• Published 31st Mar 2014
  • 16,985 Views, 2,857 Comments

Project Sunflower: Harmony - Hoopy McGee



After the events of Project: Sunflower, Erin returns to Ponyville to study magic. Meanwhile, something is stirring on the newly-discovered world of Harmony.

  • ...
55
 2,857
 16,985

Chapter 02: Back on her hooves

A jet-black highway wound its way through the forested hills, past the pines and undergrowth. An elderly hybrid Ford Escape, dented and dinged but well-maintained, drove up the road at just over the posted speed limit. Spring had come to most of the country, but the mountains were fighting back. The higher the driver went, the more snow there was. It was as if he were driving back in time, back into winter.

The road was mostly empty, so nobody was around to hear the deep bass thumping from inside the Escape. The driver, a middle aged man with a grey-streaked beard, short brown hair and thick-rimmed glasses, was singing along with the song on the radio. It was a song he’d loved as a child, and he belted out the lyrics as loudly and joyfully as he could. If anyone had been listening, they would have been informed that, though he might get knocked down, he’d get up again, and, in fact, they were never going to keep him down.

The song was just wrapping up when the signs began to appear. Signs stating that further travel was restricted without permission, signs stating no trespassing, signs stating the legal, and potentially fatal, consequences for ignoring the other signs and, finally, a sign warning him to slow the vehicle down just as the large grey concrete wall came into view.

The driver slowed to a stop next to the gatehouse set into the concrete wall. The guard, a serious-faced young man in a black suit, asked the driver his purpose, and then asked for his ID. When the driver passed it over, he noticed that the young man had a holstered sidearm under his jacket, though he didn’t know guns well enough to place the type.

The guard consulted with someone over a radio. A few seconds passed before the reply came, after which the guard passed the ID back and entered a combination into a keypad. The metal gate blocking the road rolled to one side and the driver started moving again.

He followed the signs to the visitor’s parking lot, which was the size of a football field and nearly empty, allowing him to pull in very close to the main entrance of the compound. He killed the ignition and finally got out to stretch. His clothes were deeply creased and uncomfortable after the hours he’d spent driving. He gave them a quick adjustment while studying the compound.

The Visitor Center had only been halfway completed the last time he’d been out here. The work had obviously continued over the winter, and now the asymmetrical glass-faced pyramid shone like a diamond in the snow, glittering in the early afternoon sun. Five stories high at its peak, the building contained the administrative wing of Project Harmonics as well as the more luxurious apartments, intended for use by visiting VIPs.

Behind the shining Visitor Center were the original Harmonics buildings. Though none of them were over two stories, they were wide and sprawling, covering most of the ground between the high walls surrounding the compound. That was where the real work took place, in the cinderblock-walled buildings that had been constructed hastily a few years earlier and were now much too important to replace with something that looked nicer.

Once he’d rearranged himself to his satisfaction, the traveler reached into the back seat to pull out his travel bag. He made his way inside the crystalline building, walked straight up to the receptionist desk and smiled, pulling out his ID before the young man behind the desk could ask for it.

“Hi,” the man said. “I’m John Olsen, and I’m here to see my daughter, the pony.”

~~*~~

Erin Olsen’s nose twitched, slowly coming to recognize the smell of disinfectant and flowers in the air. As she became more alert, awareness filtered in that her mouth tasted like something very sick had crawled into it and died. Her other senses started checking in, the familiar beeps of medical equipment and the feeling of bed sheets around her making her realize that she was awake, and that she must be in the medical wing once again. Her eyes fluttered open and stared blankly at the white-tiled ceiling for almost a full minute before flitting around the room, eventually landing on her mother, who was sitting in a large chair next to her bed and focused on her knitting.

“Hi, Mom,” Erin managed to croak. Her voice obviously startled her mother, because the older woman jumped and squeaked in surprise, nearly stabbing herself with her own knitting needle. Erin couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Erin!” The knitting was quickly stuffed into her mother’s large purse. Lynne stood and bent over her, stroking her mane. “How are you feeling?”

“Thirsty,” Erin replied weakly while hoping that her breath wasn’t too terrible. Lynne responded by pouring a glass of water for her and holding it so that Erin could drink.

“Now how do you feel?” Lynne asked, after Erin’s third glass of water.

“Rolled out and stretched too far,” Erin complained. “Tired. Achy. It’s probably the sedatives.” She nodded vaguely at the IV line taped to her left foreleg. Light brown and fuzzy, once again. She would have pointed using her other foreleg, but she was strapped firmly to the bed. Her mother frowned when she saw where Erin’s eyes were looking.

Her mother was wearing an unhappy frown. “I really hate seeing you strapped down like that.”

Erin’s shoulders twitched in what would have been a shrug if she hadn’t been strapped to her bed. “I’m not quite ‘done’ when they take me out of the vat, I guess.” She tried to say that casually, as if it didn’t bother her to say that. “If I move around too much before everything ‘sets’, I could really damage my muscles and joints. They have to restrain me and keep me under so I don’t thrash and hurt myself before my brain gets used to my new body.”

“That’s what the nurse said,” Lynne replied, sounding as if she wasn’t sure she believed it. Then she brightened. “Oh! Just so you know, it looks like everything came out the way it was supposed to.”

Erin’s muzzle twitched into a relieved smile. “Good, I’m glad. I don’t want to have to do this again for a while.”

She let her head flump back down into her pillow. She was lying on her back, which was an unexpectedly uncomfortable feeling for her. Twin lumps along her spine pressed into her, pinned tightly by bandages that enveloped her chest. The lumps itched, twitching independant of her will while giving her brain fits trying to figure out where the sensations were coming from. All of which prompted her to ask, “Wings turned out okay?”

“They tell me your wings are fine, dear.” Her mother was smiling, still stroking her mane. “They’re about the same color as your coat. Your horn turned out fine, too.”

“Oh, yeah!” Erin crossed her eyes and looked up. She could just make out the tip of the spiraled horn jutting out of her forehead. Idly, she tried to will the now empty glass by her bedside to raise into the air. Nothing happened. “I hope they got it right this time.”

“I’m sure they did.” Lynne patted her on her shoulder. “Oh, your father just arrived. He wanted to take a shower before he saw you, which is a good thing. He was a little ripe from the drive out.”

Erin giggled at that.

“I think we should get these restraints off of you.” Lynne stood up, leaving her purse behind on her chair. “I’ll go get the nurse, okay?”

“‘Kay,” Erin mumbled as her eyes slowly closed again. She didn’t realize she’d drifted off until she felt a tugging at her lower legs. Her eyes fluttered open to see a grey-haired male nurse loosening the strap around her back left leg.

Erin smiled woozily at him. “Thanks.”

The nurse glanced up at her and smiled. “No problem, kiddo. I’ve already sent out the word to let everyone know that you’re awake, so you may be getting some more guests soon. Just let me know if you start feeling overwhelmed and I’ll kick them out, okay?”

He winked, which got Erin giggling as she thanked him. As soon as he left, Erin began to push herself out of bed, waving off her mother’s offer of help.

“It’s important I figure out how to do this stuff myself, Mom.”

“Fine, you can do what you like,” Lynne said, pulling out her knitting and sitting back down.

Erin hesitated, having managed to get her back hooves onto the floor with the rest of her still up on the bed. She glanced over to see her mother sitting in her chair and scowling while attacking her knitting. Judging by the tone of voice and the unhappy expression, Erin decided that her mother was in “help my child” mode and was upset at having her help denied.

“I could probably use some help brushing out my mane and tail, though,” she offered. “It’s too much to handle by myself when I first wake up after being changed.”

Lynne’s eyes flicked up at the tangled mess on Erin’s head and smiled. “I guess I don’t mind,” she said, satisfied.

Erin started staggering around the tiny hospital room, both to stretch out her muscles and to get used to being a pony again. Her mother pretended to be knitting, though her hands rarely moved and Erin would catch her looking over with both concern and amusement as she stumbled awkwardly around the room..

“How is it?” Lynne asked after a few minutes.

“Easier than the first time.” Erin flinched as her left wing suddenly flung itself open without any apparent input from her brain. She glowered at the offending appendage. I didn’t tell you to open, damn it, she thought. “That is going to take some getting used to, though.”

“You’ll get it,” her mother said with a confidence that Erin didn’t feel.

Erin grunted in frustration as she tried to force the wing closed again. It stubbornly ignored her. Eventually she just gave up and started walking in small, tight circles again.

“You know what the most frustrating thing is, though?” she asked her mother after a while.

“Hmm? What’s that?”

“I keep wanting to spread my fingers and toes, and I can’t. It’s really annoying.”

Lynne made a sympathetic noise, but kept her focus on her knitting. That is, up until the door opened. Erin glanced up to see a mint-green unicorn framed in the doorway, panting and slightly out of breath.

“Erin!” Lyra blurted out. “You’re awake!

Erin offered her friend a smile. “Hi, Lyra.”

“Hi Lyra,” Lynne echoed, causing the unicorn to jump. Apparently, Lyra hadn’t seen her sitting there.

“Lynne!” Lyra smiled, sounding genuinely pleased. “I didn’t know you were back!”

“I flew in yesterday, just in case Erin woke up early.”

“Oh, that makes sense.”

Erin had just completed another lap past her window and was on her way back towards the door. “So, how’s work?” she asked.

“Frustrating.” Lyra rolled her eyes. “Also, fascinating. But never mind that.” She waved a hoof dismissively. “Can you sense it?”

“Sense..? Oh! I…” Erin’s attention focused on the torc the unicorn was wearing. “I think so? I feel… it’s like there’s a sort of warm glow coming from it.”

“Yes!” Lyra pumped a hoof in the air. “That’s it! They did it!” A grin spread across her muzzle. “Welcome to the world of magic, Erin!”

Erin’s left wing snapped closed followed by both wings opening partially, the feathers ruffling, though she wasn’t aware of it. Instead, all of her attention was focused on the warm glow coming from the torc around Lyra’s neck. A slightly dopey smile stretched across her face.

“Awesome,” she said dreamily.

~~*~~

The tub and shower unit had been specially designed and at one time had been unique in the Harmonics compound. It was deep enough for Erin to stand in and still have the water come up to her withers, wide enough that she could turn around if she felt like it, and it had steps on one end so that she could get in and out without assistance. After diplomatic relations with Equestria had officially started, Maggie Henson had commissioned the building of over a dozen “pony suites”, which included pony-style bathrooms taken from the footage of Erin’s stay in Ponyville.

Erin soaked in the tub until the hot water stopped steaming and started turning cool. Her mother sat on a stool next to the tub, talking through the latest family news. Erin was only listening with half an ear as her mom rattled on about cousins, nieces and nephews, marriages, fights and reconciliations amongst the family. The hot water felt far too good for her to be able to pay attention, and the remnants of the sedatives made her groggy enough to nearly nod off.

Becoming a pony again felt familiar and odd at the same time. The new wings might have had something to do with that, but her body overall felt different than her first time as a pony. Less awkward in some ways, and more graceful, but weaker. Her coat felt softer and her mane flowed differently, even though it looked pretty much the same. The water was soaking between the feathers, giving her goosebumps and causing an unfamiliar ticklish sensation that set Erin’s teeth on edge.

As if thinking about them had triggered the reaction, both of her wings snapped open widely, the tips banging into the sides of the tub and causing Erin to yelp in surprise and pain.

“Oh, that’s really going to get old.” Erin scowled as she tried to close a wing by pressing on it with a hoof. It refused to close, springing back open every time she let up on the pressure.

“You’re alright, dear?” Lynne asked.

“Yeah. It’s just… weird, I guess. Having new body parts, I mean.”

“You’re not used to that? What with being a pony and all?”

Erin shrugged as she started climbing out of the now tepid water. She nabbed a nearby towel in her teeth, transferred it to her hooves and started drying herself off. “No, not really. I mean, when I first changed, everything had an analogue. Like, my front legs and my arms were pretty much the same, and so on.”

“What about your tail?” Lynne asked as she reached over to the nearby countertop for the Equestrian-made mane comb and brush that Maggie had placed in every pony suite.

“I more or less ignored that and let it do its own thing.” Erin shrugged and smiled. “There’s less to a tail than you might think. Though, yeah, that did feel weird at first. These wings, though…” Erin frowned at them. For some reason, they were half-extended and refused to fold nicely alongside her body. “It’s just really annoying having parts of you that you can’t really control, you know?”

Lynne smiled as she motioned for her daughter to sit down in front of her. Erin complied, and the older woman started running the comb through her mane. Erin tried to keep her flinching to a minimum, but there were too many tangles for things to go painlessly.

“I should just cut it all off,” Erin grumbled after the fifth time the comb caught on a snarl.

“Don’t you dare!” Lynne said, aghast. “It’s too nice to cut it off.”

“It would grow back,” Erin replied defensively. “Besides, short manes are a valid style.”

“Just a little patience and your mane will look lovely, dear.”

“Okay, fi—ouch!”

“Sorry, that was a bad one.”

Erin sighed and resolved herself to putting up with the discomfort.

“Do we need to do anything with your wings?” Lynne asked eventually. “The feathers are looking a bit rough.”

“Um…” Erin glanced down at one wing. The feathers definitely weren’t laying down as neatly as she was used to seeing on pegasi. “I really don’t know. I’ll ask Rainbow or Fluttershy about it when I get back to Ponyville.”

The combing stopped for a few seconds while Lynne leaned forward and hugged her still slightly-damp daughter. “I’ll miss you, sweetie.”

“Aw, Mom.” Erin leaned her head back until her cheek rested alongside her mother’s. “We can definitely visit. I’d want you to come out to Ponyville some time, at least. And maybe I can even have my friends come out to Minnesota!”

“I know, I know.” Lynne released her daughter and, sniffling a little, picked up the brush and started smoothing out the mane with long, firm strokes. “It’s just… everything is so different, now. You’ve gone and grown up on me… not to mention the whole pony thing. It would be nice to have your friends visit, though.”

“Yeah!” Erin perked up a little as she thought about it. “I know Pinkie would love to come, and Twilight. Fluttershy would probably want to stay at home, but Rarity might come along. Rainbow and AJ could go either way, though.”

“I suppose you’ll have to go to Canterlot in order to call us and make arrangements,” her mother said. “Kind of a bother, really.”

Erin hummed lazily. The brushing felt really good. “They’re working on it. They’re using the old surveillance drones as relays between Ponyville and Canterlot, so I should be able to get a connection to the internet whenever the gateway is open. I could call or message you then.”

“Oh! That’s wonderful!”

“Yeah… that’s one thing that took a while to get used to, staying there the first time. No internet!” Erin chuckled. “I wasn’t able to check my email for a couple of months.”

“I’m amazed you survived.” Her mother’s voice was droll. “So, we get to hear from you once a month.”

She sounded sad, and if Erin hadn’t still been slightly damp at that moment, she would have given her mother a hug.

“The Princesses are talking about going to a twice a month or weekly schedule soon,” Erin reminded her. “It won’t be as bad as all that.

Lynne made a noise of agreement and continued brushing. Erin, meanwhile, let her mind drift, idly attempting to make her wings do what she wanted them to do. They would twitch sometimes, but she couldn’t get them working quite right. It was frustrating in the same way as trying to pick a penny up off of a flat surface while wearing heavy gloves; she'd almost feel like she was getting control just for the wings to either go non-responsive or start to spasm.

Eventually, her mane and tail were as brushed as they could be, and she was reasonably dry. Lynne put the brush and comb back on the bathroom counter and stood up.

“Let’s go see your father,” she said with a smile.

~~*~~

John was sitting on his daughter’s bed in her hotel-style room, flipping through the news channels on the wall-mounted TV and desperately hoping to find something that didn’t remind him of Erin’s upcoming move back to Equestria.

So far, it was proving to be exceedingly difficult.

“Word came from the newly-established Equestrian embassy in New York that the exchange rate has been finalized, and will be based off of the price of gold in order to—” *click* “—were seen in shopping centers around the world. The ponies, calling themselves ‘Goodwill ambassadors’, seemed more focused on shopping than—” *click* “—once again a pony, and will be moving to Equestria to—” *click* “—a sort of cultural exchange, where human students will go to Equestria, and ponies will come to Earth, attending school while learning—”

John shut off the TV with a sigh and stood up, making his way to Erin’s kitchenette. He cracked the fridge door open, scowled briefly at the contents and finally pulled out a plastic jug of orange juice. He poured himself a glass and was halfway through drinking it when he heard the bathroom door open.

His brain went fuzzy for a second when he saw the pony who, intellectually at least, he knew was his daughter. Emotionally, he was having as hard a time as ever accepting it.

She looked much like she did the last time she’d been a pony. Small, fragile looking, with a light brown coat. Her sunflower mark almost seemed to shine, looking more real than any tattoo he’d ever seen. The hair of both her mane and tail, still damp from washing, hung down straight and flat, looking darker than the auburn he knew it would be when it dried out. Bright, pine green eyes sought him out, and a happy smile split her muzzle.

“Hi, Dad!” Erin smiled cheerfully. “Did you have a good trip?”

“Uh. Yeah, it was okay.” John looked away, focusing on some random spot on the wall. The situation already felt surreal. Time to introduce some normality, then. “You think you could put something on?”

Erin grunted and rolled her eyes at him. “Jeeze, Dad. Why does it bother you so much if I don’t wear clothes when I’m a pony? You don’t get like this around Equestrian ponies.”

“Equestrian ponies aren’t my daughter,” John answered reasonably. “Please?”

“Ugh, fine.” John knew his daughter well enough to know that the frustration in her voice was laced with at least a little amusement.

As his daughter trotted over to her closet to rummage for something to wear, John smiled at his wife. “How’d it go?” he asked her.

“Pretty good.” Lynne shrugged. “I sort of promised that we’d come out to visit in a month or two.”

“Uh, okay. That’s fine, I guess” John scratched his head and started thinking about vacation times and upcoming projects at work when his wife spoke again.

“And I said that she can come out to the house with her friends any time she likes. She’s hoping she can come out this summer.”

“Huh… Well, okay. That may be a little bit of a media circus, though. I mean, considering who her friends are.” John grimaced and added, “Damned paparazzi. Still watching our house like we’re famous or something.”

“Maybe we could all go somewhere else?” Lynne suggested. In the background, Erin was cursing and struggling her way into something yellow and green, most of the cursing regarding the lack of wing-slits in her old dress.

“Like where?”

“I don’t… Oh! How about your cousin’s farm? That’s remote enough that the press won’t be likely to show up.”

“Ah, I don’t know.” John scratched at his beard. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?” Lynne asked, glancing over at her daughter, who was doing an interesting little dance as she struggled to get dry cloth over her damp fur.

“I’m just not sure how the ponies would feel about seeing… well, horses and cows and stuff.”

His wife looked at him with a blank expression for a few seconds. “Well, we could just ask them instead of just assuming what they will and won’t like, don’t you think?” she asked. “They’re adults, they don’t need us to protect them.”

John glanced over at Erin, who still had the dress stuck over her head, but who’d stopped struggling with it for a moment in order to listen to her mother.

“Well,” John said, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt for Erin to just ask her friends. I’ll ask Allie and Jim if they’re interested. Pretty sure they would be. We should keep the date a secret, though.”

“The date for what?” Erin asked, finally rejoining her parents. Her mane was now a frizzled mess. Lynne rolled her eyes and walked back into the bathroom, returning a moment later with the hairbrush.

“The date that your pony friends visit. Your mom and I were thinking it might be nice if they visited the Mathers’ farm.”

“Jeeze, Dad, I haven’t been there in ages.” Erin sat down just outside her kitchenette area, a suspicious look coming into her eyes. “Hey, you didn’t drink the last of my orange juice, did you?”

“There’s still a little bit left,” John replied, holding his hands up defensively. “So, uh… when are they opening that gateway, again?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Erin replied. “I sure hope all the stuff I ordered has arrived.”

“What stuff?” Lynne asked.

“Odds and ends, and some presents for my friends,” Erin said, grinning. “That, and all of the equipment that Maggie ordered for my new place in Ponyville.”

“Oh!” Lynne’s hand flew up to her mouth. “Your first house, and it’s in an entirely different world.”

John gently placed his arm around his wife’s shoulders and drew her close, kissing her on the top of her head as they hugged.

“You’ll send us pictures, right, kiddo?” he asked.

“You bet! The drone relay between Canterlot and Ponyville is already set up, so you only have to wait until the next time the gateways are open.” Erin frowned, scuffing a hoof along the floor. “Though, communications will be a lot easier once they get the Ponyville wifi network installed.”

“How long will that be?” John asked.

“Maggie said the technicians would come out the next time they open the gateway, assuming the Princesses are okay going back on a weekly schedule.” Erin rolled her eyes and shrugged. “None of the techs we have contracts with are willing to be stuck on an alien world for a month, it seems.”

John tried to put the fact that his only daughter would be vanishing through that portal to another world in a couple days’ time. Instead, he fell on the one thing he knew best: being a dad.

“Need any help getting all of that stuff organized, kiddo?” he asked.

Erin smiled up at him gratefully. Pony or human, that smile could always melt his heart.

“Thanks, Dad. I’d like that very much.”

John smiled, relaxing a little bit. He might not be able to stop his little girl from leaving her home world, but just for now, he could still be Dad. It felt nice to be needed.

“Alright.” He gave her mane a ruffle, much to Lynne’s obvious annoyance. “Let’s get started, shall we?”

~~*~~

Erin couldn't help herself. She was dancing in place, an involuntary grin across her face as she looked longingly at the gateway to Equestria. She could sense the magic, flowing through like sunlight into the world, though she couldn't see it. Instead, it was almost like a sense of warmth, of comfort.

"You seem excited," her mother said.

Erin glanced over, and some of her eagerness faded. Her mom had a look of mingled happiness and sadness on her face, causing a swell of guilt in Erin's chest. She'd been so happy to get going, so eager to try magic, that she'd forgotten that she was saying goodbye to her parents, probably for weeks.

"Oh, Mom." She reared up on her back hooves, hugging her mother tightly as tears stung her eyes. "I'm going to miss you."

"Me too, sweetie." Her mother hugged back and started stroking Erin's mane.

Her father’s face was solemn. "I'm gonna miss you too, kiddo."

Erin gave him a smile, and then she turned to give him a hug as well. Eventually, she let go and dropped back to all four hooves.

"I'll write," Erin promised, sniffling. "Just as soon as we get the wifi going, I'll write."

"We'll look forward to it." Lynne still had that sad smile.

Her father cleared his throat. "You'd better get going, hon. You don't want to miss your train, and you said the Princesses wanted to talk to you before you left."

Erin nodded and wiped at her eyes with a foreleg. "I love you both, so much."

One last hug, her parents kneeling down this time to embrace their daughter. A final round of tearful goodbyes, though her father tried to pretend he wasn’t crying. And then Erin turned, walking through the gateway and towards her new life in Equestria.

Author's Note:

She's back!
Thank you to my editors and pre-readers, in no particular order:
Brilliant Point, Coandco, Ekevoo, Merlos the Mad, Ludicrous Lycan.

Editor’s Note:
Missed you, Erin. :twilightsmile:

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!