Lucas went with the others into the beautiful room where the committee did its work. It had once been a grand library, and marble pillars framed rows of books. There were high balconies all around the sides of the room, looking over the gigantic oval, wooden table that the Academia had had moved into the space for their meetings.

All the members of the committee came in and took their seats. Old Nelson was slow and made a few groans of effort as he maneuvered through the hall. But none of the members were young, so all anyone felt for him was sympathy and the impending threat that age presented.

In fact, Lucas was the youngest one, and he was forty-three. Not a senior, exactly, but firmly middle-aged, nonetheless. So not yet groaning while he walked, but close enough to it to feel nothing but sympathy for Nelson.

Once they were all seated, a pair of pages went around the table with coffee and tea. They expressly brought Sylvan’s decaffeinated coffee to him. When he’d made the switch to decaf, he’d made a bit of a fuss that they didn’t have any to offer him. Nobody else drank it, so they made a single cup of the stuff and brought it over to him directly.

Nelson opened the meeting with the traditional call to arms and the committee members responded with the traditional affirmation that they were ready to die for the cause. It was a purely ceremonial statement, and no one had actually died in service to the Academia in hundreds of years. Even at the very beginning of the committee, while death had been a possibility, it hadn’t been a likelihood.

Lucas fidgeted with his robe. He had sworn that he was willing to die for the committee, but he desperately wished that they’d find a lighter robe for them to wear. Their ceremonial robes were incredibly hot and uncomfortable.

They could hear gunshots and yelling from outside. The usual cacophony of the ongoing war. It had been going on for as long as Lucas could remember. The noise wasn’t any more than the usual nuisance, though it did sound closer than usual.

Nelson introduced the day’s topic to the committee. They were tasked with deciding on the proper shoes going forward for the government troops. Duco had brought forth the motion that the soldiers should be wearing proper combat gear, especially when it came to shoes.

Of course, Duco also had a cousin that made said shoes. No one was really arguing that the troops shouldn’t have good shoes, but they were also naturally wary that the new shoes weren’t so much better as simply profitable for Duco and his cousin. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a committee member had been paid off.

Naturally, Duco objected strongly to this suggestion. But there was a competing shoe to consider. It was largely a duplicate, but it was a red colour instead of being khaki like the other shoes were. They were also slightly less expensive.

The discussion was begun by Duco making a case for his cousin’s shoes. He extolled their ruggedness, their comfort, and most of all, their colour.

Sylvan then stood to make the case for the red shoes. He told the committee that they were likewise rugged and comfortable. And while the red might look conspicuous to the committee, it would be as good as khaki in the field. It was actually more of a burgundy colour, and in combat the colour would hardly be noticeable.

Then examples of the two different shoes were brought out and examined by the committee members. They were handed around the table so that each person had a chance to look closely at them.

Admittedly, none of them really knew much of anything about either combat or shoes, but in spite of Sylvan’s assurances, the red really did look conspicuous compared to the khaki colour of the other shoes.

But then the real discussion began, and price was brought up again and again. In the number of units they were looking to buy, cost per unit made a significant difference. Though the price difference was actually very small, it made a large difference.

In the end, after several hours of debate, despite Duco’s best efforts, they decided that they would go with the red shoes. The committee would disband and their decision would be conveyed to the authorities in the next few days.

However, when they ended the session and tried to leave they were stopped by soldiers at the door. Apparently, the rebel troops had taken the block. The committee wouldn’t be able to leave until the block was back in the hands of the government troops. That would be an hour or so.

So, the committee members took their seats again, and had more coffee. Sylvan had tea since they hadn’t made any extra decaffeinated coffee.

While they waited, Lucas spent more time looking at the shoes. He had tried to explore the library, going around the room looking at books, but hadn’t found anything worth reading. The books were in excellent condition, and even though they were never read they were obviously well cared for. There was no dust on them, and they were all in impeccable order.

But the books themselves were extremely tedious. Political history of something or other, a Marxist interpretation of such and such industry. Hardly compelling stuff. The room was much grander than the books inside it.

So, he found himself examining the shoes again. Duco sidled up as Lucas was looking at the red shoes. “Look at them,” he said. “Inconspicuous? Can see those from space.”

Obviously, Duco was exaggerating. But Lucas really did wonder if he’d made the right choice. He decided that he’d been wrong. He would send a formal request to Nelson to have the issue reopened at their next meeting.