Tom Geisbert prints out the photos and heads to Peter Jahrling’s office with them. On the way, he passes the chaotic office of Gene Johnson, before reaching Jahrling’s sunny office filled with pictures drawn by his children. Showing Jahrling the photographs, Geisbert explains that he believes the Reston monkeys have been infected by Marburg. Jahrling at first assumes that Geisbert must be joking, but when he sees the photograph he realizes he isn’t. Jahrling remembers sniffing the vial of virus and cutting up the monkey’s spleen. The two discuss the fact that the virus looks a little bit too long to be Marburg, but they decide to pass this information up the chain of command.
The small detail about Jahrling’s children’s drawings again emphasizes the high stakes involved in the fight against Ebola, and the fragility of modern life. Jahrling’s reaction, meanwhile (he believes that Geisbert is joking), makes obvious how unprecedented it is to find a case of Ebola on American soil.
The next person they notify is Colonel Clarence James Peters, MD (C.J.), chief of disease assessment at USAMRIID. He too spent extensive time in Central and South America looking for viruses, and he tends to ignore Army regulation, showing up at 10 AM rather than 8 AM, and wearing jeans with a Hawaiian shirt over sandals and socks. His staff is incredibly loyal to him, but he also makes enemies easily. An adventurous man, he loves eating local cuisine, and has sampled everything from monkey to zebra to jellyfish to termites. In fact, he even keeps refrigerated termites to snack on at the end of the day.
Here Preston introduces and humanizes another new character who will be a major player in the events to come. Like Nancy Jaax and Gene Johnson, C. J. Peters is another dedicated and courageous scientist who consistently puts the safety of others before his own—and also has an insatiable sense of curiosity.
Jahrling finds Peters in a meeting, but upon seeing the pictures, the colonel instantly leaves the room. In his office, Jahrling and Peters discuss whether the sample is actually Marburg. Peters asks whether there might be contamination elsewhere in the lab, but this seems unlikely. They speculate that it might be something other than Marburg, and decide to test the strain using an experiment with human blood samples that glow if they have been infected with Marburg. Peters suggests that they test for Ebola as well, and the two worry that Dan Dalgard might be infected. Peters requests that Tom Geisbert take electron microscope pictures of monkey liver in order to ascertain whether there is actually virus within the animals. Peters comments that a Marburg scare close to Washington will cause mass panic—and then he returns to his meeting.
Peters’ dramatic reaction to the news only increases the reader’s sense of the seriousness of the situation. The uncertainty that accompanies the discussion, meanwhile, underscores how unbelievable these circumstances are, and also how little even the most informed scientists really know about Ebola and Marburg. Meanwhile, Peters’ mention of a possible mass panic becomes a huge concern within the narrative. For the officials of USAMRIID, containing the public’s reaction to a possible outbreak is almost as important as containing the outbreak itself.
After speaking to C. J. Peters, Peter Jahrling and Tom Geisbert discuss the fact that they both may have inhaled Marburg virus. They count backwards and realize that they were exposed eleven days ago, meaning that they still might be within the disease’s incubation period. They wonder what Colonel Peters would do if he knew about their potential exposure, and consider the possibility of being put in the Slammer. A horrific psychological experience, time in the Slammer often renders patients clinically depressed, catatonic, or even psychotic. Often those who leave the Slammer alive end up paranoid and washed up, unable to work at USAMRIID anymore.
As with Nurse Mayinga, human psychology comes into play when dealing with the disease on a person-to-person basis—Maying, Jahrling, and Geisbert all basically go into denial when confronted with the possibility that they might have Ebola. The bleak description of the Slammer again emphasizes that humans end up inflicting much more suffering upon each other than any virus could.
Jahrling asserts that he and Geisbert most likely did not contract the virus, although he decides to test their blood to make sure. He then turns his mind to Dan Dalgard, whose risk of getting the disease is far higher, but who appears perfectly healthy. Reasoning that this may be a new strain of the virus altogether, Jahrling and Geisbert decide to stay quiet about their potential exposure, and to keep researching the disease. They secretly draw blood, and Jahrling takes the samples to his Level 4 lab in order to test them. Meanwhile, Geisbert takes sterilized pieces of O53’s liver and begins a process by which he can take pictures of the viruses within it.
Here Geisbert and Jahrling basically decide to keep their potential exposure a secret. This is a gamble, as they are now at risk of exposing dozens more people to Ebola. There is no way, however, for the scientists to know the truth right now, and again chance and luck take on a powerful role. The two men are in an ambiguous position—self-sacrificing, in that they are putting their own lives at risk to help others, but selfish in that they are potentially putting many other people at risk to save themselves.