* Aubrey is in command of the Surprise, a private man-of-war.
* Tom Pullings is the first lieutenant who is a post captain who has little chance of a command of his own.
* The Surprise is owned by Stephen Maturin, a naturalist and surgeon and a good friend of Aubrey's.
* Maturin works covertly for naval intelligence and purchased the Surprised when Aubrey was financially ruined.
* Martin is Maturin's surgeon assistant and is recently married. He signs aboard to earn money to support his wife.
* Surprise is crewed by a mix of nationalities and races, but all of the men are hand-picked and experienced.
* Surprise sets sail for South America. Before she sails a Mr. Standish joins the crew as purser.
* Martin is surprised to see Maturin carries only one small bottle of laudanum--in previous voyages it had been in five-gallons.
* Maturin is recovering from a prolonged and serious addiction...
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