Some authors pad
their writing with unimportant description to make their book the
The following excerpt is the longest example of padding ever found in published literature:
From Ambush at Corellia
By Rodger MacBride Allen
Kalenda woke with a start as the alert buzzer blatted in her ear. She blinked, looked around, remembered where she was, and wished she hadnt. But what had set off the alert? Had something else given out on this old tub? She checked her boards, and her eyes lit on the chronometer. Good. No malfunction. The alert was from the plain old alarm-clock function. Time to wake up and get ready for reentry. She pushed a button and shifted in the pilots seat and stretched as best she could in a vain attempt to work the kinks out.
Now would come the time for some real piloting. Flying a freighter in on a manual, unpowered reentry was no easy job in the best of times. Coming in at night, over hostile territory, with no guidance, in a badly damaged ship was going to take everything she hadand maybe more.
Hold on. No sense going into this thing with such a negative attitude. Think good thoughts, about how the freighter was a solid old ship to hold together as long as it already had. About all her training, and her painstaking memorization of every map of Corellia. About how it was very unlikely that anyone was looking for her, and how she would be damned hard to find even so.
Yes, that was the tone to take. Good thoughts. Good thoughts. She checked over all her systems one last time, and wished that they were looking better, even as she gave thanks that they were not looking worse. She looked out the port to the huge bulk of Corellia, looming lovely and dark, so close she thought she could reach out and touch it. She was square over the night side of the planet, but by no means was Corellia in absolute blackness. The lights of cities shone here and there, and starlight gleamed off gray cloud tops and dark blue sky and black land, making it all seem to glow as if from within, knots and whorls and points of light shining out from the sleeping world below.
A lovely world, and one full of danger. She would have to be careful down there. If she lived. She checked her countdown clock. It was almost time to cut the engine.
The normal procedure, of course, was for a powered descent, going in with the engines throttled up, decelerating from orbital speed to flying speed with the brute force of the ships engines. But her freighters sole remaining engine did not have anything like the power to manage that. She would have to do it the old-fashioned way, bashing her way through the atmosphere, using air friction instead of engine power to slow her craft. In theory, her freighter was built to survive just that sort of emergency entry, but she would have been just as happy not to test the theory. Not that she had any choice in the matter. The countdown clock clicked off the seconds to engine stop, arriving at zero far too quickly. Her one surviving main engine cut off, and Kalenda reoriented the ship, pointing it in the right direction for an aero-braking reentry.
Any moment now she would start to feel the first slight stirrings of atmosphere on the freighters hull
Almost before she had finished the thought, the freighter bucked and quivered, and the controls tried to leap out of her hands. Kalenda grabbed the flight stick in a death grip and forced the ship back to an even keel. She had flown plenty of reentries, and on nearly all of them initial contact with the atmosphere had been smooth and subtle. This was more like hitting a brick wall. The exterior of the freighter must have gotten more torn up than she thought. This was going to be interesting. [Editor's note: Maybe not.]
There was another series of shudders and thuds, and then, with a long-drawn-out shrieking noise, something tore off the aft end of the ship and broke clear. The freighter tried to flip itself over, and it was all Kalenda could do to force it back to a level flight path. On the bright side, it seemed as if the ship were flying a bit more steadily with the whatever-it-was gone.
She checked her actual flight path against her planned course. She found she was running a bit fast, and a bit high. She made what adjustments she could, and started watching her hull temperatures climb steadily upward. The freighter began to shudder again, with a new, deeper noise, a sort of rhythmic banging, thrown into the mix as well. Something else back there wanted to tear itself off, and no mistake.
The freighter plunged deeper and deeper into Corellias atmosphere, bucking and swaying and banging and shrieking its way down. The nose of the ship started to glow a cherry red, something Kalenda had never seen before. She was used to gentle, fully powered descents, not this sort of primitive aero-braking approach.
The g forces were starting to build up, and Kalenda felt as if she were being shaken to death and crushed to death at the same time. A new alarm went off, barely audible in the cacophony that filled the ships cockpit. Kalenda was being shaken around so badly that she could focus her eyes only clearly enough to see what the visual displays were telling her. A temperature alarm. It had to be a temp alarm.
Well, that was just too bad. She didnt dare take either hand off the flight stick long enough to make any adjustments, and besides, there was precious little she could do to cool things off. She couldnt even abort the landing attempt anymore. At one-eighth power, her one remaining engine didnt have anything like enough thrust to push her back into orbit.
Not that orbit was a good place to be on a ship that was probably losing air, on a ship with no accessible food or water.
Wham! The noise was loud and sudden enough to make Kalenda jump clear out of her seat if she hadnt been belted in. Something had just broken loose back in the ships interior. A second, smaller crash announced that whatever-it-was had just slammed into the opposite bulkhead.
The vibration reached a crescendo, and just when it seemed that it would tear the freighter apart, it began to taper off, fading away more quickly than it had come on.
Now Kalenda had some faint hope that she was through the worst of it. The freighter was still jouncing around quite impressively, but it had at least survived the reentry phase proper. It had become a badly damaged aircraft, not a half-wrecked spacecraft. Not that it was handling any better, or that she would be any less dead if she lost control of it and the freighter succumbed to its obvious desire to crash.
Kalenda heard a loud whistling from behind the cockpit door. It began at a high pitch and gradually worked its way down through the scale to a low rumble. It was the sound of air leaking back into the aft compartments of the ship. Kalenda did not dare take her eyes off the viewport and the main displays for even a moment to check the environment display, but air in the aft compartment had to be good news. She would be able to get back there and grab the survival gear.
She checked her rates, forward and down. Still a bit fast and high, but now it was a question of energy management, of controlling her descent, trading altitude and speed for distance, rather than any question of burning up in the atmosphere. She set the freighter into a series of wide, gentle S-turns to shed a bit more speed.
Well, at least they were meant to be wide and gentle. If the freighter had handled like a live bantha in convulsion during reentry, in normal aerodynamic flight it handled like a dead one. The ship barely responded to the controls at all, and she had to fight it through every moment of every turn. Something in the control system started hammering and banging, protesting the strain. She gave it up and got back on her ground-track course, and never mind if she was a bit fast and high.
The ship glided downward into the velvet darkness of Corellias night sky, biting into thicker air nowand suddenly all of Kalendas concerns about being fast and high vanished. The ships performance in the lower atmosphere was atrocious. She should have expected that, with half the aerodynamic surfaces shot to glory, but she had been concentrating so hard on staying alive long enough to get into deep air that she had never thought of how the she would fly once she got there.
Suddenly it was not a question of overshooting her target point by a few kilometers. but a question of not undershooting by several hundred kilometers. She had planned to put down just offshore, not in the middle of deep ocean. She had no choice but to relight her main engine and try to stretch out her glide as much as she could. She had hoped to avoid doing so. She didnt trust that engine, and she wasnt sure about the ship holding together while it was taking stress from both the aerodynamic surfaces and the engines. With the stress on the stabilizers and the off-center thrust of one engine, things could go very wrong very fast. However, it was not as if she had a choice at this point. It was relight the engine or drown.
Kalenda looked out the port. It was a lovely view, and even in the midst of her struggle for survival, she felt privileged to see it. She granted herself a second, two seconds, to drink it all in, so that she might die with some recent memory of beauty, if die she must. The clear and cloudless sky was blue black, pocked with jewel-bright stars, white. red, blue; diamonds and rubies and sapphires shining down on the blue-black sea and its gray whitecaps far below.
Lovely. Lovely. But if she was going to live to deserve further such privileges, she was going to have to tear her eyes away and get back to the job at hand. As gently, as delicately as possible, she powered up her single engine and brought it up to one-sixteenth power. The freighter slewed over a bit to port, but she managed to compensate without too much trouble. There was a low groan from the hull as the stresses on the ship rearranged themselves, but that was to be expected.
She checked her displays again, and saw that she was still losing more speed and altitude than she could afford, even if the loss rate had decreased. She was still going to fall short of her intended landing zone, and that was not good. If need be, she could swim three kilometers to reach the shorebut she could not swim fifty.
She bit her lower lip and throttled up toward one-eighth power, as slowly as she could. The hull began to groan again, but this time the sound did not fade out but grew louder. The damaged ship was not likely to take much more strain. The freighters nose started to drift to port, and she pulled it back to starboardand then had to heel back over to port as it started to heel over to starboard. Almost before she knew it, the ship was in a dangerous oscillation, its nose wobbling back and forth, unable to hold a stable attitude. If that oscillation got much worse at all, the freighter would heel over all the way and go spiraling into the drink.
Kalenda throttled down until the oscillation faded out again, and the groaning of the hull members receded. She checked her displays and swore. Not enough. Not enough. She was still going to land short of her intended ditch point.
One last card to play. She brought the nose of the ship up just a bit, in hopes of tempting just a bit more lift out of the wings. For a wonder, it seemed to work. Her rate of loss of altitude faded away, and she actually achieved level flight.
But Kalenda knew better than to relax her guard. Something else was bound to go wrong.
It started as a low hum, almost below the range of hearing, but it did not stay hard to hear for long. Bi-bi-bi-be-bee-bee-bee-bang-bang-bang-Bang-Bang-BANG BANG BANG BANG! BANG! BANG! It grew louder and louder, and shook the ship harder and harder. Some bit of the stabilizer, or a torn-up piece of rudder, was slamming itself against the hull with incredible violence. Kalenda set her teeth and hung on. As best she could see with the ship bucking and bouncing like a mad thing, she was still flying level, and every second she did that was another few hundred meters toward shore. So long as it got her in toward shore, the freighter could tear itself to pieces as much as it liked.
Getting closer now. Kalenda scanned the horizon, watching for land. There! A strip of motionless, darker darkness off in the distance. Stars and sky, she was going to make it.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Long past the time when it seemed impossible, the banging was getting worse. What in the name of space was trying to tear itself loose back there? BANG! BANG! BANG! BAN There was a sudden silence, and then, a heartbeat later, the gut-wrenching shriek of metal on metal and a final shudder that spasmed through the whole ship. Kalenda felt the freighters tail pull up and heel over to starboard. Well, whatever it was that had just pulled itself loose must have been part of the horizontal stabilizers. She corrected back toward port, but not too far. Let the ship hang at an odd angle of attack, as long as it was flying straight, more or less.
How far to shore now? She checked her navigation displays. Not more than twenty kilometers to go. If she could just hold this thing together that much longer Ping-PlNG! Ping-PING! Ping-PING! Kalenda hit the alarm reset and checked her displays. Damn! The engine overheat alarm. The thing was going to hit meltdown if she kept pushing it, and no mistake. She knew what she had to do, but she didnt like it. What good was it in getting this far if the engine blew up and she crashed into the sea here and now? With infinite reluctance, she throttled the engine back down to one-sixteenth power, and grimaced as the freighter promptly set back to work losing speed and altitude.
Ping-PING! Ping-PING! Ping-PING! She hit the alarm reset and swore under her breath with a fair amount of creativity. The engine was still overheating. Some last cooling connection must have failed altogether. With all cooling systems out completely, the engine would explode in short order, no matter how little power she ran through it.
For one mad moment she toyed with the idea of letting it blow, taking the explosion in trade for whatever last driblets of thrust she could get from the engine. But if there was one thing this ship was not going to take, it was yet another explosion.
She braced herself, and then cut all power to the engine. The freighter lurched violently, and tried to pull its nose up into a stall, but she forced it back into something like a level glide.
And that was that. No power left, no tricks left to try, all options explored. She was left with a deadstick glide into a nighttime open-ocean ditch. It didnt get much worse than that. Kalenda tried not to tell herself that at least she had the blessing of fair weather, for fear of the universe conjuring up a storm for her out of sheer perversity.
Flying is divided into two sorts of timethe steady, careful stretches where the idea is to keep things more or less as they are, and the sudden, rushing, fast-moving moments where the idea is to get from one state to another as quickly as possible while not getting killed. Pilots should not be rushed or hurried during cruise operations, but they must move fast for the takeoffs and landings.
As Kalenda was in the process of learning, all that was true in spades for a deadstick water landing. That water down below was coming up on her awfully fast. Best to get ready. She was going to have to get out of here in a hurry, once she put down. Keeping one hand on the flying stick, she reached up with the other and pulled down on the safety cover for the overhead escape hatch. She risked a glance up to spot the safety releases, then got her eyes forward again. Getting closer. Much closer. She reached up without looking and flipped the releases, then yanked down hard on the hatch eject lever.
Blow! The bolts blew and the hatch flew clear. Suddenly the wind was roaring past, and the stale, burned-insulation-flavored atmosphere of the cockpit was swept away by the cool, tangy salt air of the Corellian ocean by night.
Much, much closer. Kalenda struggled to flatten out her glide angle and braced herself for impact. Water might seem softer than land, but it still packed a hell of a wallop if you hit it at speed.
And here it came. Kalenda resisted the temptation to shut her eyes, and got both hands back on the flight stick, hanging on for dear life.
Coming in closer, lower, fasterfasterfaster! The water so close now it was a blur, all the nice neat waves she could see so clearly from higher up nothing more than a smear of blue gray she could not focus on. The wind roared through the hatchway, and her hair got loose and blew wildly into her face. She ignored it. Better to go in half-blind than to take her hands off the stick. Closer faster cant get closer must be there but were not closer faster faster
With a shuddering, roaring crash the ruined freighter slammed into the waves, bounced clear, and slammed down again with renewed vigor. Kalenda held on for dear life as the ship slammed head-on into wave after wave after wave, the water splashing up over the viewports, then clearing away before the next wave blinded her again. The shuddering, terrifying ride seemed to go on forever, [Editor's note: Amen!] with always the next wave lunging into view just as the last one washed away.
But at last the freighter slowed, rode lower in the water, eased itself to a halt, and the stupefying, crashing roar of the landing was quite suddenly replaced by the absurdly prosaic, hollow, echoing sounds of water sloshing about under a hull, of waves crashing on a nearby shore. She had made it. At least, made it this far.