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"What I have in my stories is ethics. Ethics and morality are very different cups of tea. I adhere to a very strict rigor of personal ethics and I demand it of those around me as well."
- Harlan Ellison

Gom Jabbar  
  A needle with deadly poison, used to test for humans.  

When Paul Atreides meets the Reverend Mother, she tricks him into putting his hand into her pain box to test him for the characteristics of humans, not just animal characteristics like fear and unreasoning action.

Slowly, feeling the compulsions and unable to inhibit them, Paul put his hand into the box. He felt first a sense of cold as the blackness closed around his hand, then slick metal against his fingers and a prickling as though his hand were asleep.

A predatory look filled the old woman's features. She lifted her right hand away from the box and poised the hand close to the side of Paul's neck. He saw a glint of metal there and started to turn toward it.


(Gom jabbar from Denis Villeneuve's 2020 film Dune)

"Stop!" she snapped.

Using the Voice again! He swung his attention back to her face.

"I hold at your neck the gom jabbar," she said. "The gom jabbar, the high-handed enemy. It's a needle with a drop of poison on its tip. Ah-ah! Don't pull away or you'll feel that poison."

Paul tried to swallow in a dry throat. He could not take his attention from the seamed old face, the glistening eyes, the pale gums around silvery metal teeth that flashed as she spoke.

"A duke's son must know about poisons," she said. "It's the way of our times, eh? Musky, to be poisoned in your drink. Aumas, to be poisoned in your food. The quick ones and the slow ones and the ones in between. Here's a new one for you: the gom jabbar. It kills only animals."

Pride overcame Paul's fear. "You dare suggest a duke's son is an animal?" he demanded.

"Let us say I suggest you may be human," she said. "Steady! I warn you not to try jerking away. I am old, but my hand can drive this needle into your neck before you escape me."

From Dune, by Frank Herbert.
Published by Putnam in 1965
Additional resources -

She continues:

"Good," she said. "You pass the first test. Now, here's the way of the rest of it: If you withdraw your hand from the box you die. This is the only rule. Keep your hand in the box and live. Withdraw it and die."

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  More Ideas and Technology from Dune
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