A tapping from No. 402, who’s been silent since Rubashov said he was capitulating, tells him that they’re fetching Hare-lip, who sends Rubashov his greetings. Peering through the spy-hole, Rubashov sees Hare-lip standing there, trembling, then accompanied by officers down the corridor. 402 taps that he behaved well. Rubashov taps that he wishes it were all over. 402 asks what he’d do if he could live: Rubashov says he’d study astronomy. 402 says he has 18 years more, over 6,000 days without a woman. Rubashov says he can read or study, but 402 says he doesn’t have the head for it. As the officers enter the cell, 402 taps hurriedly that he envies him.
Hare-lip betrayed Rubashov, apparently with the notion that he’d save himself, but Rubashov has always been aware that such thoughts are far too optimistic for the policy of the Party. Rubashov’s final conversation with 402 reveals that in his last moments, he finds himself thinking of something broader than the individual, but not a formless, faceless collective—instead the study of something greater than either.
Rubashov walks with the officers down the cellar stairs in a spiral, into the darkness. He thinks that it’s strange how his toothache had stopped in the moment of the trial before he said that he bowed before the country and the masses. He wonders where the Promised Land is for these masses, if any such land exists. Moses hadn’t been allowed to enter this, but he’d been allowed to see it: he, Rubashov, cannot.
The toothache tends to plague Rubashov when he thinks of the “grammatical fiction” and the knotty problems and contradictions that ensue from it—as he performed his confession and pledged a loyalty he didn’t believe, those difficult problems receded, at least for a moment.
A dull blow strikes the back of Rubashov’s head, and he thinks how theatrical it is, as he falls. Memories pass through him: he dreams they’re coming to arrest him, and tries to get into his dressing gown. A figure bends over him and he smells the leather of the revolver belt. He wonders what insignia the man wears, and in whose name he lifts the pistol. Another blow hits him on his ear: all is quiet, except for the sounds of the sea and a wave coming from afar.
Just before he dies, Rubashov recognizes how much of his interrogation, trial, and execution has been a performance meant to enact and confirm a totalitarian view of reality and its own notion of truth. Although Rubashov had felt hope before his death, the novel ends in chilling silence.