PREVIOUSLY: John Galt was forced to participate in a fascist propaganda rally, but managed to expose his duress to the world during the broadcast.
Meanwhile, the cowardly Doc Stadler listens to said propaganda rally on his dashboard radio as he flees New York City. Since meeting with Galt, his existential terror has become all-encompassing. This wasn’t helped when President Thompson threatened him with incarceration and potentially torture if Galt didn’t start cooperating. Thompson’s theory was that they needed some leverage over the man, and as his former teacher and the only person he had requested to see during his captivity, Stadler was as good a place as any to start.
So driven by panic and adrenaline, Stadler has bolted for Iowa, where he has some vague idea to take control of Project X and rule the Midwest as his own personal feifdom.
Meanwhile on the radio, when Galt exposes his participation in the rally as a fraud perpetrated at gunpoint, the signal turns into a jumble of screams and shouts and then suddenly cuts out. Stadler goes leadfoot on the accelerator.
Soon enough he arrives at the military installation, called Harmony City, that surrounds the Project X generator. The gate is abandoned, parts of the barbed wire torn down. Trucks and armed men are running around further inward. Stadler ignores the odd circumstances and barrels onward.
When he reaches the control building, the guard is smoking and looking insubordinate and has accessorized his uniform like some kind of guerrilla or militia man. Stadler demands to be let inside and made commander. The guy couldn’t give less of a shit but takes him inside to meet The Boss.
Down in the control room itself, The Boss is instructing his underlings to spread the word from Chicago to Kansas City that he now rules America’s breadbasket and demands exorbitant tithes from all the remaining residents. The Boss, by the way, is Jabba the Hutt, the former G-man who took over Taggart Transcon while Dagny was in Galt’s Gulch. He and his ragtag private army have beaten Stadler to his plan.
Stadler insults and harangues Jabba. He doesn’t know what he’s doing! He’s drunk! He’s completely unqualified to handle this dangerously powerful scientific weapon! Jabba tells Stadler to go screw and starts fucking around with all the control panels just to be a dick. Stadler is like “NOOOO!!!” and then:
The Project X harmony of death whines to life. A shock wave of destructive energy ripples out for hundreds of miles around, felling every structure, killing every innocent, and destroying the Taggart Bridge, last road across the Mississippi. And the eye of the storm is not immune — the Project X control base rises and up and shreds itself to pieces too, collapsing to the ground with the mutilated remains of Jabba and his soldiers and the former Doctor Stadler inside.
Meanwhile, back in New York City:
After Galt raised hell at the rally, all the plutocrats rushed out of the room while Thompson had Galt wrestled to the ground and sent back to his cell/suite. Dagny, inspired by John, snuck back up the hotel and into the room where the Fascists hold their emergency meetings.
Therein she finds everyone freaking out. Goebbels tears his hair out and quits. Doc Ferris is hissing that he TOLD them this would happen. Thompson relinquishes all responsibility, and Ferris takes this opportunity to convince them that with the government completely discredited, their only option left is to let him torture the shit out of ol’ Johnny. Why this would get them anywhere nobody really asks.
A chill runs down Dagny’s spine as she finally realizes the full depravity of these supposedly civilized people. Just as Ferris explains to the rest that his specially designed Persuader, a.k.a. Project F, is located in a soundproof room at the State Science Institute, he remembers that Dagny is there. She returns his gaze dully, shrugs, and lets herself out. Ferris seems to think nothing of it.
I think I forgot to mention that in the last chapter Dagny received a secret letter from Francisco giving her a phone number to call in case of emergency, which is relevant now because call she does. As soon as she’s out on the street she gets on her cell phone.
When Francisco picks up he already knows about the rally and tells her to go to her apartment and office, collect all her valuables and some clothes and other supplies. She does exactly that and we get a roundelay of callbacks to earlier in the book: from her apartment, the Rearden Metal bracelet and the gold coin she was paid in Galt’s Gulch. From her office, the map of the Transcon lines at their long-gone apex and the portrait of her great-grandfather Nat.
But just as she prepares to leave her office, one of her few remaining employees comes in crying. The horror, the horror! He has just learned of the humanitarian atrocity in the Midwest, and the destruction of the bridge. Dagny is momentarily spurred to do her job, but stops herself. She turns to the engineer and tells him there’s nothing she can do for them now, and leaves. She has officially gone Galt; on her way out of the train station she marks the statue of Nat with a big dollar sign graffiti in lipstick.
Outside, Francisco arrives. Dagny joins him and tells him about how the Fascists are flying to State Science with Galt in tow. They head out.
At State Science, Project F is actually up and running already. Quick flight! I guess it was just New York to New Hampshire. Anyway, Galt is strapped to a board and wired up with electrodes. Ferris is supervising the interrogation while Mouch and Jim watch. They run high voltage through various parts of Galt’s body while demanding that he become their ruler. HA! That’s pretty great. For once in this godforsaken novel, the hilarious perversity of the situation comes across as intended instead of ironically doubling back on the author.
After an hour or two of electroshocks, Galt’s heart monitor is spasming wildly, but he remains silent and focuses on meditative breathing. It’s Wesley Mouch who freaks out first. He asks Ferris to stop, for surely Galt will obey them now. But Ferris scoffs. The point isn’t to make him obedient, the point is to break him completely, until he believes in their philosophy and works with them voluntarily.
But when Ferris puts the question to Galt he just stares at them unblinkingly, and they all start screaming angrily at him.
“We want you to take over! We want you to rule! We order you to give orders! We demand that you dictate! We order you to save us! We order you to think!”
It’s all to no avail — they’ve shorted the circuit on their device and the power generator fades out. They crowd around the box and Ferris commands some lackey to fix it! Fix it! But nobody knows how. It’s actually John Galt himself who, smiling wryly, tells them how to get it back up and running. The lackey sees the pointed mocking look in Galt’s eyes and, suddenly realizing the disturbing situation he’s agreed to be in, he runs away, leaving the triumvirate of villainy alone with Sexy Capitalist Jesus.
SIDEBAR: Ferris personally designed this device. And yet he doesn’t know how to fix it, and Galt, who has not looked at its internals, does. It’s a nifty little scene, but I have to call bullshit on this one.
Jim explodes in urgent fury and starts tinkering with the Project F generator himself. He declares that they must destroy Galt’s mind, that it’s a moral imperative they eradicate his ideas from existence.
But now even Ferris and Mouch are starting to have their doubts. They remind Jim that they cannot afford to kill the only man who can protect them from the anarchy they have unleashed on the world.
At this, Jim has a moment of clarity and screams madly, like a rabid animal. He has suddenly seen the truth of himself, the truth he has fought so hard to obscure. This is his nadir, the mental breakdown he has spent the last five chapters sliding toward, the triumph of his nihilism over his willful refusal to admit it:
He was suddenly seeing the motive that had directed all the actions of his life. … It was the urge to defy reality by the destruction of every living value, for the sake of proving to himself that he could exist in defiance of reality and would never have to be bound by any solid, immutable facts.
A moment ago, he had been able to feel that he hated Galt above all men, that the hatred was proof of Galt’s evil, which he need define no further, that he wanted Galt to be destroyed for the sake of his own survival. Now he knew that he had wanted Galt’s destruction at the price of his own destruction to follow, he knew that he had never wanted to survive, he knew that it was Galt’s greatness he had wanted to torture and destroy.
As all his knowledge had consisted of emotions, so now he was held by an emotion and a vision that he had no power to dispel. He was no longer able to summon the fog to conceal his hatred of existence—he was seeing the face of Cherryl Taggart with her joyous eagerness to live—he was seeing his face as the face of a killer who killed in order not to discover his own irredeemable evil.
Taggart collapses into a catatonic state on the floor. Ferris and Mouch are completely unnerved. They call his name but get no response. Shouting to the guard that they will come back, they swear they’ll come back, they pick up Taggart’s limp body and drag him out of the room, more to escape Galt’s unblinking stare than to actually help their friend. They know that he’s a vegetable now.
Jim Taggart, gone forever — never really there at all.