Involuntary Suicide Mechanism
An espionage/science fiction trope, this is where agents/those who know important information are wired so that if they are interrogated, they will die instead of divulging any information. Generally a sign of having a Bad Boss
who doesn't care about the lives of his subordinates, although at least in theory, it could be a somewhat humane way of allowing the captured agent to escape some amount of torture.
Compare with Cyanide Pill
which is more "voluntary" and the related concept of the Explosive Leash
. The equivalent for inanimate secret storage is Self-Destructing Security
- Watchmen has a lowtech version of this, where Veidt pretends to be stopping a would-be assassin he hired himself from taking a Cyanide Pill, but actually had the pill himself, and shoves it down the other's throat.
- In Judge Dredd Mega City One Blitzers are hitmen with implanted explosives wired to detonate with the stress of capture.
- In Battlefield Earth, the sinister cabal of psychiatrists that rules the Psychlo race has implanted mind-control devices in their subjects' skulls, both to modify behavior and protect the all-important secret of teleportation. If an alien asks a Psychlo about teleportation or even mathematics, males are conditioned to go into a suicidal killing spree, while females go catatonic.
Live Action Television
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, Imperial Security agents are doctored so that they will have a fatal allergic reaction when given the universe's Truth Serum, which ironically was intended to prevent torture, but obviously, most people who know anything couldn't be given it. The protagonist was too politically important to be doctored in this way, but because of his odd medical history, he has an unusual reaction to fastpenta (becoming a Talkative Loon), and is able to exploit this to beat one interrogation he's subjected to in the series. His clone brother Mark, who has an undamaged metabolism, does have the standard allergy to fastpenta and would die if he received it.
- This usually isn't a suicide mechanism though. It is standard policy for professionals to first test for a fastpenta induced allergy before using the drug. Thus it's unlikely that anyone important enough to have an induced allergy will be subjected to fastpenta without testing for it (don't want to accidentally kill a captive before you get information out of him). In practice this usually means the important operatives get to enjoy the old fashioned interrogation methods.
- In The Stars My Destination, the crew of the Vorga was implanted with a mechanism that would stop their hearts if they started to give information revealing the circumstances explaining why they passed by the protagonist, Gully Foyle. When Foyle starts torturing the first of the crew members, he dies the moment he starts divulging information.
- After the second time this happens Foyle gets annoyed. Using the illegal Bullet Time reflexes he paid for he knocks out his third target, cuts out his heart and connects his circulatory system to an artificial blood pump within twenty seconds. Then he starts questioning him.
- In The Eyre Affair, when an associate of Acheron Hades started to tell the authorities what he knew, he spontaneously combusted.
- In the Onyx Court book Midnight Never Come, Invidiana has put a spell on Tiresias that will kill him if he tells what he knows about her. He decides it's worth the price.
- There's a fairly complicated version of this in the X-Wing Series novels by Stackpole. There's a drug called skirtopanol that is used in interrogating prisoners, since it lowers their defenses and makes them more sensitive to pain. But if someone's been taking lotiramine, the chemicals react, sometimes fatally. An Imperial gave lotiramine to someone he'd used, telling the man that it would protect him from a plague that was going around. When the local villain caught up with the Imperial, he told him that the man had gone into convulsions and died after being dosed with skirtopanol. The Imperial was surprised. He'd have had to have been taking four times the recommended dosage to go into convulsions.
- Actors in The Acts of Caine are conditioned so that they cannot (on Overworld) admit they are Actors, speak Earth languages, etc. Approaching the topic can give them fits. They will die before they can say it.
- This only holds for the first book. This backfires when the natives of Overworld realise that the Aktir (as they call the Actors) cannot say the word, so between the first and second books the Actors have their conditioning removed.
- In the Tortall Universe, a death spell can be used for this purpose. It doesn't save the victim from torture/Truth Serum interrogation, but it kills him if he tries to give up accurate information. Aly comments to a captured spy that "if someone put three death spells on me, I'd wonder whether they trusted me at all".
- Happens to one of the Grey Men in The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge.
- Oleg Divov's Brothers in Reason starts with an unknown cabal kidnapping random (or so we think at first) people in Britain and trying to use a mind-reading machine on them, only for them to have a fatal heart attack just when the machine starts receiving data. They try a different approach with the wife of an influential politician, who is caught in bed with one of the protagonists. Instead of using the machine, the cabal members show her the photos of her affair and then start asking questions. Just as they're getting to the interesting parts, she also croaks. It turns out they were all members of a sister secret organization that the other protagonist works for, all members of which have mentally-implanted "kill switches" that are activated if unauthorized access is detected. It fails, however, when an extremely-powerful psychic uses his abilities to disable the kill switch in one of the operatives, allowing the mind-reader to work.
- An occasional plot device in Perry Rhodan. Usually employed by villains, one pretty grim example actually repeatedly used by the protagonists during the Hetos occupation of the Milky Way Galaxy (though with no instance of it triggering ever shown) was an acid capsule implanted in the brain of members of La Résistance on missions where they might fall into enemy hands, designed to dissolve and release its contents under torture or upon death; justified by their enemies' technology potentially still allowing them to retrieve information from dead brains as long as those were still reasonably intact.
- The Laundry Series has this as a side effect of trying to defy a security geas. "The Concrete Jungle" features an interrogation running up against a tightly-wounded geas that ends up cooking the subject's brain.
- Declare. Elana's handler uses one to try and kill her when she announces she's defecting to the French. Fortunately she was praying when the hypnotic "kill command" was implanted, and this somehow disrupted it.
Manga and Anime
- The Priors in Stargate SG-1 are genetically programmed to burst into flame if they ever lose faith in their gods, The Ori. Though, Priors are so fanatically devout that this is hardly ever an issue.
- The brainwashed za'tarc assassins are programmed to commit suicide if their mission fails or if someone tries to mess with their brainwashing.
- A possible example occurs in UFO, though it could also be a fatal reaction to the truth serum due to the alien's different biology.
- An episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. dealt with a master thief who was being manipulated by an unknown party who had given her an artificial eye that functioned both as a camera and an explosive to be detonated in the event of her being compromised or disobeying an order. Her handler turns out to be under the same control and is killed this way when SHIELD catches up to him.
- The mooks in Until Death Do Us Part have explosives in their molars that they themselves can activate and that can be activated from afar. Soon enough Mamoru just cuts their jaws out.
- In Hellsing, Jan Valentine falls victim to one of these: a chip implanted in his head sets him on fire (one of the few surefire ways to kill a vampire) when his mission fails and he is captured. He knew it was going to happen too, so he took the moments leading up to it to troll his captors before dying.
- This is the fate of Vinceborg In Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden.
- In Age of Empires II you can activate one by researching Heresy, which causes your units to die if they're converted by enemy monks instead of actually going over to the other side.
- Black Hats in the Deadlands RPG have microchips implanted in their skulls that explode if they reveal secrets.
- Gorilla Grodd remotely shuts down Metallo after he is captured in in JusticeLeagueUnlimited, but it isn't made clear whether this kills him or simply leaves him out of commission until someone can figure out how to fix him.
- In Totally Spies!, one Big Bad turned out to be an android who was only following the programming of the scientist who created him, who was also evil. He seemed to be the scientist until the very end, when he had a Robotic Reveal and explained everything, including that he was programmed to self-destruct if he ever revealed he wasn't human. Which he promptly did.