The New Normal
Two weeks ago, my colleagues from the Centre for International Languages and I started with a session zero.
Today, we played our first actual The Laundry RPG session. A group of language teachers attempted to play as a group of ultra-secret government intelligence agents trying to – ultimately – stop the end of the world.
From the Capital Laundry Services (M) Sdn Bhd Employee Handbook Ver 34.2:
The Laundry (Malaysia) is a unit in the Malaysian Ministry of Education. After a 6 years being an independent British agency after the independence of Malaya, the Laundry (Malaysia) was gazetted and absorbed into the new Malaysian Federal government in 1963 in a Top Secret ceremony with the blessings of the Majlis Raja-Raja. The Laundry was integrated into the Ministry of Education using high level computational sorcery and magic. In 1997, the Laundry (Malaysia) was attached as a logistics unit of the Rancangan Makanan Tambahan (RMT), an agency that provides food to underprivileged Malaysian schoolchildren.
- Azizah a.k.a. Jijah (Yuzi) – a Fifth Form student who is also an experienced spy from Pulau Langkawi.
- Badrul (Bazli) – a 65 year-old antiquarian from Ipoh, Perak.
- Lucy Abdullah (Farah) – a “plumber” from Tangkak, Johor.
- Rayha a.k.a Ray (Noriha) – a linguist from Batu Pahat, Johor.
- Talhah Abdullah (Rizal) – a computer hacker from Segamat, Johor.
THE BUNGA TAHI AYAM BRIEFING
They did not remember arriving at the Laundry Malaysia’s headquarters. They remembered training. They remembered graduating. But Talhah, Ray, Lucy, Badrul and Jijah found themselves waiting in a clean, well-lit government meeting room with no memory of them walking into it. They knew, however, that it was a security measure. A geas protected the headquarters from newcomers from learning of its location until they could confirm the visitors’ allegiance and loyalty.
A lady in her mid-30s entered the room and introduced herself as Puan Siti, the Coordinator of Field Operations. She carried a set of thick folders under her arm. She welcomed the group to the Laundry and announced that they would form a Laundry field team. Because other floral names were taken, their group would be Team Bunga Tahi Ayam. Everyone winced at this. Talhah winced more than the others.
Pn. Siti saw Jijah and questioned her age. Jijah told her she discovered by spying on her that her kindergarten teacher was not human and fed contaminated milk to the children under her care. Even at age six, Jijah had been able to find a way to undermine this creature. From then on, she knew that the world was populated by unspeakable, blasphemous things that would harm humans. This was also why Jijah would never drink any fresh milk.
After learning of Jijah’s crusade in Primary and Secondary Schools, the Laundry opted to recruit her.
Pn. Siti assured her, “The milk we use for the school RMT programme is fine. It’s sourced from a farm we contract to in Jenderam Hulu, Selangor.”
The teenager shrugged.
Suddenly, Pn. Siti peered at them with piercing eyes and said, “This is an important task. It is crucial to the survival of the Laundry and to our country. If you fail at this task, the results would be catastrophic. You are to…” – she slammed the pile of folders onto the desk – “…deliver these files to our Director at her house in Ulu Yam, then come back here. Don’t screw up. Good luck and may Allah be with you.”
Then she left.
The team then went to the quartermaster – an elderly Chinese gentleman wearing a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and selipar Jepun – who only allowed them to sign out three Sig Sauer M11-A1 pistols. He gave out two extra ammo clips per gun. The guns went to Lucy who was a trained soldier, Jijah who was a spy and Ray.
They were each given a Laundry-encrypted and custom-coded Samsung Note, their so-called Necronomiphones. Sorcery and magic were discovered to be high-level mathematics that allowed a sentient mind to hack into the fabric of reality. Centuries ago, spells were done using long and arcane rituals. Today, spells could be cast using smart phone application. Each of their phones had been preloaded with computational sorcery spells. Talhah was adamant he only had defensive spells.
Then, the quartermaster whispered to them, “You might need something more for your first day in the field.” He gave them two boxes. “If anyone asks, you didn’t get these from me.” After leaving the quartermaster’s office, they discovered that one box had three blocks of C4 explosives with one remote detonator. Lucy slipped them into her backpack. The other contained a preserved, dismembered hand. Talhah said, “This is a Hand of Glory. If we hold it and light the ends of the digits, it will make us invisible.”
Before they could go to the motor pool, another executive accosted them in the corridor. She appeared to be in her mid-40s, her baju kurung and hijab were too gaudy and her make-up too thick.
She said, “I am Pn. Izani. I am coming with you as your field supervisor on your Ulu Yam mission. We have been monitoring a surge in thaumic energy in Ulu Yam in the last 48 hours. We sent one team in to investigate. They haven’t reported in for 24 hours. Before you deliver your package to the Director, we will have to take a look at the last location of the last team. It would be good for your Key Performance Index.”
As they were all fresh new employees of the civil government, all they could do was agree with Pn. Izani.
Pn. Izani led the team up 10 levels to the motor pool. They considered taking the Modenas 118 EFI motorcycles and ride to Ulu Yam like a mat motor gang. Instead, they decided on the 1996 Isuzu Trooper that could carry all of them for the mission.
Pn. Izani signed out the car from the motor pool office. Talhah got into the driver’s seat. Two minutes later, they were driving out of the motor pool. The team looked behind them. It looked as if they had just driven out from under a wooden traditional kampung house. Talhah looked to the right and saw the twin towers of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre close by. Badrul said, “We’re in Kampung Baru, in Kuala Lumpur!”
Talhah turned left and drove past the Kampung Baru masjid towards Jalan Tun Razak.
Pn. Izani was enjoying the team’s state of awe and remarked, “Welcome to the new normal.”
THE SAMBAL IKAN BILIS BUN INVESTIGATION
The team travelled north out of Kuala Lumpur. The turned towards Hulu Yam Baru and turned back south to the Pusat Perindustrian Perabot Ulu Yam, the Ulu Yam Furniture Industrial Centre. Pn. Izani informed them that this was where the last team checked in from.
There were three men working on a sofa outside their small factory. Lucy and Jijah went to them asking for information but they said many people passed by over the last few days. They could not remember every last one.
Lucy thought it would be better for them to have the agents’ photos, so she went to ask Pn. Izani for them. Pn. Izana was sitting alone at the back seat of the car, yakking on her phone and annoyed that Lucy had disturbed her. She sent the images via their Necronomiphones’ secured modified Whatsapp network. She also slowly shook her head and tsk-tsked, muttering, “This is how you work? You’re not going to get a high KPI from me.”
The agents’ eyes widened in horror, but they did not say anything.
Badrul wanted to question the person manning the Ramli burger stand, but Lucy headed to the Seven-Twelve convenience store. She showed the photos of the missing agents to the young Indian girl at the counter who recognised them. She told Lucy that they were looking for Gardenia sambal ikan bilis buns, but they were out of stock. She heard from one of them that they were headed south towards the Sungai Tua Recreational Forest.
Lucy asked if there was anything at all out of the ordinary that she noticed in the last few days. The only thing of note, the shopkeeper said, was Encik Sabri‘s kedai runcit.
The grocery shop was located a couple of kilometres south. En. Sabri was usually a nice, jovial person. In the last two weeks he became more surly and insular. Five days ago, he closed his grocery store without any warning. The strange thing was that at night, while riding home by bike, she heard strange sounds coming from the closed store.
Before leaving, the shopkeeper asked if they needed anything. Lucy politely declined. The shopkeeper’s smile became terse as she eyed Lucy leaving the Seven-Twelve.
They returned to the car and reported their findings to Pn. Izani. She smiled icily and said, “Maybe you’ll earn your KPI yet.”
Talhah was getting visibly annoyed Pn. Izani.
THE CLOSED KEDAI RUNCIT VISITATION
Team Bunga Tahi Ayam found Kedai Runcit Sabri sandwiched between thick foliage, about 300 metres from the Pusat Latihan Asnaf Selangor. They pulled over and disembarked, leaving Pn. Izani at the back seat of her car. She promptly pulled out her Necronomiphone as the team carefully headed towards the grocery store.
Badrul and Talhah decided to check out the back. Lucy, Ray and Jijah planned on knocking on the front door. While Lucy and Ray knocked, Jijah studied the ground and concluded that no one had been in the area in the last 12-13 hours.
The men found that the back door was shut tight and padlocked. That was when Talhah saw something out of the corner of his eye. Two black clad figures slowly emerged from the foliage surrounding the small backyard with pistols aimed at them. He quickly scrawled the panic button pattern on his Necronomicon lock screen.
The ladies recognised the panic button vibration pattern from their phones, drew their pistols and crept towards the men. Lucy took the south wall alone while Ray and Jijah the north wall. Lucy, a black ops soldier, silently advanced on the location. Jijah was light on her feet and made no sound at all as she bounded to the back of the shop. Ray, however, stepped on a dry twig.
The masked gunmen turned their weapons away from Badrul and Talhah towards Ray and Jijah. Ray had the fastest reflexes and fired at the lead gunman but her bullet went wild as being a linguist she was unused to firearms. Jijah also loosed a shot but missed. Her bullet hit the ground in front of the second gunman and kicked dirt to his face.
Lucy popped out from behind the south wall and put a bullet in the leader’s shoulder.
He did not grunt in pain. Instead he shot at Ray but missed due to his injured shoulder. The other assailant shot at Jijah and also missed. A rubber sap receptacle tied to the side of a nearby rubber tree exploded as the wayward bullet struck it.
Talhah spun, his arms raised and yelled, “Stop! We’re on your side! Can’t we talk?” But the computer hacker noticed that the man was about to shoot Lucy. Badrul tried to run forward to punch the second gunman, but he was no longer a young man and his swing missed.
Suddenly, the lead gunman’s head exploded as Ray had found her confidence and aim. She was walking forward like a badass with a smoking gun while the lead gunman dropped to the ground.
Jijah missed again, but Lucy was able to put a bullet in the second gunman’s gullet. Talhah grabbed this advantage and dove into the surviving attacker, pinning him to the ground. Talhah noticed that the man’s eyes through his eye-holes were pale and milky, like he was undead. He yelled, “Someone tie him up! I can’t hold him for long!”
While everyone was deciding what to do next, Ray confidently strode to the two struggling men. She held the gunman’s head with both hands and twisted. There was a snap. He stopped struggling.
Talhah yelled, “Yuck! I have zombie juice on me!” They unmasked the corpses and confirmed that they had been undead, probably bound to perform this mission by some application of sorcery.
But under whose orders?
THE ACUTE JAWI TEXT DISCOVERY
Suddenly, a series of annoying honks came from their Isuzu Trooper on the other side of the closed kedai runcit. Lucy was about to report the situation to Pn. Izani when Talhah told her that that bureaucrat can go jump off a cliff.
They decided to instead push on to where they figured the assailants came from. There was a hundred or so metres of thick bushes and trees. Then, they came to a man-made trail. The trail led up a hill overgrown with even more tropical foliage.
They looked around and there were some household garbage on the ground. Lucy spotted a Manila envelope addressed to Encik Sabri Mat Hassan dated two weeks ago. There was no return address. Badrul noted the postmark indicated that it came from Kuala Lumpur.
They opened it and three loose pages fell out. The parchments looked very old and brittle. One gaze and the antique expert Badrul told them that these were at least 300 to 400 years old. What were these parchments doing out here?
Rayha took the pages. As a linguist, she saw that the writing on the parchments were handwritten in old Jawi script. But the Jawi was unlike anything she had ever seen before. This Jawi script had acute corners instead of flowing curved strokes.
Rayha discovered that the pages were from an ancient occult book entitled Kitab Serba Serbi Budi Bicara Alam.
Moreover, although a lot of the words on the manuscript made no sense to her, Ray believed that the text on the pages referred to some manner of summoning spell.
What has En. Sabri done?
Bahasa Melayu – English Glossary
- asnaf – individuals eligible for the zakat tithe payment, i.e. the underprivileged
- Bahasa Melayu – Malay Language
- baju kurung – traditional Malay female garb used for work and formal occasions
- baru – new
- bunga – flower
- bunga tahi ayam – lantana camara (big sage flower)
- cik – miss
- encik (En.) – mister
- hulu (see ulu)
- ikan bilis – anchovies
- Jawi – traditional Arabic script adapted for Bahasa Melayu
- Jepun – Japan, Japanese
- kampung – traditional Malaysian village
- kedai – shop
- kedai runcit – grocery store
- majlis – council
- makanan – food
- masjid – mosque
- mat motor – moped-riding biker
- perabot – furniture
- puan (Pn.) – madam
- pusat latihan – training centre
- pusat perindustrian – industrial centre
- raja-raja – kings
- rancangan – programme
- runcit – retail
- sambal – spicy dip
- selipar – slippers, sandals
- selipar Jepun – flip-flops
- tambahan – additional
- tahi ayam – chicken excrement
- ulu – inland, upriver
- zakat – tithing, the Fifth Pillar of Islam
- We did not finish the first module I wrote as it was lunch time and almost time for Friday prayers. I hope the next session will be as fun if not more.
- I am disappointed we did not get to meet the Laundry Malaysia director Cik Lela.
- Because I was rushing to finish the last bit, I forgot the Sanity Checks for killing the zombies. I must remember to get the rolls at the start of the next session.
- Addendum: A modified version of this play report has been posted at the CIL website in December.