Wayne told Fang Zhao that the company would take care of everything. Fang Zhao didn't have to worry.
The next day, Silver Wing put out an official statement saying that Fang Zhao was about to perform his military service and that, in line with government policy, the company was launching a donation drive to fund development of Baiji Planet, the emphasis being that Baiji was where Fang Zhao would be serving.
The day after the project launched, it received online donations from all over Yanzhou—among the donors were gamers and music academy students. They all donated in accordance with their personal wealth. Jinro, Zu Wen, and company also donated a good chunk under their own names.
Now that Jinro was back in the gaming world, a battleground he was so familiar with, his name recognition was on the rise, even rivaling his level of fame when he'd retired. The other members of the Silver Wing team also made substantial donations. Zu Wen and company had achieved their success under Fang Zhao's leadership. You could say that they wouldn't be where they were without Fang Zhao, so they didn't skimp on their donations.
Silver Wing staffers, from gophers to senior management, also chipped in. They weren't close with Fang Zhao, but the project was clearly a company priority, so they would naturally show their support.
Of the five celebrities that were picked, Fang Zhao was the only one from Yanzhou. Silver Wing milked the attention for all it was worth, much to the envy of the other entertainment companies.
"Fang Zhao is a bit too lucky, no?"
"Indeed! Why can't he share the wealth? I had to take wild guesses on all the multiple-choice questions in my recent exam I couldn't answer, and I got them all wrong."
"Who would have thought that they would relaunch Project Starlight now? With this laurel under his belt, Fang Zhao's career will probably progress even more smoothly."
"Fang Zhao probably never thought things would develop this way when he applied for military service, no?"
Silver Wing kept detailed records of the comings and goings of every cent that cleared its donation drive. They were taking after Fiery Bird, which was channeling all its donations to the venue of Fang Zhao's military service.
Many folks marveled at Fang Zhao's streak of good luck. Even Wayne said he had lucked out big time.
Fang Zhao simply laughed off comments like that.
It was probably making up for all the bad luck he had suffered in his previous life.
Soon, donations were no longer confined to Yanzhou—folks from other continents started to chip in. Besides making cash contributions, people also donated supplies that Fang Zhao could take to Baiji. Both types of donations were on the rise.
It wasn't just Silver Wing. The entertainment companies that managed the four other stars also launched similar donation drives.
What the military cared about wasn't their skill set but rather their popularity. Just take a look at how much a single donation drive raised. By that measure, the relaunch of Project Starlight was a success, but genuine success would need to survive the test of time.
But the main objective of the program was to generate sufficient public attention and funding.
On one of the spacecraft responsible for transporting servicemen and servicewomen to Baiji, the captain was near tears. He was in charge of shipping newbies to their service locations every April and October. In the past, supplies had been tight. They'd had to be frugal during the journeys to the service locations. Apart from the family members of the newbies, no one had cared about their well being.
But this year was different. Military HQ had relaunched Project Starlight, bringing major perks to folks like him who were in charge of developing faraway planets under tough conditions yet were inept at securing funding.
Fang Zhao's application had been personally vetted by Lieutenant General Shanta, the highest-ranked officer on the Baiji military base. When he had reviewed the application list, he'd noticed there was only one applicant who had volunteered. Even though he didn't like celebrities on his base, volunteers were rare. Under normal circumstances, service applications didn't involve officers as senior as him, but Shanta had personally requested the applications be passed on to him.
Rarely did they come by a volunteer for Baiji. So be it if he was a celebrity. After some hesitation, Shanta had still signed off on the application. Little had he known that he would be the one who benefited from the assignment.
But while the officers on Baiji rejoiced, the soldiers who staffed the spaceships Arcturus and Formalhaut were in mourning.
Why had the top brass decided to scale down exploratory missions?
Because manpower, supplies, and funding were limited.
In addition, these years, there were too many colonizable planets that had been discovered. Every military base had to fight for their funding. As a result, the speed of development and construction on each planet varied. Planets that had sufficient funding and manpower naturally developed much more rapidly than planets that hadn't secured any funding or subsidies, even though some of these were planets that had been discovered earlier and started construction earlier.
In fact, the top brass had planned on reducing its exploratory fleet to one ship, but they had ultimately decided on two. And yet, even though two ships had been kept, funding hadn't been beefed up that much, so finances were tight, and exploratory spaceships didn't receive as much attention as they had in the days of the Sirius. Conditions on the two exploratory vessels were also tough.
It's just a matter of tolerating a celebrity. As long as he brings sufficient funding, investments, and public attention, and as long as Fang Zhao doesn't do anything outrageous during his service period after arriving on Baiji, we can put up with him, thought Baiji's top military official to himself.
In late February, Fang Zhao boarded the flying transport arranged by Duan Qianji. Apart from the pilot, there was another passenger who was a stranger. He wore a First Frontline insignia.
First Frontline was a longstanding electronic publication founded during the early days of the New Era. With the discovery of new energy sources and mineral deposits as mankind had relaunched space missions in the beginning of the New Era, First Frontline had become the most popular electronic magazine in the world.
But these days, First Frontline registered few bells, even among elderly folks more than 150 years old. They might not recall the name without doing some research.
This time, First Frontline had assigned five reporters to cover Project Starlight. Every celebrity had been assigned a reporter. The stranger Fang Zhao met in his flying transport was the First Frontline journalist assigned to shadow him. He would follow Fang Zhao to training camp and then to his service location.
The reporter gave him the cold shoulder. Perhaps he was from a prominent family or was unhappy with his job, but all he did when he saw Fang Zhao was give a cursory glance. He didn't utter a single word.
Meanwhile, Baiji's senior officer was having a discussion with a few of his deputies.
"We can't expect these artsy celebrity types to do too much. Even though conditions on our planet are tough, I'm still willing to give minor celebrities who bring in funding a bit of special treatment," said Shanta.
"What can these minor celebrities do with their scrawny limbs? Let's just make sure we spoil them," said one of Shanta's deputies as he shook his head, as if recalling some of the less popular celebrity soldiers from the past.
For them, Fang Zhao, who brought with him extra funding, was a shimmering gold mine. All they had to do was pamper him like a mascot.