The letter from America arrived too late. The Committee had regarded acceptance as a foregone conclusion, for no one since Boris Pasternak had turned down a Nobel Prize. So when Professor Doctor Nels Christianson opened the letter, there was not the slightest fear on his part, or on that of his fellow committeemen, Dr. Eric Carlstrom and Dr. Sven Eklund, that the letter would be anything other than the usual routine acceptance.
“At last we learn the identity of this great research worker,” Christianson murmured as he scanned the closely typed sheets. Carlstrom and Eklund waited impatiently, wondering at the peculiar expression that fixed itself on Christianson’s face. Fine beads of sweat appeared on the professor’s high narrow forehead as he laid the letter down. “Well,” he said heavily, “now we know.”
“Know what?” Eklund demanded. “What does it say? Does she accept?”
“She accepts,” Christianson said in a peculiar half-strangled tone as he passed the letter to Eklund. “See for yourself.”
Eklund’s reaction was different. His face was a mottled reddish white as he finished the letter and handed it across the table to Carlstrom. “Why,” he demanded of no one in particular, “did this have to happen to us?”
“It was bound to happen sometime,” Carlstrom said. “It’s just our misfortune that it happened to us.” He chuckled as he passed the letter back to Christianson. “At least this year the presentation should be an event worth remembering.”
“It seems that we have a little problem,” Christianson said, making what would probably be the understatement of the century. Possibly there would be greater understatements in the remaining ninety-nine years of the Twenty-first Century, but Carlstrom doubted it. “We certainly have our necks out,” he agreed.
“We can’t do it!” Eklund exploded. “We simply can’t award the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology to that ... that C. Edie!” He sputtered into silence.
“We can hardly do anything else,” Christianson said. “There’s no question as to the identity of the winner. Dr. Hanson’s letter makes that unmistakably clear. And there’s no question that the award is deserved.”
“We still could award it to someone else,” Eklund said.
“Not a chance. We’ve already said too much to the press. It’s known all over the world that the medical award is going to the discoverer of the basic cause of cancer, to the founder of modern neoplastic therapy.” Christianson grimaced. “If we changed our decision now, there’d be all sorts of embarrassing questions from the press.”
“I can see it now,” Carlstrom said, “the banquet, the table, the flowers, and Professor Doctor Nels Christianson in formal dress with the Order of St. Olaf gleaming across his white shirtfront, standing before that distinguished audience and announcing: ‘The Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology is awarded to--’ and then that deadly hush when the audience sees the winner.”
“You needn’t rub it in,” Christianson said unhappily. “I can see it, too.”
“These Americans!” Eklund said bitterly. He wiped his damp forehead. The picture Carlstrom had drawn was accurate but hardly appealing. “One simply can’t trust them. Publishing a report as important as that as a laboratory release. They should have given proper credit.”
“They did,” Carlstrom said. “They did--precisely. But the world, including us, was too stupid to see it. We have only ourselves to blame.”
“If it weren’t for the fact that the work was inspired and effective,” Christianson muttered, “we might have a chance of salvaging this situation. But through its application ninety-five per cent of cancers are now curable. It is obviously the outstanding contribution to medicine in the past five decades.”
“But we must consider the source,” Eklund protested. “This award will make the prize for medicine a laughingstock. No doctor will ever accept another. If we go through with this, we might as well forget about the medical award from now on. This will be its swan song. It hits too close to home. Too many people have been saying similar things about our profession and its trend toward specialization. And to have the Nobel Prize confirm them would alienate every doctor in the world. We simply can’t do it.”
“Yet who else has made a comparable discovery? Or one that is even half as important?” Christianson asked.
“That’s a good question,” Carlstrom said, “and a good answer to it isn’t going to be easy to find. For my part, I can only wish that Alphax Laboratories had displayed an interest in literature rather than medicine. Then our colleagues at the Academy could have had the painful decision.”
“Their task would be easier than ours,” Christianson said wearily. “After all, the criteria of art are more flexible. Medicine, unfortunately, is based upon facts.”
“That’s the hell of it,” Carlstrom said.