Lex hadn't intended it to happen. He didn't really intend most things to happen. He didn't intend to walk in on girlfriends and best friends doing more-than-friends things at parties. He didn't intend to upset his father as often as he did, or break curfew at school by getting into fights, or offend his lecturers at college by making them look like the old fools most of them were. These kinds of things just happen.
"It's because you don't think," his supervisor told him. "You've got this great head on your shoulders but you don't use it, you don't think ahead. You're too busy mixing things up and poking them just to see what happens."
Which was true. The theory was fascinating, and the calculations invigorating, but the mixing and poking part, the actual experimenting, that's what made him feel alive. And the explosions afterwards, they weren't so good. They tended to get him in trouble, and once he'd broken an arm. But that's had healed in like, a week tops. A mix up in x-rays or something, the break wasn't as bad as they'd said. Breaks that bad didn't heal in a week.
The bad thing though, more than the trouble and the scrapes, was the actual weeks – that was how Lex measured time outside the assorted labs, the weeks after – he had to spend in his father's presence. Learning about safety, getting patched up, kept out of the way while his supervisors riffled through his notes in an attempt to find out what he'd actually been doing. Just long enough for them to clean things up and pass a few rules so he couldn't do that particular experiment again.
Which was safe, but not entirely fair in Lex's mind. It was the poking and mixing part that you actually learnt from, and Lex was dead keen on learning things. Explosions be damned.
"It's not like you have a right to be angry at me," he'd said after the last reprimand, "If I didn't get in trouble as much as I do, the university wouldn't have it's new library, or the updated computer lab, or-"
And that's when he'd been kicked out, not for good mind you, just a fortnight as a reprimand. Two weeks – two units of punishment – in Smallville with his father, having to pretend to be interested in fertilizer. Which he really was, just not the money part of it. He wasn't allowed in the labs at Smallville either. "Money doesn't put you above the rules Lex, it just makes it easier to bend them."
He spent his time in Smallville reading papers in the coffee shop, writing essays on lecture topics that got mailed back to his supervisor smelling like fresh air and expensive coffee instead of the usual acid smoke and cheap instant. And, to please the memory of his mother, he spent some time outdoors, measuring the nutrients in the soil, calculating the growth of vegetables with the high school science class because the teacher was absent and it counted as community service. And examining the meteor rocks.
One of Lex's teachers in one of those hundred-maybe schools had pressed the idea of space exploration on him, flying up to the stars and trying to figure it all out from there. He had the head for it, he had the body for it, but it had just never appealed to him. It wasn't that he was afraid of heights, not after the day in the cornfield when the meteors fell. No, now he was just very aware of gravity, and the way it could make the sky light up.
He'd taken some of the rocks back to the university after the last fortnight. Not that he'd told anyone. That would be stupid – they wouldn't have let him back in the labs for one. The green meteor rocks were as common as spare change around Smallville, and some spark at the school paper asserted they were to blame for all the freakish things going on – which Lionel liked because it meant LuthorCorp wasn't responsible, and Lex liked because non-science people trying to explain radiation mutation was just cute.
He believed her though, on some of the afternoons with the science class, explaining things to anyone who would listen. He'd seen the rocks in the soil glow for no reason, and some of the kids – Clark Kent, who Lex paid attention to because Lex could smell out intellect like he could smell out caffeine during a morning after – had looked all strange around them.
But the red rocks, they were something else. He didn't know if they were essentially the same as the green rocks or completely different. You couldn't go by colour, Lex knew, because colour just meant different energy levels. Like, a sapphire and a ruby and an emerald were really all just diamonds, it was just that they released all the energy the collected at different frequencies, because they were the same, but put together a little different. Take the light away, and they'd all be the same non-colour.
So rather than experiment on the green rocks – which probably were radioactive, and were definitely trouble, he'd pocketed some red rocks, then locked them in that stupid lead box he had – honestly, who gave their kid a box for a present? Made of lead? – and secreted them away from Smallville. He'd wanted to see what kind of energy they had, because they obviously had some: they were always warm to touch, even in the cold dark of the pre-dawn.
He'd made a box, a small one – in his spare time while his dad droned on about history and economics over the speaker phone, and Lex agreed without really knowing what he was agreeing to – out of glass and mobile phone parts and a lithium battery he'd found in his pocket. And he'd welded it all together with one of his dad's cigarette lighters that Lex kept handy for lighting Bunsen burners. And then he'd realised he'd run out of time and had to hang up on his dad and rush off to lab. Which was okay, because it wasn't like he kept the possibly-radioactive-probably-unsafe red meteors in his apartment. Because that would be just plain stupid.
The thing that supervisors hated about Lex was that he could easily do two things at once. He made coffee money by saying 'I bet you five dollars…' and then doing something really neat. He'd once done three tests simultaneously in the student lounge – a pen in each hand and answering questions verbally – and finished them in half the recommended time. He'd gotten them ninety percent right too, only losing marks because his penmanship was bit sloppy without anything to hold the paper in place, and only using dot-points in the extended response questions.
While undertaking what should be a complex reaction-condensation-titration experiment, but Lex found rather tedious, he finished making his little box, fitting a chunk of the red rock the size of his largest knuckle in amongst a nest of wires. As an afterthought, he chipped off bits of the lead box and melted them over the burner flame, using the drops of metal to coat the meteor rock. Just in case it was trouble. Which it shouldn't be.
All the box did was send a small current of electricity through the rock when he pushed a button, and display any change made to the electricity coming out the other side on what was once the lcd screen of a mobile he'd never used (science nerds didn't have much time for social lives). It wasn't the kind of device normally used for this kind of – his skin crawled, in a good way – experiment, it was a lot smaller for one. And yes, it was probably a bigger leap than some people, like, say, his supervisor, would be comfortable taking.
Lex scribbled down some observation of the condensation reaction. He then checked to see if the lead had set to his liking, which it had. It, the box, the whole principle, was so simple and straightforward. Really, what could possibly go wrong?
Lex poked the button, and his world exploded.