Chapter 1 – Turbulence
According to an apocryphal story, Werner Heisenberg was asked what he would ask God, given the opportunity. His reply was: "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first."
February 2005 (post Recruit[i])
Lex closed his laptop and leaned back in his chair with a sigh. He was tired – there just weren't enough hours in the day to deal with the demands of running LuthorCorp. The lack of sleep was definitely catching up with him. To make it worse, Lionel had consumed more and more of his time, trying desperately to transmit the 'Luthor legacy' before finally passing on just last week. Secret after secret had been revealed, interspersed with born-again exhortations to reform his ways.
Lex had long seen his father as a manipulative bully whose ambition would trample anything in his path. But at the end, Lex had also seen a different man, one who had used charm every bit as much as intimidation to get his way. In years gone by, Lionel's charisma had been used as just another business tool, but by the end it had seemed more genuine. Either way, the results had been very real, and Lex was now the beneficiary.
Lex stood up with a stretch and crossed to the windows overlooking downtown Metropolis. Instinctively, he divided the skyscrapers into three categories: LuthorCorp properties (a substantial and constantly growing proportion), competitors (aka enemies – not even Lionel on his deathbed had believed they were anything else) and allies. The size of the last category had surprised Lex – he hadn't known how extensive Lionel's network of contacts was. Now Lex too had the governor, mayor and chief of police on speed dial, not to mention hundreds of 'go-to' men in almost any conceivable line of work. His power stretched into every nook and cranny of the city and beyond.
'The measure of a man is what he does with power.' Lionel's voice, quoting Plato, whispered through Lex's mind. He had the power now – what next?
Lex turned towards Smallville, invisible in the distance. Smallville was the one place where he was respected in spite of, instead of because of, Lionel's influence. He missed the people there – some of them at least.
It had been weeks since he'd talked to Chloe, his partner in getting Lionel convicted. Her silence did not bother Lex. Rather the contrary, he considered it a reflection of her fundamental honesty. Chloe had nearly been killed by Lionel – twice – and her father was still considered unemployable thanks to Lionel's vindictiveness. Chloe would never call to feign regret over Lionel's death when she was probably still repressing the urge to dance on his grave.
As for Lana, their relationship was strong but strained. He'd once called her the best business partner he'd ever had – admittedly the competition wasn't all that strong – and he missed their old conversations about how to make The Talon an even greater success. But Lana was changing quickly as she grew up, and in her efforts to be more independent, she often interpreted attempts to help as smothering. He worried that she was in over her head with Jason Teague, but his efforts to warn her had been met with hostility.
And then there was Clark…
Clark had called a few times, but the conversations had been awkward. Lex was still trying to process how Lionel's revelations fit in with the farmboy he knew. The situation reminded him of a book he'd read involving code breaking during World War II[ii] – so many secrets, so much misdirection, so many things that just didn't make sense until you had the key.
The phone rang, interrupting his musings. His secretary reminded him of an impending meeting with a group of risk management analysts to address concerns over the business succession. Lex sighed and gathered up his presentation materials. He headed out the door and downstairs.
“Lex! Lex!” A woman cried out to Lex as he crossed the LuthorCorp lobby. All too many voices were constantly demanding his attention, and he had become accustomed by necessity to blocking them out. But there was something somehow familiar about this one… Lex turned to face the woman and gave her a polite if distant welcome.
“Phew, I thought you were going to be whisked away again! Lex, I know how busy you are these days, but we really need to finalize the details for the trip!”
Trip, Lex wondered, what trip? Who is this woman? His expression, usually so tightly guarded, must have given away his confusion as the bright grin on his companion faded.
“Lex, you do remember…” The woman’s voice trailed off and her face flushed as she blundered into forbidden territory. “I mean, I knew… I read the stories during your father's trial. But I didn’t think… Lex, don’t you remember me?”
Lex gave the woman a thorough visual examination. Short mousy blonde hair, average height, average looks lit up by intelligent brown eyes, a well-toned body brimming with energy – not his type but... He frowned at an elusive memory and waved his hand vaguely around her face.
She laughed. “Yeah, it’s the hair that always confuses people. It used to be, like, 3 feet long and really blonde. Well, except for that time it turned green…”
With that, Lex’s memory clicked into place and he gave a wide grin. “Karyn! The lab explosion at Princeton! Of course, forgive me for my lapse. It’s been, what, six years? Are you now Dr. Price, or are you still working on your doctorate?”
Karyn’s smile faded again. “Actually Lex, we met several times last year. You hired me to work part-time while I was in training for the Olympics. You really helped me out and it kills me to think your dad…” Her voice trailed off again.
Lex grimaced. He had grown closer to Lionel before the end, but it still hurt to remember how far his father had gone to supress his memories.
Karyn continued, "I just assumed you remembered. Especially since I got all the funding I needed to make the trip arrangements. But then you never replied to my emails."
Lex frowned at this example of bureaucratic inefficiency. "I've got four assistants whose sole job is to weed through my correspondence, trying to keep me from being inundated by it all. And I've got a room full of assistants to coordinate my schedule and delegate tasks that don't require my direct attention. I imagine your emails got caught up in a loop somewhere. They should at least have given you an acknowledgement though. I'll check into it."
"Don't start a witch hunt on my behalf, Lex. It's just that you were so excited when we talked about the trip. We met for lunch a few times and developed a plan, and you wrote out some instructions on how to proceed. And I have to tell you, Lex, those instructions have been scrupulously honoured by everyone at LuthorCorp that I've needed to involve. They've all seemed thrilled at the idea of helping you to have some 'much needed enjoyment' – that's the usual expression. You have no idea how happy these people are to work for you. And now when everything's almost ready to go, I find out you don't even know what I've been doing for the last year!"
Lex looked around the crowded lobby, and glanced at his watch. "Look, Karyn, I'm running late for a meeting I can't cancel. Can you meet me at 8:00 for dinner? I'd like to see that plan. And I'd love to know what you've been up to."
Karyn's smile in response was dazzling. "Can't wait, boss!"
Later that night
Clark stood motionless at the window of his loft, gazing out on the night sky. It was late and he was tired – too tired to sleep, too tired to concentrate. He was afraid to move for fear of losing control and damaging everything around him. And his head ached with the constant wash of noise from the farm, from Smallville, from Metropolis, from everywhere. It pummelled at him, punishing him for his mistakes, his lies, his cowardice.
Memories of Alicia haunted him. Alicia – how he missed that girl. Of all the people he'd ever met, she was the one who best understood him, despite, or perhaps because of all the difficulties they'd gone through together. With her, he had felt comfortable in his skin. He wished they'd had time to get to know each other better, time to move past the intense physical attraction into something closer to what his parents had together. His regrets circled through his mind in a seemingly endless loop.
Then amidst the cacophony of sound, a mechanical purr grew louder, demanding his attention. Focussing on that purr, Clark was able to relax and take control of his powers once again. He listened closer and gave a brief smile as he catalogued the noise: Lex, driving (too fast of course) down the county road, and then turning into the farm. A car door slamming. Lex, climbing the steps up to the loft.
"I saw the light, Clark. I hope you don't mind me dropping by."
"You know you're always welcome here, Lex." Although Clark meant that sincerely, somehow it came out sounding more distant than he'd intended. There was an awkward pause. Clark bit his lip and continued, "Did you get my message about your dad? I was sorry to hear he'd passed away."
"Thank you, Clark. I know Lionel caused a lot of grief around here, but he was trying to make amends at the end."
Clark nodded, remembering when Lionel helped him to clear Lex of a murder charge several months ago. And yet… The silence stretched.
Lex cleared his throat. "But that's not why I'm here."
Silence. "Yes?" said Clark.
"It's awkward. So much has happened and you all may have made other plans already. I understand if you say no."
Clark smiled wistfully. "When did it become so hard for us to talk to each other, Lex? I can't say yes or no if you don't tell me what you want."
"It's not so much what I want, but what I want to give you. Give us, I mean – you, Chloe, Lana. A small thank you for my friends here in Smallville."
Clark blinked in surprise. "I don't understand. Has someone saved you from drowning lately?"
Lex snorted. "Graduation. You're all graduating soon and it's traditional to give a gift. And last year, I thought up a great one. But then I… forgot."
Clark was rendered speechless as his brain struggled to process what a Luthor would think of as a suitable graduation gift, while simultaneously processing the old feelings of guilt surrounding Lex's 'forgetfulness'.
Lex laughed at his dumbstruck look. "And yes, it's a special gift, but no, it's not an expensive one. Well, not unless you count the R&D costs of the toilet."
Clark's eyes widened further.
Lex laughed again. "The look on your face! Sorry, this isn't like me. I feel like I haven't slept in weeks, and it's starting to show in my speech patterns. I feel like I've been wandering the labyrinth, trying to figure out what the Minotaur's been up to. I've been running the company for nearly a year now and I'm still uncovering off-the-book projects. And even some of the official government projects are just… I don't what our elected officials are thinking of. There's this one involving dogs… I don't know how I'll ever find time for the trip."
Clark waited expectantly for more details. When Lex stayed silent, he prodded, "Graduation. Toilets. Secret projects. Is there something here I'm missing?"
Lex snorted. "Yes, no – God, I need some coffee. Or some sleep." He rubbed his eyes and continued, "Let me start again. Last year, I had an idea for a graduation gift."
"One involving toilets and secret projects?"
"Actually, yes. Though it wasn't supposed to be a secret project, it just became one."
"Ah, that explains everything." Clark's grin was infectious, teasing.
"You see, I have an old friend – a biochemist and world class kayaker. And she needed a part-time job while she was training for the Olympics, so I hired her last year. And we started to talk about kayaking, and she told me about these trips she's taken, and I got really interested. And we started brainstorming and things just kind of snowballed from there."
"She was describing a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, and I thought that would make for a perfect graduation gift. It actually doesn't cost all that much, not if you have your own guide and equipment. Getting the permit is the tricky bit, but we were able to finesse that. But then there was the matter of the toilets."
"I can't imagine there's many toilets in the Grand Canyon."
"You're right. In fact, you have to bring one with you, and haul all your waste out. And frankly that didn't appeal to me. Nearly killed the project in fact."
Clark grinned at Lex's fastidiousness.
"Go ahead and smile, farmboy, but not everyone is used to hauling around an outhouse while trying to navigate class five rapids. I know there are some solutions on the market, but they're just not up to my standards. So we started brainstorming and came up with some real cutting-edge ideas to design an environmentally friendly toilet. We're going to revolutionize the Port-a-Potty business!"
Clark snickered at the odd combination of practicality and grandiosity.
"Laugh all you like, Clark, but it's a surprisingly big business. Construction sites, outdoor festivals…" Lex took a deep sigh. "Look, I'm getting off track here. All you really need to know is that I've planned this trip after graduation and you're invited. Can you make it?"
Clark's smile dimmed. "May? June? That's still planting season, Lex. I'm not sure if dad can spare me."
"Surely he can hire a few extra hands, Clark. He's going to have to anyways once you go off to university."
"About that, Lex. I'm not sure…" Clark's voice trailed off.
Lex's gaze sharpened. "Don't tell me you've run into problems with your football scholarship. I don't see why Geoff's behavior should impact negatively on you."
Clark sighed. "It shouldn't. It didn't. But, I still feel… It just doesn't feel right. I don't want to get consumed by that 'win at all costs' mentality."
"I thought you loved playing?"
"Yeah, being part of a team, everyone working together – that's the best feeling in the world. But at college – it's big business, Lex."
"And we all know how Kents feel about big business." Lex's tone was deliberately neutral.
Clark rolled his eyes. "That's not it, Lex. It's just that I don't want to spend my next four years in a football huddle. I want to find my place in the world – and it won't be as a jock. I want to find something that challenges me."
Lex nodded. "Well, that's what university is for. So take a bunch of courses during your first year and find out what appeals to you. You never know, you might find yourself working with me someday – I've seen your marks, Clark. You've got the talent to become a great scientist if you put your mind to it."
Clark looked less than thrilled at the idea. "But…"
"Look, Clark, I'm not say that's what you should do. I'm just saying it's something you could do if you worked hard at it. Or be a doctor, or lawyer, or fireman – I don't care. But give yourself the chance to find out."
Clark nodded sheepishly. "Right. But…"
"And don't tell me that your dad wouldn't like it. He's a proud man, but nothing matters more to him than you being happy."
"I know, but…"
"And there's more than one scholarship out there, Clark. With your marks and extra-curriculars, you'll be a shoe-in. And I can always help you get a part-time job for spending money."
"And the commute from Metropolis is going to be getting a whole lot shorter once the river bypass opens. I've got my people working on that anyhow."
Clark waved his hands in surrender. "All right, Lex. I give in, I give in. I'll talk to dad and make it work."
Lex gave a somewhat abashed grin. "Sorry, didn't mean to steamroller you like that."
Clark smiled back. "I'll get over it somehow. Thank you, Lex." He wanted to say more, wanted in fact to give Lex a hug and nag him to take better care of himself, but there were still too much distance between them for that.
But this was a start.
Lex strode into the Talon, expecting to find the usual after school rush. Instead, the room was practically empty. He checked his watch – he was running a bit early.
From behind the counter, Martha Kent smiled gently at him and started the cappuccino machine. "Lex, it's so good to see you again. I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Thank you, Mrs. Kent."
"Martha," she corrected. "I know you've been terribly busy in Metropolis, but Clark has missed you. And he was so excited when he told us about your offer this morning. It was good to see him smiling again."
"So did Clark get your permission?"
"Jonathan hemmed and hawed for a bit, but Clark's pretty hard to say no to when he's got his heart set on something."
Lex smiled, but his reply was cut off when the door opened and students started to pour in. Martha handed him his cappuccino and nodded to the first person in the rapidly growing line for their order.
Lex retreated to his usual table and enjoyed his drink – so strange that some of the best coffee in Kansas came from this garishly decorated café. First Lana and now Martha – they'd done well. Content, he started to check through his voice messages.
"Lex, Lex! Thank you. I can't believe you thought of this. And thought to invite me!" Lex looked up to see Chloe Sullivan beaming down at him, her whole body quivering in excitement.
Lex stood. "It was a good idea, wasn't it? And why wouldn't I invite you, especially after all your help last year." He pulled out a chair for her.
"I've got to get my drink first. Back in a sec."
As Chloe bustled away, Lex noticed Lana standing behind her. She too was smiling, if somewhat more reservedly.
"Clark told us a bit about the trip, and said you'd invited us. It sounds wonderful, Lex, but I don't know… Isn't it dangerous?"
"Less dangerous statistically speaking than staying here in Smallville." Which wasn't saying much, acknowledged Lex silently. He could see the same thought in Lana's eyes. "We're going with an Olympic calibre athlete, and she's covered all the bases to make sure we stay healthy and happy during the trip. I don't take safety issues lightly, Lana."
She sighed and sat at his table. "I'll talk to Jason. I assume he's welcome too." She gave him a slightly challenging look.
Lex nodded – it would do Jason good to be out of his mother's clutches for a while.
Chloe returned to the table and handed Lana a coffee before starting to sip her own. They pelted him with questions about the trip plan. Lana was intrigued, while Chloe got more and more excited with every detail.
"Can Lois come too?"
A despairing 'No' came from the door. Clark had just entered the Talon and was frantically shaking his head in denial.
Lex gave Clark a shark like grin and turned to Chloe. "Of course!"
The outraged look on Clark's face set off a gale of laughter from all.
Next week (Krypto[iii])
Clark was in love. Not the topsy-turvy yearning for Lana, or the turbulent drama with Alicia, or the milder bond with Chloe. No, this was the real thing.
The object of his affection smiled toothily at him and thumped his tail. Clark gave the dog a good head rub, and then started in on his chores. The dog watched him for a while before curling up for a nap.
Clark smiled fondly and gathered together some wood for his next project: building a machine for dry-land kayak training. In preparation for the trip, Lex had passed on an exercise routine to build up their balance, strength and endurance. Even though Clark had more than enough muscle strength, he knew the girls needed plenty of practice. Hopefully, they would appreciate not having to do their torso rotation exercises on the kitchen counter – the only surface, they'd protested at his laughter, with the proper height and a place to properly hook their feet.
Clark stepped back to admire the finished project and decided to test it out. He arranged himself so his hips were resting on a bench, and leaned his torso down until his forehead was nearly on the floor. He then raised his feet until they were level with his hips, pressing up on a bar for balance. He picked up weights in each hand and took a deep breath. Exhaling, he started pulling his torso up while twisting his arms and body to one side. When his trunk was even with his legs, he inhaled and started lowering his upper body until he was back at the start position. He then repeated the sequence with the twist to the other side.
He'd just completed 10 sets when the dog woke up and jumped forward to lick his face. Clark laughed and gave the dog a scratch before commanding him to sit. The dog jumped about instead, and Clark repeated, "Sit, Krypto, sit."
Lex strolled into the barn. "Interesting name."
Clark hadn't heard his car drive up and wondered how long he'd been there. He stood up and waved at the training machine. "Like it?"
"Very nice, though you're always welcome to use my gym you know."
"Yeah, but… You're away a lot nowadays and it just doesn't feel right."
Lex shrugged and returned to his original topic, "Krypto – what's it mean?" Lex tried to pat the dog, who responded with a loud growl. Lex backed away with a wry grin. "Friendly."
"It's because his background is so cryptic." Despite receiving a reassuring scratch from Clark, the dog continued to eye Lex warily, obviously on guard.
"Speaking of his background," said Lex. "I went out to the scene of the robbery and saw my armored truck. From the look of the back doors, I can only assume it was the handy work of some very strong dogs."
Clark started to worry and rubbed the dog harder. "Lex, you told me I could keep him back when you thought he was a failed experiment."
"But, Clark, if the experiment didn't fail, this dog could be dangerous."
Clark responded firmly, "But he's not dangerous now. He saved my life. I'll take my chances on his loyalty."
Lex gave him an impatient look. "And what if the dog over-reacts to something out of his loyalty to you? If he hurts someone, LuthorCorp would be liable. It's a big risk, Clark."
Clark replied defensively. "The vet said he was perfectly normal, Lex. And you can see how friendly he is." The dog wagged his tail in response to the pat, and then resumed his unwavering stare at Lex.
"Clark, we don't know the long-term effects of exposure to the meteor rock. I've seen a few studies that show the mental effects long outlive the physical ones."
Clark protested, "But not everyone exposed to the meteor rock turns violent. If they did, you'd have to quarantine the whole town!"
Lex raised his eyebrows. "I'm just saying… be careful, Clark. There's an old Russian proverb, doveryai, no proveryai – trust but verify. Ronald Reagan believed in it. So do I."
Clark sensed that there was no arguing Lex out of his opinion. Part of him – the part that spent so much time fighting teenagers transformed into monsters – even understood. "So just what kind of proof will make you happy?"
Lex visibly relaxed and started to discuss some possible approaches. The dog reacted by closing his eyes and settling down for a nap. Crisis averted – for now at least.
[i] Imagine a version of Recruit where Clark is still upset at Alicia's recent death, instead of being so happy-go-lucky at the start. His conflict over having to maintain his secret from the end of Pariah plays an even greater role in his decision to abandon football. Lex remains in Metropolis throughout Unsafe and Recruit, which is where he meets Genevieve and hires Jason.
[ii] Although he has read several excellent books on this topic, Lex is especially thinking of Connie Willis' wonderful novel, To Say Nothing of the Dog, which – on the surface – makes even less sense than season 4. Buy it!
Take an excursion through time, add chaos theory, romance, plenty of humor, a dollop of mystery, and a spoof of the Victorian novel, and you end up with what seems like a comedy of errors but is actually a grand scheme "involving the entire course of history and all of time and space that, for some unfathomable reason, chose to work out its designs with cats and croquet mallets and penwipers, to say nothing of the dog. And a hideous piece of Victorian artwork."
[iii] The events of canon Krypto are practically unchanged in this AU except: (1) when Genevieve meets Lex in an early scene, she is fishing for information on what Lionel told Lex about Veritas; (2) Lex does not say to Clark that he understands that the dogs were destroyed – he says the vaguer 'taken care of';(3) Clark and Lex have a longer discussion in the barn about trust (included in the story); and (4) the conversation between Lionel and Jason does not take place. And yes, Shelby is a boy.