The day continues, and the soldiers grow exhausted. Jerry tries to make sure that they take breaks in order to keep fatal errors from happening, but no one wants to leave. Gene Johnson stays outside the monkey house, in radio contact with those within it. Then the suit of a woman named Rhonda Williams malfunctions—her battery begins to fail and she can feel contaminated air seeping into it. Jerry radios Gene that Rhonda will need to come out immediately. Suddenly, though, a soldier appears to tell Jerry that he’s found an extra battery. Since Rhonda seems rattled by the experience, Jerry sends her out with Charlotte Godwin, who appears tired.
The soldiers’ exhaustion as their work progresses illustrates how easily human error can creep into even the most disciplined operation. This fact only becomes clearer when Rhonda Williams’s battery begins to fail, an event that puts her at risk for airborne contamination.
A television van appears on the side of the building where Gene is stationed. Gene sends a sergeant in to inspect Rhonda and Charlotte, and the man discovers a hole in Rhonda’s spacesuit and tapes it up before decontaminating her. Gene meets the two women to warn them about the van, and assures Rhonda that the pressure in her suit protected her from the virus. He hides the two women in the support van, away from the cameras.
The choice between potentially allowing Rhonda to become infected and risking being filmed while evacuating her reveals the conflict between safety and secrecy. The hole discovered in Rhonda’s suit reminds us of the multiple ways in which spacesuits (supposedly safe) can easily be breached.
Meanwhile the news team begins to investigate the front of the building, knocking at the windows and ringing the buzzer. When they don’t receive an answer, they drive off, not even noticing the army operation going on around the other side of the building. Had they only pointed their video cameras towards a window, Preston speculates, they would have gotten video of “soldiers in spacesuits smeared in Ebola blood engaged in the first major biohazard mission the world ever knew.”
The episode involving the news team makes clear how fragile the secrecy of the operation is, and what a large role luck and chance play in these kinds of events. Preston’s description of spacesuits smeared with Ebola blood reminds us of the great risks that the soldiers are taking, and also of the unprecedented nature of this kind of operation.
Meanwhile Charlotte and Rhonda wait in the van until Gene gives them the all-clear. They walk to the woods near the building, and find two used hypodermic needles lying on the ground. No one knows how they got there. Eventually safety people put on gloves and dispose of the syringes, though not before finding more in the grass. More people leave the building, and the last one out is Jerry, who emerges looking pale and aged. The soldiers head to Taco Bell, starving and exhausted. A Taco Bell employee asks Sergeant Klages if there’s a mission going on in the area, but Klages refuses to answer.
Human error combines with mystery as Rhonda and Charlotte find used, open hypodermic needles on the ground, illustrating how even the most disciplined and well-trained group of people can easily make a potentially disastrous mistake. Jerry again puts his team before himself by exiting last. The mundane and almost absurd mention of Taco Bell reminds us how, even in the midst of this massive and horrific operation, normal life goes on.
Jerry returns home to Nancy, and the two talk while Jaime sleeps between them. Jerry tells Nancy that the mission went well, and Nancy carries her daughter to bed before holding her husband as he falls asleep.
Again the Jaax’s family acts as a dramatic contrast to the grim and perilous events of the day, and reminds both readers and characters why the work they are doing is so vital.