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The Air Not There

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A consequence of the Rule of Perception: air, which you can't see (most of the time), doesn't really exist.

Some applications:

  • If you stop time, so that everything in the world is frozen in place except you, you can move around easily; you are not held immobile by the air molecules frozen in place around you. Suffocating is also not a problem, nor freezing solid, since if everything is stopped, in theory this would instantly reduce the temperature to 0 Kelvin (absolute zero), as heat is a manifestation of the kinetic energy molecules and atoms experience.
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  • If you can travel at Super Speed, you don't have to worry about air resistance, friction, or your body superheating due to both.
  • If you are teleporting somewhere, it's important to arrive in an empty space where you won't be intersecting any solid objects. However, you don't have to worry about intersecting the air molecules that are probably swarming through your empty space, which should result in nasty pressure-related damage or at worst going splitter-splat.note  Unless you're under the assumption that you swap places with the air particles you're replacing.
  • You can carry antimatter around in the open, without worrying about it annihilating the air molecules — you only have to make sure it doesn't touch any solid or liquid objects.
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  • If you become intangible so solid matter passes through you without interacting with you at all, this won't apply to air. You can still breathe and talk normally. (Of course, the ground and any other surface you need to walk on is usually immune, too.)
  • People shrunken down to microscopic size can still breathe just fine, even if they are smaller than a single oxygen atom.


  • Frictionless Reentry: Atmospheric resistance and friction don't exist for spacecraft entering and leaving a planetary atmosphere.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Since breathing on Earth is possible and air is not there, it should be just as easy to breathe in space when the air is also not there.

For characters with superpowers, this may be a consequence of Required Secondary Powers. The use of Swap Teleportation may, explicitly or implicitly, avoid this issue.


Because this is a nigh-Omnipresent Trope, please only list notable aversions, subversions, and other examples in which it is not played straight.

Teleportation can take this into account with sudden vacuums making popping sounds.

In spite of their similar-sounding names, this trope has nothing to do with the 1994 Kevin Bacon film The Air Up There.

Examples of Aversions and Subversions

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Captain Future, the heroes seize a device that allow one to turn out of phase and walks through walls. Problem is, without an additional breathing apparatus used by the villain, it's not possible to breathe while out of phase. The first time they use it, they circumvent the problem by equipping their Robot Buddy, who of course doesn't need air. When Captain Future himself dons it to confront the otherwise out-of-phase villain, he has to hold his breath for the whole fight.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Guldo of the Ginyu Force can only stop time as long as he can hold his breath. This makes sense, since he wouldn't be able to breathe if the air was frozen in place.
  • Gundam: In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, the heroes' Cool Starship can (unlike any other vessels in the show) launch itself into orbit without external assistance in part because it fires a pair of bow-mounted antimatter beams while climbing, which annihilates the air in front of it and thus prevents any drag during its ascent.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Okuyasu Nijimura has a play around with this trope, due to his Stand's ability to erase anything and let the remaining sides clamp back together. As such, he can perform short-distance teleports by cutting the air in front of him. Likewise, he can get rid of Stray Cat's air bombs as well.
  • Generally averted in Kimagure Orange Road: when the Esper protagonists teleport, it always causes a short but violent air displacement, both at the spots of departure and arrival. One episode features the variant of time-stopped people ignoring air, though.
  • Mirio Togata of My Hero Academia possesses a quirk that allows him to phase through matter. In addition to other drawbacks (losing his clothes, phasing through the ground, being unable to see), he is also incapable of breathing or hearing since air also phases through him. (Don't ask how he can talk while almost entirely phased into the ground.)

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: In Don Rosa's On Stolen Time, the Beagle Boys use a time-stopping watch to rob Scrooge, and Donald and his nephews find out and chase them using a similar gizmo. Notably, at one point Donald nearly gets cut by a flying candy wrapper — which is immovable and razor-sharp from his point of view — but air never poses a problem. As he explained in a commentary, Don Rosa knew that he was ignoring the air, but he went with it anyway, since there would have been no story otherwise.
  • The various speedsters known as The Flash all have an aura specifically to protect them from air friction. (Wally West even once removed it from someone he was carrying...) A "possible future" story featured Wally's son, who had the Super Speed but not the aura, and was incapable of using his powers without being burned alive.
  • X-Men:
    • Nightcrawler goes "BAMF" on teleporting in and out because he's displacing air molecules. The sound is actually the air collapsing on the space he has suddenly vacated (the 2nd movie actually uses a very realistic sound for the collapse of a human-sized vacuum). He also makes the sound when appearing because, presumably, the same thing is happening, just in reverse. Those molecules that were where he's appearing are pushed out of the way, and fast. The smoke and brimstone smell? That's because his teleportation functions by traverse through another dimension. That dimension apparently being Hell, which explains why it's so unpleasant for anybody that Kurt brings along with him for a teleport.
    • Kitty Pryde can't breathe while phasing through solid objects. When she's passing through the air while phased, presumably she brings the air she's breathing into phase with herself, since she's capable of phasing anything she's in direct physical contact with along with her own body.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Bridge, Gigan has the ability to teleport via a "warp drive"; however, this issue is avoided by stating that rather than moving from point A to point B, he swaps position with an equal amount of volume at point B, resulting in a Gigan-sized and -shaped hunk of matter left behind. It's just that when he does it in-atmosphere, one doesn't typically notice because they can't see the air.
  • In Supergirl fanfic Hellsister Trilogy, air molecules usually don't bother Supergirl when she's flying or moving super-fast due to her invulnerability... but in the anti-matter universe, where her invulnerability is useless, she gets hurt even by hydrogen atoms.
  • Averted in the Triptych Continuum, where it's specifically mentioned that a teleport arrival can displace gasses and sufficiently small or fragile solids, but anything more substantial than that causes recoil.
  • Quizzical: In "The Big Finish," Sweetie Belle's sudden Flashy Teleportation makes her glow, and then disappear with a vacuum pop.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Incredibles, when Edna Mode explains to Helen about the suits she designed for the Parr family, she mentions specifically making Dash's suit out of a material that can "withstand enormous amounts of friction without heating up or wearing out" so he can run hundreds of miles per hour in it without the superheated air around him burning it up.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The film adaptation of Jumper clearly averts it along with Stealthy Teleportation : the hero's teleporting suddenly adds or removes a volume, from or into which air must violently gush. Not only does it make a lot of noise, the pressure changes can also deal some damage, notably indoors.
  • In Stargate, teleportation is only done between two teleportation devices (sets of rings descending from the ceiling), with the contents of one device's chamber being swapped with the contents of the other. It's not explicitly stated, but this would include the air as well as the visible solid objects. This is expanded in Stargate SG-1, see the example below.
  • The Terminator movies avoid the issue with their time-travelling method, which creates a round bubble disintegrating everything on the arrival point of the traveler, presumably including air. It also causes some serious winds and electrical discharges as a side-effect, even before the bubble forms.
  • Tenet. A person who is inverted (moving backwards in time) must carry their own supply of inverted oxygen, because air moving forwards in time can't be absorbed by inverted lungs. In long-term inverted missions, they must stay in an airlocked environment.

  • The Cyborg and the Sorcerers by Lawrence Watt-Evans is one of the few works with a Disintegrator Ray to consider the issue of the ray having to disintegrate all the intervening air molecules before it reaches its intended target.
  • Discworld:
    • In the novel Thief of Time, the History Monks use special equipment to slow down time relative to themselves, but can still move and breathe because the time dilation field extends beyond their own bodies. This would have unfortunate effects if the field partly eclipsed a living thing, so extreme care with the equipment is needed.
    • Susan, like the History Monks, carries her own little bubble of personal time with her; when she stops time and walks out in a snowstorm, she leaves a tunnel of empty air behind her because the snowflakes resume falling when she comes near.
  • In the Doctor Who Tie-In Novel Nuclear Time, when the Doctor's personal timeline briefly un-reverses, he chokes on air that is suddenly being inhaled rather than exhaled.
  • Dune: In order to allow oxygen in and out, the setting's Deflector Shields are tuned to let objects moving at less than a certain speed pass through. This means that sword fights in this setting involve a lot of complex jiggering to get in a position where you can slide your knife through a shield at under the max speed, without letting your opponent twist out of the way.
  • Discussed in Larry Niven's essay "Exercise in Speculation: The Theory and Practice of Teleportation": first the hazards of teleporting into "thin air", then the possibility of circumventing the problem by swapping matter between source and destination, then the new hazards of that technique...
  • The Girl, the Gold Watch and Everything by John D. MacDonald. The narrator describes the air as feeling thicker and harder to breathe, and being slightly resistant to movement. Semi-justified by the time-stopping gadget not literally stopping time, but slowing it down to where one second of slow time, subjectively perceived, equals one three-hundredth of a second in normal time.
  • In Good Omens, when the Hellhound transforms into a small terrier as per his master's wishes, the narration makes reference to the sound caused by air rushing into the vacuum it had previously occupied.
  • Harry Potter has disapparation, in which there is a noise caused by the created vacuum, often compared to a car backfiring. The sound of apparating (i.e. where you end up) is a much quieter pop.
  • In Stephen King's IT, every time Pennywise teleports away it's mentioned that there's a cracking noise as the air rushes to fill the suddenly empty space.
  • Generally but not always consistently averted in Perry Rhodan. Teleporters tend to cause an audible displacement of air when materializing (or leave a quickly-collapsing vacuum bubble behind on departure, for that matter), and antimatter not being safe to expose to even just a regular matter atmosphere under normal conditions has been a plot point in the past, most notably when dealing with visitors from an antimatter universe (who in fact needed to keep their ships' shields up at just about all times even in space to avoid damage from stray particles of cosmic dust). On the other hand, time standing still generally seems to have no effect on the local atmosphere even under fairly extreme time flow differentials, like the 1:72000 ratio originally seen in an early arc dealing with the series' first-ever attackers from an an entirely different universe...
  • The Scholomance: Alfie's shielding spell is one of the best in the series specifically because it invokes this trope, blocking only what the caster wants it to block and ignoring the rest. It can even let air through while filtering out Deadly Gas.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys, it is strictly forbidden to activate the jumper prior to exiting the atmosphere. The protagonists are forced to do this when escaping, even though they know the displaced air may cause hurricanes.
  • H. G. Wells:
    • In the short story "The New Accelerator", moving thousands of times faster than normal causes the protagonists to heat up due to friction with the air.
    • In Wells's story "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", the title character stops the earth from spinning. Due to the Law of Conservation of Angular Momentum, the atmosphere starts going into space.
  • In Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe, it is stated that a starship's teleporting drive should only be used to travel into outer space. If you try to emerge in a place which already contains air, it's not pretty.
  • The Wheel of Time: Averted with Rand's most powerful Protective Charm, which creates a barrier around him that's impervious to everything but Balefire. He can only use it sparingly because it also cuts off his air supply.
  • Every instance of teleportation into air in the Young Wizards series is accompanied by a loud bang of displaced air, frequently described as sounding like a gunshot or a car backfiring. The gust of air has also knocked stuff over at least once.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica: It is subtle, but when ships perform FTL jumps, they cause a small, localized vacuum around them. When air is present (inta-atmos jumps, leaking from space stations, etc.), it is seen getting sucked out alongside the jump. It should be noted that the FTL "bubble" around the ship sucks any matter, not just air. This was shown on several occasions, first when Galactica jumped just above the surface of New Caprica, causing huge gusts of wind as more air filled the newly-created vacuum, then when Boomer's jump away from Galactica tore the ailing ship's hull and later when a group of Raptors jumping from the unused landing bay caused the whole bay to rip like paper.
  • Speaking of which, The Flash has the hero be immune to this problem, but his costume does have to be made of experimental super-material which can resist being burnt away and/or shredded. It's demonstrated that only the Flash is immune. A scientist attempting to create other speedsters from ordinary people results in those people disintegrating from the friction. He ends up cloning the Flash and creating Pollux. In the 2014 series the suit is similarly designed by STAR Labs to withstand the friction.
  • Similar to the Flash, Stephanie Powell from No Ordinary Family has a plasma shield which protects her from the friction of the air, and other similar issues.
  • Acknowledged in Stargate SG-1 in various ways: teleporter platforms used by the Goa'uld and Ancients exchange the matter of both places they connect to prevent intermixing (this also has tactical applications and thus gets exploited several times) and Asgard teleporters make a distinct sound presumably due to pushing excess air away. As for the gates themselves, a probe is always sent to a new planet to make sure there's air, pressure, temperature, etc. that humans can survive in, averting this as well as All Planets Are Earthlike. (Also, with the Goa'uld, Ori, Wraith, etc. about, it's good to make sure you won't be shot on arrival.) Intangibility is discussed for an In-Universe film script and due to the inherent flaws ultimately rejected (despite being seen in the series proper). Problems due to carbon dioxide or lack of breathable air are a regular occurrence due to space travel, and so on. So overall, the writers have Shown Their Work.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Next Phase" Geordi and Ro become intangible due to a Teleporter Accident and are believed dead (even by themselves), but they still have to walk places, using the friction on the floor. Also, breathing isn't a problem.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "One Little Ship", a spaceship with Dax, O'Brien and Bashir has been shrunk to the size of a small toy. At one point O'Brien suggests beaming out of the ship, but Bashir says he would suffocate, as his miniature-sized lungs wouldn't be able to process regular-sized air molecules. However, the air molecules inside the ship have shrunk with it, as the three are still able to breathe inside. They are able to use the shrunken air to temporarily breathe outside the ship too.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Sphere of Annihilation is a small hole in reality that utterly destroys anything touching it — except, for some reason, the air. Its sentient relative, the Umbral Blot, can choose to turn this trope off to create a deadly Vacuum Mouth effect.
    • The spell resilient sphere creates a globe of force around a creature, and nothing can go through it, in or out. It does specify, though, that the subject can still breathe normally, so it must at least be porous to air.
  • Trinity has the Upeo Wa Macho, psychic teleporters who refer to teleportation as jumping or 'banging' since their power works by translating their bodies into subquantum particles that they shift into the fifth dimension, allowing the nearby air to rush in and make a thunderclap. Their arrival causes the same issue in reverse. One of the top tier powers allows the jumper to teleport everything within a spherical radius (typically around a few hundred meters or so) to another location. It is advised that the jumper only performs this ability in a vacuum as the air displacement can cause massive damage to the surroundings, change weather patterns, and kill unprotected humans as the shockwave propagates through them.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Teleporting causes a distinct thunderclap as air rushes in to fill the now empty space.

    Video Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog, from Sonic Unleashed and onwards, is able to create a small, localized force field around him when he surpasses a particular speed (though the speed itself varies from game to game). This force field absorbs impacts from the air and other things he runs into and seems to carry the air with him as he runs, preventing air friction from burning him up. The games have also consistently averted Frictionless Reentry in that characters, when falling through the Earth's atmosphere, have to be in vehicles designed for it, in their invulnerable Super forms, or use teleportation to skip as much of the fall as possible. (This teleportation, in turn, is done via the Chaos Emeralds, which have Reality Warper abilities and don't have to follow normal physics or logic.)
  • Inverted in Super Robot Wars BX, where the helicopters from Giant Gorg can sortie out of the Ra Callium or Diva even for missions in the hard vacuum of interplanetary space.

    Web Comics 
  • Grrl Power has Halo, a superheroine who can create a Force Field with one of her orbs. It does not permit air to permeate, causing the character to become dizzy after a few minutes of continuous use. Sound (which involves the transfer of vibrations, rather than of physical air molecules) seems to get through just fine. She later discovers that another of her orbs has the power to create breathable air, allowing her to keep the forcefield for longer periods, including during space travel.

    Web Original