Blood dripped off Dolphin's back. He walked over the glass-covered floor and made his way outside. He saw pieces of concrete falling from the sky. At least half a minute had passed since he'd heard the blast.
He ran to the Combat Operations Center located next to his sleeping quarters. This was his default duty station during Condition One, a basewide emergency. Another communications officer was pulling himself up off the floor; the blast had thrown him from his chair and separated his shoulder. Long cracks ran up the wall of the COC. Dolphin could see daylight through them.
The Marines on duty scurried to reassemble the radios littering the floor. Something must have landed on us, Dolphin thought to himself. Something huge. Rumors had circulated that the Soviets were supplying the Syrian military with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Could someone have nuked the base? Was that what this was?
"I can't raise the BLT," a young corporal called out. "I can't get them to pick up the phone."
A staff sergeant flew into the room. "The BLT is gone!" he yelled. "It's gone!"
Dolphin was confused. Did they deploy? Maybe they're going out after whatever hit us, he thought. Then a third man came in, a major, reporting that the building itself was gone.
Dolphin went outside. First he saw the smoke. And then Marines, walking around in circles, some of them with almost all their clothes blown off. On a few men Dolphin could make out only the standard-issue red exercise shorts the Marines wore during workouts. Everyone was covered from head to toe in a gray powder, as if he'd rolled in it. Facial features, hair color, race-everything was obscured under the ghostly cover of pulverized concrete.
Dolphin spotted a staff sergeant named Lawson speeding in his Jeep toward a medical post across the street. Lawson tried to steady a wounded Marine in the passenger seat with his free hand; the man's head rolled and bobbed like it might come off. One of his eyes had blown out of its socket and flopped down on his cheek. Dolphin turned and looked down the road. Where the BLT should have stood, he noticed a new view-the ocean.
Shit! Oh, shit! I've got to get on task here, he told himself. A catatonic Marine was standing in front of him, wearing nothing but the waistband of his red shorts. His body hair had been burned off. His arm hung limp. Dolphin tried to lift him, but the pain from his back swelled.
"Listen!" he said. "Help isn't going to come to you. You've got to help yourself." The Marine started walking. "I don't want to lose my arm," he said. "I don't want to lose my arm." He kept uttering the refrain as Dolphin walked with him up the road. He spotted Lawson driving back to the blast site. Dolphin loaded the man into the Jeep. "Just take him," he said, and then went looking for more.
The whole day went like that.