So: in the world of Wing Commander, Crusader is... a movie? A movie based on real events? But wait, there's more--because everyone also also references System Shock! Welcome to the most confusing history of in-jokes taken seriously that you'll read today (unless Ultima Aiera decides to try and explain 'Mount Drash' this afternoon).
In the Wing Commander universe, System Shock is a fictional movie based on a game. In Wing Commander III's Victory Streak manual, we are treated to a movie review of "Hail SHODAN," which describes the events of System Shock:
Hail SHODAN radiates with cyberpunk action and the good looks of Clint Mason. After streetwise hacker James Finn (Mason) accepts the challenge to punch deck into Citadel research station, he unknowingly removes the logic systems behind the station's artificial intelligence. Finn finds himself trapped in a steel jungle with nothing but his good looks and a few electro-magnetic grenades. The furious pace of this epic game-based HoloVid will send you reeling through the aisles ... the ending will astonish you. (2.24 hours) ***The 3DO version of the manual even goes so far as to include a System Shock screenshot as a picture from the film:
The most exciting revelation at this year's forum was the conference on Project: SHODAN, a previously confidential long-term research project of the Cybernetics Cartel, based in Chicago. SHODAN is designed to produce a program that's not only capable of human-like thought and emotion, but that also far surpasses human intelligence levels. Dr. Titania Omolu held spellbound the capacity audience in the 40,000 seat main auditorium of the Perth Hall of Commerce with her presentation, describing how a fully functional SHODAN AI could manage and maintain all the operations and functions of a self-contained orbital research facility housing more than 1000 citizens with only minimal human support.
You can read the full Topline newspaper here. Even more confusing, the paper references a series of movies called "I, Crusader" that seem to also be about Crusader. In Crusader.
And it gets worse! In System Shock itself, Wing Commander is a GAME! The CD version of System Shock includes a minigame version of Wing Commander called "Wing 0." Designer Sean Barrett says:
"...for the CD game I outdid myself with a relatively complete Wing Commander minigame, Wing 0--written just before Wing 3 was released, it's both an homage and a parody, featuring, for example, one pacifistic wingman who refuses to fight (and strangely never gets attacked either, because he's actually a traitor!!!), a mission where you get something like 8 wingmen, and a final 'aww, what the heck, let's send you out by yourself to defeat their entire armada' mission."
You can learn more about Wing 0 here.
(Finally, not to further confuse the matter, there's still Ultima! As we have seen recently, that series tackles the Kilrathi in two different ways in Ultima Underworld 2 and Ultima VII... but then Crusader also references Ultima as a contemporary setting! Crusader: No Regret features an elaborate easter egg which reveals an appearance by The Guardian.)