The story begins with a scene the three witches from Macbeth brewing a potion and staring into a crystal, which reveals another scene that takes place on a rocket ship. Originating from Earth, the men on the rocket ship are panicking because they have recently experienced nightmares, confusing illnesses, and unexpected death. They are destined for Mars, and they are worried that these events may be warnings from Martians not to arrive.
As the crewmembers talk, it becomes clear that the Earth they are leaving has banned many books, some of which are considered some of the best authors of all time. The rocket ship has the last edition of many of these works, and their goal is to burn the books upon their arrival at Mars. Once they have burned the books, there will be no remaining evidence that these authors ever existed.
The story then leaves the rocket ship and returns to the witches, where they finish brewing their potion. It becomes clear that they themselves are on Mars, and they only have one hour until the rocket ship arrives. They fear that the Earth people will drastically change Mars and leave it in ruins, just as they have done to Earth. It is not only the witches who inhabit Mars - it is also a group of literary exiles, such as Edgar Allen Poe, William Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens. They have sought refuge on Mars after being banned on Earth.
These established and famous writers suspect that the rocket ship has come to destroy their literary heritage once and for all, which is exactly what the crew members intend to do. They suggest moving themselves somewhere else if the Earth crew causes trouble, but they must preserve their writings in order to continue to exist. To do this, they prepare Mars for a battle with the rocket ship.
While they may not be as strong as them, they have many different tricks and traps to defeat their enemy. They know that they must dedicate all of their forces to stopping the rocket from burning them. While they are strategizing, the rocket lands, and the crew steps out. Without hesitation, they burn the last remaining books and hear screams. They do not know where the screams have originated from, and they explore the area to look for clues that will help them learn more.
The screams were those of the authors, who were in the midst of planning their defense. The exiled authors have ceased to exist, and their work will soon be forgotten.
The exiled authors mentioned in the story are some of the best authors of all time, and many of them were personal inspirations to Bradbury. Most of the writers were considered fantasy writers, a fact which expresses Bradbury's belief that fantasy writers experienced the most intense censorship and persecution for their work. This could reflect some of Bradbury's own experiences with publishing his work.
Once again, the theme of censorship is central to this story. It resembles "The Flying Machine," because the rocket ship crew wants not only to censor the works of the great writers, but also to eradicate them. There is no space for them to be silent - they must be completely eliminated. It is a very extreme version of censorship, and it is immediately distasteful.
It is especially hard to process because there is little explanation as to why their thoughts are so dangerous and disruptive in the Earth society. While it is frustrating in the story, it is indicative of the everyday practice of censorship. Those who censor rarely give the reasoning behind why they have done so, and if they do, it is often not a satisfactory answer. The story gives a good warning to us to consider what we accept and what we discard - these writers are considered some of the best writers in the English language, yet this crew eliminated them. What other famous works have we rejected, or what potential breathtaking works have we prevented because of societal norms?