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August 1945: The atomic bomb explodes over Japan, ending World War Two and changing the face of the world forever -- in more ways than one.
Ayn Rand, fresh from the success of seeing her novel The Fountainhead brought to the silver screen at last, is invited to view the Manhattan Project's first test by Richard Feynman, an admirer of Rand's lock-picking and safe-cracking burlesque act in the thirties. He justifies it to military bureaucracy by telling them that her efforts to instill good Objectivist thinking into the minds of America make her the perfect witness for the event.
The earth-shattering power of the blast shocks everyone but Rand, who in the first few seconds finds a joyful confirmation of her belief in the power of the human mind. Alone among the architects of the device, Robert Oppenheimer finds his voice and quotes the Bagavad-Ghita: "I am become Death, Shatterer of Worlds." Rand reaches over to smack him for being a namby-pamby liberal, but halts midway: the doubts have affected her, too.
In years to come, atomic testing in the Pacific and the deserts of Nevada will send Ayn Rand and Howard Hughes -- the two archetypes of American life and culture -- into paroxysms of fear over radioactivity and the terrible power of atomic weapons. Much like America herself, Hughes retreats further into mental illness, drug-fuelled paranoia and a feces-collecting hobby; Rand alone shrugs off her doubts, gathers her strength and seeks to overcome the problem with technology, reason, kung-fu and novel-writing.
At first Rand considers building a bomb shelter like everyone else, but discards the idea after the infamous film of houses being blown apart by an atomic blast leaves her shaken and withdrawn. She becomes convinced that some more radical idea is needed, one that will allow her to survive not just an atomic blast, but anything the world might throw at her. She begins to research the possibility of being kept alive forever. Eventually, this leads her to her greatest dream: becoming a floating, disembodied head.