PREVIOUSLY: The John Galt Line, Dagny & Hank’s game-changing high speed railroad, opened in Colorado to phenomenal success. Dagny & Hank celebrated with some highly cathartic adultery.
Dagny wakes up the morning after in a post-coital haze. Completely content, she watches Hank getting dressed. Then he turns to her and is like “I want you to know I hate you now, and I hate myself even more. We are depraved animals. I act like a principled man, but I want nothing more than to make you my fuck puppet. It’s disgusting.” Dagny, progressive at heart and decidedly not as… married, laughs in his face. “What is this, the real 1950s? We live in the steampunk ’50s, stop being so repressed. I want to be your fuck puppet, baby. I want to be your fuck puppet all day. Now creep up on this.” And he does.
That night on the east coast, Jim Taggart is wandering aimlessly around New York. The success of the Galt Line and Dagny’s imminent return to Taggart Transcon with the Line’s fresh business in tow have sent Taggart stock sky-high again. As CEO, Jim is getting all the publicity, but the accolades make him feel like shit because he didn’t really do anything. To avoid acknowledging his self-disgust, he projects all his hatred and resentment onto Dagny and Rearden. But with nothing to keep him busy at night, introspection is harder to avoid.
So that’s how he finds himself in some ghetto-ass neighborhood in the rain, coming down with the sniffles. He steps into a run-down bodega for some tissues. Inside, the place is unsurprisingly barren under pale fluorescents but the girl behind the counter is staring at him like he’s radiating sunlight. She timidly asks if he’s THE James Taggart.
Why yes, yes he is. And it turns out this blue-collar ingenue is Cheryl, your classic small town girl who moved to the big city to make it and found herself working the night shift at a corner store in… Harlem? Is it racist to assume it’s Harlem? Either way she is utterly starstruck that the guy on the front page of the day’s paper is buying Kleenex from her. He is in turn struck with perverse fascination at how innocent she is. The poor thing actually believes his company’s media talking points for Christ’s sake. He flirts with her in his vaguely sociopathic way and convinces her to come back to his place.
Alone at his apartment, Jim quizzes Cheryl on her backstory. She lived somewhere in the blighted midwest and decided she had to move away before inertia settled her permanently into white trash mediocrity. And how’s that working out? Not well obviously, but she still believes in pulling herself up by her bootstraps.
Jim confesses to her that he’s in an awful mood. She can’t understand why. Shouldn’t he feel completely triumphant after tasting the fruit of all “his” labor? No. He can only talk mad smack about Dagny and Hank for being self-absorbed and conceited, and about Orren Boyle and his other friends for being corrupt cowards. He hates everything. Poor naive Cheryl can’t square it. The American economy finally has a shot at recovery thanks to “his” achievements. Why does it upset him? Would he rather society collapse?
Jim lashes out — he didn’t say that! Don’t put words in his mouth! And who cares about that material bullshit anyway? Why can’t the news promote proper values? Spiritual values! Think of all the suffering in the world… frankly, being unhappy for the sake of others is the real test of virtue. Yes, a great capacity for unhappiness is what truly makes one great, Jim decides. Cheryl is like “Golly Mr. Taggart, that sure is swell of you to be so hard on yourself when you’ve already done so much. I wish I had all your fancy book-learnin’.”
Taggart just stares at her in cynical awe. What a rube! Dawn is breaking so he takes her back to her apartment. She thanks him profusely for not taking advantage of her. Will she ever see him again? He does not say. But he knows she will, because he is still grotesquely mesmerized by her free spirit.
A couple weeks later, Dagny and Hank meet up at her place for a brunch-time bone. He orders her to tell him about all the other men she’s fucked while he bangs her. Dagny’s like, “There was only one other man and I’m not telling you who it is.” He likes it when she talks back. In all seriousness if you had to make this book 1100 pages Ayn, you should’ve made at least 800 of them sex scenes.
Meanwhile one of Dagny’s former contractors, one of the guys who was afraid to buy rMetal, is watching the factory across the street from his get liquidated for parts. He starts up a chat with one of the day laborers hauling the scrap, lamenting how every local business he knew growing up is collapsing and all the rest are hauling ass to libertarian Colorado. He’s all over the place politically, wishing the government hadn’t shut down competition among the railroads because it cost him business, but wishing that it would subsidize legacy companies like his so he can stay in business now.
He mentions an oil man in Oklahoma who had to stop pumping his fields because he lost all his business to Ellis Wyatt, which makes absolutely no sense. A guy with oil supply in a time of scarcity would find demand, period. The vagrant worker offers his own counterpoint, citing Rearden’s mills in Pennsylvania that are booming with rMetal production.
Fair enough. Mr. Contractor asks his name. “Owen Kellogg,” says the vagrant. Hey wait a minute, that’s the corporate suit who handed Dagny his resignation in Chapter 1. Didn’t he disappear mysteriously forever? Why is he roughing it as a hobo now? How curious.
But the name means nothing to the nostalgic contractor. He simply hopes the latest government initiative will help him keep his business afloat. You see, to manage the Equalization of Opportunity that is now required by law, the Congress has commissioned a Bureau of Economic Planning. And it will be headed by a brilliant young policy wonk taking his first job in the public sector. His name? Wesley Mouch.
What Mr. Contractor doesn’t know, because he gets his news from the same press that reprints Taggart’s PR memos, is that Mouch is a well-connected former lobbyist. The foxes are running the henhouse, people!
Nex– oh, Dagny and Hank are having sex at her apartment again? Well, they’re about to. Hank just got in from some awards ceremony honoring him for inventing the now-popular rMetal and saving America, but everybody there was just a hanger-on or a fair-weather fan. Dagny sympathizes. Hank has an idea to cheer himself up, though. The two of them should go on a month-long off-the-grid vacation, roadtripping around the country in cognito. Dagny thinks that sounds awesome.
So cut to them on the open road, tearing down the decaying routes of the blighted midwest, touring the abandoned factories and warehouses of the Rust Belt. This is your guys’ dream vacation? You are the shittiest. They watch the natural beauty speed by all around them and Hank literally goes “You know what this view needs? Advertising. Where are all the billboards?” Ugh, blow me. I’m trying to revise you into a likable character Hank, and you’re making it really hard.
Their journey takes them to the condemned campus of
The 20th Century Motor CoGM. The surrounding ghost town is full of dull-eyed impoverished zombies who have given up on improving their lives or leaving, if they were ever inclined to do either in the first place. One lady is wearing a potato sack for a dress. Not an exaggeration.
The factory itself is a skeleton. Or so it would seem until Dagny notices an unusually futuristic coil amid the wreckage in the old R&D lab. She digs out the machine to which the coil belongs. Though it has been looted for parts it is recognizable as a motor. A crazy cyberpunk motor, trapped in this dying steampunk world. Venturing further into the rubble she finds a yellowing report on the device, mostly illegible.
Hank hears Dagny screaming for him and runs to the R&D lab. She shows him the gutted device and the shred of paperwork describing how it works — or how it would have worked. The coil, you see, would draw static electricity out of the air to drive the gears. Simple, clean, brilliant: it is in essence a low-cost carbon-free completely renewable energy solution. Or it would have been, if it hadn’t ended up as junk.
“Fuck, this could revitalize the entire infrastructure of modern civilization! Fossil fuels would go right out the window! Imagine this motor paired with rMetal construction — we’d be living in a prosperous utopia of economic efficiency! This is what the world needs!” Dagny is spazzing out like a true tech nerd.
“Yeah but Dags, why is it here? Why is it buried, broken, and lost? What cruel fate could have befallen the inventor that such a work of genius was covered up?” Hank responds ominously. The two grimace at each other, suddenly aware they are up against much darker forces than they had imagined.
So… vacation canceled then?
NEXT: 1:10, Wyatt’s Torch — “Desperate Times”