The union of Rearden steelworkers demands a raise, but the Unification Board rejects their demand. A newspaper story claims that the steelworkers are starving and mentions that the raise in wages was rejected. The story doesn't, however, specify who rejected the raise. The government places an order of attachment on all of Rearden's money, so funds aren't available to him. Rearden's family is terrified that he'll retire and vanish. Unconcerned about the impossible burdens that he has to carry, they plead with him to remain.
Rearden goes to New York to meet with Wesley Mouch and several other heads of the looters' regime. They inform Rearden that they'll put a new Steel Unification Plan into effect. Rearden points out that, under the plan, he'll go bankrupt regardless of his output, while Orren Boyle's Associated Steel will receive the bulk of his earnings. He leaves the meeting and drives back to his mills. When he arrives, the mills are under siege. The government thugs placed among his workers have started a riot. They murdered the Wet Nurse when he tried to stop them, and they attack Rearden when he enters the mills. One thug smashes him with a pipe before an unknown worker kills the attacker. When Rearden regains consciousness in the infirmary, he finds that his unknown savior, the same person who organized the workers' defense and defeated the thugs' attack, is Francisco d'Anconia. Francisco has been working as a furnace foreman at Rearden's mills for the two months after he destroyed d'Anconia Copper.
The looters organize a systematic attempt to take over Rearden's mills. They know that he won't agree to the Steel Unification Plan. Rearden will reject the plan because it permits Orren Boyle to exist off of his effort while he goes bankrupt. The looters can't afford to lose Rearden; they're terrified that he'll retire and vanish. Their plan to keep him working is simple. First they attach his funds, so he has no money with which to escape. Second, they threaten his family. If he "deserts" them, his family members will be punished. Not surprisingly, his family begs him to stay. Finally, the looters slip their goons into the mills and stage a riot, supposedly spurred on by Rearden's rejection of a request for wage raises. With violence spiraling out of control at the mills, the looters will step in to protect Rearden's safety by taking over his factory. Francisco's presence quells the riot, defeats the looters' plan and, most important, completes Rearden's liberation from the looters' grip. Rearden is now ready to join the strike. He'll no longer lend his mind to the support of the looters' system.
Rearden believes that his ill-advised slap in Dagny's apartment has cost him Francisco's friendship, but he finds that Francisco loves him too much to let that incident divide them. Francisco understands that, at some implicit level, Rearden has always trusted him. Francisco acted as Rearden's protector from the start. He armed Rearden with the knowledge of his own inestimable moral value. He fought Rearden's enemies for years by destroying his own company and not permitting it to serve those who would torment and enslave Rearden. He brushed off Rearden's insults, understanding that they proceeded from Rearden's limited knowledge and desperate desire to protect his allegiance to his mills. Finally, Francisco secretly accepted Rearden's offer of a job as a furnace foreman so he could be there on the day when Rearden needed him in his final battle to liberate himself from the looters' clutches.
Rearden knows now that he is right to love and trust this man the way he always instinctively has. In their relationship, Ayn Rand dramatizes the meaning of friendship between rational men. The relationship is based exclusively on values, not on duty or self-sacrifice. Francisco and Rearden both revere productivity and the mind's ability to create prosperity on earth. Consequently, they deeply admire each other's accomplishments. Rand insists that, if human beings dedicate themselves to achievement rather than to selfless service, all humans can have this type of relationship. Francisco and Rearden, both of whom have lost Dagny, have found each other.