Object 71

The Collingwood Meteor

2045, Blue Mountains, Canada

The Blue Mountain Ski Resort is around 120 kilometres northeast of Toronto, near the town of Collingwood. On December 12th, 2045, a bolide meteor entered the skies above the resort. During its descent through the atmosphere, the meteor exploded, causing a massive airburst.

Emergency services from across the province began arriving within 20 seconds, but the level of devastation and the sheer scale of the resulting avalanches left few survivors. By the end of the day, more than 300 locals and visitors had been killed, making it one of Canada's most terrible natural disasters ever.

It wasn't long before questions were asked about why the meteor hadn't been spotted by the Schweickart, Atlas, or NEOCam planetary warning arrays. Part of the problem, it emerged, was that the meteor was less than 25 metres in diameter and came from far outside the plane of the ecliptic; the arrays simply hadn't been running for long enough or looking in the right direction to produce a map of all such asteroids. It was a tragedy, everyone agreed; a terrible accident that left no-one at fault.

That's where the story would have ended, if it weren't for the recovery of this military drone from the Georgian Bay, just north of the Blue Mountains, a month later. The drone had been on a routine low-altitude laser repowering cruise, when it was smashed into the water by the airburst. Hardened as it was, much of the drone's memory was still intact. Forensic teams worked hard to retrieve a few precious seconds of close-up footage of the airburst, with the hope of learning more about the physics of the incident.

The results were disturbing: the Collingwood meteor looked nothing like a typical meteor. Instead, it appeared to be a disguised kinetic weapon.

The Second Outer Space Treaty had outlawed any kind of lethal weapon being placed in Earth orbit. Specifically included in its provisions were kinetic weapons — inert tungsten projectiles that could be steered to survive re-entry and pulverise their targets without the aid of any explosives. However, it had been long known that the Treaty was basically unenforceable given the increasing levels of orbital traffic due to unmanned vessels and asteroid mining. It was simply too easy to take a lump of rock and metal, stick some fins and a computer on the end, and essentially fling it out of the door towards your target.

China, the United States, Japan, and India were all suspected of holding stocks of kinetic weapons, but they also had the most to lose if a space-based war broke out. Not only were they loathe to use them, but they didn't have any motive to attack Canada, and in any case they watched each other like hawks. A terrorist attack seemed the most likely explanation, except for the fact that no-one had come forward to take responsibility or make any demands.

Tracing back the trajectory of the Collingwood meteor led to an apparently empty orbit, but a painstaking analysis of all launches over the past 20 years uncovered an unmanned 'dark' space station in low orbit. The station had apparently been assembled years earlier by robotic packages released by mining launches from Kourou in French Guiana. While the mining launches were legitimate, the robots hadn't been declared. Unfortunately, when Canadian Security Intelligence Service investigators reached the station, they discovered that all data had been wiped clean, and any useful modules had already been de-orbited.

Faced with a dead end, the CSIS looked to discover who had paid for the robots' passage. Armed with international warrants and backed up by the major powers, they wrestled their way through a dizzying series of bank accounts, trusts, and shell companies based in the Caymans, Hong Kong, the City of London, Jersey, and finally, Mauritius. Every single one of the payments pointed towards an account owned by the brother-in-law of the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Rashid Torabully.

Torabully had come into power eight years earlier in a controversial election that saw unprecedented sums spent on smear campaigns against his opponent. Some suspected that he was secretly funnelling money from British corporations keen to exploit recently discovered deposits of rare elements, but nothing had been proven at the time.

The CSIS made a bold move. After consulting their allies, they launched physical and digital network attacks at Torabully's supporters in order to forcibly extract information from their systems. Within minutes, they had their smoking gun: terabytes of messages, conversations, and plans from Torabully and his conspirators, all related to the Collingwood meteor. Then they made an astonishing discovery — the target of their attack was a single person: Michael Shaxson, a British High Court Judge.

The previous year, Shaxson had been involved in a case against United Petroleum, a company accused of tax evasion, bribery, hacking, and general dirty tricks. It was widely thought that Shaxson would rule against UP, and that he would recommend a deep reformation of the tax system, including an elimination of reinvoicing, transfer pricing and a general rollback of banking secrecy. Polls suggested that his recommendations would be favoured by British citizens.

Plenty of corporations and tax havens were deathly afraid of this outcome, particularly the Prime Minister of Mauritius, who personally stood to lose billions. One way to derail this process was by killing Shaxson. Using an airburst meteor at his favorite holiday resort as a murder weapon may have been disproportionate and expensive, but previous death threats had resulted in Shaxson's shielding by a powerful drone-based PPOI order (protective permanent overwatch and intervention). If killing 300 people meant that business could continue as normal — and if it intimidated other opponents into staying away — then it was well worth the cost.

Torabully was not the mastermind behind the scheme; it was only due to his lax data security measures that the CSIS investigators were able to get as far as they did. Unfortunately, his allies were not quite as foolish and remained hidden until much later.

However, the sensational nature of the attack, and the detailed accounts of how Torabully and his allies aimed to benefit from it, rallied popular opinion against the interests of the tax havens. New ‘Shaxson Regulations’ were imposed, including all those that he would have recommended and more, marking the beginning of the 'Great Reclamation' of the economy from its manipulators.