We Can’t Beam Through Shields

I was exploring the possibility of having a transporter like device in a potential new story I’m working on. I like the idea of them, beaming over to an enemy ship for some quick action or having enemies beam aboard the characters ship for a challenge to face. There’s lots of story potential involved in transporters. Unfortunately, they create a lot more problems.

See, once you present the ability to move from one place to another in the blink of an eye, you have to wonder why you don’t use that all the time. Either the limitations on the technology are so onerous as to negate much of their usefulness or they are to powerful that you wouldn’t use anything else. Let’s look at Star Trek as the primary purveyor of transporters.

In Star Trek, you can’t beam through shields. We’ll ignore all the times they do beam through shields as this is a discussion of the tech, not the shows inconsistent writers. You’re battling an enemy, both have your shields up. No transporting. Fair enough. Though that removes the story potential of having to deal with a boarding party and fight the ship.

Unless the shields drop for a brief period, long enough to transport. Okay, so far so good. But wait, why would you beam troops over? Why don’t you beam over a big ass bomb? You’re fighting each other to the death right? A big ass bomb beamed into the enemies ship and BOOM! You’ve won!

You could say on Star Trek, that’s not the kind of thing Starfleet would do. Fair enough. But that wouldn’t stop their enemies from doing it. Even if Klingon honor might somehow be justified to stop it, why wouldn’t Cardassians or Romulans do it? This was used to good effect in Stargate. The¬†Daedalus¬†beamed over nukes inside Wraith ships until they figured out how to jam the beam.

So that’s one way to deal with transporters, make it so you can’t use them most of the time. That gets around the bomb option but effectively makes it so you don’t have them. You could technobabble it; make up some reason you can’t beam a bomb over but can beam a person (whose potentially carrying a bunch of small bombs on him). But that’s stupid.

So how do you open the door for transporters to allow beaming from ship to ship, without opening the door for a bomb exploit, or making the device useless most of the time?

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5 Responses to We Can’t Beam Through Shields

  1. Jedi_Rabbit says:

    All great questions. A similar problem is the fact that if your ship has these huge ass guns that you use to take out other ships in space battles, why not take out your targets on the planet below instead of sending in ground troops. You could argue that it’s unethical, but that wouldn’t stop a diabolical person from doing it. That said, we’ve gone 68 years without using a nuke, which I guess could be considered the the equivalent. See, this is what I love about sci fi, seeing the ways writers answer these kinds of questions. The questions themselves are great too, something to think about.

    • Wayne says:

      Ground bombardments are a little easier to handwave if your universe has shields. No reason one couldn’t protect a ground target. As long as you don’t give specifics on the amount of energy released. It’s very easy to just completely wipe out a planet’s ability to support life if you have something moving fast enough and big enough. Assuming your weapons can’t do that then a shield can protect ground troops.

  2. Ben Erickson says:

    Make it personal, expensive, and complicated. Key it to the user biologically allowing it to transport him (and only him without reprogramming it) and his equipment, but not say, a tactical nuke. Sure you could transport a suicide bomber over into an enemy ship to blow it up, but odds are you’re not going to waste something that’s that expensive and is going with the volunteer unless it’s dire straits.

    It’s incredibly expensive to produce and maintain, so you can’t equip your entire force with them. Instead, you equip a small team of marines or commandos with personal transporters as part of their equipment when you need a precision strike. Maybe you need a ship disabled instead of destroyed. Maybe you need a ship’s crew, but the captain is the issue. Or maybe they’ve got something or someone on board that you need to get, and so destroying the ship isn’t a option.

    Finally, upkeep on them is a nightmare. They’re fragile, require rare or expensive “fuel” to use, or simply require constant maintenance from a highly competent technician.

    Just some thoughts.

    • Wayne says:

      That’s a thought. Though, even if its expensive I would imagine you’d equip a few tac nukes with them. That does give me an idea though. Might make it so that transporting to a place requires another transporter pad. But to bring something back, a device like you suggest. Maybe make the transporters hard coded to not be able to rematerialize explosive/nuclear material. It’s a little hokey but oh well. Then you can hack the enemy system, beam onto their transporter pad, but then be beamed back from anywhere.

      • Jedi_Rabbit says:

        I’ve always like that idea: you need two pads to transport people between these two pads. I remember being really irked once as a kid where there was a Next Generation episode where someone was transported from the planet straight to sickbay, and there was no pad in the sickbay. I just didn’t like that.