A librarian, Romney Wordsworth, is called to a State tribunal where the Chancellor supervises the hearing. Wordsworth has been declared "obsolete" and identifies himself to the tribunal as a librarian. The Chancellor declares that there are no longer any books, and therefore no need for a librarian. He denounces the existence of God, noting the State has disproved His existence. Wordsworth insists that he has value but the Chancellor orders him back where they give the unanimous verdict that he is guilty.
The Chancellor announces that Wordsworth is to be executed within 48 hours but he has the option as to the manner of his death and the exact time. Wordsworth chooses to be given an assassin that he will tell the manner of his execution and no one else will know what it is. Wordsworth also asks that he has an audience for his execution. The Chancellor agrees and Wordsworth states the execution will take place in his rooms at midnight the next night.
The next night, the Chancellor arrives at Wordsworth room at the librarian's invitation and says he's there to prove the State isn't afraid of Wordsworth. Wordsworth is skeptical, noting that he must be a threat indeed if the State has to prove anything against him. The Chancellor denies it and promises that Wordsworth will beg when he realizes that his survival is truly threatened. He says that the State is improving on the dictatorships of the past, which didn't go far enough. The Chancellor says that Wordsworth should feel free to beg and plead for the cameras and prepares to leave. However, Wordsworth informs him that the manner of execution he's chosen is a bomb that will kill him at midnight. The exit door is locked and Wordsworth says that he will read his Bible, and the audience can see how he and the Chancellor both react to their imminent deaths. The Chancellor bangs on the door and calls out for help but Wordsworth notes that the State wouldn't want to seem weak by helping the Chancellor. He notes the Chancellor should face his audience and let them see how an official of the State faces his death.
The two men wait their 30 minutes out, Wordsworth reading from the Bible and the Chancellor nervously smoking. With only seconds left, the Chancellor finally breaks and begs for mercy. Wordsworth lets him go in the name of God, and the Chancellor gets clear just as the bomb goes off, killing Wordsworth.
The Chancellor returns to the courtroom, only to find that the court has declared him obsolete due to cowardice. He begs for mercy and the chance to serve the State, but the court members start growling, gets steadily louder, then move forward and rip him to pieces.