PREVIOUSLY: Part One, otherwise known as “300 pages summed up in <1000 words.”
Part Two opens on Dr. Stadler, the sour genius and head of the State Science Institute, as he keeps an eye on the weather outside his window. It is bleak and wintry, which is odd since it’s May. He finds this change in the climate unsettling. For some reason.
Anyway he’s taking a meeting with Dr. Ferris, his senior deputy, who has arrived late from a fundraiser in DC. Their conversation is strained; Stadler is petulant, Ferris condescending. The good doctor bitches about the oil shortage — not only has it disrupted the Institute’s experiments but his office is too damn cold! Ferris explains that his men (their men, technically) have been working to restore the Wyatt oil fields to no avail.
Stadler’s second complaint is that he’s seen mention of a “Project X” in his briefings and feels he’s being left out of the loop. “Project Xylophone,” explains Ferris. “That’s an experimental sound wave technology, don’t let it clog up your brilliant mind, sir. And also don’t mention it to anyone — it’s highly classified. Tell you what, just stay in your office and focus on theoretical physics, okay?”
Stadler lays out his real beef with Ferris. The junior scientist just released a pop-science book called Why Do You Think You Think? in which he cites Stadler’s advances in quantum mechanics to claim that reality is unintelligible, filtered as it is through the senses, and that consciousness and will are just meaningless chemical illusions.
Stadler is furious. All of his hard work, years of meticulous reasoned thought about the underlying orderliness of the universe, has now been sold to the masses as an excuse not to think, to ignore facts instead of learn them, to forfeit all sense of purpose. Such superficial clap-trap is a complete betrayal of his principles!
But Ferris just patronizes him and unilaterally cuts the meeting short. He admits that he doesn’t care about the specious reasoning in his book, because this is what sells and sales will help the Institute’s fundraising. The actual content serves only to comfort those who already want excuses not to think. You know, sheeple. So deal with it. Hey, can you tell how Ferris is a villain from the way he’s obsessed with money and has a low opinion of people? No? You can’t? In fact that might even lead you to mistake him for a hero? Well, he’s a villain anyway. So deal with it.
Stadler is left alone and miserable. He feels increasingly like a pet, or a zoo exhibit, instead of a leader. It’s no wonder, then, that when Dagny Taggart calls requesting his expertise, he leaps at the chance to visit her.
In her office, Dagny guts the Transcon spreadsheets. Every train except the flagship cross-country Comet is running on coal. But the country’s best coal supplier just retired and disappeared, of course, so even that is in short supply. Same goes for the founder of the up-start Colorado car company, Fauxrd. With no new cars and scarce fuel, Taggart trains are more strained than ever. And due to price controls and rationing, Dagny’s ability to adapt is hobbled, badly. The only thing keeping the books in the black is the boatload of subsidies and tax exemptions that Jim pulls out of Washington.
Ergo, when Stadler busts in, over eager for his appointment, Dagny is happy to put aside the task of which lines to close and which jobs to cut. Yet she remembers their previous meeting well, when Stadler’s cynical fatalism really creeped her out, so this time she plays her cards close to the vest.
She starts by handing him a dossier with everything she knows about the mystery motor. Thoughts, comments, criticisms? Stadler scans the brief and his jaw drops, his eyes light up. Applied sciences aren’t his thing, but even on the abstract level this is revolutionary. Whoever invented this motor discovered a new theory of electromagnetism on the way to making it work.
Dagny wants to know if Stadler, as America’s pre-eminent man of science, has any idea who would be capable of this feat. Stadler does not, and the two of them lament the general terribleness of humanity, as all of the protagonists in this misanthropic book are wont to do.
Stadler asks to see the motor himself and Dagny obliges. They stand before it in its underground storage room like they’re in church for a funeral. I wonder if Ayn Rand masturbated to Popular Mechanics… wait, sorry, where were we? Oh right, Stadler refers Dags to a techie physicist named Daniels who might be able to reverse engineer the thing. She thanks him for his time and he slinks back to his pathetic life as an impotent figurehead, feeling more useless than ever.
Meanwhile in Pennsylvania, Hank Rearden’s business is also buckling under the strain of government-mandated quotas. rMetal is now in demand like crazy, but Hank can’t even meet his previous commitments to Dagny and whomever else, because Wesley Mouch has sent an impressionable young lad fresh out of the Ivy League to determine which incoming orders get priority. Surprise surprise, all those who signed up with Jim Taggart & Orren Boyle’s lobbying group are winning the bids. Hank’s mills have effectively been nationalized, and he’s being pinned down as a figurehead just like Stadler.
But when a massive order crosses his desk stamped confidential and making vague references to a “Project X,” he draws the line. “Hell no! You can fuck right off,” is his answer to the Ivy League naif. So one of Ferris’ G-Men from State Science visits and very unctuously encourages Hank to cooperate. Hank refuses. You can come back with guns and steal as much as you want, he tells them, but he won’t play along as if he’s a willing participant in this deal. The G-Man seems pretty panicked that Hank would dare call a spade a spade and slinks back to his pathetic life as a spineless bureaucrat.
It’s clearly been an exhausting few months since Part One ended. Luckily for our two intrepid protagonists, they’ve still got booty calls at Dagny’s place for stress relief.
Hank in particular is really coming into his own now that he’s getting properly laid. For the first time since he got rich he’s living a little, indulging in the occasional luxury. He finds he likes luxury. Especially when ‘luxury’ means buying jewelry, and then making Dagny wear the jewelry, and nothing but the jewelry, while he ravishes her repeatedly all over the apartment. Yes that is quite luxurious indeed.
Quick sidenote to Ayn: Ayn, you clearly missed your calling as a writer of pulp erotica. You’re not nearly as good at this pulp philosophy bullshit. It’s stilted, and it’s ruining the mood. Stick to the smut.
Apparently Hank and Dagny don’t agree with me because upon his arrival for the booty call they unwind by comparing notes about Stadler and the other State Science lackey. The dialogue is didactic and extremely awkward. Like a sophomore term paper as foreplay.
But they quickly come to a mutual understanding. These men’s neediness comes from desperation to have Hank and Dagny validate their bullshit. When those with integrity don’t play along with the hollow men, the cowards are forced to face the truth about themselves and it terrifies them. And sadly, it seems even the once-great Stadler has succumbed to this weak-willed insecurity.
Hank ‘n Dags agree to never again feel guilty for being skilled and talented and responsible. Their excellence is its own reward and certainly shouldn’t be a burden. Dagny spreads her body along the couch like, “Speaking of which…” and as Hank feels the blood start to flow (to his penis), he finally has the epiphany that Dagny’s been pushing for since their affair started: sensuality can be a celebration of virtue and not just a shameful vice. Yay liberal sexual mores!
And then they fuck.
NEXT: 2:2 The Aristocracy of Pull, “Sham Marriages”