[originally posted here at Castalia House]
The Envoy, Her by H.B. Fyfe appeared in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories. It can be read here at Archive.org.
“His Illustrious Sublimity the Lord Vyrtl, Viceroy of Terra, Emperor of Pollux,” yadda yadda yadda, is on Klo, the moon of Jursa, awaiting the envoy from the planet where the imperial armada has just crushed a rebellion. All that’s left is the formality of the Jursan’s suing for peace in a groveling show of genuflection. When the envoy arrives, Lord Vyrtl is intrigued; no mere diplomat, Daphne Foster is the most beautiful and alluring woman the emperor has ever seen! He’s caught off guard, taken aback by her wit and enchanting beauty and ultimately grants a number of concessions that he otherwise likely would not to the defeated Jursans.
Folks want to know what’s up, why the emperor would give up all of that to some old crone. Old crone? Preposterous! Did they not see the envoy’s stunning beauty?! Nope, only the emperor had. Before she can get back to Jursa, Daphne’s summoned to the emperor’s presence. To soften the terms of the surrender, the Jursan used a psychic projection device that allowed someone to project someone’s ideal into their perception of an individual; she appeared to Vyrtl as the impossible ideal of a beautiful and enticing woman.
Vyrtl says he’ll leave the peace intact provided Daphne agrees to one condition – in all of his years as emperor, he’s been able to have anything and everything he has wanted, his heart’s desires, to point of ennui; Daphne is to stay with him at court, projecting forever the image of the impossible beauty so that there would always be at least one truly unattainable thing for him to be tantalized by.
This story starts off promising, and while it does have a great twist by today’s (or at least 70s F&SF) standards, I could not help but want a little more from this.
While I enjoyed this one more than either Duel on Syrtis or The Star Saint, it definitely had a “new sci-fi” feel to it. It was more of a ‘huh, makes you think’ kind of piece rather than an exciting adventure story. While yes, it must have been an adventure for Daphne, this story wasn’t like what you got with Stalemate in Space, where we’re there, side-by-side with the tough dame in her gambit against the conquering aliens.