When he was ten, Equality 7-2521 saw the public execution of the Transgressor of the Unspeakable Word, who had discovered the word “I” and was burned to death in the town square as punishment for using the word. While he was burning, the Transgressor showed no pain but locked eyes with Equality 7-2521. Equality 7-2521 comes to believe that that moment anointed him as a disciple of the same crusade as the Transgressor.
Equality 7-2521 begins to conduct experiments and shortly discovers electricity. After many weeks of work, he successfully builds a lightbulb from the materials he finds in his tunnel. He decides that he must share his invention with the world and resolves to present it to the World Council of Scholars when it convenes that year in his city.
In the meantime, Equality 7-2521 has met the Golden One, a beautiful peasant girl who is proud and haughty. He knows it is wrong to do so, but he speaks to her when he gets the chance, and they immediately fall in love. One day, she offers him some water from her hands, and he drinks it, not understanding why this act makes him think of the Palace of Mating, where he and all other mature citizens are sent once a year to have sex.
Before he can show the lightbulb to the World Council, Equality 7-2521 accidentally returns late to the Home of the Street Sweepers, where he lives. When he refuses to tell his Home Council where he has been, he is thrown…