Author : C. James Darrow

“If you think you are ready for this race, I assure you—you are not.” That had been the first thing out of the host’s mouth in quite some time since they arrived planet-side. But now the cameras were rolling and his charisma resurfaced in the limelight.

Tonight marked the sixtieth anniversary of the original ‘trials,’ since which it had turned into a coveted race—as well as a galactic phenomena when it came to commercialized television.

Flynn was the only woman out of the fifteen runners this race.

“You all know what’s out there. Any creature will not hesitate to make a quick meal of you if given the chance.” the host told the runners as camera drones buzzed around them gathering footage.

Everyone had seen past races, and this was true: the chance of getting mauled and/or eaten was quite high.

The host of the race told this history lesson to cameras beforehand: The Hephaestus Trials had originated decades ago when a man by the name of Roger Buckley found himself the sole survivor of a spaceship bound for Meridian mining colony on the inhospitable world of Eos. His spacecraft crashed nearly fifty miles off course due to engine failure upon atmospheric entry. After waking up bruised and bloodied and his crew all dead, Buckley charted a path to Meridian using his skills and prior knowledge of the planet when it became apparent help wasn’t coming. He grabbed only a machete from the wreckage and set his watch’s timer for dawn and began to run, immediately contending with jagged terrain and hostile wildlife. He knew that if he wasn’t knocking at Meridian’s door as Hephaestus’ light broke the horizon at dawn he was a deadman. During the day surface temperatures on Eos would rise to well over three hundred degrees, enough to kill him if caught in its blinding morning light.

“Thirteen hours until dawn.” the host went on to say, “If you aren’t under the solar shields by then—well—you know what happens.”

Flynn knew. They all knew. Every rational part of their brains at that moment told them not to do it. Yet they stood stoic and composed for the the cameras buzzing around them.

They had all trained for years. They had all seen past races. Statistically, adding up all the participants over the years, nearly a third never made it to the finish line. A trial of strength and endurance, and a testament to one man’s will to survive—now it was a televised sensation.

An imitation of original real trial.

But a very real imitation at that.

Some considered the show barbaric, but most just placed bets on runners, watching from home, and remained unsympathetic when a runner didn’t finish.

Many had tried to get the race abolished.

But ratings only climbed, year after year.

And there was an endless supply of applicants who would gladly stake their lives for the million dollar prize.

But for Flynn the race wasn’t about that.

“Good luck” was the last thing the host said before the door opened into the dark uninviting alien landscape glowing beneath the light of the planet’s twin moons. The runners gazed uneasily into the silhouetted terrain for a moment until the announcer shouted “GO!” and they took off into the chilly night with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, a watch, and a machete—just like Roger Buckley once had done.

Flynn hoped she would make her grandfather proud. He had always told her that his race against Hephaestus was the most significant moment of his life.