Inside, it was not at all what you would expect. There was none of the rain or thunder or howling as in the simulations we'd been disciplined with for weeks. How to explain? The ground, the air: it was all yellow. A wash of it, on every surface, so that to navigate within the space I had to feel my way around, grope the landscape blindly and backtrack whenever I ran into a barrier. I radioed the station. I asked, are you sure I'm in the right place?
Yes. Coordinates are correct.
Is it supposed to be...
Sorry? Repeat that?
Hold on, I said. I'd stubbed my toe on something. A rock, no—a handle. It lifted up and over, and I slipped down into the cavity below. Underneath, it was warmer and just as bright, and the air was tinged with the scent of burnt cotton. Of molten metal. Of decaying fruit. Maybe we'd gotten there too late. But I heard something then: the muted warble of a whippoorwill, as if muffled under layers of cloth.
Report your status, please.
I blinked and there she was, crouched in front of me. Her tiger-striped feathers were ruffled. I had been mistaken, but not far off. Come here, I whispered. She hopped backward. My radio crackled and the little beast hopped again—and though they never believed me later on, she looked me up and down and laughed. Nice try, she sang, and flew away, until she was only a speck high in the yellow horizon. ♦