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Aliens: Cauldron is a 2007 novel written by Diane Carey and published by DH Press. It follows the crews of two cargo starships, the Virginia and the Umiak, as an attempt to illicitly smuggle live Xenomorphs unleashes the deadly creatures upon them.

Publisher's Summary

SPACE: THE MOST HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT IN THE UNIVERSE

In the cargo hold of the spaceship Virginia, a hive of hibernating Aliens begins to awake. Meanwhile, on the Umiak, an elite troupe of cadets is forced into servitude by an unscrupulous captain taking the ship to a smuggler's rendezvous with the eerily silent Virginia. When the cadets unsuspectingly transport the Aliens on board, they start a battle for their lives, fighting the smugglers, the captain, and the monsters who are among them.

The Aliens: an opponent that sleeps, breathes, and breeds with just one goal — to kill. The war is about to begin...

Plot

In deep space, the transport vessels Mequon and Virginia rendezvous to transfer cargo. As the automated process is about to begin, the Virginia's chief bosun "Jonsy" Coyne hacks into the ship's systems and secretly has an additional container transferred across, inside which are hidden several Xenomorph specimens. Jonsy expresses reservations about smuggling such dangerous cargo, but is encouraged by his wife, communications officer Rockie, who has been promised a vast sum of money for delivering the container. Their plan is almost undone when the Virginia's chief mate notices the surplus container on the manifest, but Jonsy convinces him it is merely a software glitch, telling him the container contains a consignment of live chickens for an extrasolar colony.

However, Jonsy's explanation draws the attention of the vessel's chef, who goes to steal some of the poultry to serve to the crew. In doing so, he unwittingly unleashes several of the Xenomorphs before the container can be sealed. The creatures quickly overrun the ship, picking off its crew and passengers one by one. As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, Captain Alley attempts to reach the bridge and shut the vessel down — while this will doom the survivors on board, he hopes that it will also stop the Xenomorphs from spreading. However, he is killed before he can deactivate the Virginia's autopilot, and it continues onwards.

The Virginia eventually meets up with the Umiak for another scheduled cargo transfer, during which the contraband container is loaded aboard the Umiak. The ship is also transporting a group of teenage cadets taking part in an educational program that will bestow them with useful spaceflight skills for the future. Most of the cadets are from affluent backgrounds, with the exception of Ned Menzie and his sister Robin, who are from a poor family of sheep farmers from the Isle of Man. Several of the cadets are persecuted by the Umiak's vindictive captain, Pangborn, who has only agreed to allow them on board because he is desperate for the financial incentives. To this end he is also involved in smuggling the Xenomorphs, and plans to meet with a group of pirates who will transport the cargo onwards.

Much as on the Virginia, the container is opened, this time by the mentally unstable cadet Pearl, who is capable of limited communication with the Xenomorphs on account of her savant syndrome and senses their presence inside. The creatures escape into the ship and slaughter most of the pirates when they dock with the Umiak to take delivery, before also capturing Pearl. With most of the Umiak's adult crew incapacitated in a mutiny led by the arrogant cadet Adam, it is left to the teenagers to try and destroy the Xenomorphs and retake the ship. Ned insists on going to save Pearl and is joined by several of the cadets, while Pangborn and another group try to reach the bridge so that the captain can send a distress call, not realizing he intends to betray the cadets and save himself. However, the group is killed before a signal can be sent.

To try and even the odds, Ned has most of the livestock the ship is carrying revived and released, hoping the abundant targets will serve as a helpful distraction. The plan works, and the cadets go mostly unnoticed as the Xenomorphs engage in a frenzied slaughter of hapless farm animals and even fall victim to some of the more dangerous animals set free. Ned locates Pearl, who is unharmed, and flees with her into the main cargo hold, the surviving Xenomorphs in pursuit. With the creatures now concentrated in one location, Ned has the hold's adjustable gravity turned up to dangerous levels — the pressure implodes the Xenomorphs while the cadets survive by submerging themselves in a tank transporting live fish, the water shielding them from the crushing effects. With the ship safe again, the surviving adult crew is revived and the loose animals corralled. The cadets spends some time celebrating their victory before the senior officer reminds them they are still students, and puts them back to work.

Reprint History

Aliens: Cauldron was collected along with Aliens: Steel Egg in The Complete Aliens Omnibus: Volume 6, published by Titan Books, in June 2018.

Trivia

  • Aliens: Cauldron is one of several Aliens/Predator/Alien vs. Predator novels that were never officially published in the United Kingdom.
  • The book opens with the Virginia out of control during a supposedly routine maneuver and its crew struggling to avert a crash, plunging the reader into the middle of the situation with no prior understanding of what is going on. Author Diane Carey employed this exact same narrative device in her previous novel, Aliens: DNA War, which likewise opens with the crew of the Vinza battling to control their ship.
  • While the novel prominently features a Facehugger emerging from an Egg on its cover, neither ever appears in the story — all of the Xenomorphs in the book are already adults (albeit immature ones) when they are released from captivity.

Goofs

  • After the Xenomorphs escape aboard the Virginia, it is stated that the chef Keith reported that seven of the creatures escaped. However, later on it is said Keith was killed before he could tell anyone how many Xenomorphs are loose.
  • A crewmember aboard the Umiak named Chelsea is briefly mentioned, yet she is never seen either before or after this and does not appear to exist.
  • It is established that the Umiak's rendezvous with the pirates means it is actually heading away from its final destination of the colony world Zone Emerald. However, after the meeting Zone Emerald is said to be in front of the ship. If it was headed away, it should be somewhere behind.

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