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This was a short story, probably written well before the 90's. A human was called before the ruler at some alien planet; I seem to recall it was at a trading port. He was about the only human there.

The conversation didn't go well, and the human stalked off, and the alien ruler's soldiers eventually shot him down. The ruler asks his aide, "Who was that, anyway", and the aide replies, "That was a man."

37

"The Man from Earth", a short story by Gordon Dickson, first published in Galaxy Magazine, June 1964, available at the Internet Archive. The story matches your description, except that it's not the ruler who asks "what was he?" at the end.

Step by echoing step he walked the long length of the hall and passed through the towering archway into the bright day outside. He made it as far as halfway down the steps before, inside the hall, the Director's finger lifted, the message of that finger was flashed to the ranked guards outside, and the black rods shot him down with flame in the sunlight.

On the balcony above, overlooking those steps, Avoa stirred at last, turning his eyes from what was left of Will and looking down at Khal Dohn beside him.

"What was . . ." Avoa's voice fumbled and failed. He added, almost humbly. "I am sorry. I do not even know the proper pronoun."

"He," said Khal Dohn, still looking down at the steps.

"He. What did he call himself?" Avoa said. "You told me, but I do not remember. I should have listened, but I did not. What did you say—what was he?"

Khal Dohn lifted his heavy head and looked up at last.

"He was a man," said Khal Dohn.

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  • 3
    Not to be confused with "The Man from Earth". – Kakturus Jul 15 at 10:27
  • @Kakturus Too late. That's exactly what I was thinking of, wondering how I mixed up the title. Thanks for making it trivial to fact-check my memory. – CodeShane Jul 16 at 14:39

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