I was lucky enough to enter Fortuna with literally no idea what was going on; I was aware of the name, and something about Profit-Taking and Orb Valises, but I returned to the game shortly after the zone was made. This will include spoilers for Old Mate stuff, but most of the rest is just general lore littered through overhearing, memory fragments, and whatnot. Flee if you hate massive text. This is just my musings on how the whole process works and what it is.
I found the Plains to be very safe and generic; it felt like any random MMO. The bounty system was fun and I enjoyed it, but Fortuna really blew me away. The lack of a head was just so surreal and alien that it blew my mind. I had always wondered why the Corpus was 'evil', and the idea of every human right being lost due to debt to the point of it extending to family and future generations answered that nicely. But what's actually going on? Why do this? I started trying to piece things together, since I felt like it, and was hoping to hear other input.
It became clear in the initial quest that servitude is enforced through legal control; people are under contractual requirements to pay back a minimum amount, or ruthlessly excessive measures can be taken to offset the difference, as seen with poor Thursby who was presented as someone at risk of falling behind. These minimum payments, clearly, will literally never get you out of debt, and thus captures you into legal slavery as the Corpus appear to have absolutely no requirement to present you the means to financially dig yourself free. This brings to question, is Fortuna the norm, or the extreme?
Ticker presents silhouettes of people along with brief information. One thing I noticed is that people can have sentences as minute as 'Three months on the Orb Valis' and nothing more. The people in question clearly have a robotic head. This means either they will do the de-head operation for a measly three months, or that Orb Valis is considered the gulag of the Corpus. I imagine it is the latter, a warning punishment for the dregs with no hope, and the majority of people in debt are given much more viable means to repay. The true evil of the Corpus as a whole is doubtlessly the apathy those in control have to the atrocities of other businessmen, even if they themselves do not do it.
This thus makes me conclude that 'losing your head' is the worst case scenario of an agreement, but does not necessarily mean you end up in Fortuna. We know very little of civilian life at all (Are there any Grineer people who aren't military and populate cities as normal folks doing normal jobs? I'm serious, I don't recall seeing anything about this) so I imagine in any Corpus city or settlement these people are around. They can be seen in relays, too; for many reasons I find it unlikely these people escaped Fortuna to get to a relay (Tennos can come and go due to invisible ships, I really doubt Nef slacks on such things), and I believe they are sympathetic folks from outside Fortuna but in the same style of debt enforcement. There's many more interesting questions I have on this, such as how much consent there is on someone's part to have getting your head detached being on the table, but there's no information to chew on (Personal theory: Being a Corpus citizen means you agree to the possibility)
So what exactly is going on? People's heads are literally taken off. From what I understand, some amount of internal parts are removed or moved, and the head is then placed within the torso of a loaner body, and the real one is put on ice or in some kind of stasis until earned back. It seems the people in debt 'own' this loaner body and either pay for it or must repay any damage or lost parts, presumably cheaply cloned with basic augmentations for hard labor, as there's no point in repossessing body parts if the debtors do not have to pay it back. And yes, they will harvest your loaner body, as that clearly happened to Thursby. The fact they are loaner bodies also helps explain the utter lack of rights that the people of Fortuna have for things like arms and legs being taken — it's not actually /them/ and literally not their property, only leased. Based on comments from Ticker, they can also take body parts from your 'real' body, not your loaner one. It is heavily implied Ticker sold her real body off to un-brainshelf her lover, leaving her stuck in a loaner. Eudico also mentioned this; I believe her comment on selling her heart was literal. She sold the organs of her real, freezered body for credits to fund her revolution. It's also why all of the Fortuna bodies look so similar and gender neutral.
Things are a bit fuzzy, then. Thursby was so harvested for living organs that they thought he might die. This means that, at least at the time, his biological systems were important for his head to be alive, and presumably emergency intervention replaced this with something else. But we also know that people can be brain-shelved; this seems to involve racking the head somewhere and shutting off all stimulation — it is what happened to Ticker's loved one, and they more or less lost their mind as a result. (A fate literally worse than death, in my opinion, and the ultimate deterrant!) Also, Thursby clearly no longer has enough living organs to viably survive. My conclusion here is that cheap loaner clone bodies with brain-housing compartments is simply more economical than cybernetics. They clearly can if they felt like it, as the Business demonstrated outfitting Legs, although the question on why he was never given arms to go along with it remains unanswered. Maybe he's cheap. Some people have superior seeming cybernetic limbs, while others have very cheap replacements for basic function; this is probably a case by case thing. The cost of making a loaner body and detaching a head seems pretty affordable. It also works as enslavement, given without Corpus support and maintenance you will starve and likely fall apart. Most debt slaves have no access to people willing to help, especially in a society where they cannot pay for such, and the mere act of making living dependent on the debtors works better than any bars.
People do consume some manner of nutrients, although it's not clear how. It's my belief this requires a mostly functional loaner body. How Thursby gets by I'm not certain of, but there's an implication that people brain shelved are suspended in some kind of nutrient paste in a jar, so… The living heads themselves are given video and audio feeds, presumably on the shutters that open, although they can operate just fine with the shutters open instead. My guess is this is protection from elements, and the loaner body is otherwise conditioned to manage in most environments. How heads can speak normally is quite a question, but likely involves how the children also function just fine with narrow pipes for necks; it's likely the adults are similarly attached within the torso. This opens up Question 2, which is whether debtors elect to have a robotic head in lieu of their real one; I've no real clues on that, beyond the supposition that those in relays are not from Fortuna and still have robot heads. I imagine the loaner bodies present some amount of feedback and nervous system hookups for being piloted. There's not a ton of evidence on this, but the most telling to me is Eudico rubbing where her mechanical head meets her loaner body in the beginning of We All Lift Together. You can't function without spatial awareness and tactile feedback, but I don't know if they can feel pain?
The last interesting thought I had involves Ticker. She said an interesting phrase, that the only thing that is 'you' is behind your eyes. This implies a level of detachment well above most people in Fortuna. My personal theory is that Ticker is indeed formerly a woman, as she clearly identifies as female and acts feminine, but her brain was put into a loaner head when she sold herself to raise credits. I repeat, personal theory. You can apparently buy your old body back in most cases and move back to a normal life, which Ticker helps to do, presumably because some people such as her and possibly Eudico may have lost access to their old bodies and now must live in something else. I believe Ticker is free of debt, but has nowhere to go back to, and thus tries to help others avoid that fate instead.
If I missed any lore or the like for my ideas, let me know. Lastly, the Business is awesome. He is obvious a Corpus black operations agent specialized in assassination and spycraft. This isn't news to most people. However, I believe he is still actively working for someone in the Corpus against Nef. There is no way someone as valuable and potent as him ended up a casual debt slave, especially when the only thing he truly seems intent on doing is causing an Orb Valis rebellion to ruin Nef, and that he has the financial means to do whatever he feels like. He would have been executed ten times over, not left alive to toil as a menial servant. He's a plant from a Corpus big player meant to sabotage Nef by any means necessary, and even if he is seeking what personal redemption he can, he was ready and willing to throw Thursby to the wolves for the good of his goals.
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