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I'm trying to identify a science fiction short story I read long ago (I'm 71). The story goes like this:

A human is waiting at a spaceport for his flight to leave. He has been going all around the galaxy looking, for many years, for the secret of immortality.

As he sits waiting, an alien strikes up a conversation with him and they discover they are both searching for the same thing. The alien goes on for quite a while naming hundreds, if not thousands, of places in the galaxy where he has searched.
The Human finally asks the alien how long he has been searching. The alien says "Well, in your years it would be about 15,000 years."
The Alien's flight is called and he leaves to board it.
The human sits for a few minutes, gets up, goes to the ticket counter, cancels his flight and books a flight back to earth. He has realized that if the alien has been searching for 15,000 years, and was very, very old by human standards, what chance did he, a human, have of finding the secret? And, as he figured it, in human years, the alien was awfully close to immortality to begin with.

He had given up the search for immortality and was going home.

That's how I remember the story, so I'm sure I've left things out and changed others. Regardless, can someone please help me with identifying the name for this short story or the author?

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  • I think I saw similar stories of humans dealing with very long-lived aliens and one aspect was human frustration with the tempo of their interactions. If a human says, "I will get back to you later" they either mean "No" (woody allen has a tribe with no word for "No", they just say. "I will get back to you later") or a couple days. But in such a story an immortal or near immortal might get back to you a century later (maybe sooner due to human limitations if they were in a generous mood).
    – releseabe
    Sep 29, 2023 at 13:21
  • I once read a story where a current day human met an alien, and asked why their (the Alien's) society weren't more advanced. The response was that for a while they'd toyed with immortality, and it seriously retarded their development. Just a small aside in the story, but a very sensible application of the full implications of Planck's Principle. I think about it now any time a SciFi story includes immortality. Perhaps its not a desirable goal?
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 2, 2023 at 14:10

1 Answer 1

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This is Cautionary Tales by Larry Niven.

It ends:

In the morning he arranged passage home to Sol system. Ten thousand years wasn't enough...no lifetime was enough, unless you lived in such a way as to make it enough.

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    You nailed it! Thanks. I told that story to someone the other day and realized I didn't remember who wrote it or the name of the story. Thank you again.
    – SimonT
    Sep 29, 2023 at 17:32
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    @SimonT You're welcome! Your detailed question made it easy to remember! Sep 29, 2023 at 17:32
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    It's a QA triumph! The telling of the story was very enjoyable.
    – Fattie
    Oct 1, 2023 at 13:49

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