So, I finally committed to putting a new operating system on my new computer - went with Solus 4.1. Took a while to figure it out, but the initial install was finally completed last night. Don't know when I'll have the time available to fully kit out the machine, but all seems well.
WHAT IS WEIRD is the stuff that kept happening when trying to download the software. I went through multiple attempts to just download the .iso, and finally got a good connection through the Helsinki, Finland mirror. I swore the file downloaded properly earlier in the day, but it was then nowhere to be found on the machine. The confirmed good download eventually disappeared as well! 1.7GB... vanished! Searching through hidden files and running Recuva had no effect - it's the strangest thing I've seen in computing to date.
...All the while, I do not believe there was anything wrong with the files I downloaded. I even tried to figure out the security/checksum stuff that's provided for the .iso (and it seemed to check out... at least as much as you can check it out on Windows). The only thing I can figure is that some of the software I downloaded to flash the USB drive wiped out the download... perhaps it loaded the stuff into RAM, and eventually the RAM purged, and poof. But then, that's all speculation. Needless to say, I won't recommend Balena Etcher as a flashing program, and perhaps that's why none (or very few) of the tutorials I've seen suggested it.