to listen. More angry shouting. More thumping. Another slap. Rashida exits the bathroom with Bernie.
“Do you guys hear that?” Saanvi asks.
They shake their heads ‘no’ and then another slap and thump surprise them. Saanvi moves quickly to the door and flings it open. Rashida and Bernie follow.
They slide into the hallway. Two doors down there’s a man standing over a distressed woman in a form-fitting dress. He’s yanking her up to her feet.
“I’m not paying you to walk around with me.” The man’s voice drips with condescension. “You’ll draw attention to me, so you’re staying here.”
He shoves her through the open doorway and into the room. He closes the door and that’s when it becomes clear who he is.
Clancy. So, this is where he hid out.
The three realize it all at once. Saanvi’s body is instantly taken over by a small portion of her brain. The portion that is usually suppressed by the decision-making and reasoning portions of the brain. The portion that roots unabashedly for Keanu Reeves to kill everyone in the John Wick movies. The portion that relishes when murderers in real life meet the fate they inflict on so many. This portion of her brain sends her barreling down the hallway straight for Clancy.
Bernie releases several ‘Whoa’s’ and a handful of other words to try to stop Saanvi, to remind her this is exactly the type of thing they cannot be doing, interfering with he past. Saanvi doesn’t care. She was already trying to interfere for her own sake, now she is dead set on interfering for humanity’s sake. Or at least to avenge humanity at least in the slightest.
“You are disgusting!” It hurtles from Saanvi as she approaches Clancy.
Bernie manages to grab hold of Saanvi’s arm and pull her back. Saanvi’s fist is clenched, ready to fly towards Clancy’s cheekbone.
“Why don’t you get control of this bitch?” Clancy looks right over Saanvi’s head at Bernie.
This unleashes another ‘Whoa’ from Bernie. But this time he moves past Saanvi and towards Clancy. Bernie extends his arms and shoves Clancy into the wall. Clancy quickly draws a pistol, holding the barrel in his fist and swings it at Bernie. He clocks Bernie in the head and sends him sprawling backwards onto the floor. Rashida drops to the floor and cradles Bernie as he groans in agony.
Saanvi grabs Clancy’s arm, trying to snatch the pistol away. Clancy flings her to the floor. Saanvi lands on her butt. Clancy spins the pistol around and points it right at Saanvi. Everyone freezes. Clancy studies Saanvi. He creepily smiles.
“Please.” Is all Saanvi can muster.
“Shut up.” Clancy continues to study her. “Take off your shirt.”
Saanvi is baffled. Clancy takes a step forward with the pistol still trained on her head, so she does as he says. She unbuttons the shirt, slowly peels it off and holds it in her hand. Clancy motions for it. She hands it to him.
Clancy drapes the shirt over his shoulder. He leers at Saanvi. Saanvi becomes more and more aware that he is staring at her bra. An ugly feeling comes over her. She dreads what Clancy will say next. He looks around the hallway.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to do anything else.” Clancy smirks. “I know you know who I am. It’s just important for people like you to remember who truly has the power in this country. And I like this shirt. Looks like something I’d own. I’m going to keep it for myself.”
Clancy doesn’t leave the hotel. Rather, he disappears back into his room.
Funny, he stole his own shirt back.
“What were you thinking, Saanvi?!” Bernie peels himself off the carpet.
Saanvi looks into his eyes. They’re filled with anger. The anger fades and turns into an apologetic look… but then transitions to remorse. Bernie is forgiving. Bernie is a good guy. But Saanvi just royally fucked up. She sees the cut on Bernie’s forehead and the blood seeping from it.
Beyond Bernie at the end of the hallway, there they are. The Past Saanvi, Bernie and Rashida entering the room and closing the door behind them.
“Come on, let’s go.” Bernie stomps off down the hallway.
Saanvi and Rashida follow him, and Saanvi realizes she missed her chance. There’s no going back into the room now. There’s no giving herself a sign from the universe now. She squandered that in hopes she would be able to set a bad man straight. Give a bad man an inkling of a taste of what he deserves. She did none of that. She did none of what she set out to do.
After a stop at a pharmacy to buy some bandages for Bernie and a new shirt for Saanvi, Saanvi decides that this might be her last chance at any kind of joy. She may as well embrace what little she can and cling to its memories.
The three of them stand on the beach and experience the festival once more. There is a sense of joy there. Joy on the surface of miles and miles of sorrow… at least for Saanvi.
When the excursion is over, the three return to the Marti-Cart with everyone else. Saanvi realizes the three have not spoken at all since the pharmacy. Maybe it’s better this way.
Saanvi sits slumped in her seat next to Rashida who offers an arm around the shoulders. Once again, comfort on the surface that doesn’t penetrate nearly enough.
The Marti-Cart rumbles on and initiates the journey back to the present. Strangely, this time everyone passes out… with the exception of Saanvi.
Thank goodness this thing has some type of autopilot.
As Saanvi witnesses everyone waking up one by one, she is taken off guard by a slow sense of comfort that washes over her, melting away at her stress and despair. The events that just unfolded start to fade little by little, like a dream does the longer you are awake. But Saanvi knows it wasn’t a dream. Her stupid pharmacy shirt that she wears is proof of that.
The Marti-Cart reaches its destination, and everyone unloads out of it. Lots of excited chatter about the fun excursion. Saanvi allows herself to be the last one out. As she steps back into the launch room at NOSTALG14, she sees Andy adamantly studying his phone. Saanvi catches a glimpse of what he is looking at. It’s an image of Clancy being handcuffed by police.
“What happened?” Saanvi asks Andy.
“You remember that Clancy guy that used to be in the President’s cabinet a year ago?” Andy responds. “The one that lost his mind, was claiming he was being haunted by ghosts and all that, got fired. Well, that guy just got arrested for trying to rob a bank. Moron!”
Andy laughs at himself. The corners of Saanvi’s lips stretch to her cheeks. It’s a confusing sensation.
Am I smiling?
Rashida is talking with people in the group. Andy joins them. Saanvi sees Bernie step out the front door alone. Saanvi follows him outside.
Out on the front steps of NOSTALG14, Saanvi’s eyes are flooded with beautiful green all around. The trees and the plant life that populate the area are stunning and vibrant. The sky is a lovely light blue and the air smells so sweet. The sensation is almost too much for Saanvi to bear. She positions herself next to Bernie and says nothing, letting everything soak into her senses. Her shoulders relax. Her whole skeletal system is more at ease.
A flash of several bright colors catches Saanvi’s eye. She realizes it’s a bird that landed on a bush just 10 feet to her right. Saanvi studies the bird. A painted bunting. Beautiful. She finally got to see one. It flutters off. Saanvi is trying to make sense of everything. She feels Bernie turn to her, so she looks at him. In his eyes… pure happiness.
“What do you say we go to Pepon’s for mojitos?” He asks. “I know we’re planning to go for our anniversary, but I feel like we need to scout the place first and make sure the drinks are good.”
Saanvi’s eyes begin to water with elation. She fights the tears back and keeps herself composed.
“I will drink mojitos with you every single day of our lives, Bernie.”
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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Original narrative & well developed characters
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The story invoked strong personal emotions
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Writing reflected the title & theme
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Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives