The characters, never given names, are referred to by their roles, the explorer, in another translation
A new governor who isn't as keen on the use of the killing machine wants some changes in the legal system. However, the executioner doesn't want any changes. He tries to convince the explorer (the traveler) that any one accused of a crime is automatically guilty and subject to execution. The explorer does not agree and states that he must speak what he really believes.
While the story is bleak and depressing, there are hopeful issues in that the traveler, the explorer, does not agree with the machine and refuses to be completely silent about his opinions although he does acquiesce that he will only talk to the new governor in private.
The story was first written in 1914, the year World War I began. Sometimes the story is referred to as "In the Penal Colony" and sometimes just as "The Penal Colony." It was written in German and has been translated several times. The language and style is very straight forward and realistic. I was surprised that I stayed interested in the story as so much of it was describing the machine and in close detail the men's movements and stances as the officer speaks. It does have a nice sense of suspense.
Wikipedia, The Penal Colony
A full-text copy of "In the Penal Colony"
a short film, YouTube