I read this old short story in an anthology (about 25 years ago) but can't remember the title.

The plot was that human colonists/astronauts arrive at a planet inhabited by rather primitive aliens. Caught unawares, they were captured and became slaves and beasts of burden to the aliens.

Many generations passed and, with education forbidden, the human descendants have forgotten their technology and where they came from. But there are whispers that an abandoned spaceship near the village/city actually belongs to the humans, and not the alien masters.

After a rebellion, a small group of humans managed to get inside the spaceship. With the help of a nursery rhyme passed from generation to generation, they find and push a button for the auto-pilot and a button that activates a needle that sedates them and puts them in suspended animation.

The ship blasts off, with the hope that it finds its way back to Earth, then return to the alien planet to rescue the remaining human slave descendants.

Anyone remember this short story and the anthology it comes from?

  • "giving readers the hope" would scan better than "with the hope".
    – Spencer
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 18:14

1 Answer 1


As per Short story about humans as beasts of burden for another race, read about 30 years ago, this is "The Silk and the Song" (1956) by Charles L. Fontenay.

It was released in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July 1956

It's about a group of humans who are enslaved by aliens, generations after a disastrous landing on their planet. They teach their kids a song to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" which turns out to contain instructions for operating the dormant rocket.

Twinkle, twinkle, golden star,
I can reach you, though you’re far.
Shut my mouth and find my head,
find a worm that’s striped with red,
feed it to the turtle shell,
then go to sleep for all is well.

  • 2
    I happened to remember this one coming up. It's come up at least thrice before now, so don't feel bad that you also couldn't remember. :)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 13:33
  • I read this back in the 1960’s and it made a great impression on me. I’m 81 and still remember the poem! Commented May 7, 2023 at 15:02

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