Quentin Daniels

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Quentin Daniels (fl. 2018), in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, was a consulting engineer who attempted to reverse-engineer the electrostatic motor that John Galt had invented. When John Galt learned of his activities, he recruited him into the strike of the men of the mind and flew him to Galt's Gulch. That flight almost caused a fatality and was the reason for the unplanned visit to the Gulch by Dagny Taggart.

Spoiler warning
This article contains important plot information

Contents

Background

The novel says little of his background. But it does reveal this salient fact: Robert Stadler, Director of the State Science Institute, tried to recruit him into the Institute. Quentin refused out-of-hand, on philosophical grounds. So he was mildly surprised when Dr. Stadler later recommended him to Dagny Taggart.

Dagny Taggart

Dagny Taggart of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad contacted him in May of 2018 at the recommendation of his old mentor, Robert Stadler. She described to him the ruined prototype of an electrostatic motor, the first practical example of such a device ever built, and the incomplete notes that she had found with it. Daniels was very enthusiastic about working on such a project and asked to see the prototype immediately.

When Daniels examined the prototype, he agreed with Miss Taggart that someone had stripped it of certain key parts. He recognized the collecting coil, as Dagny had, but recognized that, as it was, the motor would not run. Dagny paid him handsomely to attempt to reconstruct the missing parts and reassemble the motor.

Time and events (chiefly Directive 10-289) would change his mind. He became so disgusted with the political situation in the United States that he wrote Miss Taggart to inform him that he was quitting. Miss Taggart reached him at the now-defunct Utah Institute of Technology in Afton, UT, and begged him to stay put until she could talk to him personally. Reluctantly, he promised to wait. In the excitement that followed a few days later, he would forget this promise. He would live to regret that lapse of honor, for it nearly got a person killed.

Directive 10-289

On May 1, 2019, the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources promulgated Directive 10-289. Daniels realized at once that, under its terms, he and Dagny would be subject to immediate arrest once he solved the problem of the motor. Furthermore, the government would expropriate it. For the next three weeks he agonized over the dilemma. Should he forget about the problem completely, though he always felt that he was close to a solution? Or should he continue the project anyway?

In the end, he decided that he would not, could not work under a system that would treat him as a slave. So he found an old typewriter and banged out a one-page letter to Dagny Taggart, announcing his intention to quit. On May 22, he sent it by air mail and special delivery.

One week later (May 28), he was out gathering carrots from his vegetable garden on what had been the parking lot of the Utah Institute of Technology, when the building's one working telephone started to ring, and ring, and ring. Hastily he rushed in and grabbed the phone. The operator announced a person-to-person call from Dagny Taggart. (In that era, operators completed all long-distance calls.) Naturally he accepted.

Dagny Taggart begged him not to make any firm decision until she had had a chance to see him. Reluctantly, he promised her that he would wait for the three days that she would take to travel to Afton, Utah, by rail.

That meeting would take place—but a day later, and not at the Utah Institute of Technology.

John Galt

On May 30, a young but no-nonsense man came to see him in his laboratory. At first Daniels ignored him, until the man abruptly erased his blackboard and wrote one single mathematical equation on it. Daniels realized, with a shock, that that equation was the key to making electrostatic motors practical. Daniels demanded to know how his visitor knew this. The visitor's reply:

I'm the man who made it in the first place.

The visitor then introduced himself as John Galt and proved conclusively to Daniels that he was in fact the original inventor of the motor. Several minutes of discussions of theoretical physics later, Galt asked Daniels directly whether he was willing to follow Galt to a new existence and leave behind everything he knew of the old.

John Galt would not (and indeed could not) have threatened to prosecute Daniels for patent infringement, because John Galt had not obtained a patent on the motor (and probably would not until the post-strike militia coalition was able to reactivate the United States Patent Office). Nor did he even criticize Daniels for an offense tantamount to plagiarism. But Daniels found his argument so persuasive that he forgot his pledge to Dagny Taggart, and even forgot that she was on her way, much less to mention it to Galt. He did not know, but might have suspected, that Galt knew anyway that Dagny Taggart was trying to intercept him. Neither man could know that Dagny would abandon rail travel in favor of air travel. That would prove nearly disastrous.

Flight to the Gulch

Quentin Daniels agreed at once to join John Galt in his great strike. John Galt had flown in to Afton, and now proposed to fly Daniels out to what Galt might have described as a "secret place of rest." The two men climbed into John Galt's aircraft, and John Galt took off.

Neither man noticed another aircraft (a Dwight Sanders monoplane) taking off in pursuit. Galt flew into a mountainous region, and probably scared Daniels very badly as he began to descend into what to all appearances was a valley of jagged rocks. But Galt spoke to someone on his radio, and suddenly a green meadow appeared below them. The awestruck Daniels probably asked himself how he could ever have been the "understudy" of such a brilliant physicist and inventor as his pilot obviously was—for Galt explained to him about the refractor-ray screen that provided such an effective disguise.

They landed safely, and there Daniels met Midas Mulligan, the owner of what he came to know as Galt's Gulch.

Daniels would later receive the shocking news that another aircraft had tried to follow them, and had intercepted the refractor-ray screen. The pilot had spun out of control and had barely regained sufficient control to make a hard belly landing. The pilot was, of course, Dagny Taggart. To Daniels' immense relief, she was uninjured except for a twisted ankle and a cracked rib.

Life in the Gulch

Quentin Daniels would not leave the Gulch for several months. John Galt immediately hired him at the valley's electrostatic power plant, first as a janitor, with the promise that he would soon become an electrician. Then Galt made Daniels a proposition he would never have expected. Every June, John Galt delivered lectures in physics to selected students in the Gulch. Tuition was ten gold dollars (half an ounce) per person. Daniels came to the Gulch without a penny to his name—but Galt gave him a time-payment plan. Daniels was the only student to whom John Galt did that favor.

Now Daniels understood the theory behind the electrostatic motor, and much else, in a way that he would never have understood before. By the end of June, Daniels was indeed ready to take over, not only as electrician but as maintenance-officer-in-charge. Galt arranged with the Mulligan Bank to pay him faithfully at the end of every month.

On November 5, Daniels saw John Galt again. Galt had arrived in the valley with his latest and greatest defector, Henry Rearden. Galt then announced that he would hold a special edition of his lecture course, to begin the next evening. Daniels did not hesitate to settle his tuition account and enroll for another lecture series.

Galt surprised him when, on November 16, he announced that from then on he would give lectures of ninety minutes instead of sixty, every evening, to end on November 21. The next night (November 22), Daniels learned why Galt had sped up the schedule. For three hours Galt delivered a speech to the outer world. This was the explanation he had never asked for, for why the valley existed and why John Galt had come for him in Afton on May 31.

The next day, John Galt left the valley. Daniels asked Ragnar Danneskjöld, who now took over as head of the Committee of Safety, for an explanation. Danneskjöld offered none, and neither did Francisco d'Anconia. Three months later came word that John Galt had been arrested in New York City.

Daniels was shocked, angry, and ready for action. He went at once to Ragnar Danneskjöld, who subjected him to the most rigorous physical-fitness test he had ever endured. The test left him breathless, but at the end of it, Ragnar said, "You qualify," and told him that he was now enrolled in the Galt's Gulch Land Militia. He gave Daniels a written order to "report" to the Dwight Sanders airfield that evening, and a checklist of military gear. Daniels acquired the gear, locked up the house he had built, turned the keys over to Midas Mulligan, and was at the airfield on time. There he boarded a plane, and shortly thereafter was in the air, headed for New York.

His first assignment was a "billet" in a garret apartment on Manhattan Island. He learned later that this was the apartment that John Galt had kept in New York. He did not explore the empty room full of ashes; he grimly guessed what that room had once held, and what had happened to it.

Several weeks later, he got orders to decamp from Manhattan and proceed at once to Central Park, where a plane was waiting for him. Like any soldier, he did not question. Minutes later, he was in the air again, bound for New Hampshire and the campus of the State Science Institute on the Connecticut River. But he did not wait there for long. Ellis Wyatt then gave a full evacuation order, and soon he was back in the air, headed west-southwest. Only then did he and his fellow militiamen get the joyous briefing: John Galt was alive, well, free, and on his way back to the Gulch with them.

Daniels would remain in John Galt's employ after they landed in the Gulch. Later in the spring of 2020, when John Galt determined that "the road [was] cleared," Daniels would probably take the post of chief manufacturing engineer in the company that John Galt would form to build electrostatic motors for a variety of transportation and stationary-power applications. Among the very first products would be a line of electrostatic locomotives.


Spoilers end here.


Typology

Quentin Daniels is a type of an individual of remarkable, even outstanding, but still relatively minor talent. Though he accepts the challenge of reconstructing the electrostatic motor, he does not attempt to reinvent that motor. Discerning the ideas of another inventor is one thing. Using one's own ideas to accomplish the same thing is quite another.

In addition, Quentin Daniels is not a leader. He is one of many men of excellent (but not superior) talent, who might be open to persuasion to withdraw their talents from the world, but who would wait for a strong-enough leader with a compelling-enough message to convince him. John Galt is that leader in Atlas Shrugged. One can well wonder how many modern Quentin Daniels might be ready to follow a modern John Galt, should such a person appear.

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