I now know that this was stupid, due to Windows ability to screw itself over beyond all repair, but I was trying to fix a dead hard-drive from a laptop by connecting it to my desktop, formatting it, and installing Windows XP on it (which is what it had to begin with).
That was going fine - until I got part way through, and the drive was bad, so I needed to boot my desktop up to run a real CHKDSK on the laptop drive. I had to unplug the laptop drive to boot from my desktop, because otherwise it's trying to boot from the laptop drive now. To my surprise, my desktop no longer knew how to boot.
[Insert much time and frustration, but no changes]
So then, with the laptop drive unplugged, and out of the picture, I put in the new Windows Vista Recovery Disc I created from an image online, and ran the start-up repair wizard. It says it's not able to help. So I run the commands I saw recommended on other posts:
BootRec /fixmbr BootRec /fixboot
/fixmbr seems to run fine, but /fixboot says:
The system does not contain a recognized file system. Please make sure that all required file system drivers are loaded and that the volume is not corrupted.
I also tried:
BootRec /ScanOs BootRec /RebuildBCD
Both complete with the same depressing message:
Total identified Windows installations: 0
So my question is: WTF!?
I know Windows Vista is there. I just have no clue how to make my computer find it.