This is something I started a while back in response to a reader question. It's in keeping with my previous books, which have always had a "tech specs" section to end with. This has been a very interesting project, and I am glad that many people seem to have enjoyed it. I don't know whether I will pursue more fan fiction any time soon, but I would definitely like to do more some time. For readers who have come with me this far, I have given my publisher a pitch to put this in some kind of book form (provided we can avoid being sued). It has been fun to work with the Fox "critters", and also to write some of my original characters into a different setting. I have especially enjoyed being able to let characters whom I created as villains with few or no lines, like Sunflower, the Flea, the Tick and Nibeaux himself, play themselves out as fully-formed characters. Finally, as someone who has come to fan fiction after turning out a significant amount of "original" work, I would like to encourage everyone coming from the other way 'round. From the first "vignette" to this final post has taken about a year, with the writing of the text being done in four months, and I am very pleased with this time. In a departure from my usual approach, I outlined this whole story before writing it out, and written most ot the scenes in order. So, for those thinking of trying their hands at longer and original works, my message is that, once you have a set of vivid characters and a clearly plotted story to put them in, it's not that hard or even that time-consuming to get a good story put together.

Update: Chapters 1-13, revised and illustrated by me, are available as Aliens Vs. Exotroopers I: Wild Type for Kindle!

Secondary weapons of the finbacks

The technology and tactics of combat exoskeletons during the Serbo-Albanian war was comparable to that of aviation during World War 1. The technology was barely a decade old, and manufacturers had not only failed to perfect it, but were still divided and confused over what it was to be used for. The combat use of exoskeletons was, if possible, even more confused. The "finbacks", the first operational exotrooper force to see combat, ended up writing the rulebook for themselves. The choice of weapons, and even the configuration of their armor, was heavily influenced by individual choice. Nevertheless, by the time of the escalation of the Serbo-Albanian conflict in 2043, several weapons had risen to prominence among the finbacks:

PTRD-41: The standard armament of finback commanders (also called spotters) was a modern, semi-automatic 14.5 mm anti-material rifle. An alternate selection was a working replica of the WW2 single-shot rifle of the same caliber. Two advantages were argued for the PTRD. First, it was much easier to switch to a different kind of ammunition. Second, the PTRD and other vintage weapons came fitted with optical sights, which had long since been virtually abandoned in favor of electronic scopes, but were found to be still desirable in some situations, particularly against enemies with laser and radar detectors.

Franchi 12-gauge slug gun: Finback doctrine quickly established that close combat was to be avoided wherever possible. For this reason, little effort was made by the finbacks to obtain close-range weapons. One of the few such weapons to become commonplace was a heavily modified version of a semi-bullpup Franchi SPAS shotgun. The major modifications were the fitting of a 30 cm-long rifled barrel, a shortened frame and the removal of a folding stock and pump-action slide. The shape of the weapon is strikingly blocky, and has been compared to the Uzi submachine gun. Magazines of 5 or 10 rounds were loaded at the top of the gun, directly above the grip. The rifled barrel prevented the use of many standard 12-gauge rounds, but a wide variety of ammo was still available, including saboted slugs, phosphorous pellets, flechette canisters and many different kinds of grenades. Users were consistently identified as commanders, leading many to suspect that it was equivalent to the traditional officer's pistol- a symbol of authority, at least as much as a combat weapon.

43 mm wrist launcher: The only close-combat weapon to be given to most finbacks was this, a double-barreled grenade launcher mounted on the left forearm shield. They were typically loaded with a flechette canister in one barrel and a white phosphorous smoke grenade in the other. In the event of being closely pressed, the user could inflict multiple casualties with a single flechette blast and then use the smoke grenade to cover a hopefully speedy escape. Other loadings included standard anti-personnel grenades, shaped-charge grenades for use against armor, and a bola shell, designed for clearing barbed wire and other obstacles.

Spear gun: Commanders of finback units were often seen to have a specialized weapon or tool in place of the wrist launcher. This revealed a significant nuance in finback doctrine: When it was necessary to assail a fortification or otherwise inaccessible position (another situation they preferred to avoid), a commander was often the first to go in. Probably the most common was a spear gun, used for scaling walls, crossing gaps and sometimes for close combat. By standard configuration, the spear gun was pre-loaded with a harpoon, propellant charge and 30 m of cable, and had a small but powerful winch. The harpoon tips were tungsten carbide, capable of punching through 10 mm of armor at close range. Usually, two additional harpoons and cables were carried. An alternate configuration was to load a standard harpoon and cable, and carry an additional harpoon and a 100 m cable.

Gas spike: The oddest known weapon used by a finback was a breeching device of a type developed originally by American law enforcement. Originally called a "gas axe", the device was intended to flood a room with tear gas. (The name was also used in Australia for common welding tools, and so did not come into international use.) The version used in the Serbo-Albanian wars could blow open a door or hatch. A variety of gas grenades were used, including white phosphorous. It appears that all Serb versions were made only by individuals, rather than being mass-produced. Zaratustra is the only finback known to use the device, and use of the gas spike and white phosphorous became a signature for him. As the device gained notoriety through him, the Albanians and their allies became interested enough to design a production version of the gas spike, specifically for use in a projected offensive against the Beograd (Belgrade) district. The war ended before the device reached frontline users.

12.76 revolver: One of the finbacks' major weapons was the 12.76 mm heavy machine gun, commonly called "Dushka", which was usually carried by a squire. They were also known to carry a revolver designed for the same round. The gun was relatively popular with terrorist and resistance organizations, mainly as an easily concealed alternative to full-sized anti-materiel rifles. For any user but an exotrooper, it was necessary to rest a bipod or unipod on an available stable surface. An unusual round developed for the gun was a modified duplex round, having two bullets loaded one in front of the other in the same case, with the second bullet replaced by a rocket motor. The rocket provides additional acceleration for the front projectile, usually a saboted tungsten arrow penetrator, after it leaves the barrel. The penetrators were said to have a peak velocity of 1600 meters at a range of 30 m from the barrel, and were credibly claimed to be capable of penetrating elements of a finback's helmet and breast plate with a favorable angle of impact. It first came to the notice of the exotrooper corps as a weapon used against them. While its effect against them was consistently negligible, they were impressed enough to use captured specimens themselves.

Flame carbines: By the late 20th century, flame throwers had been phased out of the world's armies. They had long been found to be impractically heavy and limited in range, and to be controversial besides, and incendiary grenades and rockets had been developed to accomplish the same tasks from longer ranges. In the Novi Pazar insurrection of 2040, Serbia revived the weapon as a short range incendiary weapon. The very proposal was condemned as a war crime by the international community. The flame carbine was designed for ranges of 10 to 50 meters, and to function without need of a back pack or connecting hose. Like earlier flame throwers, it fired a napalm spray that was propelled by gas pressure and ignited electrically in the nozzle. The final design called for two infantry men, one to carry and fire the carbine itself and one to refill the napalm and compressed air tanks from a man-portable reservoir, plus a light vehicle to carry an air compressor and extra napalm. A pump was provided to allow the user to recharge the compressed air supply by hand, but soldiers reported it was exhausting to operate. The flame carbine was not fielded in combat until 2042, and was quickly relegated to storage. In late 2043, it was requested by Lt. Potok for use by the exotroopers, and remained in their hands for the rest of the war. Its latest known use was in the Pristina airbase raid of July 2046.

Finback deployment and ranks

Serbia's exotrooper corps (formally designated the Serbian Federal Special Armor Command) was a very small but notorious branch of the nation's army. Its maximum size was 817 members, of which fewer than 400 were full "hercegs", in July 2043. It had shrunk to no more than 600 a year later, and to less than 300 by the beginning of 2045. After massive losses in the Pristina raid, the exotrooper corps was declared "operationally annihilated" by Albanian and allied sources. However, up to 9 squads remained active in the final months of the war.

A Serb exotrooper squad consisted of four finbacks (hercegs in the Serbs' own terminology), four squires and one or two combat drones. The finbacks consisted of a commander or "spotter", armed with a 14.5 mm rifle, two skirmishers, typically armed with an MG42/45 and a 3 cm automatic grenade launcher, and a tank destroyer, armed with a 57 mm recoilless gun and wearing a heavier model of exoskeleton. The squires were entrusted with carrying supplies and operating heavier weapons, like the 12.76 mm "Dushka" heavy MG and various calibers of mortars and autocannons.

A group of two to four finback squads was called a platoon, and any grouping of five or more squads was called a company. In practice, a company designated all the platoons operating in the same theater, rather than a necessarily unified group. The official ranks were "private" for a squire, "corporal" for skirmishers and tank destroyers, "sergeant" for a squad commander and "lieutenant" for a platoon commander. These designations did not convey their full authority: Under the rather convoluted charter supplied by the Beograd Emergency Council, they could exert significant authority over even their nominal superiors in other army branches. A company commander was still officially a "lieutenant", and exerted influence only on a "first among equals" basis. His one formal distinction was that he was also designated "instructor". The first to receive this designation were Russian "consultants" like Potok. Like the "advisers" of the Vietnam War, in practice their role always included combat. This evolved into a system where company-level units were organized around one or two "training" squads. Late in the war, it was applied to units that in terms of size were no more than platoons.

The last company-level exotrooper engagement of the war was the defense of Omega Facility in December 2046 and January 2047 by three squads of exotroopers. Serb sources reported Lt. "Dreadlocks" Mihan, Corporals "Sunflower" Karajorga, "the Flea" Josevic, "the Tick" Komsmolets and acting sergeant "Albanak" Zotgjakt killed in action. They received Serbia's highest decorations posthumously; an official statement by the Beograd defense council maintained that they died defending an unspecified "super weapon" that forced Shqipteria to agree to a peace settlement. A report in 2052 suggested that Josevic might have survived and be in hiding in Italy; subsequent investigation could neither confirm nor disprove this possibility. General Rausch, Dr. Arnault Chablan (aka Dr. Nibeaux) and Drs. Martinez and Lewontin were also reported dead by the Serbs. An UNCOST investigative committee declared them all "dead beyond any serious doubt" in 2055. Albert Zaratustra "Zed" Schwartz was taken into custody by UN forces on January 17 2047, but escaped the same day. He died in June 2065 during the Ophite hijacking of a time machine. Lt. Princip was reported missing in action on 20 January 2047. An anonymous source supposedly in the Beograd council accused him of abandoning his platoon, collaborating with enemy troops and even killing at least one of his own men. No evidence was offered for this claim, which was unanimously denied by the council. Princip eventually received the same decoration as his men in 2048. His wife and three of his five children disappeared from Montenegro just before this was announced. As of January 2068, no evidence of the fate or whereabouts of Princip or his missing family has ever been found.