PREVIOUSLY: The now-infamous cabal of corrupt powerbrokers revoked all of America’s economic liberties as an emergency measure to halt the economic decline and implement a static, no-growth state. Rearden forfeited the rights to rMetal. Dagny quit and retired to a cabin in the woods.
Average Eddie Willers is getting lunch with his friend The Prole, who you’ll remember labors in the bowels of the railroad, and who I assume is real fucking tired of listening to Eddie bitch and fret. So beaten down by exploitive bureacrats is Eddie that he now wears the ‘smile of a cripple,’ like Ayn, give Eddie a break already, please. Everybody of any competence is disappearing in protest of the new forced-labor laws. Jim has some politically-connected crony holding down Dagny’s job, and for our purposes his name is Peter Principle. Eddie whimpers and mewls about it because Eddie, as the book’s symbolic Everyman, is nice enough but inexcusably pathetic.
Meanwhile, Hank Rearden is walking home from work in solitude. He likes the quiet, because when he’s among people “the human shapes in the street were meaningless objects” to him, which sounds pretty sociopathic to me. In fact you could make an argument that this entire book is Ayn working very hard to define herself as a sociopath. Think about it.
All of a sudden Rearden is stopped by a shadowy figure. It’s Ragbeard the Pirate! Fucking FINALLY we meet this guy. Ragbeard has come to give Hank a bar of gold as recompense for the government’s abuse of the income tax. He has tons of gold, apparently, which he keeps in a bank. What kind of pirate has a checking account? Oh, the bank accounts are for all the aggrieved meritocrats who are being sucked dry by the government. Ragbeard hands the cash over to them whenever they join him off-the-grid. But he’s giving Hank a down payment because… respect. Or something.
By what principle does Ragbeard justify this mission? Well, get ready for this dear reader, because it is just an unbelievably epic kind of stupid. See, Ragbeard has an irrational hatred of Robin Hood, what with stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Nevermind that Robin Hood stole from unjust tax collectors and gave to their exploited victims, says Ragbeard, this is different! People remember Robin Hood for valorizing “need” over “ability,” and Ragbeard has dedicated his life to wiping the memory of Robin Hood from the planet. In short, Ragbeard is an idiot and a crazy person. He even says his allies (like his banker) kind of think he’s a weirdo, but hey, live and let live.
Ragbeard mentions that he bombed Orren Boyle’s rMetal factory so that nobody can make Hank’s precious invention if Hank can’t. That almost wins Hank over, but he still has the good sense to tell Ragbeard “Fuck off, you are a ridiculous joke of a man.”
He turns to go but some 5-0 rolls up, looking for the wanted pirate, and Hank is surprised to find himself covering for him. The cops drive off. Ragbeard is like “Haha, you kinda like me!” and Hank just grunts. Ragbeard departs for the sea. Hank, despite his earlier refusal to accept Ragbeard’s ill-gotten gains, shrugs and picks up the bar of gold Ragbeard left behind. Becuse it’s a fucking bar of solid gold, after all.
Cut to: Kip, a sleazy politico riding to a campaign stop in a private Taggart train car. He’s lazy and vindictive, and his campaign manager, let’s just call him Rove, insists that he must make his campaign stop on time. He says this in “[the] stubborn monotone of the unthinking which asserts an end without concern for the means,” which… are the heroes not constantly making demands of their business partners that end with “I don’t care how you do it so long as it gets done” and whatnot? This book’s bullshit quotient is multiplying rapidly.
In Rove’s defense, the train is running late. Kip thinks he’ll have Taggart Transcon fully nationalized for this. Then the train grinds to a halt because the worn-out track is straight-up broken and the engine car jumped it. Kip flips his shit. Don’t worry buddy, your train ain’t the only thing going off the rails.
The snafu makes its way back to the nearest Taggart office drone, who is another Peter Principle. He got his job because of a deal between Jim & Wesley Mouch, who “by their customary rules of bargaining, [squeezed] all one could out of any given trade,” which, again, the heroes do all the fucking time, proudly and explicitly. Dagny and Hank even flirtatiously threw that in each other’s faces once, back in the day.
Anyway, Kip’s rabid demands for a new engine car ASAP! bounce around the Taggart system for a couple hours, with all of the Peter Principles now staffing the company expending lots of effort to avoid responsibility, even the guy holding Dagny’s old job at the top of the food chain. On top of that, Kip’s train is very close to a miles-long tunnel with bad ventilation so they can only use a deisel train and not a coal train, but the only deisel engine in the region was moved to accomodate some other string-pulling politico. Looks like these guys are gonna have to cut some corners. I’m sure it’ll go fine.
The cowardly weasels apparently aren’t so sure. Knowing that it’s unreasonably dangerous, that they are almost definitely sending people to their death, the various middle managers look the other way and have a coal car sent to the tunnel to avoid the wrath of Kip and Operating Vice President Principle. Better to plead ignorance of a disaster than lose your job and fall at the mercy of the omnipotent Unification Board, right?
And so the Transcon flagship train barrels into a tunnel, driven by a coal car, the fumes from which cloud the air and poison everybody on board until they are dead.
But don’t worry! Ayn, whose misanthropy is also approaching toxic levels, goes on for like three pages about how all of the people on this train are vile political liberals and philosophical relativists, so you see they totally had death by asphyxiation coming to them. Obviously. Yaaaay…?
NEXT — 2:8 By Our Love, “Consumed”