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The Situation

A colony of 100 teleporters (between the ages of 20-40) have been hidden away living like monks for 1000's of years to prevent their detection.

With the death of their old leader, a young new leader takes control and wishes to push the colony out into society and break the shackles of the boring monotonous mountain lifestyle.

The new leader has some very clear initial goals. In order of importance, he wants to:

  1. Retain the absolute secrecy of the colony. No one must know that the colony exists or that they are teleporters
  2. Do everything ethically responsibly1 and sustainably (this operation should be able to keep running even if he needs to step away for a few weeks)
  3. Have each of the 100 teleporters make at least \$100,000/yr (or collectively have the colony make >\$10,000,000/yr)
  4. The colony members must all be free during key times of the week, so time-sensitive jobs are only good if the time can be planned in advance.

As the teleporters have been living in the mountains their whole lives, they don't have many skills to offer society. While the new leader considered having them work office jobs, after several brutal interviews he's decided the only answer is their teleportation.

The Teleportation

Each teleporter has a finite number of base teleports a day before they become too tired to continue teleporting. This base number is found by having each member teleport a 10lb box 100 miles repeatedly. The colony members' base teleports range between 100-300 teleports/day. A teleport of distance $d$ miles carrying an object weighing $w$ pounds would use $d/100 \cdot w/1$ base teleports of the 100-300 (if $w \lt 1$, $w$ gets rounded up to 1).

ie. A trip from San Diego to New York (~2700mi) carrying 5lbs would burn $2700/100 \cdot 5/1 = 135$ base teleports and would likely leave them too tired to teleport much more for the rest of the day.

In practice this means a teleporter can make tens of thousands of teleports a day from the couch to the kitchen to grab a cookie, but could probably only make 2-3 teleports a day with a new car between neighboring cities.

Things to Note

  • The technology level (currently) is that of modern (real-world) Earth.

  • While the colony is removed from society, they have been keeping tabs from afar. A group of elites does scheduled reconnaissance--picking up newspapers and going to libraries to use the internet, so the colony has knowledge of the outside world.

The Question

What is the best way for these teleporters to make this amount of money ethically and sustainably while also keeping the secret about their teleporation?


1. I've chosen "ethically responsibly" over "legally" given the audience here on World Building :) By this, I essentially mean avoid outright stealing or killing for the money. Clearly the books will have to be cooked and lies will have to be told to hide the teleportation. I'll be adding to this footnote to patch any other ethical loopholes found.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B May 7 '18 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ what are the condition of teleportation, do they have ot be in physical contact with the object? how much do they need to know about where they are going? $\endgroup$ – John May 7 '18 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ w /1 is effectively the same as simply w, no? $\endgroup$ – htmlcoderexe May 8 '18 at 9:21
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    $\begingroup$ See "The Merchant Princes" series by Stross. $\endgroup$ – Kevin McKenzie May 8 '18 at 20:13
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    $\begingroup$ Also, can they control their momentum at the target location? If not, if they teleport 2700mi east or west do they arrive plouging into the ground or flying into the air? Ditto for north/south, do they arrive with an extra few km/hour angular momentum. If they can control their arrival momentum are there limits such, like can they teleport into or out of a car going 60mph without their bones being crushed by colliding with something going 60mph faster/slower than them. $\endgroup$ – Murphy May 9 '18 at 12:32

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Ethically responsible defined as "no stealing" and "no killing" for money leaves a lot of leeway.


For purposes of this answer, I am defining a few additional variables. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • teleportation can be accomplished in any valid combination of mass, distance, and energy required.
  • the person must accompany the object being teleported and cannot tele-send or tele-receive to or from a target or person.
  • no additional abilities (such as clairvoyance, telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, or psychometry) are involved or can be used.
  • physical touch and/or possession are both valid in order to teleport an object.
  • teleportation is a perfect exchange of mass at both destination and departure points, and must be a gaseous substance at the far end. (ie: the target area is perfectly swapped with the initially affected area, and they can't teleport into something solid or liquid. Plus, no thunderclap or other sound effects as a result of the teleport.)
  • the destination must be known ahead of time in some fashion.
  • velocity and vector cannot be changed via teleport.
  • cannot fine-tune discriminate the teleport to separate mingled or composite objects, or join disparate objects.

Startup

Startup is the largest hurdle to accomplish. A poor reclusive village of monks such as you described does not have a lot of resources available with which to build up financial backing and reputation, two critical aspects needed in order to conduct business.

They have two things going for them: One, a basic first world type education. They obviously know how to read at least one modern language, and they know how to use computers, the internet, and so forth. Two, they also have a solid third world education - the ability to obtain at least a sustenance-level living in a resource poor region and still survive and reproduce. Monks or not, they have to reproduce more children with their teleportation ability, or they will all die out within a few years, unless you are proposing an unusually long lifespan, or the ability to teach this trick to anyone.

As a group of monks, they might know a combat system, many reclusive monks do. This offers the first possibility for employment.


First Jobs

The initial goals are to build up resources and to build up reputation. As such a few possible jobs would logically be possible for them:

  • Shaolin, Ninjutsu, and other famed martial arts: Even in the modern world, Shaolin monks and ninjas have a mystique about them, a reputation which affects how everyone perceives them. If the monks have a combat system, they could build reputation in this fashion and possibly money via contests and public exhibitions, possibly also high end training for mercenary groups, bodyguards, and other protection specialists.

How do they use their power? As a martial artist, a teleportation power could be used in microshifts, resulting in the legendary afterimage effect as they dodge. If it is done swiftly enough, or for short enough distance, it might even pass observation by a high-speed camera, especially if the microshifts were only an inch or so. Make dodging bullets a real thing. Or super-jumping. This would also enable them to escape or avoid trips, holds, and locks in really bizarre ways in a pinch. Give a song and dance about cultivating 'chi' as an excuse why others can't pull off the same tricks.

  • Search and Rescue: This would have possibly legal complications, depending on the country they reside in as they would have to basically barge into the profession by actually just doing it, and worry about certifications, licenses and equipment later. They might need to save someone rich and or famous in order to smooth over the minor legal technicalities.

How do they use their power? Knock everyone out and then save them from whatever natural or man-made disaster they are targeting. Maybe use some herbal amnesia concoction as part of their treatment of the rescued at first.

  • Bounty hunting or mercenary work: This option is very high stakes, dangerous, and would swiftly turn into a situation where it could be tough to avoid a kill-or-be-killed situation. Depending on the target and how the laws work in a given country, even if you don't kill your target, turning the targets over to the ones who posted the bounty is the same as killing them.

How do they use their power? Catching up to marks, or extracting them from their safehouses, or possibly used to simply avoid guards, traps, and bullets.


Second Steps

After an initial base of funds and/or reputation has been built up, then they will be positioned to take the next step.

They are going to need to legitimize. As mentioned, they don't interview well, nor do they have any skills that stand out outside of their presumed basic education. Once they have funds, and have chosen a profession that they believe they can compete and prosper in, they will need to get educated, licensed, and certified for that work.

Assuming that they have finally built up enough resources in order to expand their operations, a few professions stand out:

  • No-questions-asked, high stakes, high speed, and/or diplomatic courier: This sort of courier service tends towards the, ah, "extra legal". They serve as secret channels used by governments, companies, and other (criminal) organizations for when a transaction or transport simply can't show up on the books, or be seen crossing borders. If their ethical definition is simply "we won't kill or steal", then they don't care what their clients are involved with or what their packages may contain. However, they might have to be prepared to deal with being tested with excessive force to see if they have the 'chops' needed to play with the 'big boys'. Simply dress your couriers in a full body suit of some kind to turn them into faceless legions of speed, and be prepared with lots of backup plans. The look-alike effect could also be used to advantage when faking speed via teleporting. This is possibly the most lucrative.

  • Import/Export/Shipping: This is tougher than it sounds due to auditing requirements (inspections, weigh stations, checkpoints, declarations, etc..) by most countries and organizations. Also, there are a lot of startup costs which would have to be made in order to look the same as any other company.

  • Waste Disposal: If they know of a good dead zone, they could completely dispose of things. After all, they could drop things into the planetary mantle if they could find an active volcanic shaft with a ledge that a human could survive a few seconds on. Or dump it into space when wearing a spacesuit. Either way, it's only a few miles distance one way or the other.

  • Blackmail and/or spying: Find the secrets without stealing or killing, then use it against those who have dirty secrets. While it may be viable as an income source depending on the nature of the various world societies, it could also be used as a startup method and/or 'clearing roadblocks' method. They could get into and out of places faster than anybody, bug rooms which have just been swept (if their timing is good), suddenly show up in order to listen in, bypass guards and other security, and so forth. This is also potentially very lucrative.


If any of the qualities I mentioned at the beginning are incorrect, then other possibilities become available.

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One answer advised, think small. But think smaller:

A: Lock smith/safe breaker. (There are ethical reasons to break into a safe.) B: Plumber. Someone who can unplug a stuck sink without making a mess? C: While hard to be discrete, you would be a wiz at getting cats out of trees, or out from behind wall board.

What are the limitations of teleporting:

  • Can a teleporter remove a 2 atom thick plane of substance (tiny mass) a foot (tiny distance) and thereby cut a steel beam?
  • Can he remove a rusted bolt from a machine?
  • Can he teleport a 1 lb rock into a bolder and shatter the boulder.
  • Can a teleporter use his power to sculpt an object, removing bits
  • Can a teleporter reverse the chirality of molecules, turning, say dextrose into levulose? Or separate mixed chirality molecules into separate jars.
  • Taking that a step further, can he separate U235 from U238, or heavy water from plain water, or gold from seawater.

Can a teleporter 'feel' what he's grasping with his power? E.g. Does he have to see the rusted bolt or does he have a sense of perception about how it lies in the machine.

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Espionage

Your teleporters can get to the cabinet meetings of governments and large companies. They can plant non-transmitting recording devices before meetings, and collect them later. They can know every important decision before it goes public. Selling this knowledge can be worth millions, and can be done through various fronts in locations away from the colony. It can also be used to play the stock exchange and make huge money through inside information.

Having done this for a few decades, your colony will have amassed over a $billion, which can be invested to make an income stream that no longer requires active teleporting work.

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Steal money from drug lords.

First: It's ethical in the sense that it will disrupt their operation.

Second: They can't report it to government/international agencies since it is drug money.

Third: There are always traitors inside the drug operation, so the internal investigation will provide a large volume of noise they will not suspect outside actor.

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Cancer surgery.

Patients would to undergo an enigmatic treatment ritual, perhaps spanning a number of weeks. At a key moment tumours would be teleported a short distance out of the body by an unseen teleporter. One or two teleporters could handle the workload of an entire hospital.

There could be 50 such hospitals around the world

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A side note about how keep secrecy. Is plain obvious: Them are (like?) MONKS.

You can dress your monks as... monks, but with mystery! Them can cover their heads/faces, and dress equally.

Now, you can put a church in the locations you want. Then, you can put the monks in equal numbers and 2 locations. Because all dress equally and you try to match them on other attributes (so them look as equal as possible), nobody will note that all the time everyone is moving inout.

You play the "mystery" aspect as hard as you can and very little people will be surprised.

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Generally their skills are lended best to crime. Theft, smuggling, murder, terrorism, etc are all very easy to perform with this skill set, particularly if they don't need to make immediate physical contact with the objects they're teleportation (which I presume they don't for the purposes of the test that you described since otherwise they would have to factor in their own mass and potentially the disorientation caused by the teleportation of themselves).

For example, one could easily empty a gallery of famous paintings after teleporting the wiring/lenses out of the cameras, or perhaps even doing something particularly skilled like teleporting the electrons within the wiring to create static, should that level of accuracy be possible. After ruining the electronic and mechanical security systems, they could teleport in, teleport the paintings back to their base of operations and then sell them with ease and little to no risk of capture. If necessary, escaping authorities should be fairly easy considering they just need to be out of sight for one moment to disappear.

If the leader/colony is more ethical than this demands, they might instead choose to do a robin-hood styled campaign, teleporting huge amounts of medicines to people who need them for a cheaper, more affordable price, or more interestingly they could teleport resources out of the ground/air/sea/whatever to render them more accessible (moving either the pure gold or the gold ore out of a mine, for example, provided a level of precision and remote-control).

It may yet be useful to define some of the limitations of their powers. Specifically things like

  • what happens if they teleport x into the space that y exists in, eg a person into a rock.
  • can they teleport a resource without direct physical contact, and if so what are the restrictions on this? Could they, for example, teleport money out of a closed till into their pockets? Could they teleport gold from a vault in New York City into one in London whilst holding conversation and climbing in the Alps? Can they teleport fine mechanical systems like a gun, and if not, how do the things they teleport have consistent shape? Or is it a bit more like the trans-matter ray or whatever it was called?

hope this helps!

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I don't know if this meets your ethics requirements or not:

Sneak in, photograph the North Korean nuclear arsenal. Build mock-ups of the weapons, go in and replace the real weapons with the mockups.

As soon as this is done, deliver an envelope to Washington--put it on the desk of someone a few levels down from the President. (You don't want to do that in front of security cameras, nor do you want security thinking it's a bomb.) "These pictures are free. If you wish the real items the fee is $1 billion, no questions asked and no taxes owed, payment once you have had a chance to examine the merchandise. This deal is only good for 48 hours."

While this is obviously a one-time thing you can easily earn enough off that $1 billion to meet your $10 million/year requirement.

(While disarming Pakistan might also be a good thing they keep moving their bombs around, stealing them would be far harder.)

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