I’m tempted to break with the form of this series and review the last three episodes as one long story, for that is what they are. On its own, At the Edge of the Great Void is not much more than a prelude, that ends on, if not an actual cliffhanger, the gateway to a much more directly involved episode. It stands in the same relation to the succeeding story as does Dan Dare’s ‘The Man from Nowhere’ to ‘Rogue Planet’: it’s about getting into place.
And that place is, exactly as the title states, at the edge of the Great Void, a vast nothingness, without stars, lying beyond the furthest outposts of civilisation, where civilisation is ceasing to have any meaning. Somewhere out there is Earth and Galaxity. Valerian and Laureline intend to find it. But they can’t just head off out there, on their own, hunting at random. Such things have to be approached carefully.
Which means surreptitiously. And without their usual craft, which is too recognisable, especially as too many people want to hinder them. So instead they’re travelling in a beaten-up old clunker that used to belong to travelling peddlers, and our heroes are acting incognito as peddlers themselves, though not with any great commercial success. That’s not the point though: they’re not out to make money, they’re out for information. And it seems that the Shingouz do not travel this far from the centre.
The law on this un-named planet appears to be being administered by Rubanis, which has done everything in its power to chase rival commercial organisations as far away from the centre as it can and, once they’re this far out, is intent on hassling them out of business. Like the clothing factory that’s closed down, putting Ky-Gai, a young girl of Vietnamese looks and dress, out of work and leaving her with no money.
It doesn’t stop her admiring the goods at Laureline’s end of the joint mobile stall, which are feminine products, clothes, jewellery and soft goods. She’s a bright, cheerful girl, and the fastest seam sewer in the factory: Laureline likes Ky-Gai as much as she likes Laureline and takes her on as an assistant.
Just in time, because not only is Val’s end of the business (exotic animals and potentially lethal weapons) not doing much, he’s under constant florid criticism from his bound Schniarfer, and hassle from the Police. Of course, a bribe and clearing out works, but there are hostile forces in Police uniform keeping a close watch on our two.
And indeed, where they next pitch up, outside the Labyrinth Prison, selling to wives and sweethearts and trying not to stifle from the smell of the Limboz, ragged peddlers and invisible thieves, they’re once again sent on their way, with a tax penalty. And the Limboz stealing half their goods, including Ky-Gai’s lovely, old-fashioned sewing machine.
But this is where Val and the Schniarfer come into their own, and the pair of Limboz send them off to Abyss Port, the best place to get, well, anything you want. Which, when Ky-Gai produces two spacesuits of individual size, includes the attention of Captain Shing’a Roog’a, captain of her own ship heading out into the Void to break new routes, a redhead dynamo who prefers to deal with women, and who commissions an entire crew’s worth of spacesuits from Laureline and Ky-Gai.
Now we see where the first instalment is going. There’s a long way to go before our pair can get themselves installed among Captain Roog’a’s crew, much of which could be dismissed as filler, included because it wouldn’t do to make this leg of the story too easy for the heroes. And some of it is a foretaste of mystery yet to be explained.
So, in fairly fast order, the Police descend and arrest Val and the Schniarfer, confining them secretly in Labyrinth Prison, whilst awaiting orders from the Triumvirs of Rubanis. We briefly see them on a small videoscreen. It seems that the Shingouz’ information that former taxi-driver S’Treks had won out over his rivals for power on that planets is at least out-dated, as he is now merely an equal with Na-Zultra and Colonel T’Locq. For reasons of their own, they want Val held until further orders. And they seem to think, quite correctly, that holding Val stops Laureline from going forward.
Whilst this is going on, we watch Captain Roog’a recruit a crew. It’s not quite trial by combat but every applicant has to have the guts, the determination, the self-confidence and at least one special ability to be judged worthwhile.
Ky-Gai is worried for Val, but Laureline is not. The young worker girl keeps busy sewing the spacesuits, with the assistance of other hard workers from her former factory who’ve hung around, all coming from the moon Phnom-Nam (I told you). Laureline reassures her that whilst Val is a rotten peddler, he has other abilities. And as soon as she sends her re-hydrated Tsheung, Val, who’s been refusing the Schniarfer’s pleas to unbind his Shubinal Gland, sets about escaping with his usual, almost casual flair.
And I said there was a foretaste of mystery. Out, somewhere is the Great Void, the Triumvirs of Rubanis are gathered, on the cold, dark, barren surface of what seems to be a planet. Each wears a visor that blinds them but which keeps their eyesight from being destroyed. The news that Val has escaped, that he and Laureline are to try to enter the Great Void disturbs them. It also disturbs the beings they have come here to meet, the Wolochs. We don’t see the Wolochs, we just see a massive black, windowless citadel, a cross between 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Monolith and a sawn-off Pyramid.
But the Police on Rubanis are still out to intercept our heroes and keep them from Captain Roog’a’s ship. First, there is a parting: much as she will miss Ky-Gai, Laureline knows the Great Void to be too dangerous for her. So Ky-Gai sets up her own factory with Laureline’s assets, and Val bequeaths her the Schniarfer, to become her economic advisor and HR Director.
They make a run for Roog’a’s ship but come under fire. Val will pilot them through, but gets hit on the head so Laureline has to do it. She’s welcome in Roog’a’s crew, and even gets a cabin near the Captain, but Val is only accepted after he proves himself in combat. And in keeping with Mezieres’ delight in referencing other creators, the bridge Lieutenant wears a very familiar cap and uniform coat, and goes by the name of Molto Cortes…
So off they go, staying on deck as much as they can, until the last stars disappear, and there is only the Void, so they go below, knowing that somewhere out there…