djkaktus (De)Construction #2: The Life and Times of SCP-049

Hey everyone, and welcome back to djkaktus (De)Construction. In each installment of this series, we'll take an extant SCP article, sometimes good and sometimes bad, and break it down into its constituent parts to talk about what's good or bad, and what works and what doesn't work. In the previous post we talked at length about SCP-049 and why it's probably not... good.

But as promised previously, after a thorough dismantling of the Plague Doctor we're going to take a step back and look at what you might do to make SCP-049 good. We'll take a look at the things we criticized SCP-049 for and how to find suitable replacements for them, as well as address some of the larger, overarching concerns in the article. Some things we'll keep, most we'll throw out. Hopefully by the time it's all done, we'll have something that, while resembling the original, is fresh and new and (God willing) good.

Just as a forewarning, while I've had the good fortune of success on the wiki I'm by no means an expert. These ideas are simply my own, and aren't by any means an exact science. Your mileage may vary, and all that.

Let's get into it.

Part One: Starting From The Top

Before we get too deep into SCP-049, we should address the larger concerns about what the entity is. At it stands, SCP-049 is a humanoid entity of some kind that resembles a medieval plague doctor in appearance and, by way of touching people to kill them and then fiddling with their insides, creates pseudozombies that go out into the world and kill kill kill. He goes on at length about how he thinks he is the cure, he chats with SCP-035, and is a generally straightforward spooky boi. 

So let's talk about what he could be, then. In my mind, behind every good humanoid stands a good backstory. It doesn't need to be long or complicated, but it does need to be compelling. The idea that the Foundation just found this guy wandering around in England doesn't strike me as compelling, so we'll spruce that bit up first. I'll expand on this more in the description section, but definitely expect that to change.

Similarly, what this fellow's anomalous abilities are should be altered too. "Touching people and killing them" seems too straightforward for something that's supposed to be frightening, and his whole "surgery" shtick is a little too vague and open ended for my liking. The old adage of "don't show the monster" rings true here, but the previous article could've definitely used a little more showing, and a little less telling. We don't need to expand at length about what he's doing here, but giving people enough of an idea to make it scary will go a long way.

To that end, I think we'll scrap the bit about him killing things by touching them. Nothing about that is probably suitable for a modern SCP, it's just not interesting and readers will scream "OP!" as soon as somebody with that power comes out swinging. Additionally, he won't be making zombies anymore. Zombies are played out and there are way more interesting ways to go there, anyway. Instead, I want to lean heavily into the Bubonic Plague, the horrifying disease that ravaged the population in dark-age Europe. Our doctor very well could have been an actual plague doctor from the old times, who experienced the horror of those years first hand. Tying him into the actual disease, and turning that into a threat, is where we'll find our wheelhouse in this one.

Lastly, this is not a cheery plague doctor. Instead of the cartoon caricature of a villain we have currently, we'll try and swap out some of his more jovial characteristics with some that are a little darker. He was a doctor, he did what he could to try and save people, but people died in the millions anyway. The effect that had on him has to be evident.

With this all in mind, let's take a look at our article.

Item #: SCP-049
Object Class: Keter

Object class upgrade, but nothing else new here. I think the need for that change will become apparent shortly.

Special Containment Procedures: SCP-049 is to be contained within a hermetically sealed glass containment cell at Site-77. The seals on this chamber are to be checked and maintained every eight hours, and defects in the chamber's seal are to be considered an emergency-level event and must be repaired immediately by assigned containment engineers. Under no circumstances are any individuals to enter SCP-049's containment cell, or interact with the exterior of SCP-049's containment cell without proper hazardous exposure equipment. 

Right of the gate we're going to start with a gut-punch. SCP-049 is in a sealed box, and under no circumstances should anyone go into it. The seal is paramount, and breaches in the seal are a containment-breach level issue. Already the reader is wondering "wtf, why? What's in this box that's so important that we keep it in the box?"

Interaction with SCP-049 is forbidden to anyone except qualified research personnel. Any individual who shows signs of illness after interacting with SCP-049, or after maintaining SCP-049's containment cell is to be immediately moved to on-site medical quarantine for evaluation. 
Individuals who show symptoms of the pathogen 049-Yersinia-Inactive are to be kept in quarantine for further analysis. Individuals who show symptoms of the pathogen 049-Yersinia-Active are to be moved to a hospice quarantine and held there until they are deceased. The bodies of individuals affected by 049-Yersinia-Inactive or Active are to be incinerated and the ashes placed in sealed containers for further analysis.
In the event of a breach of containment, Site-77 is to be immediately evacuated and all personnel screened for the existence of 049-Yersinia before transfer off-site. Individuals found to be infected with 049-Yersinia are to be moved to quarantine. In the event that no proper screening procedure can be initiated, all personnel are to be contained within Site-77 to begin experimental drug trials (see Addendum 049-3: 049-Black Water Protocol for details). Any individual attempting to leave Site-77 during an SCP-049 containment breach lockdown is to be terminated on sight.
My proposed image change for SCP-049. Not perfect, obviously, but a few changes really make this, I think. 

My proposed image change for SCP-049. Not perfect, obviously, but a few changes really make this, I think. 

So now we're getting into the meat of this bad boy. Something about SCP-049 makes people susceptible to a pathogen, either 049-Yersinia-Inactive or Active, which requires immediate quarantine and leads to, at least in some cases, death. This is probably all we need to say about the containment procedures at this point, since the reader has no doubt got the gist of it by now: 049 is in a sealed box, and should never ever be let out. Also, if there's a containment breach, yer fucked.

Part Two: The Description

Cool, now that we've got our containment procedures on lock, let's take a look at ole beak-face here.

Description: SCP-049 is a humanoid entity, roughly 1.9 meters in height, which bears the appearance of a medieval plague doctor. While SCP-049 wears thick robes and the ceramic mask indicative of that profession, the garments appear to have fused onto SCP-049's body over time, and are now nearly indistinguishable from whatever form is beneath the robes. X-rays indicate that, while SCP-049 does have a vaguely human skeleton beneath its outer layer, there are several major differences and the entire skeletal structure appears to have been severely damaged at some point in the past.

The wording on this isn't perfect, but I think it handles the issue a little better. The robes and mask weren't originally part of his body, but they've become part over time. Plus, a little bit of a lead in to its discovery there at the end.

Contact with SCP-049, as well as coming within a certain distance in open air and being exposed to surfaces SCP-049 has recently touched or come into contact with will invariably result in the afflicted person suffering from an extremely virulent infection of the Yersinia pestis bacterium (footnote: Bubonic Plague). The exact means of exposure are currently poorly understood, however, it is believed that the bacterium have evolved over time to not simply spread quickly with significantly more aggressive symptoms, but also actively seek out non-infected hosts.
Individuals exposed to SCP-049's anomalous strain of bacteria (049-Yersinia) will always become infected (footnote: Researchers currently believe that as little as 5 parts per billion in open air is enough to infect an entire room of subjects). Infected individuals can then be identified as having one of two types of the pathogen; 049-Yersinia-Active or Inactive.
Individuals affected with 049-Yersinia-Inactive will briefly experience flu-like symptoms, but will eventually recover and feel no additional ill effects. These individuals, however, can still spread the anomalous disease, and will continue to do so even after recovery. There is currently no known cure for 049-Yersinia.
Individuals infected with 049-Yersinia-Active will experience similar flu-like symptoms that, instead of subsiding after a few days, will become dramatically worse over the course of several months. Individuals infected with 049-Yersinia-Active will experience severe nausea, fever, sweating, palpitations, lesions, hardening and flaking of the skin, bleeding in excess from the eyes, nose, and ears, broken bones due to severe muscle contractions, extreme neurological pain, swelling of the legs and feet, swelling of the internal organs, blindness, paralysis, and eventually, death.
Throughout the duration of the sickness (which typically lasts between 2-5 months untreated, and longer if administered symptom alleviating care) individuals will continue to spread the 049-Yersinia bacteria, only ceasing production of the bacteria after their death. Due to a buildup of the bacteria within the bodies of the afflicted, the corpses of 049-Yersinia victims are extremely toxic and must be incinerated immediately after death. It is unknown if the ashes of deceased individuals are also contagious.

Alright, so there's a lot here but I think it paints a much more dramatic picture than "kills you, makes you a zombie and then you die". SCP-049 spreads an extremely aggressive disease that tortures its subjects for months before killing them, or in a best case scenario, creates walking, talking bacteria mills to spread the disease elsewhere.

Alleviating symptoms was rare in historical medicine. While occasionally a doctor might get lucky and find some tonic or plant mixture that would help the afflicted, it was more likely that the disease would run its course regardless and the doctor would be little to no help. Modern advancements have made many illnesses minor events, but don't take that for granted. In the old times, if you got sick, chances are you were going to get sick, and you might not ever get better.

Anyway, let's push on with this description.

SCP-049 is sentient and will respond to questioning. It speaks rudimentary French and understands small amounts of English, but is typically heard speaking to itself in an Eastern European dialect of unknown origin. SCP-049 has not been forthcoming about its origins, or the nature of 049-Yersinia.

So we've touched on the major things here, but only touched on them. Your description is a way to get all the facts out there, but you still want to leave some room for dessert. And in a djkaktus article, dessert means:

Part Three: Addendums!

Addendum 049.1: Discovery
SCP-049 was discovered during an archaeological investigation of a medieval site near Orleans, France. The archaeological team reported digging beneath the ruins of a collapsed church, and finding a man there. After bringing SCP-049 out from under the church, one of the archaeologists attempted to remove SCP-049's mask, resulting in the entity becoming hostile and attacking the team with sharpened steel spikes worn on its fingers.
After intervention by local police was unable to apprehend SCP-049, and gunfire was unable to subdue the entity, Foundation assets embedded within the French military intervened and attempted to contain the entity. Shortly after doing so, and after examination of the archaeological team and the law enforcement officials who had responded to their call, every individual who had come in contact with or had been exposed to someone who had come in contact with SCP-049 began showing signs of 049-Yersinia infection. After analysis by Foundation hazmat teams, all individuals (and SCP-049) were moved to quarantine.
Two nearby farmers who had come across the scene were not found until three days later, by which time they and their families had all been infected by 049-Yersinia. After a full exposure analysis, hazard teams concluded that no other infected individuals remained outside of Foundation containment.

I don't like the idea of SCP-049 just showing up one day to spread his sickness. I think it works much better to say that he had been trapped somewhere, maybe going mad over the course of hundreds of years, and that he was accidentally released. I think this goes a long way to show, now that the reader is aware of how virulent 049-Yersinia is, how close the Foundation came to losing an entire large city (Orleans) to 049-Yersinia exposure, which very well could have been catastrophic. Like, "The Crazies" catastrophic.

Now, let's meet this SCP-049.

Addendum 049.2: Initial Processing Interview
Note: The following interview was conducted by Foundation personnel shortly after SCP-049 was moved to a sealed containment cell. Due to translation issues, Dr. Bryant's questions are presented in their original English, and SCP-049's response are presented in as close an English translation as is possible.
Dr. Bryant: Are you sentient?
SCP-049: What?
Dr. Bryant: Can you speak?
SCP-049: Speak? Yes. What is this place?
Dr. Bryant: You're being held here for examination. What did you do to those men?
SCP-049: Those men?
Dr. Bryant: The men who found you. The ones who are sick.
SCP-049: No. Not sick. Being cured.
Dr. Bryant: What?
SCP-049: I have seen... horrible things. A darkness that swept over my home and... turned my people to ash. A great pestilence, suffering without end. I did what I could, but so many perished... and so many turned their eyes and did nothing. 
Dr. Bryant: What do you mean? Did nothing?
SCP-049: The sick cried out for help, and they were stepped over. Abandoned. Fear overcame empathy. They rotted and died. Their flesh cries out from the ground. For comfort, for compassion. For justice. I tried, and I was punished for it. Broken for it. Beaten.
Dr. Bryant: How can we cure those men? What are they sick with?
SCP-049: They are sick with apathy. As are you all. I have festered in the darkness for a thousand years. The dead cry out for a reckoning, and they will have it. I will have it. 
Dr. Bryant: What are you saying? 
SCP-049: The pestilence was never the sickness. The sickness is human nature, and there are none who stand untouched by its grasp. You are sick, sir. You are all sick, and I am the cure.

Some notes here:

  • Creating a language barrier is hard, because you still want to be able to communicate intent with your audience. Providing a translation of speech is a good way to do it, because then your translator is filling some of the gaps left by the barrier. It's probably not perfect, but it's certainly an attempt.
  • SCP-049, I think, needs motivation. Where before he was more than happy to walk around and say cryptic things about how "humanity is sick", this interview provides him with something more concrete. Apathy, in 049's eyes, is what makes people sick. An unwillingness to sacrifice comfort for the betterment of your fellow man. Having seen the worst of this first hand, 049 is lead to a dark place. And in a dark place, he becomes the Plague Doctor.
  • It would be a bad rewrite if I didn't find a way to fit "I am the cure" in there.

Some people might point out that this interview is needlessly dark, and while I don't think that's absolutely unfair there are a few things I think need to be said about that. As I mentioned earlier, this is a different plague doctor than the current 049. This plague doctor has witnessed the scourge of the bubonic plague ravage Europe, and has seen the worst of human nature during that kind of disaster. His reasoning might not be perfect, but you can sympathize with him and understand why he'd think the way he thinks. 

Lastly, some people might say "ugh he's just mad people are apathetic? Whatever. That's not very cool." To those people I say, fuck off. A legitimate gripe about the state of human affairs is better than "oooOOOoooOOOoooh you've all got the ~pEsTiLeNcE~ ooOOooOOoh". Fuck with that.

Anyway, there you have it. My proposed edit to SCP-049, now with 100% more plague. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? Hard to say. This isn't the way I would write an article, but it might be the way I would rewrite it. Without making severe thematic edits, this is probably as true as I can get while still providing something fresh and new. I don't know if SCP-049 can ever be good, but right now I'm just shooting for passable and, frankly, not embarrassing. 

If you want to see what this would look like in the SCP format, click here!

If you like this series, great! I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Feel free to write in to, and let me know what you think. If you'd like to propose articles to be reviewed in this series, great. If you want to tell me how much of a jackass I am for not liking the things you like, awesome. If you want to give me money, smash that donate button. Do whatever, I don't care. 

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time!