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Disintegration Chamber

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Spock: An entrance, Captain, but no exit. They go in, but they do not come out.
Kirk: A disintegration machine.
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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. Also known as a "Disintegration Booth", "Disintegration Machine", or "Disintegration Room", and various other terms. Exactly how such a process works is rarely if ever actually explained; this is something of a soft science fiction Space Opera and Comic Book trope.

In some settings, such a device may also be used for dystopian Population Control, or perhaps as a means of suicide or euthanasia, 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 (although, depending on the writer, execution by disintegration may also be portrayed as slow and painful).

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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 as a result of the victim being shot with some kind of hand-held Ray Gun. Compare Gas Chamber.


Examples

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    Audio Drama 

    Comic Books 
  • The anthology horror comic Creepy Magazine includes "The Silver Stallion Conspiracy", about a vast conspiracy of famous but supposedly dead political, military, business, and criminal leaders which rules the world from behind the scenes, using cloning technology to fake their own deaths, and the disintegration chamber to execute traitors from within their ranks.
  • 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.
  • The Go Bots comic book features the "GoBot De-Materializer" (which was one of the features of the "GoBot Command Center" playset), which is shown explictly being used to "disintegrate" enemy robots. Although it turns out it's really a time machine.
  • A one-page comic by Chantel Montellier in Heavy Metal features industrial workers being told their factory is being shut down, and that they should therefore now "proceed to the disintegration chamber".
  • 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 "vaporisation vats". Some of his own followers even continued to believe that these aliens were really Released to Elsewhere.
  • The Punisher 2099: Jake Gallows has a "Molecular Disintegrator chair" he uses to execute criminals.
  • Vampirella: Dracula is in actuality a native of an alien world ("Drakulon") who was sentenced to death in a disintegration chamber. (Instead of killing him, the chamber sends him into another dimension, and from there he escapes to Earth.)
  • An accidental version in Watchmen when Jon 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). Jon'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 Jon Osterman, what made you think it would kill me?"
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    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.

    Literature 
  • In the satirical Space Opera The Amphora Project by William Kotzwinkle the disintegration chamber is mentioned as the punishment for Space Pirates.
  • In the 1946 Planetary Romance novelette "The Blue Venus" by Emmett McDowell, the disintegration chamber is used to carry out the death penalty on Venus.
  • Appears in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga novel 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."
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger short story "The Disintegration Machine" from January 1929 features an apparatus resembling an electric chairnote  which causes an object—or a person—sitting in it to simply vanish. Somewhat unusually for such devices, the "disintegration machine" in Doyle's story can re-integrate a person who has been disintegrated, bringing them back into existence without any harm.note  The machine is nonetheless explicitly treated as a weapon, which could potentially disintegrate a battleship, or bring about "the whole Thames valley being swept clean, and not one man, woman, or child left of all these teeming millions", and is being marketed as such by its inventor to the world's great powers. (In such applications, the apparatus would probably wind up more resembling a Disintegrator Ray than a "chamber".) At the end of the story Professor Challenger disintegrates the machine's inventor—who is the only one who knows the secret of the device's construction—without bothering to re-integrate him. The apparent Trope Maker for the trope (though probably not its codifier, given the ways in which Doyle's machine differs from later portrayals).
  • In Fonda Lee's science fiction novel Exo the aliens who have colonized Earth execute rebels or "terrorists" in an "atomizer". There's a "burst of blinding white light" and the condemned simply "wink out of existence without fanfare", with only a few particles of ash left over. This is done in public, in a translucent chamber, after rumors spread that some of those put to death in previous executions weren't really dead—after all, there isn't a body left after such an execution to put on display or to turn over to next of kin.
  • The short story "Freedom of the Skies" by Edsel Newton in the December 1929 issue of Air Wonder Stories features a "disintegration room", although it uses disintegration gas rather than the more usual "rays".
  • 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".
  • From the Goosebumps media franchise:
    • In one of the three short stories ("Don't Make Me Laugh") in the Goosebumps Haunted Library collection, two boys are kidnapped by aliens and threatened with being sent to a "disintegration room" if they can't make the aliens laugh.
    • In one of the Give Yourself Goosebumps "choose-your-own-adventure" books, 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.
  • In the short-story collection Interplanetary Hunter by Arthur K. Barnes the "disintegrator chamber" is referred to as the fate of "gangsters".
  • 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").
  • In Kate Wilhelm's hallucinatory 1968 short story "The Planners", the protagonist (a scientist doing research on artificially enhancing the intelligence of various apes and monkeys, even as his marriage fails) daydreams about forcibly cross-breeding chimpanzees with the members of a committee of animal welfare activists, with the resulting offspring sorted, some "into a disintegration room, others out into the world".
  • 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 David Barr Kirtley's short story "The Trial of Thomas Jefferson" the "annihilation chamber" is used to carry out executions. It's described as "painless"; a technician flicks a switch, and the annihilation chamber in which the condemned person is standing is "suddenly empty".

    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 Foundation (2021) (the television adaptation of Asimov's Foundation Series) the Galactic Emperor is a trio of clones, each at a different stage of the original Emperor's life; upon the arrival of a new baby clone the eldest clone Emperor undergoes "ascension", stepping into a beam of light which reduces him to a few ashes in an instant.
  • 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 is 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.

    Radio 
  • The Shadow: In episode "Professor X", Professor Krammer has built a disintegration box. He visualizes it as the first half of a Teleportation device, and he's ready to start work on the re-integration back end. However, his patron Joseph Martin has other ideas. Martin, who is actually a gangster, spots the potential of the machine to both murder people and vaporize the evidence. He kills Prof. Krammer and takes possession of the device.

    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.
  • Starfinder (a Science Fantasy spin-off from the Pathfinder role-playing game, which was in turn derived from the 3.5 Edition rulebook of Dungeons & Dragons) also features a Disintegration Chamber Trap, in which a room can be set up to atomize anyone unlucky or careless enough to enter it.

    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.

    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. Some U.S. government facilities do have actual "disintegrator rooms". These are the rooms in U.S. Embassies where they keep the "disintegrator", which is a gizmo used to mechanically shred and then incinerate classified documents. There's also a magic trick called a "Disintegration Chamber", in which a red plastic ball (seemingly) disintegrates into thin air; that also doesn't really have anything to do with this trope (although there the name may well have been inspired by the science fiction concept).


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