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Destructive Teleportation

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Fig. 1: Quantum information is transmitted from one end to another, while the original copy is destroyed.
"It is not dissimilar to a facsimile machine, if you have any knowledge of late 20th-century technology."
SAYER, episode 70

Teleportation which functions by destroying the original object and creating an exact copy in a new location, rather than moving the original object from one location to another. This is usually done by either:

  1. breaking the subject into particles, then moving the particles (which are easier to transmit) to the desired location; compare One to Million to One; or
  2. scanning the entity being teleported down to the atomic level, transmitting the data, then assembling a perfect copy at the other end while the original is disposed of.

Often recognized via Fridge Logic on the part of the audience, who start wondering how teleportation might "really" work. Many scholarly works, such as The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, postulate that the only way teleportation could actually work is if the original copy is destroyed (read: killed). Put another way, every time you see a Star Trek character use the transporter, that character is actually being killed, meaning the original Kirk, Spock, etc. died years before!

Sometimes this is the main focus of a story, and the morality of teleporting in this manner is examined for the sake of drama (or, potentially, comedy). Might result in Clone Angst when a character finds out that the original "them" is dead. Characters might refuse to teleport because they don't think of themselves as an Expendable Clone.

A way out of this conundrum is sometimes used in settings where souls are present. If a person's soul a) exists, and b) is treated as their true "self" and simply "wearing" the body, then the issue of the original person's death is entirely circumvented if you can simply move the soul from one place to the other and build a new body around it. Alternatively, the original dies just like always, but now you also end up with multiple copies of them in the afterlife and/or hauntings by vengeful ghosts.

A subtrope of Twinmaker, where the twinmaker is teleportation. Contrast Resurrection Teleportation, which is deliberately using one's death as a means of teleportation.

Not to be confused with Weaponized Teleportation, where teleportation of this or any other sort is used offensively or defensively; or with Tele-Frag, where the damage is done at the destination, with the teleported subject appearing inside another person, creature, or object.

Also, while many sci-fi TV shows or movies effectively have this trope as Fridge Horror but often never acknowledge it, there is a form of technological teleportation that can avert this trope: wormhole-based teleportation. Since wormholes basically punch a hole in space between two distant points that can be traversed very quickly, there is no copying or molecular breakdown involved. For that trope, see Our Wormholes Are Different.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World, the Emergency Kizuna Warp function of Red's Transformation Trinket works by using Kizuna Energy to break the user's body down into atoms and instantly reform them next to a person he has a strong bond with. Idola lampshades how terrifying that sounds after accidentally triggering it through the use of mana metal.

    Fan Works 
  • Sometimes examined in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfiction.
    • Faster than Starlight has Twilight Sparkle discover that teleportation is, in fact, specifically designed to trick people into not realizing that it works this way, as ordinary teleportation has a slight time travel component to cover for the fact that the duplicate is created before the original is destroyed. When she confronts Princess Celestia about it, she discovers that Princess Celestia has gone insane and sees this as a bonus, as it means that the version of herself who Did What She Had to Do was dead, and the present version of herself is blameless.
    • Blink has Twilight discover that teleportation operates in this way, and feels incredible guilt over subjecting herself, her friends, and her loved ones to it, but decides in the end that just because their originals are no more, it doesn't mean that she (or the present iterations of her loved ones) are any less real.
    • Dying to Get There parodies this trope, as a newspaper falsely claims that Twilight's teleportation functions in this manner, leading Twilight's friends to believe that Twilight kills herself (and them!) every time she teleports. Twilight spends the whole story going around town explaining to everyone that her teleportation doesn't actually work that way, giving examples (taken from past events on the show) of why it isn't possible that it works like this and how ridiculous the whole idea is, and growing increasingly frustrated that no-one else seemed to realize that it made no sense. Except for Applejack, who realizes it is ridiculous not because of the physics of the situation, but because she doesn't believe that Twilight would ever use a spell that worked that way.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Prestige, Angier's teleportation trick is actually a copying device. He makes sure to kill the original version of himself by dropping him in a drowning pit.

  • Sean Williams has written several novels (including The Resurrected Man and the aptly-titled Twinmaker) and short stories that explore the use and abuse of so-called "d-mat booths" that work by breaking the person who steps into them down into little bits of data called a "pattern" and then using the pattern to create an exact copy of the person in another location. Everything about the person is the same, down to their thoughts, feelings, and memories, so that those who come out of the booth believe themselves to be the same person who stepped in it, effectively making it a form of teleportation. The Resurrected Man is the origin of the phrase "Murdering Twinmaker", which in the novel is both a nickname for the teleporter and the nickname for a serial killer who uses the data in the sending teleporter to create his own copies, which he murders for pleasure.
  • Sam Vimes usually objects to using magic in general, but in Thud!, even when he gives in and goes to the wizards for help, he absolutely refuses to use teleportation because he's paranoid about the idea that the person at the other end isn't the same person as the one who was teleported.
  • James Patrick Kelly's novelette "Think Like a Dinosaur" plays with this trope. Reptilian aliens give humanity teleportation, but insist on "balancing the equation" (destroying the original afterward) or they'll cut them off from the network. Normally the original is unconscious, but one is revived after the teleport is mistakenly believed to have failed, invoking this trope in full.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In the novel Spock Must Die!, McCoy theorizes this is how transporters work; Scotty counters that "a difference that makes no difference is no difference".
    • In the novel Federation, published over twenty years later, when Zefram Cochrane is first transported aboard the Enterprise, he immediately thinks he is a duplicate of the original, assuming transporters to work like replicators. Instead, a crew member calms him down, explaining that the process works on the quantum level, meaning he is still the original Cochrane (i.e. he's still composed of the same matter he was moments before, not some new matter made to look like him).
  • China Miéville's novel Kraken has a nasty subplot based on this idea, about an Urban Fantasy magician who develops a teleportation spell consciously inspired by Star Trek transporters. He doesn't realize that the method actually kills the original and creates an unaware, perfect copy until the vengeful spirits of his dead former versions start haunting him. The hero finally deliberately submits to this as a Heroic Sacrifice, as it's the only fast enough way to get him where he needs to be to save the world.
  • Discussed in Run Program, where Hope is trying to convince Al to stay put and not move himself to another machine. She uses the Star Trek: The Original Series example by pointing out that Kirk is killing himself every time he steps onto the transporter pad. The goal is to make Al afraid of doing that by moving his program elsewhere, since this is exactly how a computer moves data from one place to another (i.e. copy then destroy the original). This works for a little bit, but Al's rate of development is too high for this fear to keep hold of him for too long.
  • Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys features a teleporter that destroys the original body and produces two copies, one in the lab, and one on the Moon. By keeping the lab copy in a sensory deprivation state, their brain state is temporarily linked/in sync with the copy on the Moon. When the version on the Moon dies, the one in the lab will awaken with memories of what "he" did while on the Moon, including the memories of "his" death.
  • Orion Among the Stars by Ben Bova has a "transceiver" that is used to transport cargo, but not people, as everyone understands they would be killed. Even when pinned down in a firefight, the soldiers would rather keep fighting a seemingly hopeless battle rather than "transport" off the doomed ship to the planet below, since they know they'd just be dying in the transceiver instead of battle. One soldier states "I don't care if a copy of me lands on [the planet]."
  • Timeline invokes this. In the novel, time travel operates by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. Rather than send people back in time, they are instead sent to a parallel universe where time is a few hundred years behind our own. To do this, they are basically shrunk down to the quantum level, where there are gaps in the fabric of spacetime, and reassembled from molecules on the other side. But the company that invented the technology has no idea how to actually reassemble people. Their solution? If there are an infinite number of parallel worlds, there must be another world that's identical to our own, except they figured out the reassembly method. So they just disintegrate the people they send and hijack their identical duplicates. This callous handwave is delivered in the most matter-of-fact way possible by the CEO, who doesn't seem to consider it a big deal.
  • Discussed in the 1979 The Usborne Book of the Future: A Trip in Time to the Year 2000 and Beyond. An illustration of space travellers contains the following caption: "Future travellers check their arrival data with a robot clerk. Their journey has not been by starship, but by teleportation. They are, in fact, not 'real' people, but copies involved in a fantastic process, the reconstruction of living matter. Back on Earth, computers made detailed examinations of their atomic structure. This was put into code and the data transmitted across space using laser beams. At Starport Central, computers receiving the information used vats of the necessary chemicals to reconstruct the travellers in their original images. Horrifying though this idea may sound, a laser-copying process already exists to make images of inanimate objects." The writer, while not mincing words, has stopped short of spelling out the unfortunate implication that the travellers' "originals" were probably destroyed in the process.
  • In Greg Egan's far-future works, including Schild's Ladder and Incandescence, the standard method of interstellar travel in the Galactic Superpower is to transmit a copy of one's mind to a freshly grown body or virtual-reality environment. Generally, the originating body or virtual mind is destroyed or deactivated, respectively, though "forking" is an option. Citizens believe in the "greater self" as a philosophical concept, considering any "local death" a mere period of amnesia from which they can recover by activating one of their many backups — though it helps that they can edit their own minds at will to suppress their fear of death.
  • In Bounders, this is how bounding works. The atoms at the home base have a corresponding set of atoms at the destination base. When the bound occurs, information is transferred from one set of atoms to the other, and the original atoms are left in stasis until the return bound.
  • The Stormlight Archive: This is how Husked Ones bind Transportation. The Fused soul ejects from its body as a ribbon of light, leaving behind a hollow husk of carapace, then flies in ribbon form to the destination point and creates a new body there. Notably, this process leaves anything the Fused was wearing or carrying behind.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek is most likely the Trope Codifier: they work by disassembling an object (or person) into energy, shooting it some distance away, and reassembling that object at the new location. It consists of the following parts:
    1. A de-materializer, which breaks down the object in a controlled fashion
    2. A buffer, which holds the disintegrated object until transmission
    3. A transmitter, which transmits the disintegrated object as a beam of energy
    4. A re-materializer, which reintegrates the object in a controlled fashion
      Whether the transporter is truly a form of destructive transportation or not is a Continuity Snarl. Some sources claim the transported object is the original object from the start, whereas other pieces of evidence—such as James Kirk and William Riker accidentally creating duplicates of themselves out of whole cloth—show the transported object can be freely assembled from nothing, like the replicators. This aspect of it has been referenced in other shows, such as The Big Bang Theory and Breaking Bad. There's also plenty more Body Horror implicit in just how rather scarily dangerous transporters can be, if some part of the process were to be interrupted. One episode (Realm of Fear) did show what being transported is experienced like from a first person point of view and even establishes that the person is still fully conscious and ambulatory inside the stream so it's likely that this isn't destructive.
  • Doctor Who: This trope is an important twist in one episode of the series, so much so that even the episode name itself is a spoiler. In "Heaven Sent", the Doctor is brought to an empty castle via teleporter. After he's fatally wounded, he uses his body's energy to create a fresh copy of himself from the pattern stored in the teleporter while he, the "original", burns up and turns to dust. The episode then indicates he's been going through copies of himself like this for at least two billion years — and the episode that follows actually reveals the actual length of time to have been four and a half billion years. Averts one aspect of the trope — that the copy doesn't realize he's a copy — by indicating that, after a period of amnesia, a meme encountered by the Doctor triggers memories from all the previous trials.
  • Dark Matter has something similar called "Transfer Transit", although it differs from most portrayals in that the "original" remains intact and inside a stasis pod and simply receives the memories of the clone once its "visit" to the destination is over.
  • The Outer Limits: The episode "Think Like a Dinosaur" is based on the novelette of the same name (see Literature) and uses the same plot. The "dinos" then demand that the human operator "balance the equation" lest they cut Earth off from their technology, which is desperately needed by the polluted planet (the operator's wife died because her lungs rejected the polluted air).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Because "you" is an infomorph and your body is just clothing, this is a major setting element of Eclipse Phase. Occurs both literally in the form of Egocasting, where the mind is copied across the network and then the copy on the starting end erased, and less literally in the form of forking, where copies of minds are spawned more locally, sometimes with the explicit intention of erasing the original and replacing it with a 'lucky' fork that succeeded at some task.
  • While Mage: The Awakening and its predecessor Mage: The Ascension have explicit teleportation powers of the "step through space" variety, players are encouraged to come up with alternative paths to the same effect using their own spheres, making this a favorite of mages with high Matter and Life but low Spirit and Space. Uses of high-level Entropy, Time, and Fate to move around also tend to resemble this, with the caster erasing a passenger at one location and re-drawing him at another via things like quantum uncertainty. Yes, that's not actually how quantum mechanics works, obviously. Welcome to Mage.
  • Hc Svnt Dracones plays with this trope. "Digitrans" transmits a copy of your character's genome and brain scan to another planet for growing a clone, then euthanizes the original. You can make arrangements to sell your organs to recoup some of the cost.

  • According to Greg Farshtey, the teleportation utilized by Makuta in BIONICLE works in this manner, as it involves dissolving the target's substance and reconstituting it at the intended destination. One character gets killed by having his molecules scattered across the universe as a result of being simultaneously made to lose control of his teleportation ability and hit with a disintegration ray.

    Video Games 
  • In The Journeyman Project, teleportation occurs by recording a passenger's organic substratum, breaking them down into subatomic particles with molecular disintegration, and then reintegrating them wherever they want to go. It's shown that this effect can teleport someone to the other side of Earth, and it's used as a method os transportation to get Agent 5 to work.
  • Heat Signature: Glitchers have an entire culture centered around destructive teleportation (just ask Asli Sixty), and Offworld Security will resort to this if it means nobody "permanently" dies.
  • Invoked in SOMA: the Brain Uploading technology actually just makes a digital copy of the user without affecting their original body. When the Earth is destroyed by a comet strike and the PATHOS-II underwater lab develops a project to create a virtual paradise that would contain a copy of the consciousness of all its residents, several of said residents develop a quasi-religious theory of "Continuity" where they believe that if they kill themselves just as the copies are being made, they will become the copies as opposed to staying behind.
  • Path of Exile: The Bodyswap skill is a weaponized, magical version of this trope. It makes your body violently explode into a shower of gore, then it uses the target enemy or corpse to instantly recreate your own body, while also creating another explosion if you targeted a corpse. For all intents and purposes, it's a targeted teleport. With explosions.
  • Remnant: From the Ashes: If you read through the logs for the teleporter in Leto's Lab, you'll learn that while they were trying to make a genuine teleporter, they ended up with a cloning machine that creates a clone at another location. They basically said "good enough" and hooked an incinerator up to it to fry the copy that stays in the teleporter. If you turn off the algorithm that makes the teleporter always teleport to the intended location and then take it a bunch of times, you will end up in random locations around the lab until eventually ending up in the room below the teleporter, next to a big pile of burning human skeletons... just in time to see a new one fall from a hole in the ceiling.

  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • Kevyn invents a new form of Faster-Than-Light Travel called the "teraport" that generates trillions of nanoscale wormholes, ripping the subject apart at the molecular level and rebuilding them at the destination. It's later shown that the setting's Portal Network works similarly with one relatively large wormhole, and the Gatekeepers had been intercepting the data to clone and interrogate gate travelers and protect their monopoly. The revelation of that fact sparked a galaxy-wide war.
    • Further issues happen when the Gatekeepers' network is used without destroying the original, creating a sudden massive population boom and more than a few social issues (like one hopeful husband's suggestion that rhymes with "gleesome" getting shot down by his two wives).
    • And even worse when a single individual goes through a portal while it's connected to all the others, resulting in his being copied several million times.
      Gav: "The Gav". I'm my own species now.
  • The teleporter in Red Space Blues has a significant delay between copying and "clean-up", which is rather messy too.
  • The first page of Existential Comics notes that such a concept relies on a certain definition of consciousness - this ends up giving the viewpoint character an existential crisis.
  • This trope gets discussed in Freefall, with Florence speculating that the Star Trek afterlife must be a very confusing place.
  • Averted in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Apparently the Nemesites' teleporters work by shrinking you down to the size of a speck ("offsetting your mass hyperdimensionally"), shooting you where you need to go, and then re-enlarging you. While this avoids the existential problems of this trope, they still acknowledge it isn't completely safe.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has parodied this three times.
    • In the first, the consciousness transfer is compared to file compression.
    • In the second, it discusses a hypothetical where The Friend Nobody Likes is accidentally turned into a plant by the machine, and the ethics of changing it back to an unpleasant person.
    • In the third, two characters discuss this as one of them gets into a teleporter. The other one tells him the duplicate already exists at the destination and the original will be destroyed. The first guy can't tell if he's joking or not.

    Web Original 
  • In the Mortasheen universe, Wreathe uses portal technology, which preserves the teleported person intact but is incredibly inefficient. Meanwhile Mortasheen utilizes teleportation that makes a twin of the user somewhere else and destroys the original. Mortasheen being what it is, no one there is bothered by this and the twin is considered and treated as the original. Wreathe, however, is revolted.
  • An interesting variant occurs in Worm with Oni Lee. Whenever Lee teleports, his new body is formed at the target destination and his old body continues on for several seconds before dissolving into carbon ash. But those seconds can be a long time in combat...

    Web Videos 
  • Freeman's Mind: Gordon Freeman briefly wonders if the teleporters in the Lambda Complex work this way, and if he's really himself or Gordon #6, but dismisses the thought because he still needs to continue; any sacrifices involved would be towards "the greater Gordon".
    I can't think of a cause I believe in more than that.
  • One episode of Game Theory theorizes that Pokéballs actually work this way, capturing Pokémon by destructively analyzing them and storing them at data, then using the data to create an identical copy when released from the ball.

    Western Animation 
  • In Canadian animator John Weldon's terrifying short To Be, a scientist is demonstrating his new "Murdering Twinmaker"-style teleporter. The heroine claims that the machine is immoral, and to assure her that there's no need to worry, he agrees to delay the "murdering" part of the machine by a few minutes. The original and the clone come out and meet each other, they play a game of chess, and then each fights tooth and nail to push the other into the machine. She just grabs one of them and helps the other scientist push him in as he kicks and screams and begs for his life. They end up shutting him in with his arm slammed in the door and nuking him, causing his arm to visibly disintegrate. Then it gets quiet. The surviving scientist realizes the immorality of such a device and walks away, but the heroine feels guilty and decides that she has to atone for what she did, and enters the machine. The machine works as intended, creating a copy and the original heroine is destroyed. The remaining heroine, retaining all the original's memories, declares herself a "guilt-free copy" absolved of all wrongdoing.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In one episode Jimmy shows off flawed duplication device. It can make a perfect duplicate of anything, but has the side effect of making the original fade away, so it effectively is just a less useful teleporter. Jimmy's evil clone steals the device and modifies it to make a evil copy of the whole earth while the original is destroyed.
  • One episode of American Dad! has "blorfing", alien technology described as faxing for solid objects. An object is inserted into a machine that shreds it to nothing on one end, and gets perfectly replicated from another machine somewhere else. Living beings can be safely, if incredibly painfully, transported this way, as shown with a hamster and then with Hayley and Roger.
  • Futurama inverts this trope using time travel: if a time traveler goes backward or forward to another point where another version of them is already occupying that time and space, the Universe itself will correct for any inconsistencies by killing not the time traveler, but the unlucky copy who already happened to be there.note 
  • Enforced In-Universe in Rick and Morty, when Morty asks for a device that allows him to save his place in real life the way a video game allows a playable character to. Rick complies, but doesn't let him in on the full story of the mechanics. As it turns out, Morty doesn't reset every time he uses the device: he's just jumping to an Alternate Universe, where another Morty already happened to be. That Morty is then promptly obliterated, allowing the universe-hopping Morty to settle in, none the wiser. Rick even lampshades this as a plot line of The Prestige, another example of this trope.

    Real Life 
  • Modern forms of communication are done using a similar idea. Instead of physically transferring data, the sender effectively provides a set of instructions such that the receiver can create a copy of the data, while the original data is deleted (or simply flagged as deletednote ).