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Diverting Power

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Guy: We're getting hammered, Jason! Return fire?
Jason: No! Divert all energy to the armor!

According to Tim Taylor Technology, all you need to do to enhance a system is pump more power into it. But where do you get that power?

Diverting Power is what happens when Tim Taylor Technology runs into a limited pool of power. If the extra power to pump into something is not readily available, that power must be reclaimed from somewhere else, usually by shutting down or reducing power to one system to power up another.

Played well, this can add extra tension and interest. Buffing up one aspect of something can expose a Logical Weakness in another aspect. An observant hero might use this to dodge the extra danger of one foe powering up an aspect of himself by exploiting the aspect he left vulnerable. Or a Wave-Motion Gun might be enough to end a battle in one shot, but doing so requires that the user power down all other systems and leave himself vulnerable, thus justifying why he does not use it all the time.

Note that most of the uses of this involve technology using presumably electrical charge or Minovsky Physics. However, this trope can also apply to something using steam pressure, Functional Magic, or other similar concepts, depending on how they are handled in the context of a particular setting.


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  • The Meg. In order to descend faster for his deep-sea rescue mission, Jonas diverts all non-essential power in his one-man minisub to the motors. One would think ballast, buoyancy, and water pressure were more crucial factors when descending.
  • Star Wars:
    • A New Hope. Before the final battle over the Death Star, the Rebel pilots were ordered to "Switch your deflectors on double front" (i.e., switching the deflector shields to increase forward deflectors at the expense of the rear ones). Once the TIE Fighters show up on the scene, the pilots are ordered to stabilize their rear deflectors, now that they are being chased as well as being shot at by their target.
    • The Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo orders all power to the forward Deflector Shields before charging the Millennium Falcon straight at an Imperial Star Destroyer, since he knew he would not need to worry about firing coming from behind as he was planning on parking his ship on the rear side of their command tower and out of their sensors' scope.
  • Used offensively in Star Trek: Generations when the Enterprise is locked in a duel with Klingon Bird-of-Prey owned by the Duras sisters. Having been able to bypass the Enterprises' shields, they need a quick solution. Data figures out some Techno Babble that can force the Bird-of-Prey to go into cloak. Since cloaking requires that a ship power down its weapons and shields (see Star Trek under "Live Action TV" below) this allows the Enterprise to render the Bird-of-Prey defenseless for a brief window that they can use to hit it with photon torpedoes. Being a much smaller ship, it cannot take nearly as much hull punishment as the Enterprise and is destroyed.
  • In Apollo 13, Ken Mattingly and John Aaron are trying to come up with a startup procedure for the command module using only the CM's batteries, which had been partially drained in the disaster before the CM was shut down. Unfortunately, there just is not enough power in the batteries to perform any viable startup. Mattingly gets the idea to get the extra power from the lunar module's power systems, via a linkup normally used to transfer power from the command/service module to the lunar module. It's not very energy-efficient when used in the reverse manner, but it gets them the few extra amps they need to get the CM up and running—and thanks to the earlier power conservation procedures used with the LM, there's power enough to do this.
  • Parodied in the animated Australian Star Trek: The Next Generation spoof Sev Trek: Pus in Boots. Gaudy (Geordi LaForge) notices his console is beginning to spark, so he quickly "reroutes" the explosion to the expendable ensign's console.

  • Keith Laumer's short story "The Last Command". After the last battle against the enemy, Bolo unit LNE (Lenny) is deactivated and sealed underground. Many years later he's awoken by the detonation of explosive charges and tries to escape his confinement. He activates his forward scanners and shunts power to his I-R microstrobes. He channels all available power to a single ranging pulse in an attempt to figure out where he is. Near the end, when his old commander tries to convince him to not drive into the human city nearby, LNE shunts power to his forward scanner again in an attempt to verify the commander's identity.
  • Comes up on occasion in the X-Wing Series, which borrows several elements from the X-Wing PC games. The X-Wings are capable of diverting power between several subsystems, most commonly the shields, engines and guns.
  • This ends up killing Ax in Animorphs: his ship is investigating what appears to be a derelict Yeerk ship, and he joins the boarding party while his own ship is diverting power to the scanners. On figuring it's a trap, he tells his ship to send full power to the shields, but it's too late.
  • Sherlock Holmes claims this is the reason he rarely eats while on a case: blood sent to the digestive system could be put to better use by his brain.
  • Cibola BurnDiscussed when the Rocinante is forced to operate on battery-power. The ship's keel-mounted railgun has its own very substantial set of batteries and capacitors which were already topped off, and they have to consider tapping into those to keep other systems powered. However, the power is only designed to flow into the railgun system, not back out of it into the rest of the ship (for cogent safety reasons) and they do not have the time to effect a workaround, so they abandon that plan in favor of a different solution using the railgun.

    Live Action TV 
  • A variation in Cowboy Bebop (2021). In "Binary Two-Step" the Bebop is Coming in Hot causing the engine to overheat and burst into flame, so Mel and Faye plug the coolant into the sprinkler system.
  • This happened on a regular basis during space combat on Star Trek: The Original Series.
    • "The Changeling". Nomad is attacking Enterprise and Captain Kirk orders evasive manouvres, but the ship can't perform them because Scotty has diverted warp power to the shield to fend off Nomad's energy bolts. Kirk approves the action when told they can't outrun the bolts anyway.
    • "Balance of Terror". The Romulan ship had to turn off its cloaking device in order to fire its plasma weapon. Also, Kirk orders all power diverted to weapons before making the final attack on the Romulan ship.
    • "Catspaw". Assistant Chief Engineer DeSalle orders power diverted to the hull in an attempt to escape their imprisonment.
    • "The Tholian Web". Spock orders all but emergency maintenance power to be diverted to the shields to resist the Tholian attacks.
    • "The Immunity Syndrome". While inside the giant space amoeba, Spock diverts his shuttle's secondary power to the shields.
    • "The Apple". Scotty diverts everything except life support to the impulse engines, through he warns that it's dangerous to do so. Unlike other examples where this is done with a push of the button, it takes eight hours to make the necessary modifications.
    • In all of the Star Trek incarnations activating a Cloaking Device requires that a ship divert power away from its weapons. In the original series episode Balance of Terror where the cloaking device was first introduced, it literally used up too much power to run both it and the weapons system at the same time. Later instances seem to have gotten around this particular issue, but new issues come up that still keep the trope enforced. The writers described it as being akin to an arms race between cloaking technology and sensor technology, and any advantage one gains over the other is only temporary until the other side figures out a work-around. This then keeps cloaked ships as the equivalent of "submarines in space", having to reduce all the emissions that might give them away when they go into cloak.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation. In "Q Who", the Borg have knocked out their shields, so Geordi LaForge and Ensign Gomez try to get them up again before the Borg repair their own ship.
    LaForge: Divert power from anywhere you need it. Anywhere except for life support.
    Gomez: No, it wouldn't help. The circuits which control the shields, they've been fused.
    LaForge: If you can't reprogram, then reroute.
    • This nearly proves their undoing in one episode, where dumping more and more power into the shields to increase their power also increases the power with which they're routinely hit by that weeks Negative Space Wedgie. It's explicitly mentioned they dump the Warp power into the shields at one point, at which point things really go From Bad to Worse.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In the pilot episode, Chief O'Brien says he can transfer all available power to forcefields around critical areas, but that leads the docking ring vulnerable. Major Kira has Odo evacuate the civilians from that area, but some are still injured by Stuff Blowing Up.
  • Star Trek: Voyager
    • In the Action Prologue of the pilot episode, a Maquis ship is being hammered by a much larger Cardassian cruiser. B'Elanna Torres transfers all power from the weapons to the engines so they can make it to the Badlands. When Tuvok questions losing their weaponry in the middle of a battle, she points out their weapons aren't powerful enough to get through the cruiser's shields anyway.
    • In "Cathexis", Captain Janeway has all power diverted to the engines including life support, so they can escape before hostile aliens break through their shields. Wouldn't that include the power going to the shields?
    • In "Collective", the Borg attempt to tear off Voyager's deflector dish by force with a Tractor Beam, so Janeway orders all power diverted to structural integrity, but B'Elanna says it will only give them another minute at most.
    • In "One Small Step", a 21st Century space explorer is trapped in a Negative Space Wedgie. After several failed attempts to escape, he reroutes power from life support to the scanners, using everything his ship has left to gather data rather than waste resources on himself.
    • Averted with the holodeck whose energy system is incompatible with that used by the rest of Voyager, so they can have holodeck episodes despite being on a ship that's so short of power they need to ration their food replicator use. So why can't the Gadgeteer Geniuses of Starfleet jury-rig a means of transferring power, given how often they can easily integrate parts from alien spacecraft?
  • Parodied in "Basic Rocket Science," an episode of Community that spoofed The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. The gang, sans Abed, are trapped on a space exploration simulator and have no clue as to where they are. Abed and a few others at Greendale are tasked with finding the gang and bringing them back to the school. About halfway through the episode Chang comes running to Abed with a plan.
    Chang: I've worked out a way to reroute the RV's power from the auxiliary battery!
    Abed: Reroute to what?
    Chang wordlessly backs out of the room.
  • Standard spacecraft function in the Stargate-verse. Typically they're switching between Deflector Shields and engines.
  • Blake's 7.
    • In "Mission to Destiny", while piloting the Liberator through a meteor shower the power starts to fade. Zen gives them a choice between diverting to the drive units (risking destruction) or the forcewall (protecting the ship, but stranding them in space). Blake chooses the drive units. Fortunately they're almost through the storm.
    • In "Games", Avon has all power except that which is necessary for life support diverted through the weapon system.
    • In "Terminal", the Liberator's hull is breaking down after being infected by some kind of enzyme. Villa orders Zen to shut down the auto-repair systems as they're fighting a losing battle and draining the power banks, and instead divert all power to maintain the Master Computer so it can analyze the infection and find a solution. Unlike other examples of this trope, it doesn't work and Liberator is destroyed.
    • Averted in "Volcano". With the Liberator's power banks drained and Servalan's battlefleet bearing down, Avon calls for the emergency circuits to be activated. They don't work and only a convenient Earth-Shattering Kaboom saves their lives.
  • Titans (2018). In "Ghosts", Dr Light channels the power of the entire city through the stadium lights so he can absorb it. It also lights up his location like a neon sign, but he's expecting that.
  • Doctor Who. In "Resolution", the Recon Dalek diverts all the power in the UK to send a signal to the Dalek fleet, knocking out the internet in the process. We then cut to a BUFFERING symbol on the screen, as if the Dalek has managed to stop the episode as well (at least for those watching on their computers instead of TV).
    The Doctor: Whoa! That Dalek just shut down the whole of Britain's internet.
    Graham: What, on New Year's Day; when everything's shut and everyone's hung over?

    Tabletop Games 
  • Star Fleet Battles. Since the game is based on Star Trek: The Original Series, one standard technique during combat is to move around your ship's available energy to where it's needed.
  • In Traveller, Jump drives use so much power that many older ships have to divert power from nearly everything (leading to the tradition of "jump dimming").
  • The multipower framework in the Hero System works like this. For a lower point cost than buying all the powers in it piecemeal would entail, the character instead gets a total point pool that can be split up between them — a classic example would be a character who can have flight, a force field, and an energy blast, but can't have them all running at full power at the same time.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, the incarnum subsystem (presented in Magic of Incarnum) expands on the body slots used to equip magic items, most notably by allowing characters to enchant these slots with pieces of spectral equipment known as soulmelds. Incarnum-wielding characters gain a limited pool of "essentia" which can be invested in soulmelds (and certain other abilities) to increase their power, and which can be reallocated between them from round to round. A number of classes have bonuses and Super Modes which either increase the maximum essentia capacity of their soulmelds, or cause soulmelds to function at maximum power without any investment.
  • Arkham Horror:
    • Investigators have scores in three pairs of skills: Speed/Sneak, Fight/Will, and Lore/Luck. They have a limited ability to adjust those scores each turn, but increasing a score in one skill requires an equal decrease in its paired skill.
    • The Supernatural Martial Artist Investigator Lily Chen has the unique ability to adjust her Hit Points and Sanity Meter in the same way, representing her body and mind reinforcing each other through her training.

    Video Games 
  • X-Wing was a series that helped popularized it. This was actually done on several levels: besides allocating power consumption between engines, lasers, and shields, you could also switch your shield priority (forward, rear, or balanced) to provide more protection where you need it, and your firing pattern (single, double, or quad) to tweak fire rate vs. damage done at once (assuming every laser hits the target, of course). And in a pinch you could shunt power between beams and shields, draining one for a quick recharge of the other. One bonus as well was that, starting from TIE Fighter, some craft would get a beam of some variety (such as a tractor beam to hold targets in place) with its own power supply that could just as easily be turned off to give further increased power to the others, e.g. boosting your laser recharge rate without impacting your normal top speed. Effective power management is essential to surviving the harder missions.
  • Star Wars: Squadrons, being a Spiritual Successor to the above-mentioned X-Wing series, incorporates this into its gameplay as well, albeit streamlined. Diverting power to shields increases their recharge rate, diverting power to thrusters increases maximum speed and allows for boosting, and diverting power to lasers increases their recharge rate and attack power. Most Imperial fighters don't have shields and instead compensate by allowing for "power shunting", allowing more energy to be diverted between lasers and thrusters.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe allows you to divert power between your forward and aft shields, and between your engines and recharging shields, guns, and afterburners. Excess power to a fully charged system is automatically diverted to other systems.
  • A minor example in the X-Universe series, which allows you to switch sets of guns on and off. This can conserve power, but it's more commonly used to swap between weapons for specific targets (such as switching to a low-damage, high-ROF gun to Cherry Tap enemy fighters in the hopes the pilot will bail out).
  • This is a core mechanic in FTL: Faster Than Light. You'll never have enough power to operate every system in your ship at full capacity, even after upgrading the reactor several times. Therefore, it's imperative to adjust power distribution wisely according to the situation at hand.
  • Games based on Star Trek: The Original Series often allowed the player to do this. For example, in Super Stellar Trek and Apple Trek the player could transfer energy from reserve power to the shields and back again. Energy in the shields couldn't be used to fire phasers or move the ship.
  • In Mass Effect 3's multiplayer mode, certain classes of Geth characters can enter "Hunter Mode", lifting the Power Limiters on their weapons to fire them with greater force, diverting power to their synthetic muscles to handle the recoil that would break an organic's arm. However, this power is drawn from their Deflector Shields, reducing them to half strengthnote  while this mode is engaged and turning the Geth into a Glass Cannon.
  • Halo:
    • Most Covenant vehicles after the first game allow the player to "boost" by diverting power from the weapons to the engines, granting temporary extra speed but rendering you unable to shoot while doing so.note 
    • There are several times in the games where Cortana has to use the Chief's suit's reactor to overload some sort of power system; doing so usually temporarily depletes the Chief's energy shields.
    • In Halo 4 there is a specific example. At the end of the third mission, "Forerunner", the Master Chief and Cortana must escape a Collapsing Lair on a Covenant Ghost. Given that they need even more speed than the boost would usually give them, Cortana diverts power from the Master Chief's Deflector Shields to the Ghost's engines. This does leave him vulnerable, but any Covenant he encounters along the way are too busy running for their lives to try shooting at him.
  • To progress through the Bugbear Mothership in Kingdom of Loathing, the player has to deal with various things diverting power from the elevators. KoL being KoL, this is eventually lampshaded.
    A computerized voice says, "De-Evolution Detected in Galley. Rerouting Power From Elevator To Food Replicators."
  • In Alien: Isolation, power switch boxes can be found all over Sevastopol, and because the systems are usually operating at only nominal capacity at best, Amanda often has to switch various systems on an off to gain access, evade hostile security, make distractions, or any number of other things.
  • Star Trek Online has power distribution as a major mechanic in space combat. Ships have 200 points of power (160 for Romulan ships, whose power plants grant several special abilities) to be distributed between weapons, shields, engines, and auxiliary systems. Most ships grant bonus power to one or more systems, and player character skills or ship equipment can also increase the amount of power available.
  • In Uprising, that's how the Wraith's Power Triangle works. You can allocate power to speed, shields or weapons, depending on the situation.
  • Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator, being heavily inspired by Star Trek, naturally features this. However, it adds the twist of having a finite amount of coolant as well. Systems with extra power but not enough coolant will overheat.
  • Elite Dangerous has a simple three-way split between SYStems, ENGines, or WEPons. Diverting power to Systems increases the damage resistances of your shields, and means that they can come back up faster once fully depleted. Diverting power to Engines increases your maximum speed and allows you to boost more often as your drive energy recovers faster. Finally, diverting power to Weapons increases the effectiveness of their cooling systems, allowing you to fire for longer without experiencing Thermal Load.
  • One of the tasks in Among Us is to divert power to a room of the ship, requiring the player to go to one panel to increase the power to a room, then go to that room and accept the diverted power by flipping a switch.

    Web Comics 
  • This is effectively how Maxima's powers work in Grrl Power. She has superhuman strength, speed, and invulnerability as well as flight and energy blasts. Typically she keeps a balance between them, but when the situation calls for it she can switch power from one ability to another; for example, she could lower her Super-Strength to improve her invulnerability in anticipation of a powerful attack.
  • El Goonish Shive: This is how Elliot's "Cheerleadra" spell works after the un-change. The spell has seven "stats" that represent different powers he can gain while in Cheerleadra form (Super-Strength, flight, etc.), each of which can be assigned a score between 1 and 3 (higher scores obviously giving more and better powers). But Elliot only has fourteen points to spend, so if he wants to max out some stats he has to weaken others.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "The Lorelei Signal". Spock orders ship's energy to be diverted into the deflector shields in an attempt to block the title sonic Mind Control attack.
  • Discussed in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Overlabbing". Dexter explains that he shielded his lab in response to one of Mandark's schemes, and Mandark immediately investigates.
    Mandark: You must take me for a fool! Rerouting power from the deflector array?
    Dexter: I guess that is a little cliché.
  • Young Justice (2010). This is how Bumblebee eventually takes down the Warworld. She's trying to Cut the Juice but its power source adapts to every attack, so she reroutes the power to Mongol's control room and overloads it.
  • Star Wars Rebels. In "The Siege of Lothal", the Ghost has Lord Vader in a TIE fighter on their tail and a couple of Star Destroyers up ahead, so Hera orders all power to be diverted for a Hyperspeed Escape, including the power to the rear gun turret where Zeb is desperately trying to blast Vader before he does the same to them.

    Real Life 
  • Very much truth in television for steam-powered ships as steam is directly used to power the engines, generators, and, in colder climates, heat the ship. Under normal conditions, a ship can generate enough steam to run all at top speed, but warships often didn't operate in optimal conditions. Therefore, there were indeed instances in WWI and WWII when a ship diverted power from the weapons (or rather, the generator that powered the motors turning them) to the engines.
  • Satellites and space probes, especially older ones that might not be generating optimal levels of power, will keep unneeded modules dormant most of the time until they are needed. They then shutdown other parts of the craft when they are.
  • When the Tesla electric car was released, a bug in its systems resulted in the vehicle moving perceptably slower if the climate control was on. It was compared to diverting power from the engines to the Life Support on Star Trek.