The man who came to see Rearden a week later was youngish and slenderish, but neither as young nor as slender as he tried to make himself appear. He wore civilian clothes and the leather leggings of a traffic cop. Rearden could not quite get it clear whether he came from the State Science Institute or from Washington.
“I understand that you refused to sell metal to the State Science Institute, Mr. Rearden,” he said in a soft, confidential tone of voice.
“That’s right,” said Rearden.
“But wouldn’t that constitute a willful disobedience of the law?”
“It’s for you to interpret.”
“May I ask you reason?”
“My reason is of no interest to you.”
“Oh, but of course it is! We are not your enemies, Mr. Rearden. We want to be fair to you. You mustn’t be afraid of the fact that you are a big industrialist. We won’t hold it against you. We actually want to be as fair to you as to the lowest day laborer. We would like to know your reason.”
“Print my refusal in the newspapers, and any reader will tell you my reason. It appeared in all the newspapers a little over a year ago.”
“Oh, no, no, no! Why talk of newspapers? Can’t we settle this as a friendly, private matter?”
“That’s up to you.”
“We don’t want this in the newspapers.”
“No. We wouldn’t want to hurt you.”
Rearden glanced at him and asked, “Why does the State Science Institute need ten thousand tons of metal? What is Project X?”
“Oh, that? It’s a very important project of scientific research, an undertaking of great social value that may prove of inestimable public benefit, but, unfortunately, the regulations of top policy do not permit me to tell you its nature in fuller detail.”
“You know,” said Rearden, “I could tell you–as my reason–that I do not wish to sell my Metal to those whose purpose is kept secret from me. I created that Metal. It is my moral responsibility to know for what purpose I permit it to be used.”
“Oh, but you don’t have to worry about that, Mr. Rearden! We relieve you of the responsibility.”
“Suppose I don’t wish to be relieved of it?”
“But…but that is an old-fashioned and…and purely theoretical attitude.”
“I said I could name it as my reason. But I won’t–because, in this case, I have another, inclusive reason. I would not sell any Rearden Metal to the State Science Institute for any purpose whatever, good or bad, secret or open.”
“Listen,” said Rearden slowly, “there might be some sort of justification for the savage societies in which a man had to expect that enemies could murder him at any moment and had to defend himself as best he could. But there can be no justification for a society in which a man is expected to manufacture the weapons for his own murderers.”
“I don’t think it’s advisable to use such words, Mr. Rearden. I don’t think it’s practical to think in such terms. After all, the government cannot–in the pursuit of wide, national policies–take cognizance of your personal grudge against some one particular institution.”
“Then don’t take cognizance of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t come asking my reason.”
“But, Mr. Rearden, we cannot let a refusal to obey the law pass unnoticed. What do you expect us to do?”
“Whatever you wish.”
“But this is totally unprecedented. Nobody has ever refused to sell an essential commodity to the government. As a matter of fact, the law does not permit you to refuse to sell your Metal to any consumer, let alone the government.”
“Well, why don’t you arrest me, then?”
“Mr. Rearden, this is an amicable discussion. Why speak of such things as arrests?”
“Isn’t that your ultimate argument against me?”
“Why bring it up?”
“Isn’t it implied in every sentence of this discussion?”
“Why name it?”
“Why not?” There was no answer. “Are you trying to hide from me that fact that if it weren’t for that trump card of yours, I wouldn’t have allowed you to enter this office?”
“But I’m not speaking of arrests.”
“I don’t understand you, Mr. Rearden.”
“I am not helping you to pretend that this is any sort of amicable discussion. It isn’t. Now do what you please about it.”
There was a strange look on the man’s face: bewilderment, as if he had no conception of the issue confronting him, and fear, as if he had always had full knowledge of it and had lived in dread of exposure.
Rearden felt a strange excitement; he felt as if he were about to grasp something he had never understood, as if he were on the trail of some discovery still too distant to know, except that it had the most immense importance he had ever glimpsed.
“Mr. Rearden,” said the man, “the government needs your Metal. You have to sell it to us, because surely you realize that the government’s plans cannot be held up by the matter of your consent.”
“A sale,” said Rearden slowly, “requires the seller’s consent.” He got up and walked to the window. “I’ll tell you what you can do.” He pointed to the siding where ingots of Rearden Metal were being loaded onto freight cars. “There’s Rearden Metal. Drive down there with your trucks–like any other looter, but without his risk, because I won’t shoot you, and you know I can’t–take as much of the Metal as you wish and go. Don’t try to send me a payment. I won’t accept it. Don’t print out a check to me. It won’t be cashed. If you want that Metal, you have the guns to seize it. Go ahead.”
“Good God, Mr. Rearden, what would the public think!”
It was an instinctive, involuntary cry. The muscles of Rearden’s face moved briefly in a soundless laughter. Both of them had understood the implications of that cry. Rearden said evenly, in the grave, unstrained tone of finality, “You need my help to make it look like a sale–like a safe, just, moral transaction. I will not help you.”
The man did not argue. He rose to leave. He said only, “You will regret the stand you’ve taken, Mr. Rearden.”
“I don’t think so,” said Rearden.