Towards a Concerto of Deliverance
First posted on
Starship Forum in
[This post has a long passage from "The John Galt Line". Even though I have read it scores of times, I'm always inspired by all the themes conveyed in it, now even more so in the context of this project, especially the scene where Dagny is enraptured in the engine room. The run of the John Galt Line is like a Concerto of Deliverance in locomotion.]
More excerpts from JMC/MP emails will follow.
MP - 11 Jun 2002
I have always felt that your piece, "Collision", from GATEWAY, has affinity to the theme of "The John Galt Line"
[Dagny, on the inaugural ride of the John Galt Line she built.]
The sound filling the cab seemed part of the space they were crossing. It held the low drone of the motors -- the sharper clicking of the many parts that rang in varied cries of metal -- and the high, thin chimes of trembling glass panes.
Things streaked past -- a water tank, a tree, a shanty, a grain silo. They had a windshield-wiper motion: they were rising, describing a curve and dropping back. The telegraph wires ran a race with the train, rising and falling from pole to pole, in an even rhythm, like the cardiograph record of a steady heartbeat written across the sky.
She looked ahead, at the haze that melted rail and distance, a haze that could rip apart at any moment to some shape of disaster. She wondered why she felt safer than she had ever felt in a car behind the engine, safer here, where it seemed as if, should an obstacle rise, her breast and the glass shield would be first to smash against it. She smiled, grasping the answer: it was the security of being first, with full sight and full knowledge of one's course -- not the blind sense of being pulled into the unknown by some unknown power ahead. It was the greatest sensation of existence: not to trust, but to know.
The glass sheets of the cab's windows made the spread of the fields seem vaster: the earth looked as open to movement as it was to sight. Yet nothing was distant and nothing was out of reach. She had barely grasped the sparkle of a lake ahead -- and in the next instant she was beside it, then past.
It was a strange foreshortening between sight and touch, she thought, between wish and fulfillment, between -- the words clicked sharply in her mind after a startled stop -- between spirit and body. First, the vision -- then the physical shape to express it. First, the thought -- then the purposeful motion down the straight line of a single track to a chosen goal. Could one have any meaning without the other? Wasn't it evil to wish without moving -- or to move without aim? Whose malevolence was it that crept through the world, struggling to break the two apart and set them against each other?
She shook her head. She did not want to think or to wonder why the World behind her was as it was. She did not care. She was flying away from it, at the rate of a hundred miles an hour. She leaned to the open window by her side, and felt the wind of the speed blowing her hair off her forehead. She lay back, conscious of nothing but the pleasure it gave her.
Yet her mind kept racing. Broken bits of thought flew past her attention, like the telegraph poles by the track. Physical pleasure? -- she thought. This is a train made of steel...running on rails of Rearden Metal...moved by the energy of burning oil and electric generators...it's a physical sensation of physical movement through space...but is that the cause and the meaning of what I now feel?...Do they call it a low, animal joy -- this feeling that I would not care if the rail did break to bits under us now -- it won't -- ut I wouldn't care, because I have experienced this? A low, physical, material, degrading pleasure of the body?
She smiled, her eyes closed, the wind streaming through her hair.
She looked down through the open window and saw the silver side of the engine hanging over empty space. Far below, the thin thread of a stream went falling from ledge to ledge, and the ferns that drooped to the water were the shimmering tops of birch trees. She saw the engine's tail of boxcars winding along the face of a granite drop -- and miles of contorted stone below, she saw the coils of green-blue rail unwinding behind the train.
A wall of rock shot upward in their path, filling the windshield, darkening the cab, so close that it seemed as if the remnant of time could not let them escape it. But she heard the screech of wheels on curve, the light came bursting back -- and she saw an open stretch of rail on a narrow shelf. The shelf ended in space. The nose of the engine was aimed straight at the sky. There was nothing to stop them but two strips of green-blue metal strung in a curve along the shelf.
To take the pounding violence of sixteen motors, she thought, the thrust of seven thousand tons of steel and freight, to withstand it, grip it and swing it around a curve, was the impossible feat performed by two strips of metal no wider than her arm. What made it possible? What power had given to an unseen arrangement of molecules the power on which their lives depended and the lives of all the men who waited for the eighty boxcars? She saw a man's face and hands in the glow of a laboratory oven, over the white liquid of a sample of metal.
She felt the sweep of an emotion which she could not contain, as of something bursting upward. She turned to the door of the motor units, she threw it open to a screaming jet of sound and escaped into the pounding of the engine's heart.
For a moment, it was as if she were reduced to a single sense, the sense of hearing, and what remained of her heating was only a long, rising, falling, rising scream. She stood in a swaying, sealed chamber of metal, looking at the giant generators. She had wanted to see them, because the sense of triumph within her was bound to them, to her love for them, to the reason of the life-work she had chosen. In the abnormal clarity of a violent emotion, she felt as if she were about to grasp something she had never known and had to know. She laughed aloud, but heard no sound of it; nothing could be heard through the continuous explosion. "The John Galt Line!" she shouted, for the amusement of feeling her voice swept away from her lips.
She moved slowly along the length of the motor units, down a narrow passage between the engines and the wall. She felt the immodesty of an intruder, as if she had slipped inside a living creature, under its silver skin, and were watching its life beating in gray metal cylinders, in twisted coils, in sealed tubes, in 'the convulsive whirl of blades in wire cages. The enormous complexity of the shape above her was drained by invisible channels, and the violence raging within it was led to fragile needles on glass dials, to green and red beads winking on panels, to tall, thin cabinets stenciled "High Voltage."
Why had she always felt that joyous sense of confidence when looking at machines? -- she thought. In these giant shapes, two aspects pertaining to the inhuman were radiantly absent: the causeless and the purposeless. Every part of the motors was an embodied answer to "Why?" and "What for?" -- like the steps of a life-course chosen by the sort of mind she worshipped. The motors were a moral code cast in steel.
They are alive, she thought, because they are the physical shape of the action of a living power -- of the mind that had been able to grasp the whole of this complexity, to set its purpose, to give it form. For an instant, it seemed to her that the motors were transparent and she was seeing the net of their nervous system. It was a net of connections, more intricate, more crucial than all of their wires and circuits: the rational connections made by that human mind which had fashioned any one part of them for the first time.
They are alive, she thought, but their soul operates them by remote control. Their soul is in every man who has the capacity to equal this achievement. Should the soul vanish from the earth, the motors would stop, because that is the power which keeps them going -- not the oil under the floor under her feet, the oil that would then become primeval ooze again -- not the steel cylinders that would become stains of rust on the walls of the caves of shivering savages -- the power of a living mind -- the power of thought and choice and purpose.
She was making her way back toward the cab, feeling that she wanted to laugh, to kneel or
to lift her arms, wishing she were able to release the thing she felt, knowing that it had no form
Towards a Concerto of Deliverance - 1
Concerto of Deliverance