The day was bright and clear, though the shield wall gave the sun a shimmering aspect that gave Ignis headaches from time to time. A cool, dry wind blew hard and fast, and he adjusted his collar nervously, wishing he had slept the night before instead of spending until the wee hours of the Arrakeen morning in silent preparation for this ritual. Boots crunched on the gravel-strewn walkway. Ignis turned around, his blue-within-blue eyes meeting the sunlens-covered brow of a testing official, whose chest was covered in a glinty blur of medals and assorted baubles of rank.
"Ignis Glassiesk?" he hissed, his eyes taking in everything about Ignis in half a second and processing it into a complete psychological profile before the next heartbeat in his chest.
"Come with me." He extended a knobbly, gnarled hand. His lips were stained deep, deep red.
Ignis pulled a second packet of melange from a hidden pocket and swallowed it in one gulp. His vision widened and every cell in his body waited patiently for orders from his neocortex.
"It is good you prepare, young Ignis, but I fear you shan't need the melange this morning. This test requires more... Primal strengths."
Ignis chose not to say anything. In his mind, a blur of practice problems ricocheted around in the walls of his skull, cementing themselves in the furrows and sulci of his brain.
The testing center was a small, squat building, hewn from ancient stone and seemed to be more a part of the land than anything in this old, dusty city. The man led Ignis in through the entrance and motioned for him to wait in the lobby, and to deposit all his personal belongings with the guard. The guard in turn motioned for Ignis to roll up his sleeves and submit his arms for inspection for scribbled notes, and patted him down for weapons and concealed filmbooks.
"What do you study, young scholar?" asked the guard, bored.
"I study humanity. Anthropology."
"A worthy field on any world than this. Although we hear rumblings of trouble from sand and sietch, if you understand my meaning. Ever consider being a spy? You have the eyes to pass among their number."
"I'm more worried about today, good sir. Tomorrow can wait."
"Good. Focused. You shall do well. Have a seat; they like to keep their scholars waiting. Builds up tension, allows a single barb of uncertainty to penetrate their arrogance. You would do well, young scholar, to enter that room with a humble and yielding aspect. Many an arrogant boaster has died in those halls."
The guard nodded grimly.
After what felt like an eternity to Ignis' melange-stimulated brain, the door swung open, and silhouetted in its expanse was a tiny old woman in a black robe, hood drawn over her eyes.
She led him into a small room. Ignis expected scratch pads, styli, sound-dampening fields, but all he saw was a nondescript box in the center of the room, with a hole just large enough for a single hand.
"Young Ignis, you are to place your hand in the box."
"Is this the test?"
"Do it," she hissed in an otherworldly voice. Ignis had no choice but to obey. He placed his hand in the box, compelled by some primal need to obey that voice. The old lady stood behind him. He felt a tiny prick on his neck and almost turned to look around, but the old lady hissed.
"Do not move a muscle. What you feel on your neck is the high-handed enemy, the gom-jabbar. Jerk one muscle, and you shall die before you feel the prick of the needle."
Ignis' heart raced. He was aware of a dull pain from his hand in the box. The pain sharpened, unstoppable and unyielding as a sandstorm, from which there was neither refuge nor shelter. He felt the skin peel from the flesh, and the flesh bubble and sizzle. The tendons stretched and snapped one-by-one, and the ligaments hardened and crumbled, until the bones of his hand were held together by nothing more than a crackling veil of burnt flesh. Ignis screamed, rending his throat. His vision narrowed and greyed. His heart raced until he imagined it bursting against his chest walls. Still, he held his hand in the box. He had heard stories of this gom-jabbar, and he thought it would be a worthy sacrifice to lose a hand, than to lose his life. He would avenge himself against this old lady later. He breathed, counted each frantic inhalation and exhalation, took his mind to places other than his hand.
The pain fell away as the nerves stopped transmitting pain impulses to his brain. The old lady withdrew the needle from his neck and backed away. Ignis snatched his arm out of the box, expecting nothing more than a crumbling black stump where his hand had been, but was shocked to see that not a single hair was singed. His hand was quite whole.
"What was this?"
"The test. We are the Bene Gesserit. We sift through the sand to find the human beings. You have proven yourself to have potential as a human being. Be not too proud of this, young Ignis; I say 'potential' for a reason. Do not squander it, and do not take it lightly."
"But, where was the quantitative section? The verbal arguments? The comparisons and analogies? All this test proved was that I could take unbearable pain under threat of instant death."
The old lady stood there, shocked.
"Young man, I believe we've made a grave mistake. You are not meant to be here."
"Am I in the wrong test?"
"A thousand pardons. The GRE testing center is down the hall. Hurry, hurry, gather your things; I'll send a messenger ahead of you to explain your absence. Oh dear, oh dear, that damn fool of a Mentat..."