The Chameleonic Microbe was a chameleonic, corrosive micro-organism that acted in the manner of a virus. As such, the microbe was also referred to as the Corrosive Micro-organism and the Chameleonic Virus.
The microbe was a synthetic, man-made organism. The scientific designation of the microbe is Zogothoniumelimoxiixiexiphulmifhidikalidrihide.
The Chameleonic Microbe ate through metal, and if left unchecked, could prove a fatal problem for spaceships. It could however be neutralised, and it's effects undone, by the introduction of something with "corrosive positivity" - such as it's diametric opposite, the commonly-used alkili Cesiumfranciolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxidrexidroxhide.
The origins of the Chameleonic Microbe are unclear, but it was not natural. Kryten mentions that the microbe appears to have been laboratory-created, and had been programmed to eat through metal, but not other substances, such as glass. It was therefore presumably a much more dangerous version the programmable viruses aboard Red Dwarf.
The first known victims of the Chameleonic Microbe were the crew of the SS Hermes, who were killed as the microbe devoured the ship. The microbe may have originated on the ship, but this is unknown. The crew of the SS Hermes clearly didn't find the antidote in time, and eventually only a skeletal carcass was left of the ship.
The only survivor of the SS Hermes was a woman named Talia Garrett, an old friend of the captain of Red Dwarf, Frank Hollister. Talia got away in an escape pod and three million years later, this escape pod was picked up by the nanobot-recreated Red Dwarf.
However, the escape pod had brought the Chameleonic Microbe aboard Red Dwarf, unknown to the crew. As it lay unattended in the cargo bays, it emerged from the pod six hours later, and immediately began eating away at adjacent corridors and chambers.
The damage went unnoticed even by the Rebuilt Holly, and was only discovered by the regular characters during an escape attempt from The Tank. Going back to tell the rest of the crew, they were then told that they were being left behind to die with the rest of the convicts whilst the crew evacuate in the Red Dwarf shuttles.
Abandoned on a disintegrating Red Dwarf with little time, Kryten notes they once again have the full run of the ship to themselves, and they should be able to knock some gizmo together to help the situation. With Kochanski's help they create a dimensional gateway-opening Prism Laser with the intention of entering a diametrically-opposite Mirror Universe, where the virus will become the antidote.
Rimmer is trapped alone for twenty minutes in the alternate Red Dwarf, where he discovers that he is the Captain instead of the alternate Captain Hollister. Rimmer also encounters other alternate versions of the other Dwarfers, such as The Professor, a genius version of the Cat. Rimmer gets the Professor to print out the antidote to the virus (Cesiumfranciolithicmyxialobidiumrixydixydoxidrexidroxhide) on a very long piece of paper.
Going back over to his own Red Dwarf, Rimmer finds that he is once again alone, as the others had followed him into the Mirror Universe. Rimmer is unable to follow them back through, since the Chameleonic Microbe rapidly eats away at the Prism Laser, turning it into a pile of steaming, grey goo. The disintegration of Red Dwarf is now accelerating, with fires beginning in the corridors.
Rimmer resolves to make some of the antidote, but The Chocolate Dispenser informs Rimmer that the formula for the antidote turned into the formula for the virus the moment he crossed through the mirror. In revenge for an earlier transgression, the Chocolate Dispenser shoots out a can at Rimmer's head, and the piece of paper catches fire and burns away in Rimmer's hands. Then, perhaps in hallucination, Rimmer is approached by the Grim Reaper, but Rimmer kicks him the groin and runs off down the corridor, exclaiming that "Only the Good die young!" ("Only the Good ...", Series VIII)
Behind the scenes
- Although not made clear on-screen, the script for "Only the Good" reveals that the microbe not only devoured metal and technology, but could also imitate it, being intelligent. The escape pod which carried Talia Garrett from the Hermes to Red Dwarf actually was the microbe in imitation (hence the "chameleonic" label), and the pod disintegrating in Red Dwarf's hangar was the microbe emerging from hibernation.
- In the aired ending to the episode, the microbe apparently wins by destroying Red Dwarf, with the ending not looking good for Rimmer, who kicks Death in the balls and runs away with the ship on fire and falling apart around him. This does not go well with what is seen in the later Back to Earth and Series X. However, an alternate ending to "Only the Good" was filmed, and is available on the Series VIII DVD, where Rimmer remembers the antidote and Kryten is able to cook up a batch. In this ending, Kryten pours the "corrosive positivity" on the microbe, killing it, and which even reverses the damage that it has done. The main characters then celebrate, finding them themselves in a position similar to earlier series where they had the run of the ship. Red Dwarf speeds on past the fleet of Starbugs and Blue Midgets which hold the Captain and the rest of the crew.
- Since the 1999 - 2009 Bridge was never officially resolved (although perhaps the alternate ending of "Only The Good..." went some way to explaining it) numerous mentions are made to the Chameleonic Microbe - as an in-joke - in Series X, especially at the end of the final episode. This was right after Rimmer had come up with a successful plan to defeat the Simulant Generals, and Rimmer used the Chameleonic Microbe as an example of another time he'd saved the ship. Rimmer claims that he saved Red Dwarf from the chameleonic microbe, to which the others disagree, but before Kryten can give the actual explanation as to what happened, they are interrupted by Hogey the Roguey.