JUST A LITTLE FENCING

originally written (pre-internet)
© 1989

Feint. Parry. Swish, a blade sliced through the air. That was close. Rapiers brandished with expertise, the two opponents circled each other cautiously. Dressed identically head to foot in cotton white body suits and hoods, they were indistinguishable. Mesh masks hid their eyes, protecting their faces.

Both were tall and slender of build, one only an inch shorter than the other. Almost imperceptible, until the actual strike, their sword arms moved. Sharp metal sliced through the air once more glancing together then apart, keeping time in a deadly dance.

Another parry encountered; another thrust defeated. They circled again. Neither, and they had been at this for indiscriminate amounts of time...neither could gain the upper hand. Exhaustion nonetheless sets the best apart, if only marginally, and breeds mistakes.

The slightly stockier one stepped back slicing the rapier between their bodies, a feint to the left. Off balance for an instant, it was an instant long enough for his opponent's advantage. A rapier tip sluiced aside the other weapon, and forced the shorter one back a half‑step. The rapier sliced into the fabric of the white tunic, rending the shoulder quite handily.

Not a word was uttered as the pair stepped apart, finished at last. Rapiers lowered to rest; hands removed gloves. Heads lifted, eyes meeting behind masks. Arms lifted hands for nimble fingers to lift the hoods. Hoods dropped away defining the opponents in seconds.

Red hair tossed under the sharp lights of the gymnasium. Victorious blue eyes flashed. A bald pate shined with light perspiration in the bright lights. Brown eyes measured intensely.

"Excellent match, doctor," he offered his hand after a shrug to stretch the attacked shoulder.

"You're not so shabby yourself, captain."

The two walked, side by side to the room's far wall. In cubbyholes rested two open cases for their weapons. Captain Jean‑Luc Picard studied his Chief Medical Officer as she easily shut her sword away. "How long have you fenced?" he asked. She startled him with her absent reply as she closed the lid.

"Since I was ten...'if you are old enough to hold one,' my father said, 'You're old enough to use one.' " Beverly Crusher looked over her right shoulder as Picard put his weapon away. "What about you?"

"Fourteen. Academy Prep School."

Her eyes glowed a moment, then she asked, and he noted the contained excitement in her voice. "Jean Tregonnet?"

Picard nodded agreement. "I was fortunate; he left shortly after my years there."

"You were quite fortunate," she remarked, impressed. "Did he teach you 'Laertes Cross' or did someone else?"

They draped towels over their shoulders and walked to the door. "I learned 'Laertes' from a fencing partner in the Academy. Fira Marulta."

"I fought Fira once. He's quite the brute when it comes to the art," Beverly remarked.

"How could you have fought Fira? You didn't come to Terra until you were nearly twenty."

"I didn't meet him on Earth, Jean‑Luc. I met Fira on Arvedda III."

"For a failed colony, Arvedda III certainly gave you quite a range of talent," Picard returned dryly, wondering if her mysterious past would ever be completely revealed to him.

"Arvedda III may have been a failure as a technological colony, Jean‑Luc, but it was far richer in what really mattered."

He sensed the growing discontent in her voice, and offered, "I apologize. I ...did not think."

"Well, try to...Home is home no matter what it is. At least to me."

"Don't go off in a huff. Wait. Isn't there something a man can say to smooth your temper?" Picard touched her arm, then gripped as she tried to brush past him out of reach. "No...What is it? What did I say?"

She looked away. Then looked back at him, trying to read his face, fathom his thoughts before revealing her own. "It's not easy to forget. But I have to."

"You've never told me any more about Arvedda III, either since that day on Minos."

"God, I don't want to remember that." She tossed a towel over her shoulders. "I'd better be returning to sickbay."

"Why?"

"I have a staff meeting to conduct, sir. You know, keep up on the doings of my officers."

She was subtly informing him that his curiosity had been particularly unwelcome, and Jean‑Luc knew it. Had known it as soon as the questions burst forth. Why did he have to be so curious where she was concerned? He knew the answer. Because of their brief united history through Jack Crusher, her husband and probably the finest first officer with whom Jean-Luc Picard had ever served. "I see. So the fencing master goes into hiding for another day." Picard's dry comment ended the conversation on a light note between the two friends.