Dan Dalgard, feeling panicked and out-of-control, tells the senior managers at his company that he has turned the monkey house over to the Army. They say that they want an agreement in writing, adding that the Army must take “legal responsibility for the building.” Dalgard calls C. J. Peters to relay this proposal, which Peters rejects. Dalgard and Peters work together to develop a written agreement, which Peters carries to General Russell. They sign it without consulting lawyers and fax it back to Dalgard.
The response of Dan Dalgard’s company to the situation—they want the Army to take legal responsibility for any disaster that might ensue—again emphasizes the irrational and sometimes detrimental ways that humans react to danger. The speed with which Peters, Dalgard, and Russell come up with a solution, however, shows that they at least recognize the urgency of the situation.
Preston outlines the new plan: Jerry is going to have to go back into the monkey house with a much larger group in order to euthanize the remaining monkeys. He is the commander of a group of animal-care technicians classified as 91-T (or 91-Tangoes in Army jargon). The youngest members of this group are eighteen-year-old privates. Jerry calls a meeting with his team, made up of young soldiers and older civilians, some with Level 4 experience. He explains to them that they will be combatting an Ebola-like virus, dealing with large amounts of blood, handling sharp objects, and wearing spacesuits. He says that any member of the team can opt out, but no one does. Jerry then handpicks his team, decing not to bring along a pregnant Sergeant named Swiderski, because of Ebola’s catastrophic effects on pregnant women.
The pool of those involved in the operation (and potentially exposed to Ebola) continues to expand. This time Preston takes care to mention the youth and inexperience of those who will soon be facing Ebola, even as he reports that every single one of them volunteers for duty—a fact that makes clear the courage and sense of responsibility shared by those who work at USAMRIID. The brief mention of the pregnant Private Swiderski, meanwhile, reminds us of the horror that Karl Johnson encountered when he faced Ebola, emphasizing the peril of the operation.
Preston explains that the Army does not consider this work hazardous, because the spacesuit should act as protection, and therefore the volunteers will not receive hazard pay. They also are not allowed to discuss the operation with anyone, including family members. Jerry instructs them to wear civilian clothes and to report to the Institute at 5 AM the next morning.
In a moment of irony and grim humor, Preston explains that the Army officially views spacesuit work as non-hazardous. The fact that they are not even going to be properly compensated for putting their lives in danger illustrates the spirit of self-sacrifice that the soldiers involved in the operation display.
The soldiers spend an uneasy night, as does Gene Johnson, who is worried about the “kids.” He recalls when he stuck himself with a bloody needle from a mouse that might have had Lassa virus while working in Zaire. The Army had airlifted him out and put him in the Slammer for thirty days. In Kitum Cave, he had once cut himself through his spacesuit three times with bloody tools. His close calls make him all the more afraid of the virus inside the monkey house. As he stays up, Johnson thinks about the rigorous procedure that the soldiers must follow inside the monkey house. Knowing that the hands will be the weakest point, he imagines giving a monkey an injection, carrying it to the table, and dissecting it. He writes notes as he does so, next imagining holding a needle, and visualizing where the other soldiers should be standing. By the end of the night, he has written “a script for a biohazard operation.”
Gene Johnson’s reference to the soldiers as “kids” further emphasizes their youth and inexperience. His recollection of being exposed to Lassa (and potentially to Ebola) reminds us of how even the most careful and well-informed researchers can potentially contract a deadly virus. Johnson’s fear motivates rather than paralyzes him, however, and his creation of a biohazard “script” allows him to share his skill and knowledge with those far less experienced than he is. This script also shows the multiple ways that this operation could go wrong, and adds to the suspense as the narrative continues.
With Nancy still asleep, Jerry Jaax leaves home at 4 AM and meets Gene Johnson, and together they go over Gene’s script. Soldiers begin to show up, and Jerry pairs them together, organizing them as they get into unmarked vehicles and head to Reston. Once again they get trapped in rush-hour traffic. At last they all arrive at the monkey house, where Gene Johnson lectures them about the dangers they will face inside the building. He mentions Milton Frantig’s illness, surprising a horrified Jerry, who was not informed of the possible human transmission. Jerry becomes convinced that his unit will suffer casualties. Meanwhile, parents are dropping their kids off for daycare down the street. As Gene Johnson speaks about the possibility that Ebola has gone airborne, he notices a beautiful private named Nicole Berke who looks no more than eighteen, and once again he feels terrified for the young soldiers. The team suits up.
In a single scene, Preston manages to illustrate the immense discipline of those involved in the operation, and the continuing potential for error and miscommunication. While Gene’s and Jerry’s cooperation seems like the height of efficiency, the fact that Gene has not told Jerry about Milton Frantig’s illness shows how a crisis breaks down the usual parameters for accuracy and communication. Jerry’s sudden fear that members of his team will die seems simultaneously paranoid and justified. This fear is echoed by Gene Johnson when he notices Nicole Berke, whose presence emphasizes the youth, inexperience, and vulnerability of many of the soldiers present.
Jerry Jaax is helped into a spacesuit and enters the monkey house with Sergeant Thomas Amen. The place is a mess, with monkey biscuits and papers all over the floor. They go deeper into the building until they reach the first monkey room. The seventy animals inside see them and then go wild—they are hungry and furious. They have thrown biscuits everywhere and have even painted the walls with their own dung. Jerry and Amen feed the animals and Jerry observes that many of them seem listless, have runny noses, or even appear to be bleeding, and some are coughing and sneezing. Jerry realizes that the disease has spread over the building, and wonders if this is some kind of “airborne Ebola flu.” Terrified by the idea, he tries not to think about it.
Jerry and Sergeant Thomas Amen now witness the filthy, possibly contaminated hellscape that the Reston monkey house has become—essentially a manifestation of the horror of Ebola. The potential that this disease is an “airborne Ebola flu,” meanwhile, is a real possibility, considering how little the Army actually knows about the strain that they are facing. This moment serves only to emphasize that the operation they are about to perform is simultaneously terrifying and essential.
Other members of the team spend time in the staging room fitting syringes with needles and readying them to be filled with drugs. Captain Mark Haines gets into a spacesuit and lectures his soldiers, reminding them that they are putting animals out of their misery and putting a halt to a deadly virus. They shouldn’t play with the monkeys, laugh, or joke while in the facility. He reminds them to keep an eye on each other, and to be extra cautious with needles. If the soldiers get tired, he urges them to tell their superior so that they can tap out.
Captain Mark Haines’s lecture reminds both soldiers and readers that the operation requires euthanizing intelligent, living animals for the greater good of humanity. It also emphasizes the potential for human error, especially considering the inexperience of many of the soldiers, and we are reminded again of the danger of hypodermic needles in a situation like this.
Gene Johnson begins calling out soldiers’ names. Next up is eighteen-year-old Private First Class Charlotte Godwin, a tiny woman who is dwarfed by her giant spacesuit. Together with her buddy she enters the airlock, noting the terrible smell that is creeping through her air filter. Once they are inside, the smell of monkey is overpowering, but the air is deadly quiet. Jerry Jaax orders her to load syringes with double doses of ketamine. Meanwhile, he waits as Sergeant Amen pins a monkey down, opens the door, injects the monkey with anesthetic, and slams the door shut. Exposed by the open door (through which the animal could attack), Jerry has given himself the most dangerous job.
Preston’s decision to recount this scene from the point of view of the young Charlotte Godwin helps to illustrate how unfamiliar and fear-inspiring this scene is to someone who is not already experienced in dealing with Ebola (or indeed, any hot virus). Jerry, meanwhile, yet again demonstrates his bravery and self-sacrifice by making sure that he takes the responsibility of the most dangerous job, as opposed to any member of his team.
As more team members come in, Jerry orders them to check each others’ spacesuits every five or ten minutes, and to rest for ten minutes every hour. He decides to set up a “bleed area”—a shower with a drain hole—near the front of the building in order to wash out blood. Every time blood goes down the drain, the soldiers pour bleach after it, to ensure that Ebola doesn’t get into the Reston sewers. Jerry divides the soldiers into a kind of assembly line: there is a bleed team to work the bleed table, a euthanasia team to kill the monkeys, and a necropsy team to dissect and bag the corpses. Jerry carries the monkeys in, Captain Haines draws blood, Major Nate Powell euthanizes the monkey, and Captain Steve Denny does the necropsy while Private Charlotte Godwin hands him tools. After a while Denny begins to let Charlotte do a necropsy herself, and she is both horrified and exhilarated.
The mention of blood serves to remind us of the ease with which Ebola can potentially spread, while Preston’s detailed description of the euthanizing process emphasizes the need for absolute precision. Despite the many perils, however, Jerry succeeds in creating organized, disciplined teams, which begin to function smoothly and well as the operation continues. Charlotte Godwin’s simultaneous excitement and terror near the end of the passage echoes many of the characters’ (such as Gene Johnson and Karl Johnson) attitudes towards Ebola—they are deeply afraid of it, yet also fascinated.