An unspecified amount of time after the events of the previous chapter, Paul Berlin lies on the ground, thinking about Cacciato. He is sitting in a large tower that overlooks the South China Sea, and it’s a little before midnight. Nearby, he sees other soldiers, such as Doc, Eddie, and Oscar, sleeping peacefully.
This sudden change of scene and time, combined with Cacciato’s earlier “flight,” reintroduces the idea of the fantastical into the novel. Clearly this will not be a straightforward narrative—the events are disjointed, and what is really “real” is always in question. With this structure, O’Brien echoes the effects of the trauma and confusion of war.
Berlin thinks back on his squad’s pursuit of Cacciato, and tries to understand what has become of Cacciato. Only a short time ago, he and his fellow soldiers advanced on Cacciato, firing flares high into the air. What happened next is left unclear, and Berlin seems unable to wrap his mind around it. He thinks of Doc, who recently theorized a strange medical condition in Berlin: he has an “overabundance of biles.” Biles, a strange chemical in the human body, produce a soothing feeling, much like the one Berlin seems to feel.
Doc Peret is the military doctor, and the squad’s resident scientist, But his version of science doesn’t seem very scientific. The theory of biles is basically a medieval idea, and has no basis in modern medicine. Yet Doc’s pseudoscience seems appropriate for the world of the novel, where seemingly nothing is verifiable, and the characters must make up stories just to survive and preserve their sanity.
Despite Doc’s theories, Berlin is terrified. Berlin watches the waves crash on the beach below the tower, and tries to understand what has happened to Cacciato. He wonders where Cacciato has gone, and how he’s managed to elude capture for so long.
This chapter is dreamlike and seemingly disconnected from the events of the last chapter, and its conclusion provides no answers. This is O’Brien’s intention—he wants us to feel disoriented, as a soldier would.