• Published 3rd Sep 2012
  • 8,594 Views, 768 Comments

Tinkermane - Razorbeam



Twilight discovers true love in the heart of a steam engineer.

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I: Time for Change

Warning: If you have yet to read Visionary, you may find parts of this story confusing. Though not a direct sequel, this tale follows the events of Visionary and utilizes much of the same world-building content and characters. I urge you to read it first if you have an interest in this story.

Thank you, and enjoy the adventure!

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"Thanks fer seein' me, Twi," Applejack drawled, plopping down tiredly on one of the floor pillows that Twilight had magicked her way.

Twilight allowed herself a small smile as her tired friend collapsed. From the letters Twilight had been receiving from Aurus, she had expected a tired Applejack, and was well prepared. Things had been stressful on the modest farm mare these past weeks.

Applejack had known well that there was no way to keep her marriage to Aurus a simple affair, but she had never expected just how far her friends would meddle. Korrick Varal, the ancient high councilor of the changeling nation, had succumbed to his wilder side for a moment. In a rare act of mischief, the old changeling had leaked the planned date of the small wedding to the Wings of Change, the international newsgroup that had formed between T'rahk Enox and Equestria.

True to their nature, the newsgroup had spread the word about quickly, reaching all ends of the swiftly growing sphere of changeling and pony influence in the world. There wasn't a paper in the known world that hadn't aired the article.

"It's not like I would've turned you away. But why stay here, and not at the farm?" she asked quietly.

"It's jus' fer the night. I already swung by and let Granny and the others know I'd be over tomorrow, but tonight I jus' need to talk," she explained with a pleading frown.

Twilight smiled warmly, glad that she was the friend Applejack wanted to talk to. She could have gone to any of the other girls, but it warmed her heart to know that it was her presence she wanted.

"Alright, let's talk then," Twilight said, looking out the window to get a grasp of the time. Sunset shades of pink and orange tinted everything, long shadows and quiet breezes dampening the noise from the town outside, turning it into a pleasant background sound; white noise for the soul. "What's bothering you?"

"Heh, what ain't?" Applejack laughed good-naturedly, letting Twilight know she was just exaggerating. "Yer not gonna believe what happened after that article came out. Vemn Enox went all in an uproar 'bout the wedding."

Twilight nodded, having expected that the royal city of the changelings, "The Grand Vale", would have reacted strongest to the announcement of an actual wedding date.

"Here's the crazy part," Applejack cautioned. "They been puttin' posters up all week. Posters of me! Can you believe that? An' everyone's taken t' callin' me 'queen', bowin' to me in the streets. Worst part is that they ain't just bein' formal. Malik says that the changelings think of me like some kind of derned model!"

Twilight was stunned at first. Applejack, a model? Eventually she started to laugh, unable to control herself as that image ran through her head.

"It ain't funny!" Applejack huffed, turning red in the face and dragging her hat low.

"Well it's kind of hard to believe," Twilight said, raising a hoof in apology as the last of her chuckles went out.

"Well, Aurus sorta explained it," Applejack said quietly. "Turns out them changeling fellas think pony gals are miles away prettier than their own ladies. We're 'exotic' is what I think he said. Anyways, me marryin' the king made me the apple of every fella's eye..." Applejack scowled as Twilight eyed her critically because of the pun. "Aw shut up."

"At any rate, you're a celebrity right?" Twilight asked, ignoring the urge to laugh at the bad joke. "A whole nation talking about how pretty you are can't be all that bad," she teased, knowing that it was precisely that.

"Ya know derned well it is!" the modest pony said, flushing hot. "I asked Aurus t' do somethin' about the posters, but he jus' told me he couldn't blame 'em. So like him," she grumbled, pulling her hat off and tugging on it in frustration.

"Well, it's not going to change anything, is it?" Twilight asked with a calming smile. "About the wedding, I mean."

She had the satisfaction of watching Applejack's flush of embarrassment fade into the warm blush of a soon-to-be bride, the corners of her mouth turning up into a slight smile.

"No, 'course not. I can't hardly believe I'm marryin' that fella, but I mean that in a good way. After everythin' he's done, it's like marryin' a legend. But that don't change a thing about how he is with me. For me, he jus' wants to be my husband, not my hero," she said with a warm laugh. "But he's my hero anyways. Gods above I love him, Twi. All the babblin' and fame in the world wouldn't change that." The look on her face was tender, the light in her eyes aglow from something far away from the library. She was in some other place; with Aurus, Twilight knew.

"Well, focusing on that is the best thing for you," Twilight said with a small smile. "Everything around you is changing, but it sounds like your love for him isn't. Just rest on that, and wait for everything else to blow over."

Applejack nodded, coming back to the moment. "Yer right, as usual. It ain't no secret yer advice is the best around," Applejack said with a laugh, which Twilight shared.

"What else is on your mind?" Twilight asked, inching closer as the night grew longer. Conversation became simpler, the topics easier. Applejack recounted her efforts of raising a new orchard in T'rahk Enox, the two of them taking the time to relive the godlike transformation of the world that had taken place right before their eyes. They talked long into the night, recounting stories old and new, until at last the moon was too far through its swing to keep their eyes open.

Twilight set Applejack a place in her room, and the two shared a few final laughs, and a fond goodnight.

Applejack had never looked happier. Celestia finally called for the kiss everyone had been waiting for with bated breath, and as Aurus leaned down to kiss her, wedding bells chimed loudly.

Twilight was happy to the bottom of her soul. But everything in her vision changed as she panned about. Here, Rarity too kissed her lover, then Fluttershy hers. Even Spike was kissing the girl of his dreams. Every couple at the wedding relished in that happy moment, sharing in the newly wedded pair's bliss.

Every couple, yet Twilight stood alone. She looked around, hoping to find someone else by themselves to which she could talk, to evade the suddenly pressing feeling that she stood out. Stood out, because she was alone.

Twilight shot awake, putting her hooves to her face. A dream, just a dream. She looked around, seeing that her bed had been tossed and turned into a mess, with the blanket all wadded up around her back legs. The pillow was on the floor, and the window had managed to blow itself open, silver moonlight flowing through and making everything black-and-white around her.

She pulled her hooves away from her face, but noted that they were wet. Grabbing the blanket, she tugged it to her face and scrubbed at her eyes gently. Sure enough, as she pulled it away it was stained with tears she hadn't known she was crying.

The pillow pressed into her chest suddenly, gently. She looked up to see Applejack standing there, smiling softly, her tired eyes fighting sleep.

"It looks like I'm not the only one who needed t' talk." Applejack sat down next to her on the bed, smile still in place.

Twilight sniffed quietly, trying to clear her nose from the leftovers of a cry she hadn't known she was having. "I-it was just a bad dream," she declared weakly, hugging the pillow tight.

"Bad enough t' make one of the strongest ponies I know come t' tears," AJ pointed out, putting a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Ya've been tossin' and turnin' all night, and I've been listenin'. When ya started snifflin', I got up t' check on ya, but then ya shot wide awake." Her tone was all concern, her eyes full of a friendly fear. "What was it about?"

Twilight sighed, closing her eyes and easily recalling the vivid dream; one of the most real ones she had ever had. "It was your wedding day, and I was so happy for you. But when I looked around, everypony was with somepony they loved. Everypony except me," she said quietly, tears starting to form again.

Applejack sighed knowingly, and reached out to her friend, dragging Twilight into a much-needed hug. "It's alright, Twi. That's just your heart tryin' to tell ya what it wants. It has a way of creepin' up on ya, showin' ya things ya never knew ya wanted." Her tone was comforting and gentle, just like the embrace she offered.

"I don't know what I want though," Twilight admitted, her voice a hushed whisper. "It just... just happened. I don't even know where it came from!" Her voice caught as she squeezed Applejack gently, battling a mixture of frustration and lingering hurt.

"I think I do, sugar," Applejack said quietly. "Everypony around ya is movin' on, findin' the guy or gal of their dreams, and yer startin' t' feel left out, left behind. No love up and found ya like it did me..." the orange mare said sadly. She heard Twilight sniff away some tears over her shoulder, and rubbed her back gently. "Yer heart's lonely, Twi."

"But I have my friends... and... and..." Twilight sniffled, looking for more excuses.

"Listen sugar; ya've always been good fer thinkin', but the heart ain't a thinkin' thing," Applejack said quietly. "Ya can't just count how many ponies ya know and say ya ain't lonely. Love comes in all kinds, and the heart wants some of each. Ya got friends who love ya, and parents who love ya... But ya don't have a fella, and it's a world different in a lot of ways."

"But I don't know any ponies I could date, or anything like that!" Twilight complained, pulling away so she could look Applejack in the face.

Twilight's own was a mess, all tears and ruffled fluff with those big, watery purple eyes barely holding the whole thing together.

"Hun, it ain't about knowin' a fella t' pick," Applejack said simply, wiping some of the wetness out of her face. "I didn't even know Aurus existed until he came into my life. It jus' happened fer me all of a sudden. Ya can't plan fer it, ya just have t' find it. Yer always lookin' out fer the rest of us, fixin' problems everywhere ya go. Ya never stop to let somethin' happen fer yerself," Applejack said, giving her a gentle shake.

"But somepony has to," Twilight said quietly. "I don't even think I would be good at love, Applejack."

"That ain't fair t' yerself," The farm pony said, letting her tone take on a careful edge of frustration. "There ain't a gal in the world no good fer love. Heck, look at me! I ain't the pick of the litter, an' I'm t' marry a king, Twi. It ain't about who ya are, or what ya think ya can do. It's jus' about actin' on yer feelings. When yer heart says jump, an' someday it will, ya jus' have t' trust it t' know best."

Twilight sighed, but not in defeat. It was the sigh of letting go, of accepting that she was finally in an argument that she couldn't win. She didn't know enough to argue against Applejack where matters of the heart were concerned, and she didn't want to. Everything she said felt comforting, warm. Twilight's dream guy was out there somewhere, and it wasn't just something she could go and get. It was something intangible, somepony that maybe she had never met.

For once, something in her life had no rationale. Everything about love rested purely on instinct and chance, areas far outside Twilight's range of expertise. But surprisingly she didn't find that notion frustrating or challenging; only invigorating. What could happen and what couldn't weren't documented, weren't certain. It was the excitement of the unknown.

"You okay, sugar?" Applejack asked, giving her a light shake.

"Y-yeah, I'm fine," Twilight said quietly, eyes still fixated on her back hooves, where she had been staring since Applejack last spoke. She finally snapped out of that faraway gaze, and even managed a smile as she looked at her orange friend. "What do you think I should do?"

Applejack chuckled, and gave her shoulder a gentle nudge. "Do whatever feels right. Ya shouldn't go crazy lookin' for somepony t' fall fer, but ya need t' keep yer eyes, and yer heart, open. Don't coop yerself up, an' I don't jus' mean in the library; not everythin' has to be business. Aurus came t' me, an' I was lucky fer that. But before that he was out there somewhere," she said, pointing out the window. "It's a different kind of brave, t' go through life with an open heart, but if ya do ya can at least rest knowing that someday, someplace, somepony'll walk right in an' make himself at home in it."

Twilight nodded, smiling sadly to herself. "Someday," she whispered quietly.

"Twi, for a gal like you, someday ain't far off," Applejack said with a warm smile. She reached out and hugged Twilight one last time. "But fer now, ya should get some sleep. We can talk some more in the mornin' if ya need."

Twilight hugged back, smiling more fully now. "Thanks Applejack... I'm lucky to have a friend like you."

Applejack broke off the embrace, hopping off the bed and smiling all the while. "We're lucky t' have friends like each other, Twi. Now get some sleep," she pleaded.

Twilight just laid down, magicking the blanket back up around her. "No promises," she joked quietly.

"Well at least don't keep me up then," Applejack scolded, laughing to herself as she wandered away.

Twilight smiled to herself, turning her head away from the moonlight still streaming in on the wings of a cool summer breeze. "Goodnight Applejack," she whispered, and at last she fell into sound and pleasant sleep.

Twilight sighed to herself as she finally put away the last of the tomes. Reshelving Day had become a much larger chore ever since Spike had moved out, but one that still needed doing. Twilight had found herself badly pressed for things to do in the past two weeks since Applejack had gone back to T'rahk Enox. Her wedding was still two months away, but her duties with the new orchard demanded her attention, so the farm pony had returned to her soon-to-be husband's side.

Her advice hadn't faded since then. Every time Twilight went into town, it was on her mind. Who could she meet? Where? When? Those questions consumed her anytime she looked at a stallion lately, often causing her to blush wildly when she finally returned to reality.

A week of that awkward thinking had been enough for her, so despite AJ's hopes that she wouldn't coop herself up, Twilight had taken to occupying herself with library business. Of which there wasn't much, for few ponies needed books often enough to truly keep her busy. Most of her other friends were either busy with the wedding or living out of town these days, and so the greatest pain of any intellectual mind had eventually started creeping into Twilight's life.

Boredom.

A buzzing sound from the street outside drew her attention, and looking out the open front door she watched with a small smile as an orange blur raced past, dropping a newspaper on her doorstep in its wake. Scootaloo's infamous evening newspaper run started at the same time every Saturday night, but every day it finished a little faster.

With a soft laugh to herself, Twilight went to retrieve the newspaper. She would have thanked Scootaloo, but it was a widely known fact that she wouldn't have stopped to hear it.

Twilight plopped down at the library table and flipped through the gazette. She checked the sports section for any news about Rainbow Dash and, not finding any, promptly set it aside. She skimmed the rest of it, folding up the crossword for later as she always did. Most of the paper was much the same as always; more details about the wedding, articles on getting along with your new changeling neighbors, real-estate listings in T'rahk Enox.

Something on her second scan-through caught her eye. The second page was dominated by an image of a large gear with the silhouette of a pony inside. Beneath it ran a scroll-like banner reading '12th Annual Steamtech Festival'.

Intrigued, Twilight locked onto the article below it.

Come one, come all to Manehattan's twelfth annual Steamtech Festival! Powerful machines and graceful automations from all corners of Equestria will be here to astound and amaze you! Witness the technological marvels of the future with your own eyes as some of the greatest minds of our time strive for the grand prize.

It went on for many more lines, outlining the date and a small admittance fee for spectators. Contest entries were apparently closed now, not that Twilight knew the first thing about actual steam tinkering anyways. But she had read a great many books on it; steamtech powered almost everything in towns like Manehattan and Fillydelphia, but in an out of the way place like Ponyville, it was a rare sight.

Twilight didn't realize until her third read-through of the article that she had still been staring at the page. She set it down, smiling to herself. Now here was something that sounded interesting to her at last. Something she could really get behind; to Twilight, an exhibition of brilliant minds like this was like a Wonderbolts show to Rainbow Dash. She had heard the festival talked about before, but had never had the time or the drive to go.

Until now. She had nothing but time on her hooves lately, and so on came the rhetorical question that always marks the beginning of a good time.

"Why not?" she asked with a small laugh, folding up the page after one last look at the date. It started on Monday, so she could use tomorrow to get some things together for the trip and book a train over. It had been ages since she'd gone anywhere besides Canterlot or T'rahk Enox, and so she was looking forward to seeing a new place, and meeting some of the brilliant minds behind the Steamtech wonder that was Manehattan.

"Time for Twilight to have a little fun," she chuckled, tucking the article into a nearby bag, one she would pack in the morning.

The train bumped and rattled over a rough spot in the tracks, jolting Twilight awake. She hadn't meant to doze off of course, but a twelve hour train ride wasn't exactly entertaining. She looked out the window sleepily, her tired eyes taking in the black veil of the night sky. The tracks ahead were lit by a single beam of light from the front of the train, and pressing her face to the glass she could see a bend coming up to the east. Her gaze trailed that direction, until at last she locked onto her destination.

Manehattan was beautiful in the night, aglow like a sonic rainboom. Lights of every color shone into the night, reflecting off a comfortable haze of steam that rested just below the tops of the tall skyscrapers, reflecting the myriad colors and bouncing them around. It was like a crystalline rainbow cloud that roofed the entire city.

The intercom crackled to life, the conductor announcing that their arrival would be soon. Twilight smiled as she looked at the place; just seeing it was worth the trouble of coming, and she could barely imagine what it was like in there, where all those bright lights were. According to her driver, the local time was already midnight, but having napped most of the way Twilight was far from tired.

As the train pulled into the station, Twilight eagerly waited at the doors. The second the station attendant pulled them open she was out, looking around with an eager eye. Lamps lit the streets everywhere, but not with firelight or magic. Electricity ran everything here, powered by the plant on the Manehattan river, which even at this late hour billowed steam into the cool night air along the riverfront. The city itself felt comfortably warm, and the immediate humidity made her coat start to feel frizzy.

Everything dripped, steam condensing on tin rooftops, streetlamps, and anything cool and metal. It wasn't dismal though, but rather entrancing; as if a soothing rain were always falling, yet the open streets were clear, not a drop splashing on them. Everything about the place fascinated Twilight; it was alive with sounds and lights, with buildings so tall that every turn in the streets and alleys was like a maze, every destination concealed.

She trotted over to the attendant, figuring she should at least get directions to a hotel before she went and got lost in the city. He mentioned that there was one just two blocks down and three over, so Twilight thanked him and headed off in search of it.

She struggled her way through a revolving door, having never used one before, and made her way over to the reception desk. "Good evening," she called cheerfully.

"Good evenin', little lady," the stallion at the counter replied, smiling warmly. "Took the late train in, did ya?" The stallion had a black mane and a deep brown coat, a fairly average looking fellow, aside from his size. He was at least as tall and wide at the shoulder as Big Mac, but Twilight could tell from his friendly, deep tone that he was probably just as kindhearted. He had an interesting accent that the station attendant had also shared, so she assumed it must be a Manehattan thing.

"That's right," she said, taking her bag off and setting it on the floor. "I'm in town to see the Steamtech Festival."

"Not a bad reason to be in town," he said politely. "I admit I don't know much about that sorta thing though, so I've only ever been once. Still, it's quite the sight; ya won't be disappointed. Anyways, I imagine ya need a room. We're booked pretty tight because of the festival, but I 'spose I've got one I can spare. Had a reservation cancel just this mornin'," the fellow said warmly, prying open a registration book. "It's gonna have to be on the top floor, though. That good for ya?"

"That's fine," Twilight said with a nod, glad that there was a vacancy. She'd been so caught up in the excitement that she hadn't thought about how hard finding a room could have been, especially the day before the festival.

"Well miss, I just need yer name and thirty bits. I'll cut ya a deal since I don't think I can fill the room otherwise for the night," he said, passing her a room key.

"Twilight Sparkle, and I appreciate it," she replied, fishing the fee out of her bag and stacking it neatly on the counter with her magic.

"Twilight Sparkle, got it," he muttered to himself, nose in the registration booklet as he scribbled her down.

"Just a quick question, but is there anything in town to do this late at night around here? I slept on the train, so I was hoping to look around some," she asked pleasantly.

The big stallion just smiled. "Well, yer definitely an out-of-towner. Lady, whatever ya want to do in Manehattan ya can do, day or night. They've got a place for everythin' in this city."

Twilight grinned with excitement, thanked him, and made her way towards the elevator to put her bag away.

"Hey, miss?" He called after her. "If ya like ya can leave yer bag here and I'll take it up fer ya. Save ya some time so's you can see the sights."

Twilight wasn't about to argue with an offer like that, and so she left her bag at the counter and stumbled through the revolving door again for a night on the town.

The clerk laughed warmly to himself as he watched her half-walk, half-fall through the door. "Tourists."

Twilight had to consciously dial down her pace as she made her way down Main Street. It only took her a few seconds to find the next new or interesting thing, so she was forever on the move. She had been worried her zealous tourism would get her lost, but luckily every corner had street signs, and Twilight's solid memory made it easy to recall her way back to the hotel no matter how many turns she took.

Both sides of the boulevard were lined with shops, all of them very professional businesses closed for the late hours, minus a few bars on opposite corners who were still open well into the night to compete with each other. Twilight was never much of a drinker herself, but on rare occasions when she was in the mood or when the frustration got to be a little too much, she'd go for a few drinks.

But even with all of those shops closed, Main Street was packed. All down the center of the road, in a perfectly straight line, were various stalls. All of them were on wheels, or at the very least looked like they were built to be put up and taken down, and not a single one looked like another. It was an easy enough conclusion to draw for Twilight that during the day big business took charge, but at night smaller entrepreneurs came out to hawk their wares in the same popular location the major stores used. A good number of the small establishments were food vendors, and these were doing particularly good business, ponies crowded around them or seated at some of the large ones.

She wandered along the side of the street, eying each stall and taking in the myriad sounds and smells of fried and baked foods. It might as well have been the middle of the day in Ponyville, because ponies were everywhere; talking, eating, laughing. Time wasn't even a thing here, it seemed like.

The various scents had her stomach rumbling in no time, and she realized that she hadn't eaten since lunch on the train. Frankly, train meals weren't exactly top fare, and everything here smelled fantastic. Following the trail of her current favorite scent, Twilight brushed aside a curtain that ringed in a long, bar-style stall, complete with stools. On the opposite side it was open to let the heat of the cooking area out, with space for trays lined all along the back of the bar top.

"Evenin' miss!" called the proprietor, smiling warmly through his mustache. Twilight couldn't see his eyes for how bushy his eyebrows were, so she silently wondered how he had even seen her. "What'll ya have?"

Twilight took a seat, smiling. "Good evening. I'm not sure what I want, to be honest. It's my first night in town, so I'm just trying to take everything in," she said with a laugh.

The owner just grinned, white teeth showing under his mustache. "An out-of-towner, eh? Then I know just the thing. Trust ol' Jack, he knows what's good for a night on the town," he chuckled to himself, already dishing things onto a plate from the trays on his side of the bar. "How's about a glass of wine, young miss?" he asked. "Seein' as it's yer first night, it won't run ya any extra. But if ya come back I'll have to charge ya," he said with a joking tone, sliding the plate in front of her.

Everything smelled perfect, and her stomach did its best to vocalize that thought with a loud growl. The old pony chuckled as she flushed in embarrassment. "No thanks, I don't think I should drink tonight," she said politely.

"Oh psh," Jack huffed. "I don't think ya shouldn't. It's just a glass, what's it gonna hurt ya?" he asked, pouring her one anyways.

With the glass now in front of her, Twilight didn't think she could really refuse without being rude; at that point it would just be wasted. "If you insist..." she said reluctantly, taking it in her front hooves and turning the glass side to side, eying the deep, purplish-red liquid inside.

A clinking sound down the bar drew her attention. She hadn't realized it, but she was only one of two ponies at the stall at this hour. The unicorn stallion at the opposite end of the bar had a reddish brown mane that looked unkempt, as if he had simply woken up that morning, run a hoof through it, and called it good. It was cut short and formed up into lazy spikes, giving it an attractive, carefree sort of look. His tail was likewise bushy, not a smooth, sweeping flow of hair like it should have been.

His coat was a light tan, a shade that meshed well with his mane and tail, and his hazel eyes shone almost golden in the light of the stall. Most of his coloring and features seemed pretty normal, except for the fact that he had matching scars on both sides of his jaw. They weren't gruesome, but rather simply there, identical patches of reddened skin showing through his coat on his jaw line. Around his neck dangled a pair of goggles of a type that Twilight hadn't ever seen before; flight goggles were fairly standard, but his were made of thicker glass, tinted red in heavy brass frames, all tied together with thick brown leather straps.

Another clinking noise followed the first as the unicorn fished a bit out of a backpack he had pulled in front of him with his hooves. This process went on for a short while until he had a small pile of money in front of him on the bar, next to his empty plate. A half-full bottle of whiskey sat next to a perfectly clean shot glass, for the stallion had simply been drinking out of the bottle all night.

He stood up and swung the backpack on, shaking his shoulders to better situate it. "I'm taking the bottle, Jack," he called, his deep voice clear and crisp, with not a hint of the Manehattan accent anywhere in it.

"Ya always do," the old man called, shaking his head and laughing. "Another long night, then?"

"It always is," the unicorn said with a tired laugh, picking the bottle of whiskey up with his magic, which had a copper-colored glow. "I've got to make sure everything's in top shape for the competition tomorrow. You have a good night," he called over his shoulder, brushing aside the curtain and making his way into the street beyond.

"That happen often?" Twilight asked around a lump of food in her mouth. It seemed like such a strange thing to walk off with the entire bottle.

"Just with him. He's a bit of an odd fella, but he always covers the cost of the whole bottle, so I don't raise a fuss. Ya can do the same with the wine, if ya want," he said, quirking a bushy eyebrow as he noted that the glass he had given her was already empty.

Twilight flushed as she realized she had topped it off watching the stranger. "I don't know about the whole bottle," she said with a sheepish smile, "but maybe one more glass?"

Jack just smiled and gave her a refill. "Sure thing, young lady. Welcome to Manehattan."