Captain Archer was sitting in his Ready Room. He gazed at Major Matthew Hayes with a look of due respect.
He knew full well that Enterprise never would have made it through the Xindi Crisis without the combat skills and expertise of Hayes and his team of MACOs. One of the better decisions I made throughout the whole damn soul-destroying experience, he thought to himself. Not that for one moment did he doubt the abilities of Malcolm Reed and his Security Team. But as a vessel of exploration, Enterprise was manned with Starfleet personnel experienced in and equipped for just that. Malcolm was the closest thing to a soldier that Archer had on his crew, but he wasn't leading a team of battle-hardened soldiers.
Hayes was standing at ease in front of Archer's Ready Room desk.
Archer gently tapped his fingers on his desk thoughtfully. "How long have you been with us now, Major?"
Hayes keeping his gaze level, still looking straight ahead, responded without hesitation. "16 months and 9 days, Sir."
Archer chuckled. "Counting the days, Major?"
Hayes was happy to be honest with Archer. He respected the Captain immensely and after all Starfleet and the MACOs had been through together, it wasn't such a leap of faith anymore.
"I won't deny that space has been tough on my team, Captain. Not that we would change any part of it with respect to our role in Enterprise's mission."
It was one of the many attributes Archer liked about the Major. When he spoke, he spoke with every member of his team in mind. They were a living, breathing unit. Archer stood and walked around the desk to look the Major in the eye.
Archer got straight to the point. "How would you feel about some time on terra firma? A reassignment?"
Hayes' controlled expression slipped for a split second. "Sir?"
Archer continued. "I've had a request from Starfleet, asking if Enterprise can spare you for a while. I was wondering how you'd feel about that. Being away from your team. Who would you place in charge of the MACOs in your stead?"
If Hayes was thrown by the suddenness of the request, he didn't betray any feelings one way or another on the matter. Something else I like about him, thought Archer, with a hint of amusement. The man is unflappable.
To say Hayes' curiosity was piqued would be an understatement. It would take some serious heavyweight influence in Starfleet to separate a lead MACO Officer from his team, so the upper echelons of his command structure must be in on it too, otherwise Archer wouldn't be standing in front of him now posing the question.
"MacKenzie, Sir," came the response. "She knows the team and how it functions as well as I do."
Archer gave him a smile. "Excellent, Major."
He returned to his seat. "I must say, despite knowing that the MACOs were needed on board, I had given a lot of serious thought to how it would unbalance the ship's security team already in place."
"You and I both, Sir," Hayes replied. "It wasn't easy for Lieutenant Reed and I in the early stages of our professional arrangement. Having as much as we did in common, a clash was inevitable."
"Well, I'm glad to observe that the differences that led to that infamous clash appear to have been laid to rest," said Archer.
"Couldn't agree more, Sir," replied Hayes, expressionless as ever.
Archer handed him the PADD from his desk. "Here is your assignment. We will be rendezvousing with a Vulcan ship that is heading your direction, past the Sol System."
Hayes paused as he took the PADD from Archer's outstretched hand. "I'm going back to Earth, Sir?"
Archer nodded. "You are, Major. It appears you made quite an impression on Ambassador Meara Shaw…"
Dismissed, Hayes exited the Ready Room and studied the PADD as he entered the Turbolift to depart the Bridge. As he stepped in and turned round, he looked up to see Malcolm poring over his station on Tactical. Well, I'll miss that sight for one thing, he thought to himself, as the door slipped shut.
On exiting the lift and heading for his quarters, he bumped into Kemper.
"Yes, Sir?" said Kemper standing to attention in the corridor. "At ease. Gather the team in the training area in one hour. I need to brief you all on a new… development."
"Of course, Sir."
"Thanks, Sergeant," he nodded as he continued onto his quarters. He'd need to review the assignment and assess what details he could and couldn't share with his team. Though given what they went through with Meara Shaw during her sojourn on Enterprise, you could probably fit those details on the butt of his particle rifle.
Hayes was right about the butt of his particle rifle.
"You're being reassigned, Sir?," said Romero, with a slight frown.
"I believe that's what I just said, Corporal," ignoring the fact that he was speaking out of turn. He understood it was a bit of a bombshell to drop on your team in the middle of space.
"Permission to speak freely, Sir?," said Cole.
At least someone's remembered military etiquette, he thought. "Go ahead."
"Given we're in the middle of space, Major, I was wondering where exactly you were being assigned to?," she asked smoothly.
Hayes strode up the line as he spoke. Some details he could give. "I'm going on mission back on Earth."
"But we're weeks from the Sol system—"
Hayes raised his hand to stem the chatter. "Enterprise will be rendezvousing with another ship - a Vulcan ship - in a day or so, that is heading that way. At their Warp speed, the Captain tells me we'll make it to Jupiter station in less than seven days."
He continued before any more questions could be thrown out there. "Obviously for security reasons I can't go into detail, even with my own team. You all appreciate the term, need to know…" He turned to walk down the line again. "As I said, it is a temporary assignment and the timeframe is set. I know how much you bunch of reprobates need constant, adult supervision," he said with mock amusement in an effort to ease the tension, "so MacKenzie will be helping you tie your bootlaces in my absence," pausing in front of her.
As expected, the order was received without a murmur. "Dismissed. Except you, Corporal."
"Sir," she said, curtly, remaining at attention, looking straight ahead.
Hayes waited until the room was clear. "I can count on you, can't I, Corporal?," he said firmly.
"Absolutely, Major. This team is my life and as my mentor throughout this mission, my sole purpose is to represent your best interests and that of this team."
Loyalty, he thought, there is no finer quality in a MACO. He needed to be clear though.
"We've come a long way from the Unit that left Earth before the Xindi mission, Corporal." He looked at her piercingly. "I need to know that in my absence, you will continue building on that."
MacKenzie knew he was referring to relations with the Enterprise crew. As long as he doesn't ask me to have dinner with Lieutenant Reed, she thought to herself, I think I can manage…
He turned his back to her as he spoke. "Hell," he said quietly, "Of all people, I know firsthand how irritating and difficult the Lieutenant can be. When it comes to duty and goddam preciousness about what he perceives as his territory, he can be a real pain in the ass."
Turning to face her again, he said, "But I think you'll find he's come a long way too. So give him a chance. I don't want to come back to a repeat of the mistakes I made when we first came aboard Enterprise."
"Understood, Sir. You can count on me."
Hayes gave a quick nod. "Dismissed." He did know he could count on her. He just hoped he could count on Malcolm as well.
Leaving the Mess after a further less formal discussion with MacKenzie, Hayes was heading to his quarters for a couple of quiet hours before he broke the news of his reassignment to Malcolm. Letting his mind wander, he thought about the woman he would soon be seeing again, and smiled absently thinking back to how she had brought Malcolm and him together.
And think of the Devil, thought Hayes, as the door slipped open to allow Malcolm entry to the Turbolift.
"And what might you be smiling about?" he asked Hayes, looking straight ahead.
"You mean aside from the fact that I've hooked up with the hottest guy in Starfleet?"
"Really? I didn't know you and Commander Tucker were an item."
"Blond and brooding? Not really my type. Tend to go more for dark and irritating myself."
"What a coincidence. I know someone just like that. I wonder if we're discussing the same officer?"
"Unlikely. The guy I'm talking about has a strangely attractive accent and a really fine ass—"
The turbolift door opened to reveal Trip Tucker. Hayes didn't miss a beat.
"-et to the team, Sir. In fact, I'm thinking of recommending her for a promotion," said Hayes smoothly.
I'm sure you'll do what's best for your team, Major," replied Malcolm, stepping out of the lift with a nod to Trip.
As the lift started up again, Trip took a sideways glance towards Hayes. "Refreshin' to see you guys gettin' along so well these days."
"Yes, Commander," came the non-committed response.
All the conversational skills of a Vulcan, thought Trip to himself, as the Turbolift ground to halt and Hayes stepped out.
"Have a good shift, Major." "Likewise Commander," said Hayes with a nod. Yup, thought Trip, as the lift sped towards Engineering. He'd fit right in with those pointy-eared party animals.