Meanwhile, an Army scientist named Thomas Ksiazek has been working in a Level 4 lab in a spacesuit to develop a rapid test for the Ebola virus. At last, on December 6th, he is successful. He tests urine and blood samples from Milton Frantig and finds that he does not appear to have Ebola. The mystery deepens—why hasn’t Frantig been infected?
Frantig has been exposed to the virus for weeks, and yet doesn’t have Ebola. This discovery should be a huge relief, but it only deepens the mystery surrounding the virus, emphasizing a frightening lack of information.
It is the second day of the Army operation in the Reston monkey house and things are going smoothly. Jerry Jaax and Sergeant Amen go in to feed the monkeys, and they find many more dead or dying. They set up chairs in a semicircle for soldiers to take rest breaks while filling up syringes. Just as Jerry is about to take a break from working in Room C, he hears a commotion—Sergeants Amen and Klages inform him that a monkey has escaped. This is Jerry’s worst nightmare: a strong, fast, angry, and possibly Ebola-infected monkey ready to fight off and bite vulnerable soldiers.
Preston creates a contrast between the smoothness of the operation going exactly as planned, and the moments of chaos and confusion that imperil all those within the monkey house. An escaped monkey potentially carrying Ebola represents one of the most pressing and dangerous threats to the soldiers’ lives, and despite Jerry’s calm and skill, he is unable to bring the animal under control.
The men find a net and begin to track down the escaped monkey. Rhonda Williams remembers it running under her feet and out of the room before scampering back in, while Jerry insists that it always remained within Room C. Jerry turns out to be right, but other monkeys bite the escapee, and soon it is tracking blood throughout the room. Jerry gets on the radio with Gene Johnson, who tells him to “do whatever had to be done.” They contemplate shooting the monkey, but quickly scrap this idea, because of the danger of ricochets. At last, proceeding slowly and calmly, Jerry begins to track the animal, with the help of Sergeant Amen. The monkey is too fast, however, and Jerry begins to feel out of control.
Once again we understand how even the most disciplined of operations is essentially at the mercy of chance. Should the escaped monkey bite one of the soldiers, their spacesuit will in no way protect them—and again we see the terrifying vulnerability of human life. The different accounts of Rhonda and Jerry emphasize the confusion and panic that accompany the monkey’s escape.
Outside the building, C. J. Peters has come by to observe—he is out of uniform. Suddenly he sees a stranger near the front of the building—it is a reporter from the Washington Post. Peters assures him that nothing much is happening, and the reporter leaves.
The fact that Peters is out of uniform turns out to be a saving grace, because it allows him to downplay the seriousness of the situation—another example of how luck and chance are forces just as powerful as skill and discipline.
Back inside the monkey house, Jerry decides to leave the escaped monkey in the room overnight. Meanwhile the surviving monkeys have become upset. Jerry decides to give the lower-ranking soldiers more responsibility, and Rhonda Williams ends up on euthanasia duty with Major Nate Powell. It is her job to plunge a needle into the monkey’s heart, instantly killing it. When she pulls the needle out, blood spurts out as well. She makes sure to rinse off her gloves and her spacesuit often. Occasionally Rhonda misses the heart, causing the animal’s body to jerk in a “death reflex.”
Jerry’s decision to temporarily leave behind the escaped monkey emphasizes his presence of mind and his foresight, even in the midst of a crisis. The description of Rhonda Williams’s work gives us an intimate description of what the operation is like for the soldiers, and reminds us of the horror that comes from having to take an animal’s life—these are intelligent, human-like creatures being methodically euthanized.
Next Rhonda Williams works with Captain Haines at the bleed table, drawing blood from unconscious monkeys. As she does so, one of the monkeys wakes up—it goes to pull the needle out of its leg before trying to bite Rhonda. Captain Haines pins the monkey down as Rhonda tries to stop the monkey’s blood from pouring out. At last a soldier injects the monkey with ketamine and it goes limp.
The moment when one of the monkeys wakes up is one of panic and terror, yet again illustrating the many ways that the soldiers could be exposed, and the perilous conditions they are working in. Despite all of this, however, they maintain their discipline and sense of duty.
Peter Jahrling, meanwhile, has been spending all his time in his spacesuit running tests on monkey samples, while Tom Geisbert has been working equally hard at his electron microscope. Occasionally the two check in with each other, but neither seems to be getting ill. Further, as discoverers of the strain, they are going to get the chance to name it. Jahrling has also been testing his and Geisbert’s blood, although he still believes that they most likely were not infected. He is disturbed, however, by the thought that Milton Frantig may have contracted Ebola.
The mention of Peter Jahrling and Thomas Geisbert reminds us that there are multiple avenues through which the disease could make its way to the human race.
Jahrling carries slides of his own blood serum into his lab and looks at them under a microscope—if it glows bright green, then he is infected. Exhausted and worried, he begins to doubt his own judgment, but at last, realizing that there is no glow, he is relieved. The same goes for Geisbert’s blood. At 11 PM Jahrling enters the decontamination shower, intending to go home, but instead he falls asleep in there, and is only woken up by a harsh blast of water.
Jahrling’s exhaustion and paranoia make clear his fear of Ebola, and his regret over the decision to ever sniff the vial in the first place—despite the good news that he isn’t infected. Jahrling falling asleep in the decon shower is a poignant moment of human fallibility, reminding us of the emotional and physical strain involved in this work.
Rhonda Williams is standing in a deserted corridor of the monkey house. Suddenly the escaped monkey comes towards her, holding a syringe filled with a hot virus. She tries to escape him but her spacesuit slows her down. At last she wakes up, realizing that she’s been having a nightmare.
Rhonda’s nightmare, too, emphasizes the mental toll taken by fighting Ebola—while also consolidating the symbols of Preston’s book. Rhonda clearly understands the dangers at hand, but still continues to do her duty.