The Chaos Theory – Chapter I

“This is the final boarding call for flight OS502.”

A man in his 30s wearing a red-and-black check polo shirt looked up from his chair in the Prima Vista Lounge at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy. Finally, he uttered under his breath, swerving off from his uncomfortable chair. As he stood up, he grabbed his backpack—the only thing he brought on this trip—and slung it over his shoulder.

Joseph Dyer walked alongside the other passengers as they made their way to the departure gate. It was true what they say: Fiumicino is a goddamn zoo. People were frighteningly everywhere, and the sheer volume of the crowd was making him nauseous. For the first time in many years, it was as if Joe was back in his old high school hallway where people couldn’t seem to stay away from each other all the time.

At least here, he didn’t have to deal with people shouting his name every few feet or so. He was quite popular as a teenager thanks to his good looks. But even then, he hated big crowds. Not that Joe was an introvert because he was absolutely not. But because, well, crowds make him feel claustrophobic. There was something about being in the midst of people huddled so close together that just disorients him.

For years, he worked hard to get himself comfortable in throngs of people. He needed it. Although he could withstand crowds now, he would still avoid it if he had the option to do so.

Well, now, he didn’t have to pretend to know and smile back at them, although he would still receive glances and stares from women he came across.

But upon seeing him close, they would immediately stop trying to get his attention. Joe didn’t have to wonder why. Obviously, he still looked sick.

Large beads of sweat dripped on his temples, he felt warm–too warm–as if heat packs were pressed against his skin. Joe glanced at the window and was quite surprised to see large gray clouds hovering above.

What? That is weird, he thought to himself, blinking a few times. That is really weird. That wasn’t there when I got off the cab. Is there a storm coming?

He tore his eyes off the windows and shook his head.

For a while, he was worried the flight would be canceled. That would throw him off his itinerary more than it did after the risotto incident. Here he was, perspiring like crazy for some reason. Perhaps it was the humidity? But it was the middle of October already, and the cold season should be around the corner by now.

So, maybe it wasn’t the crowd or the weather making him feel antsy. Maybe it was something else. He couldn’t pinpoint what was it exactly, though. Was it still the risotto? No way. He had no plans of culminating his Italy trip by throwing up on the airplane’s restroom.

But even when Joe boarded the plane, he wasn’t able to shake the feeling that something was off.

He looked around. Everyone seemed normal, relaxed, and even sleepy.

Then, he looked outside. The skies now looked pretty normal, too. Joe’s forehead furrowed. It seemed those asphalt gray clouds were swept away somewhere and replaced by these cauliflower-shaped ones.

“We ask you to please be seated and fasten your seat belts. Please secure your baggage underneath your seat and in the overhead compartments. Our flight is ready for departure.”

As Joe stared outside, his eyebrows knit when he saw what was an unmistakable flash of light across the skies. He leaned in closer to look. What, was that?

“Sir, we are about to take off. I’m asking you to please sit down.”

Startled as if woken from a reverie, Joe glanced back confused to the flight attendant, only to realize that he was indeed standing. His seat was near the aisle so he had to lean towards the window, blocking the other two passengers next to him. The blond guy looked at him up and down. The other one was muttering words in German, which he was quite sure wasn’t a compliment.

Joe gave an apologetic smile and sat down. The flight attendant nodded with a smile, and moved past them.

However, he quickly glanced at the window again. Was he only imagining that lightning cutting across the sky?

He shook his head and sighed. Well, he said to himself, it had been a rough day so far, so I was probably just seeing things.

As the plane shuddered and moved towards the runway to prepare for takeoff, Joe leaned on his cushioned seat and pulled over his eye mask. Between Rome and Vienna, he had a couple of hours of rest to enjoy before embarking on the next stop on his Europe itinerary.

Joe had been looking forward to a backpacking trip in Europe ever since his one-month paid vacation leave was approved—a vacation well-earned after many years of never being absent or late for work. It shocked everyone, including Joe, that he was able to survive his ten years working on a job that he didn’t like and in a company that he didn’t care about. It was supposed to be a temp job, but the pay was good, so he stayed on. Ten years later, he became a senior data analyst in that multi-national company as a reward for his impressive performance.

In his first week of traveling across Europe, Joe visited London and Scotland, hunting for the locations of his favorite book series. Then, the weekend arrived and he was ushered into cutting his itinerary short to go to France due to a mistake in his plane booking. During the next two weeks, he split his time between Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Everything was okay for the most part. Fun, actually. He met a lot of people, saw tourist spots he had only seen on the Internet, and ate as much fine food as his money could afford. Until he got food poisoned a couple of days ago in the place he least expected and was forced to rest. The next thing he knew, he was packing his things because he was almost late for his flight to Vienna.

His last week was reserved for Germany, Austria, and Poland. While he regretted not being able to include Greece and Scandinavia on his itinerary, he swore on his return to visit the countries he excluded on his first trip.

While listing the countries he want to visit on his next Europe backpacking trip–whenever that might be–Joe’s head dropped to his side.

In his sleep, Joe had the strangest and frankly, a bit scary, dream. The plane jerked upwards and then dropped slightly. There were frightened screams, but the plane was just caught in turbulence. That was normal. And although he wasn’t sure, he felt like the power went off for a bit before returning instantly. However, it was when the anxious talking and muffled screams got way longer than usual, that Joe pulled up his eye mask and surveyed his surroundings.

Everyone was calm. Except for one crying infant in the back, his fellow passengers seem to be caught up in their own world, minding their own businesses, either doing crossword puzzle, napping like him, or listening to their headphones.

That was weird, he admitted to himself. He could have sworn he heard murmuring and gasping and even yelling earlier. It was as if everyone just fell quiet all at the same time.

Joe shrugged and almost laughed to himself. He had been feeling weird ever since he ate that day-old risotto. He might still be sick.

Deciding to nap again but not wanting to sleep when the plane landed on Vienna, he looked at his watch to see how many minutes he had left until then. He felt like that nap was only thirty minutes, so he probably had a good hour to sleep, right?

However, when he looked at his watch, he was surprised and confused to see it stopped working.

Joe slapped and shook his watch repeatedly but the watch stayed still at 11:11. It seemed to have stopped a few minutes after the plane took off earlier. Heaving an exasperated sigh at another disappointment of his European purchases, he turned to look at his fellow passenger.

But before he could ask about the time, he was taken aback to see a Middle Eastern-looking old couple sitting next to him. Wait. Didn’t I sit beside two grumpy white guys, one of whom was cursing in German? he said to himself.

He shook his head. Maybe he imagined those two again, just like how he imagined the lightning bolt earlier.

“Can we help you?” the old woman said with a smile.

“U-uh,” he stammered. Should I ask them about the two white guys earlier? They might think I’m crazy, he said to himself, never mind. “Uhm—can I ask what time is it?”

Turning his watch over, the bespectacled old man responded to him. “It’s 12:35.”

“‘12:35?” Joe repeated loudly, startling the old couple. He raised his two hands. “I-I’m sorry for shouting. Didn’t mean it. I—I just didn’t realize I was asleep for that long. So—does that mean we’re landing soon? In Vienna, I hope?”

The last part was added as a joke. But with everything that’s been happening to him, he was a little apprehensive of their response. God knows what he would do if he happened to have boarded on the wrong plane.

“Yes. In five minutes, to be exact,” the man replied this time.

Joe sighed in relief. Maybe he really was imagining things earlier. To be fair, he was constantly throwing up for the last couple of days and he was on the verge of admitting himself to a foreign hospital but decided to wait it out until he felt better. Or at least he thought he did.

“Are you alright, my dear?” asked the kindly old woman. Both of them stared at him with a rather worried expression. It made Joe embarrassed.

“Oh, y-yes, of course,” he said, laughing awkwardly. “It’s just, I hadn’t had enough sleep, you know.”

“You young people should learn how to take a rest, really. All you do is work,” said the old woman, with the same genial smile. Joe smiled back, though he appreciated the gesture. She actually reminded him of his own grandmother.

Minutes later, the plane started to slow down and made a careful descent on the runway. Joe looked outside the porthole. He had seen pictures of the Vienna International Airport on travel websites. In the photos, VIE looked sophisticated, welcoming, and very modern. But upon seeing it close, it hit him differently. Intersecting runways spread throughout the vast field, with gray and jet-black aircraft interspersed between them. This doesn’t look like a civilian airport, Joe thought to himself, it looked more like a military airbase.

As far as he knew, VIE wasn’t a joint-use airport. Well, as a tourist, he wasn’t sure about that, of course. Maybe the photos he saw online were old. Not sure.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Austrian Airlines welcomes you to Vienna. For your safety and the safety of those around you, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened and keep the aisle clear until we are parked at the gate. Thank you.”

Joe looked up at the seat belt sign. As soon as it was turned off, he hastily grabbed his bag and left his seat. After waving to the kind old couple, Joe joined the other passengers as they moved through the aisle to get off the plane.

Now that he was walking again after an hour and forty minutes flight, Joe felt better than he did a couple of hours ago. Maybe he did really take a nap, he just had a little unpleasant dream at the end.

But even that didn’t stop him from having a rest somehow. He didn’t feel nauseous anymore. In fact, he was starting to enjoy his trip again. He spoke with some people on his way, who could thankfully understand English. He hadn’t been brushing up his few spattering of German since he got sick, but now that he was back on his feet it seemed, he was ready to take out his German phrasebook again. But maybe not right now when there are so many people who might laugh at a random American tourist speaking with a phrasebook.

As he was nearing the airplane doorway, he heard a distinct female voice speaking in German.

He didn’t fully understand it, but he was quite sure it was the usual, “welcome and hope you had a nice flight” from one of the flight attendants. Now that he was feeling better, he was ready to greet back and smile again in his usual laid-back fashion that seemed to charm all the girls back home.

So when he got near the doorways and the flight attendant greeted him as well, he spoke back a hurried “Recht herzlichen Dank”.

But it didn’t come off as well as he thought it would. He was sure that he mispronounced it because her eyebrows met and she looked at him strangely.

To make it up, Joe flashed his boyish smile. “Sorry. Learning a new language isn’t my strongest suit.”

The woman smiled back a bit too awkwardly. Wow, Joe said as he turned towards the stairs. He started to descend. Usually, he would get back a nervous laugh or a comment saying he did well. Nah,  he told himself, shrugging, maybe it’s just one of those days that his quips didn’t come off well.

He didn’t catch, however, how the lady’s smile vanished almost instantly when he turned his back. Her brows furrowed deep as she stared at Joe’s vanishing figure. As soon as the last passenger got off the stairs, she hurriedly went back inside the airplane to look for someone.


Upon arriving inside the terminal, Joe looked around. He had expected that like Fiumicino, Vienna International Airport was as bustling with people arriving and departing, as well as family members either meeting them up or sending them off. Instead, there were only a few arrivals. Joe had started to suspect that flight OS502 was the only one that arrived that Sunday at noon, which was weird considering VIE was the largest airport in the country.

Okay, something was definitely off today, he said to himself.

Joe looked around. Again, everything seemed normal—as normal as anything could be, but the feeling he had a hard time shaking before that there was something wrong came back. He was sure he didn’t feel lightheaded anymore. He had been noticing the strange things happening ever since Fiumicino but attributed all of them to him feeling ill.

Now that he wasn’t anymore, it just felt strange not to find more than one thing he expected upon arrival at VIE.

Shaking his head, Joe pushed away the weird thoughts starting to populate his mind. Since he didn’t have any baggage to claim, he directed his steps towards the City Airport Train. By now, the hotel was already expecting him. He couldn’t wait to lie down on a soft bed and nap longer. The Schönbrunn Palace and Hofburg could wait. Though he wasn’t feeling sick anymore, he could do some rest to get all his energy back.

As he was making his way to the exit, he saw a group of men dressed in all-black uniforms entering the gates. Military. So this really was a joint-use airport, Joe thought to himself. But do they really need to go through here? Glancing around, he noticed people—passengers, visitors, and employees alike—looked apprehensive. They were nervously looking at each other and the approaching group. Meaning, this isn’t a regular sight within the walls of the airport terminal, despite the whole property being shared with the government as well.

However, as the black-clad men were getting nearer, Joe started to suspect they seemed to be heading towards—his direction. He looked around nervously. Surely, they weren’t coming for him?

But then, his worst fears were realized. Before he knew it, the military men surrounded him. He immediately halted his steps and glanced confusedly at the men blocking his way. Everyone around him was looking at the brewing tense situation, with him at the center of the storm.

One of the men, a tall one with grizzled hair, stepped forward and flashed a badge. “Bundeskriminalamt. Austrian Criminal Service Agency,” said the man in a thick German accent. “May I see your passport?”

Joe’s eyebrows furrowed. “S-sure, but what’s going on?”

“Your passport, please,” the man only repeated. Not that Joe was in any way thinking of not doing what he was told, but seeing the other men firmly gripping firearms made him dug into his backpack and get his passport as quickly as possible. He immediately handed it to the officer once he did.

“Can I ask what’s going on? I just arrived,” he said.

“Mr. Dyer, you boarded Austrian Airlines, OS502, is that correct?” the man replied instead of answering his question.


“From where?”

“Italy. Rome. Boarded at Fiumicino airport. L-leonardo da Vinci,” he said hurriedly when the man continued to glare at him. When he didn’t speak, Joe continued in an impatient tone. “What is going on?”

“Where did you come from?”

“I just said it.”

“What country are you a resident of?” This time, the man sounded more impatient than he was.

“United States!”

The man stopped questioning and looked him straight in the eye. “How did you get on the plane?”

Joe scoffed at him, his face glancing around at others with disbelief. “Seriously, man?”

“I am asking you the question.”

“Fine, fine! I paid for a ticket, got on the plane like everyone else, and that’s how I got here!”

“Well, that is impossible.”

Laughing at the incredulity of his questions, Joe scratched his nose and shook his head. “Look, man, I don’t know what you’re playing at, but isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? Here, I got the ticket and everything. You have my passport. What, you think I just hitched on a plane when airport security wouldn’t even let a cockroach inside the airport? Come on.”

The man’s jaw tightened.

“You tell me.”


Heaving a sigh, he continued. “The airport’s manifesto signed 120 people when it left Rome. But when it arrived, there were 121. You are the the 121st.”

Joe opened his mouth to speak but couldn’t utter a single word.

“Now tell me what happened. How did you get on that plane?” the man continued. Then, flipping open his passport again, he flashed it to Joe. “And there’s no such thing as the United States.”


Scroll to Top