More meteors fall during the spring than any other time of year.
The thought rose to the surface of Miles' mind, unbidden. The lights were outside the window, bright against the jet black of space. The brightest spot of light was the light of Sol itself, magnitudes brighter than any of the other dots in the sky. Moving pinpricks betrayed the presence of other mining ships, those which were so common in the sector, deploying drones to scavange the asteroids for usable minerals. But those unmoving spots in the background gave him a familiar sense of comfort. Through his window shone Lyra. The homecomer.
He had been up in there for three years, skirting from rock to rock, looking for ores of iridium to purify and send back to Earth. There was very little communication between the miners, and even less communication with Earth. But the mining ships of his generation held only enough room for one, and many an artificial night he lay watching the stars above.
Pulling up the readout on the display screen, he examined the status of his operation. He was lucky, being able to stake out a rich asteroid and establish himself on it before other miners did. Although uncommon, there were a few spats for mining rights, and occasionally the rogue sabotage of mining drones. But most of the time the miners kept to themselves. Nobody felt very sociable out in space.
The readout burned its amber text into his retina, and he scanned through the reams of data. The asteroid was almost stripped bare of its reasonably accessible ores. The drones were all doing well, the refinery working at fifty-six percent capacity, and two of three cannons were out of commission, but that was fine. It was an old ship, after all, and wouldn't last that much longer anyways.
Miles cleared the screen, and pulled up some classical literature. The onboard proto-AI unit failed three months in, so with no one to talk with, he had taken up reading. He'd grown accustomed to Verne and Vinge the past three years. News from Earth stated new advances in simstim tech, but there was nothing close to resembling that sort of luxury aboard his ship.
The asteroids in this area were replenished by Thatcher each year as the comet passed through the area, shedding material from its core. Most of the material shed was in the form of dust or ice vapour, but enough fragments were large enough to land a craft and mine out the ore. Millions of years of doing so had built up the density of asteroids in the area, and although most scattered about their individual orbits for most of the year, they always returned to the same spot.
A short alarm went off, and a message overlayed itself over the screen; the asteroid had been completely stripped bare. He had only two scout drones left, too few to find another profitable asteroid, so he stayed docked. It would take another hour to process the remaining ore, but there were still three before the launch.
Miles unbuckled himself from his seat and stretched his legs. He rose slowly out of the seat, no gravity to hold him down. Pushing himself off the chair, he propelled himself to the back of the short cabin. Typing in a code on a keypad, a door slid open, unoiled gears grinding from unuse. Within was a small cylindrical room, storage containers embedded into the metal. Leaving the door open, Miles returned to the cabin, stripping his few personal belongings from the cabin and stowing them in the cylinder. And once his belongings were in, he gave the order to copy the computer environment he had developed those three years in space.
The alarm went off again. The metal was shaped and refined, ready for transport back to Earth.
Each year, when the asteroids were closest to the Earth, the miners launched their bounty back to the Earth. Their accounts were credited for them, after all, they had no use for the money ten million kilometres from where it could be spent. But those who were finished with their work and wanted to retire back on Earth were also sent up in a capsule with a blinking light. Ascendant angels, they called them. Going back to heaven.
He fingered the spigot at his hip, installed three years before, for the journey here and back. He stripped off all his clothes, and floated into the cylinder, allowing the door to close behind him.
Reaching at a panel in the wall, he pulled out a hose and attached it to the spigot. A cool feeling began to fill his body, only mildly unpleasant. Liquid was being pumped into his abdominal cavity, preparing him for the trip home. At his feet, the same clear liquid was beginning to pour into the cylinder. He closed his eyes and held his breath as the liquid rose over his nose, then took a breath of the fluid. Perfluorocarbons. Oxygenated enough to keep him alive.
He kept his eyes closed, but the display screen still shone on his retina. He tuned it to the cameras on the outside of the craft, and he saw from the eyes of his ship. He was completely submerged, but there were still a few minutes before the launch, so he turned his eyes towards the sky.
Thatcher was in the field of view now; shining bright. And on the other side Earth was visible, a dot slightly brighter than the surrounding stars. The comet passed into the constellation of Lyra and he could see the cannons of all the mining craft aligning themselves, pointing themselves to their distant home,and firing off, one by one. The canisters glistened in the starlight, and he felt a slight compression before his own capsule was free, beacon blinking skyward, ascending back to heaven.
Miles counted two other blinking canisters, and watched as the ships receded, firing volley after volley. His ship could be retired, and would probably be scuttled by other miners still on the rocks. But he didn't need it anymore; he had enough to retire a comfortable life.
When he reached Earth, it would be spring there, and the canisters would fall amidst the Lyrid showers.
He closed his eyes, and tried to sleep.
At night, fixed stars are invisible, at midnight, stars dropped down like rain.