Author's Note: Quotes from the novel in italics and quotation marks.

"What is your proudest attainment?"

She was on a bed basking in the rays of the sun rising in the Colorado sky. She was still glowing with the joy of the previous night. She lay beside the man whose handsome face, strong body, and incredible mind matched her standard of human perfection. The bedroom started to spin – it morphed into the alien scene of some mountain in a pine forest, overlooking a narrow-gauge railroad track leading from the mossy hillside across a gorge and into the valley down below. She gasped for air as if surfacing after a long time underwater. The vision of the mountainside grew more solid as her lungs began to satisfy her pounding heart's relentless demands for oxygen, and Dagny remembered that this was where she really was, that the scene in the bedroom had happened years ago. She still couldn't remember how she got here.

What is your proudest attainment?

The words hadn't been repeated – that is, not out loud, only in her head. They had thrown her back to the morning she had proudly boasted what she would answer to that very question. It had finally been asked, here – at the site of the D'Anconia Copper Number 1 Mine – she remembered – on the evening before the first run on the D'Anconia Copper Line, the first line of the new Taggart Transatlantis system.

What is your proudest attainment?

The force of the question had obliterated all context from Dagny's mind. Her eyes roamed over the valley down below as if they could find clues somewhere down there. As she gazed, her head turned slowly from left to right, and she saw John Galt standing beside her.

What is your proudest attainment?

His voice had asked it. He was the one waiting for an answer. She remembered the last thing she had said before hearing the question had been that she felt prouder of this three-mile stretch of track than of the entire transcontinental system she had run in Hell. There had been no hint of irony or sarcasm in his casual, playful tone; he had simply wanted to know if she considered this creation to be her greatest achievement. He had no idea what his question had done to her, when she had used those exact words, for even with how closely he had watched her, he had known nothing about that side of her life until it was as good as over.

What is your proudest attainment?

A look of puzzlement crossed Galt's face. She remembered she hadn't answered the question yet. She wondered, why? She answered her own question first: because time had passed since the day when she had first predicted what her answer would be. She had done more since then. She turned her face away from his piercing green eyes to the view of the valley stretched beneath them, carefully considering the answer.

What is your proudest attainment?

Nothing that she'd done back in Hell in either unwitting or knowing slavery to the looters – that much was certain.

Was it the day she had finally seen the light and shrugged off the burden of the outside world to join her fellow rebels here in Atlantis? Of course not – that was no more than what everyone else in the valley had done, far sooner than she had.

Was it the line of track carving its way through the forest down below? The first piece of the railroad of her own she had always dreamed of building, with no slave-drivers to stop her or steal it from her? The triumph that the John Galt Line should have been? The workings of her mind brought to solid reality after months of the happiest labor she had ever known? No, that wouldn't do at all – she hadn't been joking when she told Francisco how simple it would be back when the prospect first struck her; building it had been truly gratifying and truly easy.

What is your proudest attainment?

The logic behind her answer to that question years ago still held true. The ultimate expression of admiration from the one whose admiration she valued most was still the greatest honor she could receive. If she was proud of her values, of the joy she took in them, and of her ability to bring them to life, then the greatest expression of those values, the greatest joy she could reach, the greatest celebration of life she could achieve, was still the greatest source of pride she could possess. Bringing love to life took the same resolve and values that it took to bring this railroad to life; her love and her railroad were manifestations of the same strength within her, and she was confident enough of her strength not merely to feel that her power to bridge the wilderness with wood and rail was not threatened by her power to love but to know they were inextricably linked. Yes, she still took greatest pride in the manifestation of her strength and living power that was known as love. In the time that had passed since she first decided this, the object of that love had changed, but nothing else.

What is your proudest attainment?

It must be us, Dagny thought, still without saying anything out loud. Our ability to express the values of our minds and souls with our bodies, that I chose you and am worthy of being chosen by you. What else could it be? She ought to turn and tell him she was prouder of loving him and of being loved by him than of anything else she had ever made or done, of achieving a love she used to think was not for her to find in this world. She closed her eyes as she was taken back to those two moments of despair, when she was overcome by fear that true love, the greatest experience man could know, had eluded her forever.

But you were wrong, weren't you? she asked herself. You found him, and he is the greatest love you've ever known, that you could ever know, that anyone could ever know, isn't he? She opened her eyes and covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a laugh. How could she ever doubt that? How could she ever think any honor could be greater than his love, that anyone's admiration could mean more to her, that any treasure could be more precious? This was certainly no recent discovery, she told herself. It had been clear from her first day in Atlantis. She closed her eyes again and smiled as she recalled their first drive through the valley, passing the fishwife whom it was plain to see, at a glance, was hopelessly in love with him as much as she was – her first encounter with an alien emotion, with that ugly fear known as jealousy...

She opened her eyes with a sharp intake of breath. Her mind was clearer today than it had been her first day in Atlantis, when it had so much to absorb and process and integrate with her previous understanding of reality. She had sincerely felt then that the discovery of another woman's admiration for John Galt was the first time she'd ever known jealousy. She was able to remember today, however, that John Galt was not the first man she'd ever been jealous for...

"Dagny, what do you think of my marriage?"

"I have no right to think of it."

"You must have wondered about it."

"I did... before I came to Ellis Wyatt's house. Not since."

"There's one thing I want you to know: I have not touched her since... Ellis Wyatt's house."

"I'm glad."

"Did you think I could?"

"I've never permitted myself to wonder about that."

"You wouldn't hate it?"

"I'd hate it more than I can tell you."

How could she ever have forgotten what she felt during that conversation, the conversation that killed a pain she had carried silently since her first night with Hank Rearden? How could she have forgotten all the months she agonized over the thought of him with his wife, fought to push the image out of her mind, restrained herself from asking the questions she knew she had no right to ask? That hatred of the thought of him being with another woman, that he gave himself to anyone besides her, even (or was it "especially"?) a woman who clearly didn't value him and didn't deserve him... what other label was there for such an emotion except jealousy?

The first love that had been strong enough and precious enough to drive her to jealousy hadn't been John Galt – it had been Hank Rearden. And it hadn't been a single, quick stab but a constant, persistent threat she had to vigilantly withstand. Dagny was horrified that she ever could have thought what she did that day when they met the fishwife. Why had she told herself then that jealousy was so unfamiliar to her? Why hadn't she recognized its similarity to what she felt whenever she thought of Lillian Rearden? How could she be capable of faking reality so terribly?

Dagny was sure John could see her shaking, but he said nothing. Had he somehow deduced what she was thinking of? What did it matter? He was the man she loved now. Even if she shamefully once forbade herself from recognizing how strong her feelings had been for Hank Rearden, they were in the past; her jealousy, her relief, her suppression of the memory of both were all in the past. Her heart and soul had belonged to John Galt since the moment he first took her in his arms. The torture she endured when she left him a month later was proof enough of that – only her love for him, her determination to fight to her dying breath to defend their values, her resolve never to betray him by faking reality in any way whatsoever had given her the strength to do what she believed was right... to return and fight the battle she knew others like them were still fighting... to show the same courage as Hank Rearden...

Dagny had to take a few steps back from the edge of the cliff. She pressed the fingers of her left hand against her forehead as another memory overcame her: the memory of that day when she'd seen Hank Rearden flying over the valley he couldn't see, searching for the wreckage of a plane and the body of the woman who was running after him, calling for him with all her might, forgetting everything but that either he belonged down there with her or she belonged out there with him. She remembered the scene as vividly as if it were happening right now, even the very thoughts that had been in her mind at the time...

"But the pull of the outer world, the pull that drew her to follow the plane, was not the image of Hank Rearden – she knew that she could not return to him, even if she returned to the world – the pull was the vision of Hank Rearden's courage and the courage of all those still fighting to stay alive. He would not give up the search for her plane, when all others had long since despaired, as he would not give up his mills, as he would not give up any goal he had chosen if a single chance was left."

Not the image of Hank Rearden but of his courage? There was no separating the two! How could she have thought that?! It was a sin of faking reality exponentially worse than what she had thought during the encounter with the fishwife. She made the decision to leave the very next day; she knew as soon as his plane vanished from sight that that would be her decision. She had chosen Hank Rearden over John Galt; even if she substituted the objects of that choice with something such as "one's courage over the other's," or "one's way of fighting over the other's," or "one's mission over the other's," the meaning was the same: she had preferred to fight in Hell with Hank Rearden rather than to live in Paradise with John Galt. If love was a manifestation of value, value was the determiner of love, and if her values had drawn her to Hank Rearden's courage and perseverance...

Dagny shook her head and opened her eyes to let the view of the mountains and the valley shut out the images of that day – of the day she had faked reality to an extent that never should have been possible for a follower of John Galt. Why had she done it?

What is your proudest attainment?

No! She screamed the word almost violently in her mind. She had faked reality not once but twice, and she would bear the shame of it as she deserved, but she would not doubt her love for the man who had never been guilty of it, or her pride in loving him. She had never been afraid to answer a question put to her before...

The relentless accuser, her own memory, had another piece of evidence ready on cue:

"Why did you leave him?"

"I can't tell you."

She would have been less guilty had she blatantly lied by saying "I don't know." At least then, her denial of reality would have been so complete that she would have been incapable of revealing a truth she had managed to hide even from herself. But she had told Hank completely truthfully, "I can't tell you," which meant she knew she was concealing something, and, therefore, knew what she needed to conceal.

Why did I leave him? Because I saw you! Because you, not he, showed me the right path! Because I belong here, fighting alongside you, even if it kills us, even if they take everything we have! Because the values of my mind tell me yours is the right way to fight, and if we are those who do not disconnect the values of our minds from the actions of our bodies or the desires of our hearts...

That was what she should have answered, but she had faked reality again.

Now Dagny was not only ashamed that she had hidden her true feelings from herself so many times but that she had had any such feelings to hide at all. Afraid to look in his direction, she pictured the serene face of John Galt with its utter lack of fear and pain and guilt. He was the strongest, most perfect man ever to grace the human race – how could she ever have chosen another man over him? She had denied reality because she was ashamed of her own foolishness and weakness. She must have known even then that she was wrong. Dagny smiled as she dropped both her arms back to her sides and felt her blood slow down. She was ashamed that her judgement had ever lapsed enough to choose Hank Rearden over John Galt, but she took comfort in the fact that time had corrected her judgement, and that her shame for the wrong choice had now been replaced with pride in the right one.

What is your proudest attainment?

Which love was she proudest of? There could be no doubt. She looked back down at the new line of railroad track. Just look at what her love for John had done to her! Look at how it had changed her!

"I didn't care whether either one of us lived afterwards, just to see you this once!"

Yes, how her love for Galt had changed her... Dagny sighed and hung her head as she recalled the night Mr. Thompson tricked her so successfully. Her love for Galt had made her foolish – she had fallen for an amateur, predictable trap that her brains should have seen through in half a second. It had made her irrational – she had done the one thing he warned her never to do and thus led the enemy right to his doorstep. It had made her weak – she knew she was being irrational but didn't care because she was unable to bear the pain any longer. It made her needy – her need for him was greater than her reason, and she didn't care how badly she or others suffered, or for the long-term consequences, as long as she got what she needed for the moment. It had made her blind – he, the man who worshiped reason and rationality and was above the sin of feeling pain, claimed he had been unable to bear the pain of separation from her any longer and was glad she had been weak enough to succumb to the irrational, a demonstration of love upheld as a virtuous ideal by those of the world they hated but that their own convictions should have loathed. Her love for John Galt had made her stupid. There was no way she could be proud of that.

What is your proudest attainment?

As she raised her gaze to the clouds in the distant horizon, Dagny asked herself if she was ashamed of anything she'd done during her days with Hank Rearden. Those days had only made her stronger. She had been the looters' greatest enemy then, not their dupe.

What is your proudest attainment?

But how could she still be prouder of the love of a man who had been so tortured by the sin of pain for so much of his life? Hank Rearden himself wouldn't deny that John Galt was the perfect man, that he deserved all the love and admiration they all had to offer. Dagny's eyes narrowed as she wondered: could the love she felt for the man whom her soul and body alike cleaved to be different from the love she felt for the god she worshiped? It suddenly crossed her mind whether, given their hatred for the way mankind had worshiped gods in the past, and their disdain for men who sought power over others, it was even right to worship any man as a god... but that was a question for another time. She still had a different question to answer at the moment.

What is your proudest attainment?

The only reason the answer required so much deliberation was because, as Francisco had helped her see, there were different kinds of love. He had accepted that her love for him was different than the love she felt for his friend. If that was true, then the awe and reverence she felt for the genius whose mind had created the motor that powered this entire valley, who had led them to freedom, and had taught them the true meaning of virtue and honor could also be different from what a woman felt for her lover. She had thought she loved him that way, as well, but the three times her feelings for him had driven her to fake reality weren't consistent with that.

What is your proudest attainment?

Was she ashamed to admire the man who fought against and defeated his fear and pain and guilt more than the man who never had to fight them? Whom she was prouder of choosing? Which of them was dearest to her? Everyone here recognized Galt's greatness, just as everyone here had the wisdom and the courage to join him. She was as proud that she had done so as she was for anything else. But if she was still proudest of her capacity to love passionately and of her courage to bring that love to life, it was clear what her answer had to be.

Dagny continued to wait silently as the implications of her answer sank in, as they told her what the next logical step would be. It would completely change the direction her life had taken in this valley so far. Was she ready for it? Ready or not, to delay it would be to fake reality.

Never again, she ordered herself.

What is your proudest attainment?

Dagny had no idea how much time had passed since he asked the question, but it was irrelevant. She turned and looked Galt directly in the eyes, her face relaxed, her lips smiling of their own volition, and her voice bearing the same impersonal tone with which she announced the answer to a mathematical equation, as she answered, "I slept with Hank Rearden. I earned it."

She was neither disappointed nor relieved to see no shadow of pain pass over Galt's face (she had seen repressed pain too often not to recognize it and to know that it was definitely not before her right now) – she knew A was always A. She remembered his sigh and his nod. She remembered that she left first, down a different path than the one they had taken up from his house. The rest was blurred, but she wasn't paying attention. Her mind was focused entirely on getting to the top drawer of her dresser in her house; she had no concern to spare for anything else. She didn't pause to think until she was in her bedroom with the drawer open.

The first thing she saw when she pushed some clothes aside was a gold coin – the first coin she had earned in Atlantis, from John Galt. She asked herself if the coin was still precious enough to her to save it. She decided it was. But why? Not because it was the first thing she had received from John Galt, she realized, but because it was the first coin she had earned here. It was the first fruits of her labor in her new home, where every cent of it was entirely hers, where she was free to earn her own fortune on her own terms. Dagny laughed softly as she realized she had lied to Mr. Thompson even when she thought she was strategically telling him the truth. She had honestly thought John Galt was the most "arrogant egotist" the world had ever known, but if pride in the first coin you made was strong enough to save it forever as a souvenir of your own greatness... what could be more egotistical than that? She wondered if any of her neighbors also saved coins from particularly meaningful transactions. She doubted it; Midas Mulligan, for one, would probably have needed a vault twelve stories high, if he'd indulged in such a habit.

This amusing train of thought stopped once Dagny felt her fingers close around what she'd been fishing for at the back of the drawer. She remembered the night she earned her dearest treasure as she held it in her palm. She wondered if sublimating her desire for the wealthy, self-made man she admired into a desire to wear the first fruits of his labor counted as faking reality. When she considered the context of how she had earned and worn it, she didn't think it did for her, but she feared it easily could for some women.

Never again, she repeated to herself as she left the house.

The sun was just setting as she rang the doorbell. She listened impatiently to the sounds of papers being shuffled, a chair being pushed back, and footsteps walking across the floor. Her heart didn't start beating again until Hank Rearden finally opened the door.

The annoyed look of the interrupted instantly morphed into a smile of pleasant surprise. "Oh... hello, Dagny," he said.

"Hello, Hank," she managed to reply.

"Shouldn't you be at home resting?" he asked sarcastically. "You'll have a busy day tomorrow."

"Not as busy as tonight," she whispered.

She raised her right hand and rested it against the doorjamb. His eyes naturally but idly followed the motion as he began to ask, "What are you..." before stopping abruptly with shock at the sight of the blue-green chain of metal links around her right wrist. She had never worn it since they had moved here.

Hank's glance traveled from her wrist to her face and then back to her wrist; she knew he read the same message in both of them. He knew why she was here – not because something had changed, but because she realized something had never changed. She could tell by his silence that he had respected her privacy and judgement as much as he expected men to respect his, for it showed that he had never once entertained the slightest hint of an inkling of suspicion of the truth she had just learned herself.

She allowed him to process the implications of the completely unexpected sight before him in silence until she could bear the suspense no longer. She lowered her right arm and wrapped her left hand around the bracelet as she whispered softly, "I kept it... even then. I've always kept it."

"I... didn't know you still had it."

"I never knew why I did..."

They had seen each other less than twelve hours ago, to sign the contracts for her next order of rails. Yet, she felt as if she had never gone so long without seeing him, not even the months she had remained behind after Francisco rescued him from Hell, not even the month she had remained here in Paradise until that distant glimpse of him called her back to battle. She remembered how their reunion after that separation began – how she had run to him as quickly and longingly as he had run to her, how she had immediately, reflexively raised her face to his, only for him stop her before their lips could touch, before she could examine or recognize her intent.

He didn't try to stop her now, and she wouldn't have let him if he had.