The Complete Aliens Omnibus – Volume 3   (Rogue / Labyrinth)

The third instalment in Titan Books planned 7-book ‘The Complete Aliens Omnibus’ series, the Volume 3 collects two original stories from the Aliens expanded universe: Rogue by Sandy Schofield (a pen name of an American, husband-and-wife writing team Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch) and Labyrinth by S.D. Perry.

Rogue – Sandy Schofield

The plot of the first novel within this book, Rogue, centres on Captain Joyce Palmer, who arrives at the asteroid Charon. This lone rock in the deep space, a former penal colony, is pervaded through-and-through by an extensive maze of underground corridors. It took over 2000 convicts, whose time-bleached bones still adorn the countless niches of the catacombs, 50 years to dig thousands of kilometres of tunnels hundreds of meters under the surface of the asteroid, for no reason other than to keep them occupied. Much later, after the prison was closed, the asteroid was converted to a top-secret, state-of-the-art research facility, under the supervision of Profesor Ernst Kleist. Most of the colonists don’t have a faintest idea that deep within the underground tunnels, alongside the human settlement, thrives a huge Xenomorph hive, with its queen busy laying dozens of eggs that will soon hatch and spawn a small army of parasitic facehuggers eager to seek out their hapless, unwitting hosts.

Professor Ernst Kleist, who works on a secret project involving dampening the innate hostility of Aliens by splicing their DNA with DNA of more docile animals such as sheep and llamas, is an egomaniac for whom his work means everything and who sees the human colonists as mere means in his grandiose plan to produce a benign strain of Aliens, thus achieving fame and immortality. To this end, Kleist has a full support of Z.C.T. Corporation, whose executives are interested in one thing and one thing only – the results of professor’s research, and to this end are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that he runs the place as his own personal, twisted playground. Kleist’s speciality is to make inconvenient people disappear – whoever objects to his methods, or crosses him in any other way, is quickly rounded up by his right-hand man Larson, who commands a private security force numbering over a hundred armed men, and ends up as breeding material for his Alien hatchery. In mere two years, the population of Charon fell from the original 1500 to just under 1400 souls, the difference made up almost exclusively from inconvenient personnel, that were disposed of and used as a fodder for the Alien hive.

Captain Palmer doesn’t arrive at Charon alone – she is bringing with her John Cray who carries a highly confidential, for-your-eyes-only, message from Z.C.T for Professor Kleist. Unbeknown to both Palmer and Kleist, Cray is in fact a corporate spy working for the Grant Corporation whose goal is to steal research data on ‘Project Chimera’ from Prof. Kleist.

Both novels concern a deranged scientist living on a remote space outpost conducting questionable experiments on Aliens and humans.

Based at the outpost is also a platoon of combat-hardened Colonial Marines commanded by Sergeant Green. The marines are used by the professor for more dangerous missions, such as when he wants to acquire a living specimen from the Alien hive, and, as opposed to Larson’s goons, are principled personnel who have neither any dealings in, nor any knowledge of Professor Kleist’s oppressive methods and shady operations. This quickly changes though, as one of the marines dies while retrieving an adult Alien from the hive, and her lover, also a marine, kills the responsible Xenomorph, enraging Kleist, who orders Larson to deal with the offending marine, who, as far as the professor is concerned, needlessly destroyed one of his precious specimens. Sergeant Green, whose patience runs out – he recalls how, just two years prior, he arrived at Charon with a contingent of 40 soldiers, and now all what is left from his unit are 20 marines - he lost 20 good men without even being involved in any armed conflict - all victims of freak accidents concerning working with the goddamn Aliens on professor’s orders – confronts Kleist and demands answers. Professor instead informs Green that he, and his marines, are no longer required at the outpost and, to a big surprise-come-relief of Sergeant and his soldiers, orders for them a transport out from the colony. But the marines are in for a nasty surprise, when the shuttle, which should take them home, turns to autopilot and lands the troops instead on the opposite side of the asteroid, with the Alien hive now between them and the human colony, and all their ammo swapped for harmless blanks.

When Captain Palmer finally sees through Kleist’s machinations, she teams up with Cray, what is left of Sergeant Green’s unit (which miraculously makes it’s way back from the Kleist’s trap) and a few members of the recently-formed resistance, and tries to stop the insane professor. But are they already too late as he unleashes his most terrible creation yet – the Rogue?

Despite the, slightly annoying, authors' insistence on referring to Aliens as ‘bugs’ throughout the novel (Although, similarly to bees and termites, Aliens are eusocial species, with a single fertile queen building a hive where she breeds a caste of workers, warriors and other specialists strains, they are not, in biological sense, in any way related to insects.), the Rogue is a well-written, gripping and highly entertaining novel.

Score: 7/10

Labyrinth – Stephani Danelle ‘S.D.’ Perry

In the second novel collected within The Complete Aliens Omnibus Volume 3, named Labyrinth, Colonel Doctor Anthony ‘Tony’ Crespi arrives at the top-secret research space station Innominata, where he is sent by his superiors, outwardly to assist the resident Colonel Doctor Paul Church in his research, replacing his previous assistant, Dr. Lennox, who recently died, apparently suffering a fatal heart attack. Crespi is rather excited by the prospect, as he has a big admiration for Dr. Church, who has, over the years, built a formidable reputation due to the impressive results of his research on Aliens, but there is also another reason for his arrival: he came to clandestinely investigate Church and his activities, among the growing concerns about the ethical aspect of doctor’s work. Unbeknown to both Crespi and Church, in addition to their equal ranks, they have one more thing in common: they both had a near-death encounter with the Aliens, the experience that changed their lives forever, and that was a major factor in shaping their future careers. Crespi doesn’t come to the space station alone though. He arrives at the outpost accompanied by a small contingent of Colonial Marines, amongst them Lieutenant Sharon McGuinness, who too has an ulterior motive for visiting the station – she was Lennox’s fiancée and suspects that her former lover didn’t die from natural causes, and his death was the result of some foul play.

Once aboard, Crespi is initially ignored by Church and patronised by Admiral Thaves, the officer formally in charge of the station (although it is Church who is, in fact, in control), but he finally manages to secure a meeting with Church, who, after original refusal of any cooperation, starts holding a small hope that Crespi could actually possess the mental capacity to be useful as an assistant in his experiments. Shortly after the two begin working together, Crespi, to his initial horror, learns that Church keeps several live Xenomorph specimens on Innominata, secured in electrified, pit-like cells. In his, rather controversial, experiments, Church is having some initial success in exploiting the Aliens’ ability to communicate telepathically with other members of their hive. He has built on the station a complex maze of tunnels in which he is subjecting his Xenomorph captives to various tests, where they are presented with varying scenarios – often involving live humans – rewarding them with live food for desired results and punishing them by electric shocks when they react in an undesirable way. Crespi is at first appalled by a thought of these highly aggressive, lethal creatures being housed at the station alongside the colonists, but it doesn’t take long until his professional side and curiosity prevail and he goes along with the Church’s experiments. Soon though, his suspicions are invigorated, when he is approached by Lieutenant McGuinness, who tells him about her fears regarding her fiancée, and further raises his wariness by presenting him with evidence showing that far more personnel have arrived at the station than are employed there at the moment. Crespi instructs McGuinness to keep a low profile and investigate further, while keeping his own cover for the moment.

Either of the two novels should be greeted as another welcome addition to the otherworldly and ever-expanding Aliens universe

Crespi continues working alongside Dr. Church, and, having been slowly won over by his obvious genius and contagious zest, he starts to think that all the rumours and suspicions concerning the doctor and his work are unfounded. Then, a worker is killed by an escaped Alien, in what may well be an engineered incident, and Crespi’s suspicions are raised once more, especially after McGuinness pinpoints a small, inaccessible area deep within the labyrinth, which apparently consumes a highly disproportionate share of the total station’s power resources. The two in the end find their way into the very heart of the Church’s labyrinth, where they discover a hidden area with a secret laboratory, finally uncovering the horrific truth about the real nature of doctor’s experiments – he has been attempting to splice human and Xenomorph DNA, thus creating grotesque Alien-human hybrids which he utilises as makeshift biological factories for production of useful chemical compounds. Among the malformed bodies found within this chamber of horrors is that of Lennox, McGuinness’s former fiancée.

The pair are surprised by Church, who, despite Crespi’s initial outrage, manages to convince the fellow scientist that the gruesome experiments they have just uncovered might be, questionably, immoral, but are nonetheless necessary as a means to save countless human lives from the Xenomorph menace. Church further induces Crespi that McGuinness only constructed the whole conspiracy theory in order to compromise his invaluable research and that Lennox was in fact his lover before the assistant’s accidental death.

McGuinness, alarmed to see that Church’s arguments obviously sunk in with Crespi, panics and flees into the labyrinth, with Crespi, spurred by manipulative Church, giving chase, realising that Church has in fact tricked them both only after the good doctor seals them both inside the labyrinth and unleashes his remaining Xenomorphs. Now Crespi and McGuinness work again together, but, finding themselves in this seemingly hopeless predicament, will they be able to survive and escape the labyrinth, let alone thwart the plans of Dr. Church, who will stop at nothing to protect his horrible secret?

Score: 6/10

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While it is obvious why the publisher decided to pair the above two particular novels in their Volume 3 of ‘The Complete Aliens Omnibus’ (they have been originally published in the years 1995 and 1996 respectively, and they are thematically very similar – both deal with a deranged scientist based on a remote space outpost conducting questionable experiments on Aliens and humans), maybe this very

thematic likeness of the two stories slightly spoils the overall reader’s experience – after finishing the first half of the book and starting to read the second story, you cannot help but feel that you have already read it all before, although in a slightly different form. Quite possibly, given a chance to read both the novels separately, or at least with a few months passing between reading the first story and the second, the impression, particularly from the latter novel, would be better. Having said that, either of the novels should be greeted as a welcome addition to the otherworldly and ever-expanding Aliens universe.