PREVIOUSLY: The Reardens threw a swank party. All the main characters were there and everybody acted with the maturity you’d expect at junior prom.
Dagny’s at work under the Colorado sun, supervising construction of a Rearden Metal bridge. The contractors are pains in her ass, because the cutting-edge tech frightens rather than excites them. They want to use steel, and designs based on steel’s properties, and Dagny has to drag them kicking and screaming towards innovation. Ain’t that always the way? Also it sounds like somebody is bad at hiring decisions.
Ellis Wyatt, oil magnate and vital client, visits to assess her progress. Now that he’s seen her at work, he knows she’s a go-getter who go Gets It, and mutual respect has bloomed. Naturally they shoot the shit by talking about how lousy everybody else is.
That afternoon, Dagny spies another visitor. Hank is at the edge of the site, scribbling in a notebook while he leans against a shiny new car. There aren’t many new cars left, thanks to fossil fuel depletion, but the last good automaker (and the last good everything really) is Colorado-based. No Detroit bail-out for the Randverse!
Our heroine approaches this luxurious tableau and happily finds Hank returned to his flirty ways now that his wife’s across the country. They geek out about how much they love the mountain West, seeing as it’s the last refuge of truly original thinkers and determined producers. Hank shows Dagny what he’s sketching: a better version of the bridge, designed around Rearden Metal. Her oven temperature rises, if you know what I mean. He flatters her work ethic and kiddingly offers her a job.
Dagny: ‘I think you’d like it … giving me orders to obey.’
Hank: ‘Yes. I would.’
Then there’s an awkward beat while Dagny loses herself in some BDSM fantasies. She suggestively suggests that they pool planes back to New York, but Rearden cops out with the excuse that he’s off to Minnesota.
However, at the airstrip that evening Dagny learns from the chatty attendant that Mr. Rearden departed for New York after all. Lying bastard! Poor stood-up Dagny has ‘no clue to any reason, nothing to give her a foothold … or understand.’ Dagny, he’s married. And Catholic. Fucking duh. Ayn I don’t know if placing all your protagonists on the autism spectrum was the right call, but it was certainly a bold choice. Very forward-thinking.
Next scene! Grim Manhattan. James is dragging Dagny to some social club to speak on Rearden Metal. Only in the limo does he offer the context: she’ll debate Bertram Scudder on the question “Is Rearden Metal a danger to society?” Disgusted at the bait-and-switch, Dagny has the driver pull over and abandons Jim in the car.
At a nearby diner in the shadow of some abandoned construction Dags stops for coffee and eavesdrops on the other patrons debating the decline of civilization. One hobo argues that ‘there is no human spirit,’ that people only know how to eat sleep and fuck and that everything else, like morality, is just a pretense. A truck driver questions if there’s really no morality to be found in the world; somebody sighs ‘Who is John Galt?’
For the second time, a bystander offers an apocryphal answer: Galt was a famous explorer seeking the fountain of youth. He found it on top of a mountain it took him a decade to climb, but he never came back because there was no way to bring its water down. How allegorical.
Next scene. Rearden takes a meeting with Dr. Potter from the State Science Institute. Potter unctuously encourages Rearden to suspend R-Metal production until the steel industry stabilizes. Rearden stares blankly. “Destabilizing the steel industry is the whole idea.”
Potter suggests Hank should play ball because there’s a lot of interest group pressure for the Institute to pan Rearden Metal in its upcoming report. Rearden stares at him blankly. “Good thing the report is based on science then.”
Potter doesn’t like having to explain the convoluted reasoning behind his bureaucratic chicanery out loud, so he offers to straight-up buy all the rights to R-Metal. He can offer an exorbitant amount of (taxpayers’) money, more than Rearden would see in profits for years. And since Hank is infamous for being all about the profit, Potter’s offer would seem reasonable. But of course none of Hank’s rights are for sale, so he just stares his stare of hatred and tells Potter to leave. Oh Hank, I knew you weren’t in it for the money! Self-deceiver.
Next! Dagny arrives at Taggart HQ to find loyal everyman Eddie Willers waiting with the newspaper in his mouth. The headline? State Science has indeed panned Rearden Metal. The report found no metallurgical flaws but concludes with a vague note that R-Metal could still be dangerous and warrants extensive further research. Sowing doubt with hearsay and burying the stuff in red tape. Eddie curls up against Dagny and whimpers. How terrible that people fall for such slimy bullshit! Dagny pets his head gently, quoth Dags: ‘Quiet, Eddie, quiet. Don’t be afraid.’ Have a biscuit.
Next! D visits Dr. Stadler, illustrious head of State Science. She has great respect for him as one of the brightest minds alive, and he’s just happy to match wits with somebody he finds genuinely intelligent for once.
D asks the Doc if he read the Rearden report. He hasn’t; his signature was just stamped on at the end. She wants him to study the Metal personally and issue a statement defending its quality. Stadler sours; he hates dealing with the politically sensitive side of his government-funded institute and won’t risk the headache.
You see the Doc only founded State Science because he thought he’d be free of big-money corporate-industrial pressure on his results. Not so much, it turns out. Now he just holes up in his office studying theoretical physics and avoiding contact with all his less reputable peers.
Dagny is upset that the great Doctor has become so disillusioned. Stadler can tell, and justifies his withered ambitions with the following anecdote:
Once upon a time Dr. Stadler taught physics at Patrick Henry U. He and the philosophy professor, Dr. Akston, had a friendly competition over who would best mentor their three favorite students, young scholars of such talent as appears only once in a generation. But as the years passed his prized pupils all betrayed his hopes for them. The first was Francisco, now living the hollow life of a worthless playboy. The second grew up to be Ragbeard, so you know, pirate. And the third man? Well he never amounted to anything at all. Some mediocre, anonymous schlub. You might even say nobody knows who he is.
All that squandered potential so broke Stadler’s faith in the human spirit that his once groundbreaking career has stagnated ever since. Which explains the government job, am I right? Ooh, public sector burn!
Dagny leaves respectfully, shaken by the Doc’s cautionary tale. Hopefully shaken right out of the funk she’s been in since Chapter 3. Shit’s been getting kinda slow around here.
NEXT: Chapter 7 cont’d, “Adventure Capital”