Ryan was born and lived on the freighter ECS North Star, along with his parents. Following a catastrophic disaster, which resulted in the loss of nearly the entire crew, including Ryan's parents, Ryan transferred to his new home aboard the ECS Fortunate. By 2151, he began serving as the first officer aboard the Fortunate under Captain Keene.
When the Fortunate was attacked by a Nausicaan ship that year, Keene was injured and Ryan took command. He led the starship on a mission of revenge. When Enterprise NX-01 answered an automated distress signal from the Fortunate, Ryan told the Enterprise crew that the distress signal had been a mistake, that the Fortunate had been attacked by pirates but was not in need of any help; he wished to hide the fact that he had a captive Nausicaan, whom he was torturing to obtain information about the weapons systems of the Nausicaan ship. Ryan was forced to cooperate with Enterprise's commanding officer, Jonathan Archer, as Ryan's own captain was in need of medical attention.
When Archer discovered that he had a prisoner, Ryan trapped him and other Enterprise officers in cargo module 8 and disconnected the module from the freighter. Ryan then left the jettisoned cargo module and Enterprise to hunt down the Nausicaans. He led his ship into a firefight with three Nausicaan ships, and was on the verge of being destroyed until Enterprise showed up.
Ryan was played by actor Lawrence Monoson. He filmed his scenes between Monday 24 September 2001 and Friday 28 September 2001 and on Tuesday 2 October 2001 on Paramount Stage 8 and 18. Ryan was scripted to be "in his late-twenties."
In the first draft of the "Fortunate Son" script, he was named "Ryan Cross". He stated about his relationship with Captain Keene, "I've known him longer than anyone else on the line," and professed to be an expert on the subject of Starfleet technology, stating about Enterprise and its kin, "I've studied these ships, stem to stern, fore and aft. I knew practically every system of this ship by heart before it left spacedock." In dialogue, Cross was described as having lived aboard the Fortunate for the past six years prior to his encounter with Enterprise. He was shocked to meet Captain Keene at the end of the script, having assumed Keene had died, and, under Keene's instruction, apologized profusely to Captain Archer. Cross was then sent to his quarters by Keene, to await the arrival of a Vulcan ship that would remand him to Earth for trial.
The character's name was changed to "Matthew Ryan" by the time the final draft of the script was submitted. In an ultimately unused line of dialogue from that early draft, Ryan pointed out that gravity on Enterprise seemed "a little heavy", to which Mayweather replied it was Earth standard. The script's stage directions then went on to state that, although Ryan nodded in response, he proceeded to "subtly" but noticeably test out the gravity while walking through a corridor with Mayweather. In a later line of dialogue which was likewise ultimately discarded, Ryan described Enterprise, to Captain Archer, as "a very impressive ship."