About a thousand years-standard ago (a year-standard being the length of a year on Old Earth, long lost), the stargates were first created. There is a popular myth that the stargates were created from a million-year-old alien artifact that was discovered in the outer reaches of the Solar System, but this is not the case. Yes, there was an artifact found, but the technology behind the stargates had already been developed; all the artifact did was confirm that a similar technology had been used before, and thus was on the right path.
Through the use of the stargates, Humans expanded beyond the Solar System, finding worlds that would support terrestrial life. Many of these worlds already supported indigenous lifeforms, but other than a variety of artifacts that remained from the alien culture that created the stargate artifact found in the Solar System, there was no sign of any sort of sentient aliens. Humans, it appeared, were alone in the universe, at least for now.
The network created by the stargates became known as the stargate matrix, or the Great Matrix, as it is known today. Over three centuries, the Great Matrix grew to include thousands of worlds scattered throughout the galaxy and beyond. The nature of the stargates meant that the actual distances between colony systems was irrelevant, so a map of the Matrix had no relationship to the relative position of inhabited star systems.
About 600 years ago, something went wrong. Stargates throughout the Matrix began to malfunction, to behave unexpectedly, to stop working or to even just disappear entirely. Some opened connections into the hearts of stars, destroying themselves and any other craft or stations around them, sometimes even damaging the worlds around which they orbited. The culture of the Matrix was thrown into chaos. Various factions — worlds, nations, corporations, independent groups — engaged in whatever actions were necessary — war, theft, murder, genocide — to maintain control of those very few stargates that continued to work reliably. This period of chaos, called the Collapse, lasted for about 20 years-standard.
As unexpectedly as it began, with no more explanation, the Collapse ended. The stargates that remained began to function normally again. The artificial intelligences that operated the stargates had no records of what caused the Collapse; many had no records of the previous 20 years at all.
A problem discovered after the end of the Collapse was that, although the stargates generally functioned properly, any attempts to change the preprogrammed coordinates that existed in a stargate’s artificial intelligence when the Collapse began risked a cascade failure in the AI. Another problem was that, in the chaos, the ability to construct new artificial intelligences of the class that operated the stargates had been lost. The machines could be made, and they would function, but inexplicably lacked the ability to operate a stargate. Likewise, the ability to construct some of the essential components of a stargate was lost, as well. In 600 years, neither of these problems have been overcome.
Because of the limitations in existing stargates and the inability to construct new ones, what had been a single matrix of thousands of star systems balkanized into hundreds of smaller collections of worlds created by the established links programmed into the stargates. Over the centuries, these isolated matrices have developed unique cultures.
Not all of the programmed stargate links work reliably, however. Although they generally remain part of a stargate’s regular cycle of links to other systems, these fringe system links don’t work every time they’re attempted, and there is always the risk that, someday, they will stop working entirely. Therefore, travel to a fringe system is considered very risky for anyone who might want to return to his home matrix. However, this is pretty much the only way to travel between matrices.
Our story takes place in one of these matrices, a collection of about 25 systems called the Daedalus Matrix, after the most powerful world in the matrix. Daedalus is the home of the Labyrinth Corporation, and the distinction between the government and the corporation is pretty blurry. To a great degree, Daedalus is a corporate feudal society. There is democracy of a sort, but each voter gets as many votes as he owns shares of the corporation, and can assign his proxy to another voter. Several other worlds in the matrix follow this model.
Daedalus is the senior world in an intersystem confederation. Systems, independent nations, stations and bases can enter and withdraw from the confederation at will. The exception to this is the world Beowulf, which about a century ago was occupied by Daedalus Confederation forces when it attempted to withdraw from the confederation. There were reasons given for this action at the time, and reasons why the occupation has continued, but quite frankly, no one believes them, and even Daedalus gives little more than lip service to them. No realistic or reasonable excuse for not allowing Beowulf to withdraw has ever been presented.
This interstellar society has been evolving for about 600 years. In spite of this passage of time, the legacy of the Collapse still hangs over everything, possibly because the stargates remain integral to the matrix’s cultures and economies yet no one has redeveloped the ability to construct new ones. It’s only a matter of time before they are no longer capable of maintaining essential components of the stargates and their controlling AIs, and everyone who knows anything about it realizes this. Unless this technology is rediscovered, eventually all the worlds of the matrix will descend into the isolation that existed before Humans were able to travel to the stars, the darkness that came before.