PREVIOUSLY: The earth has been exhausted, humanity has been consumed. Our workaholic heroes are determined to keep the lights on, but all their friends are giving up and it’s making them very cranky.
In the wake of the latest wave of pirate attacks, the economy has collapsed… again… some more. That’s been going on for 500 pages already, but whatever. Ayn makes sure to recap all of the specific new industry failures in excruciating and unnecessary detail.
But the only one we care about is Transcon. Dagny is sitting in on a board meeting, biting her tongue while all the inept directors and spineless managers talk around the subject at hand, which is that they’re going to have to dismantle the Galt Line and use the rMetal on it to reinforce their backbone transcontinental track. Some anonymous G-Man is there and Jim appeals to him to pull some strings, but it’s clear the Taggart name no longer carries the weight in Washington that it did before.
Dagny calls them out for being pathetic cowards who won’t talk straight about what they’re doing, which is cannibalizing her life’s work right in front of her. The board is like, “Oh thank God, somebody finally said it. Shall we vote on Ms. Taggart’s proposal to cannibalize her life’s work? And the ‘ayes’ I have it!”
Utterly crushed, Dagny leaves the building that night to find Francisco waiting for her outside. As always, she is distrustful but finds his presence compelling and comforting. In fact, he explicitly claims that he’s there to comfort her, and she relents to be wined and dined.
So over some very expensive wine and, presumably, a bottomless basket of garlic bread, they reflect on and idealize their illustrious ancestors. Dagny recounts an insanely ahistorical legend about her great-grandfather Nat, who single-handedly built a railroad bridge across the Mississip’ in defiance of the law, because everybody knows how skeptical the 19th century U.S. government was about expanding railroad infrastructure.
In turn, Frankie reflects on his ancestor Sebastian who had to abandon his true love in the Old World, but rebuilt his fortune in the New World and then reclaimed her after fifteen years.
Dagny can’t really handle the subtext of that anecdote and turns the conversation back to the John Galt Line. Francisco had warned her that she’d regret building it, and now she does. Now that apathetic meme, “Oh well, who is John Galt?” rings in her ears more than ever.
Francisco offers another mythic metaphor for who Galt is, describing him as “Prometheus who changed his mind.” How’s that, you ask? Well apparently Prometheus eventually got tired of being disemboweled every day. He broke free of his chains and then took fire back from mankind, because… they tortured him? Jesus, Ayn doesn’t even know how this myth goes.
The gods tortured Prometheus. Mankind thought he was pretty cool. They wrote a play about it. So why would Prometheus take fire back from the people, Ayn? Sounds like a real dick move. I think the moral of this version of the myth is that John Galt’s morals make for a shitty version of this myth.
Anyway Dagny thanks Francisco for being kind to her in her darkest hour, and he’s a real gentleman about it, because Francisco is CLASSY.
Cut to an entirely pointless scene in Colorado. Dags and Hank Rearden are doing some bargain-hunting, buying up all the industrial equipment they can find from all the failing businesses. It seems like only ten chapter ago this state was a booming hub of vitality. But now, they see abandoned buildings and machines and feel heartbroken. They also see ghost towns full of starving people and feel disgusted. And fuck both of you.
The Transcon station is a mob scene as everybody in the area wants to get out of Dodge on the last train to ever run on the Galt Line. Luckily for Dagny, Hank shoves aside the diseased rabble and they get in their private car.
Back in New York City, the team of Taggart & Rearden, Evil Edition, meets for dinner. Lillian Rearden is coy and Jim Taggart is smarmy, and underneath the fakery, Jim is asking Lillian for help. He’s lost favor in Washington, but everybody thinks that he and Hank are best buds because Hank showed up at his wedding (thanks to Lily). If Lily can convince Hank to ally with Jim politically, they could pull some weight and help save rMetal & Transcon from the circling vultures of nationalization.
Lillian, infatuated with the idea of being the one holding the power for once, accepts the challenge. She goes back to her hotel room to lounge and luxuriate while planning how she will manipulate Hank into agreeing, but gets thrown for a loop when she discovers that Hank’s deviated from his official schedule and realizes he must be with his mistressright now.
So she books it to Taggart Terminal with the intention of catching a glimpse of The Other Woman. Hank is surprised to see her, and she’s throwing herself a pity party about how selfless she is, when Dagny strides out of her car and the reality of the affair hits Lillian like a ton of bricks.
When the Reardens arrive back at their usual New York hotel suite, the marital facade crumbles immediately. Lily talks mad shit about Dags, lashes out at Hank, demands he end it with her.
But Hank has finally cut himself completely free of this toxic relationship. He’s like, “I would rather see you dead than quit Dagny,” and “You can get a divorce whenever you want, just say the word.” But Lil can’t stand that she has so little power left over him, no way to hurt him, and again declares that she will never grant him a divorce.
She storms off and Hank sighs in relief. He understands now that having it all out on the table is a good thing, an immense catharsis. Like a great shit.