Rearden goes to see d’Anconia at his hotel in New York. When he asks how a man as intelligent as Francisco could waste time in promiscuity, Francisco begins a discussion of sex, saying that a man’s lover is the embodiment of his moral code. If he despises himself, he will pursue immoral women. If he truly knows his own worth, he will seek a goddess. Though he has purposely fueled the scandals surrounding his own love life, Francisco has loved only one woman in his life.
Rearden tells him that he has decided to sell his metal to whomever he wants and has ordered copper directly from d’Anconia. Francisco shouts he had warned Rearden not to deal with d’Anconia copper and runs to the phone, but stops himself. He turns to Rearden and swears by the woman he loves that he is his friend, though Rearden will soon damn him. Days later, Rearden learns that the ships bearing his copper were seized and sunk by the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold.
Rearden represents the mythical Atlas of whom Francisco speaks. He has been carrying the world and is now being punished for it. But he is no longer a willing participant in his own victimization. He has rejected the division of mind and body, and admitted to Dagny that his attitude toward sex has been misguided. He has confronted his family and put them on notice that they can no longer use his own sense of honor as a weapon against him. Most important, he has confronted the politicians who accuse him of breaking an irrational and unjust law. He triumphs at his trial because he withdraws his sanction. He refuses to help the politicians hide the brute force that is the true nature of their power. He tells the politicians, “If you believe that you have the right to force me—use your guns openly. I will not help you to disguise the nature of your action.” By exposing them for what they are, Rearden has upset the system in which the looters exploit their victims’ refusal to see reality. The looters need Rearden to work so they can feed off his productivity, so they are forced to set him free. In this, the essential paradox of collectivism is revealed. The strong are tyrannized by the weak and made to feel obligated to support them, but only their belief that they must allow it keeps them shackled. If they refuse to participate, if “Atlas shrugs,” the weak will have no recourse beyond brute strength. While people can use physical violence to coerce action, they cannot force others to think or create for them.
Rearden’s transformation continues to be fueled by Francisco’s wise counseling. In their conversation at the mills, Rearden is closer than ever to understanding the message Francisco offers him. Francisco is on the verge of revealing more to Rearden and finally explaining why he must destroy his own fortune, when the fire interrupts them. Afterward, Francisco cannot continue. He knows that Rearden’s love for his work will continue to hold him. When Rearden’s copper supply is hijacked by Ragnar Danneskjold, he knows Francisco is behind the attack. The betrayal means the loss of Francisco’s friendship as well.
After Dannager retires, Dagny knows that the disappearance of the industrialists is not a random coincidence. The timing of the disappearances is deliberate as well. Stockton disappeared just as the need for his furnaces intensified. Now Dannager is gone at the very moment his coal becomes essential. She is convinced a destroyer is loose on the world, deliberately snatching great men just as they are needed most. But many questions remain. Dagny must find out who the destroyer is and how he knows which men to take. Furthermore, if the vanished men are alive, where have they gone?