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 Jackson Keene.
When the Fortunate was attacked by a Nausicaan raider that year, Keene was injured and Ryan took command. He led the ship on a mission of revenge. When Enterprise NX-01 answered a distress call from the Fortunate, Ryan said it was a mistake, that they had been attacked by pirates, but were 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 weapon 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 in a compartment and disconnected the freighter from Enterprise. He then fired on Enterprise and escaped from the vessel, whose crew subsequently managed to rescue the crewmembers trapped in the compartment. Ryan led his ship into a firefight with three Nausicaan raiders, and was on the verge of being destroyed until Enterprise showed up.