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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
On a cold winter night, by a deserted stretch on highway in the Arizona desert, Lieutenant Roger Shawn stands atop a hillcrest and stares through his binoculars at the sleepy town of Piedmont, Arizona. In the back of the van, Private Lewis Crane, an electronics technician, is making the final calculations in an attempt to triangulate the final position of their target. The two soldiers have driven all day in search of satellite that has recently returned from orbit.
Shawn and Crane know nothing of their objective except that the satellite, containing a series of specialized capsules, was designed to study the upper atmosphere before falling back to earth. Although the team had expected to recover the satellite from a spot twelve miles north or town, they are perplexed when their latest transmitter trace locates the capsule in the center of Piedmont. In the moonlight, the men can see birds, which appear to be vultures, circling the small array of buildings. They decide to drive into town and take a look.
In this first chapter, Crichton creates the atmosphere of suspense that drives the novel. Many factors enhance the mystery surrounding this secret military satellite. The stretch of deserted highway, the cold winter night, the fact that the capsule is no being tracked to the center of Piedmont when it should be twelve miles north of town, and especially the vulture-like birds circling the town in the moonlight, all contribute to a sense of impending danger.
Back at "Project Scoop" mission control center, Lieutenant Edgar Comroe lethargically monitors the radio communications from Shawn and Crane’s van, which is coded "Caper One". As the vehicle enters Piedmont, Shawn reports that there are bodies strewn throughout the town. Upon hearing this discovery Comroe instructs Caper One to leave their radio open and proceed towards the capsule. Comroe then seals off the control room to prevent any news from getting out. He hears Lieutenant Shawn report seeing a man in white robes walking through the town and checking over the bodies. Suddenly, the white-robed man stops and begins coming towards the van. Horrified, the mission control team hears a high-pitched scream followed by a crunching noise, and the radio transmission ends.
In the second chapter, Crichton heightens the tone of apprehension by changing perspectives and telling the story from the point of view of mission control. Since the reader knows only what mission control can hear over the radio, we feel completely helplessness upon hearing the screams just before the radio goes dead. Finally, Crichton leaves us with the new mystery of the white-robed man who has somehow survived the epidemic, and who appears to have killed Shawn and Crane.
In the opening narrative, Crichton describes the common nature of all crises and explains that the United States has never had a biological crisis - until the Andromeda Strain.
Back in the mission control center, Major Mancek slowly replays the tape from the radio broadcast from the van. Based on the rhythmic static picked up by the computer, Mancek decides that the van is probably still running and the van radio is still broadcasting. He orders a flyover of Piedmont and calls in a technician named Jagger to analyze the film. Minutes later, a scavenger plane drops phosphorus bombs around Piedmont and photographs the town. As Jagger analyzes the body temperature images picked up by the plane’s infrared camera, he determines that most of the people died quite recently. Further images indicate that one person is still moving around the town, checking the bodies. The plane’s motion pictures show the white-robed man, standing in the center of town, staring at the planes as they buzz past the town. Major Mancek puts in a call to General Wheeler and declares a state of emergency within the army base.
By moving the narrative from the town to the army base, Crichton heightens the suspense surrounding the disease and the lone figure that survived it.
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