“Charlie, can you see?” asks the man.
Charlie and his father sit in their seats, left center, on the balcony level. It’s the boy’s first opera, “The Magic Flute.”
The orchestra is set up in an exposed pit. To the father and Charlie the orchestra appears tiny, like little plastic army figures holding instruments instead of weapons.
The father points, “Charlie, can you see? Stage right we have the 1st violin and cello, stage left, viola, 2nd violin. Bass, clarinet, bassoon, harps in the middle, with percussion, trumpets, piano at the back, hidden behind that little wall.”
The boy is fascinated not by the instruments, but the players. “Are those people?” Charlie asks.
“Yes!” the dad replies, maybe a little too excitedly for theater patrons nearby, who give him snooty scowls. He continues, “The Musical Meat Orchestra. One of the only human orchestras who still perform.”
The boy looks sad. “It’s okay, Charlie,” says the dad, “The synthetics do a better job, but I think it’s important, historically, for you to see this once. So you know what it was like before.”
Charlie nods and asks, “How long ago were the human orchestras?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the man pauses, “They were pretty common when I was a kid, so maybe 30 years ago or so? It wasn’t until I was a teen—just a bit older than you—that they started to phase out completely after the tech breakthroughs of the geometric era.”
Charlie frowns a little, squinting to see the front of the stage. The father follows Charlie’s stare.
“Oh,” the father says, “The chicken tube, as usual, operates as the conductor.”
Charlie gives his dad his best critical eyes.
“The chicken tubes aren’t just for managing our home security, they power almost everything,” the dad says, “Can you see how it moves inside the tube?” he points.
Charlie squints as hard as he can, “Yes?”
“That’s the cooling system you can see moving, the chicken tube itself is always obscured.”
“Oh,” says Charlie, clearly confused, “But why is it in front?”
“Tradition,” the dad says. “Tradition” being the father’s codeword for “I have no idea.”
Charlie leans back in his seat, guarded, suspecting his father of tall tales. Before Charlie can think it through, the lights go down.
“The Magic Flute” begins. Charlie relaxes into his seat. The father wonders how he’ll explain the suicide scene when it comes up.