->''"This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone...Mayday, Mayday...we are under attack...main drive is gone...turret number one not responding...Mayday...losing cabin pressure fast...calling anyone...please help...This is Free Trader Beowulf...Mayday...."''
-->-- From the [[TabletopGames tabletop RPG]] ''{{Traveller}}''

%% One quote per page, thanks. Additional entries can go on the Quotes tab.

This is a common [[BeginningTropes opening]] found in [[SpeculativeFiction Sci-Fi]], {{Horror}} and [[BreadEggsBreadedEggs Scifi-Horror]]. This refers to the plot structure wherein the heroes are summoned to respond to a distress call, or occasionally, a non-emergency yet still foreboding request for assistance from an expedition. Equally often, the heroes are investigating the abrupt stoppage of all communications from the site.

The most common response? SendInTheSearchTeam.

Of course, when our plucky heroes get there, LateToTheTragedy, they find a GhostShip or DerelictGraveyard either devoid of any signs of life at first, or brimful of horrifically mangled dead bodies. Sure enough, the folks who sent out the distress call [[EverybodysDeadDave are all dead]], thanks most often to the MonsterOfTheWeek, though the usual suspects often include TheCorruption (and in general, TheVirus) or just getting a FaceFullOfAlienWingWong. Apparently, no matter how much FasterThanLightTravel is, answering a distress call TravelingAtTheSpeedOfPlot is never fast enough. Also, you can expect their engines to give out/a storm to hit and [[ClosedCircle make leaving impossible.]] Cue the mission becoming a DeadlyRoadTrip as whatever killed the sender starts [[DwindlingParty picking them off.]]

While a distress call filled with screams and ominous roaring in the background can get a scifi horror story off to a nice start, a sudden stop to all communications places more emphasis on the horrific speed with which the killer alien/[[TheVirus virus]]/whatever managed to off everyone. Some stories even make it a cyclical set up, with the surviving rescuers sending out ''their own'' ominous distress call. To summarize: something has GoneHorriblyWrong, and the heroes must find out what before it gets them too.

'''There are several variations to the Distress Call:'''

* '''Aid Request:''' An outpost or other space ship requests help researching a new finding, and send a forboding message like "Come and help us check out these cool and obviously harmless alien tombs!" This may involve defending said discovery from rivals or hostile locals. Usually, said finding is SealedEvilInACan, and the original expedition is about to unseal it.
* '''[[NothingIsScarier Cessation of Communications:]]''' Takes the above, but kills off the expedition ''before'' they can get word out. Better to just write them off for dead. Expect there to be at least one or more DisasterScavengers to help the "rescuers".
* '''LostInTransmission''' is a variant. "Don't go in there! Wait till help arrives!" "I can't hear you, over."
* '''Distress Call:''' The most classic of the set ups, a colony, ship, or EscapePod asks for aid.
* '''Fake Distress Call:''' Like the above, but there's an ulterior motive to the call. It can be an outright trap by enemies, the expedition has gone rogue and need human sacrifices or a new ship to escape in, or the menace that just killed them is both hungry and clever.
* '''Warning Beacon:''' The little used warning beacon is often confused for a distress beacon, but is in actuality an attempt (either by {{Precursors}} or the last expedition) to be [[NeglectfulPrecursors responsible]] and keep curious parties from coming anywhere near the certain death that awaits them. Of course, there would be no plot if they immediately decode it or heed it, now would there? Besides, they [[CuriosityKilledTheCast should have factored in the lure]] of SchmuckBait and thought of just keeping silent.
* '''ApocalypticLog:''' The signal is the [[AlmostDeadGuy last gasp]] of a longer message intended to FlingALightIntoTheFuture and warn other travelers away. Naturally, they don't get to read or listen to the whole message until they arrive.
* '''Repeating Message''' One of the above that is broadcast on loop in some way. Adds more mystery to the whole thing, you usually won't know how long the broadcast has been uselessly repeating its message, and if you do expect it to be for a long period of time. Also creates an atmosphere of loneliness and isolation, the beacon replaying throughout the ages again and again in the hopes that ''someone'' will hear it, however no one else usually has.

SendInTheSearchTeam is one plot based around this. LateToTheTragedy often begins InMediasRes.

Compare: HarbingerOfImpendingDoom, DoomedExpedition, BringNewsBack, ActionSurvivor, EverybodysDeadDave.
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!!Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* The segment "Magnetic Rose" in the compilation ''Memories'' has a distress signal, and to sum it up quickly (and neatly, one hopes) it's actually a trap, [[spoiler:designed by the space station's mad computer to lure male victims to fulfill "the owners" fantasy of a HappilyEverAfter opera life she never got. Of course, the owner is dead and the mad computer thinks it's her.]]
* A distress call intercepted by the Straw Hats is what starts the Punk Hazard arc in ''OnePiece''. [[spoiler: In a variation, it turns out the caller was one of the ArcVillain's {{Mook}}s, who was attacked by a samurai trying to save his kidnapped son.]]
* The TitleSequence for ''Manga/NurseAngelRirikaSOS'' begins with a distress call. S.O.S. is right there in the title, after all.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
* Probably the original defining examples of the trope would be the original ''Film/{{Alien}}'' movie and its sequel ''Film/{{Aliens}}''. The ''Nostromo'' responded to that unidentified signal (GenreSavvy sci fi horror characters will know to leave such well enough alone) in the first movie, and ''Aliens'' is a textbook case of the "all communications from our colony have ceased" incarnation of the trope. Apparently the intended original ending of ''Alien'' has the Xenomorph surviving and sending a distress call in Ripley's voice.
* ''Film/EventHorizon'' is pretty much the perfect example of this trope, except combined with PoorCommunicationKills.
* The ''Film/{{Doom}}'' film also used this to get the plot rolling. When those research labs on distant planets cease communications, that should be your hint to close the portal.
* In ''Film/TwentyEightDaysLater'' the Warning variation is turned on its head - a radio signal is broadcast to lure only the sentient, non-Ragey humans to safety with a promised cure. In fact, it's just as much a distress signal is anything else, because, well... and there's the plot.
* ''Film/TheReturnOfTheLivingDead'' has one of the brain-hungry zombies using the Fake Distress Call variant to order in some food: "Send more paramedics."
** The living characters also use this to a degree, as they ''don't'' admit they're under attack by zombies when they call for help, but by people who've gone murderously insane "like rabies, only it's a lot faster". They're not trying to lure in victims, they just know the emergency responders will never believe the truth.
* The ''[[UnwinnableTrainingSimulation Kobayashi Maru]]'' scenario from ''Film/StarTrekIITheWrathOfKhan'' (and subsequent incarnations of ''Franchise/StarTrek'') kicks off with the ''Enterprise'' receiving a distress call from the ship of that name (which may be a Fake Distress Call -- at least in the original movie it's not clear if the [[spoiler:simulated mission is a response to a real (simulated) ship or a (simulated) Klingon ploy]]).
** As well as featuring the ''Kobayashi Maru'', the new Film/StarTrek movie has the plot kicked off by a distress call to Starfleet from the planet Vulcan.
** A DistressCall leads directly to the death of [[spoiler: Captain James T. Kirk]] in ''Film/StarTrekGenerations''.
* ''Film/{{Sunshine}}'' (2007). A distress signal from the original ''Icarus'' causes the ''Icarus II'' to go off the mission.
* ''[[StarWars Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope]]'': "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
** Earlier, Vader covers up ISD ''Devastator's'' attack on the ''Tantive IV'' by having his minions send a distress signal, then reporting that everyone aboard was already dead when help arrived.
* The prequel to ''Film/TheThing2011'' opens with the Norwegians in a snocat following an alien distress signal across the ice [[spoiler:which opens up beneath them to reveal the FlyingSaucer.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
* In Creator/TomClancy's ''Literature/TheHuntForRedOctober'' [[spoiler:the "Alfa" submarine that Ramius rams]] is unable to fire its distress beacon, thus allowing the US to claim [[spoiler:the ''Red October'' had sunk]].
* In ''Literature/RedStormRising'', [[spoiler: during the escape after Operation Doolittle]] the captain of the USS ''Chicago'' realizes that the Soviet submarines he had been sinking were releasing buoys that sent a distress signal, indirectly guiding Soviet anti-submarine forces to their location.
* In ''The Land God Gave to Cain'' the plot is sparked by a shortwave radio picking up a fragmentary transmission which may be from a lost Arctic explorer. Everyone doubts that the signal (brief and not repeated) was really from him except his daughter, who organizes an expedition to find him even though it didn't provide much of a clue to his whereabouts. [[spoiler: When they find him, he's lying murdered next to a smashed radio transmitter.]]
* Creator/StephenKing's teleplay ''[[Literature/NightmaresAndDreamscapes Sorry, Right Number]]'' adds a KarmicTwistEnding to this trope.
* Creator/StanislawLem's short story ''The Albatross'' epitomizes the cyclical version. After the spaceship ''Albatross'''s nuclear drive overheats, rendering it helpless and its crew's lives in danger, nearby ships rush to the rescue with such urgency that their own drives overheat. We see the viewpoint character as his own ship prepares to join [[LemmingCops half the fleet]] in a mad dash to rescue the rescuers...
* In Charles Sheffield's short story "With [=McAndrew=], Out of Focus", the title character's fellow physicists are busy making observations of a supernova at one solar focus. They also detect a distress call from a GenerationShip, but can't locate the source of the signal and thus identify which GenerationShip sent the message (the signal quality is very poor). [=McAndrew=] works out that the GenerationShip's signal is coming from the ''other'' solar focus, which is displacing the signal, and leads a scouting / possible rescue mission. He and his partner, the narrator and TheCaptain, have narrowed the candidates for the GenerationShip down to a couple of possibilities by the time they reach it. Just before it's too late, TheCaptain identifies the GenerationShip as the [=CyberArk=], which learned too late that AIIsACrapshoot.
* In ''Literature/{{Fragment}}'', Henders Isle is brought to the world's attention after a distress beacon lures a passing research vessel to investigate. Plays with the trope in that while the being that activated the beacon ([[spoiler: a member of a sapient species later dubbed "Hendropods"]]) ''did'' want to attract people, it simply did so out of a benign curiosity (it's the ''rest'' of the island that'll get you!).
* The Fourth Imperium in ''Literature/EmpireFromTheAshes'' littered the galaxy with warning beacons designed to detect incoming [[KillAllHumans Achuultani]] ships, broadcast a warning to anyone in range, lure the ships in, then self-destruct in massive explosions. [[CoolStarship Dahak's]] communications were sabotaged during the mutiny so that the Imperium would assume the ship lost, the last communication having been a damage report.
* In ''[[ComicBook/XWingSeries Wraith Squadron]]'', the heroes set up one of these after recovering from an enemy trap. They station a damaged X-Wing in orbit with a distress call recorded by the squadron's actor, begging for help. When the enemy shows up and tractors it, they shoot a jerry-rigged tiny ship into its hangar bay, and the pilot inside, equipped with one of the X-Wing's [[{{BFG}} laser cannons]], captures their ship. CrazyAwesome? Oh yes.
* ''Literature/LastLegionary'': When Moros is attacked, all of the Legionaries who're away on missions or whatever are summoned back by Central Command. Once Command realised what was happening, they set up a warning beacon to try and keep those who were arrived later from trying to land.
* An interesting example with ''[[Literature/DragonRidersOfPern Dragonsdawn]]'' by Creator/AnneMcCaffrey. The colonists could've sent a distress beacon into space after the Threadfall, but this would most likely have brought scavengers down on them, who would pick over the bones of the colony regardless of whether there was anyone still alive or not. They decided not to call for help. [[spoiler:A rogue group of colonists fire it off anyway, which caused interesting things several generations down the road]].
* The beginning of ''Literature/{{Animorphs}}'' had one of these, though it was more localized, with Ax making the distress call to anyone else who might have survived the dome ship crash. Cassie and Tobias intercepted it, probably because of Cassie's special nature that was revealed later and Tobias being Ax's nephew.
* Creator/HPLovecraft's ''Literature/AtTheMountainsOfMadness'' uses the "break in communications" variant. An expedition team finds a cave and uncovers a bunch of unknown creatures. There's great excitement as they talk about them over the radio and then suddenly it ceases. When the protagonist arrives, he finds the aftermath or a horrific massacre.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* A staple of ''Series/DoctorWho'', to the point where Creator/RussellTDavies acknowledges that he had to tell other writers to not start their episodes this way.
* Every once in a while, the plot of an episode of ''Series/{{Farscape}}'' was kicked off by this.
* ''Series/{{Firefly}}'': "They're hurting us...get me out"
** Let's not forget the episode "Bushwhacked". The entire episode is classic example of this basic plot, except with no distress call of any kind. Serenity just happens across the other ship in the vast emptiness of space.
*** The "Crybaby" is ''Serenity''[='=]s very own invocation of this trope - a disposable can of junk designed to send out a fake distress call if the crew need to create a diversion.
** And "Out of Gas", though the heroes were the ones sending the signal.
* Varied in the pilot episode of ''{{Lost}}'': while it does not draw the Losties to the island, the distress call alerts them that another group has landed on the island and met with a terrible fate, not to mention that the call has been playing for sixteen years, but no one seems to have responded to it.
* Used in the first two seasons of ''Series/RedDwarf'' as a combination CouchGag and recap.
* ''Franchise/StarTrek''
** ''StarTrekTheOriginalSeries''. The following episodes started with the Enterprise receiving or already responding to a distress call (deep breath): "The Cage" (1st pilot), "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (2nd pilot), "The Trouble With Tribbles", "And the Children Shall Lead", "Miri", "Return to Tomorrow", "The Day of the Dove", "The Tholian Web", "By Any Other Name", "Wink of an Eye", "The Devil in the Dark", "Turnabout Intruder", "The Changeling" and "The Doomsday Machine".
** About 1 in 4 episodes of ''Series/StarTrekTheNextGeneration'' begins with the ''Enterprise'' answering a distress call.
** An episode of ''Series/StarTrekDeepSpaceNine'' had the ''Defiant'' crew answering a DistressCall at the beginning of the episode, and getting to know the stranded woman over the long distance radio as they sped towards her. They arrive at the end, and discover [[spoiler:she's been dead for years, they were only able to talk to her through some [[TimeyWimeyBall temporal-weirdness]]]].
** Subverted in ''Series/StarTrekVoyager''. The subversion? [[spoiler: It was their own distress call. ([[strike:TimeTravel]] Quantum Physics was involved)]]
* ''Series/BabylonFive''
** ''In The Beginning'' features a distress call that is both genuine and a trap: they call for help from Earth ''and'' lure a Minbari Cruiser into a trap. This is justified as the cruiser wasn't going to help, it returned to finish them off.
** Another episode involves the eponymous space station receiving a distress call [[spoiler: from themselves, from the BadFuture AlternateTimeline. Due to a rift in space/time previously introduced [[ForeShadowing and recently featured]] on the show.]]
* Used in the Re-Imagined ''Series/{{Battlestar Galactica|Reimagined}}'' where an emergency locator signal from [[spoiler: Starbuck's Viper]] leads the Fleet to [[spoiler: "Earth"]].
* "The Rescue Mission" in ''Series/PowerRangersLostGalaxy'', an OutOfGenreExperience with no stock footage or giant robots - and hardly even any spandex.
* Both ''Series/StargateSG1'' and ''Series/StargateAtlantis'' have used each of the different types at least once.
* Episode three of season one of ''TerraNova'' has some of our heroes setting out to investigate why a scientific outpost has suddenly gone dark. Naturally, they go blundering in, ignoring all safety and medical protocols and end up [[spoiler: infected with the same virus which caused the original outpost team to lose a chunk of their memories and forget why they were there]]
* In ''Series/{{Helix}}'' isolated research base Arctic Biosystems sends one that's intercepted by a military listening post, reporting an outbreak of TheVirus and specifically requesting the aid of the CDC's Dr. Julia Walker, which kicks off the plot as a CDC rapid response team and an army liaison are dispatched.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Music]]
* [[http://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/01/bnewman/songs/lyrics/S-O-S.txt This]] song by Ben Newman, for an example of a fake distress call.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* Used in multiple editions of ''{{Traveller}}'', and its advertising, the distress call, "This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone... Mayday, Mayday..." has become iconic.
** And [[MythologyGag 20 years later]] in {{GURPS}} ''Traveller'', those poor sods on Free Trader Beowulf finally got a response:
--->''Free Trader Beowulf... come in, Free Trader Beowulf... can you hear me? Come in, Free Trader Beowulf... ... hang in there, Beowulf, help is on the way!''
* For a low-tech variant, player characters in the original ''D&D'' adventure ''I6: {{Ravenloft}}'' find two versions of a letter from the burgomaster of Barovia: a genuine Warning Beacon urging everyone to stay away from the vampire-besieged town, and [[BatmanGambit a Fake Distress Call forged by Strahd von Zarovich to attract adventurers]].
* Used in ''Warhammer 40k'', and a number of the spin-off games. One particular example from one of the novels: in ''Desert Warriors'', a regiment of Imperial Guard is sent to a far-flung world to investigate the "mortis-cry" of an [[SubspaceAnsible astropath]], which amounted to "Help, I'm dying!". [[spoiler:Because HyperspaceIsAScaryPlace, where weird things happen, they arrive ''before'' the signal is sent. The book's epilogue makes it clear that the distress signal they were sent to investigate is their own]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Videogames]]
* ''VideoGame/DeadSpace''. And what a distressed call it is.
** Cessation of Communications explains why the troubleshooting crew is going out there. The distress call that the player received (and doesn't see the end of until late in the game) explains why he signed up for the mission.
*** That the player doesn't see until the end. Isaac watches it again and again on the way there. Kendra even asks how many more times he'll watch it. [[spoiler: It's just the marker making him forget in order to use him. That's how Kendra knows what's at the end when you're planetside.]]
* In ''VideoGame/EscapeVelocity'', the fake distress call is a trap used by SpacePirates. {{NPC}} ships may also send distress calls when under attack.
* ''VideoGame/TheLegendOfZeldaALinkToThePast'' opens with a telepathic DistressCall from Princess Zelda to a sleeping Link. She also sends him another one later in the game, when she's captured a second time.
* About half of the star systems in ''Franchise/MassEffect'' greet you with beeping distress beacons, one of the more prominent is a fake and is a lure for a Geth ambush. Only a few are received on time to provide any aid.
** Also crops up in [[spoiler: Jacob]]'s loyalty mission in ''VideoGame/MassEffect2''. The strange thing is, the beacon activated 10 years after the ship disappeared...
** Spoofed in one mission. The distress call is actually a message from an aggravated prospector.
--->''Repeat. There's a piece of crap mech on this planet's surface. If you think you can get it to work, you're freakin' welcome to it *static* -welcome to it.''
* One of the mission objectives in the first ''VideoGame/MedalOfHonor'' is sending a fake SOS from a German bunker, in order to divert the forces from a guarded pass.
* ''Franchise/{{Metroid}}'' is full of this:
** ''VideoGame/SuperMetroid'' starts with a distress signal from the research station she just delivered the MacGuffin to.
** ''VideoGame/MetroidPrime''. Oddly enough, SpacePirates send a distress beacon that Samus picks up.
** ''VideoGame/MetroidPrime2Echoes'': A [[SpaceMarine Galactic Federation]] warship crash lands and is under attack by a mysterious foe. They send a final SOS before they are wiped out. Said Federation hires Samus to check it out.
** ''VideoGame/MetroidFusion'': Samus is infected with TheVirus and a research lab treats her before sending her to the Galactic Federation for a cure. While getting a new suit and ship, TheVirus breaks out and the research lab sends an SOS for help.
** ''VideoGame/MetroidOtherM'': The "Baby's Cry", a signal meant specifically to attract attention.
* One of the possible endings of ''VideoGame/{{Notrium}}'' is to successfully send a distress call.
* The first ''VideoGame/ResidentEvil'' game's plot opens this way. For a squad with the word "Rescue" in its name, the STARS members were awfully unsuccessful at saving their buddies all things considered.
* Not long after boarding the ''[[LateToTheTragedy Queen]] [[GhostShip Zenobia]]'' in ''VideoGame/ResidentEvilRevelations'', you actually can overhear the Communications Officer repeatedly sending a distress call from inside a sealed room. [[spoiler: When you open it up though, [[BossInMookClothing he's not exactly human anymore...]]]]
--> '''Communications Officer:''' Mayday... mayday... this is the Queen Zenobia... [[spoiler: Don't kill me... I'm... human...]]
* On the horror front, ''VideoGame/SilentHill2'' has a "distress letter" from the hero's ''dead wife!''
* ''VideoGame/StarFoxAssault'' had two {{Distress Call}}s, an ordinary one from Katina (naturally, a trap) and a telepathic one from Sauria (which is pretty much overrun by the time the team gets there, but there are still survivors).
** Likewise in ''VideoGame/StarFoxAdventures'', the story kicks off with Krystal answering a similar distress call from Sauria.
* ''VideoGame/ZoneOfTheEnders'' has optional rescue missions that open up after you received a request for aid. Its sequel uses request for aid in a different way: during a fight in which you are severely outnumbered, your allies call for help if they take too much damage.
* The {{Backstory}} for ''VideoGame/{{XCOM}}: Terror from the Deep'' features plenty of {{Distress Call}}s: one is sent by the aliens when their [[UsefulNotes/{{Mars}} Martian]] base is overrun by vengeful humans, another one is sent by an X-COM submarine pilot whose sub is sunk by [[FishPeople aquatic aliens]] and is not detected until two months later ("I think they're back!"), and many more are sent out by civilian ships and aircraft that disappear before the game commences and the aliens decide to stop hiding.
* In one of the first Order missions in ''VideoGame/GroundControl'', your acting commanding officer tells you he's lost contact with a friendly base and that this could only mean it's under attack from Crayven Corporation forces. GenreSavvy?
* ''VideoGame/FTLFasterThanLight'' has distress beacons which are sometimes genuine and sometimes a trap. Either way, they're usually worth investigating if your ship is ready for battle, and a ship with a lot of augments is useful in non-violent distress situations. If your ship runs out of fuel, you can send out your own distress call and hope that a friendly ship will answer.
* ''VideoGame/MechAssault''. A transmission is received from a resistance group fighting against the Word of Blake. It's garbled when you first hear it, but Natalia orders you to go out anyway since they could use the help. By the time you reach the destination, Foster sends you the full transmission, [[LateToTheTragedy without static:]]
-->'''Transmission:''' [[spoiler:We have risen against the Word of Blake. We made our last stand at Regional Palace. They have destroyed, killed or enslaved all who resist. There's no hope for us here. Save yourself and flee this place.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Webcomics]]
* A nearly unintelligible phone call motivates Vanessa in ''SilentHillPromise''.
* In one segment on ''Webcomic/{{Derelict}}'', [[DisasterScavengers Deng]] follows a visible SOS signal to an enormous beached ship called the Goya.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Web Originals]]
* Parodied in ''RedVsBlue'', in which the distress call basically consists of a funny voice exclaiming the word "Distress!" over and over.
* Thanks to a little GenreSavvy, the warning version gets subverted in ''[[http://qntm.org/?vontus The Time Of Vontus (TMV)]]''.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* ''JonnyQuest'' TOS. In episodes "The Invisible Monster" and "Pursuit of the Po-Ho" Dr. Benton Quest gets a radio call for help and springs into action.
* Cartoon Network's {{Toonami}} block started their second story arc, [[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OycTZTbEz3o&feature=related Lockdown]], with a warning beacon. TOM and SARA didn't know it was a warning until it was too late to avoid the danger because the encryption was too old for SARA to crack.
[[/folder]]

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