Argenteum Astrum: Dramatis Personae by Jason Squamata
Here are the first hints of the mind-bending adventures of a genius rocket prodigy magus and his twisted crew of bohemian occultists and sex-fueled madmen as they blast-off from our mundane world and attempt to go BEYOND THE BEYOND.
Click on the illos for a closer look at the anti-hero protagonists and anti-villain antagonists of this cosmic thrill ride by New Pulp scribe Jason Squamata.
ARGENTEUM ASTRUM Book One: “BEYOND THE BEYOND!”
The Year is 1946.
MARVEL SOLARIS (“JACK” to his closest colleagues) is a megalomaniacal millionaire rocket man who strives to splice and synthesize the disciplines of science and that old time religion, re-inventing chemistry and aeronautics and engineering under the influence of ancient rituals and fresh chemicals, all with one aim: to make it into space…by any means necessary. Outer space. Inner space. Every kind of space that unfolds outside of time. In his palatial sanctum sanctorum (known to initiates as THE SOLARIUM), he has assembled a coven of evil geniuses. The Argenteum Astrum. A secret society of transcendental anarchists, dedicated to shredding the arbitrary membranes between “dreaming” and “reality”, building an astral space program under the camouflage meshes of a maniacal sex cult, sloughing all earthly concerns and preconceptions to pilot their souls into Eternity, leaving wormholes in their wake that every man and every woman will be free to follow them through in soul-ships and cathedral engines of their own. In his feverish dreams, Solaris is a cosmic hero, an incendiary collage of the space pirates and swaggering magi in Criswell’s pulp novels from before the war. In his feverish life, Solaris is a mad scientist, building new technologies and ways of seeing in his manic phase and blowing it all up in the thick of his depression. On the brink of a great leap beyond the beyond, Solaris has invited the viper Criswell into his temple, perhaps as a means of martyring his own messiah complex and aborting a dangerous game he just might win. Perhaps as sacrificial fuel for the Great Operation.
CORNELIUS CRISWELL is a compulsive pulp writer, yarn-spinner, and con artist, silenced by a war trauma he dares not contemplate, blocked and going buggy in a military mental ward. In lieu of writing the pulp, he chooses to live it by checking into an invasive spy school and brainwashing clinic, run by an impossible agency called MK0. They make him the perfect undercover cult buster and turn him loose in the freak bohemia of post-war Pasadena. A deranged millionaire rocket scientist cum occultist cum party monster named Marvel Solaris is his biggest fan and has written letters to that effect. Criswell’s mission: to penetrate the Solarium, win the wizard’s trust, study and perhaps partake in the coven’s strange experiments, and report these hidden miracles to his shadowy masters before destroying Solaris and going missing again. Solaris is everything Criswell wanted to be, before the treatments. So begins a battle for the soul of a schizoid Judas, up to no good in a diabolical demimonde where every other super villain can read his crooked mind.
CANDY WORMWOOD is a willowy witch girl, hair the color of blood, eyes the color of alien moons, imperious like a statue of some forgotten goddess but wild like the hunt is wild, running between the worlds to overtake and pounce on divinity and rend its flesh asunder in her longing for wonder. She’s naturally “psychic”, a talent enhanced by Dr. Greenbaum’s special medications. She can always hear the voices of the dead, hissing through her head like her brain’s an old radio. The tranquility of cemeteries is chaos to Candy. In the war, she made maps for the military through fledgeling, finely feathered astral projections. The head of her class in remote viewing exercises. She’s haunted always by the deaths that ensued. American boys and Japanese boys, her mangled spectral entourage, hiding in her shadow, whispering their cryptic secrets. Now she works for Dr. Greenbaum at the Institute. He’s been healing her anxieties with experimental therapies, explaining all her visions away scientifically even as he exploits her talents at the command of his own secret dictators in the lowermost echelons of C.H.O.R.O.N.Z.O.N.. Candy senses that MK0 in general and Greenbaum in particular are in collusion with a soul-eating culture-sculpting cosmic demon. Metaphorically speaking, at the very least. She’s Greenbaum’s attache in the Marvel Solaris investigation. She’s Criswell’s case worker, refreshing his programming in sessions of deep hypnosis, grooming him for his penetration of the rocket monster’s lavish laboratory, aching with her every atom to part the veils of surveillance and slip into that velvet hell herself. She knows with elemental certainty that her destiny and her dream-life are jungled up with the burning brain of Marvel Solaris. He seems to call out to her through the photographs, the recordings, the letters, the boxes of fetishistic evidence. Is what she feels just the deep desire to thwart his plans, save civilization, and bring his gang of dangerous strangelings to “justice”? Or is it Candy that will ultimately acquiesce and offer up her circuitries to the archangelic heat of Marvel’s flaming sword?
is Jack’s semi-psycho teen sidekick, the textbook juvenile delinquent gone grisly in the age of the atom bomb, the lethal snake-flavored product of bad blood, juvenile homes, and prisons for kids so broken their edges cut everyone they touch. He crossed paths with Jack on one of his little crime sprees. Jack took him in, had the crimes covered up, taught him magick using the exercises in old METABEAST pulp magazines. Jack showed Charlie what the MetaBeast showed HIM, that the world is cursed by the presence of a malevolent, anti-human intelligence. It saturates the air we breathe and the very symbols we think with. Our fear and anxiety are its nourishment. Charlie, despite his scorpion mindgames and his violent appetites, is Jack’s most trusted confidante…before Criswell comes. He runs the Solarium’s shadier aspects. He’s a driver and an assassin, a cackling consigliere, a procurer, a valet. The Argenteum Astrum has given Charlie’s apocalyptic passions a purpose and a meaning. He has a razor in his brain and free jazz beatnik death on tap for any fucker who stands between Jack and Beyond. He’s a streetwise squire to Jack’s black knight, a little fanatic drooling always for more cosmic weirdness. Charlie loves it when things get spooky. He has his eyes on Criswell. One snake knows another. The closer Criswell gets to Solaris, the more Charlie is haunted backwards by blood-splashed flashes of future madness.
is a tow-headed nymphet femme fatale, a spoiled rich girl who uses her palpable appetites and infectious feminine wiles to lure Marvel Solaris away from her sister Helena and make the High Priest of The Solarium her doting love-slave. Under the spell of her sleazy provocations, Solaris makes her the principal vessel and centerpiece of the coven’s Great Operation. Her molten core will be the gurgling grail that fuels their leap into “A-SPACE”. The rituals are sexual in nature, and she yields her nubile flesh and essence unto this league of madmen with ecstatic abandon. At the orgiastic parties that feed and camouflage the coven’s experiments, Becky plays the eternal debutante and flirtatious consort, enchanting all who breathe her ambience of boardwalk taffy and summer lies. Up in the Silver Star Chamber, she’s the delirious vehicle these demons ride into the Great Unknown. They’re getting closer and closer to The Moon Inside. But then Criswell comes, and Becky the hustler is hustled in turn. Hustled into love. The kind of subjugated, desperate love she has induced in so many without ever tasting it herself. She’s tormented by her lust. She can’t take it lightly. Criswell knows just what wet buttons to push and how firmly to push them. Solaris is tormented by jealousy. This isn’t the free love prescribed by their opulent bohemian ethos. This is her HUNGER. Her infatuation poisons her as a Vessel. She can’t truly belong to the stars when she belongs to Criswell and Criswell belongs to the labyrinthine sewers of Hell. Love can make you so crazy your soul dissolves in an Abyss of its own making. And your body goes cold like the void is cold until he touches you.
REX RAGE is a cinemagick leatherboy, an experimental filmmaker who grew up crazy between the scenes of lavish Hollywood spectacles, where his doting grandmother was a set dresser and wardrobe designer. He’s made a way of seeing out of cinema, editing reality as he lives it, his brain a mess of movies. He hypnotizes actors into their roles, dresses the sets with sinister symbols, shoots through a spectrum of tinted lenses, cutting and pasting the moments of his life into evocative montages that look like fever dreams and feel like eternity. He flits between the luxurious Elysium of the studio system and the filth and fury of the underworld. He’s an obsessive student of Oberon Cromley. He loves Hollywood gossip and anonymous sex. He sees the studio chiefs as black magi in the service of CHORONZON. He wants to free the Art from their bland commercial factories. The narcissistic star struck lord of force and fire.
SAMSARA ZURN is a self-styled gypsy surrealist; a filmmaker, a modern dancer, an ordained voodoo priestess with a tendency to get possessed. She’s a Queen of Bohemia with impeccable credentials. Her father was a vagabond jazz musician who revolutionized his idiom. Her mother was a communist socialite. She lost her virginity to deranged Parisian art criminal Jacques Vache (known also as Otherman) in a palatial mental institution in 1933. While studying in New York, she made haunted paintings, hungry films, and occult choreographies based on Tantric yoga poses and the agonies of the saints. In 1939, she visited Haiti to film voodoo rituals for her thesis on the atavistic religious roots of dance. Despite her academic pretensions, she was swept up in the drums and the delirium and was possessed by the Loa known as Madame Erzulie, the primordial pre-human godform of love and lust and moon-mad heartbreak. She’s been filled up with Erzulie ever since. Her ambiance seems to sexualize motherness. The forces she works with are older than light.
OBERON CROMLEY, in his prime, was known globally as “the wickedest man alive”. Fresh out of Cambridge with a lush inheritance and delusions of grandeur, he drove the premiere secret societies of Victorian England into an occult gang-war that changed the shape of space and time. Under the pyramids, he received transmissions from Secret Chiefs and Ascended Masters. He formed cults and crime rings and orgone laboratories. He played all five sides against the middle in two world wars. He brought ruin, madness, and extreme corruption to every life he touched. He also engineered and codified a conjuring technology of cosmic correspondences that spliced all previous magickal systems and turns the mind that uses it into am will-driven dream machine. In the darkest hour of World War 2, when it seemed that no brotherhood of light would stand a chance against the burning swastikas and blitzkriegs of CHORONZON’s latest upgrade, Cromley assembled a league of sorcerers, super villains, and half-mad scientists, initiates one and all in The ARGENTEUM ASTRUM. Unspeakable rituals weave their souls into an Astral Airship, the BABALON, bound for the cathedral core of the Moon Inside, to receive some fresh weapon from the Secret Chiefs who scheme for the wholesale translation of man into god. Swarms of ghost-gnashing pranasites from within and without the craft made a crash of it. Cromley was the soul survivor, if you can call what’s left of him survival. He’s been severed from his Overself which basks in silvery splendor on that lost moon we only ever see in dreams. Physically, he’s degenerated into a shriveling suburban junkie, milking various acolytes through constant correspondence, just to sustain the cold embrace of his beloved opiates. In the thirties, there was a shudder pulp magazine devoted to his crimes. Articles in the back pages taught a generation of malcontent’s the basis of Cromley’s system. This is how he first touched the mind of Marvel Solaris. Cromley has presented himself as a wise old mentor figure, trying to manipulate the formation and training of the new Argenteum Astrum via his influence on his protogee. For the sake of mankind, of course. Cromley wants his soul back. There were allegedly 665 stories written for MetaBeast magazine. There is one myth left to live.
HELENA NORDSTROM SOLARIS SLOANE is Jack’s ex-wife and pining priestess. They fell in love when he was coming up. She followed him without a backward glance into the domain of initiation, ritual magick, and experimental living. She lost him to her devious little sister. She found solace in the arms of Edmund Sloane, the Cromleyite Jack deposed as head of the O.T.O.. Edmund is on a pilgrimage now, and Helena can’t tear herself away from the Solarium, the house she built with Jack. She hates him a little bit less than she loves him, and she feels like she’s the only soul left in his circle who isn’t exploiting him in some fashion. Her magick is the magick of pretty things: jittery jewels and silky silence and stars before they’re close enough to eat you.
DAMIAN SZANDOR is a sideshow Satan, a painted devil, a circus mentalist and high priest of evil, a stage magician and master of spectacle who runs an infernal anti-church in L.A. that caters to criminals and showbiz types that sre seeking a piece of strange. Membership in the ARGENTEUM ASTRUM has opened his mind to spectacle on a cosmic level. His world is steeped in darkness, but he has an appetite for wonder. He has two beautiful daughters, a gang of hooded minions who do his bidding for kicks, and truly demonic dirt on some of the biggest names in showbiz. He does the Svengali thing with fresh off-the-bus ingénues as a sideline. Szandor is a hustler, an agitator, and a sensualist. He craves power, chaos, and cache.
DR. SIDNEY GREENBAUM is a creepy G-Man with his own agenda, a psychoprogramming virtuoso and mind control innovator who appeared out of nowhere after World War 2, toiled for a time in the twisted vineyards of espionage, emerging in the upper echelons of the newborn CIA as the director and principal architect of MK0, an R & D division that seeks to weaponize human consciousness and build the perfect spy…the perfect soldier…the perfect citizen. His security clearance will open any door in the realm. His influence is pervasive and always toxic. He conducts atrocities at the Institute like Mozart conducted symphonies. Through the eyes of The ARGENTEUM ASTRUM, Greenbaum is a slave of CHORONZON, a designer of its most hideous inquisitions. But Greenbaum just wants to get the job done. Absolute control over every living soul. That is the Demon’s objective. Despite his position as avant garde superstar and the most highly paid practitioner in the mind control industry, Greenbaum is insatiably curious and acquisitive when it comes to breakthroughs made in his field. His Zero Process (allegedly conceived and developed at Dachau) turns ordinary sociopaths into wind-up killers and sleeper agents. He’s busting cults all over America and assimilating their technologies. Criswell is one of his jagged little prototypes. Solaris is public enemy number one. “Give me 3 days, a locked room, and a vial of LSD-26, and I can turn you into anyone at all.”
HEINRICH VON ECKHARDT was a dashing Knight of the Reich, a rocket science mastermind and weaponsmith and part-time pilot in the SS astral projection program, in which he was known by the codename UBERGEIST. When it all went to Hell and Holocaust, he was smuggled into the States to plug his findings into a primitive and deeply conservative space program. He and Solaris share a love for rockets, forbidden knowledge, and pulp magazines. He’s using the spaces unfolded by the ARGENTEUM ASTRUM to continue his Nazi experiments, splicing hardcore science with the more nebulous technologies of the occult. Above all things, he wants to bring miracles back from the astral plane to enrich the physical world. He wants to lead an “improved” human species into space.
Behold the erotic arsenals and lascivious laboratories of KLAUS REICHMANN, the infamously sinister scientist of sex. In the greenhouse gazebos and wind-up gardens of the Solarium, Reichmann builds biomorphic sex engines and prana-building sex boxes and cloud-busting, UFO-scrambling energy guns that run on, you guessed it, SEX. Reichmann is a wild-eyed fanatic, devoted body and mind and soul to the infinite applications of his great discovery: “orgone energy”, buzzing blue particles and soul-tingling waves of undiluted lifeforce that surge through our sexual networks and nourish all that lives in its growing. An untapped boundless power source that can only be perceived by the eyes and tongues and microscopes of the mind. It can only be harnessed with impossible technologies. Let’s call it primitive TantraTech. So he’s holed up in this lavish think-tank, protected and bankrolled by Solaris, exiled by the academies and wanted by the authorities of seventeen nations. The conjoined specialties of the Argenteum Astrum have created an ambience of wet nightmare on Orange Grove Boulevard. The physics are loose here. No enemy agent can make it through their psychic screens without getting lost forever. Reichmann is haunted by fractured future memories of the orgiastic paradise the world might be when freed from the suppressive, fear-milking contagion that is C.H.O.R.O.N.Z.O.N. A perfectly programmed party might blast them off into zones where that dream of perfect pleasure can be mapped and reverse-engineered into physical reality. Then, the nations of the earth will mutate into one unwavering, sustainable pornocracy. Then, Reichmann’s voluminous notes will be embraced and studied as a new scripture, a new algebra, a new way of seeing and being…instead of schizophrenic witch scribbles, fit only for burning.
Argenteum Astrum copyright 2013 Jason Squamata