This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 5.1.
Exhausted yet intensely focused pilots speed their ships towards a checkpoint. Once there, their flight logs receive the coordinates for the next destination. The pilots check their scans and pick a route before blasting off into the blackness of space. For the Xi’an pilots who step up to the challenge of the Koa e Ko’ia, this is their life for the next 200-250 hours.
The Koa e Ko’ia is an epic endurance race that’s wildly popular among the Xi’an. Although the race has been contested in various systems across the Xi’an Empire for centuries, it only recently came to Human attention when competitors appeared in the former Perry Line system of Hadur. One day, in 2881, previously open sectors of the system were suddenly off limits, and remained that way for the next week and a half (Standard Time). Famed Terra Gazette travel journalist Jan Sharrock happened to be in-system at that time. After being diverted off her intended course, she landed at a nearby space station to find groups of Xi’an gathered around wallscreens in rapt attention. She had to find out why.
Sharrock wrote, “I’d gone up to a shop owner to buy a Surluk, but he was more interested in the serene images of Xi’an pilots and their ships than serving me a drink. When I asked what he was watching, he mumbled a Xi’an word I was unfamiliar with, but which roughly translates to ‘holy, distance race’.”
Sharrock spent the following days on the space station. She learned everything she could about the Koa e Ko’ia, interviewed observers, and witnessed an incredible finish that had three racers speeding toward one last checkpoint as time expired. The subsequent articles produced from Sharrock’s writings generated great interest from xenophiles and ship enthusiasts who were intrigued by the extreme length of the race. Her travelogues lead to a sharp spike in Human visitors to the Hadur system, fueled by their interest in learning more about the Koa e Ko’ia.
Despite not hosting the sporting endurance event since 2881, Hadur is still seen by Humanity as the home of the race. Canny Xi’an vendors play into this perception by keeping their store shelves stocked with Koa e Ko’ia trinkets. MISC, who has a special lend-lease agreement with the Xi’an, has persistently advocated bringing the race back to Hadur to capitalize on Human interest. Following years of debate, the Xi’an government decided to return the race to Hadur in 2947 and even established a special division specifically for Humans to compete in.
The Spiritual Sport
The basics of the Koa e Ko’ia are easy to understand. Though lengthy, the race is contained to one system. A number of Xi’an-controlled systems are certified to host the race, but the only one Humanity has access to is Hadur.
Before each race, various checkpoints and destinations are chosen by a governing body within the Xi’an government. Participants do not know the specifics of the course until the race begins. Once under way, racers receive the coordinates of the first checkpoint. Only when that checkpoint is reached do they receive the coordinates for the next one, and so on. The racer who reaches the most checkpoints at the end of the set period, which can vary anywhere between 200-250 standard Earth hours, is named the winner. If two or more ships pass the same number of checkpoints, it triggers tie-breaker conditions too lengthy and detailed to succinctly describe here.
When racers receive the coordinates for the next checkpoint they are also provided with the location of waystations located between the two. Pilots must coordinate with their crews about when and where to meet to rest, repair, and refuel. This communication is key and more complicated than most expect, since teams must plan with enough flexibility to allow the crew time to reach the proper waystation and prepare for the racer’s landing. Unprepared pit crews have been the downfall of more than one racer over the race’s history.
At its heart, the Koa e Ko’ia is an endurance test for both a ship and its pilot. The race’s extraordinary length tests the concentration and fortitude of the pilots. As ectotherms, the Xi’an can lower their metabolism while inactive to reduce their need for sustenance. Yet, doing so while achieving rapid focus in high-stress situations requires intense training and carries a toll both mentally and physically. Xi’an racers train to overcome these roadblocks, and if done successfully, the lowered metabolism, combined with intense concentration, leads to a euphoric state that has been described as deeply spiritual. Winners of the Koa e Ko’ia are believed to have transcended into an advanced spiritual state to achieve their victory and are treated as cultural celebrities thereafter.
The race also tests the speed, agility, and reliability of the participating ships by incorporating unique features of each system in which it takes place. For Hadur, this included a number of checkpoints hidden within the system’s asteroid belt that require careful and precise navigation to reach, and one located on the sunward side of the tidally-locked Hadur I, testing the ship’s ability to handle extreme temperatures.
The race must also include both space and atmospheric flight. According to race experts, this is where Hadur’s 2947 Koa e Ko’ia course is unique. Its atmospheric flight occurs somewhere over Hadur II and Hadur III, which are both being terraformed. The uncertain atmospheric conditions make picking an entry point extremely important, as flying into a high-density pocket not only increases drag on the ship but could even damage it.
The Human Factor
Following decades of increased Human interest, the Xi’an decided to allow other species to participate in Hadur’s Koa e Ko’ia. The process to implement this change took even longer, as the race’s extensive rule book had to be modified to accommodate the many differences between species. According to Daniel Gordon, who hopes to qualify with his Mustang Beta, “the race’s real endurance test is getting through the rule book.”
Until race officials understand how the Human body reacts to the stresses of the race, independent medical examiners will be assigned to each Human team to track the pilot’s vital signs. If the medical examiners determine the pilot’s health or safety is in danger, they will have the authority to force them to stop at the nearest waystation for further evaluation and could even remove them from the race.
After years of advocating for the race’s return to Hadur, MISC will be one of the major sponsors of the system’s 2947 Koa e Ko’ia. MISC spokesperson Federica Zabel believes the race will be another step towards improved Human and Xi’an relations. “The Koa e Ko’ia represents the perfect opportunity to bring the Xi’an and UEE Empires closer together,” Zabel said at the press conference announcing the race. “We believe our shared love of pushing finely-crafted and tuned spaceships to the extreme can be a gateway for both species to better understand each other.”
It’s also bound to bring MISC a surge of publicity. According to reports, MISC has spent years training and funding teams exclusively for this race. One of those pilots, Brian Blitz, claims that certain aspects of the MISC Razor were even designed with the Koa e Ko’ia in mind. “The more I’ve trained for the race, the more a lot of these design choices just make sense. From the layout of the cockpit to the ease of being able to swap out components, I fully believe the design of this ship already gives me a leg up.”
MISC appears determined to ensure that a Razor places first in the Human division of Hadur’s Koa e Ko’ia. Whether or not MISC gets the outcome it wants, of course, is yet to be determined. Regardless of the winner, if the race proves to be a success, there are rumors the Xi’an would consider making Hadur’s Koa e Ko’ia a regular event. That outcome would be a victory for race fans across the galaxy.