Romney Wordsworth, a librarian in a future society, is called by the State to a tribunal which has determined to declare him “obsolete.” Wordsworth is proud to proclaim himself a librarian. The Chancellor notes that since the State has eliminated books, there is no longer any need for a librarian. Wordsworth insists that his life has value despite the State’s proclamation but the Chancellor shouts him down and then the tribunal offers sentence: guilty.
The Chancellor informs Wordsworth that he can choose the manner and time of his execution, within 48 hours. Wordsworth asks that he be assigned an executioner who will be the only one who knows the time and manner of his death. The Chancellor agrees and Wordsworth states that his execution will take place at midnight the next night.
The next night, Wordsworth invites the Chancellor to his room and the Chancellor arrives, claiming that he is there to prove the State is unconcerned about Wordsworth, and that the librarian will beg for his life as the time draws near. Wordsworth notes the State must truly fear him to go to such lengths but the Chancellor denies it, and notes that in the past, dictatorships haven’t gone far enough. The State is now eliminating all undesirables to remove any possibility of resistance. The cameras go live and the Chancellor says that Wordsworth should face the cameras so the audience can see how he dies. As he starts to leave, Wordsworth tells him that he will be blown up by a bomb at midnight. The door is locked and Wordsworth prepares to read his illegal Bible in his last 30 minutes. When the Chancellor calls out for help, Wordsworth notes that the State won’t appear to demean itself by rescuing the Chancellor, and the Chancellor should let the country see how an official of the State faces his death.
Wordsworth reads the Bible while an increasingly nervous Chancellor waits out the 30 minutes. With seconds left, the Chancellor finally cracks and begs Wordsworth for the key to the door. Wordsworth lets him out and the Chancellor gets clear of the room just as the bomb goes off, killing Wordsworth.
The Chancellor returns to the tribunal chamber only to find that he has been removed from office and declared obsolete. The Chancellor begs for mercy, insisting that he has a purpose. The attending members start to growl, and then finally turn upon him, ripping him apart.