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Disintegration Chamber

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A science fiction trope in which people are executed by being sent to a "disintegration chamber"—some kind of little room or machine in which they are zapped into nonexistence. (Exactly how such a process works is rarely if ever actually explained; this is something of a Space Opera trope, and is generally on the softer side of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness). A Sister Trope of Disintegrator Ray; the distinguishing factors being that the "disintegration" is explicitly a form of execution (whether by a tyrannical regime or after some kind of due process) and does not happen out in the open air as a result of the victim being shot with some kind of hand-held Ray Gun. In some settings, such a device may also be used for dystopian Population Control, or perhaps as a means of suicide, but science fiction Disintegration Chambers aren't like some scarily-named but ultimately harmless real-world scientific apparatuses—science fiction Disintegration Chambers are used to kill people. Murder by Cremation can also resemble this in settings where it's used to formally execute people (and isn't just a matter of a private murderer disposing of a body), but a Disintegration Chamber is more likely to be depicted as a genuinely "clean" and scientific method of eliminating people, without the overtones of Cold-Blooded Torture.

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Examples

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    Audio Drama 

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Doom has these in his castle in Latveria, which he uses to execute anyone who violates Doom's law or irritates their liege. A throwaway line mentions these actually replaced the iron maiden that formerly did the same job for Doom's predecessors.
  • Nemesis the Warlock: When Torquemada took back control over Termight following his absence, he promised to give aliens residing on Earth the option to return to their home planets by teleportation for plausible deniability, but actually lured them into "evaporation vats". Some of his own followers even continued to believe that these aliens were really Released to Elsewhere.
  • An accidental version in Watchmen when John gets trapped inside an intrinsic field substractor chamber, unaware that the chamber was about to be activated for an experiment and can't be opened until it's finished (one of the scientists stammers out that it's a safety feature). John's colleagues are Forced to Watch helplessly as he is slowly disintegrated (although he reforms bit by bit over the next few months until he's the superhero/Physical God Dr. Manhattan). An intentional version occurs later on, when Big Bad Ozymandias lures Dr. Manhattan into one. This was a less-than-brilliant plan, as Dr. Manhattan himself points out seconds later, saying "The intrinsic field subtractor didn't kill John Osterman, what made you think it would kill me?]

    Film 
  • Flash Gordon (serial): In the 1938 serial Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars, Ming the Merciless attempts to do in Flash Gordon in a "disintegrating room". At the end of the serial, Ming himself is forced into the disintegrating room by a disgruntled former minion and killed. Or is he?
  • Our Man Flint: On the Galaxy organization's Island Base, there's a device called an electro-fragmentizer which will instantly destroy any object that enters it while it's activated. The Galaxy organization tries to get rid of Derek Flint by throwing him into it. The device ends up destroying Flint's multi-function lighter and several Galaxy agents.
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    Literature 
  • In Poul Anderson's novelette "Genius", set in a far-future interstellar empire, one character considers killing another, thinking to himself that if he's caught "they might send him to the disintegration chamber for murder".
  • In the Isaac Asimov novel The Stars, Like Dust, the protagonist's father was executed by being "blasted to bits in a disintegration chamber".
  • In one Goosebumps "choose-your-own-adventure" story, titled "Tick Tock, You're Dead", the protagonist goes into the future, where they end up in a school where a teacher punishes students, even for getting the wrong answer, by putting them into a cupboard called the "frammilizer" that makes them disappear.
  • Mentioned in the Star Wars Legends novel Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu, along with various other implements of execution ("...guillotines, disintegration chambers, nerve racks, and electric chairs").
  • The "disintegration chamber" is mentioned in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga at least a couple of times, specifically in Brothers in Arms: "the disintegration chamber usually reserved for convicted spies" and
    "Wasn't there a mercenary fleet that did that once? They'd show up in orbit somewhere, and get paid to not make war. Worked, didn't it? You're just not a creative enough mercenary commander, Miles."
    "Yeah, LaVarr's fleet. It worked real good till the Tau Cetan Navy caught up with 'em, and then LaVarr was sent to the disintegration chamber."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "Arc of Infinity" the Doctor is sentenced to disintegration by the Time Lords. In the event, the execution is rigged so he survives.
  • Farscape: In the "Rashomon"-Style episode, whoever the Plokavians will find guilty of blowing up their ship (or failing that, the whole crew) will be executed by "dispersion" in a cage-like structure. Stark confesses to destroying the ship because his spiritual powers give him a chance of surviving dispersion.
  • In the Lois & Clark episode "Battleground Earth" Clark/Kal-El is sentenced to have his "body be disintegrated and your molecules scattered over countless distant galaxies". He is then put into an open cage-like structure. In a somewhat unusual version of the trope, the disintegration is explicitly shown to be slow (and apparently rather painful), and the process is also (fortunately) reversible, at least up to a fairly advanced stage of the procedure.
  • In the last episode of the 1985 science fiction series Otherworld the protagonists are threatened with execution in a disintegration chamber.
  • In the Space: 1999 episode "Mission of the Darians" the surviving inhabitants of a giant spaceship that suffered a catastrophic reactor malfunction centuries ago use a disintegration chamber to eliminate "mutants".
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon" two warring planets have been fighting a war for 500 years; to avoid totally destroying their civilization, the way is fought entirely virtually, by computers; those whose deaths have been "registered" in the computers have 24 hours to report to the "disintegration machines".
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Angel One" has a variant, in which victims are executed by disintegration out in the open rather than in some kind of closed chamber—simply placed between two pillars and then subjected to a "swift and painless" death.
  • Played with in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Chosen Realm". Captain Archer tricks a group of religious fanatics who have seized Enterprise into thinking that the transporter was a "disintegration device" used for capital punishment. He then "sacrifices" himself by being "disintegrated", so that he can work unhindered to take his ship back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition AD&D supplement Tome of Magic. The Disintegration Chamber is a cubical magic item that can be as large as a room 10 feet on a side. When any kind of matter is put inside the chamber and the activation button is pushed, the matter is destroyed. One of these can be used to execute creatures.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • In Futurama the suicide booths seem to have this as the default option, though when Fry accidentally selects "slow and painful" a bunch of crude automated weapons pop out and attempt to kill him.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) episode "Enter The Fly", Krang throws Baxter Stockman into a disintegrator unit because he has no use for him. It malfunctions, merging Stockman with a housefly that had accidentally entered the chamber with him and turning him into a mutant.
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    Real Life 
  • A number of real-life scientific apparatuses (used in fields from chemistry to nuclear physics) are actually referred to as "disintegration chambers". Needless to say, none of them much resemble any of the science fiction examples listed here.


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