Three hours after S5 ended its first day's live broadcast, the senior managers at Project Starlight announced they were going to implement a ratings system.
Many viewers supported the move, thinking it was right thing to do. So be it if they missed out on all the gory stuff on S5. Watching S5's live broadcast made you realize that a ratings system was the best solution.
But some viewers thought the move was unnecessary. A debate quickly sprung up online.
"You will have to serve sooner or later. It's best you know the ugly side and be psychologically ready. At least it's better than finding out when you actually serve."
"That isn't a fair argument. Many kids are tuning in to the live webcasts. They've had limited exposure to this kind of material. They will be scarred if they see stuff like this too early. A ratings system is necessary. Not to mention that not everyone will be assigned to serve in places like that."
Families who were well off could always manage to land their kids easier assignments. This was an open secret. Such was the state of the conscription system. For now, that was the way things were. Folks who were upset with the system could only b*tch about it.
Folks without connections could only hope that service locations currently suffering from tough conditions would get more funding and investments so infrastructure could be improved. That way, the experience wouldn't be so rough by the time they served.
By that line of thinking, live broadcasts like this were really worth supporting. If average citizens like themselves couldn't change things, then they would leave it to the celebrities.
Five hours after S5 ended its first broadcast, Project Starlight's senior management announced the provisional age restrictions for its five channels:
S1 through S4: 7+
In other words, the four channels S1 to S4 were suitable for viewers 7 and above, while S5 would be limited to viewers 15 or older.
"Was the age limit for S5 set too high?" Some parents were upset, arguing that even though the content was a bit disturbing, a teenager was quite mature and could handle the fallout.
Folks who grew up in the New Era had access to the internet at a young age. They matured earlier comapred to children in the Old Era. Many 14- or 15-year-old kids in the New Era were spouting similar views to adults'.
"The Project Starlight managers have their reasons for restricting the channel to 15-plus." Even if a young teenager knows about a lot of stuff, he or she isn't quite an adult yet. Be it mental strength or problem-solving, they still lag behind grown adults slightly.
"15-plus is OK. For viewers who are 15 years old, they have another five years before they need to serve. If they want to find out about this kind of stuff, five years is a sufficient buffer. In any case, their parents are watching the footage anyway."
Parents who were opposed to the 15-plus limit changed their minds after hearing the argument online and pondering the matter. True, the senior managers at Project Starlight must have had their reasons for setting the age limit so high. Even though our kids are too young to watch the show, it's all the same when we as parents get the lowdown and relay the information to them.
At this point, some of the Muzhou viewers got a bit cocky.
"Not to brag, but we Muzhouers are more adaptable than you guys. I don't know if you noticed, but regardless of the planet, eight out of the 10 folks working in the kitchen are from Muzhou. Only us Muzhouers can handle coming into close contact with foreign planet food sources every day. Folks from other planets are too chickenshit to do the job. They're also not meticulous enough."
This comment won a lot of praise from fellow Muzhouers.
"That's spot on. Just take a look at the live broadcast on S5—out of all the people who appeared on camera in the kitchen, half were Muzhouers. The heavily tanned kid who spoke the most during the broadcast is the son of the owner of a small ranch in Muzhou. During the broadcast, the ranch owner was handing out red packets stuffed with cash left and right in honor of his son."
Folks who had served in Muzhou also confirmed this was the case. In terms of getting used to the new diet during military service, Muzhouers were the best. But what they didn't say was how they'd puked their guts out when they'd entered the kitchen for the first time after arriving on base. All they talked about was how they were the most adaptable. None of them had been able to adjust right away.
Soon, the "us Muzhouers" spiels in the discussion forum started to piss off folks from other continents.
"Hey, brother upstairs, this is discrimination against folks from other continents!"
"It's just being able to down a bug. Big deal!"
"Speaking of which, don't you Muzhouers have the tradition of insect banquets?"
"Right, right. I heard about Muzhouers eating insects a long time ago. Word has it that it's a festival that was started when the New Era was founded."
When the Period of Destruction had ended, at the beginning of the New Era, Muzhou had been the world's leading food producer, with the largest plots of arable land. Yet Muzhou's first farmers had encountered many natural disasters. Back then, the level of technological development had been quite crude, and anti-pest measures hadn't been very effective. To produce large yields, the farmers had paid a heavy price.
The farmers hadn't gotten to enjoy life until farm equipment had been upgraded and the Academy of Agricultural Science had come up with effective pest controls. To remember the forefathers who had cultivated Muzhou's first plots, to honor their efforts in defeating the different types of insects that had infested their crops, certain regions of Muzhou held commemorative festivals. That was when the insect banquets were held.
Visitors to Muzhou had long tried to avoid these festivals. If they encountered one, they would steer clear of it or approach for a quick selfie they could show off on their social media feeds and then bolt immediately.
Now that the topic had been broached, people started wondering why Muzhouers could adjust so quickly when they saw such disgusting food.
"Is it because they started eating insects very early on?"
"I'm reminded of the comment during the S5 broadcast: 'The more you eat, the less afraid you are'."
"The more I think about it, the more plausible this theory is. In this regard, Muzhouers have an innate advantage."
"My kid is only 14. I wanted him to tune into S5, but now I can only let him watch the other channels. Still, I want to order insect meals online. Are they still available in Muzhou? Are they available in easy packaging, like a small box or a small pouch?"
"They are, but at this time of the year, the selection is limited and the insects aren't that fresh. If you're interested, I'll suggest a few brands."
Once the subject of insect banquets came up, Muzhouers who practiced the tradition started firing off recommendations, suggesting brands for variety, taste, and food safety standards. They also pointed out companies whose sourcing was questionable.
Folks from other continents set aside their differences and scrambled to jot down all these details.
The many parents who were worried sick about their kids and following the discussion forum on S5 felt it was divine intervention. Here was a way to prepare their kids for the hardship!
The few small factories that supplied insect-related food products in Muzhou saw their online orders grow exponentially, so much so that their owners thought it was a computer glitch.
Meanwhile, existing inventory had long been snatched up.
The bosses checked the date. It was still well before their peak season of July. Why the sudden deluge of orders?
The owners of Muzhou farms, both small and large, smelled a business opportunity and acted swiftly as well.
Meanwhile, kids from the 11 continents other than Muzhou had no idea what was awaiting them. Some of them were filled with anticipation when they heard their parents had ordered them presents, but when the gifts arrived, they were so shocked they wanted to cry. Even years later, they would remember the fear of being force-fed insect meals.
Fang Zhao had no idea what was going on on his home planet. His first day on base was very busy. After helping unload the cargo from the off-base missions and having a late-night snack, he retired to his assigned dorm room.
Many new arrivals at the Baiji base struggled to fall asleep their first night because of their conflicting emotions or because they had slept so much on their inbound journeys, but Fang Zhao had no such problems. He slept well his first night.
When they woke up, Fang Zhao and Kevin Lin got word of their 15-plus rating.
"15-plus?" Kevin Lin wondered if the age limit had been set too high, but he realized it made sense after pondering the matter.
Their bosses wanted to send them a message: Bring it on! Give us everything raw. No need to worry about scaring kids anymore.
Kevin Lin had a knack for unraveling the thinking of senior management.
Indeed, he soon received a message from headquarters that confirmed his suspicions. It instructed him to not hold back and to not worry about any potential complaints.
Now that he had his marching orders, all Kevin Lin had to do was execute them.
The breakfast selection at the cafeteria was limited. Kevin Lin ordered some porridge-like mess whose ingredients he couldn't identify. He didn't bother asking in case the answer would spook him away from eating the meal.
After glancing at Fang Zhao, who was sitting across from him and seemed to have a healthy appetite, Kevin Lin pursed his lips, pinched his nose, and had a few sips of the porridge. It didn't taste great. Luckily, he'd snuck a few bites of his private food stash before heading to breakfast.
Everyone's personal items had been searched after they had arrived at the base. There were strict rules about personal belongings, but Kevin Lin wasn't a conscript and he had a job to do, so base personnel had turned a blind eye.
"You're going to officially start your service today. According to your assignment, you'll be part of a mining team," Kevin Lin said to Fang Zhao. "As you know, as the first five celebrities of Project Starlight, you won't be treated like the regular conscripts. The senior leadership at the base made special arrangements a while back. We'll just play it by ear."
Fang Zhao nodded. He knew how things were evolving. He wouldn't fight the flow.
After breakfast, the regular conscripts who had arrived with them were divided into teams and led to different work locations to start their transition. Their team leaders would lecture them on the necessary know-how.
Meanwhile, Fang Zhao was escorted to his work location by a colonel-level officer.
He had long been informed of his assignment, mining, which was one of the most common jobs during military service.