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Flatlander Pro Tem

by Geoff Hart

Previously published as: Hart, G. 2002. Flatlander pro tem. p. 134–144 in Candas Jane Dorsey and Judy McCrosky, Ed. Land/space. An anthology of prairie speculative fiction. Tesseract Books, Edmonton, Alta. 254 p.

Ivar Jonsson raised his head from the crash couch with considerable effort, his eyes focusing only slowly on the panel before him, and reached, fingers trembling, to reboot the con and figure out where he’d actually landed. Now that his brain was coming back online, bodily sensations returned; moving took more effort than he’d expected, and his long, damp hair pulled stickily away from where it clung to the back of his neck. He hoped fervently that the planet was heavier than it’d looked from orbit, for if not, the weight on his chest and sluggishness in his limbs probably represented the beginning of the MI he’d assured his doctor would happen “any day now”. He shuddered. Best just to assume he’d made planetfall and had more serious problems than figuring out how to jury-rig a defibrillator.

Could Hansen’s Fortune have somehow managed to hold orbit? No, the Captain would never have sounded the sauve qui peut if he hadn’t been certain the liner was going down. Jonsson was alone, and no harsh voice poured over com to accuse him of jumping the gun. The viewscreen flickered, darkness morphing into grey noise, then faded to black as the power-conservation modules kicked in: “essentials only” until he chose to override the con. The main status readouts remained lit, so he let his head settle leadenly back against the crash couch, the evacsuit’s neck ring digging into his neck, his thoughts slowly clearing enough to make sense of the data. The pod had grown uncomfortably warm, and greasy sweat oozed down the back of his neck—well, he hoped it was sweat, leastwise; it could well have been blood, since he’d obviously whacked his head against something during the descent. Sweat, then, and the waning chest pain reassured him slightly that it wasn’t pre-MI diaphoresis. He scrubbed at his his eyes with his index fingers, clearing away something that intermittently blurred his vision and resolutely not looking at his moistened hands to find out what that something was. Instead, he focused owlishly on the readouts.

His heart pounded, heavy and fast, until he’d confirmed the hull’s integrity, and that the airlock had neither been sprung by the impact nor jammed forever in place when the hull crumpled. The gravitics had kept him from liberally redecorating the pod’s insides with his insides, but were out for the duration; planetary gee sat at about one Terran gravity, so the odds were good his heart really was simply responding to that unpleasantly unfamiliar strain.

Reserve power read just short of half, and he fought down a moment of panic; even that small a reserve would last several days if he used it judiciously—which the computer was doing its efficient best to ensure. He continued his postflight checks. Ambient temperature: high, but falling as he watched. Probably whatever he’d landed in had ignited when the pod came to rest. Relative humidity: drier than ship-standard. Atmosphere: standard oxy-nitrogen, but high in noble gases, denser than normal, and windy—though perhaps that was natural for an uncontrolled environment. He’d sound like a clown at a children’s party, but at least he could breathe—assuming the native bacteria hadn’t been patiently waiting several score millennia solely so they could spring upon Ivar Jonsson with shrill microbial cries of delight. Shuddering, he instructed the computer to sample the atmosphere for bugs, and as the pumps whined quietly in the background, he forced himself to continue his status check.

The main water reservoir, sandwiched between the inner and outer hulls, had been holed during the landing. So... The emergency supplies inside the pod were the only water he’d have available until he found more somewhere. All at once, his throat felt dry, and he hit the quick-release on his harness and tried to sit up. The harness slammed him back into his seat, and his heart raced again for a moment until he realized he was still buckled in. The higher gee hadn’t helped; he’d briefly tolerated Terran gee on-station, and the Captain had insisted on regular high-gee exercise for all hands, but that didn’t mean he’d liked it enough to do more than the bare minimum. He relaxed a bit, tried the quick-release again, and this time the straps fell away, the buckles clanking heavily against the tough sides of the couch. Grabbing his knees, he pulled himself into a sitting position using both his biceps and his abdominals, sweat beading on his forehead and dripping onto the increasingly stained evacsuit.

Now upright, lungs moving a bit more easily, he took his first full breath since he’d landed, and felt the weight on his chest relax further. Yes, he could survive here—he’d be missing standard gee even more than during an enforced sojourn stationside, but he’d survive. Gritting his teeth, he braced himself and swung his legs over the edge of the crash couch. It was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as he’d feared.

A thought occurred to him belatedly, and he sniffed the air with trepidation. In the confusion of abandoning ship, he’d missed his usual dose of decongestant, so his nose remained stuffy, but his narrowed nasal passages let pass no scent of burning insulation—in fact, no scents more unpleasant than his own acrid sweat. So the readouts were working fine, and he breathed deeply and slowly as his therapist had taught him, fighting both gravity and his nerves, until he began to relax. Avoiding looking directly at the power indicator, which had faded from a reassuring green to a distinctly ominous yellow, he glanced again at the temperature indicators. It would be some hours yet before things cooled off enough for him to even consider leaving the pod—a horrifying thought best postponed for now. Forever, one could hope. Joints creaking, he got to his feet and moved slowly about the narrow confines of the pod.

A quick inventory confirmed his worst suspicions. The Captain of the freighter that was probably now an astrobleme somewhere west of his own position had been a rulebook fanatic, but that discipline had finally paid off. Jonsson had at least a month of food—with discipline and more time spent sleeping than moving around—and ample reserve air, even if the planet’s atmosphere didn’t prove, against hope, to be safe. His reader would last longer still on its current charge, and he’d just downloaded a new library last time Fortune was in port, so he wouldn’t lack for reading material. But water was going to be a problem, for without the hull tank, he had enough for only a few days, no matter how carefully he rationed it. And rationing would be easy, given that he could barely force himself to swallow the captain’s preferred brand of spring water; snob appeal aside, he much preferred vacuum-distilled, radiation-sterilized water for the safety its taste promised. He wiped his brow again, hesitated for a moment, then reluctantly examined his hand—no blood. He shook his hand, scattering sweat around the cabin. No need to start recycling sweat just yet; the environmental controls would recover that from the air well enough, and the still would harvest his urine too when that became necessary.

He shuddered. If it came to that, going EVA to replenish his water supply might not be so bad after all. EVA’d always looked easy enough in the endless sims he’d endured onboard Fortune, and even though he’d have to do this first real EVA in a crisis, at least he’d be on solid ground. Hundreds of generations of ancestors had thrived in that very environment, free of the risk of flying off into the endless depths of space, so surely he could succeed too. Still, a guy had to plan for the worst.

Fortunately, he didn’t need to leave the ship for a while yet, and that left him time to prepare for the ordeal that lay ahead. Taking a sedative from the medkit, and an antacid tab from the supply in his evacsuit’s breast pocket, he swallowed both dry, the meds sliding chalky and bitter down the back of his throat. Then he sat back down on the crash couch, butt thumping hard into the cushioning. The con hummed quietly on standby, the readouts and beacon glowing sedately in the pod’s dim light. He lay back, banging his head harder than he’d intended, and strapped himself in again. As the drug took hold and erased the world, he briefly worried over—and only reluctantly discarded—the image of waking to hostile aliens pounding on the airlock.


When Jonsson woke a day later, with neither aliens nor a Navy patrol pounding on the hatch, the planet’s greedy gravitation still oppressed him, but at least he found himself breathing more easily. The pod’s air had cooled to a tolerable level, and though its hull temperature was on the thoroughly unpleasant side of standard, it would be survivable, and the surrounding air would be at least ten degrees cooler. He booted nav briefly, just long enough to confirm that he’d indeed landed within a reasonable distance of free water.

“Ivar, my boy,” he muttered to himself, “the time’s come to seek an excuse to stay inside.” The distress beacon pulsed quietly, with no companion light to indicate anyone had heard his cries for help. He scowled. “Next stop: quarantine.” He released the straps that pressed down so reassuringly upon his chest, and pulled himself back into a sitting position. That done, he took a deep breath, ignored his suddenly racing pulse, and pivoted to face the panel behind him. At his touch, the thick plass screen grew translucent, revealing rows of flasks, each filled with different culture media. Not a one showed the slightest sign of growth. Jonsson chewed his lower lip. “Strike three?” He inspected the water-level readout, tapping it with a well-chewed fingernail and finding, as he’d feared, that it still read zero. He sighed loudly.

“Damn.” Doggedly, he made his way to the chemical toilet on the far side of the four crash couches and relieved himself, wincing at the smell’s strength in the enclosed space. With a last hopeful, fruitless glance back at the beacon, he steeled himself and tugged a collapsible headpiece free from where it lay velcroed to the nearest couch. Focusing on the practiced motions of his fingers to distract himself from what he was actually doing, he clipped its neck ring to his evacsuit, the self-contained oxygen supply triggering automatically. Air hissed in his ears as the headpiece inflated gently into a rigid helmet, the cuffs around his boots and wrists tightening until the ballooning of the suit confirmed its integrity; at least he’d be sealed away from whatever unpleasant surprises the outer atmosphere had in store for him. Though he’d grown somewhat accustomed to the gravity, it suddenly took an effort to get himself moving.

Sealing the heavy work gloves to his sleeves took some of his attention away from what lay ahead, but he still walked like an old man heading for his annual prostate exam as he made his way to the airlock. The inner door cycled open silently to admit him, and he stepped firmly within, but as the door slid shut against his back, he shuddered; the dim light making it through the sooty smear that covered the viewport didn’t really make it feel much like a coffin, he comforted himself. Wishing that the Captain had trusted the crew enough to permit sidearms on the crash pods distracted him enough that he could ignore the darkness and the vibration from the pumps throbbing dully against his feet. He braced himself, but still gave a start when outside air rushed into the airlock with a force that fluttered his suit’s thick fabric.

With the pressure equalized, the safety light turned green. Taking a long, slow breath, he released the failsafes and wrenched the handle downwards. The door swung heavily outward, pulling him halfway from the airlock before he could release the handle, and for an adrenaline-charged moment, he was certain something had seized the outer handle and tried to pull him into its grasp. But the door slipped free of his grasp, coming to rest far enough open for him to see out. No tentacles. No claws. No large, furry chelicerae—yet.

It was still day, and probably midafternoon judging by the angle of the pale yellowish sunlight slanting in past the curved door. Nothing animate had as yet come into view, so he took hold of his courage, and with a nervous dart of his arm, pushed the door wider. The soot that had coated the airlock’s viewport had prepared him for the powdery grey, wind-ruffled ash that covered the earth before him, and feeling a bit bolder, he pushed the door fully open.

A shallow trench dug by the pod’s landing extended a few score metres across a reassuringly flat stretch of char. Occasional shoulder-high clumps of something greenish that had escaped the fire reminded him vaguely of the bulrushes Mother had once brought back from her vacation on Earth. She’d undoubtedly figured he’d enjoy a souvenir of his planet of origin, but by the time the rushes had cleared quarantine, they’d been too dry and brittle to be worth much. He’d attached them to his wall to please her, but he’d always been secretly worried that one of the heavy brown seed heads would fall on him. And the lengthy quarantine had confirmed beyond any doubt that he’d never voluntarily spend any time planetside, a decision he’d never regretted until today.

Though it’d been less than a day since he’d landed, small, thin, lime-green shoots were already emerging from the char that had been the original vegetation. Peering cautiously around the edge of the airlock, he scanned the ground immediately to his left and right to confirm that nothing lurked just out of sight. Nothing moved, not even the pitiful vegetation that remained. If he’d read nav correctly, the water lay a few hundred metres off to his left. He resisted the urge to return inside to confirm the reading.

Reluctantly, he grasped the handhold that stretched the full length of the open door, and hesitantly lowered his left leg to the ground. “One small step for man,” he muttered grimly, surrendering his will to gravity and letting it tug him downwards. The earth gave way alarmingly beneath his feet, and he was on the point of withdrawing his foot in a panic when it firmed up again. His boot had sunk a good 3 centimetres into the black soil that lay beneath the layer of ash. “Fool!” he berated himself. “It’s not a ship’s deck; of course it’s going to compress!” But until he was certain he’d sink no further, he kept his other foot in the pod and clutched the handhold tightly with both hands. He looked left, past the curve of the pod, but only a smudge of green in the distance gave any sign of the supposed water. He smiled, cautiously at first and then wildly. “Damned if I’m not a Flatlander after all!” he shouted into his helmet, relinquishing his grasp on the handhold in a sudden surge of optimism and taking a long, confident step away from the pod.

He’d taken no more than a dozen steps, reeling nervously as the ground gave way repeatedly beneath his feet, before he made a terrible mistake. Thus far, he’d kept his gaze focused mostly on his destination, across land that swept away on all sides as flat as the space between the stars, and had seen no signs of anything untoward. But having grown overconfident, he gave in to his curiosity and looked up—and froze, gazing into infinity.

Above, a clear expanse of featureless blue spread in a seamless expanse of cold, featureless color, spanning his universe from horizon to horizon. It was like stepping out onto the hull of Fortune in a sim and suddenly seeing the warm, familiar stars vanish, robbing him of any sense of depth and perspective. He felt a sudden vertigo, as if that expanse of sky were sucking at him, trying to tug him away from the planet beneath him, and his knees went weak with the thought, feeling himself briefly in free fall as he fell, mind going blank in terror. He had time for only one thought: This can’t happen on a planet!

But the part of him that had always resolutely shied away from actually walking on Fortune’s hull was in command now, and it sought refuge in unconsciousness.


Consciousness returned in the form of a sudden, stabbing pain in his right thigh. He sat up with a muffled shriek, adrenaline clearing his mind instantly, his eyes focusing in on the source of his pain.

Something from a spacer’s worst nightmare stood on his leg. A full two centimetres long, its iridescent wings glittering in the fading light, the alien had many more legs than any decent life form should have: six at least, and perhaps as many as eight, though they moved with such menacing rapidity that any estimate was a mere guess. Stubby, independently mounted compound eyes swiveled on jointed stalks to meet his wide-eyed gaze, but the rapierlike proboscis kept biting into his leg through shielding that would have stopped a slow micrometeorite. That galvanized him into swinging wildly at his tormentor, the downward arc of his hand accelerating gratifyingly fast under the heavy gravity.

He struck his leg with a sharp thwak!, reinforcing the pain, but the alien escaped skyward in a shrill, mocking whine of wings, unscathed, pursued by a puff of air escaping his suit. Even as he fell backwards, scrabbling again for the comparative security of the charred earth, the alien stiffened into immobility, then fell, rigid. Despite the adrenaline-slowness of his senses, he clearly saw the corpse accelerating swiftly downwards, landing with an audible thud! by his feet. But Jonsson had more urgent things to think of.

Spacer reflexes warred with the primate fear of falling, and compromised. One hand clutched desperately at a stalk of the thick, burned vegetation, grasped it, and held tight; the other slapped the meteor patch he’d not remembered grabbing over the hole in his suit. The deflation stopped, but for a moment, until the scrubbers kicked in, his suit was full of a miasma of charred vegetation, acrid fear-sweat, and—he felt himself growing faint—his own blood. Belatedly, he pressed on his wound, expecting—but not feeling—a stab of pain, hoping that despite the awkward angle, he could press hard enough to keep himself from bleeding out. A moment passed, and when no blood had begun pooling in the leg of his suit, he released his grip, wincing at the cramp in his hand, and took stock of his desperate situation.

He lay pressed flat to the ground, covered in black, sooty dirt. The plant he clung to remained firmly in place, though how long it would support his weight was anyone’s guess. Cautiously, he seized its neighbor with his free hand, and only once he had attained that comparative security did he dare to look down past his feet. His former assailant lay flat on its back, still as the pod. But beyond the alien—the abyss!

Jonsson hung spreadeagled on a cliff wall that stretched as far into infinity beneath him as the sky above him, though much more fearsomely so; the sheerness of the cliff provided benchmarks and a vanishing point that clearly defined the scale of his predicament. Though the pod’s gaping airlock door beckoned a scant two metres below his dangling feet, promising an escape from this nightmare, it might as well have been in orbit. The rational part of his mind reassured him quietly that gravity would keep him pressed to the cliff face, but the voice that shouted in his head prophesied centrifugal force plucking him from this unstable surface, the planet’s rotation accelerating him downwards past the pod until, at last, it propelled him off the planet and into that terrible blue void. That he would then have returned to the relative safety of space provided scant reassurance, given that an evacsuit wasn’t designed to preserve its wearer for more than half an hour in hard vacuum.

He closed his eyes and tightened his grip on the bulrushes, fully prepared to cling here until his rescuers arrived, but the aliens gave him no time. Again, a lancing pain seared into him, this time in the middle of his back, where he had no hope of reaching it even if he could safely free a hand to defend himself. The pain grew, crested, then all at once, vanished. Again, air hissed from the suit, but he could do nothing about it. Grimly, he pressed his faceplate into the char, smearing it and dulling his vision, if not his hearing. There came a faint, familiar-sounding thud!, and he forced his eyes open.

There, within easy reach should he choose to grab for it—and he most emphatically didn’t—lay the second alien, dead as the pod. A strangely musty aroma entered through the hole in the suit, briefly overpowering the charred smell, and he began breathing shallowly, hoping to limit the contagion that would even now be entering his lungs. He’d probably have noticed the suit’s sealant automatically closing the tiny hole, like the first one, too small to merit a meteor patch, but his wildly sweeping gaze fell blurrily upon the pod’s still-beckoning airlock, promising refuge from these vicious alien predators. Before he could consider how to reach it, lancing pain stabbed into his forearm.

Wrenching his head upwards, his helmet gouging a furrow in the earth, he spotted a third alien digging viciously into his arm; as he watched, a fourth tormentor landed, and entirely disregarding his frantic writhing, began probing at the suit’s tough fabric. Torn between clinging to his lifeline and defending himself, he hesitated too long, and yet another fiery needle sank into him. Shouting incoherently, enraged now beyond thought, he released his grip and slapped dementedly at his two tormentors, smashing one flat and smearing his suit with sticky and undoubtedly toxic alien viscera. But the other one had already fallen from his arm, dead before he could even take aim.

A fifth alien alit on the victorious arm, and before he could stop himself, he’d released his remaining grip on the vegetation and swatted at it, missing cleanly as the flying thing evaded his grasp with a shrilly evil whine of wings. His triumph abruptly vanished, swept away by the sick realization that he’d just let go with the only hand that had been holding him to the cliff. He felt the familiar vertiginous queasiness in his groin as he anticipated the long plunge past the pod, and braced himself to lunge desperately for the door as he hurtled past—only to discover that somehow, unaccountably, he still hung suspended on the cliff face.

The rational part of him, having waited patiently in the background all this time, now mocked him openly. “Ivar, you boob. You’re pressed flat against the soft ground of a planet with far more gravity than’s decent. You won’t be falling anytime soon, which even someone as dim as those voracious alien predators should have figured out by now. But if you don’t get to your feet and get moving—soon!—they’re going to suck you dry, and the fact that you’ll take the entire local population with you will be of scant comfort.”

Taking firm hold of his sudden courage, Ivar Jonsson rose slowly and reluctantly to all fours, still half-expecting to be flung off into that awful blue void. Eyes locked resolutely on the airlock, he crawled cautiously downhill past the small alien corpses, crushing the small green shoots that were now poking everywhere above the char, and made his long, slow progress back to the pod. He stopped counting the alien predators that died en route, the pain of their attacks goading him onwards past his waning emotional and physical reserves, into the airlock.


Ruefully naked in the safety of the pod, he surveyed his damaged suit in disbelief. It was speckled with dots of blood and sealant, and coated with undoubtedly pestilential mud and crushed vegetation. He shook his head at the holes, disbelieving; they were impossibly tiny for what they’d felt like during their creation and the size of the welts the bites had raised. Unable to reach several of those welts, he’d smeared steroid cream over the ones he could reach, and painted the soft edge of the crash couch with enough of the lotion that he could rub the unreachable parts of his body against it. The imprecision of the process had numbed his entire back by the time he’d finished, but he was beyond caring. A large shot of broad-spectrum antibiotic had improved his morale, though repeated visits to the culture media had continued to reveal no trace of alien life, suggesting his blood was as toxic to the local microorganisms as it had been to the winged predators. A dose of antihistamines strong enough to leave his ears buzzing had also helped, since he was now reasonably confident that no anaphylactic reaction would kill him.

He’d drained a goodly quantity of the bottled water after his brief yet disastrous adventure before he’d realized what he was doing and stopped himself, hating the aftertaste in his mouth. To add insult to the injuries already inflicted on him, he’d bruised his right thigh badly re-entering the pod, and had been too preoccupied to notice the damage until more pressing concerns were addressed. Now he winced, both from the aches and pains that oppressed him and from the growing realization that he’d have to dare the planet’s surface again to find water. It was one thing to understand logically that he’d be safe from falling; it was quite another to accept that emotionally, and the alien assassins didn’t help.

“Well,” he mused, “you could delay a bit longer. When the water runs out, thirst will provide all the motivation you need.” Roughly, he kicked the battered suit off the couch, then froze before he could kick it again. Just maybe there was a way to make at least part of the challenge easier! He crossed the pod as fast as his shaky legs permitted, and wrenched open the medical cabinet. Then he smiled a cold, vindictive smile. There was a way he could escape further injury! If only there were a way to keep himself from thinking of the sky too! Then his smile grew even wider. That too could be solved.

With cardboard ration containers sealant-glued perpendicular to his helmet’s faceplate and gravity tugging his increasingly heavy head towards the ground, he could easily prevent his gaze from straying upwards towards that terrible sky and away from the approaching patch of green that marked the vegetation around the water. Even so, the trip away from the pod on his hands and knees was a slow, tedious nightmare, and if the ground hadn’t been so mercifully free of obstructions, he’d never have made it. Filling the water bags had required him to half-enter the shallow pond, water oozing into his suit through its many holes and making his skin crawl with revulsion. But he’d focused on his task with an intensity born of desperation, and eventually, the bags were full.

He returned quicker than he’d left, despite dragging half again his weight in murky water. He’d pay for those exertions later, but now, with the pod almost within reach, all he felt was elation. Elation that became a strong sense of anticlimax as he squinted through his ash-spattered, sap-smeared, condensation-fogged faceplate at the boots of the Navy scout emerging from the pod. The man was barely visible in the gap that lay between the decimetre-high new vegetation and his blinders. The shocked look on the other man’s unhelmeted face proved almost worth the disappointment at having made his epic journey to the river and back, hide and pride both intact, for nothing.

“My God, man, don’t move!” shouted the scout in a high, squeaky voice, shortsleeved and face naked to the hostile atmosphere. Seeming to not notice the oppressive gravity, he approached at a run, swinging his backpack around to the front on one brawny forearm and rummaging frantically through its innards with the other, emerging, triumphant, with an emergency first aid kit. “Where are you hurt?” he cried, falsetto, as he flung himself to his knees by the exhausted spacer, too concerned at saving Jonsson’s life to hide the horror contorting his face.

“Hurt?” Jonsson’s voice emerged faintly, muffled by his headgear and his exhaustion, and he had to repeat himself, his lungs hurting at the effort, before the man heard him. “I’m not hurt. Half-eaten, yes. Exhausted, yes. Hurt? No, I’m not really hurt.” His neck muscles screamed their rebuttal, but he overruled them.

“But the blood...”

When understanding dawned, Jonsson collapsed, chuckling helplessly, his mirth interrupted only briefly as the soft ground drove the air from his lungs. Prone, he kept his eyes downcast as the chuckling became outright, bellyaching laughter, and the Navy man sat back on his heels, alarmed. Jonsson finally ran out of breath, waving his hand feebly in denial. “It’s not mine.” He gestured at the last of his blood bags, now nearly empty on his hip. “Alien repellant. Damned local creatures’ll drain you dry if you haven’t got something to keep them off.”

The scout winced suddenly and slapped at the back of his neck, confirming Jonsson’s prediction. “I see what you mean. But—“

“We’re toxic to them. See?” He nudged the corpse of an alien that had just taken its last meal. “I figured, if I spread enough warpaint on me, they’d be dead by the time they chewed their way through the suit and reached my hide. Want some?”

The scout shook his head no, getting to his feet and smashing another alien with commendable skill.

Jonsson smiled. “Not to seem too ungrateful, but do you think you could carry me inside until we’re rescued?”

Author's notes

As a kid, I always enjoyed the classic SF tales of the jut-jawed manly blond hero who found himself in dire straits on a hostile alien planet, and through force of physical and intellectal vigor alone, subdued the planet and made it his bitch. What, I wondered, might happen if that character's mirror image found himself in that same terrible situation? Thus was this parody of a genre cliché born. Except that, in the end, the protagonist does truly achieve something heroic: overcoming his own fear. And it was an interesting exercise inverting the more traditional model of a flatlander encountering space for the first time: what would a station-born spaceman feel when encountering the unconstrained natural environment of a planet for the first time, with all frames of reference being wrong?

The evil alien flies have their origin in a few summers spent in northern Ontario dealing with deerflies; you wouldn't believe how many layers of clothing those ruthless bastards can bite through! (Or maybe you would if you've seen moose hide.)

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