It is midnight, on the night before the soldiers are scheduled to be executed in Tehran. The soldiers’ necks are shaved once again. They’re fed, and then sent to a shower stall where they’re washed and cleaned. Then they’re sent back to their cell. There, Doc and Oscar write letters, while most of the soldiers sleep. Paul Berlin can’t sleep—he stays up, wondering what will happen next. Eventually he falls asleep, thinking of his mother and father.
As the chapter begins, the soldiers are about to be executed for desertion. We can assume, however, that O’Brien (or rather, Berlin) will think of an appropriate deus ex machina (sudden, unexpected narrative device that solves the problems of a story) to save them.
In his dreams, Berlin imagines Cacciato’s round face. Suddenly, he feels Sarkin shaking him awake. Sarkin tells him that he needs to go, immediately. Berlin imagines Cacciato whispering, “Go.” There’s a sudden explosion, and the gate of the cell blows open. Berlin and his fellow soldiers race out of the cell, following by the sound of gunfire.
It’s impossible to tell what’s really happening and what’s happening in Berlin’s mind—which suggests that it’s all happening in Berlin’s mind, probably as he sits alone at the observation post by the sea.
Berlin runs away from his cell. Outside, he continues running, and imagines a getaway car, too—“why not?” he thinks. Oscar drives everyone away from the prison. Berlin sits with Sarkin in the back seat. Oscar drives through Tehran, eventually driving onto a huge traffic loop. Suddenly, the soldiers notice a tank, carrying a squad of soldiers, pursuing their car. Oscar manages to drive away from the tank while avoiding fire.
O’Brien now makes it more clear that Berlin is imagining all this at a later time. The phrase, “Why not?” suggests that Berlin is literally making up on the spot the story of how he and the other soldiers escape from prison. As O’Brien becomes more transparent about the levels of reality within his novel, we are meant to re-examine past events in light of this knowledge.
The soldiers continue to drive away from their pursuers. They’re silent, but extremely tense. Berlin looks out the window of the car and sees the stars and the mountains in the distance. He remembers the vote the soldiers took—everyone touched the grenade. The only exception was Cacciato—while he “touched” the grenade, he gave few signs of understanding what he was being asked to support. As Berlin considers this, Oscar drives the car across the border—the soldiers have arrived in Turkey. Shortly before dawn, they arrive in Ankara.
Berlin’s awareness of the past and present come together in this scene—he’s thinking about Cacciato’s lack of support for the soldiers’ murder of Martin, and he’s also thinking about the soldiers’ long, misguided quest to find Cacciato. It’s as if the soldiers want to arrest Cacciato to “bring him down to earth”—to prove to themselves that he’s no more moral and “pure” a person than they are.
Oscar tells Berlin to take the wheel while he gets some rest. Berlin obliges. They drive for hours, until they reach “the sea.” Berlin murmurs “It can be done,” and Doc agrees with him.
At this point in the text, the words “It can be done” are like a mantra for Berlin and the other soldiers. It is the far-fetched idea of someone walking from Vietnam to Paris that keeps Berlin going, both in his imagined story and in his attempts to stay sane and hopeful in reality.