Dagny must cut trains from her schedules as Colorado’s economy collapses. No one is able to draw oil from Wyatt’s fields, and companies that depended on his oil go out of business. With severe oil shortages and government rationing, much of the country turns to coal. But Andrew Stockton, a maker of coal furnaces who stands to make a fortune, has mysteriously vanished. Lawrence Hammond is gone as well. He had been the last car manufacturer. Ken Dannager, of Dannager Coal, is one of the few industrialists left. The only Taggart train running on oil is the Taggart Comet, its transcontinental flagship, but all others are running on coal. Taggart is pulling less and less every day, but Jim has acquired a stream of subsidies from Washington that keep Taggart profits at an all-time high.
Dagny has intensified her quest to rebuild the motor. She calls Robert Stadler, hoping he can help her find an engineer. When she shows him what she has, he is amazed at the mind that created it. He wonders why such a pure mind would be concerned with such mundane things as motors. He recommends a physicist named Quentin Daniels, a brilliant man who had refused to work at the State Science Institute.
The Fair Share Law dictates that Rearden must supply metal to all who ask, but there is no way to meet all the orders. Men with influence manage to acquire much more than their “fair share,” while legitimate orders go unfilled. The government sends a young man to the mills to work as Deputy Director of Distribution and determine the amounts of orders. The steelworkers call him “the Wet Nurse.” Rearden chooses to ignore an order from the State Science Institute for something called Project X. A week later, a man from the Institute comes to see Rearden. He tries to convince Rearden to acquiesce, but Rearden refuses. Rearden tells the representative to bring in trucks and steal as much metal as the Institute needs, but he will not help Washington pretend that he is a willing seller. The man seems frightened. He issues some vague threats and leaves. Afterwards, Rearden begins to realize the looters need his sanction, which he must never give.
Dagny begins to believe that a destroyer is at work, removing the smartest and most talented industrialists. Nearly every businessman in Colorado is gone. Dagny feels that she must fight this force, whatever it is. She hires Quentin Daniels, the man Stadler recommended, to work at reconstructing the motor. In a furtive meeting, Rearden arranges to sell Ken Dannager a larger order of Rearden Metal than the law allows.
Jim marries Cherryl Brooks at a gala wedding party. Although he does not want to go, Rearden agrees to accompany his wife. Lillian tells Jim her gift is bringing Rearden, because now others will think Rearden is scared of Jim, which will help Jim’s reputation. At the wedding, Lillian notices Dagny wearing the Rearden Metal bracelet and asks for it back, but Dagny refuses. Lillian vaguely suggests that Dagny may be inviting conjecture by wearing it. When Dagny asks her directly if she means to imply that she and Rearden are having an affair, Lillian denies it. Rearden, standing nearby, demands that she apologize to Dagny. Both women are shocked. After some hesitation, Lillian offers an apology. Rearden once stood by his wife, but now he stands by Dagny.
Francisco d’Anconia is also at the party. Upon hearing a remark that money is the root of all evil, and d’Anconia is its typical product, Francisco replies with an astounding dissertation on the true role of money. Money, he says, is the antithesis of evil and in fact represents the greatest good. Francisco tells Rearden that there is no evil except the refusal to think and that this is precisely the mistake Rearden is making by living as he does. He wants to show Rearden the alternative. Tomorrow morning, he says, the holders of d’Anconia stock will discover that nearly every mine has been destroyed as a result of poor management. D’Anconia stock will collapse. Francisco’s comments create a panic in the room, as many guests, especially Jim, will lose huge investments.