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Destructive Teleportation

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"It is not dissimilar to a facsimile machine, if you have any knowledge of late 20th century technology."
SAYER, 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.
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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 Cloning Blues 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.

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


Examples:

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    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 realized it was ridiculous not because of the physics of the situation, but because she didn't believe that Twilight would ever use a spell that worked that way.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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.
  • In the Star Trek 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 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek is most likely the Trope Codifier: the visual effect for the teleporters clearly shows the original target being disassembled, and while the actual explanation for the technology varies massively Depending on the Writer, many plots hinge on errors that occur when the copy at the receiving end is being assembled. The idea that this "kills" you is popular enough to have been riffed on in other shows, such as The Big Bang Theory and Breaking Bad, despite the fact that several plots have quashed the theory by showing that people transported are in fact conscious during transport. If there's unbroken continuity of consciousness, then there cannot have been a death.
  • 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 he 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.
  • An episode of The Outer Limits (1995) is based on the novelette "Think Like a Dinosaur" (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).
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    Tabletop Games 
  • Because "you" is an infomorph and your body is clothing, this is 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.

    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. Some of the people in the underwater lab, desperate to escape the destroyed Earth, develop a quasi-religious theory of "Continuity": that if they kill themselves immediately after their brain is scanned, they truly become machines instead of just making copies.

    Webcomics 
  • The most common form of FTL travel in Schlock Mercenary prior to the events of the plot. Later becomes a major plot point when it's revealed that nothing is stopping someone from using the transmission signal to make an additional copy of anyone using the tech.
  • The teleporter in Red Space Blues has a significant delay between copying and "clean-up", which is rather messy too.
  • Existential Comics notes that such a concept relies on a certain definition of consciousness - this ends up giving the viewpoint character an existential crisis.

    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...

    Western Animation 
  • Canadian animator John Weldon's terrifying short, To Be: In it, 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.

    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 deleted).
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