"This better not be 'urgent news' about Radek complaining how you reprogrammed one of his data crystals or how a seagull got trapped in the room." In any case, I'm hauling a heavy bag of interrupted research with me through the door.
"Trust me, I wouldn't've summoned you for anything so mundane." Vala tugs the bag off my shoulder, selectively forgetting that the aforementioned urgencies are not without precedent, and leads me farther inside. "It's not as trivial as 'E=hv' or whatever our delightfully annoying Dr. McKay prattles on about."
Because of her call, I just ditched a team of cryptographers in Janus's lab at the same time the IOA bureaucrats call it a day: 1700, although my days start hours before theirs. Actually, I find myself drawn home earlier and earlier after work, and wonder whether it's her eagerness to update me on Rodney's breakthroughs regarding Vala's discovery of ZPM schematics in the underwater upside-down labyrinth beneath the Third Pier, or the fortunate lack of galaxy-endangering crises to monopolize my attention during the delay in returning the city to the Pegasus Galaxy.
The coppery rays of a descending winter sun reflect off the ocean and stream through the western window of our tower loft, annealing our seven-month-old daughter in bronzed light. She's lying on her belly on the floor in the middle of the unfolded sling -- the one we use to carry her everywhere we go -- cooing and waving tiny hands and feet.
"Is the High Councilor of Atlantis okay?" I whisper, bending down to kiss and caress the golden brown waves of cornsilk on her fragrant head.
"Better than okay, Pappa," Vala pronounces the paternal endearment "puh-PAH" with an affection I've never heard her use for her own father. "She's nursed, burped and bathed," she chuckles. "Here, get on your hands and knees in front of her, like this." She demonstrates, although the pose outlined by tight clothing on her miraculously lithe body is anything but childlike. "Now rock back and forth and say 'umma umma'."
"What?" I interrupted the deciphering of never-before-seen Ancient glyphs for this?
"Come on, Daniel. You can't miss this milestone."
Powerless to resist the way she tilts her head so that a shiny black lock falls across her brow, I get on my hands and knees next to her, facing the baby, whose ice-blue eyes suddenly widen as a partially toothed Vala-grin brightens her face. I can feel an answering smile replace worry lines caused by misinterpreting newly discovered logograms and determinatives.
"Now say it," Vala whispers. "Umma umma."
"Why? Is that really necessary?" I give her a look.
She ignores the look. "Say it. And rock while you're saying it."
I give her one more look -- the one with the last shred of dignity I can muster -- and turn back to the baby, who's staring straight at me.
"Umm." I don't recall teaching either of them the Egyptian Arabic word for mother.
"Not 'um', Daniel. Umma umma! She'll repeat it."
The poor kid's learning sarcasm at an early age, because that's the tone I use to chant the nonsense: "Umma umma."
The little face watches, listens and frowns in concentration (Vala insists it's the exact duplicate of an expression that frequents my own), looks down at the floor, mere inches from her nose, and raises herself slowly on pudgy arms and legs. She gazes up at me and smiles again. "Uh-uh ma uh-ma!" And rocks on her hands and knees with a manic energy that wads the fabric into a topography of chaos.
"Oh my god that's adorable." I laugh out loud, a sound more familiar to my throat in the time since I let Vala into my life. I continue to lead our daughter in movement and babble; she squeals, sways, and shouts the syllables at me, getting louder and rocking faster.
Vala collapses on the floor, giggling triumphantly. "Have you ever seen anything as ridiculously cute as that in your entire life?"
"She's associating morphemes with movement." I attempt to temper parental pride with objective observation. "She's beyond pre-verbal and will soon be beyond pre-ambulatory; we'll have a crawler in a week or so."
Vala laughs wickedly. "I've another theory, darling: she's being purely imitative. She's copying what you do on top of me every morning."
I stop rocking. Okay, she's exaggerating; sometimes she's on top, and moans more than I do. "Vala, m-maybe we oughtta reconsider the whole 'family bed-sharing' ide--"
"Absolutely not!" Vala pounces on my back and wraps her arms around me. "Happy Valentine's Day. I've been carrying your son for two-and-a-half weeks." She confirms the news by holding in front of my nose a data tablet that's possibly "borrowed" from Dr. Keller's cache of new gadgets.
"Wha--?" We'd discussed waiting another year. I can barely focus my eyes through confusion, euphoria and Vala swirling around me to rub herself against my chest; the kiss she glues to my lips only adds to the emotions that supplant rational thought. Before I kiss her again, I look down on where she's lying beneath me, glowing from more than the light of a languid sunset. A once vain, violent, cold-blooded con artist turned galactic heroine is consenting to thicken her sex-goddess figure a second time to bear my child. "How'd that happen?" I ask.
"Umma umma!" shouts the baby.