Copper shortages make repairs impossible for Taggart. Under the Unification Plan, crucial materials are diverted to businessmen with Washington influence. The problem worsens when, at the precise moment that they were to be nationalized, the mines and properties of d’Anconia copper are blown up, and Francisco and his best employees disappear.
Rearden’s brother Philip asks him for a job, but Rearden refuses, since Philip has no useful skills. He is surprised at Philip’s sudden interest. Later, the Wet Nurse also asks for a job, wanting to finally do something productive. Though Rearden would like to hire him, the laws will not allow it. The Wet Nurse warns Rearden that the Washington men are working on new restrictions and secretly bringing their own men into the mills.
Despite terrible conditions, the farmers of Minnesota have generated a huge wheat crop and need trains to carry it off. Dagny learns that Taggart’s cars have been diverted by the corrupt Cuffy Meigs to Louisiana, where they are used to carry soybeans for an experimental project run by the mother of a politician. The cars cannot be rerouted in time, and the wheat crop rots, guaranteeing starvation for many. The farming businesses in Minnesota are all destroyed.
The traffic system in the Taggart terminal has short-circuited. While dealing with the emergency, Dagny sees John Galt among the workers. Later, she walks off into the tunnels. He follows, and they make passionate love. Afterwards, he tells her he has been watching her for ten years from these very tunnels. He warns her not to look for him. If she were to lead the looters to him, he might be killed.
Rearden’s union steelworkers ask for a raise, but Rearden is never told. The Unification Board rejects their request. Later, the Board-controlled newspapers publish stories of the hardship of the steelworkers and the unfair denial of their raise, without mentioning who denied it. Later, Rearden receives notice that his accounts will be attached to pay for phony back taxes. He does nothing, waiting to see what the looters are up to. He receives a phone call from a bureaucrat named Tinky Holloway, who asks him to attend a meeting to straighten everything out. Rearden agrees to attend. Holloway believes Rearden is intractable, based on Philip Rearden’s report on his recent visit to his brother.
Rearden’s family summons him to the house and pleads with him not to disappear. He rejects their apologies and their cries for pity. By asking him to remain, they are asking him to sacrifice himself for them, and this is unforgivable to him. In a pathetic attempt to destroy him, Lillian confesses her infidelity with Jim, but Rearden is beyond caring. When his family points out that he cannot disappear without money, he realizes why the attachment orders were placed.
Rearden goes to the meeting to straighten out his situation. Jim Taggart, Wesley Mouch, and several other looters are also there. They inform Rearden that they are passing a Steel Unification Plan, designed to pool profits like the Railroad Plan. He replies that under the plan, Orren Boyle would make the bulk of profits and he would go bankrupt no matter how much steel he made. Rearden suddenly grasps the nature of their game. Their entire system is based on the knowledge that he will always continue working, at any cost, because he loves his work and he is good at it.
When Rearden returns to the mill, a riot begun by government thugs is already underway. The Wet Nurse has been shot after refusing to help the goons enter the mills. He dies in Rearden’s arms. Rearden is hit on the head and collapses, but an unknown worker kills his attacker and organizes the workers to defend themselves. Later, Rearden learns this worker is Francisco d’Anconia, who has been secretly working in the mills since he destroyed d’Anconia Copper.
Rand sets up a contrast between the two job seekers who appeal to Rearden. His brother Philip expects a job because he is Rearden’s brother and therefore his responsibility, at least in a society that endorses the idea that men are “their brother’s keepers.” But mostly Philip expects one because he claims to need it, and need is the only qualification a socialist society requires. Rearden is vehement in rejecting Philip’s request and suspicious of his motives. His suspicion is warranted, as it is later revealed that Philip is a stooge for the looters. On the other end of the spectrum, when the Wet Nurse asks for a job, even as a menial laborer, he does so because he wants to produce instead of living off the producers. He has been transformed by his experience in the mills and has come to reject his earlier beliefs. In this respect, he is alone among the looters. Furthermore, he does not assume Rearden will simply give him a job.
The looters have traveled so far down the path of power and influence that they have lost sight of issues of life and death and cannot see beyond the moment. This fact is dramatically illustrated by the ruin of the wheat crop in Minnesota. The starvation that will result will kill many, but the looters fail to see the impact on themselves. Their short-sightedness is astonishing and deeply irrational. As long as they are able to maintain their power today, they are willing to risk tomorrow and allow society to return to a pre-industrial Dark Age. Believing they have Rearden right where they want him, the looters move in for the kill. Yet even as they seek to destroy his business (and prop up Orren Boyle’s) with the Steel Unification Plan, they need him to continue to produce. The attachments to his accounts are designed to keep him from leaving by cutting off his access to money, but they don’t know he has Danneskjold’s gold. Besides, Rearden can no longer be touched. He is unaffected by the looters’ efforts and by the appeals of his pathetic family. He is especially untouched by Lillian’s confession of her infidelity with Jim. His lack of interest in the news negates her life’s purpose of destroying him, and she is devastated.
The government-staged riot at Rearden’s mills, like Project X, reveals the brute force supporting the looters’ regime and finally allows Rearden to give up and join Francisco. The violence is designed to ease the way for a government takeover of the company, which would appear to be for Rearden’s own protection. In the battle, the Wet Nurse is sacrificed, but at least he has fought on the side of good. After his death, Rearden is finished. He can no longer participate in the looters’ world and lend his mind to their system. He is ready to join Francisco and the strikers. Francisco has always been Rearden’s friend and protector, even when he appeared to be his enemy. Now, Rearden knows his instincts about Francisco have been right all along. Their friendship is based on shared values and mutual admiration and forms a model for the types of relationships Rand believed were possible in a truly rational world. Rearden and Francisco have something else in common as well. Both have loved Dagny—and both have lost her.