We know that the fate of the Sulaco was something that was not addressed in the Alien movies. This changed when the Nintendo DS game Aliens: Infestation was released in 2011. In the game, the Sulaco is located by the Colonial Marines who send a contingent of soldiers to investigate. The ship that transports the marines to the Sulaco and serves as a base of operations is a sister ship of the Sulaco, the USS Sephora. The plot of the game takes place six weeks after the movie Aliens. At the end of the game, the Sulaco is damaged by an explosion and left drifting in space while the Sephora retreats from the scene.
Now, the game was marketed as a side story to a bigger game project which would be released in 2013, namely Aliens: Colonial Marines. In this game, the USS Sephora carries marines to investigate the Sulaco, which has been located by the Colonial Marines. However, this story takes place 17 weeks after the movie Aliens, features an entirely different cast of characters (including a new commanding officer) and contains not a single reference to an earlier mission of Sephora to the Sulaco. In this game, both the Sulaco and the Sephora are destroyed early during the story campaign. Aliens: Colonial Marines is also explicitly sanctioned as official canon while such a statement had never been made about Aliens: Infestation.
Several questions arise: What is the official story? Is only Colonial Marines official canon because of its status as being sanctioned by Fox as such? And if not, how in Earth’s name can the two missions be reconciled into one cohesive timeline? Is there a case of mass amnesia among the marines in Colonial Marines which made them forget about the events of Infestation? Why would the USCM headquarters send the same ship twice, with the bonus question of why the corps seemingly exchanged the entire crew?
The easy solution (which has also been adopted by some sources) would be to say that Infestation has never happened and declare the story as an alternate version of the official story in Colonial Marines. The whole problem of reconciling the two stories would disappear. But I tried to do it anyways. To be blunt: My conjecture is that both stories have happened, and I have good reasons for it.
The basic idea is as follows: There WAS a first mission of the Sephora, but it was covered up due to the questionable nature of the actions by the marines involved and powerful influence exerted by Weyland-Yutani and its allies within the USCM corps. And there are hints that make this interpretation work. First, at one point, the Sephora‘s CO, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Steele uncovers Weyland-Yutani and its allies working behind the scenes: He says: “I have been doing some research into this Xenomorph situation.[…]It seems that the Weyland-Yutani corporation and its military backers have a keen interest in these creatures[…]But not in destroying them… Rather using them as bio-weapons[…]” He then decides to go rogue to stop the corporation: “It’s off the books, completely black. If we are caught it could mean hanging at Camp Orrinpaul.” Weyland-Yutani is shown to have a great influence on the USCM, even managing to take over the Sulaco under the pretense of contract work. Later, Company representative Sean Davis even tries to pull rank on the marines by stating that the Xenomorph cargo is basically military property: “[…]that cargo is technically Weyland-Yutani property, who is, as you know [sic] a military contractor, which means you would actually be destroying UAAC property, which I don’t think, under the circumstances, is the best career move you could make at this time…” There are more quotes supporting my conjecture, but I will stop here.
So, we have enough circumstantial evidence for both the influence of Weyland-Yutani over the Colonial Marines and, despite doing the right thing, the treason the marines on the Sephora commit by working against Weyland-Yutani’s interests. We don’t KNOW what happens to the Sephora‘s crew after the game ends, but under the circumstances, there are enough indicators to support my conjecture. A probable outcome MIGHT indeed have been that the Company managed to silence everyone in the knowledge about its hand in the mission. Under the pressure, the USCM corps MIGHT have been forced to incarcerate or execute the first crew of the Sephora.
So, we explained how the Sephora crew in Colonial Marines is an entirely different one and also oblivious of the Sephora‘s first mission. But why is there a second mission of the Sephora? Well, the USCM corps MIGHT have been tired of being pushed around by Weyland-Yutani. Maybe, even some heads rolled on the highest echelons. And Hicks’ distress call (which, as Stasis Interrupted reveals, was not sent immediately after the events of Aliens, but much later) MIGHT have been a message that the Colonial Marines could not ignore in good conscience, Wey-Yu’s influence over the USCM be damned. So, the corps sends another contingent, and the reason why it is Sephora they’re sending MIGHT be to send a message to Weyland-Yutani that they have been pushed too far and that, now, the USCM pushes back.
So here we have a working solution how the two stories MIGHT be reconciled, and I used it for the Alien Encyclopedia. Again, make no mistake: This is purely my conjecture how things might have worked, and I marked it as such. I’m not trying to rewrite Alien history. I’m merely offering a possible solution. If you’re so inclined, read this as a case study for the power of the “might” (no pun intended).