…is part 2.
I didn’t want to stop and think about this story, or write this post. I wanted to leap immediately to the final part, the last story. Which is in itself a measure of how much ‘The Order of the Stones’ turned things up to eleven, intensifying the expectations for the end, setting in place a future to be avoided yet which cannot be resisted, and opening a door to that million-to-one chance that comes up nine times out of ten.
There’s no stopping to remind us how we’ve got here, just straight into the action, in the darkness and emptiness of the Great Void. A skiff leaves Captain Roog’a’s ship, piloted by the Captain herself, crewed by a motley band. At the bottom of the opening page there is a panel centred on Valerian and Laureline, into which Mezieres puts one of the most important moments of the entire saga. The panel hits you in the face, depicting the importance of what the two Terrans are doing without once showing any amateurish excess: you understand just how important this is to both of them.
It’s a big and full episode, despite being no longer than other stories. Even the opening sequence, in which various members of the expedition speculate not so much on what they expect to find but the ideal fantasy of what they wish to find, which for Laureline is a famous Impressionist painting, an open air cafe on the banks of the Marne, where she wears a white dress and a pretty hat.
These idyllic portraits create an atmosphere which is quickly dispelled when the skiff lands on the planet that the mothership has identified. It’s a dark, barren place, of dirt and dust, empty of everything, until a gigantic stone materialises in their way. Nothing can get them past it. More appear, caging them. These stones are the same as those the Triumvirs of Rubanis met before, so it’s no surprise when they part to allow the expedition to move forward, and meet the Triumvirs. Who order them to go back, to stop poaching.
The Triumvirs are still working for the Wolochs, but the Wolochs are the stones, and the Order of the Stones. They are the future of the Universe. They are not and will not create a civilisation but all civilisations will have to be cleared to make room for them. They do not do or think or feel: they just are. The Triumvirs are agents for them, they and others: there are always creatures willing to do evil without qualms.
For Captain Roog’a, a hint is dropped, that somewhere in the Void exists a planet or planets with enough ultralum to replenish the nearly-exhausted deposits controlled by the Serene Caliph, or Ephebe pearls enough to control the economy of the Universe. But they also recognise the two young people at the back, and sneer at their hunt to find their lost planet.
Roog’a refuses to back off. A toppling Woloch crushes half her crew, another her skiff. They are stranded, except that Laureline still has her ever-useful Tracer-Tsheung, which flies back to the mothership to bring rescue.
Meanwhile, back on that unnamed planet on the edge of the Great Void, young Ky-Gai’s factory is going great guns and her now almost-completely business-minded Schniarfer is in his element, but she’s still worried about Miss Laureline and Mr Valerian, and is prepared to neglect her business as she senses they’re in trouble.
Indeed they are. The Rubanis Triumvirs deliberately let slip that bit about ultralum and ephebe pearls to tempt Captain Roog’a. Her ship trips from planet to planet before finding, on the 27th attempt, a place that corresponds to the vision of paradise dreamed of by the sadly-crushed Rott Otto. It has the pearls, but sadly for the vision aspect, which Laureline shares, it also has the ultralum: exit paradise, enter heavy machinery.
The Triumvirs are in an awkward position. They’re assisting the Wolochs for their own advantage, but that advantage isn’t going to last, not given that the Wolochs’ ultimate and soon-to-be-initiated plans involve sweeping them away with all the rest. Once Roog’a’s led them to the sources of unimaginable wealth, they’ll have them destroyed by the Wolochs and seize the booty.
But they also plan to betray the Wolochs. There is only one thing that the Order of the Stones fears. It’s a fabulous and ancient device, called The Time-Opener. If wielded by sufficient strength of mind, it can change the past. It could be used to return the Wolochs to the dust and miasma of unstructured creation. The Triumvirs plan to use it for that very purpose, tailored to their own personal proclivities. To avoid the risk, they’re going to use Valerian and Laureline to find it, under close supervision, so that, like the ultralum and the pearls, they can take it away from them once the danger is passed. So they start a rumour from the Labyrinth Prison that Val and Laureline are in the Void to hunt for it.
And once Captain Roog’a’s ship has been destroyed by the Wolochs, and she and Cortes left to suffocate in space, that’s if T’Locq’s troops haven’t shown them the ‘mercy’ of a swift death, S’treks will make a cowboy run on our heroes’ peddler ship and casually let slip about the Time Opener to them.
As for the Time Opener, it was an artefact of a once-great civilisation, now vanished into poverty and anonymity. And in all the planets there were, only one was able to wield it. Not Rubanis. Not Hypsis, with its ‘false gods’. Not Syrte, the richest planet, where Val and Laureline have left their spatiotemporal craft under the care of Jal, and where the length of their absence is causing concern. No, the only planet who could bring together the strength of mind to carry out the change that is needed was… Earth.
At the end of the tunnel, a light appears.
But the Triumvirs have miscalculated. Ky-Gai is concerned about her friends. She hears the rumour. She trades with the stinking ragmen, the Limboz. And it is they who have the Time-Opener. Ky-Gai uses it to transport all of them to where Valerian and Laureline are, crashed on a kind of soft cheese moon, and stuck. Ky-Gai unbinds the Schniarfer to burn away the cloying stuff holding Val and their peddler truck, but not S’treks. She becomes the one who tells Laureline about the Time Opener. Laureline asks it to show her Earth. It does. But that’s all she has the strength for.
Ky-Gail releases the Schniarfer back to Val to control again. She’s whispering to Laureline. They head on their way to meet allies. The girls giggle together. Val accepts being kept in the dark. Until part 3, and the last story…